Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Gaming history

An excellent article in issue #42 of The Escapist dealing with the history of board games. Written by Greg Costikyan of Manifesto Games, it covers everything from the first recorded instance of a board game developer in 1759 through to the continued impressive board game market in Germany and the influence board games and their developers have had and continue to have on the computer games industry.

From personal experience, the name Civilization might invoke thoughts of Sid Meier's venerable PC title (now in it's fourth iteration, Alpha Centauri notwithstanding). Few people might know that Sid based his version on a board game developed by Francis Tresham for Hartland Trefoil and sold in the US by Avalon Hill (now sadly out of print, although sometimes copies can be found on eBay) called, oddly enough, Civilization (and Advanced Civilization, see Wikipedia entry here). I have spent many a rainy Saturday with friends whiling away the hours playing this superbly balanced and yet incredibly fun game. Although not a war game per se, it mixed a fantastic blend of population and economic expansion, trading, scientific development, and political intrigue. Personally I've always found the Civ PC games to be a pale comparison to the board game mostly due to the fact that the PC game is played almost entirely in single player mode, while the board game was played with up to 8 like-minded scheming underhanded fellow humans. No AI programming can match that.

There is an old computer game version of Advanced Civilization by Avalon that is still available at a few places if you know where to look. I wouldn't recommend it since it suffers the same problems that afflicts Sid's game, namely a lack of human presence. There's nothing like trading away a civil war to somebody in order to get the last salt on the board to complete a set (and watching your opponent's crestfallen face as he realized that you lied to him about the commodity you were trading him).

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