Problem: The player’s mindset changes from micromanagement to macromanagement as the game progresses, but the controls don’t keep up.
The most tedious task in Civilization Revolution is being in the lead.
At the beginning of the game, the player is very much in a micromanagement mode. They start the game with one city and one unit. After a few turns, they might have three cities and five units. At this stage, the player is carefully micromanaging everything. They can take the time to lay out the best path for their units, manage the workers for their cities, and choose the best buildings to produce based on the resources near their cities.
As the game progresses, the number of cities and units increases dramatically. Particularly for a player who did some military conquest during the game, they might have ten cities and 40 units to manage each turn, with more being produced every turn. But the tools they have for managing those cities are the same as in the early game – they must choose a path for each individual unit, and choose their buildings one at a time.
A few tools help, such as grouping three units into an army, or setting a rally point that you can send units to quickly – but mostly these measures just serve to call attention to all the other potential time-saving controls that the game is lacking. The more a player is winning, the more tedious these routine tasks become; a player near the end of a military conquest strategy victory might spend five minutes each turn just giving movement orders to their 50+ units, and only 30 seconds fighting meaningful battles and making choices.
Solution: Create a second layer of controls to automate tasks.
Civilization Revolution can take some advice from the RTS genre, in terms of automatic rally points, build queues, and super-armies. Furthermore, I think the game could really benefit from the ability to create simple scripts, allowing the player to automate some of the most tedious tasks.
Rally points: When a city is doing nothing but producing units for the war effort, I should be able to tell it to send those units to form themselves into armies and head to a designated rally point without my input. I don’t care about those units until they’re on the front line and ready to fight, so don’t tell me about them until they arrive.
Build queues: Currently, every city that needs a new build order will pull the camera over and ask the player for new orders each round. Because the player is jumping around between their many cities, they don’t get to really know each city. It’s like speed dating, I suppose. Instead of asking the player to spend 30 seconds with a city once every three turns, ask them to spend five minutes with the city once every thirty turns. Allow them to look at the city’s surroundings in depth, think about which buildings will be most useful and in which order, and create a build queue so that the city can run on autopilot for the next half-hour or so.
The real benefit here isn’t that the player’s cities will be more effective – it’s that they will have the time to think about their cities, learn their terrain and resources, and understand which areas are most critical to their empire. Essentially, each city in Civilization Revolution is a character in the player’s party, and we want the personalities of those characters to have a chance to come through. Perhaps one city is a real fisherman’s paradise, and another city is poorly-defended, but has resource-rich mountains nearby. A build queue encourages the player to notice those personalities, without making the game drag on for eternity.
Super-Armies: Civilization Revolution already allows players to group three like units into a single army. Expand that concept, and let the player group three armies into a super-army, and three super-armies into a grand army. Maybe those individual armies have to fight individually (to prevent their combat stats from becoming absurdly high), but it reduces the number of commands the player has to give, and simplifies their turn…especially if, like in an RTS, they can create super-armies out of different types of units. As long as they’re all going to the same place, why should I have to order them to go there individually?
Scripting: Being able to give more detailed instructions for distribution of troops would be beneficial. For example, if I have a city producing defensive units, I want to be able to tell it “Produce three units, and form them into an army. Send that army to a city that does not already have a defensive army unit. When they arrive, order them to defend. If every city has a defensive army, start producing offensive units, and send them to the city closest to the most recent battle I started. When they arrive, ask for an order. If I gain a new city, produce a defensive army for it.”
That’s a fairly complicated example, but that’s what I have to do manually in order to make sure my cities are defended. And it’s not interesting or fun – it’s just tedium that could be done with a script, as described above.
Mixing in other building orders would allow the system to be even more robust – allowing the player to say “Build a defensive army, and defend this city. Then build walls. Then build barracks. Then build a new defensive army with the barracks upgrade. Then build an aqueduct. Then build a workshop. Then build an offensive army, and send them to the capital.”
Implementing a scripting system might be too much for Civilization Revolution (my solutions are supposed to be stuff that could be added to the game fairly quickly during the last stages of development), but I think that future games like Civilization should consider allowing the player to automate tedious tasks. If the player’s tasks don’t involve interesting and meaningful choices, those tasks are just detracting from the game.
RPGs are starting to learn this, such as the Gambit system of Final Fantasy 12, and the automated party members of Final Fantasy 13. Some choices are meaningful, but if the choice is a non-choice – “Use heal anytime someone drops below 30% HP” – let the player figure it out once, offload the tedious tasks onto the computer, and move on to more fun choices.