Oh, My Pop Culture Tactical Advantage: Gods + Kings

Civilization-V-Gods-Kings-backgroundOh, Civilization, how you amuse me.

This is a game based entirely on tactics. If you play without a good strategy, you’re bound to lose unless you’ve set the computer difficulty low. While I have played the earlier versions, my experience with Civilization is pretty limited to the latest installment and its expansion pack, Civilization V: Gods + Kings. I think what I like the most about this game, other than building giant death robots and conquering the world, is that we can see how culture and religion can impact growth and power, while completely neglecting how they impact society.

To be fair, that’s not completely true. The game does have a happiness meter, and if your population completely hates you, they will revolt via barbarians.

I suppose that Civ5 is about as accurate as a game can get in terms of application of religion by a society, though it does leave some things to be desired. Being “about as accurate” doesn’t mean entirely accurate, or that there’s no room for improvement in how religion is implemented.

Okay, before we get into this, yes, I know that Civ5 is a tactics game and is not making or attempting to make any commentary on religion. There are no Christ-like figures or any other iconic people from various faiths making appearances. There are no subtle references back to religious parables or references to specific beliefs of any kind (though I do believe Isabella and a few others will wish wrath on you from on high if you conquer them.)

But I’m going to talk about the religion anyway.

So for those of you who haven’t played the game, Civ5, being a tactics game, not only involves you trying to not die when all the other nations you’ve pissed off invade your country, it also requires you to pay attention to how much science your nation generates, how happy your population is, how much gold you make, your culture, and your faith. And doing poorly in one of these can affect all the others. And depending on how much you generate every turn will determine how fast your country grows. For example, someone with very little science will fall behind on researching technologies, and it’s not fun fighting armored tanks with crossbowmen.

Faith works much the same way. Building certain structures will help you accumulate faith. A shrine for instance, will give you +1 faith every turn. Once you have enough faith, you can found a pantheon. Once you have a pantheon, you need to keep generating as much faith as possible. You need a pantheon, because otherwise you cannot establish a religion later on. And you’re pretty much doing this on a timer, because though everyone may eventually get a pantheon, there are only a limited number of religions a map can have. Yep, the game actually puts a limit on how many religions may be founded.

And well, how pantheons and religions actually work in this game amuses me. So each pantheon will give you one belief—or tactical advantage, as it were. And you get to pick what it is. Like, maybe all your cow and horse pastures will spontaneously start producing culture… somehow. Maybe all your quarries where you mine rocks will now give you extra faith. Personally, I like to choose “+15% production of Ancient/Classical Wonders”. I’m not sure how this works. Maybe by virtue of having a faith of any kind, I’ve scared my citizens into believing that unnamed deities will get pissed off if they don’t build the Statue of Zeus fast enough.

And that’s another thing. None of the pantheons are given names, and this really bothers me. You can play as Harald Bluetooth, Augustus Ceasar, Alexander, and a whole bunch of leaders who came from places with established pantheons, and yet none of the pantheons in the game are named. You can found a pantheon and it gives you one belief, because I suppose it’s based around the idea that pantheons were less involved than “actual” religions. And even how you can accumulate faith doesn’t always make sense. The Statue of Zeus and the Temple of Artemis won’t actually give you faith if you manage to build them. They give your army a fighting bonus and help you grow food. Furthermore, none of the Ancient/Classical Wonders based on religion actually require you to have a pantheon or a religion in order to build them.

I guess otherwise it would be too involved, but it doesn’t make much sense regardless.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense, let’s talk about establishing a religion. Once you’re one of the lucky few to found a religion before they run out like limited commodities, you get to pick which religion you want and two founding beliefs. And later on, you can have up to four beliefs. First of all, whatever faith you pick doesn’t matter. Different faiths don’t get different founding beliefs. There’s no difference between Zoroastrianism and Islam. You can choose Buddhism and then pick building cathedrals as one of your religious perks.

And yes, Buddhism is a religion in this game. Civ5 makes no distinction between religions and ways of life. Which is why I laugh that it chooses to make a distinction between religions and pantheons. And there is little to no historical value to the religions. For example, playing as Pacal, a Mayan leader, I got a pantheon and then founded Christianity well before the year 500 BCE. My founding beliefs were building mosques, an Islamic place of worship, and tithes. “Tithes” can now be translated as “extra taxes coming to me, the government, so I can buy things.”

One thing that I can say in all honesty that I like about religion in the game is how it spreads. Founding one won’t automatically make people follow it. You have to get missionaries and prophets to spread it around, while keeping foreign faiths outside of your territory. Again, tactics.

Overall, it’s not that I think adding faith to the Civilization games is a bad idea. I think it’s a great idea, and it’s added an extra layer to the gameplay, which makes it all the more interesting. I just wish that the religions were personalized a little more. Each nation has its own tactical advantages, not to mention special units and buildings. Japan can have samurai, Egypt gets burial tombs, the Iroquois can move faster through jungle and forests than the other nations. So it kind of bothers me that the religion isn’t personalized like this either. I understand why specific religions cannot necessarily go to specific nations, since many nations share faiths. But I don’t understand why certain faiths don’t have certain beliefs. Like, if I found Shintoism, I shouldn’t be able to increase my combat strength as one of my beliefs.

All that said, it is a fun game. If you want to see in what ways religion can help benefit a society on a financial, cultural, scientific, or even militaristic level without there being an overall religious subtext, Civilization is for you. It’s not a perfect setup, but Civ5 is a strategy game, and that’s why.