Just… one more… turn… Over the decades, VALUE may or may not have missed more than a few paper deadlines thanks to this addicting game series. I am not telling. Why would I? I am the leader of an entire civilization and we don’t have to answer to you!
Start out with one settler and one or two technologies such as Horseback riding or Pottery and found your own small village at the dawn of human civilization. If you don’t get crushed by those pesky Barbarians or aggressive neighbours (“Damn you, Genghis Khan!”), see your civilization grow as you settle other regions, discover new technologies, make war on other civs, extort vassal states, diplomacize your way into profitable alliances, or spread your culture and religion. In the end all may come to ruin as your previously peaceful Indian neighbour decides to nuke you and the rest of the world with it (“Damn you, Ghandi!”).
Deciding which civilization to play as is not only important for their access to special units, technologies or buildings, but it is also a cool way to play through any of the “what if” scenarios you may entertain: “I am sorry, Isabella I, but the politburo of the Aztec worker’s collective have decided not to tolerate the expansive aggression of your Hindu religion any longer, we are invading and there is nothing that your puny army of knights can do to stand in the way of our Armor division led by the mighty Sun Tzu.”
Civilization is of course not the only game series of its kind, although it is one of the granddaddies of the 4X genre: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. If the games started out as a heavily military-focused civ-sim, they have become so much more than that in later editions. My current favourite strategy is to go for cultural victories (“Can’t get enough of our VENETIAN blue jeans and rock music, can you, America?”). In addition, its voluminous in-game civilopedia has some of the best, objective history-writing of any video game I am familiar with.
Even if I love these games, there is plenty of feedback for Sid Meier to be given. Why do all Civ games have these savage barbarians running around that can do nothing but destroy stuff and are stuck in time as well as in their dirty camps (which is a personal affront to our own beard-wearing, Ymir)? Can’t this game do without the dichotomy between classical-style civilizations (doing agriculture, living in cities, having religion) and “uncivilized” Others? Furthermore, why does the game have such a positivist and teleological view of cultural and societal progress, in which the goal is to become like the “modern” civilizations of today (at least if you want to win the game). Would a bottom-up and emergent evolution not be an even better way to create “what-ifs” than the current phylogenetic-style tech-tree?
In addition, the games series presents a very “clean” view of history. No blood, dirt and widow tears as your civilization goes to war, only a few more “unhappy faces” in your cities (nothing that a nice new Amphitheater won’t fix). Slavery does not exist in Sid’s happy place. “Pollution” does become a problem as our civ hits the industrial era. Then again the plight of the labourers working in sweatshops remains largely unaddressed. In short, Civilization mostly dances around the really thorny issues of what it means to be civilized. Individual, city, civ, and even real historical societal problems become gameplay challenges that too often come down to just another cost-benefit decision. All in all, even if these games are about human societies and cultures, Civilization is ultimately not a very human-centred game.
There are many off-shoots of the Civilization series, but special mention goes to Colonization. Similar “one more turn” gameplay and “what if” storytelling, but brought to bear on the colonization of the Americas. With the same “upbeat” approach to historical and cultural quandaries, this game’s attitude towards a period that covers one of the blackest pages in our history, is even more of a moral puzzle.
Look here to see what we think of how the theme of Colonialism is used in Sid Meier’s Colonization: