News for November 2010
War...What is It Good For? 7
A Designer Diary for Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game
Civilization | Published 04 November 2010

by Kevin Wilson

Welcome once again! As the boat approaches, laden heavily with copies of Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game, we find ourselves at the penultimate installment of this designer diary series. This time, we’re going to talk about the Big Stick itself - War. When I was designing the combat system for Civilization, I wanted something streamlined and fast, that nonetheless allowed technology to play an important role. After a lot of testing, here’s what I arrived at.

The first thing to understand is the difference between armies and units. In Civilization, armies are represented by plastic flags on the board and show a player’s military presence in that square. The more flags in a square, the more military presence.

However, an army figure can’t do that much by itself, and that’s where units come in. Units are cards representing artillery, infantry, mounted, or aircraft units. Units do the actual fighting in combat, but have no presence on the board without army figures. I like to think of it as “Units make up armies, which are located on the board.”

Unit cards (left) and Army figures (right)

By themselves, armies are unlikely to win battles, and about all they can be used for is blockading opponents’ resources. You see, a player cannot collect any type of resource (trade, production, culture, silk, etc.) from a square that contains one or more enemy figures. So, it can be fun to let an opponent build a big juicy building and then send one of your armies to sit on it, denying him the building’s benefit. If you like, blackmail him during the trade phase to talk you out of occupying it. Better yet, send along a scout and take its resources for yourself. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll talk about scouts next time.

For now, let’s look a bit closer at unit cards. After all, they’re kind of funky-looking and at first they seem kind of complicated. I mean, they’re square and they have four sides, all with information. But don’t panic. First of all, you only ever use one side of a unit card at a time.

Which side you use is determined by what sort of military techs you’ve learned. For instance, in the case at the right, the player has learned Chivalry, which has upgraded his mounted units to Knights, so he uses the highlighted side of the card. Aside from the picture and unit name, there are only two pieces of info on the unit card – its strength, and its trump symbol.

The unit’s strength represents its ability to deal and withstand damage during combat. A unit’s strength starts out between 1 and 3, with 2 being the average, then goes up by 1 for each level of tech. For those of you who prefer dice-based combat, this starting value is actually the randomizer for combat. Just imagine that you only roll the dice one time when you build the unit, and that determines its strength for its lifetime.

The unit’s trump symbol indicates what type of unit it’s good against (see below). A unit that trumps another unit in combat always has the advantage. Don’t worry, though, I’ll explain what trumping a unit is good for in a bit.

So, really, each unit card is four cards in one, and only has two pieces of important information on it. Okay, that seems easier, but what about combat itself? It’s also pretty clear if you just break it down one step at a time.

First, each side in the battle assembles their battle force. This means that they draw three cards at random from the unit cards they own. There are ways to draw more cards (in particular, having more than one army figure in the battle) but I’m not going to go into that in detail. If you’re interested, check out the list from the rules.

Second, the players each figure out their combat bonus. Combat bonuses usually come from military buildings, great generals, and things like that. We’re only interested in the difference between the two players’ bonuses, so we subtract the smaller bonus from the higher one. For instance, if one player has a +12 and the other has a +8, we’ll just consider the first player to have a bonus of +4.

Now, we’ve drawn our cards, figured out who (if anyone) has the higher combat bonus, and we’re ready to engage in battle. Briefly, the two players (starting with the defender) now take turns playing unit cards into imaginary areas called fronts. When opposing units are in the same front (basically, when a unit is played to attack a specific enemy unit), they deal their strength in wounds to each other, with a trumping unit getting to attack first. Units that suffer as many wounds as their strength are killed.

After both players play the units in their battle force, they add up the strength of their surviving units and the player with the higher combat bonus adds that in (remember the +4 from earlier?). Whoever has the higher total wins the battle (ties going to the defender), and any surviving units return to their owners.

Afterwards, the winner collects some loot from the loser, and the game carries on (unless you’ve just conquered another player’s capital, in which case, you win!). Want the longer explanation with some examples? Consult these pages from the rulebook (pdf, 1 MB).

Of course, although it is generally an elegant system, players can find themselves in complex tactical situations when taking into account differences in military tech, number and type of units, and special battle abilities granted by various techs (such as the ones below), but that’s all part of the fun when you go warmongering in Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game.

The release of Civilization is almost upon us. Keep checking back in the coming days for the complete rulebook, then look for my final designer diary in which I talk about some of my favorite parts of the design and tell a couple of stories from the playtests!

Designed by Kevin Wilson, Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game is inspired by the legendary computer game series created by Sid Meier. 2-4 players take on the roles of famous leaders in charge of historical civilizations, each with his or her own abilities. Players explore a module game board, build cities and buildings, fight battles, research powerful technology, and attract great people by advancing their culture. Choose your path to glory!

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Comments (7)

Published: 12/7/2010 10:34:41 PM

I especially like the trumping mechanism, where each of the three combat arms plays a role. Very Napoleonic.

Published: 11/26/2010 10:51:33 AM

Is it true that opposing players can tell how advanced your units are (because the card backs aren't symmetric, so how you rotate the card shows on the other side)?

If so, was this intentional or is it a mistake?

If a mistake, how serious is it?

Published: 11/6/2010 6:40:03 AM

I saw this game being demo'd at GenCon indy.  As an avid player of Civilization, I was waiting for FFG to turn it into a playable tabletop experience.  I wanted to show non PC games for a long time the wonders of Civ.  Now, I can. 

The deep gameplay is one thing, but one of the core concepts of Civ is the fact that there are more than one way to win.  Will it be a military victory or technological?  Will you go to the stars or will you create the greatest cultural marvel the world has ever seen?  This is what Civilization is to us!  Good going FFG on a great game!

Published: 11/5/2010 8:09:01 AM

Very neat. It seems to me, from what information I have gleaned, that finally teching up military doesn't make you auto-win battles which has been a huge pet-peeve of mine with other versions of civilisation as board game. In point of fact, it seems to me that 2 level 1 spearmen, is better than 1 level 2 knight. I like what I see.

Is the 'units' just a deck you draw from, or do you buy the units into a deck to draw from?

Published: 11/4/2010 6:34:16 PM

ah thank you kevin! I also noticed on the rule page that if you lose 2 of thsoe units your army figure is scraped. so you cant barely win a battle and march right into the capital next turn...

Published: 11/4/2010 4:26:05 PM
FFG Staff

Remember, your hand size is 3 units plus the modifiers in the clickthrough in the article, so you aren't using your entire standing force in a battle. And weaker units tend to die easier, so it's not as bad as you're thinking. There are even a couple of techs that mitigate damage.

Published: 11/4/2010 4:21:17 PM

im confused... is there a limit to how many units participate in battle? from what ive read it seems like battles will have staggeringly high casualties leaving one player competely broken militarily.

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