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"Infinite City Sleaze" is a game-mechanics parable gone bad.

This term, used in the community of those who play Sid Meier's Civilization and related games, refers to a strategy that milks an important flaw in the design of these games: players are rewarded, especially on the higher levels, for creating vast numbers of cities. Blindly. Mindlessly. Uncreatively. Uninspiringly. Uninspiredly. In such a manner that multiplayer between ICS players is unthinkable.

(Some basic facts here: Most Good Things in this game family are produced by objects called population. The members of the population class are located exclusively in objects called cities. The important mid- and late-game outputs of population ("money" and "science") are independent of its location. One pop-obj. is added each time a city acquires x food, with x increasing for each point of its population: normally, x = 10*(pop-obj's+1).

Each pop-point object has a contentment property: "unhappy," "(merely) content," or "happy." When a city has more unhappy than happy pop-point objects, it rebels, producing no Good Things until the problem is fixed. All solutions to preventing civil unrest without reducing population have a cost (and furthermore, there are further growth costs at sizes like 7 or 10 -- these vary from ruleset to ruleset, i.e. from game to game). However, cities can produce settler units, which destroy one pop-obj. on creation and eat food and production until disbanded. Settlers can create new cities, disbanding in the process.)

The problem with the mentioned aspects of the rulesets is that, especially at higher levels, the costs involved in preventing unrest in a small number of large cities are much higher than the costs of "fielding" the same number of pop-points (and thus, producing the same amount of Good Things) without unrest through a large number of small cities. Thus this aspect of the rulesets promotes the mentioned player behavior -- blind, uncreative creation of countless cities. This has the added disadvantage of said player forcing tons of dull micromanagement on hirself.

There are two main types of ICS (names are mine):
  1. President's Day Sale ICS -- this, perhaps the less ugly form of ICS, does not deny cities their natural growth space; it pre-allocates each city enough space to reach the size it can be expected to achieve via the President's Day Sale strategy (or any other full-city-growth strategy, though I know of none more effective than the PDS).
  2. "Strong" ICS, or Despotic Conquest ICS -- here there is no attempt to allow cities to reach their full potential; the aim is sheerly to produce the most Good Things (generally military production) the quickest for the lowest possible investment. Typical maximum roofs for cities' sizes in this variant are 10 (Civ I), 7 (SMAC) 8 (Civ II), and even 4 (Morganites in SMAC). UGLY. I would guess that in assigning these traits to the original Civ ruleset, Sid Meier was trying to achieve the following things:
    • simulate the drive for civilizations to expand (a "carrot and stick" for founding new cities)
    • simulate the social unrest that plagues real-world cities as they grow
    The designers did realize that ICS could be overly effective, and even in Civ I, there were rules to prevent it; they were, unfortunately, ineffective:
    1. Randomly-placed "extra" unhappy people for every city over a certain count -- given that an experienced Civver learns tricks for consistently keeping population at ridiculously low levels (e.g. 15-city empires with no city over pop 2), this is easily worked around.
    2. Starting in the later releases of Civ I, there are "double-unhappy" citizens that must be double-appeased -- see point 1.
    3. All buildings have maintenance costs, presumably paid more efficiently by a small number of large cities. This effect is, however, piddling compared to having your cities shut down.
    4. Cities distant from the capital lose "gold" (a nationally-pooled and spent output) to "corruption." However, type-1 ICS'ers move on in mid-game to low-corruption governments, while type-2 ICS'ers could care less, as they generally build few (gold-hungry) city facilities, and gain their gold and science through conquest.
    Two rules against ICS were, however, effective:
    1. Starting either in late releases of Civ I or in Civ II, "waste" -- lost local, and thus military, production due to corruption was introduced. This ended the heyday of "Despotic Conquest," since despotism, the most military-friendly government, had the highest corruption. (I am not sure this was retained in SMAC, as I have not played it in about four months.)
    2. In Civilization: Call to Power, Activision got things right by including a rule for a massive increase in cities' unrest after an empire passed a certain number of cities, which depended on government type. This unrest was unmanageable even with the smallest of city sizes. Unfortunately, they went on to set ridiculously high maximum city counts, making this rule meaningless in practice. Fortunately, these maximums were user-modifiable, and thus above all the Celestial Dawn family of mod packs (named after the creator of the relevant base C:CTP mod), including WesW's Med Mod packs, had superb settings that, for the first time in the Civ series, effectively prevented all forms of infinite city sleaze.
    As of this writing, Sid Meier's firm Firaxis Games has given no sign of what steps they will take to prevent ICS in their upcoming Civilization III.
    So what have we learned? When designing a strategy game, playtest a lot, never hang on to your own pride, listen to your audience (or your competition will, as Activision apparently tried to do), and remember: if your players can break the ruleset, they will.

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