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You Never Move Your Settler! - Opening Strategy Splits Civ V Studio

Greg Tito | 27 Feb 2014 22:00
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Moving your settler a few hexes can be very advantageous though. On a random Civ V map, your starting position usually has a few natural resources like wine grapes or wheat nearby, but the hex you start in might not be able to work them all. Likewise, starting near a coast but not actually adjacent to a sea is a terrible position, because you'll never be able to benefit from building ships or coastal improvements like lighthouses. Moving your settler to the coast in that case is almost always a better start, even if it takes a turn or two.

civ v settler image

Designer Pete Murray agrees. "The only thing worse than an obviously bad Civ start is a Civ start that's mostly bad, but has a good city position just a few hexes away," he said. "I've always moved my settler then, because I figure compound interest on a better position will make up the difference. The grass is always greener two hexes away."

The Civilization community at large is just as split as the designers. I put a quick question on Twitter, and received dozens of responses ranging from "Always" to "Never". Most advocated some kind of a compromise in which you explore a bit to see whether moving the settler would be a good idea or not, but many clearly were opposed one way or the other. Notably, the original lead designer of Civ V Jon Shafer, now making his own way at Conifer Games, was in the "Never" camp .

Ed Beach, the current lead designer, surmised there had to be a way to test it. One of the tools at Firaxis' disposal is a quick way to simulate games, and Beach decided to use this to get some hard data. The hypothesis? Does founding your first city on turn 2 or later substantially impact the performance of the civilization over the entire game? The science experiment of the Settler Dilemma had begun!

"We needed a clean game environment where you could develop a civ and measure its economic performance under controlled conditions," Beach said, trying to sound as much like a scientist as possible. "I started with a map with only two civs, and made sure the other civ was Venice and it was on another continent. Venice being restricted to only settling one city, I knew it was going to be a while before they started grabbing land from me." For the test civilization, Beach thought it should be one that didn't have any early game benefits to skew results, so he went with Brazil.

Beach had a couple of starts before he got to just the right game state to test the hypothesis. Barbarians were an early problem. Those rampaging fiends ruined the test's economic focus, so Beach turned them off. Then he started the game with three possibilities and then ran through the first 100 turns to see how the different game states were impacted. The first test was founding the city on the first turn. The second was moving the settler to a more ideal location and founding a city on turn two, while the third was a kind of control state of not moving the settler, but delaying founding the city until turn two. Once Beach set those three states up, he ran the simulations and went to watch the Olympics.

When he got back, he was surprised at the results. It was much better to move your settler, at least according to the data Beach collected. The baseline simulation -- settling on the first turn -- fared well, but moving to a more optimal location with more resources ending up being empirically better. The civilization that moved the settler on turn one had more technologies discovered, more social policies, and a higher yield of resources after 100 turns. In contrast, the "control" state of waiting one turn to settle without moving was disastrous. At turn 48, Venice beat Brazil to building the Great Library, and that was a terrible blow to the economy.

The developers of Civ V believe it is better to move your settler to a more optimal location and stubbornly founding the city on turn one is not always ideal. Well, most of them.

"My psyche will never allow me to move my settler on the first turn, regardless of staring cold hard facts in the face," Shirk said with a laugh.

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