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Civilization V

Review by Arthur A.

Civilization V is the latest installment in the long-running Civilization series. I’ve been a fan of the series since the original game. I’ve played every game in the series, including the console-based Civilization: Revolutions and the off-shoot Civlization: Call to Power, and I’ve played the original Avalon Hill Civilization board game that inspired the computer game. You could say I’m quite the fan of the series. You could even say I was a fan of the series before the original game was released, because I was excited about the game from the moment I read the preview in Computer Gaming World. Empire building “4X” (eXplore, eXpand, eXperiment, eXterminate) gamesare my favorite game genre, and, while the Civilization series didn’t create it, it did, as far as I’m concern, define the genre, and still does. Just to prove how much I wanted to play this game, I will tell you I bought a new laptop almost entirely to be able to experience it at full glory. (Yeah, I’m a geek with lots of dollars, but very little sense. #rimshot#)

Not surprisingly, I’m going to focus on how it compares to the other games in the series, especially Civilization IV. Ultimately, my answer is “pretty well, though there are things I miss.”

There’s several very noticeable changes, some of which will seem quite radical to fans of the earlies games. The first is that the grid uses hexagonal spaces (“hexes”) rather than squares. That’s not a big change, and really doesn’t seem to make a heck of a lot of difference.

Possibly the biggest change is a limit of one unit per space on the “board”. (Well, one combat unit and one non-combat unit. You can have, for instance, a worker and a swordsman in the same space.) That very much changes the game. No more creating huge stacks of units to go to war with your enemies — you have to maneuver your entire army piece by piece. Now, that might sound tedious, but you’re also dealing with a lot fewer units than you were in previous versions of game — an army of thirty units or so is quite big in Civ V, but would represent a pretty weak military in earlier versions.

Also, cities can now defend themselves; you don’t have to garrison units in them (though it’s not a bad idea.) The key effect of these two changes are battles now take place outside cities a lot more, which seems more realistic. You can fight, for instance, a battle like World War II’s Stalingrad, but you’ll have to fight your way there first.

If you like the cultural side of the game, you’ll find that it’s been changed a lot, too. Rather than the five Civics, each with five options, there’s an elaborate set of trees that determine how your society functions. I very much like that addition to the game; it allows a great deal more customization of the type of society you run. Also, intriguingly, the larger your Civilization, the slower it generates cultural advances. This makes a small civilization a lot more playable than it did in previous versions. In fact, I won a cultural victory with a one-city civilization. (Just watch out for your more aggressive neighbors!)

Another big addition is “city-states”, which are best defined as “nations that aren’t trying to win and only have one city.” You can interact with them, but on a limited basis — you can bribe them to be your friends, do favors for them like attack a rival or covertly give them troops, or impress them by building wonders, but you don’t have the full scale of diplomatic options you do with “real” civilizations. I find the concept intriguing, but I wish the designers had included more options for interacting with them. I wonder if they wanted to do more with city-states, but deadline pressures curtailed their plans.

If there’s one thing I miss from Civ IV, it’s the religious factor. You could actually found several of the major world religions, spread them throughout the world, and use that influence (and, as often was and is the case, use religion to make yourself a heckuva lot of gold!) That’s gone gone gone. Religion is still a factor in the game, but no where near as much, and there’s no specific religions; you can just choose “piety” as one of your civics, and build generic temples. I’m a history buff and find the influence of religion on human history fascinating, so I was disappointed to learnthat was gone. Intriguingly, though, you can also adopt “rationalism” as a civic (though not at the same time as piety), which does make running an society of atheists possible.

The tech tree, which is one of the absolute core elements of the game, has some additions, but nothing too big that I’ve noticed. While I’ haven’t built them yet, it’s my understanding Giant Death Robots are an option for late game high tech civilizations. And really, what more does a game need?

Spies are gone from the game, but I rarely used them anyway. Apparently,they never were popular with players, so the designers decided to drop them.

I was also disappointed to learn they dropped the Wonder videos and victory animations — it’s just simple images for both. They’re often beautiful images, but dang it, I miss getting a big video finish once I’ve taken over the world!

Speaking of beautiful images, the graphics are quite pretty to look at, but I’m using a high-end laptop with a top of the line graphics card. (Like I said, new laptop just to play the game.)

Overall, I love the game. Now, likeI said, this is my favorite genre of game. But if you have any interest in strategy games,  particularly slower paces ones that reward brainpower over your ability to manipulate a controller, give it a try.

October 20, 2010
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