For Christmas, my good friends bought me Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game. Based on the incredibly popular video game, this is the 2010 version and not the other previous board game designs. This recap and review of the board game is solely based on the first time playing the game.
For starters, this strategy board game was very heavy. There are many separate boards involved, along with hundreds of pieces. I recommend you purchase additional plastic bags to separate the many pieces to minimize the lengthy setup time. Now about that setup, following the diagram in the rulebook and setting up the game was not an easy task. It took us approximately one hour to finally have everything correctly set up (I played a three-player game). At the beginning, everything about this game is very intimidating. There is so much happening on the Market Board that I didn’t even know where to start. It contains buildings, military units, the culture track, and a lot more, so it is jam-packed with tiles and cards, but even though it looks somewhat cluttered, I can’t imagine any other way to organize these pieces.
The map felt like Settlers of Catan, where you choose random tiles to fill in the board. It’s interesting how the layout changes depending on how many people are in the game, but it’s certainly necessary to keep the game balanced.
Now it was finally time to get started. I’m going to go into a detailed explanation of the game and how we felt while learning the mechanics. If you want to jump to my final assessment of the game, scroll down.
First, you begin with a lot of information that is really difficult to grasp. You have your character card (country) and each one has its own unique ability. You start out with a type of government. You may start out with a tech card, an extra figure or marker, or something else. Because there is so much information right from the beginning, we certainly didn’t start playing the game correctly. The player who played as the Chinese civilization didn’t have her capital city walled for most of the game until someone caught it. Also, we constructed buildings without having the certain tech cards to allow us to do so. We just went with the flow as none of us had any idea how important these mistakes would be later on.
What I did like a lot about the game-play of Civilization is how all players finish each of the five phases in order and together. For instance, the first phase is the Start of Turn Phase, and we all go through the phase before moving onto the next, which is the Trade Phase. This keeps the game flowing quite well and it’s gives the players the chance to plan ahead while another player is making his or her moves.
Also, I loved how there are four different ways you can win the game: culture, economy, technology, or military. Based on the civilization you choose and how the game plays out, you must adapt and concentrate on your path to victory. Naturally, the other players can derail your plan and vis versa.
Since it was our first game, we didn’t really utilize the Trade Phase as much as I think we’ll be able to the next time. We weren’t sure which resources were valuable and which weren’t, so to avoid making a costly mistake there were absolutely no trades throughout the game.
Arguably the most important phase is the City Management Phase. This is where you have to strategically choose how you’re going to win the game. For each city you have, you have only one action to take. This phase can go quite quickly in the beginning of the game (not for us though since we were reading into every possible action), but once you have multiple cities your options become greater.
Then finally there are the Movement Phase and the Research Phase. You can move your armies and scouts across the board to explore huts and villages, as well as reveal maps, engage in battle, mark your territory for a new city, and to blockade. The Research Phase is very important to be able to use trade points to start building your tech pyramid. Based on your current strategy, you will choose different technology to equip yourself better.
For me, since it was my first game I wanted to try and explore as much as possible, which is definitely not a good way to win the game. It’s clear that you have to decide how you’re going to win, and concentrate on that throughout. But I built up my army, dedicated my capital city to the arts, and was a handful of technology cards away to complete my pyramid. The only thing I wasn’t remotely close to achieving was the economic win (though there was plenty of opportunity to collect gold). I played as the American civilization and found it easy to build, but difficult to explore (mainly because I trapped my scout early on, which I didn’t need when I switched to a Republic government).
The most difficult part of the game was trying to keep up with all of the rules of the game, along with the many different abilities every card gives you. There were many times when one of us forgot that we had an ability from a tech card, or a scout to move, or something else because there is so much happening during the game. Our first handful of rounds we had no idea what we should be doing, and like I said earlier we were constructing buildings without being able to. We then didn’t fully understand the rules of combat and how the tech cards could be used during battle. Also, since there are so many different parts to the game, it was confusing keeping up with the wording from the game such as units, figures, armies, tiles, etc. We also kept forgetting that almost everything had a flip-side to it that is necessary for the game. Because of this, we thought there were only three village markers and didn’t have spies or nuclear in play. But hey, it was our first game.
Overall, Civilization is the most complicated game that I’ve ever played and though that might sound like a negative, it’s a great thing. I do not recommend this game to people who are not familiar with strategy-based board games, and by familiar I mean advanced. By no means am I a super-expert on every board game, but I have definitely played at least a dozen strategy games ranging from the minimal strategy, world-domination game of Risk to the complex world of The Pillars of the Earth. So my friends and I were well-prepared for the challenge of Civilization.
Like I said earlier, game-play is fluid and can be continuous if players think ahead. While there are four different ways to win the game, it’s interesting how you might have to change your strategy based on what other players are doing (in contrast to Istanbul where you practically never cause conflicts for other players). And what’s fascinating is how Civilization sort of combines a number of other games into one. The military/combat aspect feels like Risk, the building, resource gathering and random map tiles feel like Settlers of Catan, and the blockading feels a little like Ticket to Ride.
What I truly like is how there is no dice rolling involved in any of the game’s mechanics. This minimizes luck and rewards good strategy. But this is certainly not a great game the first time you play it. There are just too many rules to learn and remember for the duration of the game, which should last around three hours (though our first time it took us 5+ hours to complete). Once you know them by heart, I can see Civilization as one of the best games to play.
It is very lengthy, so it’s more difficult to find time to play. Also, it’s only 2-4 players (5-player games with the expansion), so it’s definitely not a party game. And who wants to spend three hours playing a game and lose? But there is a lot of in-depth strategy that will be learned over time. As for a first play, if you have the patience then you’ll enjoy it. But like I said, it’s recommended that you have a solid grasp of the mechanics of strategy games prior to playing Civilization.