Freeciv Review

Site reader turned contributor Ken Griffey shares his thoughts on Freeciv. This is definitely a game I wish I could spend more time with, and Ken has mainly good things to say. If anyone can’t wait another month for Civ 5, this may be the answer.

Freeciv Review
– by Ken Griffy

I absolutely love the Civilization series. I also absolutely love things that are free. So when I found out that not only can I get my fix for world domination AND pay nothing for it, I knew I would immediately have to cancel any and all plans I had going that week. FreeCiv is a 100% pro bono version of the classic Civ II, which basically means that it’s legal crack.

For free.

There’s a lot to like about FreeCiv; similar to it’s more expensive cousin, the designers give you loads of options in order to make your conquest of the world as personalized as possible. Want to have a quick game where rush tactics can net you a victory? You can do it, just make the map the size of my studio apartment. Want to play out your conquest on some kind of weird, donut-shaped planet? You can do it, along with determining the number of starting units, technologies, and much much more. Another option which I liked was the amount of countries you can choose to play as is actually far greater than in Civ 4, so if you feel the need to have the Mongolians fight against the Sudanese or if you decide to reenact that timeless struggle between the French and the Antarticans, you can totally do it. The only negative here is that unlike the rulers in Civ 4 which each have their own personalities and gameplay bonuses, the differences in nations are cosmetic only.

While customization is definitely a draw to fans of the Civilization series, the ultimate reason to boot up the game has, and always will be, the gameplay. I went into FreeCiv a little skeptical, just for the simple reason that I love me some Civ 4, and I didn’t think that it would be able to faithfully recreate the tactical and diplomatic aspects of the game that made it so addicting to me. I was totally wrong. While there may not be as many ways to win games (you win by either destroying all other nations, completing the Space Race, or simply lasting until the year 2000 AD with the highest score), as in the commercial version, the three that are available are still immensely challenging. The fans who made FreeCiv definitely put a lot of time and effort into making sure that there are several ways to reach the endgame, which means you don’t have to necessarily be a warrior nation to win. One of the great things I’ve always loved about the Civilization games is that it is entirely possible to be a peaceful nation and still come out on top. Do I ever play that way? Of course not, but it’s nice to know that players have that option.

Another big difference which I loved was the way turns are implemented in multiplayer. Instead of making it where each player waits his turn, everyone goes at the same time. Like in traditional turn based games, units have a certain number of action points, and when they are expended, the player waits until the global timer reaches zero for them to be replenished. It gives it a psuedo RTS feel, without taking away the need for careful planning. The best part is, it keeps games going at a good clip, so even if your opponent is away from his keyboard, it doesn’t bring the match down to a grinding halt. It forces you to think not only on the fly, but several turns ahead, and adds a certain sense of immediacy to rounds.

Diplomacy plays a huge role in the game, and it’s implemented well here. You can create alliances, call for cease fires, or go to war all with great ease in FreeCiv. It’s just as easy to supply allied nations with supplies as it is to demand tribute from that one ruler you just don’t like (I’m looking at you, Hammurabi). The ability to do so really makes the game feel organic, and it’s great fun to watch nations begin to form power blocs that you have to figure out how to overcome.

If I were to have any gripes with FreeCiv, it would be that the movement system is somewhat convoluted. Moving units around and having them perform key actions can be very trial and error. For example, when I wanted one of my worker units to mine a land tile for resources, there was no immediate display showing me the proper keystroke to press in order to get him to perform the desired action. I eventually had to go look at a wiki of all the available hotkeys in order to figure out what to press. Even when I did finally get the mining started, it seemed as if there was no discernible indicator as to how much progress was being made. I was left to just hope that the worker was performing his duties, and that he would be finished (hopefully) within the next few turns. The overall lack of visual cues readily available to the player can be a little frustrating, but it’s hard to fault the FreeCiv too much considering it didn’t have millions of dollars behind it’s development.

Overall, its amazing that they’ve not only been able to make a game that FEELS like a Civilization game, but plays like one too. Sure, it may not have the visual splendor or polish, and some of the more modern features may be missing, but you could do a lot worse, and be spending a whole lot more to play something that isn’t nearly as fun. Do yourself a favor and check out FreeCiv right now.

Never Gonna…

The latest game design challenge over at Game Career Guide is to design a game based around a Rick Roll. I can’t wait to see what people come up with!

I’m also taking a look at two new games, Freeciv.net and King of Nations. I’ll let you know how it goes…