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May 17, 2010 | by  | in Games | [ssba]

CIVILIZATION 4: A retrospective.

Sid Meier’s Civilization series has always been the high-water mark of turn-based strategy gaming. The 19-year-old franchise now boasts seven full games and numerous expansion packs, which have added everything from online play to alien landscapes to the game’s set of features. Despite a legacy of games spanning almost two decades, Civilization has maintained a central goal throughout—build an empire to stand the test of time.

Released in 2005, Civilization 4 is the most recent member of the family. It fills in the next seat in the Civ pantheon by placing a greater emphasis on meaningful conflict and diplomatic relationships. As opposed to simply throwing gold and technologies at other opponents to offset the threat they pose, you now have to consider religious, territorial and governmental factors—all of which affect your relationship with the civilization’s leader. It’s this retooling of the way government (or civics in game terms) works that makes Civ IV so attractive to those who might inflict a POLS major upon themselves. The five different categories of civics, each with five choices allow you to build the fascist nirvana or socialist terror state of your dreams. Some combinations are more logical than others, so if you try making a pacifist police state (however irresistible the temptation might be) you might run into hurdles.

The game follows the course of human history from the years 4000 BC to 2050 AD (by default, although you can enable overtime at the cost of experiencing global warming). It’s your choice of what the world looks like—you can choose anything from a giant real-world map to a tiny two-player arena. During the 6050 years it’s your choice of how you will gain dominance over the game. In addition to simply wiping out the other players with military might, you can also gain cultural domination by expanding your influence to a large portion of the planet. Other ways to win include building spacecraft and being elected as some sort of global dictator (I guess) by the United Nations. However you choose to play the game, it’s very unlikely that using exclusively one of those strategies will guarantee your victory. The hardest challenge in Civ IV is achieving a balance.

Civ IV’s real triumph is in being approachable by all levels of gamers. If you’ve just picked it up off the shelf, it’s entirely possible for you to play through the whole course of human history in a just few hours by simply following the tutorial hints. Equally, you could just reinstall the game and be driven to tears as your capital city gets nuked 8 hours in. It’s no less appealing for a seasoned veteran as it is for an absolute newbie.

It’s not worth mentioning Civ IV without mentioning its expansion packs, Warlords and Beyond The Sword, released in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Both not only enrich the core single-player game, but add a great deal of extra content in the form of maps and scenarios. The scenarios have a great deal of situations to suit any period of historical interest. Classicists have a 1000BCE Greece, and History Channel watchers have a 1936 Europe (with playable Ethiopia). Combat is taken pretty much as far as it can go in the turn-based format, with various promotions available to specialise your fighting forces into more efficient divisions and roles.

When a game’s consumed as much of your life as the Civilization series has of mine, you can’t help but have a love/hate relationship with it. I skipped school for Civ II. It (along with Hyperblade and Time Commando) was responsible for the concept of “computer time” in my house, which proceeded to tear it apart for the next seven years. Civ IV is no different. If anything, the range of gameplay and interface improvements has made the problem worse. If it wasn’t for the constant gamebreaking bugs on my terrible Mac port, then there’d really be no good reason for me to ever stop playing.

If you’re ever planning on playing Civ IV, now’s as good a time as ever. With Civilization V due out late in the year, it’d pay for veterans to get another look at IV to refine their skills and hone their cunning. Civ V will competely change the way the combat works, which will hopefully allow for better simulation of tank-on-spearman action. The new hexagonal tile structure will be familiar to any greybeards running Windows 95 who still play the Close Combat series.

For the rest of you, it might give you an idea of what to expect with 500 emails a day from what promises to be the next Facebook retrovirus, Civilization Network. According to Sid Meier, designer of the Civilization franchise, it promises “everything you enjoy in Civ in a fully persistent environment—you can play as much as you like, whenever you like, and it’ll be free to play”. Luckily, you’ll be able to festoon your profile with all kinds of gifts and badges that you pay actual money for to let people know how much time you spend inside.

Civilization 4: Complete includes the game with both expansions, and goes for around $50 at various online retailers.

Link to Sid Meier’s Civilization Network —


About the Author ()

Lewis has been playing videogames since his family's PC Direct "workstation" in early 1996. He spends his spare time reading political blogs, working and welcoming complaints and suggestions.

Comments (1)

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  1. civfanatic says:

    Civ Fanatics is a pretty good site too:

    Personally I am more a Civ 1 fan as it is simple and excellent strategy game, haven’t gotten into Civ III and still yet to get around to Civ 4…

    Civilization has to be the best computer game ever…

    I also like the rivals you come up against one funny one is Ghandi the Leader of the Indians who is a super aggressive warmonger in the game, the worst to come up against is that Stalin dude though…

    My strategy is always get your tecnology up to speed fast with Gunpowder as the first goal… could go on but it is all on Civ Fanatics (different strategies and interesting discussions)

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