For many people, the Civilization series is the gold standard of turn-based strategy games. Civ V was a relatively simple 4X game you could win through military might or civil growth, and the ruleset expanded in Gods & Kings to increase your options with more military units, religion and espionage. The second expansion – Brave New World – introduces a slew of new game systems that both impact your game, and feel like they should have been there all along.
For those who haven’t devoted 400+ hours to Civ V, it’s important to point out the late stages of each game kind of dragged on – unless you were a jerk and went to war with every neighbor. Players who enjoyed playing peace-loving civilizations didn’t have a lot to do beyond rushing the space program, or buying out city states. Brave New World makes the late game active and full of Sid Meier’s famous “interesting decisions” for all kinds of players by adding a bunch of new systems. Trade routes, tourism, ideologies and the world congress all integrate seamlessly with the gameplay that was already there to make Civ V more addictive than ever.
Before, you achieved a culture victory by amassing the most culture points through constructing culture-earning buildings like Wonders, and building something called a Utopia project. Brave New World ditches the necessity to max out social policy trees and introduces a tourism score as a way to ensure your civ’s culture influences all the others. The new culture victory is essentially a race to make your tourism score beat your opponent’s culture score. Buildings and Wonders still generate culture points, but you accumulate tourism by displaying great works within buildings like museums or amphitheaters. Great works are created by Great Artists, Musicians or Writers, and you slot them into specific buildings. There’s a fun minigame in moving great works around, and swapping them with your rivals, to get the best combination in your museum and earn the most tourism.
Once you discover the technology of archeology, you can also send out Indiana Jones-style units to dig up artifacts to display alongside works of art. Not unlike religion in Gods & Kings, managing your Archeologists becomes a fun balance between the logistics of getting them into foreign territory and not pissing off other civs for “stealing our cultural heritage.” Pilfering too many artifacts from your rival can be just enough to force a conflict, and wars begun this way can feel organic and true to history.
Trade routes start fairly early in the game, and function automatically once you assign them to supply you with gold and science. Thankfully, you don’t have to move the caravan units around yourself, but you do have to worry about raiding barbarians (and enemy civs) sacking your trade units, so it makes even peaceful, profit-minded civs have a standing army. The sea routes that open up later are even more lucrative, but are at risk without a strong navy. The economy is now balanced around the new income from trade routes, and it takes a while to understand how trade impacts your strategy, but it was great to see how trade routes dovetail with religion and culture by spreading both to connected civilizations.
The world congress makes diplomacy more important, but it also rewards exploration. The first civ to discover every other major civ in the game, gets to convene the world congress . You can propose a resolution from a long list of options, all of which can impact the game drastically. If the proposal passes, the world congress can ban a luxury your rival depends on, embargo a civ from all trade or, my personal favorite, build a World’s Fair to boost tourism. Making sure other civs like you is difficult, especially if you’re winning, but it’s still fun to interact with other civs in a more structured way. Again, the espionage system integrates well with the congress – you can choose to send a diplomat instead of a spy to their capitol to give you insight into how your rivals will vote.
Once you get to the modern era, the world congress transforms to the UN and can elect a world leader for a Diplomatic victory. Unfortunately, with enough city states on the map, a diplomatic victory is still basically an economic victory as you can buy their delegates by being their ally, and even purchase your rival’s votes through the diplomatic trade. This new expansion certainly does not fix the artificiality of the diplomacy system in Civ V – opting instead to graft features onto an imperfect framework – but only a complete revamp would help at this point. Hopefully for Civ VI?
There are nine new civs in Brave New World, and it’s great that most of them force you to play the game with a completely different strategy. Brazil’s Dom Pedro, for example, is custom-made for a culture victory with each golden age – called “CARNIVAL!” – doubling your tourism for the duration, a huge boost in the late game. Venice is more challenging; playing Enrico Dandolo means you can’t build settlers, but you receive double the number of trade routes and you can set up city states as puppets with the special Merchant of Venice unit. It’s like a “one city challenge” hard-coded as a civ, and it felt really similar to how I envisioned historical Venice would play in a Civ game.
The new interesting civs and their unique units make up for the lack of new military units in Brave New World, but only barely. Building your own X-Com Squad is certainly a nice nod to the other dev team at Firaxis, but the unit comes far too late to make a huge impact on your game beyond a, “Hey, that’s neat.” The new bazooka unit completes the ranged unit line in the modern era, but Firaxis wisely believes the evened-out power curve of units in the last expansion did not need to be tinkered with further. You could certainly argue that’s true, but it would have been fun to wage war with new units.
Bottom Line: The sweeping changes to the Civilization V ruleset are both refreshing and familiar. Each of the updates feels like a logical evolution and are seamlessly integrated with the existing systems. Brave New World feels like Civ V Complete.
Recommendation: No Civ fan should miss out on playing Brave New World and newcomers to the series won’t be disappointed.[rating=4.5]