Humankind - a Historical 4X by Amplitude (Endless Space, Legend, etc.)

At this point the King is dead and not coming back.

Funny, Endless Legend was the game that convinced me that 4x was really just more suited to fantasy settings. I’m tired of playing games where the optimal strategy has my cavemen grabbing that spot I know I’ll need in 2,000 year to produce battleships. Endless Legend’s seasonal cycles and tighter narrative was a welcome change of pace.

That said, I’m optimistic. I liked how Amplitude implemented minor factions in EL and ES2. I assume they’ll be doing something similar here. Changing between cultures from epoch to epoch sounds like the event decisions in ES2 that allowed you to switch your faction population. What would be interesting is if these changes only apply going forward, so some of the previous population / culture remains.

You’re not a heretic, you’re just objectively wrong! ;)

I’m totally with you on the 3X front, I really prefer to have nation/empire building be the core. For eXterminate, my preference is to not be doing it myself but rather to protect my shining beacon of light from the barbarian hordes.

That being said, I just found Endless Legend to be a mediocre game and Endless Space 2 worse. I love the atmosphere, the faction design, and several game mechanics (like the winters on a dying world), but as a game I just didn’t think it was very good.

Hehe, I guess I’m wrong! Actually, I kinda bounced off Endless Legend, so we may have experienced that game similarly. But I got seriously addicted to Endless Space 2.

I hope sooner or later I do get addicted to one of these AoW games. I’m going to give Planetfall another go this weekend.

I’m with you completely.

As to eliminating “exterminate” it seems to me that violence is kind of a cheap industrial ingredient added to a lot of entertainment to broaden the audience – but that it is so often terribly done, implausibly done.

On the other hand, expansion and exploitation would seem unrealistic without resistance. Ditto the need to be able to defend yourself. It seems to me that the real problem is the whole idea of a domination victory. Through most of human history, even the mightiest civilizations had no hope of finding the entire world, let alone conquering it. And even today, the concept of world conquest is silly. So in my idealized game, there would be no domination victory at all, and the world would have no edges, just be procedurally generated infinitely. The more you expand, the higher the defense overhead, the further you trade the more tenuous but the greater the possibilities.

Ideally throw in a decadence or decline mechanic as well, if done right.

“Decadence” as a reason for a civilization’s “decline” and fall (cf. Edward Gibbon) is very much an eighteenth-century concept. On the other hand, games like Civ do like to pretend that there’s been no appreciable advance in historical/archaeological theory in the past seventy years or so…

There are better ways to model how human cultures develop.

But are there good ways to model it that you can wrap a game around?

I think Field of Glory: Empires has done a great job with that.

But FOG:E does that via a decadence mechanic that I do think works pretty well. In gameplay terms it’s a pretty clear trade-off of decadence vs whatever benefit there was to the thing giving me the decadence.

From my limited game design perspective, it’s way harder to make factors like poor leadership and internal strife work in a way that won’t ruin a game.

I think one of the deficiencies of the Civ model is that you have 6 nations or so. You really should have an endless variety of nations, with parts breaking off and evolving different cultures and then fighting each other etc. The EU model is much closer to that reality but only works at the granularity of provinces, plus it doesn’t include that first expansion phase. You can see what happened when they tried to include that phase with Stellaris.

It’s not a deficiency, it’s a feature. I often see people trying to roleplay in Civilization and it only works if you know nothing of history, otherwise issues like that will bug you. Once the idea of democratic maritime Aztecs stops being funny and becomes ridiculous you’re no longer having fun. Of course the same is true of Paradox games - once you stop being in awe of how much stuff there is in a game you notice problems and gross simplifications.

But anyway, Civ is a game first and foremost. Its main tenent is showing the whole history in a digestible form. I won’t say that it means you can’t have dozens of contenders, but it would also mean that you’re unlikely to get to this late-game stage when you’re acquainted with everyone and play Cold War/Space Race thing. The fact that you have to have everything in the game means that no single thing can be overly complicated. Thus, simple diplomacy and not many people to have diplomacy with.

Well, research into “civilizational collapse” certainly shows that’s it not something you can “model” in a simple way. The major examples from history (e.g. the disruptions in the eastern Mediterranean seaboard in ca. 1200 BC, the classic Maya collapse in the tenth century AD, the fall of the western half of the Roman Empire in AD 476) actually don’t feature a culture disappearing overnight, but rather disintegrating and transforming over a certain period of time. For example, when the Mycenaean palaces in Greece get destroyed in ca. 1200 BC, Mycenaean culture doesn’t suddenly “disappear”, but actually clings on for another century or so, with people re-occupying palace sites in a limited way. There’s also continuity from the Bronze Age across the Iron Age into the Greek historical period (elements of religion, use of chariots, ships, etc. etc.).

In the past, it was common to ascribe the supposed “collapse” of a civilization to a single cause. In the case of Rome, it was “decadence” (brought about by the Empire’s adoption of Christianity if you believe Gibbon), in case of the Mediterranean troubles in 1200 BC it was perhaps warfare (if you believe Drews’s The End of the Bronze Age), and so forth. Such monocausal explanations are rightfully held to be too simplistic. Nowadays, it’s clear that causes are multivariate, and a useful model to understand (complex) societies involves systems theory, where a culture is regarded as a complex system, with input and output, that generates either positive or negative feedback. Hence, Eric Cline in his book 1177 BC (a useful summary for the Bronze Age “collapse”), collects all the evidence and it’s clear that the Mediterranean civilizations weren’t disrupted by a single cause, but different things were in play there: earth quakes, social unrest, famines/droughts, and, indeed, seaborne attacks.

As to how you would model that, I think a lot of games already do without some overt mechanic. All you need to have is some system by which your empire can grow or shrink with regards to (a) political/cultural influence and (b) geographic reach. In Civilization, you’ll lose tiles/cities to opponents: that “models” it in a very basic form. The Paradox games do a better job since it’s actually possible to be subsumed by another player and still continue playing; in Civ, you simply lose the game if an opponent takes your final city.

No “decadence”/decline mechanic necessary. And “decadence” is really a very outdated concept that has no place at all in modern discourse (and that includes games: something like the Civilization games, with their colonialist overtones, cannot pretend not to take part in discourse or take an overtly political side in the discussion – but that’s something for another discussion). It’s subjective and implies that certain civilizations simply outlive their right to a continued existence because of mistakes they’ve made (and if that seems colonialist that’s because it is).

I always find the inclusion of historical cultures in Civilization (and similar games, include Humankind) to be troublesome, since it ignores the particular historical and environmental context in which that culture developed in the first place. It makes no sense to have a “Greek” civilization that is landlocked, or to play as the “Egyptians” when you don’t start off in an environment that is mostly desert with a single life-bringing river that runs through it. It makes little sense and reduces historical cultures to little more than a collection of attributes and some visual references: Egyptians get chariots and Greeks get hoplites – it’s rather reductionist.

At least, using historical civilizations is troublesome for games that model the development of cultures over a long period of time (centuries or even millennia). Games that are more limited in scope (e.g. RTS games, city-builders) are fine, at least as far as this archaeologist is concerned, since you’ll only control a particular culture for years or decades at the most, so that the game can be more accurately model the specific historical and environmental contexts (e.g. Children of the Nile, the Impressions city builders like Caesar III).

If I were to design a long-term 4X, I’d avoid using historical civilizations at all. I’d also try to actually incorporate some more RPG-like mechanics (no linear research “tree”! Directed research makes little sense for 95% of history). For example, if you start out in the desert, your options for growth/development are limited until you can find a fertile area (or a river). Interacting with certain animals/plants over time will allow you to domesticate them (if they’re there!), encountering copper deposits will eventually lead to your people being able to combine fire + copper to create simple metal objects, etc. If you live in extremely mountainous environments, you wouldn’t develop the wheel (cf. Peru), whereas in relatively flat terrain you would (depending on distances you need to traverse, etc.). Trade with neighbouring peoples would allow an exchange of ideas (technologies), and so on. Much more of a simulation that takes into account environmental considerations, trade/exchange, conflict (internal as well as external), and so on, giving rise to unique civilizations.

A game like that would also have a greater claim to being educational than a history-flavoured fantasy game like Civilization. Humankind seems like it would fall in the same category as Civilization, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt – Egyptians “evolving” into Vikings doesn’t inspire much confidence, though! (I wonder why game designers don’t actually reach out to archaeologists to get feedback/ideas – we’re an approachable lot and explaining why things changed in the past is at the very heart of what we do.)

Well, I’d buy your game for sure!

But on another note, I think monocausal explanations for things is at the heart of what makes humans human. Groups of people agree to believe things that are questionable and unverifiable, and this empowers them to act in concert towards large group goals. History (not talking here about academic history) and religion make two very good examples. That’s why political groups work so hard to control the narrative; it’s not the factual record of what happened but rather the themed re-telling of events that carry influence.

But back to these games, it seems to me that this is probably one area where Civ is not so far off. Why did Civ A fall? The proximate cause was that they did not have sufficient armed forces to defend themselves. But behind that, you have the mix of factors preventing increased production and factors preventing technological development and so forth. (The cynic might add that since it was an AI civ, it lacked even the most rudimentary intelligence.) The player might reconstruct this in simplistic terms, but that is on the player, not the game.

And even FOG:Empires with its decadence… the meaning of decadence is indeed foggy. Some factors sound like the old “getting too comfy and soft” or “becoming sexually/morally indulgent” while others sound more like with size and time, the cogs in the civilization machine starting to work against each other rather than in concert. So in my mind, this is actually less an example of monocausal-think than you would find in a typical hs history class.

I’ll be interested in how Humankind handles this sort of thing. I wish that they could say that in the next era your civ morphed into a more aggressive seafaring civilization, as opposed to calling that Vikings. But I am not ready to give up on it, even if I prefer your game outline.

Given the reception the latest ES2 expansion has received - bugs everywhere! - I’m not encouraged.

Great and clear explanation, JoshoB!

Here’s a useful link about the Fall of Rome.

It’s really strange to use a specific term “decadence”. I guess we still believe in that classic cycle of vigorous ascetics creating a good life for their lazy descendants who live in paradise but can’t hold it. Some games use terms like “stability” but it doesn’t seem to work that well - after all, stability is almost like stagnancy.

Your ideas about agency make a lot of sense, yeah. Some empire builders have something like that, Europa Universalis allows you to get huge bonuses from national ideas you chose (you still have some “inherited” ideas, so even if your Spain doesn’t care about New World and instead conquers North Africa and France you’ll still be proficient colonizer), Alpha Centauri modeled future and gave you choices between government types.

That’s an interesting line of reasoning, and one I think makes sense.

I think I touched on this earlier, when I said they should let you “build” your start faction out of a series of traits, but only a few, say 3 or so, out of potentially dozens, and then every so often you get a “decision point” where you decide the direction of the next few turns.

For added fun and thinking and complexity, that decision point could vary, instead of what Amplitude have planned where there are 6 (?) definite points.

So would I.

Like money, religon and corporations. Reminds me of that Book i was reading not long ago, Homo Sapiens.

You and @JoshoB are right about decadence, but I was just using it as lazy shorthand in a gaming context.

I’ll keep that in mind! I have too many projects going as it is, though. ;-)

Yeah, that’s true. Humans are wired towards looking for easy answers.

True, it’s why I also say that you don’t need a “decline” mechanic, since games already model the ebb and flow of influence/power/reach/etc. The Civ games would be massively improved if they adopt the Paradox line of thinking where losing your last city isn’t automatically a game over, but forces you to change and adapt instead.

Why start off with traits? I’d start off with a blank slate – the hunter-gatherer start point in Civ is as good as any (even if that isn’t a complete blank slate). Decision points might be interesting to model how political classes (try to) influence the flow of history, though there should be some connection to societal development at large (i.e. popular sentiment or something along those lines, the kind of leadership that fits with complexity of your current society, etc.).