Following on the heels of Sid Meier's Civilisation, Civilisation II built on the success of its predecessor, maintaining the basic concepts but refining them and adding more units, rules and possibilities.
The requirements for winning remain roughly the same: starting with one tribe (ie a Settler unit) at the dawn of recorded history (here 4,000 BC), you progress right through to the 21st century, during which period you must either annihilate all other civilisations or become the first civilisation to successfully send colonists to Alpha Centauri. In Civ II you choose your tribe in the beginning from a historical set of possibles (eg Greeks, Aztecs, Romans) or make one up. You can then set the number of other tribes you want to play or allow the computer to pick a number. Again, you can select which tribes you want to oppose or allow the computer to pick them randomly. As in Civilisation, each tribe played by the computer has a historic leader (eg Gandhi, Elizabeth I, Lenin) and a set of national characteristics, ranging from peaceful traders to highly aggressive militarists. Lowest level of difficulty in Civ II is Chieftain (easy), the hardest Deity.
Next object is to select what size map you are going to play. There are three sizes. The smallest leads to fierce conflicts, the largest takes so long to explore that you can expand in relative peace (at least at the easier levels) but then find that your neighbours have also built huge and rich empires. The middle sized map is a good compromise and also allows you to finish the game a bit quicker (though not much). Then you are placed with your first Settler unit on the map, looking to build that all-important first city!
Most of the advances from Civilisation remain unchanged, although if you want to use the very impressive Elephant units (complete with an angry trumpeting if you have sound) you will need to gain Polytheism. Diplomacy, even in the earliest stages, seems to be more important, with your reputation bobbing up and down somewhere between the extremes of Spotless and Atrocious according to your penchant for honouring your promises or sneak attacks. One important change, though, is in combat, where instead of the "sudden death" ending of a unit, a unit shows its strength or weakness as conflict progresses (reflecting attrition), so that a player has to be more careful about throwing weakened troops into the fray, but also is less likely to lose them if he rests them properly.
The pace of the game is as in Civilisation, ie 20 years per turn up to 0 AD, then 10 years until the late Middle Ages, etc. The number of government types is increased, however, by the addition of Communism and Fundamentalism. I noticed that certainly at Chieftain or Warlord stage computer opponents seem to like swapping to Fundamentalist government quite regularly, and an experienced friend tells me that if properly timed (ie once you have all the civilisation advances you need) then Fundamentalist government can be very useful when waging war. I also found Communism to be quite productive as well as very good at keeping citizens content: possibly a bit too good when compared to real history. On the other hand Monarchy seems to fall apart very quickly after the Middle Ages. Democracy seems a bit easier than it was in Civilisation.
There are more advances and more military units as the game progresses, but paradoxically it does slow down as each game turn slips to just one year and the number of cities and units on the board increases (if you're winning). In particular modern units such as Paratroopers and Helicopters come into play, plus Cruise Missiles (only good for two or three shots, but quite effective, especially against non-AEGIS ships) and the dreaded Nuclear Missiles. One of the most effective units, though, is the Spy, represented in the standard game by a Mata-Hari/Bond-girl lookalike icon with a gun. You can slip quite a few of these into your opponents' cities and subvert them by bribery, steal their technology, sabotage their assets or even plant nuclear devices. Needless to say, if this last aspect is overplayed it quickly leads to Pollution (each square around the city) and eventual global warming. This last is a major pain as you see most of your 2,000 plus years of agricultural work undone by the sudden incursion of deserts, jungles and swamps, leading to a rise in Hunger. One of the fun aspects of this game, however, is the use of Engineers (who replace the Settlers after Explosives are discovered) to terraform the landscape, laying miles of roads and railways and cleaning up the environment.
My knowledgeable friends have made a couple of observations about the mechanics of the game which I would agree with. One is that a combination of Howitzers and Railways can be rather unbalanced as you can use the unlimited movement of railways to move your big guns to pound cities with unrealistic speed. The other is that, at the lower levels at least, Spies are also rather devastating, especially if you like the idea of planting nuclear devices. Against that it could be argued that it is still expensive to subvert a decent city - 2,000 gold or more - but I noted that as I wore a civilisation down it became progressively cheaper to subvert a city financially, until in the endgame it made more sense to "buy" an enemy city (albeit a small one) than to spend money on military units to conquer it.
I did buy the Fantasy Worlds scenario for this game, but haven't played it yet for the simple reason that I felt Civ II was becoming too addictive. Yes, this is a confession, but I forced myself to take a step back and saw that I had spent hours a week playing it, and so I gave the CD to a friend for "safe keeping". In a sense this is one problem with big strategy games: they can take on a virtual life of their own, at the expense of things (and people) that may not seem quite as exciting but in the long run are more important.