News for September 2010
On the Shoulders of Giants 7
A Designer's Diary for Sid Meier's Civilization: the Board Game by Kevin Wilson
Civilization | Published 14 September 2010

The following is another installment in a series of designer diaries for Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game by Kevin Wilson. Be sure to check out the previous designer diary here. Take it away, Kevin!

As anyone who’s played any of the Sid Meier’s Civilization computer games knows, technology is right at the heart of the Civilization experience. From the moment you first discover the alphabet, new vistas of choice start opening up before your eyes. Should you discover horseback riding and learn how to train horsemen to increase your ability to explore the land, or should you master navigation in order to start sailing the seas? Decisions like this form the skeleton of the game and I knew that I had to somehow capture that feel for the board game, but at the same time keep things simple.

I knew that I wanted technologies to either grant new abilities or improve existing abilities when a player learns them. I also wanted each player to have to research their technologies individually. Although I’ve seen games in which technologies are learned by all the players when one player researches them, I’ve always felt that missed out on a critical element of the experience – choosing your own path and customizing your civilization to meet your play style. So, I decided, every player would have access to the same potential technologies, but would have to unlock them individually.

After crunching numbers and distilling down the notes I had taken previously from the various Civilization computer games, I arrived at the conclusion that there were a ton of potential technologies – far more than I could reasonably include in a board game, particularly if I stuck to my guns of an individual tech tree for each player. Also, the way that the computer determined which technologies were available to be learned – a system of prerequisites tracked internally by the computer – just wasn’t going to work the way I wanted it to in cardboard.

After a series of trial and error, I came upon the idea of a tech pyramid as opposed to a tech tree. If I assigned a level to each technology and forced the players to ‘support’ each card in the pyramid as it was added, I could avoid a more complicated prerequisite system while still retaining a great feeling that players were building up to the better technologies. As a bonus, the mechanic is super visual and easy to explain:

Simply put, every level II or higher tech must be supported by two techs of the next level down. Thus, over the course of the game each player builds their own personal pyramid of technologies. This also allows players to explore the various technologies without getting trapped down too many “dead ends.” If you realize too late that you needed a different tech after all, you simply extend your pyramid out enough to support it, rather than starting over again at the beginning of a long chain of prerequisites.

This brings us to the technology victory condition. There is only one copy of the level V technology space flight, because the first player who builds it, wins the game. This requires a total of 15 technologies, including space flight itself.

I’m not going to explain how you pay for new techs yet (it involves building up your cities) other than to say that if you’re clever, you can learn a tech every turn, meaning that it takes approximately 15 turns to win the game with a tech victory. But why level V? Why only fifteen techs to win? Why not twenty-one? Twenty-eight? I went with that number for a variety of reasons, namely to keep the game at a reasonable play length. Rigorous playtesting then backed that number up, showing me that my gut feeling was pretty good. It’s always nice when things work out on the first guess.

But what do techs actually do for you? They make your civilization faster...stronger...better:

Techs can affect your civilization in a wide variety of ways. But, I’m about out of time for this article, so let me just leave you with an excerpt from the rulebook explaining some of the different things tech cards can do for you. Until next time, happy speculating!


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)

Karloth Valois
Published: 9/15/2010 11:47:46 PM

I´ve played the game on the computer, i´ve played the old board game from Avalon Hill and i will play this game. i think it´s an everlasting, timeless game concept. Go on FFG an thanks for your great games.

I´m german. Anyone who finds spelling mistakes can take them for free. :o) :D

Published: 9/15/2010 2:14:16 PM

Very much looking forward to this game!

I don't mind much the fact that it's based on Revolutions, since this is probably a good idea to approach a wider range of players (ie family, friends).

From this designer notes, it seems that the key Civ elements are nailed down pretty well.

Come on, I want to play this!


Published: 9/15/2010 6:02:06 AM

 Really, really enjoying these developer notes.

Would love to see more stuff like this from Fantasy Flight!

Published: 9/15/2010 5:06:04 AM

In the example given in faster...stronger...better, we can see that Horseback Riding is a level 1 tech, Mathematics is a level 2 tech and Banking is a level 3 tech.

So it's clear that you must have some 'knowledge' to learn more advanced technologies. I suppose they have 'overlooked' a few themes because you would need hundreds of tech cards and considering that all (except Space Flight) need several copies so every player can have that tech, it would be unbearable to have all those cards and manage them while playing.

I find the system interesting enough.

I'm looking forward to read more about the game.

Published: 9/14/2010 7:54:28 PM

 I'm not so sure about that, I mean, perhaps, but if you examine the pyramid  the techs are labeled with numbers, ascending to Space Flight's 5. This means that likely certain techs are built after other ones, and in the pyramid, Metalworking is a 1. I'd assume Railroads are a 2 or 3, so stands to reason one can't build it first. I could be dead wrong however and none the less, I giggled a bit at visual you painted. :)

Published: 9/14/2010 6:03:07 PM

lol reading this its possible to discover railroads before you discover metalworking. Nothing game breaking I assume, but from a historical standpoint funny as hell.



The clay express launches today with over 1000 miles of laid clay tracks.

"There was problems with initial designs of wood lay tracks, but when those engineers came up with the idea of using stone and clay mixtures, we had ourselves a field trip about how we would haul all those materials." ~Tim Hatter, railroad construction manager

Published: 9/14/2010 5:52:12 PM

I really like this mechanic. 

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