Who stole my Abraham Lincoln? For the past 19 years ol “4-score” has been micro- managing cities and driving tank rushes deep into the hearts of my enemies. Time and again Ghandi, Otto Von Bismarck and Cleopatra have fallen before the military, cultural and technological fury of a Lincoln unleashed. But alas his proudly bearded leadership is absent from Sid Meir’s Civilization 5, an oversight for which I declare the title an abject failure — apart of course from the fact that it is one of the most deliciously rewarding turn-based strategies to date.
The venerable global-history sandbox-strategy series makes some subtle improvements, softens its focus and further polishes its interface herein. While it may seem daunting to hop into the commander chair for an entire culture from the dawn of recorded history and guide its course into the next century, players make city- and nation-level choices to develop culture and government, research new technologies, build and deploy armies and explore and settle new lands. Cities grow organically and expand their borders to include surrounding areas that provide access to new resources. By this process, and the occasional influx of gold to spur development, your society advances through Classical, Medieval, Renaissance and Industrial ages. As in prior games you win through a variety of means. Military dominance is always an option, though changes to the basic structure of the map (now hexagonal instead of square) and the inability to stack units make warfare a far richer and more complex tactical affair than in previous titles. Alternately you can win via diplomacy through United Nations election, science by becoming the first civ to build and launch a space ship, or by creating a cultural Utopia. Of course the competing nations can all shoot for these as well and the new diplomatic options and joint research pacts can tangle even the best of plans.
The big shifts in Civ 5, besides the move to a six-sided grid, come mainly in city defense (where you no longer need to garrison units) and capital city importance (seizing each rival capital is now the requirement for military conquest). A lot of the micro-management of city growth has been automated but not removed. Players can choose to engage in a level of granularity that suits their playstyle, though the A.I. seems quite capable of sensible choices. Additional assistance for development comes with the ability to reassign idle military units to work land and build infrastructure. Units queued to move display waypoints for each turn to assist in tactical management. And the various advisors do a capable job of calling out oversights in planning and holding the hands of new players. In all, the management process does a fine job of assuaging late-game guilt over rapid clicking through turns.
Civilization fanatics, go download Civ 5, you’ll have no complaints. The improved graphics, A.I. and tactical options have come together to make the best presentation of your beloved obsessive-compulsive digital disorder. New players who might feel daunted by such a rich and multi-faceted strategy shouldn’t worry; Civilization 5 is the best intro to the genre that you’re gonna find.
A+ —Glenn Given