Nearly Beyond Earth: Huns in Space

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Civilization: Beyond Earth comes out this Friday, and it looks rather nice. As a marked improvement over previous games in the series, it is set in space. In fact, the group of colonists you set off with at its beginning are meant to loosely represent fresh victors from Civilization 5, having conquered the greatest scientific feats Earth can sustain after plastering it with shopping malls and fancy schools.

For old time’s sake, I made a random game at emperor level and tried my damnedest to build a big silly spaceship.


In the year 4000 BC, Genghis Khan looks up and says “One day, I’ll go there.” Shortly thereafter, he sees his first horse and mutters, “You’re coming with. I get to sit on you in the interim. ” Soon after, he builds a fence around the horse to really drive his point home.

My starting location is very nice: a river, a couple hills, and a handful of horses and cows. I settle in between these, so it will be  a while before my pastures are all constructed. Cursory tromps about the countryside suggest cotton is the only luxury good within my current reach. This could become a problem, as a variety of such goods contribute toward your people’s happiness, and unhappy people build granaries and opera houses and rocket ships much more slowly than happy ones.

A dozen turns and 820 years later, I have ventured further inland and am not getting my hopes up. Two nearby hills are flush with gold, but this isn’t much variety. A bit of extra cash would help butter up some city states though, and they almost always have luxuries to share. This settles matters; I will limit my empire to a few cities, with an emphasis on population growth, production, and social policies to reinforce that.

I also start a religion that provides a culture bonus for each pasture, because duh. How? Horse butlers, one can only imagine.

By now, I’ve run into a neighbor: Shaka, leader of the Zulu. This is disconcerting, as one gold pile and plenty of arable land lies exactly between us. With no coastal city and no guarantee of better lands available, I need to claim the continent’s heart–even if I step on some toes. A new city won’t cause our borders to immediately touch, so he should be okay with it for a while.

Or not. He is very unhappy. I construct the great library a few turns later (because reading books eventually leads to space ships), and since there can only be one of those he becomes even more unhappier. So Attila apologizes for his pernicious expansion, and he means it. This is really all the land I’ll be needing, and I’m hopeful I can stave off any longterm annoyance. I’m sure he’ll find space to expand elsewhere.

As I explore, two things become apparent. First, my scouts discover Shaka’s cities are either pressed against a mountain range or surrounded by neutral city states. I have cut off his only means of immediate expansion. Oops. Second, the game has presented me with a list of the world’s strongest armies, whose sole entries include the Zulu at the top and the Huns at the bottom. In securing the resources I need, I have thoroughly annoyed the only other global power, and they have lots of spears. At this point, my military adviser begs that I keep the peace while sharpening spears of my own.

I make a serious face and thank him for his counsel, then go back to building my chariot racing stadium. I toss out a few composite bowmen to stand near our borders and make frowny faces, but I’m playing the long game. In the meanwhile, my scouts explore the last crannies of the continent, confirming a lack of good expansion areas. Shaka makes a habit of beating up city states and sneering at me. I wave awkwardly.

When the day comes, science is on my side. I’m not surprised, as I Shaka’s catapults are practically parked on my lawn. His impi are tremendous mid-game warriors, but I’ve discovered gunpowder. I let the war drag on for centuries, repelling every attack without pressing my advantage. Conquest wouldn’t help me, and I don’t want to spend any more on this war than I have to, but I am happy to pick off his units. He finally breaks down, and a tentative peace begins.

And then we’re back to fighting. This time I’ve built bombers, and peace comes quickly. My empire has grown to Shaka’s borders, and I’ve secured some very nice wonders. Things are looking up.

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Then Shaka builds a stronghold. While this gives a bonus to his nearby military units I’m mostly peeved because it steals several tiles of my land. I’ve forgotten that computer opponents can even do this. And then he builds another one. And another. And because we have signed a peace treaty for 10 turns, I am powerless to stop this. He now owns half of the tiles touching my forward city, which includes my gold mine. I’ve never seen a computer opponent save up great generals explicitly for stealing swathes of land, but it’s proven effective, and I am furious.

As soon as the treaty ends, the bombings resume. I start cranking out military units, and a drop a couple strongholds of my own. However, the fighting is becoming difficult. He has a significant advantage within his borders, but even outside them I am having a difficult time despite my more advanced units. I’m not even sure why he’s still using impi warriors. Spears seem a poor choice against machine guns.

It hits me. When impi attack, they attack twice. Aside from this significant advantage, the extra fighting means they gain experience twice as quickly. Additionally, the Zulu only pay 50 percent of normal army maintenance costs. For thousands of years, Shaka has been attacking with the same warriors, then pulling them out when they grow weak. He has been training the same soldiers for millenia, and he has tons of them. My soldiers, on the other hand, are fresh from the academy. They’ve sat in classrooms and have fancy guns, but they’re evenly matched against Shaka’s battle-hardened spearmen.

I strike from within my borders, but our conflicts are mostly draws. I’m holding them off, not pushing them back.

I am beginning to produce spaceship parts. Because I follow the freedom ideology, I can also buy the ship parts instead of creating them myself. So while I pay my way toward victory, I produce military units. This seems to be working well, but the game’s end is quickly approaching, and I’m not in space yet. Aside from my self-enforced science win condition, Shaka is winning in points, which serve as a composite measurement to determine a victor if too much time passes without someone winning by other means. We reach another shaky peace. Relieved , I have my spaceship parts with maybe a dozen turns to spare, and I assemble them.

Nothing happens. A cold realization hits me: spaceships need three rockets, not one, you idiot. I’ve been so busy holding back the Zulu that I’ve run aground on a simple logistical error. I immediately buy another engine, but I can’t afford a third. I set about building it, but I just don’t have the time. After a few turns, my only recourse becomes clear.

My troops all retreat behind our borders. They gather in waves, and they throw their rifles into piles. Combat vehicles are stripped and melted down. My newly unemployed soldiers quickly are added to the civilian workforce. All of their equipment is converted into cash. In a day, our country has changed focus completely, struggling toward a future with no need for weapons.

But it isn’t enough. We are a couple hundred gold short–a single turn for my economic powerhouse. Had I turned to peace a little earlier, we would have made it. With their extra cities, the Zulu were over 500 points ahead, and that was before I’d thrown away my army. I can still be leave this planet, but Shaka will win. I won’t be casting Earth aside, I’d be fleeing it. Resigned, I wait.

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The next turn comes; I don’t lose. A nation pries its eyes open, gazing about. As it turns out, quick speed games end at 330 turns, not an even 300. Heaving a sigh, we bolt the last rocket on, blow raspberries at Shaka (who has just declared war again), and blast off.

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