Sunday, 28 February 2010

Civilization IV - An observation on the power of the Inca

1. Introduction
In the past, whenever I have viewed a Gauntlet game, found in the "Hall of Fame" section of the forum at CivFanatics, where the rules allow the player to select the civilization to play as, I have wondered about the little sign stating "Must not play as Inca".

So I asked myself: "What about this smiling man with golden earmuffs could be frightening enough to ban the whole of the Inca civilization for competition purposes?"

Is he a homicidal maniac? 
No, that position is taken by the insanely murderous and psychotic Montezuma of the Aztec. He'll turn on you and try to drag you to the sacrificial altar if you so much as peer quizzically at his odd-looking hat.

Does he have Super Powers?
Not that I can see. Huayna Capacs' Traits are Financial, which give him an extra commerce in any square where at least 2 commerce is being produced, and Industrious, which increases his wonder production by 50% and allows him to build Forges twice as fast as normal. It's a good combination, but it doesn't seem over-powered to me. Sure, it allows for a high research rate to get to the wonders, and then an advantage in getting them, but wonders are not an instant "I Win"-button.

Having the Celtic Boudicia with her lovely combination of Aggressive and Charismatic (Free Combat I promotion for melee- and gunpowder units, double production speed of Barracks and Drydocks combined with -25% experience needed for unit promotions, +1 happiness per city and +1 happiness from Monument and Broadcast Tower) let's you rampage through the world like a drunk gorilla at the annual Ice-Sculpture Competition, crashing into city after city with a bunch of highly promoted soldiers, smashing everything in sight and generally making a mess. (Speaking of drunk: Boudicia looks a little woozy herself!)

What about his people then? Do they employ the sacrificial altar like the Aztec?
No, the unique building for the Inca is the Terrace, a modified Granary which provides an extra +2  culture per turn. That doesn't seem very over-powered to me. Sure, it's useful for a Cultural victory or for strengthening your cultural borders or even as an alternative to building a monument, but it won't win the game for you. Furthermore there is no synergy with the wonders apart from the added culture if you go for a Cultural victory.

So what's left? Could it be their Unique Unit?
Ah, now we're getting somewhere. Could their Unique Unit be a blood thirsty monster? Let's take a look at what's called the Quechua. Historically this unit is fictitious: Quechua is the name of the language of the Inca and so the usage here might at best allude to the unit being a "Quechuan soldier". The equipment the soldier is carrying is somewhat more realistic as the Inca knew how to mix tin and copper to make bronze and were known to use shields covered in leather for defence.

In the game the Quechua replaces the common Warrior and is thus the first unit the Incas can build. On top of the normal stats of a Warrior the Quechua is granted the promotion Combat I, which gives a 10% boost to it's damage output, as well as an extra 100% vs. Archery units. This is, apparently, what makes the Incas dangerous enough to ban.

Remember the earlier premises? The civilization is banned in Hall of Fame games, which are played against computer players at high difficulties. A known fact is that computer players start with Archers instead of Warriors at higher difficulties. Adding it up these individual pieces, the bonus of the Quechua, the fact that computer players start with Archers and the immediate availability of said Quechua, we have in front of us a picture, nay, a billboard, shouting at us: GO ON, RUSH THEM!!!

2. The Quechua Rush
In order to successfully capture an enemy city using Quechuas you need only two units per defending Archer plus one in reserve in case you are unlucky. The probability of victory against an unpromoted Archer defending a city is at worst (City with cultural defence at level 2 giving +40% defence, 25% fortify bonus and on a hill giving an extra 50%) 36.8% for an attacking unpromoted Quechua. As the archer is virtually guaranteed to be injured during this fight a following attacker will have a considerably higher probability of success. As about a third of the initial attacks will be successful, on average, the need for the Quechuas to travel in teams of two decreases as the number of defenders increases. Still, it is prudent to use the "2 attackers per Archer plus 1" approach as it is virtually guaranteed to win.

Eliminating close-by enemies and stealing their capitals, which are generally placed in rich areas, will give the player at the very least a powerful start, if it doesn't win the game outright.

3. The weakness
Of course, this wouldn't work in multiplayer. First of all, a normal player wouldn't start with archers as defenders effectively turning the Quechua into a 10% stronger Warrior. As Warriors have +25% bonus when defending a city the Quechua rush looses its bite. Factor in that a competitor might research a stronger attack unit such as the Axeman (if they have a source of copper), the Chariot (if they have access to horses) or even the Spearman (without a requirement) and the situation could be quickly turned in their favour.

This can happen in a game against computer controlled players as well if the distance between the starting positions is too great or if the players start on isolated islands. Given enough time the computer players will produce their own Axemen and become impervious to Quechuas.

4. Conclusion
Finding out the (not so) hidden qualities of the Man with the Yellow Hat and his collection of Curious Quechuas gives us another tool to use when we feel like lowering the difficulty level a bit. The Quechua Rush can be used to devastating effect if the enemy is using Archers to defend, but will meet with disaster if the other player is a human, left alone for long enough or in a completely different part of the world.

If anyone is interested in a further explanation of the mathematics behind the combat figures, please make a comment and I'll make a post about that as well.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Gaming Diary 1 - Minesweeper

This is an example of what's called a gaming diary.
Basically I play a game, note down what I'm doing and why, get some screen shots or videos to illustrate important points and then I type it up and then it might turn out something like this (but probably with a game more exciting than Minesweeper):

1. The Basics

Minesweeper is one of those games that come with all Windows versions since version 3.1 or something. The concept is pretty simple: You have a field, represented by little clickable squares, in which there are mines. Your job is to clear the minefield by a) flagging all the squares where there is a mine or b) revealing all other squares. To help you in your job some thoughtful person has left numbered cards in some places which tell you how many mines can be found in the eight squares surrounding each card. With a bit of time and patience, it is usually possible to find all the mines, though depending on the version you are playing you might find yourself having to guess between a number of squares.

Today there are a multitude of versions, some with sophisticated systems acting in the background to ensure that the board is solvable purely through logic and some
with simpler systems that make sure that your first click never hits a mine. The game has even inspired the people over at College Humor to make a trailer for Minesweeper - The Movie.

I first remember playing the game on my fathers ancient laptop some time in the very early 90's. The laptop, which weighed enough to make it all but desk-bound, displayed a beautiful playing field in black and orange on which I clicked on mine after mine. After a while I realised that there was a system to it and that it might not be such a good idea to click on the mines. In the end I managed to win a few games and was probably rather proud.

2. Let's clear some mines!

OK, so we come up with a really nice start. Usually you don't see half the board cleared in one click, but hey: Got to be lucky sometimes!

We can immediatly see 4 mines that need flagging and then a fifth which appears as the sweep proceeds.

We keep moving from right to left in order not to miss anything. With the 2 wedged in between two mines we can safely clear all the remaining squares around it.

The 3 appearing at the six o'clock position could be cause for alarm, thus prompting an attempt at circling around it.

Flagging the second mine at the top left and clearing the surrounding blocks reveal a 2x1 island, effectively isolating the remaining block.

Through inspection we can quite easily see the pattern appearing and so the perilous 3 is neutralised, but quickly joined by another of its kind.

At this point I make a mistake. My hand slips and instead of clicking the square immediatly below the second 3, I hit the one just to the left, thankfully revealing another 3 instead of losing the game.

After pausing to collect myself I then flag the final two mines and solve the board, clocking in on an abysmal 176 seconds, but glad to have gotten there at all after the earlier mishap.

3. The Aftermath
In reflection there wasn't anything wrong with the tactics applied, though improvements in the motorial skills-department is a necessity. Next time should probably see a raising of the difficulty level as well, but seeing as this was an exhibition game I think the level was appropriate.

If you want to try it for yourself you can find the game in the folder "accessories", sub folder "games" if you use a Windows OS or download a copy of the World Rankings-certified Minesweeper X.

Friday, 26 February 2010

The First of Many?

A glorious dusk greets the dawn of Gaming with Coin, the very latest in semi-interactive entertainment.

Of course this could turn out to be a complete train wreck, but without enough content to even warrant that morbid fascination which a train wreck seems to conjure.

Speaking of trains there is a real danger of some finding their way into this blog as I have recently discovered the open source version of that magnificent Chris Sawyer-classic Transport Tycoon Deluxe. As the name suggests this game is about the proud business of logistics.

The player assumes the role of the owner and director of a small company, presumably with the aim to make it a large company and accumulate wealth, moolah, oof, spondoolicks!
At the feet of the freshly inaugurated entrepreneur lies the map, portraying a landscape rich in forests, coal mines, factories and cities (or cola wells, sugar mines and toffee quarries if you have chosen Toyland rather than the standard Temperate tile set) crying out for a complicated network of roads and rail tracks to cover its hills with trains and trucks scuttling about like beetles, with aircraft soaring high above and ships ploughing the glittering seas below, in order to deliver all kinds of goods and convey all sorts of people.

The sheer potential is almost poetic. Connecting all these resources with their proper destinations and balancing the system so that all needs are met and no wasteage produced should be the nirvana to strive for. The harmony that could be achieved...

Of course that's not going to happen(unless you go into the settings and change the rules, but let's not go there now), as there are competitors. Sure, you could go for AI's who can sometimes be a challenge, when they are not just appearing mentally challenged, but the new multiplayer system is where you get to play against the most ravingly greedy bastards imaginable. The sneaky underhand tricks that some people apply... well, let's just say that it is awe-inspiring.
I've been out classed by many people in my long life of gaming but I think this is is the lowest score I've ever had. I went so far into the red (in debt that is) that I couldn't find my way back on track with a map.

Anyways, it was great fun and I can't wait to get back at those entrepreneurs, moguls, magnates and millionaires once I've studied some of those "tricks of the trade" that are neccessary to get ahead in the transportation business.
Hopefully I haven't scared you away but rather inspired you to try your own hand at becoming a Transport Tycoon.