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Civilization IV: Initial experience

Many years ago I was scouring the internet for some free games to play, primarily looking for “the mother of all games” Scorched Earth. Instead I came across a reverse engineered version of Civilization II. It’s a “God Game” that allows you to build a civilization from the ancient period and raise it to superpower status in the modern and post-modern* eras. The object was to either smash the rest of the civilizations into dust, erasing the very memory of them or to build a large space ship and leave the circles of this world to colonize a new planet.

Two years after that I bought the updated version of the game Civilization III, with all the expansion discs. The main difference between those two games were a complete graphic overhaul, culture specific units and abilities (only Romans could build legions, Vikings Beserkers, etc.), a complicated but realistic trade/espionage system, and several new options for winning that didn’t center around your ability to field tanks against longbow archers. However the game was plagued by systemic corruption that was so endemic it would quickly cripple a civilization’s economy provided the computer wasn’t one of those civilizations.

Now two years after that, I find myself playing Civilization IV. I’m attracted to these games because they are a mix of the strategy of games like Red Alert/Starcraft and the developmental aspects of Sim City. I always felt that Sim City needed more explosions and the Civilization series does a good job in delivering.

IV removes several annoying components from its predecessors first off the corruption is greatly lessened. If you don’t pay attention to it your economy and production will suffer but it’s no longer a question of who exactly is running the cities. This is replaced by a system of maintenance that is a decent combination of individuals and totals. The previous games could be won by employing the “zerg rush,” build one city and then as soon as possible build a settler unit to found another one. The AI did this all the time basically forcing players to set the world as an archipelago so that you would have time before the hordes settled.

That’s nice, but the most drastic change has been the introduction of religion into the game. This has both its ups and downs. I’m not going to get on my atheist high horse and talk about how my perfect utopia would be a world without religion–for the programmer’s sake it’s a game, and the religion aspect is kind of fun. You don’t get to pick your religion so the ones that the game employs are the more popular ones now: Hinduism, Daoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Confucianism. I was disappointed to see that the polytheistic religions of the Greek, Roman, and Norse cultures were left out as well as Manicheanism and even some fictional religions would have been nice like Scientology, or something based on the work of Lovecraft. Adopting a religion adds happiness to your culture with almost no draw back. Choosing the religion works like this, if you are the first culture to discover polytheism you have the option of founding Hinduism, which is then centralized in your capital spreading to nearby cities in your civilization and then you can use it to take over opposing cities by sending missionaries.

The problem with the game’s religions is that not one religion has any advantage or disadvantage over another. I know this was a decision based on the unwillingness of the developers to offend but there was some real opportunity here. Just look at Judaism, the first culture to develop that religion could have a bonus concerning the development of a legal system, or Islam and the spread of literacy, or Christianity and certain cultural developments. So much potential to have fun but alas someone would have been offended despite the historical legitimacy. This is certainly a case where PC should have stayed away from PCs.

The largest game related problem with the religion feature is that in the long run it really doesn’t matter what you do with it. You can let it develop in your culture and then just ignore it. On my third play through I noticed that there wasn’t that much of a difference, although that may be wrong in the light of harder difficulty levels.

Reinstituted from II is the ability of barbarians to conquer cities. In III, they just robbed and could usually be ignored, they can also overrun your area burning everything on the way. This makes them a threat that needs to be dealt with as their technology also increases, something no previous version allowed for.

Also changed is the government forms, replaced with a civics feature. No longer can you rest on Democracy until war is declared causing you to switch to Fascism or Communism. You make subtle changes in the way the culture is run, which adjusts much greater than just who gets representation. This makes your experiences much more varied, although it probably makes a huge difference in harder levels.

In all, the addition of an ingame time clock is a nice reminder that perhaps three hours is a bit long, but you can always just save as soon as the next turn is over.

*Post modern meaning in the near future, not in the academic sense.

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