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The Downfall of Civilization

May 14th, 2020
Civilization Beyond Earth

I thought of a variety of catchy titles last night, but then I forgot them. Although Covid-19 continues to spread and I continue to work from home, this post isn’t about that. It is actually about “Civilization” the video game series. During the pandemic, after finally getting a new laptop, and a gaming monitor I finally played Civilization Beyond Earth.

I still have not played Civ6 which is getting a new subscription plan. It should be available to Mac users and I’ll probably get it but not on day one, because I still have not played Sid Meier’s Civilization VI. I have however beaten Civ:BE with the Rising Tide expansion on the most difficult level. Big deal I hear you say 1.6% of all players accomplish that. It is actually is notable for me because I’ve been playing Sid games as some people call games with Sid Meier’s name on them since Pirates!

Sid Games

I don’t recall my highest score on Pirates! but I still have the disk with my saves though I don’t know if the 286 will boot up anymore to play it in glorious 16 color EGA. I also had Railroad Tycoons and of course every Civ game including Colonization and two copies of Alpha Centauri one for my mom’s computer. I don’t recall winning on the most difficult level.

I earned a badge!

Surely I must have, I played CiV for over 1000 hours. I probably played Civ III more, I think I blogged about it more. I read forums, I tried numerous openings, I must have won on the most difficult level right? Regardless, I don’t think I won on the most difficult level on my first attempt. I am probably an above average video game player, I seem to specialize in 4X Sid Games, so either I’ve assumed a zen like mastery of the genre or the games are getting easier.

Are video games getting easier?

Probably, the reason I say probably is “casual gaming” or “social gaming” is a thing. So is pay for performance. Some games literally let you spend real money to get better in-game performance, some games take a stand and only let you buy vanity items, some games will even let you buy hints or temporary power ups to get through the hard parts. But hardcore games, hardcore strategy games, surely you can’t buy a temporary power up or type a cheat code when you need more money to keep your citizens happy, you need a strategy, if not your own than one you got off reddit or some streamer.

So yeah video games are probably easier, but surely not Sid Meier’s Civilization series, if anything it gets bigger and more complicated every iteration. I probably still remember my preferred openings from if not Civ I than at least Civ III. I have cut scenes and quotations memorized, but for Civilization Beyond Earth I don’t have a preferred opening. I don’t have a favourite civ, I’m not even sure I played them all or even won with them all. In fact I’m pretty sure I haven’t, yet I went from complete newbie to being in the top 2% of players on Steam in a few short weeks. According to Steam it took me 144 hours.

Video Game Analytics

The version of Sid Meier’s Civilization Beyond Earth that I played is not the version that launched. It isn’t even the “vanilla” version of the game, I bought the expansion eventually and truly it is a better game. It isn’t as good as Alpha Centauri and most people prefer CiV to Civ:BERT or whatever the hipster acronym is, but it is definitely a pretty game to look at. The aliens look scary but over time you learn they are not that tough especially as your technology improves. And all this time you’re playing, and the world is playing, the game is studying the players. Analytics are reported and the game is “balanced” it is “expanded” it is “tweaked”. So yeah it doesn’t surprise me if they make it easier.

Civilization Beyond Earth Rising Tide screenshot
Do you see the tiny eye icon in the top right quadrant, click on the tiny eye.

Winning Isn’t Everything

I have a style, a style I’ve had since Civ I or even Pirates! I bring actual ethical decision making into the game to a degree. In Pirates! I refused to play as the Spanish for instance. I follow a peaceful builder strategy, I can go a whole game without starting a war, I won a badge for that in Civ:BERT. 5.8% of players earn that badge. I deliberately never nuked someone in Civilization V. The point, I know I don’t play optimally according to self appointed Internet experts. I sometimes just try stuff, rather than taking the surest path to victory. I play less popular empires, I actually played Sid Meier’s Civilization Beyond Earth a lot before I finally had to learn how to complete some missions, there are icons that sometimes appear you have to click on, they will be yellow and in the bottom left corner of the screenshot above. I discovered the tiny eye by accident learning to use that icon helps you complete missions and win the game.

This is too complicated

I think that argument is valid for Civ games, but they do have difficulty levels, there are forums, tutorials, tactics, walk throughs, and winning isn’t everything, some people like me want to win a certain way, either for pride or to earn a badge. I have earned 60% of the badges in Civilization Beyond Earth but I’m still surprised I won on the highest difficulty level in one attempt so if you’ve read this far I’ll tell you my secrets.

How to win (my way)

My biggest piece of advice for Civ:BERT, be adaptable. There are lots of different openings, some people cherry pick the world they land on and restart to get a better starting location, I don’t do that. I’m not sure what the best Civ (sponsor) is, I won most recently with the African Union, but before that I won with INTEGR and before that the North Sea Alliance. Random bloggers don’t think any of those are the best, they like Al Falah.

I like the starting choice that allows you to see resources easier at the start. I also like having Pioneering and I tend to use all the various in-game choices to shore up my weaknesses or to build on one strength. For Africa you are good at farming if you are healthy. I am a big believer in healthy and happy citizens and I think this version of the game rewarded that.

I don’t expand too early or too much. I focus on health both by starting down the Prosperity path and in choosing techs I research. What resources that are nearby is a big factor in my tactics. If I have a lot of biomass and I usually do, then Harmony is the way to go. That is my most common path to victory and how I won on Apollo difficulty level. The fastest path to victory might be a lucky Contact victory, the computer always seems to go for that. In order to win at Apollo I had to declare war and stop a Contact victory. The other two Affinities may be better than Harmony, they may have better unique units but some of the vanilla units work just fine and some of the Hybrid units are also good. Remember my biggest piece of advice, be flexible.

Why Harmony?

The reason I am pro Harmony is that victory is simpler. I don’t remember what technologies you need, Nanorobotics, Transgenics, and Swarm Intelligence apparently. I am not claiming to be an expert in this game, but besides key technologies you also need to advance to Level 15 in your primary affinity to win any Affinity victory. Contact doesn’t require this, which is why it or Conquest may be the fastest paths to victory. Purity you have to settle people from Earth and to win using the unique Supremacy method you have to send troops back to Earth and conquer it. All of this takes time and involves moving a lot of units around. Harmony’s unique victory involves building the Mind Flower and then just waiting. You can shorten the wait by building other buildings, so Harmony and Purity definitely benefit from going “wide”.

Wide VS Tall

If you spend any time on forums since probably Civ III, you’ll hear “wide” or “going wide” and “going tall”. Basically the bigger your empire is in number of cities the wider it is. You have more land, more resources, maybe more people, and maybe more headaches. If you go “tall” you have less cities, less land, less resources, you can still have a lot of people and they can get unhappy but generally over the previous three versions of the game I was a “go tall” player and I’d max out at about four or five cities in CiV. In Beyond Earth there seems to be a lot of land and resources especially because with the expansion you can settle new cities on water, you can even move aquatic cities.

So Many Options

That is why I recommend being flexible. In my victory I had to declare war. The game tells you point blank when the computer is close to winning and how they will win. To stop them you generally have to attack. The AI put their Beacon on water so I snuck up a bunch of submarines and blew it up. I’m not proud, I was desperate. I was still a long way from the Harmony victory. The AI counter attacked and should have won, but the AI does not use their units as well as a real person, so even with more units and better units you can win. I think I got a bit lucky but I also used tactics. Besides submarines I had to send one “melee” unit in to physically destroy the Beacon. Naval melee units exists and seem particularly good in this version of the game. Also good at destroying the enemy game winning wonders are fighter planes. If the enemy builds it within range of them, you can also put two and potentially more fighters on an aircraft carrier, a unit I found mostly useless for five versions of Civilization was actually totally worth building in my last game.

These are the results of my four games of Civilization Beyond Earth Rising Tide

In Conclusion: Ten Tips

  1. Be flexible.
  2. Scout the map, find key resources, pods, artifacts, and defensible positions.
  3. Keep your citizens happy if possible.
  4. Expand cautiously.
  5. Peace = Trade & Alliances = Better Trade Deals
  6. Range and Speed may trump raw power while at war.
  7. Harmony is the simplest unique victory but not necessarily the quickest.
  8. You can use cash and political influence to buy units and buildings, but only cash to buy land.
  9. What resources you have determines what you can build and what resource you have a lot of determines what you can spam.
  10. There is no cultural victory, but I’m a big fan of completing the Prosperity Virtue and I think it is the best for the peaceful builder.


The above ten tips are really pretty good, too bad I didn’t take my own advice. I’m on my way to losing my first gave of Sid Meier’s Civilization Beyond Earth Rising Tide. My biggest mistake was probably playing late at night while drinking beer. My second biggest mistake was underestimating how hard an ice planet would be. My third biggest mistake was in playing a huge map and my fourth biggest mistake was probably not settling my second and third city, North towards the equator where it was warmer.

What does the “I” in AI stand for?

The AI will get mad at you if you don’t build your civ, their way. So depending on which AI you randomly draw you may get blamed for not building enough satellites or a big enough army or not attacking anyone. During my huge ice world game most of the AI was mad at me for one reason or another and although they never accomplished much it was almost constant war. You have to sail five turns and probably march considerably farther to get to the nearest enemy so there was plenty of land, good land to settle but the AI just doesn’t think that way. On an ice planet you can’t grow food in tundra so you set up aquatic farms this leads to slower growing cities and lower production. By the time this difference sank in I think the game was already lost. I also don’t think I figured out my sponsor (Polystralia) until the game was almost over.

You Lose, You Learn

I thought I would lose my Apollo game but that was on a much smaller planet so one could sail over and launch an attack and in this game my one cooperating AI opponent is going to win. I just don’t think I can sail or march far enough with a big enough force to make a difference. I really should switch to Civ 6, but I think I will play one more time. It won’t be a huge map though, those games just take too long, that is one badge that is hard to earn, but if you play on easy probably not that hard. I will try an ice world again, just to see if I learned anything.

Frickin’ Huge

If you know you’ll be on an ice world, suddenly +2 food or +2 production starts looking good. Often I take +2 culture but bonus health and bonus science are also popular. The map size is one variable I don’t think a lot of people consider, empire wide bonuses make a bigger deal and anything that increases your speed is probably highly desirable. The option to reveal coastlines is probably worth a lot more on a huge map. Also underrated is increasing the speed at which you can develop your land with your workers. You can build Terranscapes on tundra but they just took too long, 23 turns on huge, but with different tech and bonuses it might work. I will try. Ice planets or taigen are hard. But first I need to spend another evening losing, as despite defeat being imminent, I just can’t play quickly on a huge map. I don’t have any more time for this or possibly any video games, I have other things I want to accomplish in life besides earn Steam badges.

Post Epilogue

So I did play more and earn the taigen badge. I also took a few other screenshots. I do think luck at the start is a factor, you can improve your luck by choosing certain options pre-game. And if you know you are at one of the poles, head in the other direction first. I won with Brazil/South American which is probably the most militaristic faction. I even started with a soldier, the reason I did this is the AI always complains my army is too small and not experienced or advanced enough.

You cannot gain experience early on without fighting but eventually there are ways to start with experience when you build new units. I did not attack the aliens or the other colonies. Instead I explored peacefully. I also traded extensively and the last two Civs were me and Polyaustralia the big trader sponsor. He also went Harmony and that is how I won through Transcendence. One quirk of this victory is after you build the Mindflower the aliens all hate you and turn red, so I ended up killing a lot of aliens.

The aliens are only dangerous when you are weak and outnumbered. After you have advanced along the tech tree but especially along your chosen Virtue your units are much stronger than even the colossal aliens. You just have to not attack their nests or get surrounded and remember colossal aliens are more likely to attack at least in my experience so do not go next to them, they also will rampage though your crops, the rest of the aliens you can maneuver around as long as their nest isn’t threatened. Of course you should still protect your colonists, workers, and outposts.

If you have any thoughts on video games, particularly Sid Meier’s video games, or the 4X genre you can leave comments below. I have other things I’d like to accomplish other than earn Steam badges so I will not be playing this game or any video game for a bit. If you think I’m an idiot and I just got lucky after all these years, me and 1.6% of the world are just lucky I guess.

One Comment

  • Muskie says:

    The New Frontier Pass for Sid Meier’s Civilization VI game out today on Mac. It is 53.49 Canadian to be a cool kid and play with Simon Bolivar instead of the Bolivar in Sid Meier’s Civilization Beyond Earth. I will put my money where my mouth is but I won’t play this game tonight, maybe Thursday or Friday but I’m trying to study every evening for my Microsoft Exam 70-761 the first T-SQL one.

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