Jarenth Plays Civilization: Beyond Earth — Episode 9: It’s A Wonderful Life

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Beyond Earth, I didn’t break any rocks in the hot sun. I did, however, fight the aliens, and the aliens lost like chumps. Their champion land unit, a giant Siege Worm, died from procrastination. It’s almost like they’re a barely sapient race of underdeveloped bug monsters and I’m a scientifically-focused group of heavily armed tool-using invaders. Nobody could have predicted this outcome.

Annelid dominance notwithstanding, though, I’m still far from being out of the woods. The Le Coeur Hinterlands are still flush with aliens, including a second Siege Worm. But more to the point, roughhousing with the locals does nothing to improve my standing among the other colony leaders, most of whom — statistically — are doing much better than I am. Barring some kind of breakthrough, or miracle, I actually don’t know how I’m going to get on top of this. If I’m going to get on top of this. I don’t like saying this, even to myself, but… it’s possible I hobbled myself so much through bad choices and a poor starting position that it’s unlikely or impossible for me to catch back up.

Doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep trying, though.

Righto then. First things first: I’m still up to my neck in aliens. I see five packs of Wolf Beetles milling about, that second Siege Worm is closer to Prospérité than I’d like, and goddamnit, is that a third worm?

Evidence seems to suggest that it is.

Ugh. Say about these aliens what you like, but they definitely behave like bugs. Which is to say they’re infesting the place, they show up from everywhere at once, and I can’t seem to kill ’em fast enough to get rid of them forever.

Also quite like bugs, however, it turns out it’s actually not as difficult to squash these creatures under my boot heel as I initially feared it would be. My two Tacjets and one Marine squad — the Rangers are still at home, healing, and possibly also cowering — prove more than capable of driving back the Wolf Beetle menace.

It’s because of the guns they have.

Sure, Marines and Tacjets both take damage from the engagements. I actually hold off on some of the bombing runs I have planned out, just so the airplanes can heal in their stationed cities. But here’s the rub: my units are taking damage, sure, but the aliens are taking more of it. My Marines’ Combat Strength of 14 puts them in a whole league above the Wolf Beetles’ 8, and the damage differences that result from that are even significant: 40-ish damage to them versus 18 damage to me, meaning almost-double Combat Strength leads to more-than-double effectiveness. It’s a good system, if you’re me and not them.

After a few turns of this fighting, the scales tip even more when my veteran units get promoted!

This is not, however, as cool as it sounds.

Civilization 5, because I’m tired of making that comparison yet, had an expansive, branching unit veterancy system, encompassing stuff like different terrain types, healing, damage, and new and interesting special traits. Beyond Earth’s idea of veterancy is… less robust, as you can see. Per more-or-less meaningless ‘level’, I get the choice between either a stacking 10% Combat Damage bonus, or a significant partial heal. It’s honestly a bit of a letdown.

I mean, sure: the meat of Beyond Earth’s unit progression is not in individual unit upgrades, but in the Affinity-related type changes that I highlighted three episodes ago. The actually-interesting unit trait choices are made here, and they apply to all units of the type, instead of being restricted to the individual level. It’s a design choice you can either like or loathe: it puts the focus more on the interplay of unit types, instead of on the individual soldiers you’ve improved over time. Valid choices both. But to go with a system like this, and then also keep in a vastly neutered individual level ‘upgrade’ tree, seems incongruous to me.

Still, +10% combat damage is +10% combat damage.

Eat slightly more effective sky bombs, bugheads!

Over the course of a dozen-or-so turns, I either kill or drive off all the Wolf Beetles in the hinterlands. I can’t actually touch the second Siege Worm, given that it’s still leagues more powerful than anything I possess, but like its forebear, it doesn’t actually ever put its enormous power to use. My heart briefly soars, even, when it rolls to a Worker-killing stop just outside Prospérité, almost repeating the Siege Worm One event verbatim. This one wisens up about halfway towards death, though, and churns off into the sunset to heal.

Siege Worms three and four are even less efficacious, believe it or not. After churning up and down my cities for a bit, smashing some roads and generally looking menacing to small children, they just… stop being a threat. I almost end up forgetting they exist, sometimes.

Oh yeah, there’s a fourth Siege Worm. I wasn’t as mad about that as I figured I would be.

With all this alien fighting going on, it’d be tempting to just ignore the other colony leaders for a while. But a) that’s the kind of thinking that got me halfway down the score list, and b) it’s not like Beyond Earth is allowing me to forget. Samatar still calls on the regular, refreshing Cooperation Agreements and Open Borders trade deals, and even our Alliance. Which, hey, I’m not complaining! Samatar is doing better than I am, at the moment, and he seems really committed to this whole ‘being nice to everyone else’ deal.

Look at this guy! This is the face of a good guy, right here.

The other colony leaders are… less forthcoming, honestly. I keep trying to improve relations with Daoming: there’s a saying in Dutch that translates to ‘a good neighbour is better than a far-off friend’, and the fact that Daoming is also pursuing Supremacy means I think we’d have a lot in common. But no luck. Even though our ‘pay me to hold my Firaxite’ deal is still going strong, and even though PAC’s invulnerable trading convoys are still happily chugging away at my cities, Daoming remains adamant about not being friends. ARC’s Suzanne is similarly disinclined to trade BFF bracelets. Her status towards me is Friendly, now, which is progress in its own way, and she’s at least open now to equal-exchange Open Borders. But god forbid we actually formalize any kind of friendship! And don’t even get me started about all those other jerks.

Well, if none of these clowns want to hang out with me, then… then I’ll just make my own party! Yeah! With Science, and Virtues, and aliens! And…

Ooh. Hello, what’s this? After Le Coeur’s Water Refinery construction finishes, I notice in the list of potential constructions a very interesting new project. It’s called ‘Panopticon’, and unless I’m mistaken, it’s the first actual World Wonder I’ve unlocked the ability to construct.

Right there on the list, see? Under ‘Ultrasonic Fence’.

Yeah, see? The Panopticon is one of the two items unlocked by the Defense Grid technology, which I just finished studying. Granted, its bonuses aren’t exactly mind-blowing: it provides +1 Culture per turn, putting it on the level of an Old Earth Relic for benefit, and it increases the sight range of all military units by 1. Which would be really neat if I had the notion that unit sight range mattered much, or even that it mattered in any way whatsoever.

Still, it’s also not particulary expensive to build: 14 turns puts in the space of two, maybe three other buildings. And constructing a Wonder will raise my personal score, and show all the other colony leaders I am totally for real a cool guy that they need to take seriously. Okay, I’ll do it!

Also interesting to note: the aforementioned Defense Grid technology, which makes this wonder possible, is the first technology I’ve seen where the associated quote is attributed to… me.

I start up the Panopticon Construction Initiative in Le Coeur, and I queue up the rather expensive Cognition research project for good measure. This technology unlocks access to the Holosuite and the Neurolab, two advanced city buildings that both require Firaxite to run, and the Academy, a Worker-constructed tile improvement project that boosts Science — used to be you needed Great People to do stuff like this, we really live in a glorious future! But more importantly, Cognition opens the path to Collaborative Thought, which houses both the very interesting Precog Project wonder and yet another Supremacy point.

It *will* be mine.

Ooh, and look! You can actually see the Panopticon being constructed outside of Le Coeur. Wonders existing on the world map like this was one my favourite parts of Civilization 5, and I’m really glad to see that…

Wait, hold on. Something seems *off* in this picture…

Is that a… is that an ARC Trade Vessel? Sailing up to Le Coeur? I mean… I did manage to get an Open Borders agreement with Suzanne a couple turns earlier. I just didn’t stop to think that… that that would mean… could it be? Could it actually be?


Finally, the USS I’ve Been Sitting In Port Since Episode 4 leaves Le Coeur on a mission of commerce. Godspeed, Trade Vessel: ferry Energy and Science to ARC’s Central, and bring us back… more Energy and Science! I’m not actually 100% on how trading works in this universe, given that we both get richer off of it? But regardless: the mere fact that this boat is finally doing its me-given duties fills me with all kinds of smiles.

And hey, wouldn’t you know it? Suzanne and I were already doing pretty well, but apparently me initiating trade with her is what pushes us over a threshold of sorts. She calls me the same turn to convey her approval for the trading route, and then again a few turns later, to suggest a Cooperation Agreement.

“You’re beneficial to me. I guess we can be friends now.”

The hinterlands between Prospérité and Le Couer are now more or less entirely clear of alien influences. There’s still a couple of them, including one of the Siege Worms. But the threat at large has passed, yeah! I opt to quickly construct an Explorer in Prospérité, because I know there’s an Expedition on the northern edge of the island I didn’t get to. Also… I don’t actually remember where my previous Explorer is? I think I might’ve accidentally set it to automated exploration… the ‘this unit requires orders’ screen hasn’t popped up in a while. Is it dead?

Oh, wait, there it is. It… why are you *there*, Explorer?

The few aliens that did survive seem to have moved on to harrassing Aintza, instead. Wolf Beetles keep running into view both from the unexplored areas in the north, and from the land-bridge-of-death in the south. Luckily, Wolf Beetles alone are no match for Aintza’s city defenses. And one thing I quickly figure out is that while Tacjets are bound to the city they’re in — airplanes don’t actually move on the world map, but rather, engage in bombing runs and then return — they’re not actually bound to the city they’re in: in lieu of attacking, Tacjets can ‘rebase’ to any city within range. I use this command to station my two fighters in Aintza, and then defend the city with their assistance.

If the colonization of this planet is ever made into an Avatar-style blockbuster, I will probably *not* be portrayed as a hero of nature and communal understanding.

Bombing aliens with airplanes is cathartic, it gains them experience and combat bonuses, and it’s cathartic. That said, I don’t actually want to keep testing my luck. Sooner or later, something’s going to go wrong: too many aliens, an actual Siege Worm attack, or maybe I’ll need my planes somewhere else. I opt to build an Ultrasonic Fence in Aintza: once completed, this building should repel all aliens within two hexes of the city. I can basically wall off most of the southern land bridge, this way.

And, outside of adding a Clinic to Prospérité and selecting another Science-related Virtue, that’s really it for the next fourteen turns. I shoot aliens, I gain trade income from my sea route to Central — which, being a sea route is apparently much less in danger of being eaten by Siege Worms –, I craft a second squad of defensive Marines, and I slowly chug away at finishing up the Panopticon. Until finally, two weeks after construction began…

This… this thing happens, I guess?

Wait, that… that’s it? I don’t get any impressive visual or narrative rewards for completing this Wonder? No cool movie, or interesting lore reading, or whatever? Just this boring, ugly blueprint screen, and then it’s right back to the action, huh. Wow. Way to take the sense of achievement out of building a world wonder.

Still, my intended goal has been achieved. The Panopticon stands proud outside Le Coeur, my sight range and my Culture gain has been increased, and my score has taken a significant leap. I’m still only fourth in the list, and I’m still not anywhere near Vadim ‘frontrunner for life’ Kozlov, but…

…why was I happy about this again?

Next episode: I sleep on things, reflect on the day’s activities, and return with new resolve.


    1. YEAH! I delayed building the ultrasonic fence for so long (because aliens never attacked my cities /anyway/ because I was busy pushing the frontier east) and when I got it I was amazed. No more krakens (I almost said Leviathans) taking out my trading vessels!

  1. The original Panopticon was a circular prison, with all the cells on the outer wall facing inward, and a central guard tower. The idea being that the prisoners wouldn’t know if they were being watched, but could be watched at any time, and therefore would police their own behaviour constantly. So… congrats on your wondrous state surveilance system, I guess? Gotta keep that culture in check after all.

    1. A culture of fear and repression is a kind of culture.

      I’d be more upset about this if it didn’t marvelously fit the tone of the narrative I’m writing.

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