"Mexico is the most strategically diverse civ yet"-- why making all strategic options viable is bad civ design

EDIT: To any devs reading this, don’t get me wrong, I love yall and I am super glad to have constant support for aoe3 and a responsive team that works really hard. DE is infinitely better than legacy. I just have noticed a pretty persistent trend in civ design that I feel like should be corrected.

It sounds like a paradox, but curtailing strategic viability was what made AoE3 strategically interesting as a competitive RTS. The new trend to make all civs strategically viable in every single way is a bad decision that makes the game less fun.

The original civs all followed a basic principle that was used to differentiate them from other civs, and it gave AOE3 the interesting position of being an RTS with extremely unique civ bonuses, which nevertheless enabled easy-to-grasp strategic thinking: all civ bonuses are advantages at the expense of limiting the civ to fewer strategic opportunities. The result was that each civilization had a unique flavor, which resulted in a strong civ identity. For instance, Spain has faster shipments and strong unit shipments, but it has no ranged unit shipments and no strong eco cards, meaning it has a civ identity as a fast and aggressive civ that can’t really turtle or boom well. Brits have an economic bonus with villagers from manors, but no fast age to fortress, meaning they are a slower, boomy civ with a strong timing attack. Russians have weak units that scale well over time, meaning their playstyle becomes a war of attrition. Asian civs have wonders that mean they can age independently of their TC, but the age ups are slower and the bonuses that come with them can be attacked and destroyed.

Trade offs, that curtail strategic options. This produced a strategically interesting and satisfying rock-paper-scissor system: boomy civs countered turtle civs, turtle civs countered rush civs, rush civs countered boomy civs. Well, sort of. The play and adaptation in between these categories was what actually made for really interesting strategic decision making, and made games exciting to watch. W

What was always interesting about gameplay in AoE3 was the way that players adapted to, and bent the rules within the constraints of the civ types. It was the interplay between 1. what the civ permits and 2. what the players can come up with, that was really cool. So for instance, someone rushing hard and fast with Brits, shipping 6 musk 7lbow with a forward tower. Or someone getting the Cree settlers and sending spanish gold +1k wood with spain, and getting full market ups. 2 bank Dutch gameplay. Russian kalmuck FF or FI. India water boom with advanced wonders and 8 minutes to age 2. French water boom turtle. Lakota adoption boom. Haud trade monopoly FI with town dance. Port 10/10 rush. These strats were cool explicitly BECAUSE they were played against the grain; they were strats that pushed the limits of what a civ was supposed to be able to do. It’s only because of the civ constraints that these strats were interesting to see pulled off. If these civs could just do everything easily, none of these strats would be particularly impressive or strategically interesting.

Fast forward to DE-- none of the new civs have any particular playstyle or civ identity. The developers have made the error of thinking that curtailed strategic options is a bad thing. Instead, they have tried to make all strategic options available to all civs, in their changes to old civs, as well as in the new civs they’ve created. The result is an overly-complex mess. This is especially apparent with the African civs, USA, and Mexico, where the new card/tech age-up system means that all these civs get a bewildering variety of strange and unorthodox special abilities, that all basically have no consequences which limit how the civ can be played. The result is that each of these new civs feels sort of random, and all over the place. Furthermore, all new civs have all possible unit types and upgrade cards for all those units, meaning that basically any and every unit composition is viable. There is no distinct civ identity.

The whole federal card / alliance tech system is a “difference without a difference” – its messy complexity for its own sake, which doesn’t actually shape much how the civ is played. This means that playing the civ and playing against the civ is a strategic wasteland, since the choices you make as you progress through the ages don’t really limit or constrain what the player does in any meaningful way. It also just makes the game ever more complex, which is a turn off for new players.

tldr: The new civ designs kill civ identity and strategic gameplay because their unique civ bonuses don’t limit or constrain the civs in any way. Paradoxically, constraining the strategic options of individual civs is the way to make gameplay more strategically rich.

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I disagree completely, the new civs are really interesting and are designed really well, I particularly enjoy the federal state age up system and the alliances of the african civs.

The states/alliances you choose have a big impact on the strategy your going for and how your going to play, if you want to go heavy eco for example you can age up with hausa alliance as hausa and get tc builders, or if you want to play aggressive you can age up with the camp builder and gold, as usa you can go with pennsylvania for age 2 play or virginia for an ff or rhode island to play water. The difference is huge and very important and certainly no less so than other civs.
There are tons more players since DE released and I think the vast majority are happy with the new content, as always it’s always optional and you don’t need to play sweden or inca or buy the dlc’s you can stay playing the original civs if you find the new civs too complex, though it takes all of about 2 hours to learn all the state bonuses or at least the one’s you will frequently choose.

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On one hand it actually wastes a lot of potential. It looks like a lot of freedom at the first glance, but people soon find the few best builds and go for them every time. It is not much difference if the choices are 500 wood or 2 cows. The only difference is it takes longer and scares more serious players away.
On the other hand, I do not think “being very complex and hard to enter” is even the selling point of any game. People play AOE3 not for the sake of its “complexity” and “entry difficulty”, but because the game is at a difficulty or complexity level where they can still have fun (while others find it too complex), and everyone has a line where the game becomes too complex to enjoy. So I do not think people are really going to love the game more just because it becomes more and more complex.

Not to mention the proclaimed “playstyle” of the new civs are rarely achieved in reality.
Swedes (before the nerf): a civ that lacks some unit types and needs to compensate that with mercs…but with one super unit that counters everything?
Incas (before the nerf): a civ that features great defensive ability…but with a very good rush?
Mexicans: a civ with the greatest strategic diversity…but with very strong basic units and a pretty lame economy?

That is not the problem exclusive to DE civs though. For example I still find Aztecs a very weird civ to play with.

Now I do like the idea of federal card systems. But I feel a more ideal way to implement is that those civs lack some basic upgrades or unit types, but need to choose different federal states to decide which specific aspects to improve (somewhat similar to Africans). That’s what you call flexibility.
But in reality, they do not seem to lack many things, and most of the federal cards are simply adding some gimmicks on top of them. The only restriction US has is the extremely slow start and I do not see that for Mexico.

Continuous revolutions is another great idea, but not when every revolution gives a whole new deck, not when it is combined with federal state cards. The federal state card already gives you almost 2x of the possible cards to choose from, and each revolution now gives you another full deck to choose from. Not to mention Mexico already gets quite a few useful unique cards in the original deck (again, “flexibility” not really needed here).

Off topic: considering the historical background, the European civs who almost dominated half of the time period, made great innovations towards modern army and modern science, now have the most uninteresting units and techs. Except Sweden who enjoyed the privilege of being added later.
On the other hand, AOE2 as a medieval game where the Europeans were not so prominent (especially when compared to themselves in early modern periods) get the greatest diversity and outnumber every other culture. I feel there is something really upside-down about the design philosophy with these two games.
Yes all games have power creeps. This happened in AOE2 and AOE3 and I would not doubt the same will happen in AOE4 where the new civs will become more weird and more gimmicky, but AOE3 specifically has a HUGE imbalance of interest across civs because they are all introduced in an order according to regions.

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I agree completely. This is rapidly devolving to a hot mess. I think they should hard cap the number of civs where they are and fix the broken stuff as best they can and walk away. This constant tweaking and radical new civs that have no references to stuff that exists already is putting the nails in the coffin.

This was a well written critique. Good job!

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Edit (disclaimer): don’t get me wrong. I’m always amazed by what the devs can do with the game mechanics that I’ve never even thought of before, but then I got frustrated when I realize they are all stuffed into one civ.

WoL used to be that “hot mess” in my impression (but it’s a mod. Who cares?)
But now the official US and Mexico civs look like they stuffed all the unique mechanics of all WoL North American/Latin American civs into one and made them “options”.

Seriously I’m not against new civs and new mechanics. But the designs stuffed into the US civ alone can be split into at least two civs (say US and Mexico) which still have more contents than any other civ. Now Mexico is at least 2x US.
Maybe spread out a little bit next time. If the devs have that much energy and creativity, plz split them into more civs.


Edit: we can do the thought experiment “what if we scrapped the dlc civs” right now (purely made up with no historical basis or gameplay design on mind).

  • Italy gets the entire cathedral and hero priest mechanic, priest boosting buildings and something similar to the federal states.
  • Poland gets the ranged hand cavalry with charge bonus, dual armour cavalry, ability to spawn cavalry from certain buildings, and auto-gathering livestock (keep all other functions to hacienda)
  • Denmark gets a skirmisher that can be buffed by nearby natural resources, auto-broadside ship and the short eco boost card (I believe they have something similar in WoL)
  • Persia gets all the weird upgrades about forts from Mexico, ability to send additional heroes and wonders with abilities taken from some DLC civ cards.
  • Morocco gets the desert outlaws from towers, fortified farms (still keep all the other functions to hacienda) some unit switch cards and the “higher rof at closer range” bonus.
  • US, Mexico, Hausa and Ethiopia still keep whatever uniqueness that still remains for them.

Also cut the federal state options in half (10 is already a great variety), make them work similar as African alliances (adding new options through ages, not 5 whole new options every age), and spread some of the cards, along with some Mexican revolt cards, to these new civs.
Not to mention some of these functionalities are not exclusive. They can be given to multiple civs.

Kaboom. You get almost 2x new civs that are no less unique than anyone before.
And those DLC civs are not even severely effected because most of those options are not even used on most occasions.
Remember how many times you see comments like “ugh just 1 civ dlc with no campaign” on this forum, twitter, steam and reddit? Everytime we have to clarify “that one civ has more contents than an entire aoe2 dlc combined” we are already half lost the game.

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This is a good thread. Some good comments. I can’t hardly see a new player not getting overwhelmed by all this and going somewhere else.

I’ve been playing this game since it first came out lord knows how long ago, 16 yrs. I’ve finally gotten around to wanting to get the timings down on the us builds and it is a big learning curve.

Someone new has to learn all these units and civs from scratch? If he just plays one he has to learn all the counters to have a prayer so there is no escaping it.

Few will stick it out IMO.

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i want to call attention to this sentence. Absolutely, 100% agree. The new civs wouldn’t dare do something like Germany’s age 4 skirm hp card, or entire lack of unit upgrades for infantry like Lakota has (I am aware of wind runner, support cards, etc but i mean actual upgrade cards).

The new units all get unique cards and gimmicks, none is left behind - see: case shot, early neftenya +5%, hausas splash damage added to cav card, things like that. I really can’t keep track of it all anymore and its killing my enthusiasm for playing online

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That should only happen if the base unit is weak or not cost effective, and/or they lack regular upgrades
…which of course is not the case.

And many of them have bundled effects. Early units + unit shipments, unit shipments + buffs, unit shipments + special abilities etc. (look at the age 4 card that only adds 15% hp to crossbows and skirmishers)

exactly, i specifically called attention to that skirm hp card age 4. germany gets no significant way to increase the power of their skirms ( a royal guard unit) until that mediocre card age 4. its entirely made up for with so many cavalry related upgrades, and their powerful economy. it gives germany an identity of a boomy cavalry driven civ, with skirms to round them out

which seems to make a lot of sense.
I look at typical German decks and feel there is no place to insert another skirm damage card for example, except when this one card is buffed to damage+hp instead of just hp.
That’s actually the same thing for all the DLC civs. Most of the gimmicky cards are never considered, because there are always better options and limited card slots and xp. This is even more annoying when there are bundled effects in that precious card slot.

Mexico has many options, but not even the treaty could use all of them.

In addition, the base deck is only 21 cards so you can only add another 8. They are basically cards that you can configure during the game and not in the menu.

Asians also have units that are not peculiar to civilization. Even the Aztecs have rogue units.

Mexico’s weaknesses have not come to the fore because it is very new and has not yet been leveled. It seems that your greatest strength will be revolutions and I have no idea of your weakness.

It has a lot of unique mechanics and I like that, but the developers have to be very resourceful to design other future civilizations without being too repetitive.

In addition, diversity of strategies is not necessarily more complicated or difficult.

Federal states and alliances to age up are by far a superior system. You are more flexible with them, but your options are locked in after each age up so it gets more constrained as you go along.

I think the main problem is the gigantic unit rosters for these new civs. With all the mercs, outlaws, natives, and Legion cards enabling the units of other civs it’s just too much to take in. Africans have a whole unit roster, plus guaranteed strong mercenaries, levied units, age up allies’ units, and all European cannons. That’s really what’s out of control. USA has legion cards and Mexico has plan cards and endless revolutionary units. And it doesn’t help that the old civs have never been updated to feature any of these new units so they seem extra unfamiliar.

The other gimmicky stuff doesn’t help. Inspiring flags and endless wagon shipments are just straight up bad design. New resources are also pretty confusing.

What they need to do is pare back the unit rosters a bit and update the old civs more so that people are more familiar with some of the exotic units. Some intermediate civs would also help. Italy or Prussia would work great with a federal state age up, but could otherwise be normal European factions so only one new thing would need to be learned and they could be a stepping stone to more complex civs. Morocco could be the intermediate for Africa and Persia the intermediate for Asia.

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I guess US really needs those legion cards because they have mediocre hand and ranged cavalry.
But I don’t see the point for Mexico as they do not seem to be mediocre at anything in their regular roster.

Mexico also has ‘legion’ cards that give Musketeers, Gendarmes and Lancers…But no mercenary cards.

Wholeheartedly agree with OP. IMO, the magic that is (or was?) AOE3 is the ability for each civ to have certain win conditions in line with the unique civ bonuses that each civ offered. This meant that there are some strats that are optimal and others that are not as much. There wasn’t a “play all, win all” condition that has pervaded the mechanics of the latter DE civs - I’m looking at you, seemingly infinite tower wagons, towers ->cannons, op units with gimmicky stats and function, etc.

Personally, I am all for new civs with specific civ bonuses that does not offer a one-civ, all strats solution. Make the upcoming dlcs (if any) be less all over the place but with having more individual identity with respect to their strengths and weaknesses.

If being strategically diverse is the primary concern, then one need only look at the French. It is the perfect example of the “Jack of all trades, but master of none” civilisation. So well crafted, that it is often the civ recommended to beginners to have a proper understanding of the game, and enables an easy switch to other civs. Could we ever say the same about any of the latter DE civs? I don’t think so.

Good luck devs!

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I agree for the most part but I do think we will need a couple of days or weeks to see what “viability” means for mexico.

atleast to me the new civs have sort of settled down in terms of what their viability means with more specific builds and options being sorted out over time. there are always a lot of shiny new stuff that people will test out to see what works and when actually played will determine how “viable” it is.

Like with china, technically have a tonne of weird niche options but by this time people only really do 3.

mexico have a lot of “stuff” right now but we will have to see what comes out in the end.

I do think like there is a weird thing with the federal civs that they do feel a bit too stretched for lack of a better word(like US have no exact win condition as far as I can tell), but like I don’t feel that way for Hausa and Inca which i don’t think have identity issues. Ethiopia maybe? but tbh i sometime feel more like I don’t know what Ethiopia actually do besides gascenya cannoneer and tbh i think it has very limited strategic diversity.

Like swede a DE civ definitely had definitely strengths and win conditions, so it might be just a matter of finding it and then small tweaks.

I do not know if this really cause problems, but here is another thing caused by current civ designs: with so many options unlocking a variety of units (American legions and African palace units), adding relative upgrades to the buildings is difficult. So they all shadow-tech.
Previously the only shadow tech units are consulate units or shipment-only units that are hard to obtain.
Now as there are a greater number of useful units that are more accessible (forts and palaces are more accessible than consulates) than those previous ones, shadow-tech saves a huge amount of resources for these civs.

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yea, so much shadowteched stuff is probably really OP, but people just haven’t waded through all the other stuff yet to even figure that stuff out

I don’t think we need a few days, because the devs themselves are very up front about their aims for civ design. They have explicitly advertised Mexico as “the most strategically diverse civ yet”, or something like that. It shows that their design philosophy is prioritizing making all civs be able to do all strategies, something which the original devs did not due. This isn’t even really about Mexico-- it’s the philosophy they’ve applied to all civs they’ve tweaked. Spain was a great example. People have always sort of wondered what a stronger spain age2 and a stronger spain eco would look like, so the devs created the whole Spanish logistician thing which made Spain suddenly able to outboom Brits on land, outboom Ports on water, and still keep their strong FF and FI. It robbed the civ of their identity to some degree and made it overly complicated and also OP. It was a good decision to nerf the spain logistician.

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This actually happens to aoe2 as well. You can see some early civs that almost completely lack improvements to certain unit lines, but most later civs seem to generally have most stuff at least usable.
The problem exclusive to aoe3 is however the variety of civs is already huge, so forcing a “strategically flexible” civ would result in this monster.