Galactic Civilization

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The problem of Critical Mass

The problem of Critical Mass


One of the problems in most strategy games is in the later stages where you KNOW you've won but you have to mop up. This can take hours to do and sucks all the fun out of the game for many players. In a game where you may control 100 planets, cities, whatever and your enemies only control a half dozen total, the game is over. There is no scenario where they’re going to come back and win. But conquering those last few cities/planets can be incredibly tedious, especially if they are built up.

We try to avoid that sort of thing in GalCiv through a variety of mechanisms. But no mechanism is as straight forward as common sense. You see, most strategy game AI design is focused on the philosophy of ganging up on the leader.

Hence, if you're winning the game, even your closest friends will slowly move away from you. This makes no sense at all. Why would your allies and close friends turn against you or even sneak attack you when a) they’re your friends and b) you’re much more powerful? In GalCiv, civilizations will try to gang up against the leader when it makes sense.



If the Arceans control 40% of the galaxy and the humans, Drengin, Yor, and Torians control 15% each, then the Drengin may come to me and say “Look, the Arceans are starting to dominate, we need to covertly work against them.”


That’s because there’s still a good chance that the Arceans can be brought down. If you work together, you can crush them.  And in fact, if the Arceans start destroying the Drengin and they feel it’s hopelessly, they’ll likely surrender their forces to you, the Torians, or the Yor in order to help you guys if things are looking good.


On the other hand, if the Arceans go on to control 90% of the galaxy and the Drengin start getting crushed, they’ll likely just surrender to the Arceans.  Or if you are the one with 90%, they’ll surrender to you They make the determination not to fight to the last colony and surrender.




That’s how we try to avoid unnecessary mop up. Sure, you can fight to the bitter end all you want. But the aliens won’t try to drag it out necessarily.


But the critical mass problems we see in many strategy games arise more so than from any other condition from the fact that the players will gang up against the leader no matter what.


Nothing causes critical mass problems more than that. And it is, IMO, a very very BAD game mechanic. In the real world, it works the opposite. The more powerful you are, the more other governments will tend to want to get along with you. Sure, they may snipe at you or whatever but they're not likely to go to war with you.


And it’s frustrating as well. What if I’m trying to win the game via a diplomatic path? Or trying to be a galactic trade czar? Such tactics become useless if as soon as you start to have some success that you have to suddenly have to switch to military conquest mode as your friends begin to become enemies.

In GalCiv’s design, mop up usually is a minor thing in the game because AI civilizations who are hopelessly outgunned will beg for mercy and want to eventually become your ally even. Failing that, they'll surrender outright.

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