Game Theory: Civilization

Inside each and every one of us, even in perhaps the tiniest of measures, is an ego-driven narcissistic dictator who thrives on control. Games like Sim City or Civilization were built for that deeply buried mini-dictator.

Today, we’re going to talk about the latter: Civilization (oh so many hours and mouse-click-induced hand cramps I’ve given this one).

1. Your starting position is never neutral; it can help or hurt you
In a water-heavy map of archipelagos, you don’t want to be the one on the tiny rock with no space to farm, metals to mine or products to trade, and insufficient labor to build ships fast enough to get onto another island.

You can quickly figure out your starting position in life and work when you:

  • Apply for a job or an academic program
  • Ask for an internal transfer
  • Buy a car, a farm, a store, a house, a boat, or a business
  • Start a new project
  • Join a new team, department and/or organization

Knowing what’s going to be an uphill batter or a textbook-perfect rout is incredibly helpful. Knowledge is power and speaking of that–

2. Explore as much of the map as quickly as you can
Even if you find metals or stone or luxury items you can’t yet use, or cliffs you have no ability to traverse, or river-run land too far away for you yet to claim and colonize, know your surroundings because they eventually come into play.

Therefore, in work, this means:

  • Figure out the company watering-hole
  • Meet, greet, and charm your office adminstrators
  • Read as much as you can about your industry
  • Seek out mentors, colleagues, acquaintances, competitors – get the whole picture

Get to know the lay of the land and because you also know your own strengths and weaknesses, now you’re in a position to–

3. Make a strategy (and follow it!)
Is your goal to last all the way to winning the game via diplomacy? Do you want an approach where you try to battle every other civilization out of existence? Or perhaps your choice is to wait out to the final turn and hope the points will tally in your favor?

All of these are viable options. And in our real world? Do you want to be known as

  • The super nice guy and collaborator?
  • Egotistic talent with fantastic ability to deliver all things and offend everyone in your wake?
  • Solid worker, reliable, intuitive or spectacular at points, overall good, maybe even great, but that’s it?

You can take steps to build the reputation you think best allows you to succeed and win – however you define “winning” (i.e., title, compensation, work-life balance, intellectual achievement, family security, et al.)

However, I deliberately neglected to mention one more approach. Remember that water-heavy archipelago map?

4. Not All Civilizations Survive
That is not a negative header; it is a fact. Most of the civilizations you will play as in Civilization no longer exist in our modern world: the Celts, the Vikings, the Carthaginians, the Mayans… Some offshoot of them may, but on the whole, they are relics of the past.

Likewise, not all jobs we take are going to be forever.

Outsourcing, modern production processes and practices, inventions and new technologies, industry relocations– all of these can pull a job right out from under us.

Or, conversely, you can decide the job is no longer a good fit for you. Your passions and interests may have changed. Your family concerns may have shifted. Or, maybe the organization isn’t right for you (you on a two-tile island and no means of expansion – your ability to win? None; nil; absolute zero).

Game Time
Life and work are not “games”; playing, succeeding, losing, stagnating, and resigning, all have larger implications than a few turns of Civilization. But, the fundamentals tend to overlap:

  • Figure out your strengths and weaknesses going in
  • Learn about the “world” around you through any means possible
  • Make a strategy and use it, and
  • Know when to walk away

For any of you fellow Civ players, any lessons you’ve learned that you would like to share?

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