Console game publisher 2K Games’ first Facebook effort, CivWorld, has been a long time coming at just over 18 months in development. The game is shooting for an open beta phase launching this summer following an alpha phase begun in January.
CivWorld, previously called Civilization Network, is meant to be the social version of the classic turn-based strategy video game series, Civilization. In translating the single-player experience to Facebook, developer and series creator Sid Meier of Firaxis Games structured the gameplay experience around independent civilizations that race through time periods from an ancient era on through a space age to see who becomes the most advanced civilization first. In order to “win” an era, a team of players must band together within a civilization to meet one of several “win” conditions for the era, such as discovering a technology, building a certain number of wonders, or earning a certain amount of gold.
The individual gameplay experience puts players in the role of a leader within their own civilization. Each leader is responsible for their own village where they can build houses for villagers, assign jobs to those villagers, and ultimately produce specific resources like gold, science, or culture, that benefit the overall standing of the civilization by spending “harvests,” which regenerate once per hour. How well the player manages their village determines both their rank within a civilization team (where higher ranks afford certain privileges) and how many turns a user may spend in specific mini-games related to the resources they cultivate.
For example, in our playthrough of the closed alpha version, we joined the Chinese Civilization during the Ancient Era. At the time, one of the win conditions was discovering a single Wonder — which requires each player within the civilization to contribute a “Great Person” card to the construction of the Wonder. Great Persons are earned through generating resources within our villages; so we were able to contribute an Artist to build the Stonehenge Wonder after generating a certain amount of culture within our own city. We accelerated the amount of culture we generated by changing the jobs of all our villagers to Artists and building a theater in the village.
The idea with the city-building aspect of CivWorld is to maximize the production of resources so that your civilization can meet era win conditions more quickly. In addition to micromanaging the jobs that villagers have and the structures that encourage their job production, the player must also physically position the houses and structures in a way that allows the villagers to run the shortest amount of distance between their homes, the structure, and the players’ palace where the resource is disbursed. Players that lay out their village structures for maximum production are rewarded with happier villagers that produce more resources than average.
The player’s rank changes as they contribute or fail to contribute to a civilization’s progress. We started out as a Duchess after completing Stonehenge, but graduated quickly to Princess after repositioning our village as a science generator so that we could more quickly research “technologies” like horse breeding and democracy. Technologies are laid out along a skill tree where the more complex technologies require the player to complete strings of lesser technologies. So to research literacy, we would needed to have completed research in writing and alphabets.
On the macro-level, players must coordinate with other members of their civilization to achieve the best results. CivWorld facilitates this communication with Global, Team, and Private chat and with a “news” ticker along the bottom of the screen that updates players on their teammates’ doings. Players can also visit any other player’s village or throne room area for ideas on how to lay out their structures or to see how advanced another player is based on what decorations they’ve put in their throne room.
Mini-games are the most complex form of gameplay within CivWorld. The actual activities themselves are straightforward, such as an image scramble or turn-based card combat, but the way in which they slot into the overall experience borders on confusing. All mini-games with the exception of the caravan mini-game are played synchronously with other players from other civilizations, so you’re essentially racing to complete them. Your turns, however, are restricted by how much of a resource you’ve built up within your village.
For example, by focusing on science, we generated a lot of turns to use in the science mini-game. The science mini-game has users spending turns on incremental moves within a maze. If a player can reach the center of the maze before any other player, they get a boost to the technology they are currently researching that shortens the overall time it takes the player to complete that research. At the same time, we found we were especially good at the culture mini-game where players swap pieces of a picture scramble to complete a work of art. Each time we completed an art puzzle, we got a bonus to our village’s culture stat, which ultimately generated more moves for us to spend on the next puzzle.
The caravan mini-game and the battle mini-game are the only asynchronous play experiences, though players can have a synchronous effect on battles if they are present while the battles are fought. In caravan, the player is trying to connect two points on a map by buying individual pieces of road that connect the start point to the end point. As the overall game progresses through the eras, this puzzle becomes more complex with additional points on the map that need to be connected to the road.
Battles gain importance in later eras as one of the win conditions becomes defeating civilizations that are larger than your own. Each civilization has overall defense and offense statistics that are determined by how many combat unit cards each player within a civilization has purchased. Civilizations can also increase this score by completing certain Wonders that provide bonuses or status effects — the Great Wall, which thwarts invasions, or a Secret Weapon that automatically destroys attacking melee units. Players can initiate battles between civilizations at any time, though there is a timer that counts down between 5 and 10 hours before a battle begins so that the civilization’s players have time to log on and add their individual units to the battlefield.
As of press time, we have yet to complete a single playthrough of Civilization; we are currently Queen of the Chinese civilization during the Early Exploration Era. During a private demo with game and tech industry journalists, 2K Games explained that the “endgame” for CivWorld is accruing a special kind of in-game currency called Gems that can only be spent on decorations for our throne room. The throne rooms are the only persistent factor in CivWorld, with all other factors — including the village we build during — resetting to the Ancient Era as soon as we complete a playthrough. As we complete playthroughs, 2K says we will earn the “right” to play more than one Civ game at a time with different groups of players. Supposedly, an individual game can support up to 200 players at once.
The publisher also explained that while Firaxis is still balancing for gameplay while CivWorld is in alpha, a playthrough is generally expected to take about two weeks. 2K did not disclose the expected average play session, but we found ourselves playing once or twice a day for no longer than 20 minutes each time.
On the monetization side, players are only able to spend real money via credit card through Live Gamer on CivBucks, which can be used to buy more harvests and to buy a lock-out item for individual mini-games that allows you to play the science and culture mini-games alone for a limited amount of time. CivBucks can also be spent on the Gem currency used to decorate the throne room. 2K explained that for balancing purposes, players are limited in how many CivBucks the can spend on mini-games or on purchasing the gold resource. There is no limit to how much they can spend on Gems as they have no gameplay impact.
As of press time, CivWorld does not allow the use of Facebook Credits and there are no alternative means of acquring CivBucks through offer walls or video ads. It is unclear what, if any, steps 2K is taking to implement Credits. It is also unclear whether or not CivWorld will launch before the July 1 deadline for mandatory Credits implementation in social games.
All in all, CivWorld is easily the second most complex social game experience we’ve seen after Idle Games’ IdleWorship. This game stands out because of the number of game types it incorporates through mini-games and meta-games, and because of the team nature of gameplay. CivWorld is also unique in that it’s tied to a well-loved video game series with a preexisting fan based that developer Firaxis needs to satisfy before courting new users on Facebook.
As to how well CivWorld satisfies the Civilization fan, ISG will reserve judgement on that point until after the game enters open beta sometime this summer. In the meantime, you can track the progress of the game on AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.