This is the first of a series of posts examining the mechanics and systems surrounding the tiles in Civilization. I argue that the purpose of the tiles is more than just to be a source of resources, but rather that the tiles are where one of the series’ major themes are expressed: humankind’s ownership of the land
While the tiles that form the map in Civilization have changed in size and shape, they have served the same purpose in each official release of the series. The tiles contain within them everything a civilization needs to survive and win the game: the potential for food, wealth, and ‘production’.
When playing Civilization, a player’s main method of interaction with the map is to create cities in opportune locations on the map (that is, near exploitable resources) and to utilize units (settlers, workers, and engineers) to transform the tiles into more useful forms, depending on the player’s strategy. By doing so in a systematic way, the player works to generate enough resources to meet one of the victory conditions for the game. Exploitation of the tiles is a primary mechanic in the Civilization series, and because of this, the rules and options available for tile use have become more complicated with each version of the game.
Tiles in Civilization have the following basic properties
- yield resources when worked as part of a city
- be modified (‘improved’) to yield more (or different) resources
- yield a good that can be traded (Civilization 3 on?)
- apply combat modifiers based on unit placement
- be traveled upon by Air and either Sea or Land units
In this post I’ll be focusing on what makes up a title and the mechanics surrounding the first two properties in the above table.
The developers of Civilization have made available a variety of the biomes of Earth by categorizing tiles into ‘Terrain Types’. In general, drier tiles produce less food. Rockier tiles produce more production units (called ‘shields’ in the first four games). Land tiles with water produce more food and sea/ocean tiles produce wealth (via trade, it is assumed). These tiles are usually applied to the map according to an algorithm that places them at about the same latitudes as they are on Earth.
When a citizen is assigned to work a tile within a city’s available area, the resources that are gained by the city are the result of calculating the effects of the base terrain, any terrain features and/or resource layers on that terrain, and any improvements that have been added to the terrain. Other factors may also modify the amounts gained, such as city improvements, Wonders owned by the city’s civilization, the current government, and the city’s civilization’s abilities.
A player need not be limited by the tiles given by ‘nature’. Land tiles can be modified by the player using a Settler (or Worker or Engineer) unit. At first, land tiles can only be improved by adding a human work to the tile (roads and railroads to improve travel and wealth/trade, irrigation to improve food production, mines to improve shield production). If when playing Civilization I or II you stumble upon an AI player after 20 or so turns, you’ll find that the AI has already constructed a network of roads and irrigation between its cities. In order to do this, the AI has been spending food units at each turn to feed a Settler while it performs the task of building these improvements. The AI’s behavior and that these basic human works are gained early on in the game shows that human improvement of the land is considered vital to a civilization’s success in the game.
In their strategy guide for Civilization I, Rome in 640K a Day, authors Johnny Wilson and Alan Emrich demonstrate an interesting interpretation of the mechanics of irrigation. They cite the theory of hydraulic hypothesis, that the complexity of field irrigation created central governments, when explaining how the choice of government effects food yields for a worked tile. In Civilization I, a government under anarchy or despotism (non-legitimate central governments) cannot produce as much food from tiles as from other government systems. While the theory this mechanic is based on isn’t as well thought of in anthropology these days, it was “the first general theory advanced to explain the development of ancient civilizations with systematic organization of work on a large scale” and as such, a perfect fit with one of the first (if not the first – I’m still working on this) games in which the developers attempted to systematize the growth of civilization from prehistory to present as part of the game’s mechanics, not just as a fictive layer.
In Civilization I, the Settler unit from the outset has the ability to completely change the map to the player’s whim. Through the Irrigation command, not only can agricultural lands gain the irrigation improvement, but wooded lands (Forests, Jungles) can be changed into terrain more suitable for agriculture. The player, via use of the Settler unit and the resources of food (consumed by the Settler, taken from its home city) and time (the number of turns it takes for Settler to complete its task), can completely transform the map.
This is changed in Civilization II where terraforming of land tiles (Engineer Transformation, according to the manual and reference charts) is only possible by the Engineer unit, an advanced version of the Settler available only after research of Explosives. With each additional iteration of the series, the ability to transform the map is segmented out into additional needed technologies: ‘Plant Forests’ on Tundra is available after gaining Engineering in Civilization III, ‘Clear Forests’ after Bronze Working in Civilization IV… What results is a model of civilization growth where technology development is directly tied to the player’s ability to gain total mastery of the world (the ability to change the map to better her civilization’s chances of success).
Technological mastery has at times also introduced negative consequences to the map. An in-game industrial revolution of unchecked factory production will introduce pollution and global warming effects. I should go into more detail about how this has been modeled in a future post, but since I’m talking about terraforming, I feel this is relevant here as well (in the manuals, discussion of pollution is given as many pages as discussion of the terrain).
Pollution usually occurs in the later half of the game once cities start producing too many resources or having too large a population (in Civilization I, after the Automobile advance is reached). In the manual for Civilization II, this is explained specifically as Industrial Pollution (because of shields produced) and Smog (people, once Industrialization has been researched). Pollution can also be caused in Civilization II and III by nuclear fallout from a nuclear power plant meltdown, or by exploded nuclear arms. Designer Soren Johnson said his goal for Civilization IV was to reduce the amount of busywork for the player. Civilization‘s previous models city revolts and pollution was not fun because it involved too much repetition on the part of the player to manage. Pollution was removed from being managed on the map and subsumed into a more abstract city health system. Pollution-causing actions would contribute to this system rather than be reflected by changes to the map.
While pollution has changed between games, global warming exists throughout the series as a system that changes tiles on the map. Global warming raises the temperature of the map, destroying forests and changing terrain to desert. In Civilization I and II, whenever any nine squares are polluted, there is a chance for a global temperature rise. Once the temperature rises, even if the pollution is cleaned up, the temperature will not go down. This irreversible damage is the only place within the game where there is no way for the player to take action and ‘fix’ the map. Before an official patch for the Beyond the Sword expansion to Civilization IV, global warming was linked only to the use of nuclear arms. The players responded by creating mods that would ‘fix’ these systems, and with the official 3.17 patch for Civilization IV these fixes became canon.
For Civilizations I through III, humanity has absolute mastery over the world through technological progress. Global warming is the only thing humanity cannot fix, but can be avoided. For a brief moment, global warming was a random event in Civilization IV, unavoidable and divorced from any simulated cause, but the fans brought it back. The system of improving the land through human works and terraforming leads me to believe that a basic theme for the Civilization series is that human civilization exists to transform the world into a better place for humanity to survive, and the way that this happens is through efficient exploitation of natural resources and technological progress. We’ll see if this holds up as I work through the rest of the systems in play (combat, trade, diplomacy, etc…).