Reviews of Sid Meier's Alien Crossfire Custom Factions

A couple of years ago, I had an extra 20 bucks. Knowing only that I wanted a game for my computer, I bought Alpha Centauri on the advice of a store clerk. That was the beginning of a love affair that would soon come to border on obsession. Needless to say, I was excited as I could possibly get when I recently acquired a copy of the expansion, Alien Crossfire, but what excited me most was the custom faction editor. As soon as I completed my first custom faction (The People's Commune), I knew it was the start of something beautiful. This section is devoted to looking at those custom factions that can be downloaded off the internet.

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Review Criteria

Concept
One of the themes of Alpha Centauri is the power of ideology. In order to get a high concept score, a faction must have an ideology that seems powerful. I have to believe that a rag-tag group of human colonists on a planet light-years away from Earth will be so inspired by this faction's ideology that it gives them the strength to persist in the face of overwhelming odds. Also, the faction's bonuses and penalties have to make sense in light of their ideology.
Power
The Faction Editor does not compel the user to make a faction balanced. On the one hand, I love it for trusting the user with unlimited power. On the other hand, I fear it for trusting the user with unlimited power. Factions that get a high score in this area are those responsible enough to avoid stacking on the bonuses and wise enough to avoid stacking on the penalties.
Art
I really admire people who can edit graphics files to create something truly original. I try from time to time, but it never really turns out right. Consequently, this is more of an "extra credit" category. A Custom Faction can get a high overall score without it, but good art will make for a truly excellent review.
Overall
This category is a measure of how much I enjoyed playing the faction. Because the numbers above might not tell the whole story, this number is not strictly an average.

The Reviews

The Anarchists
Agri-Culture

The Anarchists

From: www.networknode.org - Alpha Set

Datalinks

Anarchists (the Revolutionary)
LEADER: Firebrand Annus Magnus
BACKGROUND: Factory Worker
AGENDA: Growth, Power
TECH: Industrial Base

+1 GROWTH: Lack of social planning
-3 EFFICINCY: Badly organized, if at all
+1 SUPPORT: 3 units free per base
-4 RESEARCH: Not disciplined enough to learn what can be taken from others
FREE FACILITIES: Skunkworks and Recreation Commons each base
FANATICS: Enough said
HURRY 75%: Excellent improvisation
TECHCOST 175%: Atrocious educational system
FREE UNIT: Alien Artifact (Black Market)
May not use Police State politics
Recieves HALF votes in elections for Planetary Governor and Supreme Leader
May exceed HAB COMPLEX population requirements by 1
Extra drone per 3 population, culture of aggression.
QUOTE: "So many ways to get what you want. I choose the best, I use the rest."
-Firebrand Annus Magnus, "Written in History"

Concept: 7/10
The anarchists are a faction that seems to be inspired by 1980's punk rock, soccer hooligans, and extreme libertarianism. These things serve to give the faction a distinct character that is actually kind of refreshing. My main problem with this faction and its abilities is that they are a little too realistic. A society of Anarchists is unlikely to survive and prosper in the real world (especially on a hostile planet where cooperation and order are critical), and it is unlikely to do well in a game (but more on that in the power section). Still, I will give kudos to the creators for cleaving assiduously to realism.

Power: 4/10
As I said in the concept section, the power level of this faction is distressingly realistic. My biggest complaint is with the unreasonable research penalty. Combined with the increased tech cost, even the Believers were leaving me in the dust technologically. I used a dense expansion strategy on Librarian difficutly to get 17 bases, and I still had to wait 22 years for each advance (though, with the large efficiency penalty, my most distant bases effectively contributed nothing to my empire besides a couple of obsolete units). Given the absurd rate at which this faction produces drones, it would have been nice to have the technology to be able to produce psych facilities at my bases. Even with psych set at 20% and the free recreation commons this faction receives, I still had drone problems in my size 6 bases. What is perhaps most annoying about this faction is that what bonuses it has can be had by other (default) factions at a significantly lower cost. On a final note the creator seems to have his math muddled up, to get a bonus equivalent to the 175% (7/4) techcost, you would need a hurry cost of 4/7 or approximately 57%. Even then, though, the techcost penalty is likely to be a bigger hassle than the hurry bonus is worth.

Art: 8/10
Based on my first runthrough of the faction, I was going to give it a 9 out of 10, but after playing it more extensively, I lowered the score. The main cause of this decision was the base names. The first few I saw were pretty cool: Black Market, Neo London, Hell's Kitchen, The Pit - very evocative, they brought to mind the oppressive urban landscapes and deep shadows of a city at night that gave birth to the punk movement. After I tried a more aggressive expansion, I was exposed to some less impressive names: Neo Frankfurt, Neo Berlin, and Neo York (the "neo" prefix loses some of it's impact if it's overused), Punk Central (which sounds like a city for those who just don't get it), and, bewilderingly enough, Firaxis and Firaxis-2. Oh well, enough with the bad, there's a lot about this faction's art that's good. The base graphics were neat. They kind of reminded me of the "Darco" Arcology from SimCity 2000 (which is a good thing). The quote came with an mp3, which is always a bonus in my book. The mp3 is a snippet of a punk song, though I'm not familiar enough with the genre to tell whether it's an original composition. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it enough to make it a major factor in the art score. Besides some of the base names, the scripting was pretty good, and definitely gave Magnus a distinct personality.

Update: I have since learned the sound snippet is from the Sex Pistol's Anarchy in the UK. I like that song, I think it's appropriate to the faction, so the original category score stands.

Overall: 5/10
I really wanted to like this faction, but in the end, the gameplay issues were too great for me to ignore. I can only recommend the Anarchists to those who have mastered Transcend difficulty and are looking for a quirky faction to make their Alien Crossfire experience more difficult.
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Agri-Culture

From: www.networknode.org - Beta Set

Datalinks

LEADER: High Councillor Wrema Niobe
BACKGROUND: Agronomist, Terraforming Engineer
AGENDA:To Terraform Panet for future generations
TECH: Centauri Ecology

-1 PLANET: Large scale Terraforming ecologically disruptive
-1 INDUSTRY: Industry uses precious arable land
+2 MORALE: Fiercely protective of homelands
-2 POLICE: Independant and generally peaceful people
FREE FACILITY: Hybrid Forest at each base due to terraforming skill
FREE UNITS: 2 free Terraformers
Terraforming costs HALVED
QUOTE: "We seek only to live in peace and practice our agricultural skills, for more people will come to populate this plan we now call home, and none are loved more or held in greater esteem than those who fill the stomachs of the hungry."
-- Wrema Niobe, "A Cultivator's Journal

Concept: 5/10
Agri-Culture is a faction of farmers. I really should just end this section here, but I won't. Farming is a neccessary economic and social activity of any human culture, it is not an ideology. What are the other faction leaders going to do when Niobe tells her about her plans? Are they going to say, "Oh no, please Niobe, the last thing we need in this harsh, forbidding wilderness is more food!" Give me a break. I also wonder, were the members of this faction once farmers for the other factions that felt so alienated by all the non-farming-related activity going on that they had to break away and form their own society? It just doesn't feel realistic to me.

In general, the faction abilities seem to fit their ideology pretty well, but one thing bothers me. They get a +2 to Morale. This makes their soldiers equivalent in training to the Spartans. I know that farmers tend to really love their land, but this bonus suggests that in addition to growing food, the Agri-Culture spends a great deal of its time training a fanatical army of loyal survivalists. I think a defensive bonus, a la the Manifold Caretakers, would have been more appropriate for this faction.

Power: 8/10
Power-wise, I didn't really have any problems with this faction, though I think there are a few things that could use some tweaking. The first was the morale bonus I mentioned above. The next was the Hybrid Forest. While a free Hybrid Forest in each base is probably not going to allow you to run away with the game, it can, when combined with the two free terraformers this faction receives, make the early game a lot easier. Not only does it effectively boost your society's economy and psych output by 50%, but it also gives extra food and energy in self-expanding forest squares. Combined with an all-out expansion, you could easily expand to fill a continent while other factions are still getting their first few bases established (a strategy I used against Cha-Dawn, one of my early neighbors). Still, the penalty to industry somewhat offsets this, and in the long run this faction's power balances out.

Art: 6/10
Okay, where to start. First off, the voice acting in the mp3 is not very good. It sounds a little like a teenage girl doing a fake Australian accent. Second, the picture of Wrema looks a little weird, in an undefinable way. Then again, maybe Wrema wears too much makeup and the weirdness of the picture was intentional, but either way, I didn't really enjoy looking at it. Third, the base names were just plain awful. If you notice, for all the original factions, the base names meant something. They reflected the character of the faction that built them the Agri-Culture's (which by the way is a pun that ceased to be cute the second time I heard it) bases have senseless names like "Blas," and "Dral." Maybe I'm missing something, and the names are farming implements or references to pagan nature rituals, but as far as I know, they're just gibberish. On a more positive note, the bases look really good - they're this kind of futuristic dome thing that you can easily imagine holds a small farming community.

Overall: 6/10
In terms of sheer, mechanical playability, this faction isn't bad. Where I have problems is in sympathising with (or even acknowledging) the faction's ideology. If that sort of thing isn't important to you, and you don't mind putting up with some baffling base names, this faction might be worth a download.
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