Sid Meier's Civilization (DOS)

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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  Jacques Guy (55)
Written on  :  Oct 11, 2004
Platform  :  DOS

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Grossly overrated

The Good

Addictive. I remember paying $99.99 for it and staying up all night playing it, emerging bleary-eyed, having just made it at the lowest level. Today I wonder which I had most of, money? and least of, sense? I shan't repeat here what the game is about--that would be as silly as explaining what a mouse and a keyboard are. And you will find here at MobyGames more than a dozen reviews that will tell you all about it. Many years after my first exposure to Civilization, thinking back on it, I am still at a loss as to what made this game such a success. Yes, it is addictive, but so is crack, they say. So let's turn to:

The Bad

Absurd, utterly absurd. I realized that when I was building a space ship and a Zulu diplomat stole the technology and the Zulus started building their own spaceship. Now in this game, when a civilization gets wiped out, another one often pops up in the form of a settlers' unit, which builds a city, and starts again from scratch. The Zulus were one of these newborn nations. They hadn't discovered anything much beyond chariots and they set about building a space ship! I was also pretty miffed once when I attacked a Barbarian diplomat with my tanks, and got zapped out of existence. That is when I stopped playing, to take a long hard look at the game and to write myself a saved-game editor allowing me to modify the properties of military units and the contents of cities. In the process I discovered what a mess the coding was. It was like digging middens in an archaeological site, uncovering layers upon layers of rubbish. But, once finished, I then could price diplomats right out of anyone's reach, and make movement a bit more realistic. Still I could not knock any sense into combat rules, that is, short of disassembling CIV.EXE, I imagine, and rewriting the mess.

Combat is as unrealistic as the rules of chess compared to real war. There is only one possible outcome to each engagement with an enemy unit: total annihilation of him, or of you. No attrition, no morale, nothing. And you can only attack a unit on an adjacent square, even with artillery, even with a battleship. Now have a battleship attack an enemy phalanx. Your battleship, the most powerful unit in the game, stands a chance of getting zapped out of existence by the phalanx. And with what weapons would that be, pretty please, javelins?

The so-called AI is nothing but cheating, cheating, and more cheating. Have you ever tried to build a Wonder, say, the Pyramids, or the Hanging Gardens? Suspiciously often another civilization will beat you to it, just before you succeed. And all out of thin air. Just hit %^ to reveal the map and you'll see. They just didn't have the production capacity by far, but they still managed to build that Wonder. The only way you can hope to beat those cheats is to build caravans, caravans, and caravans, and keep them stored away until you have enough to build your Wonder in one single turn so as not to give your hand away.

Speaking of caravans, have you ever seen an enemy caravan roaming the map? Of course not. But when you take over their cities, by battle or, better, by subverting them, you will see trade routes to here, there and everywhere bringing in good money. YOU have to build caravans and send them under military escort to distant cities, THEY just conjure them out of thin air and teleport them.

Diplomacy? There is no diplomacy. Blackmail and intimidation, yes, but you cannot strike an alliance with another civilization. Oh sure, you can ask the Romans to attack the Babylonians. They will want payment up front, and then they will do nothing at all. And once you have sworn eternal friendship (sic) with, say, the Russians, they will turn against you at the drop of a hat. Which is whenever your coffers are full enough to make blackmail a going proposition. As for striking an alliance against a common enemy, forget it: there is no way it can be done. Soon you learn your lesson, which is (spoiler ahead): once you are a Republic or a Democracy, always refuse to talk to foreign delegates--otherwise the Senate will force you to sign a peace treaty and then forbid you to sabotage their cities and steal their technologies. And just before you become a Republic or a Democracy, don't forget to declare war on everybody you are at peace with.

Movement? Movement is ridiculous. In the early stages one turn is equal to twenty years of calendar time, so that it takes a phalanx about 400 years to go from Rome to Moscow. Yes, dem soldiers were long-lived in dem days. How long would Alexander's conquests have taken? And Xenophon's march? Something like 2000 years I guess.

Scoring. Starry-eyed me played his first few games trying to shower his citizens with goodies, and got rewarded with defeat and a Dan Quayle rating. Oh yes, building Wonders and keeping citizens happy does count towards the final score, but not as much, by a very very long sight, as destroying other civilizations. Once I had figured that out, I managed to end up regularly with top marks, having destroyed ten civilizations, sometimes eleven. "Civilization"? This should have been called "Thuggery and Savagery".

The Bottom Line

Search me. The more I think about it, the less I understand. Yes, it is addictive, but, as I have already written, so is crack. I suppose that outsmarting the cheating, brain-dead AI might be what makes it attractive to many. I had a good belly laugh when, having priced diplomats at 200gp, I started "building" one, immediately "bought" it, and found myself credited with 1752gp. A great way of making money. There are many more such gems, such as when you discover the trick for opening a mine in just one turn, instead of five. But in the end, it's a bit like playing chess against a retarded five-year old.