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E +10 (Everyone)



Q4 2005



- Amazingly rich strategic elements

- Replayability

- Difficulty is scalable

- Deep gameplay



- Optional Tutorial should be longer and more in depth



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Civilization IV

Score: 10 / 10


I get canker sores when I don't get enough sleep. I think it's because my immune system has a hard time keeping me to my normally invincible levels of health. During my review time for Civilization IV, I had at one point four canker sores in three different spots in my mouth. I also got in trouble with my wife for missing the New Year turnover, because I was playing the game in the next room during the countdown. I wish I could say it is all because of my utmost dedication to the review of games for you, the Armchair Empire reader, but for anyone who knows the Civilization series, you will know it is because of the extremely addictive nature of the game. I think there was a day that I played the game for 4 hours, slept for four hours, woke up and then played the game for another 6 hours. The game is without a doubt, one of the greatest games of all time. Likewise, it is likely one of the most addictive games of all time.


civilization 4           civilization 4


For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Civilization is a historical Turn Based Strategy game where the player attempts to win the game by satisfying one of a few victory conditions. The game starts out in the Stone Age 4000 BC with the gamer having one settler to establish their first city. Through turns, just like in a board game, the player attempts to, have the four most cultured cities in the world, be the first civilization into space, be named World Leader through votes in the United Nations, be the last standing civilization through conquest, be the first to control over 40% of the world's land mass as well as 25% of the world's population, or have the most points by the Year 2050. With each turn of the game you make decisions on what to build in your cities, what to research, where to move military units, and what diplomatic actions to take with other civilizations.


Although that sounds fairly simple as a concept, how this plays out in the game is both strategically complex and grabbing. The one thing above all other things that I would have wished for in the game was a longer and more in depth tutorial. There are more game concepts in Civilization IV than in most any other two strategy games combined, and this may prove daunting for newcomers. I've never played any of the other Civilization games, but luckily, I did play Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri back in the day, so I had some help in being familiar somewhat with the basic mechanics of the game. I did play through the tutorial, and while it did introduce the basic concepts, after playing through my first game, I found myself asking a lot of questions about what the effects of my actions were. Granted, there is the game 




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manual, and the Civilopedia, which is an in game glossary or appendix of sorts which explains various concepts, technology effects etc. But these didn't help entirely and I wish that there was an advanced tutorial which covered concepts of how to be successful. I think this would have helped as after 3 different games, the internal ranking engine of the game said I showed the leadership ability of Dan Quayle, the lowest ranked leader of the game.



The game begins with one settler, and one explorer or warrior unit. The settler unit is quickly used to create your first city in a suitable location. The map sizes and climates can be tailored to different settings, but I played the Terra maps, which were meant to be close to Earth's relative size and average temperate climate. The map is divided into square tiles of the same size. Each tile has a rating of food, production, and wealth. Food affects the growth of your city, production the speed at which buildings and units are created in that city and wealth how much gold you generate. Every tile will have a combination of these, or none of these. Tiles can also be improved by workers so that their inherent output is increased. Some tiles have a special resource on it that must be improved and connected via road to your city in order for you to benefit from it. For instance, some tiles will provide you with wheat if you build a farm on it and connect it to your city. Each city will also automatically have its citizens harvest these resources from each tile each turn. You can also assign what you want your citizens to do in the city and what tiles you want them to work. This is handled from the city screen where you can manage each of your cities individually. In addition to managing your workers, you can assign your city's current build task. This can be building a granary or some other building, creating a unit, and later in the game, researching an advanced concept such as the Internet. The division of the game screens for which strategic elements you were working on were well thought out and easy to get used to.
Each of your cities has borders that are determined by that city's culture level as well as its size. Border size is important as it determines the limit of what tiles your citizens can work. The larger and more cultured the city is, the greater its borders become. A city's growth is determined by its food surplus levels; the more surplus the faster a city grows. Culture is a little bit more complex as its output is determined by many things such as the buildings in that city, what type of work you have your citizens doing in that city, great people you have assigned in your city, and great cultural works you have in your city. For instance, if you have citizens assigned in your city to be artists, this can increase the cultural output of your city. Likewise, building wonders such as the Sistine Chapel in your city will also increase that city's culture. The concept of Great People is also a cool idea where through certain settings for your cities, you have the opportunity to generate a great artist, engineer, or scientist etc. These units each have special abilities based on if they are a prophet, engineer, artist or scientist. An artist can create a great work which will give a city a sudden boost to their culture level. Some of them can also create a unique building for a city, and they can all be permanently joined to a city to provide that city with bonuses to a city's output level. In all cases the Great Person unit is used up once you decide what you want to do with it, so making the best choice of which city to use the person in as well as what you want that unit to do can be a heavy influence on the turn a game can take.


civilization 4          civilization 4


The next major concept and area of maintenance in the game is research. Research allows you to create new units, new buildings, and new wonders by discovering new technologies. It also allows you to adopt new civics, or inherent management strategies for your civilization as a whole. Research development works like a flow chart where more advanced technologies require that you first discover the requisite basic technologies first. For instance, by researching Liberalism when you are able to, after a number of turns dependent on your surplus wealth generation from your cities, you will have discovered this technology. This in turn will allow you to do a number of things such as adopt Free Speech as a Legal civic, adopt Free Religion as a religion civic, and build the Statue of Liberty, a powerful wonder. There are six different categories of civics, and five different types for each category. Each civic in each category has 3 effects on your civilization and these can greatly help or retard your development as a civilization. The civics that are discovered later in the game really boosts a civilization's success and not having such a civic is definite hindrance when competing against other players. Technologies also reveal new resources and these are often required to build advanced units like the stealth bomber or the modern armor units in addition to having researched and discovered the requisite technologies. This can be handy in battle as destroying tile improvements on important special resources such as oil wells can limit what types of units your enemy can build.  Religion is another fairly important part of the game. Similar to the civic concepts, there are a number of religions that you can discover through research. They are all virtually the same in terms of strategic benefit, I believe to avoid offense to any religious groups by the designers, however religion spread through missionaries and the buildings that can be constructed for religious purposes can help specific cities where that religion is in place.


Of course, no game is complete without opponents and in Civilization IV although combat is fun, there doesn't have to be war in order for the game to be fun, or in order for their to be a vicious strategic struggle for dominance. For instance, through cultural dominance, a city's borders' can push upon one another. Eventually if one city's borders expand to the point of surrounding the immediate borders of a rival civilization through great cultural output, the city that has been surrounded may start a revolution and join your civilization. Also, through the careful expansion and placement of new cities, you can also block a rival's access to important resources and impede the expansion of their borders. Of course, you can also play nice in the game and trade with other civilizations. There is actually very little resource trading. You can trade wealth, but the bulk of trading actually has to do with trading world maps, trading technologies, creating pacts to declare war on other civilizations as well as trading special resources.


When starting the game, you pick a leader to play as. Different leaders for different civilizations receive different bonuses which affect the basic strategy of how to play your game. I found this out, as I tried to employ my preferred strategy of research development and quick expansion to a civilization type made for military dominance. Through the first few turns of the game, the play is fairly slow as the focus is on developing new technologies and on simply surviving and generating enough resources. As the game progresses, the focus will turn to your execution of your strategy on how to win the game. As mentioned previously there are a variety of victory conditions. Each can be achieved through different strategic approaches, and in general, there will be some common themes to the game needed for success. However, this doesn't mean that the nuances of slightly different strategic approaches don't affect the game. In fact how you decide to approach the game will greatly affect what type of game you play out.


There is very little if anything that is technically wrong or poorly developed about Civ 4. From a developmental standpoint I don't see anything that could objectively be called a poor design decision, or a concept that is poorly executed. The strategic elements of the game are so intertwined yet they never put the gamer in frustrating situations where the strategy becomes circular. This can happen in poorly designed strategy games where players need to complete A in order to do B, however, they need to complete B in order to complete A. There is some of this in the game; however it never stunts the game's progression. The scalability of the difficulty level is also very helpful as beginners to the series, such as myself, stand a fighting chance against the AI. From playing the game a few times now, there are some aspects that I wish were a little bit different. Although the speed of the game is adjustable, I would have wished for an even faster mode. This is simply a plea for sanity's sake as once a game gets going it's hard to stop and a full game from the earliest era, even on the quick speed setting, can take about 10 hours to complete depending on what victory condition you are going for. Recently there was a patch that was released that allows for even slower game speeds than the slowest speed that comes with the retail version so hopefully with the next patch, there may be a quicker game mode. Although the production values are well suited to the game, it would have been nice to have some real wow factor to the graphics to go along with the excellent gameplay.


As it should be apparent, Civilization IV has a ridiculous amount of strategic elements packed into it. On top of that all these elements work together flawlessly, and the gameplay is second to none. This is a game that I would be confident in recommending to just about anyone. Newcomers may have to take some time to learn all the aspects of the game; however this shouldn't be an issue as the game easily grabs you in from your first few turns. For all people who like games of any kind, board games, card games, first person shooters, strategy games, heck even mind games, this is one game that you should play. Even if you don't like video games, this is the game that could change your mind. Quite simply, Civilization IV could be one of the best examples of what an electronic game should be.


- Mark Leung

(January 10, 2006)


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