As announced last week, this weekend I had the opportunity to play a game of Mega Civilization. We streamed the whole thing online, and raised over $1000 for Worldbuilders. It was, to put it mildly, an experience.
I’m generally a proponent of long games, but Mega Civilization was a test even for me. From the very beginning until the final score, the whole thing took just under nineteen hours to finish up, though that includes a couple breaks for eating. By a wide margin it’s the biggest game experience in which I’ve ever been involved, and in the end it was one I couldn’t quite complete. I had to leave just after hour seventeen, owing to too many grown-up obligations the next day. I do wish I could have been involved in the endgame, though I can guarantee I had no earthly chance of being close to victory.
My civilization was Babylon, and at least in the on-board action I was able to stabilize my borders and keep a generally peaceful atmosphere in Mesopotamia. It helped that I was on generally good terms with all of my neighbors, which included Persia, Parthia, and Assyria. In hindsight I was probably too friendly with Assyria, since they ended up winning the game. In fairness we were all a little distracted by Nubia, who ran hard to an early lead and became everyone’s target as the game went on.
Babylon has some tough land borders, but their ability to produce population meant that even when a city got destroyed they could found a new one with a very short turnaround. This was in spite of a mid-game spate of calamities, at one point destroying half my civilization in just a little over a turn. It’s easy to complain about calamities, but I didn’t get hit nearly as hard as a lot of people.
For those who are unfamiliar, the trading functions like an enormous high-stakes game of Pit. We had a ten minute timer, and then eighteen people wandered around the room openly haggling for deals trade goods. The tough part is that the players only need to be so truthful, so this is also when calamities get passed around. There are enough players and enough trade goods that actually creating sets is a big challenge. It’s a big deal, because those trade goods are then spent to buy advances, and that’s where the bulk of the scoring comes from. After just one game, the key to being good at trading mostly eluded me, though I was getting the hang of it as the game went on. Even still, it was by far the most interesting part of the whole experience.
As I livetweeted the experience and interacted with people online throughout the game, I was asked a couple times if the actual game itself was good. I didn’t really play with much intent to review, but even if I had the question is impossible to answer. As I told a couple people in the game, it’s a little like being asked if the twenty pounds of sausage you just ate was high-quality. It’s fine I guess, but you still don’t want to see any sausage for a good long time. I will say that there are other civ games I prefer by far, since they concentrate a lot of the cool stuff here into a much smaller package. Any issues I have with Mega Civilization (and there are a number of them) are a direct result of a game that took over twelve hours and involved a ridiculous eighteen people.
But the scale is the whole point of playing Mega Civilization, so it’s really more of a feature than a bug. It’s also impossible to comment on depth or strategy after just one game, though it does seem really polished and well-developed. Anyway the game itself was only the background to a really terrific group. All eighteen players were somehow involved in the gaming industry, either as designers, developers, publishers, podcasters, or in my case, reviewer. Everyone was very cool with each other, though I confess that my own emotional state grew a bit tattered as the night wore on. The best thing is that I walked away from the experience with a lot of new friends, kind of like how people who live through some kind of life-altering trauma share a special bond. A big thank you goes out to Nerd Nighters host JR Honeycutt, who did a terrific job of explaining the game and keeping us on the rails even as everyone became more scattered in the closing hours. It was also super cool of Plaid Hat Games to host the event, since their warehouse was basically our home for a full day.
Would I play again? If you had asked me immediately after I left I would have laughed in your face. Now that I’ve gotten a couple nights of sleep my answer is a provisional yes, though it might have to be a full year before I’m close to tempted. I would also try to select a time when I wouldn’t have any serious obligations for the next day, just so I knew I could actually finish the thing. But the biggest thing would be that I would want to have a group that every bit as cool as this one, and I’m not sure I have JR’s energy to put together such a great game session. It’s a singular experience, and I’m glad I got to do it.