Bringing new eyes to Old World

Title Bringing new eyes to Old World
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Game diaries
When July 1, 2021

Mohawk Games' Old World is finally out of early access today. And if you're like me and you've been waiting for the full release, I should warn you that it might be a bumpy ride. Brace yourself..

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Nice, Tom!

Couple of typos. In paragraph 2:

And 2nd from the end, when you’re discussing money:

Cheers, as usual! I love when you guys point out typos. However, that first one is intentional, although admittedly awkward. 1UPT is “one unit per tile”, which carries a ton of baggage since Civ V.


as a boardgame, I find this intolerable

Tom Chits.

Being stream deprived, I forgot that the traditional way of Tomsplaining was through text!
What a cliffhanger. Quick, help me understand the game :O

So here it is, made by and for people who understand it already.

This is basically every indie strategy game, I think, although I’m surprised Old World is this way.

This has exactly described my first few hours with this game.

  1. So, it’s just Civ, but locked into the pre-medieval period?
  2. What the heck does this mean?
  3. What the heck does that do?
  4. Why did that happen?
  5. I think I kinda get it.
  6. Okay, now I’m into it.
  7. Wait. I thought I understood this, but I guess I was wrong.

Nice article. I’ve got plenty to play, so maybe I’ll give this one a bit longer for any post-release polish passes to arrive.

One more typo:

It’s prominent placement in the interface

Thank you for this diary. I will buy this game at some point but I’ve no time to devote to learning what sounds like an opaque set of mechanics. So I appreciate you saving me the frustration and I’ll wait.

Interesting - this is getting pretty glowing reviews from the 4X community. I wonder if that’s because they are grognard enough to have trudged through the entire beta and figured it out through trial and error a hundred hours ago.

I definitely can fit into that camp, but am trying to be judicious about my time before doing so. This being only on Epic for now makes it easy to wait and see.

Money is used to for events and to curry favor at multiple different levels.

I’ve had the EA version forever, and played it a handful of times at various points in its development. My sentiments are pretty much in line with Tom’s–it’s effing opaque. Intriguing, probably really cool, but damn near impenetrable.

I too have been waiting for this to come out of early access. Sounds like I may need to watch some videos to understand some of the systems. Excited for the game diary!

I think I know the answer to this: almost nobody actually knows the rules.

Anyone who thinks “it was really easy to learn, I just followed the tooltips” is just clicking buttons on a slot machine.

Gonna refund for now. I have no hope of this being adequately documented. If Tom pulls off the equivalent of a manual in his game diary, maybe I’ll re-buy. In the meantime, there are plenty of games that want to let me in on the rules.

Nice Tim Harford reference! I really enjoy his podcasts and ‘Cautionary Tales’ has been great listening on my commute.

I bought Old World a while ago… reckon I’ll let it simmer a bit longer in my backlog and hope they take such feedback to heart and try to make it a little more accessible.

I’m deeply familiar with the “curse of knowledge” concept as an editor, though I’ve never heard it referred to by that name. Thanks for that.

Yeah, sure, if you don’t understand it, then there can’t be anyone who does. I’ll have to stop playing for a while because I rolled my eyes so hard that I hurt them.

I learned the game the way I’ve learned every Civ and most strategy games I’ve played in the last 10 years, by playing around with the interface, reports, data, whatever is given. Which does mean that I generally don’t do all that well in the first game or two until I understand things. I felt like the cascading tooltips are so well done in Old World that it was an easier onboarding then the last couple Civs at least. And the exploration of those first few games is actually fun in a very different way to subsequent plays!

But I understand why people don’t want to do that. And I do agree that the OldWorld-o-pedia or whatever is kinda lacking. But it’s definitely learnable in game, and I would urge people who are on the fence to give it a try. If you like Civ, but haven’t been too inspired by the last few, there’s some exciting stuff in here.

FWIW, I’m always interested in hearing which parts of the game are hard to understand the first time through as there is still plenty of room for improvement in teaching the game.

As someone with a very similar experience to Tom’s, slowly falling in love with the game but nearly being frustrated off by the documentation, it’s not so much that there are these specific key central things that just happened to get glossed over, its the lack of any central place to turn when you have nagging questions.

The tutorial messages are very helpful, but the combination of the fact that if you are curious about mechanics you will wonder how things work before the message about it is triggered, and that you might click pass and can’t easily get back to old messages, often leaves the feeling of knowledge holes where the only remedy is keep playing and hope you stumble on the answer. But even if you could browse the entire library of tutorial messages at any time (which I think would be a very good idea), that would only go so far as a resource for slightly more detailed mechanical questions.

If you want an example of the sort of thing that is very hard to look up, I spent a good amount of time scouring the tool tips, in-game-pedia, and the internet, for a nice table of the exact ways terrain effects movement. It’s not that complicated, and you can generally get by with your intuition, but when you run into a bunch of that kind of thing in a row it’s quite discouraging. I suspect in the long run fan run wikis will cover most of these gaps, but at the moment I have found asking on discord or specifically experimenting for an answer often the only options.

Civ has the benefit of being an extremely long-running franchise that hasn’t changed the fundamental design all that much over the years, not to mention that the early iterations actually did have extremely detailed manuals which were almost strategy guides. With a new one, you know the overall context for your actions, it’s mainly a question of learning what’s new. Which isn’t the case for something like Old World - in fact, you’re inevitably going in with a mostly wrong set of assumptions about context from something like Civ.

The issue with the “pick it up as you play” approach, at least for some players (like me, and clearly Tom) is that it makes those first few games meaningless, which isn’t a great experience when games last for hours*. It’s not fun (sorry) to me to just be clicking buttons without any purpose, because I’ve no idea if my actions are situationally sensible, even if the raw numbers are foregrounded at any given time. It’s particularly egregious in a 4X or grand strategy game, when the game itself won’t usually let you know you messed up for a long time, and often it’s not immediately apparent what exactly you messed up even then. To a certain extent it’s just a question of saying things like “In your first X turns, you should be focusing on Y”, “It’s not a good idea build more than this many military units yet or Z will happen to your economy”, “Here are the general considerations for how much you should be expanding” at various stages of the game - just high level strategic pointers to give you a sense of the sort of thing a player should be thinking about when making decisions. That’s how I felt when I tried out Old World in EA, so I dropped it until release, hoping the new player experience would be more guided. As it is, I’ll probably end up watching a few hours of Let’s Plays before I jump back in, but it would be great to be able to learn the context to your actions in game

Now, to be fair, this isn’t as bad in something like EUIV or CK where just playing your first game takes dozens of hours, but at least with EUIV, you can sort of give yourself that context by trying to replicate a nation’s historical path or go for a specific objective (with in-game prompts along the way!).

* I have a similar problem with learning new board games. Even if I understand the basic mechanics, if I don’t have some sort of strategic framework in my head, the first few games are not fun. “Well, I’m doing this now, but I’ve no idea if it’s a good idea”.