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Civilization - the Computer Game Franchise

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The Civilization franchise is one of the biggest in the history of gaming. Originally created by Sid Meier, a gaming legend in his own right, the games have you take on the role as the leader of a civilisation. You must lead this nation from its humble beginnings as a small group of settlers and turn it into a vast empire that stretches across the world. You must raise vast armies, organise a well-equipped diplomatic network, and advance technologically as well as culturally if you want to survive.

Originally based on the board game Risk and the computer game Sim City, the game has come from basic beginnings to become one of the most important game franchises of all time. Its complexity of play combines with its simplicity of design to make it something that all strategy games aspire to become. While all the subsequent games have added to the franchise to make richer, fuller games, all of them tend to follow the same basic gameplay of the original.

Sid Meier's Civilization

This is the game that started it all. Released in 1991 by MicroProse, the game only takes up 2.6 MB of space1. You can play as one of 14 historical empires, from the Romans to the Americans, and the game lasts from 4000BC to 2100AD. The game is played on a randomly generated map that has terrain 'tiles' such as grasslands, forests, mountains, oceans, etc. Each tile is a square and the map is made up of 150 x 75 tiles. Alternatively, you can play the game on a pre-created Earth map. At the start of the game most of the map is blacked out and major part of the game is the exploration of this map.

You start the game with one settler unit, and you can use this unit to build a city. Cities are the most important part of your civilization as it is in cities that you get everything done. Cities appear on the map as a block, which is the colour of your civilisation, with a number on it, and this number denotes the size of the city. A city of size 1 has 10,000 citizens, while a city of size 2 has 20,000 citizens, and so on. While a city only takes up one tile, its range of influence takes up all of the surrounding tiles.

It is vital to improve cities and the tiles under their influence during the course of the game. Tiles on the map can be improved by using settler units to build roads, irrigate, or mine them. Doing this can help increase the food, gold or building production of each city. Roads also allow units to travel further. The cities themselves can build improvements inside the city tile. Cities can build improvements such as a barracks, or a police station, and these improvements give that city certain bonuses. Cities can also build wonders of the world, such as the pyramids. Unlike city improvements that can be built once in each city, wonders can only be built once in each game. If one of your cities or a rival city has already built a wonder then it cannot be built again.

While cities are the most important aspect of your civilisation, most of the game is taken up with units. Units are types of people that are free to move around the map. Units appear in the game as blocks that are the colour of your civilisation, but they have pictures on them representing what type of unit they are. Units can move across the map at different speeds; most units, such as militia units, can only move one tile every turn, although as time goes by you get faster units that can travel across multiple tiles every turn. Most units are land units, such as phalanx, or tanks. Land units can take part in battles, capture enemy cities, or defend your own cities from attack. Settlers are a non-combat land unit that can build new cities or tile improvements. There are also naval units, which can only move across ocean tiles. Air units are aeroplanes and these can move across land and ocean tiles, but must end each turn in a city or they will be destroyed.

Of course, you're not the only civilisation in this world, and there can be up to six2 rival civilisations that you are up against. Rival civilisations are just like yours, only in a different colour, and they are controlled by the computer. You come across rival civilisations as you explore the map. When you meet them you have two choices, you can live peacefully with them, or you can go to war with them. Sometimes they will actually go to war with you. To destroy an enemy you must capture all of their cities.

Civilization is a turn-based strategy game. This means that you and the other civilisations in the game take it in turns to control your empires. While it can take you several minutes for you to complete your turn, the computer can complete all its turns in a matter of seconds, although this does take longer towards the end of the game when there are more units and cities on the map.

One of the most important aspects of Civilization is the technology tree. This consists of dozens of technologies that you can research, going from pottery in the ancient age all the way to mass production in the modern age. Each technology you research gives you new city improvements, wonders of the world, or units that you can build, and the game also allows you to research more technology.

There are two ways in which to win the game. The first one is fairly obvious; by conquering the world. To do this you have to control or destroy all rival cities. This isn't easy as once you kill off an empire it will be replaced by another empire that will also need to be destroyed. Another, more peaceful, method to win is to build a spaceship to travel to Alpha Centauri. This involves building all the parts of the spaceship individually, like you build city improvements, and launching once complete. Another unofficial way to win is to get the highest score in the game. Getting a high score involves a number of things: having lots of cities and a large military will help.

Although the game was graphically inferior, even for 1991, it did very well. Strategy gamers loved it. The game was one of the most complex ever written at that time, but that didn't take away from the engaging gameplay. Every time you play the game you learn something new, or experience it in a new way, and this helps to make the game very addictive.


CivNet, as the name suggests, was a multiplayer version of Civilization that could be played over the Internet. Released four years after the original, it's essentially just Civilization with net-play; and very slow net-play at that. In fact, the slowness of the game is one of its major vices. Another problem is the fact that the graphics for the game were already dated in 1991; by 1995 they were ridiculously bad.

Sid Meier's Colonization

Colonization isn't actually part of the Civilization franchise, but the two are very similar and the game was made by the main designers of Civilization II, so it's worthy of mention here. Colonization is like a version of Civilization based purely in the age of discovery. You play as one of four European powers that have set out to colonise the new world. The ultimate goal is to become so powerful that you break away from your mother country and you must fight and win a war of independence.

You start the game with a ship that is carrying your first colonists. You must find land and create your first colony3 on it. Every once in a while new colonists from your home country will become available and you must pick them up. You can either use these colonists to build a new colony, or you can use them to make existing colonies bigger.

Colonization brings the micromanagement of Civilization to a whole new level. Not only do you run the colonies, but you also have the ability to select what job colonists in your colonies should have. Most of the time it's fairly obvious; a horse-trainer colonist should run the colonies stables, a hunter colonist should go out hunting, and so on. Another interesting feature in Colonization is the ability to choose a cabinet as you go through the game. The type of cabinet you pick helps to define what sort of nation you are. Trade with your home country is absolutely vital. Whereas in Civilization your nation automatically gets, or loses, money every turn, in Colonization you only get money for selling the goods from your colonies at your homeport. This means you constantly have to send ships back and forth to Europe.

When you start a game of Colonization the map is completely blue, as you consider all unexplored areas to be ocean, but the map reveals itself as you explore. As in Civilization, the map you play on is randomly generated, although you have the option of playing on a map of the Americas. The map tiles are similar, although there are some differences. The graphics are an improvement on the Civilization graphics, and they certainly foreshadow the graphics in Civilization II.

While you are building up your colonies, the other three rival European nations are building up theirs. You also have to contend with the Native American tribes4. Once your colonies have become powerful enough to fend for themselves you can declare independence from your homeland. This causes a war of independence and you must fight against forces from your homeland who will try and capture all your colonies. If you win then you have won the game.

While it's an interesting take on Civilization it can get a little dull. There's no technology tree, so you have nothing to advance towards, so there is a sense of pointlessness about it. The game fared well enough, although it never became as popular as Civilization.

Sid Meier's Civilization II

CivNet was completely overshadowed by the arrival of Civilization II only a few months later. The title is a little misleading as Brian Reynolds, not Sid Meier, developed most of the game on his own. Civilization II is not just a graphical update of the game, but rather a complete overhaul of the original game. Taking suggestions from fans on board, the game is viewed by many to be the best in the franchise.

One of the most apparent changes is the replacement of square tiles with diamond-shaped ones. This makes the maps look more real. Some new tile types, such as plains, were added. Cities are no longer represented by blocks in your civilisation's colour, but are pictures of cities. Different cultures have cities that look different, and as you advance through the technology tree, or as your city gets bigger, the cities images on the map will change to reflect that. Units have changed too. Rather than blocks with pictures on them, units are now just flat images of what they represent. The civilisation they represent is displayed in a shield next to the unit. A new hit-point system added to the game means that units can sustain damage in battle and need to be repaired.

The Technology tree, city improvements and wonders were overhauled to make them more realistic, and more fun to play. The game now ends in 2020AD, not in 2100AD. Diplomacy was made much better. No longer can you only be at war or peace with a rival civilization, but there are new diplomatic states such as ceasefire, or alliance. What's more, there are now 21 playable nations. The game also comes with a map editor that you can use to make your own maps for the game. It even allows you to create your own scenarios.

The game is a definite improvement on the original, and fans loved it. It balanced more realistic gameplay without sacrificing the fun. The extra features were well received and the game was a runaway success.

Fantastic Worlds and Multiplayer

A year after Civilization II was released, MicroProse released two add-on packs for it. The first of these, Fantastic Worlds, was a scenario-based game. It didn't really add much to the game, but it did come with dozens of new pre-made scenarios. What's more, it improved the scenario making abilities of the original Civilization II. It allowed you to completely redesign the game, editing nearly anything you wanted, from units to the technology tree.

Multiplayer was released only a few months later, and it included all the advancements in Fantastic Worlds. The main addition of this game was its multiplayer abilities. It also came with a few dozen extra historical scenarios.

Civilization II: Test of Time

Test of Time was released in late 1999. It's really only a revamped version of Civilization II with improved graphics, although it did have some extra features. There are three games in Test of Time, the original Civilization II, a fantasy version of Civilization II, and a sci-fi version of Civilization II. While it introduces interesting features, such as alien worlds that you can explore, the basic game is the same as that in Civilization II, and the game's makers came under fire for just repackaging the same game.

Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Alpha Centauri, released in 1999 by Firaxis, is like Colonization in that it is not officially a part of the Civilization franchise, although it's very similar and is produced by the same people. Commonly seen as a sequel to Civilization II, the game follows the fortunes of the group of humans who left Earth in the spaceship you build in Civilization II to colonise a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. The story goes that a problem with the ship meant that all the people on board were forced to separate into seven factions based on ideology, not culture. These factions have now crash-landed on different parts of what is only known as 'Planet' and they must explore the planet seeking one another out.

Alpha Centauri takes the Civilization style of game in a science-fiction direction. All the units and settlements have a science fiction feel to them, and the interface adds to this feeling. The only indigenous aliens on Planet are the mind-worms, who constantly attack settlements near their habitats. The interaction between the human civilisations is very complicated as the ideological differences make for hard diplomacy. Although, once a certain point in the game is reached, all the human factions create a form of United Nations, led by one of the civilisations.

Graphically the game is a step forward. Different tiles on the map can be at different heights, making a much more realistic map than the Civilization maps. The game has a lot of depth to it, much more than the Civilization games. Unusually for a strategy game there is a semi-story that runs through it that that unfolds as you play. To win the game you have several options, including capturing the planet, achieving transcendence, becoming the main global economy, or be elected the supreme ruler of the planet.

While it's a good game, it didn't do too well financially. Many found it to be too much like Civilization II, others found it to be too different.

Alien Crossfire

It sold enough for an expansion pack to be released later that year. Alpha Centauri: Alien Crossfire added new features to the game, and a whole new story. There are five new human civilisations, and two alien civilisations. Both groups show up on the planet at the same time and the humans cannot communicate with the alien races, at least not until human technology reaches a certain level.

Civilization: Call to Power

A few months after the release of Alpha Centauri, and a few months before the release of Test of Time, a legal dispute broke out over who owned the copyright to the name 'Civilization.' The dispute was eventually settled with MicroProse holding the rights to the name, but they were willing to lease it out to Activision. As a result, Activision released Civilization: Call to Power. This game hoped to redefine the franchise by keeping the basic game from Civilization II, but completely revamping how the game is played. The micromanagement of the original games was removed and the game focuses more on the empire-building process.

Graphically the game is a major step forward from Civilization II. Gone are the flat images of units, to be replaced by 3D models with active animation. Rather than just sliding from tile to tile, these units actually walk5. The game also sounds beautiful, with units actually talking when they are selected, or making the appropriate sound when moving. There are almost twice as many terrain types that have been added, ranging from desert-mountains to underwater volcanoes. One major change is the fact that tile improvements are no longer made using settlers, but rather they are made using a public works system that eats into your budget.

Another major change to the game is its timeline. While the previous Civilization games only went as far as present-day technology, Call to Power went from the Stone Age right to the technology of the year 3000AD. Advanced technology not only allows for new units and city improvements, but for new types of cities. Once your empire is advanced enough it can build underwater cities and space cities. Space, in the game, is just a white layer over the regular map that is much like being in orbit.

There are over 40 playable civilisations in the game, ranging from the Russians to the Jamaicans, and a game can now contain up to seven rival empires. One of the weak spots of the game is diplomacy with other nations. There is less for the player to negotiate, and the treaties aren't as good as those in Civ II. Another weak-spot is the inclusion of special units, such as slavers, or lawyers, which can go around the map unseen crippling your empire. These units are far too powerful and detract from the military aspect of the game.

On its own merits, Call to Power is a good game, but as part of the Civ franchise it's a big letdown. While there are some interesting ideas, such as armies made from grouped units, or the threat of global warming, the execution of these ideas doesn't work out so well. What's more, the game didn't include any map, or scenario, making abilities like Civilization II did, and this really annoyed the fans.

Call to Power II

One noticeable thing about Call to Power II is that, due to licensing reasons, 'Civilization' was removed from the title. This is because work had already begun at Firaxis games on Civilization III, and they didn't want to give Activision the title again.

Call to Power II is the game that Call to Power meant to be. Released only a year after Call to Power, it kept most of the ideas from Call to Power, but it executed them better. Special units abilities have been cut dramatically, meaning they are no longer such a threat to your civilisation. The game's timeline has been cut from 3000AD to just 2300AD, and this removes the whole space aspect from the game, which didn't really work anyway.

The diplomacy aspect to the game is noticeably improved and is the most complex of any Civilization game released at that point. Another addition is a new victory condition known as the global alliance. If your nation has an alliance with every other nation on the planet, then you achieve victory. To appease the fans, map and scenario editor abilities were added to the game. There is a slight improvement to the graphics, and the whole game interface is easier to understand. One very noticeable addition is the inclusion of national borders for the first time. These surround all empires and are a very nice addition to the game.

While it is an improvement on Call to Power, Call to Power II is still not as good as Civilization II. After this game Activision stopped working on the Call to Power series.

Sid Meier's Civilization III

After Call to Power's disappointing performance, the original Civilization II team decided that it was time to make a new game and as a result Firaxis games began work on Civilization III. Released in late 2001, the game went back to traditional Civilization II themes. Rather than try to reinvent a successful game, they decided to improve on it. They added new features, improved old ones, and gave the game a much-needed graphical update.

At first Civilization III seems to be an almost exact copy of Civilization II, but as you work your way through a game there are noticeable differences. One major addition is the importance of natural resources. In the original games, resources only give a boost in food, gold, or production to a city that has them in their influence. But in Civilization III they are necessary to build things in cities. You can't build a swordsmen unit if you don't have a road leading to an iron supply, and you can't build a nuclear plant without uranium. This makes trade with other nations more important, as they may have a resource you need. This gives important resources, such as oil, strategic significance on the map.

The unit shield, denoting what civilisation that unit is from has been removed. Now your units wear uniforms, or are painted in the colour of your civilisation. Settlers can no longer make tile improvements; this can only be done by a new unit type, workers. You can now capture certain unit types; units such as settlers or artillery must be protected or another civilisation can capture them and use them themselves.

National borders were added, but unlike the borders in Call to Power II, these borders expand as cities get more culture. What's more, a rival city on your border can defect to your civilisation if they admire your culture enough. This can be a little annoying in war however as captured cities can defect back to their mother country. New victory conditions are added, including a United Nations victory, or a culture victory.

The game has the best diplomacy system of any of the games. While there are only 16 civilisations to choose from in this game, all 16 can play on one map, leading to massive games6. The increased number of civilisations and the improved diplomacy leads to more interesting games as you can have a system of alliances that can lead to massive wars like never before.

The game comes with a basic map editor, but no real scenario editor. Despite this drawback, the game proved very popular, and the return to the tried and tested Civilization format helped make the game another success.

Play the World and Conquests

A few months after the release of Civilization III, Firaxis games came out with the Play the World expansion pack. As the title suggests, Play the World allows people to play Civilization III over the Internet. It also had an improved map editor and eight new civilisations, but the multiplayer abilities are its main addition.

A year later, Firaxis released the Conquests expansion pack. Conquests is a much more rounded expansion pack than Play the World, and it actually contains everything from Play the World in it. Conquests is essentially centred around scenarios, and as a result it comes with an improved scenario editor. It comes with nine official scenarios and dozens of unofficial ones.

The Legacy of the Franchise

It's impossible to mention the history of gaming without mentioning Civilization. Whereas most games only have a shelf life of six months, the original Civilization kept on selling for five years after its release, and only stopped because of the arrival of Civilization II. They are the epitome of strategy games. Its turn-based play keeps you at your screen 'for just one more turn.' It is a game that lives on and on because each time you play it something different will happen.

The popularity of the franchise means that a Civilization IV is already under development. At the time of writing, little is known about it and no release date has been confirmed.

1Modern games are often 1,000 times this size.2You select the number, but six is the highest.3Colonies are very similar to cities from Civilization.4None of whom are playable.5Or drive, or fly. It depends on what sort of unit it is.6But the more empires in the game the slower that game will be.

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