There hasn’t been a blog entry for over a week, chiefly as last week was not the happiest time in the Kingdom of Joe. Even with the promise of a 4½ day weekend, it was difficult to get through the 3½ days I was in.

Once we reached 2pm on Thursday, I switched off my alarm clock, left the office and actually succeeded in working through a lot of tension felt. What is the secret of my success? Those stalwart games of Age of Empires 3 and Civilization V + Montezuma’s Dark Chocolate Buttons. Oh – and a massage on Friday evening.

Played through the entire campaigns of vanilla AoE 3 and the War Chiefs from Thursday to Sunday and then began again with Civ V in honour of the upcoming Brave New World Expansion Pack. Finally cracked and downloaded a mod – adds 21 new religions to the mix but not without any particular powers going to them. What I didn’t realise is that Mods don’t allow Steam achievements as I would have been in line to get the “Win as the Ottomans” when I played as them yesterday (Diplomatic victory having squashed most opponents).

So: Brave New World.

What do we know? It’s out in July, it adds nine new civilizations to the mix (Three confirmed thus far – Assyria, Brazil & Poland all in their debut), new Wonders, it appears to restore the United Nations in terms of a Global Council, new Social Policy Tracks and the final three Social Policies (Autocracy, Order and Freedom) are being deemed “ideologies” which work slightly differently.

The new features are around Trading and Tourism. Rather than have the computer plot trade routes and generate revenues, the player will now have the ability to set domestic or international trade routes (for a variety of resource bonuses) which will be limited in number. What isn’t clear is how this will all affect existing structures (such as the Harbour) and Social Policies relating to trade. Trading will be facilitated by the return of the Caravan Unit after three games worth of absence.

Tourism is a new game “resource”, generated by what are deemed Great Works, from Wonders and buildings etc. Tourism is then used in a number of ways though it isn’t entirely clear how the concept will work alongside existing game concepts. One confirmed way it will work is in tandem with Culture; there will be such a thing as “Cultural Pressure” whereby one neighbour can quietly dominate another, forcing him/her to adopt similar ideologies.

There will also be the usual new scenarios, units and balancing changes. Like Civ 2, 3 & 4, the second Expansion pack promises to be fuller, more dynamic and more game changing compared with the original version and the first expansion. Of course, it’ll lead to a great deal more micromanagement. A typical game can last around of eight hours – more depending on the player’s style. I suspect this will add a couple more hours to the experience; will it detract from the gameplay?

Of course what hasn’t been put into the game is just as significant has what has – Espionage for the moment remains untapped, there doesn’t appear to have been an expansion of religions whilst Corporations remain outside the scope of the game. I haven’t seen any news about the return of random events nor will the Apostolic Palace be making a return as a crypto-United Nations for the “faithful”. This may change as further updates are announced.

What do I think of the proposed changes? Novel, for the most part as the upcoming Expansion Pack seems to challenge areas of the game which have thus far gone untouched – either at all or for some years. Trade Routes will naturally benefit the Builders rather than the Attillas whilst Tourism will give Culture a kick in its complacency allowing war-mongers a decent shot at the Culture Victory.

One thing that does worry me is that Civ V is already a resource hungry game – and I mean in terms of the PC and the Mac. How much more will this game require from the computer? Would a low-graphic version of the game be a worth while option to explore for players who already feel their machines are stressed out trying to run Civ? Yeah, there’s the top-down map mode but that’s really ugly. And it’d be great if Firaxis (or whomever) brought Civ 2 or even Civ 3 to the iPad – surely it can handle the game?