The Vintage Game Club’s sixth game was Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. About which I don’t have much to say, but I’m in the habit of blogging here when I finish a game, so:

It’s a Civilization-style game. Some of my friends praised it quite a bit, but I’m not seeing that: it’s in the lineage of a series that I enjoy and respect quite a bit, but no more than that for me. I’d heard claims that its narrative set it apart from other games in the genre; there wasn’t enough narrative to make a difference to me. I’d also heard claims that the differences between factions set it apart from other games in the genre; I enjoyed not having to worry about unit types when playing as the Gaians, but nonetheless: not enough to make a difference to me.

Still, it’s a genre that I like, and it’s well executed once I got used to a user interface from a decade ago. In fact my basic problem with the game and the genre isn’t that I don’t like it: on the contrary, it’s a genre that I get far too addicted to, that I find myself staying up far too late playing. Though even that isn’t entirely due to my liking the gameplay so much as that the gameplay doesn’t have natural stopping points: there’s never (well, rarely) a feeling that you’ve accomplished something and that you want to take a break now to savor it, instead you always feel the pull of “click this, upgrade that, move the other”.

Fortunately, I rather enjoy that constant clicking, so I’m happy enough to keep playing such games indefinitely. And I really like the idea of building, both at a city and a nation level. (It’s probably just luck, but the world maps that I was given in my games were well suited to pleasant growth with natural chokepoints for battles.)

But, when I got bored with exceedingly-easy difficulty settings, I was happy enough to give the game a rest rather than continue on at harder difficulties. At least part of what’s going on there is hidden information that plays out over long time periods. I don’t particularly enjoy hidden information in general (e.g. my least favorite Advance Wars levels were those with Fog of War), but here it’s particularly bad in that, if you make a mistake in your production strategies, you generally don’t find out about it until an hour later and long after you can do anything about it. And even when you do find that you’ve made a mistake, it’s not clear exactly what you should have done differently.

So I was happy enough to stop playing after three weeks. But I made it through (and enjoyed) three playthroughs of the game during those three weeks; who knows, maybe if I had different constraints on my time, I’d still be playing it and be happily delving into the strategy.

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