Sid Meier has been heralded as “the father of computer gaming”. Developing games since the early 1980′s, Sid Meier is best known for his work on the turn-based strategy simulation of epic proportions: Civilization. Other works include Pirates!, Railroad Tycoon, and my personal favourite, Alpha Centauri. Sid Meier’s turn-based strategy games are known for their deep gameplay mechanics and near endless options. Civilization the Board Game translates fairly well into a simplified experience that takes generously from its inspiration.
Board Game Designer Kevin Wilson, known for Arkham Horror, took on the challenge of converting a much beloved video game series into a table top skirmish for world domination that plays from two to four people. The word skirmish is used in jest, as Civilization the Board Game is a meaty affair that has the potential to last upwards of four hours. This game is not light and is made to satisfy the strategy gamer – AP (Analysis Paralysis) haters beware!
The game is gorgeous. There is no denying the production value that Fantasy Flight Games puts into its releases. The artwork and card stock is top notch; and similar to games of the genre, the box is hefty. The map segments and tokens are made of thick card board and come in pre-perforated punch outs that are sealed in giant zip lock bags. Plastic bits and cards come ready-to-play inside smaller zip lock bags. First time setup will take a long time simply due to the amount of pieces to punch out and separate, which comes to the first complaint – there are not enough zip lock bags to store everything in its own bag! FFG should have included extra baggies, especially considering how many bits there are. Another negative presents itself with the civilization sheets. Once assembled with the dial trackers, the civilization sheets are very flimsy; they should have been printed on thicker stock so that they could withstand the Test of Time. One additional gripe is that the combat cards are jumbo square sized and as such cannot be sleeved. If you are a gamer that is always on the move, your combat cards will not survive as you Play the World.
First impressions of Civilization the Board Game are sure to be impressive. The mechanics are very creative in the manner with which they have been assimilated from the video game. Just like the digital version, Civilization allows you to win in a variety of ways. Military, economic, cultural, and technological – it is all very Civ-like. The spidery tech tree from the video game has been simplified into a pyramid in which you require two technologies of the lower level in order to get one of the next. It is a very creative implementation that works well since players can literally choose any tech to research provided they have the pyramid to support it. There are no useless techs and strategists will have to be careful in what technologies they will take. Some tech will improve your military or unlock new buildings, while others provide static bonuses such as economic power. Many also have powerful abilities usable during certain phases of the game turn, but require trade goods to activate.
Exploration is brilliantly implemented in Civilization the Board Game. The game board is made up of 4×4 tiles and depending on the number of players, the map will be set up differently. For balance, every starting civilization has their own unique 4×4 tile to ensure fair access to early game resources. The rest of the board is randomized with the 4×4 tiles placed face down. When a unit moves to explore, the 4×4 tile is revealed and placed with an orientation indicated by a direction from which the explorer came. The combination of randomized tiles plus randomized orientation makes for a unique map every game. Just like its computer counterpart, Civilization the Board Game has huts and villages which can reward players with bonuses upon exploration and conquering. It is a very nice touch that adds an element of randomness to a game which could easily become a math hammer-fest.
Combat in Civilization the Board Game is handled in a unique rock-paper-scissors mini-game. Army figures represented by a coloured flag denote military forces moving around on the map. Players need to produce both army figures and unit cards in order to create a military force. Battles are initiated by army figures, but are played out with unit cards. There are four unit card types: Infantry, Mounted, Artillery, and Aircraft. Whenever a player produces a unit, they draw add a unit card from the market to their unit deck. Thus, when a battle begins, each player draws unit cards from their deck and this constitutes their army. Players are able to draw more cards if they have more army figures in the tile or if they have bonuses, such as the city defender bonus. So although a player may have 10 unit cards in their deck, they may only be able to commit 3 to battle since their battle hand is limited by army figures and board position.
During a battle, each player will alternate playing a unit card from their hand. Each unit card will have a numerical strength value. This value is determined by both the tech level and the random variance between other unit cards of the same type (a plus or minus one). Players will place their unit card onto the board from their hand to either attack a unit already on the board or to create a new battle front. Depending on the unit types, they will either deal damage simultaneously or one will deal damage as a first strike – the rock, paper, scissors effect of trumping. After playing out their entire hands, the remaining unit cards’ strength and combat bonuses are tallied and the largest wins the battle. A very simple yet strategic mini-game that has a powerful impact on gameplay. Military domination, one of the victory paths, is perhaps the easiest way to win. The snowball effect of a military loss and the perpetuation of the “arms race” does leave some lingering questions about the play balance and effects of fatal mistakes.
Much like its predecessor, cities in Civilization are upgradable via buildings and wonders. The two basic resources of the game are production (denoted by hammers) and trade (denoted by circular arrows). Trade, which is mainly used for acquiring technology, is gathered every turn and accumulates over time. On the other hand, production is hardwired to each city and cannot be shared between cities, nor does it accumulate between turns. Production is used for buildings, wonders, units, scouts, and army creation. It acts as a threshold for creating things – as long as you meet its requirement, you can build it. Both production and trade are gathered by the outskirts of your city (8 tiles surrounding your city) or generated through technology, culture cards, or other special abilities.
The building system is unique in that, instead of being built into your city, ala the computer games, buildings instead replace surrounding tiles, changing what they generate for your city. Overall, it is a great mechanic, but can be a bit fiddly. Buildings are unlocked through tech and purchasable through the market. Building tiles are double sided and can be upgraded to an improved version through technology. Wonders act the same as buildings, but have high production costs. Getting to the threshold is very difficult to do. Wonder production costs are lessened with research of certain technology, but overall, wonders seem very cost inefficient. Although wonders have some great abilities and great icons on their tiles, they are easily countered by enemy abilities or culture events.
One of the most debatable aspects of the game comes in the form of culture. Culture is generated by cities choosing to spend a turn dedicating themselves to the arts. Culture can also be generated through technology abilities or other special abilities. When a player gains culture, they add a culture token to their pool. During certain phases of the turn, they are able to spend culture tokens to advance on the culture track. Advancing on the track leads to an eventual cultural victory at the end. Each advancement also gives a culture card, which is a random event card that can be played whenever the card text reads. Advancement can also create a great person, which is a building tile with unique icons that can be moved around to each of your cities. As a player advances on the culture track, the costs to advance increase, but the rewards increase, as higher up the culture track grants culture cards from a different pile.
The gamer debate with culture stems from the random element that they create in the game. Some events that are generated through culture cards are game changing and arguably game breaking. Since they are inherently randomized through the draw, but able to target specific players, it makes getting key culture cards almost akin to an “ace up your sleeve”. The other debate is that the culture tokens are a fiddly mechanic that could have been better managed. Economic power is tracked on the civilization sheet dial alongside trade and culture advancement tracked on the market board – why not track culture via a dial or track instead of using tokens? From an “ease of tracking/view” mindset, economic power and culture tokens should have been included on the public market board instead of being relegated to storage on the player’s board.
Civilization the Board Game does what it accomplishes to do: it is a great board game port. In order to really enjoy it though, you must be a fan of strategy board gaming. Casual board gamers who are fans of the computer game will not enjoy this game; they would be better off playing the digital version. The mechanics are great, but some ideas could have been better implemented. Fantasy Flight Games deserves some credit for the high quality games they publish and this one is no exception — although there are some questionable aspects to presentation, it all looks beautiful. The sheer amount of time it takes to play this game is standard for the genre, but maxing out at only four players, it would be nice to be able to accommodate more.
This article was first publishers in the author’s blog and can be found by visiting: http://www.ign.com/blogs/AjAy-IGN/?p=561
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