despite what should be a terrible disadvantage - playing a game without even knowing all the rules! - that level at which most of us can reliably win is one where the AI is receiving pretty significant bonuses.
I think this speaks to both strategy game design and strategy game AI, that this woeful state of affairs is so common.
I used to feel this way. Then I realized that chess has been around for 1500 years. It has 64 squares, 6 different “units,” and rules that fit on one page.
We’ve juuuuust about gotten to the point where we have a chess AI that can reliably beat the best humans. In 1500 years.
And we expect each new Civilization, with hundreds of units, sprawling maps, and 200-page manuals (if they had manuals anymore), slammed together in 8 months of crunch by a team of 20-year-olds, to have a functional AI that doesn’t cheat?
With a patch that changes the rules every week for the first year, no less?
Are you kidding? (The general “you,” not you in particular.)
Let’s just take it as resolved that no video game in our lifetimes will ever have an AI that plays the same game the human plays, and still has a shot at winning against someone who understands the rules.
Strategy game AIs can only beat you in one of two ways: concealing the rules, or playing a different game from the one you’re playing.
Good strategy games, like Invisible, Inc or Into the Breach, do the latter.
Bad strategy games, like Civ, do both, and in the wrong way: they conceal the rules by making so many rules you can’t think about them all at the same time. And they play a different game than the human… by cheating.