Civilization is the game that made me a PC gamer for life. A friend at school gave me a copy that fit on two 3.5″ floppy disks and when I first installed it on my 386 running DOS in 1991, I didn’t know what to make of the blocky graphics and turn-based gameplay. But I kept playing. And playing. Just one more turn, and I’ll go to bed. I’ve got an algebra quiz tomorrow, I’ve got to sleep, but those damn French just keep invading … Gah, is that the sun coming up?

The fifth version of Civ to bear Sid Meier’s name (or 6th if you count Alpha Centauri, 7th if you count Revolutions, ah nevermind) is no different in its addictiveness. Since I’ve been able to play it, I’ve got less sleep than an adult male should. The core game of Civ is intact; you still found cities, build units to explore your surroundings, attack barbarians, research technology, and interact with other civilizations through diplomacy or war. But with Civ V, it all feels more polished and more fun.

It’s also probably the most accessible Civ to date, and that has to do with the excellently presented user interface. Clearly inspired by Revolutions, the UI alerts the player to the most relevant information, but in a very non-intrusive way. There are no annoying popups, events are instead placed in a list on the right of the screen above the “Next Turn” button. The list can get little cluttered when large events happen late in the game, like when a Civ declares war and everyone follows suit, and the time between turns is a bit longer than I’d like, but it’s easy to overlook these small complaints now that I no longer leave my capital building nothing for a few turns.

Like previous Civs, there is a lot of information to grasp, but it’s all safely tucked away behind intuitive buttons. I especially dug the info bar at the top of the screen (Titan panel anyone?) with the most relevant data. Hovering over the happiness display lets me know exactly why my people were so pissed at me. The user interface of Civ V gives me the tools to play the game without pulling too much focus from the game itself. What more could you ask for?

Other familiar game systems have been revamped. Culture still pushes the borders of your cities, but you can buy individual tiles with gold to become part of your civ. Accumulating culture points unlocks social policies, which are like your civilization’s talent trees. The benefits from social policies are big, like Honor’s combat bonus against barbarians or a boost to Happiness from Piety. I found myself carefully deciding what kind of civilization I wanted to play; the system is robust and a lot of fun.

While the diplomacy system is largely unchanged, you meet leaders and can trade with them or enter agreements like Pacts of Secrecy or Cooperation, the city-states are a great addition. These small states are not out to win the game or take anything over, but they add complexity to the world diplomacy. If you are nice to them, and do the tasks they ask or give them gold, they will give you culture, food or military units. If you attack them, they may gang up on you and declare permament war against your civilization. It was really engaging choosing between attacking the English because they assaulted my ally, the city of Brussels that was giving me an important luxury resource, or if I should hold back and try to liberate the city when I was more prepared. The city-states are a welcome addition.

Some niggling problems were fixed outright. It always bugged me in previous Civs that you were rewarded for building roads in every single tile. In Civ V, roads and some other improvements have a maintenance cost so you need to pick and choose what your workers build wisely. Thankfully, you don’t have to connect each resource with a road anymore, merely building the corresponding improvement within your borders does the trick. Finding strategic resources Iron and Horses is doubly important now because each resource only lets you build a finite number of units. For example, building a mine on an Iron tile might only net you two Iron, from which you can only build two Swordsmen. It’s a brilliant system, because it forces the kind of strategic decisions that Civ is all about.

The biggest change is, of course, the use of hexes instead of squares. After the first couple of turns, I hardly noticed the difference. Hexes work just fine and your brain learns to adapt quickly.

The effect that hexes have on combat pales next to the fact that units no longer stack in Civ V. It changes combat drastically, and for the better. Fighting with varied units arrayed on the field is not only encouraged, it’s damn well necessary if you are going to have any success. You consider whether to flank with Horsemen and wait to attack with your frontline Swordsman until you have supporting Archers in place. And that’s just awesome.

The modern era units are just as fun and even more varied than their ancient counterparts. Combat with Bombers, Submarines and Tanks feels more like a Rock-Paper-Scissors affair with Destroyers, Fighters and Anti-Tank Guns designed to take out specific units. Because cities have an innate defense, bombarding is necessary, and I liked using Bombers and Artillery to soften up Paris before I sent in my Giant Death Robot. I know that the GDR has a penalty attacking cities, but I couldn’t resist stomping on the French with my robot. Perhaps I’m permanently scarred from their garish pink units constantly attacking me in Civ 2.

I was surprised that after playing through Civ V about ten times that I usually won a conquest victory by destroying all the capitals of the other civs out there. Historically, I built a spaceship and won that way. It’s a testament to the combat system in Civ V that I had way more fun building units and attacking my neighbors than I did with previous versions. Lead Designer Jon Shafer did a great job revamping an old franchise and infecting it with new ideas to make it still seem fresh. I love Civilization V and will likely spend hundreds of hours over the next few years taking over the world.

Bottom Line: My favorite Civilization to date. Hex tiles and no stacking makes combat fun and more tactical. The new systems work incredibly well without altering what makes the game Civilization. Civ V is an excellent game.

Recommendation: Go to Steam and buy it right now. Do it.

[rating=5]

Greg Tito would like to thank all of the dead barbarian brutes and French musketeers who made this review possible.

Game: Civilization V
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Developer: Firaxis
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: September 21st, 2010
Platform: PC
Available from: Steam, Amazon

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