I played Civilization II back in the late 1990’s. Almost every iteration since then has felt superfluous to me. The newer versions were nice, but none of them felt “better.” Just prettier.
But Civilization V is a genuine evolutionary leap forward. The hex grid is a delight. The one-unit-per-tile makes this feel more like chess and less like a spam contest. You spend less time moving units around, and the time you do spend at that task is a lot more interesting.
Smaller empires are more viable now, and the early game no longer needs to be a mad rush to crank out a bunch of tiny cities that will divide your attention. Focusing on a small group of well-tended cities is a perfectly viable approach, and the new culture system even rewards this behavior.
I’m caught in the one-more-turn cycle, which hasn’t happened to me since Alpha Centauri.
Having said that, the individual faction bonuses seem hilariously unbalanced. Egypt gets to build wonders 20% faster (!) and Songhai gets three times as much gold from Barbarians. The former is a powerful advantage that lets you deny crucial wonders to all other players in the game. The latter triples a really trivial amount of gold that ceases to be relevant about halfway through the game. America’s advantage is that their units get to see one extra space into the fog of war. Which means they’ll be able to see Egypt coming to kill them after Egypt gets tired of building all the wonders.