When I first played Civilization in the 90s I didn’t realize I’d still be playing the game 20 years later. Much has changed over the years and this latest installment, Civilization 5, features some of the biggest changes yet. Some have compared it to the console game, but if you really know the civ games, then you know this is nothing like the console game, but simply takes some of the intuitiveness and adds it to the classic civilization format.
As you load the game, which requires a Steam Account (really annoying!), you immediately will feel a little daunted by the screen. It’s been totally re-designed, form the look of the screen and the way you interact with the game – initially it feels awkward and strange, but after a while it is far more logical and easier to use than any of the previous Civilization games. What was interesting is that Civ 5 has removed a lot of the macro-management that was prevalent in Civ 3 and 4 (although you can still macro manage if you must) and made the game far more strategic, both in terms of combat and the way you expand, making it far more rewarding in the long run.
The biggest change that you see immediately is the introduction of hex tiles. Now I used to play Avalon Hill games back in the 80s and I’ve always wondered why Civilization never had a hex based map, so I was extremely pleased to see it in Civilization 5. It certainly makes movement and strategy totally different and somehow more realistic.
The next biggest change, and perhaps the one which will take the most to overcome, is the inability to create huge stacks of units – you are now limited to one unit of each type in a tile – this adds a huge strategic element to the game, and stops you simply amassing humungous stacks that can roam around, taking cities and defending your lands – this for me is the best thing since sliced bread! This really does make ‘conquest’ far harder especially when you factor in terrain, and the fact that even cities without garrisons can bombard you and are effectively a combat unit now.
Combat is far more open and having a sound strategy and using the benefits of terrain, such as placing units in forests, or on hills to gain defensive bonuses, really does make a difference. You really have to plan well in advance if you want to make a long and difficult campaign against an enemy.
Another great innovation in the game is the introduction of City States – while similar in a way to vassals in Civ 4 they really have added a new and intriguing aspect to the game. A city state is effectively a stand-alone state that you can become friendly with – the friendlier you are, the more you will get out of the state, including benefits such as free combat units. You have to work to maintain your relationship though, and the use of tasks and quests (such as destroying some barbarians) really helps you with this.
Civilization has improved many areas, splitting technology elements in two – pure technologies are similar to the old technologies, but a lot of the old technologies such a monarchy, republic have been replaced by a Social Tree that allows you to spend culture to work on social policy – these are cumulative, so that you can reap the benefit of monarchy and not lose it when you add the republic social policy.
Overall I am extremely happy with Civilization 5 – a lot has been improved, and I find myself thinking far more about the overall strategy than the nitty-gritty of building units and improvements. There are a few elements that I miss – there is no religion element in the game now, and this is a shame as this was an intriguing aspect of Civ 4 that could have been vastly improved in Civ 5, however I don’t miss it that much! It is definitely the best Civilization game I’ve played so far – roll on Civilization 6!
• Scouts – these are perhaps more useful than before as it is important to get to the ruins quickly, and also find the City States so you can start influencing them quickly. Be careful not to use automated exploration when you near these cities though as you can make them angry if you enter their area!
• Strategy – you really have to think more about the combat elements of the game; placement of units in strategic positions becomes very important, especially when defending. Using ranged units is also a key element and it’s important to have your ranged units in highly defensible tiles.
• Empire building – my game plan for previous versions was to send out as many settlers as I could, build a lot of cities, and then build an army to create a super stack that could roam my empire, defending it and then ultimately over-run the enemies. This isn’t so easy in Civilization 5 – as you cannot build huge stacks any more, defense and attack are more difficult and having a large empire is often more of a burden initially, especially as you are limited with the total number of units you may have.
• City States – these are an important element early on, but can become a nuisance eventually – building friendship with a couple is probably the way to go!
• Resources are more important as a city will request or demand a resource – supplying this resource often creates a ‘happy day’ in that city – this means that diplomacy is perhaps more important than ever.