Musings on Travian

I’ve been playing Travian - an online, multiplayer game - for a while now. On the surface, it looks like a resource management game like Settlers of Catan, but once you play a bit more you realize that there is quite a lot going on beneath the surface. There are no bot players – everyone around you is a real person somewhere out there in the real world. And anyone can attack anyone else.

So, conflicts are inevitable, as are non-aggression treaties, alliances and wars. And bullying – stealing resources from other players because you can. You’re either bigger, or better armed, or you have strong friends, who will keep your village safe from retaliation.

I’ve noticed that it’s rather easy to slide into this bullying, just because it is easy to forget that the dots on the screen are controlled by a living being. I have a few “farms” to which I go regularly. Most of them are players who do not play anymore, so they’re just free resource banks, but some of them try to defend. And I go in and I wipe out all of their defenses and grab all their resources – because I am bigger, and I need them to protect myself against my own enemies: people who attack my village because they are bigger, and they need the resources to grow bigger so that nobody attacks them. I don’t know whether I should feel bad about this – Travian is a war game, after all, so you’re supposed to be fighting others. But on the other hand, it is unfair to just rob from the weak.

But the game has moved on to a different realm now. It is no longer single players fighting each other – there is a big, delicate balance of power between alliances, and they negotiate whom to destroy and whom to save. It’s stopped being personal and it’s now “just business”. Threats are eliminated, and attacks are revenged with as much overkill as possible to make sure they don’t try again. Friends are defended vehemently and enemies hated with passion. Near total anarchy.

It’s fascinating to look at the progression of the game. Most of these players are young and can barely speak English. Yet they can hold together large alliances, conduct complicated diplomatic negotiations and orchestrate deadly barrages of firepower to their enemy. You could draw lots of analogies to the real world here, but I am going to leave those to the game theoreticians.

Travian is a perfect example of how a game does not be overly complex to become engaging. It’s played on a regular web browser, and it’s free. If you like Civilization, and can handle the fact that you can’t save the game and restart once you get completely wiped out, you might like this game, too. The action is apparently now all on Server 7.


Travian is certainly interesting. The farming issue got to me - in a way few games have managed to - and got me thinking about wrong and right. That's an achievement. Eventually, it all got too much for the limited time I had - once you get in the alliances and all, the game becomes very engaging. But I found it nice, in the end, that I felt bad and couldn't just take what's mine just because I was stronger than the other players around me. I felt bad enough so I couldn't just consider them as resources to exploit. Great game, indeed.

--Mikko Saari, 04-Dec-2006

Yes, once you start get pleading messages from people you farm it really gets to you. Not so much if you get abusive messages...

--JanneJalkanen, 04-Dec-2006

Been playing in server 7 for some time now and still can't get past the Utopia & Ambar deja-vu of late 90's. The graphical interface is new, but not much else. I still got a few good friends I keep in contact with from that time - one belgian and a finn, who just moved to Isreal after a boy she met via Dark Age of Camelot. Online gamers...

--Suviko, 06-Dec-2006

I also play Travian and I like it a lot. I agree with the fact that we can easily become the big bad wolf as soon as we amass some more armies, even if we were some nice peaceful players in the beginning. Travian helped me find more about myself and others and I also made some nice frieds. It can get quite addictive, that's for sure :)

--Ramona, 08-Jan-2007

I heard about Travian when my aunt (She is 61) talked about it with a net Friend. Now we play it in Travian2 - Portuguese Server. I'm in Angola, she is in Portugal. It's amazing how you can communicate and learn from this game. Looks so simple, so detached and then... so real. Someone started farming her yesterday. That’s how I found your Blog. Very well said. I’m impressed, agree, and hope the other guy will feel as you do. She did send him a very calm and polite message. I don’t know if he has enough brain cells to understand the irony: damnant quod non intelligent ! We hope… We play as Romans and we tried to give some humour to the game. Amiantum and Delirium, villages dedicated to Bacus’ and the Vestals. Just for fun. Imagine something like Las Vegas and Amsterdam in the 70s’ for the ancient world. But even so they farm. You know what? Now we are just thinking of rebuilding (virtually) the Great Portuguese Empire of the 16Th Century. If memory serves me well, Portugal was one of the smallest reign of Europe right? Just like us, 12 cities in one day. The weak can be might. You see? From party and humour to war, just because someone annoyed us without warning! It can tell something about the world and history (repeating as D. Shirley Bassey sings so well). I’ll keep you posted!

--AnonymousCoward, 21-Jan-2007

I'm not an AnonymousCoward, just forgot to put my name in! I'm Carlos! Cheers!

--AnonymousCoward, 21-Jan-2007

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"Main_blogentry_041206_1" last changed on 04-Dec-2006 15:44:54 EET by JanneJalkanen.
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