Sid Meier’s Civlization IV: Complete
Designed by Sid Meier in 1991 as a turn-based strategy game, Civilization represents the development of a player-controlled empire across human history—from illiterate villagers all the way to space travel. It’s a masterclass in design, using a rules that could have created a brilliant board game to instead develop a computer game, as hiding the vast number of calculations each turn (too many for dice rolling) allows the world of interesting decisions available to players to be fully understood. It’s Risk, if Risk could ask you to juggle the development of cities, the happiness of a populace, and the pace of your discovery (along with its famous diplomacy and warmongering) without ever making you feel overloaded.
Civilization has evolved through three sequels, the first a subtle revision, the third a huge evolution (one so huge, in fact, that I played it once, disliked it immediately, and shut it off) and Civilization IV, first released in 2005. Civilization IV: Complete is the culmination (so far) of the development of Sid Meier’s original rules, offering Civilization IV, its two expansions (Warlords and Beyond the Sword) and a “side-story” game, Colonization (a remake of the 1995 original). The rules are even more foreign to the 1991 original’s than Civilization III, only this time I promised myself I’d persevere.
I really did need to persevere. In comparison to the carefully pitched complexity of Sid Meier’s Civilization, lead designer Soren Johnson’s Civilization IV is immediately overwhelming, in the name of not only balancing the rules but increasing “realism”. In the original Civilization, for example, you simply researched a technology, and if that technology would allow you to build a military unit, you could immediately start building it. In Civilization IV, you might need a certain resource to build it—for example iron if you want to create swordsmen. This means that you must expand or trade if you want access to certain options. It is more “realistic”, but it’s also very different, just like other game-changing features such as religions, military units that gain experience, and flexible governments. Each of these layers another level of complexity and choice on the task of creating a great Civilization.
This has a very odd effect. With all these choices creating a much greater overall complexity, the nature of Civilization is changed completely. It’s no longer a game of simple, board game-esque rules, one where every single choice could be poured over, but one where the only decisions that matter are those that effect your Civilization as a whole. Cities are not lovingly placed to maximize their own potential, but to grab land or resources; indeed, the game barely makes you aware of the happenings that occur in each city—whereas unhappy citizens were once a pressing concern, now they’re only a dent in productivity; treated as numbers, not people, the exact kind of claim people at throw at the politicians of today.
It all makes Civilization IV a much less personal experience, one simultaneously much better at simulating what it’s aiming to represent (the progress of human endeavour) but one which lacks all of the personal touches of the original. Civilization was transparently a game—you felt like you were pushing individual pieces across a board—but Civilization IV makes you feel like you’re a god, toying with very real nations without worrying about the individuals that exist within them.
That puts me in a rather hard position. Once learned Civilization IV is a decent—if complex—representation of its core concepts, and this “complete” edition is as good as it gets (even if each expansion just layers on more complexity!) but it feels barely related to the original game that I fell in love with.
Strangely, though, the included Colonization remake is just that—a remake. It slightly shakes up the rules and lacks some of the charm, but it’s good enough to be a worthy addition to the package, even if it does feel like they just chucked it as an afterthought.
Ultimately? Civilization IV: Complete isn’t perfect, and is likely to turn off any new Civilization gamer as quickly as it turns off people as attached to the 18 year-old original as I am, so it falls into the strange position of only really being a good recommendation if you’ve played Civilization Revolutions (Firaxis’ simplified console version of the Civilization IV rules) and are looking to get your teeth into the big boys version.
Me? I’m going back to Civilization II.