Old World: Family isn’t a word. It’s a sentence.

, | Game diaries

Families aren’t a discrete system in Old World.  They’re also not something you can easily relate to other games you’ve played.  They’re not like combat, or income, or technology, or culture, or religion.  Instead, they’re all of those things and more.  They’re Old World’s middle layer, interacting with the smaller scale of individual characters and the larger scale of strategic gameplay, influencing and influenced on both sides.  Think of them as the glue that holds the Civilization IV to the Crusader Kings.  

Part of Old World’s brilliance as a design is how it combines its three distinct scales: personal, social, and geopolitical.  Imagine a wargame that you play at a tactical, operational, and strategic level.  You assign resources to train troops, then you arrange those troops into armies and move them around a map, and then you control individual soldiers as they fight a battle. Crazy, right?  It can’t be done!  Now imagine you play all three levels simultaneously.  Even crazier!

As videogamers, we’re used to designs like Creative Assembly’s Total War series or the X-com model, in which a tactical layer is wrapped in a strategic shell.  And we’re even used to games like Civilization V trying to combine a strategy game with a tactical layer of moving units around terrain, shooting arrows over lakes, and taking cover in hills.  But Old World combines three separate scales, all woven into the gameplay at the same time, all affecting and affected by each other constantly.  Nearly every moment of everything you do in Old World will percolate through its personal, social, and geopolitical gameplay.  Families are the social level and today I’d like to break down how they affect the larger scale of developing your cities.

What am I going to get immediately from my choice, what am I going to get over the long run, and how will it affect the development of my city?  There are further questions related to how the family feels about your leader — how and why does does this family’s opinion of me matter? — but we’ll consider those next time.

There are ten different types of families in Old World, each with far-reaching gameplay implications, each uniquely powerful and uniquely suited to different situations.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that each nation is limited to four of them.  You will never encounter Roman sages, Persian artisans, or Babylonian champions because they don’t exist (unless you go into Advanced Settings and enable the Randomize Family setting, in which case you’re probably miles ahead of me in terms of wrapping your head around this game!).

And the worse news is that each civilization only gets to use three of those four.  When you consider what nation to play, at first, you might not give much thought to the four available families.  Naturally, you’re going to consider the nation’s global bonuses, at which point you might think the differences between nations are relatively minor.  But that’s only because you don’t appreciate how families work.  You may never see a Roman sage, but if you want to play Sages, you’re going to have to play as Babylon, Egypt, or Greece.

So what’s the big deal?  What are families and what do they do?  What sets them apart from, say, populations in Victoria or Stellaris?  Why should I care?  And why would I bother reading the stuff I’m about to write instead of just reading the civilopedia entries and tooltips?

Because I’m going to break down families in a different context that I think makes them easier to understand and appreciate.  I’m going to pose three questions, each as a way to consider how families work.  1) What do I get when I choose a family early in the game?  2) What am I going to get over the longer run?  And 3) how will the choice of family affect how I develop the city?  These are the ways the family system interacts upward, with the strategic layer.  There are further questions related to how families interact downward, with the personal layer, but we’ll consider those next time.

A family is like a character class for a city.  When you start a city, you have to give it to one of your nation’s four families, which is like choosing a character class in an RPG.  The decision for which family will get which city is huge.  Yes, huge!  Because each family gives you something special when it gets a city, and it gives you something even more special when it gets its first city, called a Family Seat.  Early in the game, when you’re founding your first cities, the Family Seat reward can be dramatic.  Let’s consider what you get for each Family Seat, and therefore why you might want to start with a specific family.

  • Artisans get a free worker.  Note that you also get a free worker, slinger, and scout with your  very first city, regardless of who gets it.  But opening with an Artisan city puts two workers in the field on turn 1.  And since Old World shifts a lot of its city development from the city itself to workers out in the field, this is going to be a nifty head start for your economy.  Also, Artisan Family Seats build urban improvements two years quicker.  You’ll get that Odeon up lickety-split, well on your way to Developing status while other family cities are still in their Weak stage, ramping up growth.  Also, note that Wonders of the World are urban improvements.  If you’re racing another nation to finish a Wonder, you’ll get there quicker if you build it at an Artisan Family Seat. (Correction: Once a nation starts building a Wonder, no other nation can start building that Wonder. There will be no Wonder races. First come, first served!)
  • Champions get a free garrison, which means an immediate slot for a governor, which means an immediate way to turn good character stats into their corresponding gameplay benefit.  Also, a Champion Family Seat gets a +25% bonus to training, which means this is the city to focus on training.  And since you’ve already got the garrison, might as well take advantage of the adjacency bonus it gives a barracks, which will be further compounded by the +25% for being a Champion Family Seat.
  • Clerics immediately found a religion for free when you give them a Family Seat.  And henceforth, all that religion’s disciples will be half price when they’re built at the Cleric Family Seat.  Since each successive disciple gets more expensive, this is going to continue to have a significant impact as you crank out more disciples, which you need to spread and develop a religion.
  • Hunters get an immediate reward of 50 stone, iron, and wood.  How much this matters probably has to do with the difficulty level you’re playing, which determines your starting resources.  The Hunter Family Seat can also build a civics project called Hunt, which gives them a culture boost and a quantity of food.  You might think you don’t need more food reserves, especially if you’ve got a well developed Hunters city and you’re not saving up to build the only Wonder of the World that requires food.  You might also think you didn’t need those 50 stone, iron, or wood.  In which case, sell them!  The 50 food you get from your first Hunt is going to get you at least 100 money.
  • Landowners get 2 free citizens in their Family Seat, which gives you a leg up on specialists without having to wait for the city’s growth to kick in.  You can also buy tiles outside of your Landowner Family Seat to grab resources that aren’t quite in reach of its starting tiles.
  • Patrons are one of the two Family Seats that guarantee a court member to boost your economy and tutor your heir, which will give your next leader better stats.  Also, leveling up a Patron Family Seat knocks discontent down one level.  Now you can spend your valuable Pacify City actions somewhere else!
  • Riders get a free scout, which is an especially big deal early in the game.  And it can be a big deal throughout the game that Rider Family Seats can build units that require horses, camels, and elephants even if they don’t have horses, camels, and elephants.  Riders can summon mounts from thin air!
  • Sages get a free random tech when they get their Family Seat.  Who doesn’t love a free random tech?  Their Family Seat can shunt civics into research by doing the Inquiry project, which also adds a permanent culture boost.
  • Statesmen Family Seats give you 400 civics, which is the equivalent of a free law.  If you’ve ever played a civics-starved nation, you must know the value of a free law.  Their Family Seat also get a Decree project to turn civics into orders. Perfect for shuffling lots of units around, or to compensate for low legitimacy.
  • Traders are the other family that gives you a courtier when you give them a Family Seat.  Their Family Seats can build Caravans to travel to a foreign city for a money windfall and a diplomacy bonus.

But then there are the bonuses each family gets for all their cities, including their Family Seats.  These can be every bit as meaningful as whatever bonus you get from your nation, because they’re going to apply to every city you give that family.  Let’s take a look at the bonuses that apply to each of a family’s cities, and not just their Family Seat.

  • Artisan cities all have an inherent +4 culture.  Even if you do nothing else, an Artisan city will go from Weak to Developing in 25 turns.  In any other family’s city, if you do nothing to grow culture, it will stay Weak forever. 
  • Champions get +2 training in all their cities.  They also have 50% bonus to city defenses, which is a value I can’t find anywhere in the game besides the combat pop-up, which goes away as soon as combat is over.  But to give it some frame of reference, you can add a moat and tower to a city for +25% city defenses each.  So every Champion city starts with the equivalent of a moat and tower.
  • Clerics lower the rate of unhappiness accumulation in all their cities by one point.  It may not sound like much, but all things being equal, you will note discontent building up more slowly in your Cleric cities, which are more likely to have discontent-busting religions anyway.  Opiate of the masses and all that.
  • Hunter cities, like Champion cities, get +2 training.  So what distinguishes them from Champion cities?  Stay tuned!  I hope you’re hungry!
  • Landowners get +2 growth to their cities.  Keep in mind that growth isn’t the same as food production, and it’s also not the same as a city’s cultural development.  Instead, it’s the foundation for making citizens, who can be turned into specialists in your city’s improvements, which is where the real city development takes place.  A big part of Old World’s learning curve is figuring out how specialists work, and it all starts with growth.
  • Patron cities have +2 civics.  If you play a nation with a lot of civics, and especially if you play a nation with Patron cities, you might not appreciate what a big deal civics are.  The best way to appreciate civics is to play a nation without much civics and without any Patron families.  There’s nothing quite so painful in Old World as being unable to afford laws, specialists, diplomatic missions, projects, or marriages.
  • Riders get +2 training in all their cities, which are furthermore always connected to your nation’s capital.  Being connected gives them +2 growth, -1 unhappiness, and -10% maintenance without having to fuss with roads, rivers, or coastlines.
  • Sages get +2 civics in all their cities, like Patrons.
  • Statesmen give you an extra order every turn.  And remember that even if you’re not using that extra order, you’re selling it at the end of your turn.  Each unused order is an extra 10 money.
  • Traders don’t give you any inherent bonus.  They instead give you bonuses to things you might build.  

Which is yet another element of families.  In addition to a Family Seat bonus and an inherent bonus, families incentivize building certain types of cities.  Let’s look at how you should develop a family’s city to take advantage of its synergies.

  • Artisans have a 20% bonus for mines and lumbermills.  They’re the cities where you want to gather iron and wood.  They’re also the cities where you want to build your siege engines and ships, which will get a 20% bonus to attack and defense values.
  • Champions build military units with a 25% bonus to attack and defense against Tribes.  Note that Barbarians are Tribes.  When you’re exploring during the early game, this is especially helpful.  And if you ever want to wage war against a Tribe — consider all those delicious city spots they’re hogging! — your units from Champion cities are just the folks for the job.
  • Remember that Clerics gave you cheaper disciples at their Family Seat.  So use those disciples to build monasteries and temples in Cleric cities, where they’ll enjoy a 20% bonus.  Also, Cleric cities can put urban improvements on sand hexes, which are normally useless for any kind of improvements.  And while you might think your cities have plenty of space, sand can get in the way of setting up adjacency bonuses.  Not so for Clerics, who are happy to play in the sand looking for their gods.
  • Hunters love game and fish.  They love them so much their cities double the output from camps and nets.  Let me repeat that: Hunters double the output of camps and nets.  If you see a cluster of game hexes, or a bunch of crabs or fish along a coast, that’s where you want to build a Hunter city.  Hunters are also jealous of their hunting grounds!  Their units get a 20% bonus to attack and defense when fighting in a Hunter city’s territory.
  • Landowners are like vegetarian hunters; they love wheat, barley, sorghum, and citrus so much that their cities get +2 culture for each agricultural resource.  And that’s before you’ve even gone through the necessary hassle to install specialists!  Speaking of, you’ll install those specialists sooner in a Landowner city, which builds rural specialists twice as fast (and remember the Landowner growth bonus gets you the citizens you need faster).  So just as game and fish mean an ideal site for Hunters, agriculture means an ideal site for Landowners.
  • Patrons add a +2 culture to specialists.  Normally, you only get culture from urban specialists.  But Patrons earn culture from all specialists, and double the base culture from urban specialists.
  • Rider cities give their mounted units 50% defense bonus when fighting melee units, which normally counter mounted units.  A mounted unit from a Rider city completely offsets a Spearman’s bonus.  Phalanx, schmalanx.
  • Sages add +1 science for every specialist, most of whom are already giving you a point of research.  With Sages, now they’re giving you two.  They also spend -20% less on urban specialists.
  • Statesmen earn +1 civics per family opinion level.  Which may not sound like much, because Old World doesn’t tell you what “family opinion level” means.  But it means a default value of +4.  The range of opinions is as follows: furious, angry, upset, cautious, pleased, friendly, each a level.  The default relationship is cautious, which is +4 civics for each Statesmen city.  If you’re working your families, your Statesmen should be at least pleased and preferably friendly.  That means +5 and +6 civics, respectively.  
  • Traders build up early money infrastructure twice as quickly.  Normally, it takes a hamlet 20 years to grow into a village.  But a hamlet in a Trader city turns into a village after only 10 turns.  Traders also love gold, silver, gems, and pearls so much that you get +20 money for each of those resource in the city.  Finally, the workers that come from your Trader cities can build road networks faster.  Normally, a worker uses up his one action per turn when he builds.  But a Trader worker can keep building roads as long as he wants (fatigue, orders, and stone supply allowing, of course).  Note that roads cost double on hills.  Steer your road networks along flat land if you want to save stone.

Finally, families are a big part of the opinion and happiness system.  I’ll break that down next time, because it’s how families operate downward into the personal scale.

Previously: Bringing new eyes to Old World