The Civ Breakdown

From CivWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This is an essay by RektTangle and ProgrammerDan which comments on some of the history of Civ's mechanics and design decisions.

What makes a Civ server?

This is perhaps the hardest question to answer about the genre. Very broadly, it is a server that combines the following aspects:

  • Accountability of in-game actions is mostly handled by players, not admins
  • Minimal rules limiting styles of play, apart from those that involve cheating, hacking and harassment
  • An experience more difficult and immersive than vanilla, incentivizing long-term investments and more finite resources
  • Either an emergent or management-led push towards forming organized groups of players, perhaps also with an emphasis on role-playing as in-game nations
  • Worlds that span multiple years at minimum

Vanilla Mechanics


The goal of civ was to have meaningful worlds spanning real-life years. The fact that vanilla progression can be completed in a matter of days means it needed to be changed.

Different iterations have handled this in vastly different ways, some by removing access to certain dimensions unless you grind a way to get to them, others disabling crafting recipes entirely and gating them behind FactoryMod. One thing is very clear between all iterations, however: the more estranged from vanilla your progression system is, the fewer players you retain. People have grown up with 10 years of being able to hand craft iron pickaxes; if you take this away from them, they are much more likely to quit. However, this does not necessarily mean a lot of players quit instantly upon seeing an unfamiliar feature; instead, the first 10 hours of a new player's experience should be seen as a valuable time in which they're familiarising which should not be cluttered with confusing alterations of mechanics they may be expecting.


Xray is a bane of survival servers, and solutions to xray such as Orebfuscation often run into performance issues. There are also issues with reverse engineering the world seed to find ore.

Existing ore looks like stone from a distance or when surrounded by solid blocks. Sometimes, there is no world-generated ore, and ore is instead generated whenever a virgin stone block is revealed using the HiddenOre plugin.


Crafting not only covers handcrafting and workbenches, but also crafting stations such as furnaces and composters.

Recipes are often disabled by appropriate plugins due to balance reasons or to gate certain progression behind other materials.

Experience & Enchanting

Experience is one of the endgame resources of vanilla, needed to make god tools and other equipment and repair existing tools.

Civ servers tend to disable experience gain completely, and instead gate it behind factories, to make it so that reaching the end game requires large scale infrastructure and cooperation. Some civ servers have also directly added factory-based enchanting, requiring a large setup for a factory that then randomly enchants items like vanilla but for a discounted cost.

Mending has also been disabled on all civ servers on versions of Minecraft that have it, as it could be seen as an infinite source of wealth, and removes the scarcity for tool materials like diamonds. Interacting with grindstones is also often disabled to prevent experience refunds and farming fished enchanted items for experience.

Vanilla enchanting is often altered or replaced by custom mechanics (even when using a traditional enchanting table set-up). These changes are often to promote a specific cost requirement or target a legacy enchanting mechanism, or to disguise the enchanting outcomes more completely.

Some servers have experimented with passive or activity based experience collection instead of factory infrastructure, but general consensus is if experience is to be replaced, better to replace it with mechanics that promote cooperation.

Opinions vary on to what degree experience, and in particular enchanting, should be gated behind more complex mechanisms. Enchanting tools, weapons and armor are a core task in vanilla Minecraft, and given the complexity of most civ server replacements, efficient enchanting is often gated behind particularly experience civ players, increasing the barrier to entry for new players.

Alternatives include extending vanilla enchanting instead of replacing it, by adding factory-only enchantments or tool enhancements, while leaving vanilla enchanting alone.


Building is one of the core features of Minecraft, as it is a sandbox game.

The creation of builds purely for aesthetic reasons currently serves no mechanical purpose on civ, yet is one of the most important parts of it that should be encouraged heavily.

Construction of practical infrastructure is often done in a ‘solved’ manner: there is often a clear ‘best way’ to build something like a bunker, tree farm, etc. due to the nature of the plugins.

Many of the solved infrastructure is dependent on botting, which requires specialized player knowledge and time investment. Much of the best, most efficient infrastructural designs are locked behind particular player groups as a kind of informal intellectual property.


In vanilla, trading is mostly limited to between the players and villagers, with vanilla seeing some limited trade and demand for rare or highly regionalised drops such as elytra.

Keeping an infinite wealth source such as villager trading devalues a lot of things in the game, so civ servers have unanimously removed villager trades. In the same vein, no civ server has ever had an ‘admin shop’ or plugin-based currency; however, there have existed player-made fiat currencies.

Generally, civ servers have struggled to implement meaningful scarcity where bulk trades across long distances made sense. However, significant development effort has gone into making such trades possible, including "compaction" and supercart meta. Still, trading tends to exist around the margins or in unique specialties that rely on unique skillsets or willingness to endure drudgery.


PvP is the most direct method of resolving conflicts.

Civ servers have a notoriously strong demographic of players that continuously lobby for non-vanilla PvP in the form of ‘old’ PvP, which is mostly based on clicking rapidly at approx. 7-8 times per second. This continues to stray farther from what new players are familiar with and reduces parity with vanilla. Also, civ servers often add cooldowns to things like golden apples, crossbows, and pearls, as their potential to be spammed can create bad gameplay.

Due to other mechanics, PvP is also the only meaningful decider for unresolved conflicts in-game, in particular over gameplay or border disagreements.

World Size

For practical reasons, as storage space and RAM are limited by the server setups, and for gameplay and balance reasons, to provide a limited number of resources.

World size has a massive effect on the gameplay of the server. Larger worlds make it harder to trade and maintain exclaves, and smaller worlds are filled quickly by power players and infrastructure. However, a large size does not always equal a long-lived server; 2.0 having a massive world and a long lifespan should be seen as survivor bias. It should be noted that most servers that have expanded have done so on a dimension basis (adding new worlds) rather than a shard basis (expanding the current world).

Travel and Transport

There are many ways to get around in Minecraft: horses, boats, minecarts, portals, elytra and more. Each one has an investment cost and a nominal travel speed.

Civ servers often disable elytra, piston transport and boat ice roads, both for performance and balance reasons. Being able to travel too quickly on a small world would only enable reactive, exclave-focused gameplay.


The player inventory and its management has always been a critical part of Minecraft.

Shulkers have almost been universally disabled to encourage good inventory management and foster meaningful trade, with compaction of stacks of materials into single items offering a good solution for trade at the expense of making the items useless while in transit. Very few servers have played with the idea of limiting inventory space or trying to add weight limits to the player, as the theory is that these would only detract from gameplay rather than provide more depth.

Core Plugins

Definition of 'Core': Almost every Civ server has used this plugin since its creation.


In a server with no rules against griefing and raiding, gameplay favours the griefer as it takes much more time to create infrastructure than to break it. There also needed to be systems that encouraged people to work together and share infrastructure.

If you had to name just one plugin that represents Civ as a whole, it would be Citadel.

Use of basic materials can empower any block. The numbers are flexible, but what is vital is that the first tier of reinforcements must be easily accessible to new players. Otherwise, it is hard for them to get invested into the idea.

You can reinforce blocks onto any group you have the relevant permission for. When broken by players not on the group, the reinforcement is not returned, but it is returned when broken by someone with relevant permissions on the group.

If you reinforce special blocks under the ‘acid’ type reinforcement, once they mature, breaking that block breaks all reinforced blocks around it, regardless of group. However, there is no way to mass convert reinforcements. This is bad, as it leads to ‘all or nothing wars’, where there is no option to gradually take territory and claim it as your own, and instead the only viable victory is essentially extinction of the other group. See Need for War.

One of the most toxic emergent tactics Citadel enables is ‘obby bombing’, where players grief enemy cities with reinforced obsidian. This led to the Bastion plugin, detailed below. Obby bombing damage can be mitigated through design with long maturation times, accessible acid blocks, and passive effects such as faster breaking while in friendly territory.

The focus on per-block reinforcement mechanics means the meta of reinforcing is critical. New players often struggle to understand fully the break-path implications of Citadel-based defense, and generally construct shockingly vulnerable builds when evaluated by more experienced players. Citadel presents a steep learning curve that sometimes alienates those new to the plugin, and provides its most meta-defining advantages only to those willing to learn the three dimensional thinking and significant advance preparation necessary for a well protected build.

Citadel also makes disassembling inactive builds labor intense, leading to a very uniquely classic-civ experience of "dereliction parties", where old builds are communally removed by breaking each block dozens or hundreds of times. While the meta has emerged to make the best of this situation, it could be argued that on the balance, block-level protections are as much a curse as a blessing. They also are by far the biggest drain on server resources, quite often using more of the disk read-write capabilities and RAM than the rest of the server processes combined. Very few voices have argued against Citadel meaningfully and no credible alternatives have yet been created- partially because it is so intrinsic to the genre.


Player-enacted policing of the community is fairly weak with purely vanilla mechanics. PrisonBed and, later, PrisonPearl, sought to solve this issue by adding a way to effectively soft-ban players for a constant cost if they were killed by an enemy with an ender pearl in their inventory.

Because PrisonPearl has no upper limit on how long a player can be held in a pearl, and provides no real incentive to come up with sensible sentences, the resultant ‘permapearl culture' is extremely toxic and often cited as one of the killers of civ, both for old players and newcomers.

The all-or-nothing nature of most PvP conflict in civ, and its emergence as the most meaningful decider in conflicts, lends even more importance, and likelihood of abuse, to PrisonPearl. Alternatives to soften the impact on players, like ExilePearl, have been tried, but introduce other mechanisms for abuse. In spite of its significant risks and tendency to kill servers, most civ servers prefer to tweak the costs or dimension of imprisonment rather than directly addressing the extremes embedded in PrisonPearl's basic design of player-led server administration.

Most civ servers have open-ended imprisonment vulnerability, with no opt-out or opt-in mechanic. Consequently, longer term players consider radar and full protection diamond or better armor to be minimum necessary for ordinary interaction with other players, whether in combat or not, whether openly under threat or not.


Because Minecraft lets you grow anything almost anywhere, even underground, development on a more immersive and limited plugin to control farming was a critical part of early civ.

RealisticBiomes crops grow persistently, even when the player who planted them is offline, which allows for crop growth to be made much slower without punishing people who cannot log in for log periods in a day. In exchange, they cannot be fertilised with bone meal.

The RealisticBiomes config is one of the things that varies most between civ servers. Some see it as a way to equalise biomes, with each having their advantages, while others are not afraid to make some biomes superior to others. But every single server recognises the power that RB grants to regionalise important resources and provide either abundance or scarcity to materials.


After a particularly bad series of obby bombings, the admins came up with area protection blocks that stop enemies placing blocks at the cost of their reinforcement. They can eventually be broken. The permissions for a bastion are highly configurable, allowing blacklists and whitelists, and enabling and disabling of many features. Their features have gradually crept, growing to support multiple shapes, multiple configurable sizes, block elytra flight and hostile ender pearl flight by default.

Bastions only protect the blocks of the y-level they’re on and the blocks above them. This means that 100% of bastions are placed at bedrock. There is no way to scout a bastion field without running into it.

Because bastions were implemented hastily and meta-fied even more hastily, it was impossible to change their design without invalidating hundreds of hours of players’ time and drastically changing the meta that players had become accustomed to, and so their initially poor design has persisted through several iterations, because of this reluctance to change them.

Notwithstanding the above, some servers on the edge of civ were successful in injecting new features into Bastion such as both round and square fields, variable size bastions with unique feature sets each, and more. Variable size bastions in particular have now become an expected part of a civ server.


There was an idea that some mechanics should be hard capped by the number of players in a nation and how active they are.

Stamina can be claimed every day after 30 minutes of playing as a physical item. You can build up streaks by claiming stamina for several days in a row to get bonus stamina.

Because stamina never expires and is a physical item, it can be hoarded, which leads to very unfun gameplay where people log in simply to claim and hoard stamina, and those who have played the server longer simply have an advantage due to having had more time in which to hoard stamina.


A safe way to enable fixed goods trading while offline needed to be implemented to properly facilitate meaningful trade.

IE works using chests rather than player-made NPCs, as chests can be easily reinforced using Citadel and are not subject to entity-related exploits.

Due to the inherent vulnerability of a large amount of trade goods or payments for those trade goods sitting in easy accessibility, more recent updates to ItemExchange include relays, to allow the actual trade goods to be held in a more secure vault or obsidian structure, as a way to counteract otherwise trivial and profitable raiding.


Because accountability was shifted towards being player-enforced, there needed to be a player-accessible way to track things admins normally have access to, like block breaks and area enter/exit history.

Reinforcing a noteblock or jukebox with Citadel turns it into a snitch or a logsnitch respectively. The former notifies players on its group when a player enters it. The latter logs events such as enter/exit, block placing and breaking, and entity interaction within its radius. Typically, snitches have a relatively modest radius, from around 7 to 11 blocks. During late Civcraft 2.0 there was a rise in power groups keeping an account logged in at all times that would notify players in Discord based on certain events. This eventually became such an issue that Maxopoly created an official way to relay snitch groups into Discord. Initially, although the barrier to entry was high, the process is now fairly accessible, and allows people to track activity in their nations even when offline.

There is some concern that by moving monitoring fully out of server and onto Discord, many nations can go largely inactive while still closely monitoring and jealously guarding their infrastructure and territory, which they no longer use (see: Crayon Claiming). This shift into meta-only-gaming leads to lower player counts and should be closely monitored for long-term activity level impacts.

Other Plugins

Plugins seen as less essential to the Civ experience.


To prevent reverse seed engineering to find ore, instead generate ore when a virgin block is revealed.

Typically the Hiddenore config aims to replicate vanilla, with some regular exceptions such as massive but rare diamond veins. However, the plugin is very flexible and it's arguable it hasn't been used to its full potential, allowing drop rates dependent on block, biome, tool type and potion effects, to name a few.

Mapping Mods

Civ servers typically do not release maps of the world. As a result, it would fall onto the players to map the world and keep it up-to-date.

The duty of maintaining the global claims map is often stressful as there are often inactive nations, competing claims and (counter-)crayon claims to consider and mediate. See Content Creation.

Pies in the Sky

Plugins that have not yet seen the light of day but have been floated as ideas for a long time.


Reduce the need to no-life the game by adding structures that can do menial tasks such as harvest large fields at the cost of stamina.

Ideas for Implementation

Ideas ranging from repurposing factories, to using NPCs, to multiblock structures have been suggested. It's mostly agreed upon that these structures should not be infinitely scalable, and that they should instead provide a way for players with busy schedules to still feel able to progress alongside those who play frequently.


No healthy way to close out a stagnant war. Also provide an emergent reason to have ‘fair fights’ between nations.

Ideas for Implementation

Most wars on modern civ servers end up being a series of short skirmishes between small subsets of populations done at non-peak hours, with most non-fighters feeling useless or threatened during this time. These also tend to fall into two extremes of either being very conclusive or not having an effect on the war as a whole. Ideally there should be an encouragement in an emergent way to have players organise fights and theatres of war between their nations with incremental consequences, rather than polarisingly decisive battles between small numbers of players. There should also be a way for nations to reach agreements and close out wars without needing to completely eliminate each other, which could be done by adding ways to declare war goals of claims that nations want to take or other goals such as humiliate or demilitarise another nation, as well as ways to effectively transfer claims and reinforcements in occupied territories over to the winning nation. There should also be a bonus for warring only when diplomacy has failed, together with a penalty for frequent warring.


Provide an incentive to specialise into a mechanic, an area, or a single character. This is to disincentivise exclaves and colonies and instead encourage

Ideas for Implementation

Ideas range from providing small numerical boosts (e.g. +20% mining speed when in a certain biome) to adding entirely new mechanics to the game (e.g. arrows instead deal magical damage).


Areas that are invested into greatly should protect themselves by emitting their own Bastion-like field, even if they're completely aesthetic builds, to encourage building for the sake of building.

Ideas for Implementation

Ideas have ranged from CityCores, unique bastions that would create huge fields around them based on nearby buildings, to a mechanic similar to Factorio's pollution spread, where building in a chunk builds up Influence which diffuses to neighbouring chunks over time.


There should be an incentive to not spend all day playing on Civ, and instead maintain a healthy balance.

Ideas for Implementation

Inspiration would be like energy but instead would be accumulated while offline up to some cap. It would then be used to unlock things such as skills, factory recipes, and the like.

General Meta Notes and Problems


Despite alternate accounts being allowed on some previous iterations, nowadays it's normally agreed on that they represent a pay-to-win problem if allowed, together with the fact they strongly detract from the idea of civ that interacting with a person in-game has weight to it, and one person in-game represents a real life person.=== Crayon Claiming === Crayon claiming is the act of claiming land beyond what is currently being used or what is enforceable, in order to save the valuable estate for hypothetical later use. This is enabled by nations that crayon claim normally having more leverage over people who make player-made maps, together with low upkeep requirements for snitches and reinforcements. The recent meta addition of Discord relays only exacerbates the current issues.

Scarcity versus Abundance

A constant contention point is what inspires trade more: a scarcity of a resource in an area, or an abundance of a resource in another? In reality, both encourage trade, each having their downsides: scarcity negatively affects player morale, while abundance tends to homogenise progression globally.

Exclave Simulator/ColonyCraft

On mainline civ servers, it's very common to see nations claiming exclaves or making colonies to exploit RealisticBiomes to its full potential. This stifles trade and causes large, powerful nations who can keep up these colonies to push out other, more grassroots nations from valuable areas.

Vaults and Bunkers

Because of the lack of massive change with regards to Bastion and Citadel between servers, as well as the high barrier of entry for bunker design, secure infrastructure design is a highly competitive and secretive field of building, where nations often compete to build the best defensive infrastructure and keep it secret.

Renewable Materials and Scarcity

As a lot of materials in Minecraft are gated behind dimensions, this means a lot of building materials may be unavailable to build with, and as such need to have other methods of being obtained. This can make certain materials very sought after and discouraging for builders when they don't have a good selection of things to build from. The opposite of this is when a recipe is added to the server that adds a way to get a previously scarce material easily. In this case, there is a tradeoff in that builders will have a material more readily available, but buildings using that material will be less impressive as a result. There is also the added issue if that material is needed for production, security or defense: it removes a market for that material if it's made too easy to obtain, or creates unwanted conflict if it's too scarce, and if many materials are scarce, it begins to erode on players' will to play.

Need for War

On civ servers, there are very few wars fought over land, and most are fought over policy or the behaviour of individuals or nations. This is because there is no easy way to convert land and infrastructure successfully occupied over to your own groups, or even incentives to make vassals or pacts with groups or individuals living on sections of occupied land. Since the investment is equal, this leads to nations simply Crayon Claiming and building their own infrastructure.

PvE as a Whole

There is a tendency on Civ servers to remove most of the threat proved by mobs (which is already quite low in Minecraft, especially compared to other survival-craft games). This is done to promote other players and nations as the main conflict sources; however, it can be argued that this works too well, as frequently the only source of strife for the average player is other players, and the natural world around the nations feels passive and unthreatening, which is very different to time periods that some civ servers try to mimic. On the other hand, servers that have tried to make PvE more integral and difficult have instead run into issues where the PvE was too challenging, and the only way to defeat certain encounters was through exploits and 'cheesing' (see: Devoted 2, Realms). As in all things, a balance is required.

Mumble, Reddit and Discord

The majority of early out-of-game conversation was mostly done through the use of Reddit and Mumble. As Discord started to rise in popularity during 2017,

Content Creation

There is one sentiment shared among Civ's content creators and that is that even if it were made up solely of goodwilled individuals, Civ would still be a very greedy, selfish and unforgiving genre to make content for. This is due to the nature of frequent disagreement around even the most basic parts of the game- for instance, claims on a world map, population demographics, election results, and war propaganda. Content going against certain narratives will often be brigaded and buried, especially on Reddit. There is also no denying that Civ is a niche genre. Even the media with the largest reach sees a few hundred upvotes on Reddit or around 10-20k views on YouTube. The ratio of time spent on a piece of media to its reach and reception is very low for Civ-related media.

It is important to note that never in Civ history have there been in-game rewards given out by the administration for outstanding pieces of media.

Closing Remarks

At the heart of every game is a social contract, written or unwritten. It is the contract to suspend disbelief, and to follow the rules of the game until it is concluded or someone breaks the illusion. Games which blur with real life always tread a dangerous line. Suddenly, the suspension between an in-game relationship and an out-of-game one merge. Time becomes a resource you can either spend on one or the other. The social contract starts becoming part of the way you perceive things out of game- and this can lead to terrible emotional damage due to in-game events. Civ has a catastrophic burnout rate for a genre that touts long-lived communities, especially for staff, and it damages the genre greatly.

At the end of the day, mechanics alone cannot determine how a game will play out- that is up to the rules and standards set by those who run the game, and of course, the players themselves. But they can certainly steer the course. To say the mechanics and plugins of civ have not had a drastic effect on the motion of its culture would be a gross error. Anyone who wishes to make a server in the vein of any civclone would do well to ponder their goals cover to cover multiple times, heed the lessons learned by its predecessors- often the hard way- and to understand the shifting tides of its playerbase.