Several years after its appearance, this game is still a classic. Although Microprose weren't the first to think of the concept (see the other Civilisation page), they were in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the rapid increase in PC power at the beginning of the nineties. This game probably needs no introduction, but I'll run through a few thoughts and details anyway.

The first edition of Civilisation is basically a one-player computer game, wherein you lead a tribe from the dawn of recorded history (here 4,000 BC) right through to the 21st or 22nd century, during which period you aim to become the dominant civilisation in the world and to cap your achievements by being the first people to successfully send colonists to Alpha Centauri. You choose your tribe in the beginning from a historical set of possibles (eg Greeks, Aztecs, Romans) and then set the number of other tribes you want to play. Normally the computer picks them randomly. Each tribe played by the computer has a historic leader (eg Gandhi, Elizabeth I, Stalin) and a set of national characteristics, ranging from peaceful traders to highly aggressive militarists. There are several levels of difficulty ranging from Chieftain (easy) to Emperor (hard). Civilisation II added Deity level on top of that.

Your first unit is a group of Settlers, alone in a small map area with no idea where it is. (One of the most interesting things in the game is that despite the historical tribes and leaders, the geography of the world is randomly set up, so you start off by not knowing which hemisphere you are in or where the next tribes are situated. You can however select a normal Earth map.) You then move around the map looking for a suitable place to build your first city - the sooner the better - and then your first military units, as otherwise you are likely to be quickly snuffed out by the other tribes. At this stage of the game one turn equates to 20 years. You are also engaged on research for cultural advances, all of which confer advantages, often necessary ones to defend your embryonic civilisation. Not only do you build military units but also Settlers, who are vital in improving the various types of terrain to provide an agricultural and economic base. They can also be used to build roads and fortresses. Gradually your government changes from Despotism to Monarchy, and then later possibly to Republic or Democracy (there are pros and cons with each one), depending on the advances you make. As you expand you encounter the other tribes, some of whom want to exchange knowledge and trade and some of whom just want to fight. Diplomat units are useful here, since they allow you to see what the computer's players are up to.

After the Middle Ages, the turns slow down to 10 years and then 5 years as the technological and other advances start coming thick and fast. The number of tribes also dwindles as some wipe out the others, until normally there are one or two strong tribes (hopefully including your own) and maybe a couple of rump ones left. At some point you may have to decide whether you want to go for the Alpha Centauri option through trading and exchange of knowledge (war is costly, after all) or just go for the elimination of all your contenders through military means. In the last phase of the game each turn is only one year, and modern civilisation experiences the problems of pollution and possibly even nuclear meltdown, not to mention uppity democratic citizens who need to be kept happy at all times.

Every aspect of Civilisation hangs together really well and takes in all the dilemmas of great culture building - the path of war or peace? strong leadership or democracy? how high should taxes be? The manual itself is over 100 pages long, although easily readable and even entertaining. By today's standards the graphics look a little bit clunky as the game was designed to run under DOS, but that's a bit of a churlish criticism. In fact I prefer the flat-look map to the 3-D version of Civilisation II, although there may be an option to turn the latter off. Building on the huge success of Civilisation, Microprose brought out Civilisation II a few years later. Although I haven't played a full game myself I have seen it in operation and read through the manual. There are more unit types, perhaps a little too specialised in some cases for a game at this grand level, and more advances. Knowing a good thing when they saw it, the company also produced a "Worlds" add-on which produced several new scenarios for Civ II - I particularly liked the idea of playing a tribe of dinosaurs. A network version has also just come out which for the first time will allow multiple human players to contend remotely. Sadly there were tears all round when Avalon Hill then produced their game of Civilisation for the PC. I personally felt that the two games were not really that similar, but I believe the case ended in an out-of-court settlement. Given that AH had actually had the concept for longer than Microprose, I thought this was a bit shabby.

If there is any problem with this game, it is that it is somewhat addictive. The pattern of play, which allows turns to slip by almost unnoticed, is partly to blame for this, but you can end up playing for hours. As the number of units and cities grows along with the necessary housekeeping to keep on top of things, the game slows down without losing its excitement. I seriously recommend that you limit yourself to an hour at a time, or else you could fritter your life away.

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