Advanced Civilization and I

By Russell Harley 23 Oct 2013 0

Author?s note:  To prevent any confusion before we start, this article is discussing Avalon Hill?s (AH) (now Hasbro?s) Advanced Civilization board game. Not the Sid Myers Civilization game which started as a computer game, now up to the fifth version (Civilization V), and also had a board game (Civilization: The Board Game) developed by Fantasy Flight Games.

I have been playing AH?s Civilization and the expansion Advanced Civilization (along with the Western expansion) since they all came out. For those that can do the math, this means I have been playing these types of games for a long time. Of course with a game like Advanvanced Civ., it is hard to get enough people, (6+ for the full map) to sit down and play something that can take 8+ hours to play. So what to do?

Like any self-respecting gamer, I got married and bred them. Advanced Civ. became our family game once my daughters, three of them no less, got old enough. After all you need quite a few people to have a good Advanced Civ. game. Obviously they had to be old enough to handle the math so I started the oldest playing at around 9. The other daughters started younger as there were more of us to help them out, the youngest about 7.

How did I accomplish this feat? By the simple fact that playing the game allowed my daughters to stay up late, eating whatever they wanted, and being able to sow disasters onto adults, including their parents. This was a heady recipe for them. Plus they knew for the entire day, they did not have to do homework, chores, etc.  What?s a kid not to like about that? 

So we automatically had a built-in set of five players for the game. Just add 1+ people and we had a very nice Advanced Civ. game ready to go. The down side of course was with the younger players as the game took a lot longer, usually 10+ hours as time was spent helping them with the math involved. But still time well spent.

The game was very important to us as a family, to the point that when their mother and I got divorced (now there was a calamity), the game was part of the divorce decree. She got it.

My oldest daughter became the first female to ever win the Advanced Civ. tournament at the World Board Game Championships (WBC) in Lancaster, PA. While she has not won the title again, she has been at the finals every year since then, attaining a variety of positions. What about me you ask? My best finish has been fourth, and I sadly do not make the finals every year. So the student has exceeded the master in this case.

But now with my daughters all grown and spread across the world (and my breeding capacity greatly diminished), playing Advanced Civ. outside of WBC, is extremely hard. So how can I keep my skills up if I ever hope to beat my daughters again?       

Fortunately another Advanced Civ. player I met at WBC, and the GM of the event over the last several years, Nathan Barhorst, Kevin Youells, and others, decided to do something to help the Advanced Civ. community. Nathan is a developer and has created an online version of Advanced Civ. that follows the exact rules as the board game version. You can actually observe games in progress at . So how does this work and how does it compare to the board game?

The online game follows the Advanced Civ. sequence of play exactly. Unlike the board game, the online game takes months to play out. Each different step of the sequence is sent out through emails. These notify all the players of what just occurred, who?s action is next (and the date and local time it needs to be done by), and what the next step is.

Just like in the board game, players can complete steps in advance, like moving, buying boats, etc. if you think no one is going to bother you that turn. Otherwise you can just wait for your action step to arrive and move (or whatever else you wanted to do) and do it in the proper time.

If you do move early and something happens you need to react to, you can ?undo? your ?Done? status as long as your position in the turn order has not passed. So if you are moving after Africa and Thrace and you do your move in advance and Africa attacks one of your cities for some reason, as long as Thrace has not finalized their turn, you can go in and change your move with no problem. In practice, this seldom happens as you can usually tell if someone is going to bother you or not, just like in the board game. Below is what the map looks like.


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You can also group mail everyone, very useful at the start of trading, or individually. Diplomacy is much more important in the online version, than the board game. This is simply because it is done through email as opposed to in person. Something that would only take a few minutes in person could take days, or even a week or more, to work out by email. 

Trading cards works very well. This is good since trading is one of the core features of the game. You can lie about one of the trade cards; you can trade more than three cards, etc. However, unlike the board game, the online version strictly enforces the only two cards need to be truthful rule. Anything over that two card number can be lied about. Since you are not sitting across from someone at a table if this occurs, (so you cannot yell at them), there is not much you can do about it if you wanted a trade of two silver and two grains and it turns out to be one silver and one grain and two calamities. Trades tend to be just for three cards for this reason.

Calamity resolution is also very easy. You know who has what and the order of their resolution. Through individual emails you can make deals, like no Pirates in exchange for no secondary effects of Epidemic. Barbarian Hordes is dealt with automatically by the system. So no more counting out the 15 tokens and trying to figure out where they should go. And yes, Crete is still immune.

The online version is totally free to play. However, the site does have ads but these are well placed and do not interfere with the gameplay. In the screenshot above for the map the ads are actually on in that view. So you can see that the ads are definitely not intrusive.

For a $35 annual fee, used for hosting costs (no one is getting rich here), the ads are removed and you get to vote on future site enhancements. So far the leading one is the Advanced Civ. Expansion project (more information can be found here Basically this expands the game into India and up to 18 people can play. This is also played at WBC and has been a big hit.

The other major benefit from the online version is that it has increased event attendance at WBC. At the event just held in August 2013, they had the highest attendance in many years. There were lots of people playing the board game for the first time after playing the online version. So the efforts in creating the online version has had a major impact on revitalizing a game that was first published in 1980 (the Advanced Civilization expansion was published in 1991). Not too bad for a 30+ year old game.

The one thing I have not mentioned yet is the elephant in the room, Hasbro. As they now own the Intellectual Property rights of the game, how do they feel about all of this? Hard to say. The team has notified Hasbro in writing that this project was being developed, and what the purpose was. Yet no response from Hasbro has been forthcoming. This is not too surprising since, as I stated before, no one is getting rich off this project. If the site ever gets 100k or more people playing the game and paying the $35 annual fee, then things might change. But unless the site goes viral, it is going to take a long time for that to happen (current active population is less than 1,000).

So if you have ever enjoyed playing Advanced Civ. or you wanted to see what all the fuss is about a 30 year old game, you now have a very easy and not a very time consuming way to play, unlike the board game. As everything is done by email and the pace is drawn out, you are not spending hours doing a turn like in some other games. The longest time I have spent doing on of my phases is about 10-15 minutes. Most of the phases are either automatic, like census, or takes just a few minutes, like calamity resolution.

If you are going to be away from access to the site for a while, then you can put the game on hold. This means the game clock stops for everyone. However, after 24 hours any of the other players can restart the game. This is to prevent a game from being on hold indefinitely.

If for some reason, you do not complete your phase before the time noted and the game is not on hold, then the game advances to the next phase automatically. So if your current phase was to build boats and the clock ran out, no boat building for you. If you are Babylon not much of a big deal, Crete on the other hand ? So it is important to pay attention to the time stamp of when your action is due so you can make the decisions versus doing nothing.

If someone has to drop out (this happened in my game), then the system puts a notice up in the Active game section. So someone can just join in and start playing. Below is a list of games as of this writing that are looking for players. 


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I could go on about the online game, but it is much easier to just visit the site and see for yourself. If you have a group of friends that used to play, but time and distance has prevented you from playing anymore, then you can create your own game and ask them to join up. You can even play in several games at once. Something you could never do in the board version. A win-win for everyone. So if you have ever enjoyed playing Advanced Civ. or you wanted to see what all the fuss is about for a 30 year old game, you now have a very easy and a not very time consuming way to play. Both my wife and I have been enjoying the experience a lot and can easily recommend the site. So give it a try and I hope to see you online.




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