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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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