Without an Underground weekly pass, and despite the perpetually miserable weather, I headed out for a walk. I didn’t take my camera bag or excessive baggage, just my iPod, jacket (I’m still not over how much I’ve needed a jacket in the summer) and an umbrella (essential gear over here.) I headed down to Shoot-Up Hill — no junkies present — and straight down Kilburn High Road until it became Maida Vale. This route went from Brent to Camden to Westminster and was completely boring. There was a game shop there but the guy behind the counter never heard of Civilization Revolutions for the DS so I ignored it completely. Other than that, nothing. Constant shawarma joints, bars, 99p stores and other high-brow shops with names like “Classy Chicks.” I imagine the clientelle is anything but.
A little while later I found myself on Abbey Road. I wasn’t expecting anyone there at the zebra crossing on account of the cold and the rain, but, sure enough, there were a couple of people crossing the street, one with his shoes off, while someone was taking pictures. A group of young, white 20-somethings. Further down the street was Lord’s, “The Home of Cricket,” and there was a small gaggle of tourists there too, taking pictures in front of the gate. Three older Indian gentlemen. Here we have two minor tourist spots, right near each other, with two completely distinct cultural resonances. Only in London.
I headed into Regent’s Park and crossed the breadth of it, fighting the momentary burst in rain and wind, towards Camden Town. There were a couple of game shops on the High Street here, I remembered, and I figured I should turn this aimless walk into a quest: find Civilization Revolutions. There’s more motivation to keep going in that, which was essential since my feet were killing me. Anyway, those two shops, Game and Gamestation (game stores need more original names,) had nothing. I continued.
Tottenham Court Road (lager lager lager lager.) There was a camera shop here so I stopped to take a look since they stocked Pentax gear. It has been a long, long time since I’ve experienced this level of condescension from retail service. They let me take a look at some lenses, take photos outside and they generally knew their stuff, but christ was the fat guy behind the counter a total ass. “Do you have a card?”
“No. We’re the shop at the end of the street.”
Uh, thanks. Meanwhile, another employee was telling another customer: “first off, you have to realize where you are. We aren’t on the internet. Don’t have a website. We don’t sell mobile phones. We sell photo equipment and only photo equipment. Got that?”
There was this superior sense of “what are you doing here?” coming from the staff. There was a pervasive level of discomfort that made me want to bail out of the place yet, I stayed, genuinely curious about all the lenses they were showing me. Expensive lenses, ones I shouldn’t be buying at this income-free time, tempted me; the Tamron Macro, specifically, was calling out to me. I resisted. I felt like giving in at this time would be admitting defeat to these smug sellers. I might get it later though. On my time, not theirs.
The assistant, who was introduced from behind the counter as a “professional photographer” as if that’s supposed to fill me with reverence, was a nice guy though. We talked a bit. Polish guy from Krakow. Was about to be sent to Iraq as a photographer for the army before he learned that the guy he was replacing had both his knees shot off by a sniper. He left Poland instead. Seems like the better decision to me.
I continued southbound and turned onto Oxford Street where I played a game of “people slalom.” It is a very frustrating game when you are trying to move at twice the pace of everyone else around you. I managed to work my way through the crowds, only rudely bumping a handful of people, to HMV. I browsed through the “World Cinema” section taking notes on what to pick up later, mostly DVDs not available in region one. Then I headed to the games section, grabbed Civilization Revolutions, got in line, bought it, and then got the hell out of there and into Bond Street Station. I took the train home. My walk, my quest, was over.
The DS was turned on for the first time in London. I took out the cart of “Advance Wars: Days of Ruin” and inserted “Civilization Revolutions” and proceeded to play an entire game, on the easiest difficulty, in one sitting. Granted, the portable version is more condensed and speedier but it remains a testament to how true to its roots this tiny version of Civilization is. It engrossed me completely.
A little later I started a second game on a higher difficulty: one of the scenarios where everyone starts with all tech researched and there are a lot of barbarians. I started as the Greeks and was ready to play a peaceful game, focused on culture and money. The constant stream of barbarians was annoying and it went counter to this, but their wooden clubs were no match for my modern infantries. One such group of soldiers became the envy of the continent when they won over 25 battles, gaining all sorts of perks and benefits. I was peaceful but no one would dare take on my highly skilled soldiers.
Or so I thought. Right before I was to put the DS down and go to bed, the Japanese, without provocation, declared war on me. Then the Romans. Then the Egyptians. Well, fuck. All my cultural development was put on hold and my cities all, except for my one island state, focused on building tanks and infantry. I set up a defensive barrier around my borders with Japan (most of my nation was safely protected by the sea and the battleships I had stationed there) and hoped this whole war thing would blow over.
The Japanese, and Roman, incursions didn’t stop and while my cities remained safe I was losing troops. I had to end this once and for all. A couple of infantry armies were amassed, with some tank and bomber support, and they all headed for Kyoto. One by one they attacked and, to my dismay, one by one they fell. The Japanese had strong defenses and a general in support. This wasn’t going to be easy.
I took a different approach. I rebuilt my armies and instead of sending them to attack Kyoto, I positioned them all along its borders: a blockade. My thinking was that I’d kill their production capabilities, slowing them down, while I continued amassing a larger and larger force outside of its walls. I’d take the city by sheer force of numbers. To further speed this up, Athens built the Military Industrial Complex which let me build military units in half the time. Some of my cities were now generating a tank a turn.
Yet, when I tried to capture the city I could never succeed. Drastic measures were required. My island city, free of the hostilities, started to build the Manhattan Project. I had a vast reserve of gold so I hurried the production. I had no time to waste and was ready for the nuclear age. But when I tried to build ICBMs I discovered that I could not. I don’t know why. Maybe there’s no uranium around? I was disappointed. All that for nothing? Oh. Wait. I was awarded one ICBM. It was all or nothing. With an unexpected, little 3D animation the missile flew into orbit and landed in Kyoto. The explosion animation was anti-climactic but the result was drastic: Kyoto was leveled. My armies captured its smoldering ruins during the next turn.
Kyoto then became my staging point for my armies’ invasions of Rome and Egypt. By now my forces were unstoppable. Dozens of tank armies, all hardened veterans with all sorts of stat bonuses, rolling city to city, supported by vast fleets of battleships. Rome fell. Cleopatra was defeated. The world was mostly mine, save for the northern regions where the French dwelled. They too had declared war on me, much later than the others, but did nothing but sink one of my cruisers. Having now seen the full force of my armies, Napoleon was asking for peace. I wasn’t overly antagonistic towards the French: I gave him ten turns.
It was enough time for me to move all my armies in the south towards the Greek-French border. Turn by turn they amassed. I had spent all this time and resource constructing this giant war machine and it was now beyond my control. Centuries of fighting had left my cultural institutions desolate. There were only soldiers now. Soldiers that needed something to do. The ten turns ended, I rejected Napoleon’s offers for peace, and stormed into Paris. The world was mine.
“The fuck?” Where did the evening go? I went to sleep content that everything that made Civilization so great, including the ability to time travel hours into the future, was present in this tiny, portable DS version. It’s the best thirty pounds (!) that I have spent here.