Long read: Who is qualified to make a world?

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Playing Civilization as Trump

Meet the nuke boss.

Let me tell you, no one is a biglier Civilization player than me. People always say to me - they say, Sarah, you are the most terrific Civilization player, the best. Some haters have said that this is not true and that Sarah is a very bad Civilization player but let me tell you, that is FAKE NEWS. FAKE NEWS, PEOPLE. We're going to Make Civilization Great Again. Say it with me. MAKE CIVILIZATION GREAT AGAIN. We're going to get rid of all those crooked politicians like Montezuma and Catherine de Medici (very nasty woman). We're going to put the bigliest and most smart man of all in charge. We're going to play Civilization as Donald Trump.

Trump has been in office for just over six months, which I think is long enough to work out some ground rules for his leadership. First of all: be impulsive. It's very, very important to act on every fleeting appetite and sense of slight. Secondly: nothing matters as much as reputation. If someone offends you, double down and keep on doubling until you've folded that flimsy little offense up as thick as the observable universe. Thirdly: do not worry about your outgoings. Donald Trump might be rich, but he isn't exactly a money-maker. Spend, spend, spend. Fourthly: don't be too interested in the game. Maybe play a round of golf between turns, or even during. Fifthly: keep the research interests in character. Yes to construction and guns. No to reading and travel.

Fire up Steam, choose Teddy Roosevelt, listen to the inspiring Sean Bean intro: "Surely you will raise America into the limelight and attract visitors from across the oceans just to see your lands. Bully for you, Mr. President." Not bloody likely, Sean, I am going to build a massive wall and ban Muslims. But there is a problem. At around 500BC, just as I've whimsically started a war with the city state of Toronto, my PC's heat sink fails and it starts whirring furiously and then clunking to a halt. A bit like, say, the overextended heart of a flaccid 71-year-old who mostly subsists on buckets of KFC. At the same time, in the real world, Trump is pulling out of the Paris accords on climate change. I reassure myself that my tech issues are not a planetary omen by screaming into a pillow.

Yes, I know that's Philip III on the front page, but how often do I get to whack a Velazquez on the site? This is Philip II, not by Velazquez. He looks a bit like Bernard from Guess Who, but that's largely the work of the hat.

Round two, I decide to be a bit more imaginative in my choice of leader. What really defines Trump's ascent? There's faith: people believe in him, devoutly. There's backlash: he's the promise of a return to some some prelapsarian state, before liberalism came along and ruined everything. And there's the glamour of monarchy: inherited wealth, and a court full of family members. It all becomes obvious. Trump is Philip II of Spain, the counter-reformer: "All Spain stands ready to answer your prayers, devout King Philip II [DONALD]. From your palace at El Escorial [MAR A LAGO] you can send forth your followers [PEOPLE IN RED HATS]... May the treasures they uncover fuel your quest to unite the world under one faith and one empire, making you truly the Most Catholic [BIGLIEST] king." It's perfect. Suck it, snowflakes, now you are going to see a real civilization.

It all starts surprisingly well. I found an impulsive scatter of cities, churn out some builders to exploit the surrounding landscape, and even manage to whack up a few big gaudy wonders. I'm especially pleased to score the Great Lighthouse, which feels like the right kind of erection for a nightmare of overcompensating masculinity. I also embark on a thoroughgoing programme of antagonising other leaders, methodically clicking through their portraits in order to make wild demands of gold and luxury goods. They ask for open borders in return, so I have to denounce them. Strangely, none of them seem very scared of me. Cleopatra appears to be laughing. She probably has blood coming out of her wherever.

In order to assert my authority, I make further demands and denunciations. What would be better, probably, would be if I built up a decent standing army and some trade routes. Alas my allergy to the ways of the elite means my technological advance stalls early. I don't develop writing until the nineteenth century, and my suspicion of overseas travel impedes my cartography so that most of the map remains a sepia blur. It takes me until the twenty-first century to invent nationalism, which means that none of my subjects even understand why I'm being such a dick to my neighbours.

I share a continent with Kongo, and Mvemba a Nzinga proves receptive to my efforts to antagonise him. He gets a bit sassy about where I'm putting my cities, so I station some military units around his borders. Just to show him. He gets mad. Unfortunately, my dedication to spending all my money on lavish improvements to the capital means I have to grindingly produce military units turn-by-turn, rather than being able to buy them in this national emergency; and my success in not learning any useful skills means I have to take on tanks with conquistadors. My conquistadors die, probably waving their red hats in the air as they go down.

Too late, I realise that my dreams of destroying the world in a nuclear conflagration will be denied. Not because I've played too cautiously or with a character-breaking commitment to diplomacy; but because my rule has been so incredibly stupid I've only had gunpowder since 1950-odd, so the idea of building a nuke is hopelessly futuristic. Kongo takes Madrid, then Zaragoza, and with them all my wonders. My treasury is empty. I brace myself for destruction, doing a few more rounds of denouncing world leaders to cheer me up on the way out. But here's what happens: no one cares. My tragic remaining cities limp on, surrounded by charred fields left after pillage. The other rulers only smirk at my demands for tribute. Because the worst thing in the world has happened. I, as Donald Trump, have turned my civilization into an irrelevance. Sad!