The brainchild of Sid Meier – described as the videogame industry’s’ equivalent of Steven Spielberg – Civilization 5 is an attempt to marry the signature epic feel that fans of the series have come to expect with the more straightforward gameplay of console iteration Civilization Revolution. Strategy auteur Meier is seeking to breathe a little fresh air into a series already over 20 years old, and the result is a game that will satisfy fans of the series without being daunting to newcomers.
Meier has described the gameplay of Civilization as “a series of interesting decisions”, and while that may sound like it doesn’t lead to the most exhilarating experience it does give you an idea of the tactical nature of the game. Plonked into the Stone Age you found cities and produce military units to expand your borders and conquer rivals. Harvesting natural resources such as wood or stone as well as trapping furs or fishing increases your city’s production which allows you to create buildings or military units. Luxury resources such as gems or silver keeps your civilisation happy and when the game progresses you can uncover iron, coal and oil, leading to more advanced technological creations.
As time marches on you must balance your nations resources, diplomatic relations, military units, citizens and scientific research until you trigger one of the 3 victory conditions: either wipe all other civilisations of the globe, create a space-Ark and blast off to another Earth or harvest enough culture to have your civilisation declared a Utopia. Balancing these elements requires dozens of decisions to be made each turn to guide your fledgling society to a global superpower.
Even on a modest-sized map you’ll inevitably be off to a slow start, as the less cities and units you have the less decisions you’ll have to make and the longer it takes to create new units. If you want to make it up to the more exciting echelons of the tech tree then you need to be prepared for a long game as well. Barring a post-midnight session (and the addictive “one more turn” gameplay means there’ll be plenty of these) this isn’t something you can power through in a single sitting. The cultural or scientific victory conditions are high targets so it’s always preferable to wipe enemy civilisations off the planet, especially in the mid game before opponents have had the opportunity to build up their armies or have sent their troops exploring the world. A few centuries concentrated military research can typically give you an edge over your opponents and its a joy to take advantage of this in the middle portion of games, laying siege to cities with archers and trebuchets in epic style. Once you advance to the industrial and modern eras killing becomes much more clinical, and you can wash over cities with massed infantry and bomber planes. Although far from a history lesson, if you’re like me then the era that interests you the most will also be your favourite to play.
Such is the huge amount of time and effort that you’ll put into the longer games that even if you do lose, although inevitably disappointing, it still feels like a sort of victory, having seen your civilisation grow from settlers scratching around in the dirt to grand societies reflecting your every choice. And it also gives you a chance to learn from your mistakes, start a new game, and begin again from scratch.
Most games are played on a randomly generated map, although there is the option to play on an Earth replica map replete with Amazon jungle and Saharan deserts, which is nice touch. It really allows you to rewrite history and put your own stamp on the world. This makes for some strange conversations when you try to tell people about the game and you say things like “I’m England, which is actually in Australia, and I declared war on the Russians, who are actually in America and I saw them near China as well. China the game place, not China the actual place.” The biggest appeal of Civ for me personally has been that it allows you to create your own historical narratives. You can regale/bore friends and loved ones of the long road north your people took harassed by enemy archers before they found safety in the walls of St. Petersburg. Or the thousand-year war against the Ottomans that only ended when you surrounded their capital with artillery and demanded peace and all their gold.
The AI rulers on regular difficulty are a bit of a pushover, and if you have any experience of previous versions you’ll be better off upping the difficulty from the outset. Computer opponents are eager for war; quick to forget your kindnesses and never to forgive your trespasses. A millennia of friendship declarations and peaceful coexistence is forgotten in an instant the moment you settle near their resources or trespass through their borders – turning all but the most loyal ally aggressive. This is a deliberate attempt of the designers to force your hand, stopping you from sitting peacefully and progressing to the victory conditions uninterrupted.
Every ruler is pulled from the history books (George Washington for the Americans, Napoleon for the French and similar) and have differing personalities. Some are aggressive expansionists, others more peaceful, and while there’s a surreal humour in trading ivory with Ghandi or goading him to violence, there’s also a grim parallel when, playing as the Americans, my musketmen wiped out the last of the American Indian braves and razed their cities. However Civ 5 never preaches or judges you for your choices, instead it places the player as divine authority of your subjects. Decisions that benefit your nation are good, ones that are detrimental are bad – there is no morality here.
The two major changes from past Civ games are the additions of new city-states and an overhaul of how combat is managed. Previous editions of the game divided the globe into a grid of squares, whereas Civ 5 now uses hexagonal tiles. This, along with a limit of how many troops can be ’stacked’ into a single tile, means that combat requires you to carefully consider your units movement and positioning.
The new addition of city-states adds an extra challenge to your diplomacy. These are micro-civilisations that aren’t direct opponents and don’t spread to new cities or research their own technologies. Clearing the territory of their rivals or barbarian threats, or bribing them with gold will increase your favour with them to friendship and eventually allies. While not essential the bonuses that are given for staying in their favour, which can be military units or boosts to your culture points, are useful benefits that can mean the difference between victory or defeat.
While it may not be the most adrenaline pumping game on the market, Civilization 5 walks a difficult tightrope between ease of play and deep micro-management. A highly addictive game that lets you rewrite history, and the best in the series so far.
Performance & Quality
A great deal of attention has been paid tiny details of the graphics and its a pleasure to zoom in as near as you can to your cities and see individual buildings or to watch combat up close. But although strategy games are usually graphically lightweight Civ can be surprisingly memory intensive, especially on the larger maps. Playing on a 2010 iMac there was some noticeable drag when scrolling across the large scale map once more then say 60% has been uncovered.
The music is pretty unobtrusive classical stuff, so you won’t be missing much if you mute it and chuck your iTunes on shuffle instead. The same goes for the sound effects, this isn’t the kind of game that relies on audio cues.
For those who have conquered the computer enemies too many times the online modes is a welcome challenge – setting you up against more experienced human enemies. International diplomacy in particular takes an interesting turn when it’s with someone you can ring up and insult personally. You’ll definitely want to hold off against facing a random opponent until you have a solid grasp of the game first as there is a terrifying core group of gamers who have been playing Civ for several generations and know every trick for conquest (watch out for people spamming horse archers early in the game!).
The following DLC is available (via in-app purchase only for the Mac App Store edition, see this article for more information):
- Gods and Kings
- Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar II)
- Cradle of Civilization – Mediterranean
- Cradle of Civilization – Asia
- Cradle of Civilization – Americas
- Cradle of Civilization – Mesopotamia
- Double Civilization and Scenario Pack: Spain and Inca
- Civilization and Scenario Pack: Polynesia
- Civilization and Scenario Pack: Denmark – The Vikings
- Explorer’s Map Pack
- Wonders of the Ancient World Scenario Pack
- Civilization and Scenario Pack: Korea
Most notable is the extensive Gods and Kings expansion pack that adds new technologies, 9 new civilisations as well as entirely new espionage and religion features that radically alter and complicate the typical game.
Somewhat confusingly, there are actually three different versions of the game:
- The “Campaign Edition” is the one available from the Mac App Store. There’s no SteamPlay, meaning you can only play multiplayer via a LAN. It also includes the Babylon, Mongols and Scenario packs, with all the other DLC available through in-app purchase. Some mods may not work with this edition.
- “Sid Meier’s Civilization V” is available through retail and digital distribution outlets (excluding the Mac App Store) and includes the Mongols pack.
- “Sid Meier’s Civilization V: Game of the Year” is available through retail and digital distribution outlets (excluding the Mac App Store) and includes everything except Gods and Kings, Korea, and Wonders of the Ancient World packs.
- The “Gold Edition” is available on Steam, and contains all DLC.
Civ 5 has an extremely active modding community – for the most part custom maps but also special troop types (and one awesome guy who has created a map based on Tolkien’s Middle Earth– I salute YOU); unfortunately these are typically created for the Windows and are extremely tricky or occasionally impossible to install. Ideally these need to be more accessible for Mac gamers to enjoy.
The Steam edition of the game has Steam Workshop available, but sadly it doesn’t work for Mac versions of the game. You can install maps (.civVMap files) manually at ~/Documents/Aspyr/Sid Meier’s Civilization 5/Maps.
You can install full-blown mods (.civ5mod files) to ~/Documents/Aspyr/Sid Meier’s Civilization 5/MODS, but you’ll have to do a bit of work to enable them. Steam user Vincent2128 has posted a comprehensive guide to doing so for all editions of the game.