Kevin Wilson


No. of Players:
2 - 4

G@mebox Star



Back in the 1990ies programming legend Sid Meier created Civilization - a PC game which has gone high into the eternal hall of fame of computer games. Over 8 Million copies of the game were sold, and today Civilization has found four successful successors which had updated, enhanced and enlarged both the scope and the graphical presentation of the game. However, many players of modern versions of Civilization will not know the great ancestor which started the boom, and so let's take a timewarp back into the 1990'ies, getting you in command of your very own civilization!

Okay, the modern boardgames scene knows quite a few civilization-type games, and ever since AVALON HILL had released Francis G. Tresham's Civilization-boardgame back in 1981 many boardgame designers have tried to emulate the rise of whole civilizations within the (limited) scope of a boardgame. There has even been a successful "boardgamization" of Sid Meier's Civilization computer game by Glen Drover and his publisher EAGLE GAMES in 2003, and so the question might be asked which unique new elements in Sid Meier's Civilization - Das Brettspiel actually justify the release of yet another boardgame based on the old computer classic.

In a nutshell, the new game contains all elements which can be expected from civilization-type games. So, the players start with just one city and they collect income which allows them to purchase special buildings and military units. However, before anything can be built, the players first must research a technology which activates the desired building or unit, and in order to conduct this research a player must have accumulated enough trade-points to pay for the technology. The buildings are used to increase income from a city, and the military units can be sent into the field in order to explore the (modular) gaming world and to challenge other players, and during the course of the game both the buildings and units will become more effective in accord with the new technologies researched by the players. So far, Sid Meier's Civilization - Das Brettspiel covers aspects which are known from many other civilization-type game, but let's now have a more detailed look at some features which give the game a very unique and outstanding touch.

In effect, both the design of the gaming world and the rules concerning the income generated by the cities are a rather close implementation of the presentation and feel of the classic PC game. So, the players found their cities on a traditional gameboard made up of square landscape spaces, and - depending on the type of landscape - the landscape spaces show different types of income which can be collected if the landscape is in the outskirts of a city (i.e. one of the eight spaces surrounding a city). During his turn, the players are allowed to perform a city action with each of their cities (a player can found up to two additional cities), and each city either can go for production, culture or resource harvesting. Thus, the action chosen for a city prescribes the income of which landscape spaces can be used in the current turn. Hammers are used for production of a new building or unit, pillars serve as a symbol of culture points, and resources (four different types: grain, incense, fabric and iron) are available for harvesting. New types of buildings can become available through research of technologies, and if a matching building is placed on a landscape through a production action the yield which can be generated from the landscape will be enhanced. However, very important is the rule that each of a player's cities stands for its own, and so a city needs to possess enough production capacities by itself when a player desires to create a more costly building or unit. Even some wonders of the world are available in the game, needing a high production capacity for their creation but bringing their owners some quite nice special abilities.

One exception from the rule that each city stands for its own is the fact that the players are allowed to collect the combined income from trading symbols of all of their cities. The trading points accumulated over one or more turns then can be used to research new technologies, and as mentioned the new technologies will give their owners access to new buildings, units and some other special abilities. In terms of research, the game uses a somewhat unique approach for technological progress, since each player possesses his own identical set of technology cards which are split into technology levels one to four. Each new technology which is researched by a player must be placed into a pyramid-shaped layout, with level one technologies at the bottom and level four technologies near the top. Thus, low level technologies need to be researched to form a "base" for the placement of higher technologies, and following the pyramid-shaped layout rules a placement of a level four technology requires four level one cards, three level two cards and two level three cards. If these placement rules are observed, the players are free to choose any technology card they desire, and so they are not subjected to any rules of priority or a strict research sequence which requires specific technologies for the research of another technology.

The stepwise discovery of the modular gaming world is also similar to the older computer game, and the total size and layout of the world depends on the number of players so that an acceptable level of competition is created for all numbers of players. All movements are made with just two types of figures - pioneers and armies. The wagon-shaped pioneers can be used to found new cities, or they can simply occupy a landscape space and send the income available on that space to one of the player's cities in order to increase the production, culture or harvesting capacities of that city. Armies on the other hand are symbolized by simple flag miniatures, and here the rules show one of the major differences between the boardgame and the PC game. So, the flag miniatures are simple representatives of a player's military power and the gameboard, whereas all his army units are symbolized as cards which can be purchased through city production. All units produced go into a player's military reserve, and whenever it comes to a battle the players randomly draw cards from their reserve, their numbers depending on factors like the number of present flag miniatures or the type of battleground.

Avaliable at the beginning of the game are level one infantry, cavalry and artillery units, and only late in the game a level four technology actually can be used to activate the production of airborne units. However, any unit card purchased shows values for all four technology levels available in the game, and whenever a player researches a technology which increases the technology level of a unit type all of his existing units are automatically upgraded to the new level. So, it is rather cost effective to produce units before going for a technological advance, since all units produced after the new technology has been researched must be purchased at higher costs.

The outcome of a battle depends on the strength of all units drawn by the players, but before the strength values are added up the players first have to fight the battle in form of a little game-in-game. Thus, the players take alternate turns to place one of their unit cards onto the table, and each unit placed either can be placed opposite to an enemy unit (if available) or at an unchallenged position. Whenever two units oppose each other, their strength values are used to deal damage to each other, and at the same time the strength values also determine how much damage a unit can take. However, there are some rules of priority which apply to specific pairs of cards (i.e. artillery strikes before infantry, infantry before cavalry, cavalry before artillery), and so a confrontation of two units of equal strength does not always lead to a mutual annihilation. Overall, this process leads to the elimination of some units, and due to these easy but effective battle rules the players actually have some chances to influence the outcome of a battle by remembering the general composition of another player's reserve and by adjusting the composition of their own reserve accordingly. The order in which the players play their units also is of great importance, and so the game-in-game which has been created for the resolution of battles really offers some thrill and suspense on its own right. A nice side note!

Another part of the game once again offers a great alikeness with the PC game, and these are the variable conditions which allow a player to win the game. So, it is up to the players' individual strategies whether they want to win the game on terms of technological superiority, military power, cultural status or sheer wealth, and with these four different victory conditions Sid Meier's Civilization - Das Brettspiel shows yet another of its strengths, since the way to reach one of these goals is not really predetermined. Quite the opposite, a lot depends on the developments of the other players' civilizations, and so the players face a constant challenge to analyze the overall situation on the gameboard and adjust their strategy accordingly. However, a nice twist to give the players a gentle push to pursue the one or other goal are the nationalities which are randomly dealt to each player at the beginning of the game, since each available nation possesses some special abilities which will make the pursuance of a specific goal seem worthwhile. Still, these special abilities are not as strong as to force a player into one specific direction, but instead they can be use quite versatile to follow different strategies as well.

The rules for Sid Meier's Civilization - Das Brettspiel offer a good degree of sophistication, and many small twists like different state forms, famous personalities, culture cards or wonders of the world only can be given a short mention within the limited scope of a review. However, it is a somewhat astonishing observation that the game plays rather lightly despite the high degree of sophistication and variation which can be found in the rules. In fact, the outset of the game gives the players a rather straightforward situation with just one city to manage, but during the course of the game the complexity level will rise with each new technology and each new city. This gradual increase leads to a slowing of the game's initial fast pace, and there comes a time when the players need considerable time for their turns because many aspects need to be calculated and weighted. However, this phase is not really long because such an advance in technology and other factors means that the end is close at hand, and so it is only the last few turns in which the game looses its initially good pace.

In fact, the outcome of the game often may be determined in a spectacular climax over the last two or three rounds, since this usually is the time when the players will have mobilized enough production capacities, cultural resources or army units to drive the game to its end. Modern age cultural events or level four technologies like airplanes may rush into the fray as well as a timed nuclear explosion might end another player's hopes to win the game, but due to the fact that many of these spectacular sequences require a high technological level a beaten player will not have to wait for long before the game comes to its end. So, the players will barely have time to enjoy their high level technologies, and this in turn means that only a good structuring of a civilization during the middle part of the game will lead to a chance to win.

To be honest, some players may be disappointed by this abrupt, climax-like ending, since many players of such build-and-develop games are fond of the civilization they have created and naturally they want to play some additional rounds with their hard earned high technology toys. While such a notion is understandable, the slowing of the game through the increase of administrative activities which was described above inevitably demands that the game must come to a timely, clearly defined ending. Of course the game could go on even further, but as it seems designer Kevin Wilson has found a very good and competitive point to end the game. All four victory conditions seem to be well balanced for this ending, and playing any further effectively would lead to an overemphasis especially of the military aspects of the game.

As playtesting revealed, Sid Meier's Civilization - Das Brettspiel actually outclasses the older Civilization: The Boardgame by Glen Drover on a number of factors. First off, Kevin Wilson's game takes a shorter playing duration and comes to an end within a more acceptable timeframe of three to four hours, and this is mainly due to the well-balanced victory conditions which are a perfect match for the game's pace and design. As an example, a military victory in Glen Drover's game required the total annihilation of all other players, and so the game could come to a point when one or more players would either become passive spectators or simply go home and leave the others to fight till the end. This rather unsatisfactory situation is known from games like Risk or Diplomacy, but it seems that the total elimination of a player is no longer an accepted standard in modern-age boardgames, since it shows a built-in failure of the playing concept. People want to play - not watch!

Another point is the fact that Wilson's game operates on a lower level of complexity, and this means that new players face a lower initial hurdle to become familiar with the game. While Drover's game played quite fluently once the rules were mastered, there was a lot more finetuning included which needed to be explained if players wanted to enjoy the game at full flavour. Sid Meier's Civilization - Das Brettspiel does not need a split of the rules into two parts for beginners and advanced players - one set of rules does it all!

Yet another positive factor is the reduction of luck which can be experienced in Sid Meier's Civilization - Das Brettspiel. The battles are not determined on an entertaining but sometimes unpredictable Axis and Allies-like process of dice rolling, but instead the little in-game used for the determination of a battle outcome gives the players a higher degree of control over the outcome of a battle. While exploration and the drawing if culture cards still leaves room for the hand of fate, the overall balancing between luck and strategy seems to be better in Kevin Wilson's game.

To come to a conclusion, the comparison between the two different "boardgamizations" of Sid Meier's Civilization has given an interesting overview how playing concepts and games have evolved over a period of eight years since Glen Drover released his game in 2003. While it must be conceded that the older product from EAGLE GAMES contained nicer miniatures and a downright bombastic gameboard, Kevin Wilson's nicely designed game has beaten its predecessor on all game-related grounds. It is faster, easier and more challenging to play, and it is definitely a very close and authentic homage to the great computer classic!

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany