Sid Meier’s Civilization the Board Game has got to be my favourite new acquisition. I’m a huge fan of Civilization the computer game, and have played from Civ II to IV religiously. So having a board game adaptation by one of the best publishers (Fantasy Flight) had me raring to play. I have to say, it’s not let me down so far; though I will admit I’ve yet to play a 2 player game.
Appearance: Fantasy Flight has done a great job on the appearance here, with the pictures seemingly drawn straight from the computer game. Everything’s easy to read and there doesn’t seem to be any major typos that we have seen. There is, as always, a ton of chits so set-up time and break-down needs to be carefully done or else it could take a while the next game. Overall, I’m quite happy with the pieces & the quality of the game. As usual, you might as well toss the insert with any FFG game.
Rules / Ease of Learning: This is a complex game. Let’s be clear about that from the start – just like the computer game, the learning curve is pretty steep. I am not going to reiterate the rules here in detail, it’d take forever. There’s a lot of information to grasp, though fans of the computer game will certainly have a head start on understanding the various rules and concepts. To quickly summarise the game – players choose a specific race / governor (or are randomly given one) and start on their starting tile with their capital city. They receive a Scout & Army Figure and 3 Army Units. Exploration of the gameboard reveals new land tiles including barbarian huts & villages that can be visited / conquered for resources and potentially great people. You also need to explore to settle in a new tile as there’s a minimum distance required for settling cities. Players get a maximum of 3 cities in the game. During each turn, players collect ‘Trade’ which is used for Research or hurrying Production of units / buildings / etc. Researching gives access to new buildings, governments, units & special abilities.
Combat is resolved by playing unit cards onto the board with the defender going first. Units can trump / first strike specific other unit types (i.e. cavalary trump archers, archers trump infantry, infantry trump cavalry) which means they deal damage before the other unit types. Damaged (not killed) units stay on the board, and count towards resolving the battle.
Lastly, of note are the numerous winning conditions – Culture, Wealth, Military and Technology. It’s worth noting that whoever reaches the winning condition first wins the game immediately.
Gameplay: So how does Civilization play? The first game or two is slow and slightly over-whelming. There’s just so many cool technologies, with most of them looking to be really relevant to your particular strategies. There’s also the slightly confusing battle system that needs to be explained, and the difference between Army Figures & Units. It’s a strange distinction that can take a while for players to grasp and it’s particularly important since you draw your Units for all your Armies from a single pool. In fact, with a beginner player in the mix; it’s quite often easy to win by going for a military victory and exploiting that lack of understanding. Not that I’vee done that. 😉
Once players understand the rules and gameplay, the game certainly goes faster. It probably ranges from 2 – 3 hours with experienced players, depending on number of players. Potentially 4 with slower groups; but we’ve mostly found it to average 3 hours with our group.
It’s a ton of fun to play and there’s a lot different strategies open with different winning conditions. Because the world map is random, which buildings and technologies have to change depending on where your 2nd and 3rd cities end up going.
The use of a Technology Pyramid instead of a Technology Tree is very smart in my opinion, giving a ‘feel’ of growth without the need for multiple charts to understand what is going on.
I do feel that certain leaders force players into specific victory conditions. It’s hard to choose anything but a Military victory if you’re the Germans and the Romans have a great headstart to a coin victory. It’d be nice if there were more Leaders to choose from as well.
I also feel that the game could easily have had a 5th or 6th player added if more pieces were provided. There’s no real reason there can’t be that many players involved, and I’m a bit disappointed that they weren’t included in the first place. I guess it keeps the play-time under 4 hours consistently.
Conclusion: I like Sid Meier’s Civilization. A lot. I think it’s the best Civilization game out there, and I’d choose to play this any day over any of the others I’ve tried so far. Yes, it’s even better than Through the Ages in my opinion. Yes, there’s random elements to the game, but it’s meant to have them and so far, none of it seems too broken.