Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game
2-4 Players, ages 13+, from Fantasy Flight Games
Designed by Kevin Wilson, Civilization: The Board Game is inspired by the legendary video game series created by Sid Meier. Players are tasked with guiding an entire civilization throughout the ages, taking ownership of your people's technology, economy, culture, and military, as well as all the choices that go along with them. There are four different paths to victory, and each is riddled with opposition.
In Civilization: The Board Game, 2-4 players take on the roles of famous leaders in charge of historical civilizations, each with their own abilities. Players will be able to explore a module game board, build cities and buildings, fight battles, research powerful technology, and attract great people by advancing their culture. No matter what your play style is, there is a civilization for you!
1 Market Board
4 Reference Sheets
6 Civilization Sheets
20 Map Tiles
33 Plastic Figures
Nearly 300 Cards
55 Combat Cards
Hundreds of Markers and Tokens
6 Trade Dials
6 Economy Dials
COUNTER MAGAZINE REVIEW:
2-4 players, 180 minutes
designed by Kevin Wilson
reviewed by Alan How
A z or an s? Either way Fantasy Flight's venture into Civilization world with hit designer Kevin Wilson was always going to be something that I could not wait to get my hands on. From the earliest Civilization days (Hartland Trefoil in the 1970s) to today the exploration, exploitation, expansion and extermination (four Xs) have been irresistible to me. With Fantasy Flight branding and heft factor in the box, how could it fail?
This incarnation of Civilization picks up the computer game version (Civilization IV) and brings it full circle back to the board game table. The board game attempts to replicate the essence of Civilization IV without the complexity in a game of that scale. In the computer game there are tens of cities, hundreds of units, 50+ upgrades and developments and the game lasts 10+ hours. So how do you condense that into something playable in a board game that lasts a reasonable length of time? Clearly you have to simplify things considerably, but the clever aspect is how to create this feel and tension and make Civilization computer players feel at home.
As in the computer game, there are four ways to victory: military, which involves capturing an opponent's capital; economic, which is achieved by hoarding money; cultural, which is realised when the culture of a country reaches the end of a scoring track; and a tech victory, which is when a player completes a tech pyramid of improvements for his country. In my experience these options are fairly well balanced, which means that the routes to victory are interesting and replayable as you can try alternatives in new games.
Players represent countries each of which has a specific game benefit (also like the computer game). So the Chinese gain walls (a city advantage) which makes their capital more difficult to capture.
The start point is the board, which is a four by four grid of large tiles each of which has 16 squares. These are the only large tiles that are visible, and the rest of the map is face down pending exploration. The small squares feature a wide range of terrain including water, which blocks movement initially, and other terrain types that limit the expansion options of your city. The game plays with 2-4 players, so there are different set ups for less than four players to allow each player to be equidistant from others at the start of the game, but I'll concentrate on the four player version.
The initial city occupies one of the small squares and the first city is your capital. All other large squares start face down as exploration is part of the process of unveiling the options during the game. You also start with a small number of military and scout units that will explore the board and provide opportunities to create new cities.
The squares surrounding your cities are the ones into which you can expand by buying the appropriate building improvement with resources that are in this 3 by 3 zone. The resources are abstracted as trade routes and assets that can be acquired by your country.
Each turn follows the same sequence and players complete sections together when possible, which reduces the elapsed time and down time. The sequence of play is: Start of turn actions/Trade/City Management/Movement/Research
The start turn phase sees some regular issues resolved such as building new cities and changing player turn order and is usually a quick element of the game. The trade action pools the trade icons adjacent to cities and this number is recorded on a dial. When the dial reaches specific points, this allows the trade points to be cashed in for a technology card in the research phase of a turn. It utilises all of the trade points, unless you collect coins which allow you to retain trade to the level of the number of coins. This is such a good mechanism as you have your own deck of tech cards and can plan the improvements you want and the timing of them. The feeling of building is a central theme to civilization type games and the control that you can exercise is one of the reasons why these types of game give a strong desire to get to your next turn to accomplish an achievement.
City management is the next phase and you can ask each city to carry out one action. This can be gaining culture, with a variable number of culture points advancing you down that route to victory; or claiming a resource within your city limits such as silk or iron. These resources, when linked to an appropriate tech card, can provide additional game benefits. For example, using the tech of Currency, an incense resource can be traded in to gain three culture points. This interlinking of resources, tech, trade points and growth of cities is easy to learn in the game and fascinating to take part in as you plan for improvements in your game situation.
Where would a good Civilization game be without combat? The way that the game simulates armies and their content is different to many other games as your army pieces moving do not signify specific units but a selection.
Combat takes place when two armies occupy the same square. The exact content of each army is not known by each side, even the attacker! Instead a selection of the army cards that have been acquired by each side comprises the army and then each side lays one of the cards in this army out one at a time with the opponent responding. The response will often counter the first card causing the death of the first card. This is often repeated by the play of the next card, until one side is the winner. The factors involved in selecting an army card are:
The strength of the card;
The technology level
The interaction with cards already laid out. There is a paper, scissors stone aspect to the three main army types, which means that damage is inflicted before receiving damage when the advantage is held.
Usually a higher tech level, larger army and benefits of other technologies will beat an opponent's weaker force, but there are times when a weaker force can inflict a surprise victory. Even if it doesn't, the winning army needs to be wary of a third player's army taking advantage of the situation. I liked the combat mechanics as it did provide some uncertainty, a certain level of control and an incentive to build bigger armies and acquire better technology. The variety of troops, (infantry, mounted and artillery) as well as airplanes - later in the game - means that you cannot ignore one type, while you want to gain techs to promote your troops as they gain better strength.
All of this takes place in the movement phase when you also explore new tiles and reveal them, which is exciting as new locations are revealed to build additional cities as well as resources to be harvested from your scouts.
The final section of a turn is when you translate your trade points into techs and start building a pyramid of technologies. The level one techs are at the bottom and you can only build a higher technology if you can add it to the right level of the pyramid. This means that a level three tech needs to be supported in the pyramid by at least two level two techs, which are in turn supported by at least three level ones. The technologies are received in the form of cards and the higher techs have better and bigger game effects. Some tech cards unlock new buildings so that your cities can upgrade lower level ones. All of this is under your own control, so you can plan how to spend your trade points and acquire the technologies that you would like. The planning aspect is one that is really satisfying, for me at least.
The rules are really well designed and for the most part clearly written. They are from Fantasy Flight, so you get a normal Fantasy Flight style - colourful pictures to describe the components (which is especially useful for a game with so many components), clear examples, a section on how to play the first game and the detailed description of the rules in game turn sequence. I was really impressed and it let me learn the game so much more quickly.
The components are fine and work well, rather than being sensational. The tech cards are probably the most well designed whereas the cardboard pieces while functional are not inspiring. They do not detract from the game, and this is really a minor criticism.
The games are about the four Xs and you do have to be wary of when the arms race starts, particularly if your nearest neighbour has started heading in your direction. The flavour of the different countries works well, so in order to do as well as possible you are inclined to use the benefits that each country possesses. If you do not like games that escalate to war as fast as possible then avoid playing a game including the Germans, whose major advantage is linked to war. I will probably avoid games with Germany when possible as the recipient of the German attention has fewer options and the game is less enjoyable for that person as a result. Fortunately there are 6 countries and this can be accomplished with ease.
The game does a great job at capturing the feel and the range of options of the computer game - cities, building, trade, exploration, fighting and ways to win. I think Civilization: The Board Game an incredible game and that it is a fantastic achievement to package the main issues from the computer game.
I do hope that expansions to the game are forthcoming. Even with the current variety of board, tech choices, growth patterns and options players take I want more. I would like more countries (including England of course), but since the computer game has tens of countries to choose from, I hope that Fantasy Flight and Kevin Wilson are encouraged by the success of the board game to add more countries in future. I suspect it would be easy to add more techs as well, and all of this without unbalancing. As you can probably tell I really like this game, and if you have 3-4 hours to play I can't think of many better boardgames that satisfy my tastes. In the last issue of Counter Roy Cross described the rainbow over Essen as we drew closer to the fair. This is my rainbow game.