Two articles by yours truly appeared on Ars Technica over the weekend. The first is a list of thirty games to play while surviving a global pandemic. Since I wrote only six of the thirty entries, it’s a good thing we’re not currently stuck at home with nothing but the list’s flimsier offerings. Which six did I write about, you ask? Good question. I’ll give you an easy clue: the best six.
The more substantive piece focuses on a handful of titles that are good picks for Earth Day. These are my favorite games for learning about this little blue marble we all happen to share, the interconnectedness of its climate and inhabitants, and our responsibility for its well-being. The first few titles are familiar family fare, but props to my editor for letting me include the last third, which consists of games you usually don’t see discussed on more mainstream sites. I hope someone picks up the Bios trilogy and goes cross-eyed at the lexical carpet bombing that is Phil Eklund’s principal mode of communication.
When I complain about civgames, my harping comes from a place of deep affection. It’s just that civgames tend to be very good at one model of how civilizations flourish, and very bad at every other model. If it isn’t steady border expansion and technological growth, with very little diversity or ideological synthesis, it doesn’t usually rate. Because really, how many civilizations have spanned from remote BCE to far CE without redefining who they are? Without changing languages, dynasties, ethics, goals? I’ll give you a clue: not many. Even fewer were captained by Sid Meier’s immortal and nuke-happy Gandhi.
Enter Phil Eklund and Jon Manker’s Bios: Origins. As the third in the Bios trilogy, set after the multi-cellular life of Genesis and the prehistoric beasts of Megafauna, Origins is a civgame right down to certain familiar trappings. Tech tracks, cities, and special resources are all present and accounted for. But these trappings are only part of the story. What makes Origins special is the way it answers the questions that other civgames don’t even begin to think about. Questions like who you are — you, the player — what you want, and how very different peoples and civilizations can prosper across the ages.