Many strategy gamers’ first love was Sid Meier’s Civilization. Its configurability, open-endedness, and challenge simply blew people away when it came out five years ago, and its popularity hasn’t waned much over time. Now, finally, this game has received a much-needed overhaul and been made even bigger–and better–in Civilization II.
Never tried Civilization before? You’re in for a treat. Civ II is the ultimate computerized strategic gaming challenge. It features global competition with personalized computer and (via modem or null-modem cable) human opponents, struggling to build a dominant empire. Games span a period of 6,000 years, and each time you play, the world is different.
Civ II is complex and sophisticated, but it doesn’t require tedious micro-management–its seemingly endless number of options become second nature in a relatively short amount of time. All you need is a little patience (of course, using the excellent saved tutorial game won’t hurt either), and you’ll quickly learn the game’s essential features.
Basically, Civ II is a turn-based game of exploration, commerce, balance, and conquest. You discover the world as you settle it, gathering new resources and growing your population. More food means larger cities–or more cities, as you send out new explorers. Scientific research lets you make major technological advancements. Whatever scientific path you pursue causes several other, similar paths to be temporarily delayed. After studying the alphabet, for instance, you can choose to study map-making, code of law, writing, or mathematics. All four are equally important, but whichever one you choose first hinders your studying of the other three.
These repercussions hold true for your cities’ development as well. Will you add more buildings to increase production and bring other benefits? Create new units to protect yourself and attack your neighbors? Or devote a very long time to designing Wonders of the World, which offer major advantages to your entire civilization?
You can have as few as three or as many as seven other civilizations compete against your strategic might. You select opponents from a pool of 21 adversaries with varying attitudes and styles of play. You can choose to create alliances with opponents or declare war. Establish trade routes, send out spies, and steal technologies. There’s no single route to success. You’ll need to use all your resources and cunning to grow strong enough to turn your enemies into ancient memories.
For all the similarities to the original, Civ II is more than a minor update. Yes, the basic elements remain the same, but much has been added or tweaked. That goes beyond the fancier–but still disappointing–graphics.
For one, Civ II is, in many respects, much more realistic than its forebear. Consider combat, for instance. Remember how infuriating it was to have your Battleship bombard a city, only to see it destroyed by a single, ancient Phalanx unit hiding behind fortified walls? The chances of this occurring have nearly vanished thanks to a greatly extended range of offensive and defensive points. Even simple Musketeer units (musket bearers, not mouse cultists, silly) are far tougher than relatively similar Phalanx units, which magnifies the gap between the units’ respective technologies.
Battles used to be win-or-lose, all-or-nothing affairs, with victorious units emerging unscathed. Now, your units can emerge from victory sporting damage, resulting in reduced movement points and increased vulnerability to future attacks. The injuries heal over time, especially when your units are resting, and new city improvements speed the process even further.
New, more practical combat rules enhance this feeling of a strategic war game, rather than just a strategy game with combat units. For example, when air units attack ships in port, the attackers have doubled firepower, faithfully reflecting the vulnerability of their targets. These air units can now carry land units and paradrop forces into a well-defended enemy city, which adds more fun and paranoia to the game.
In terms of production, Civ II continues to evolve into a more challenging, realistic game. In the first Civ, you could instantly switch production from one type of Wonder to another, or to a different type of unit or city improvement, as circumstances warranted. (“Oh, that Rifleman unit is approaching my capitol? Let’s convert my work on Newton’s Laws into a Tank.”) Civ II assesses penalties for switching production types in midstream. You may lose some of your shields, for instance. (Shields are units that measure your building capacity. The more your cities produce, the more cool stuff you can build.)
Diplomacy is also emphasized more heavily the second time around. You can now declare ceasefires and take a breather before resuming your attacks on another civilization. If you’re the huggy-feely type, choose a permanent alliance instead of a simple peace treaty and move your units without regard for your partner’s zone of control. But if you follow up with an attack, watch out. Computerized opponents have excellent memories, and they carry grudges loaded with neutron bombs.
There’s more of everything in Civilization II. Different terrain types now have two associated resources rather than one. Some swamp squares in Civilization, for instance, used to produce oil, generating four shields. Now some produce peat as well (four shields) while others have spice (four trade arrows). Some units can even transform terrain types. Settlers and engineer units can also improve farmland, preparing high-yield market gardens.
Expect many new and tweaked city improvements and World Wonders. And there are no more dead-end advances; anything you study leads to something very useful. There’s an additional government type, too: Fundamentalism (others include Anarchy, Despotism, Monarchy, Communism, Republic, and Democracy). Under this rule, citizens are always happy, there’s very low waste, and every city can support up to 10 military units. Budding theocrats take note, however: All scientific research is halved.
Still not enough of a challenge? Try out the new Deity mode, which surpasses the Emperor mode of old. Conversely, if the challenge ever seems too great, try the new Cheat menu, and build a Wonder or add a unit improvement instantly.
This help system is vastly more attractive, but then, you’d expect that from a sequel. The graphics are naturally more distinguished–Super VGA vs. VGA is no contest. But retaining the overall look of the old game has forced some sacrifices, and Civilization II is essentially the same visual icon-based game of old.
That shouldn’t blind you to what MicroProse and Sid Meier have accomplished in Civilization II. It’s a considerable achievement, significantly improving a very complex classic without losing the flavor of the original. At a time when so many airhead games with motion-picture visuals are hitting the streets, newcomers and veterans alike will welcome Civ II’s imagination, depth, and fun. Civilization II is a must-have.
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