This boardgame is often confused with the Microprose computer game, but in fact predates it by a few years. The game was first designed by the Hartland Trefoil company and was then bought up by Avalon Hill. Civilisation is not a wargame but a multi-player contest to achieve ascendancy in the ancient world at tribal level.
The components of the game are not many. There is a folding mapboard that stretches out to depict the "cradle of civilisation", from the Italian peninsula to the Euphrates. The northern and southern limits of the playing area are the Crimea and North Africa and Egypt respectively. There are nine tribes in the game, of which only seven can be played at once. Each tribe has 55 tokens, or counters, of which only a few are in play at start. There are no dice but two sets of cards. One pack consists of trading cards, from lowly-priced ochre and hides up to gold. Some of these cards also represent various natural or man-made catastrophes. The other cards represent cultural advances, whether scientific, artistic or political.
In the standard game each player starts with one tribe in that tribe's designated start area. The tribe then multiplies and begins to spread out into adjacent areas. The mapboard is divided up into regions which vary greatly in fertility on a range of 1 to 5, this number being the amount of tribal counters that can be supported before famine eliminates any surplus. Some regions also give an advantage to building cities thereon. Players build cities which then give them tax revenues (in the form of counters) and trading cards - the more cities, the more and better the trading cards. These cards can be exchanged in deals with other players, mainly with a view to getting a large set of the same type (eg Wheat, Gold). They can then be traded in for a Civilisation card, the cost of which varies from 30 (Mysticism) to 200+ (the advanced political cards such as Democracy and Philosophy). Most of the cards confer bonuses of one kind or another, whether in combat (which does inevitably arise) or in the acquisition of more cards.
Ultimately, the aim of each player is to be the first to reach the end of the Archaelogical Succession Table (AST). This is done by moving a special tribal counter one square forward at the end of each turn, starting in the Stone Age and finishing off before the Dark Age. Movement is not automatic, however, as there are certain prerequisites at each stage of the game, usually in the form of the number of cities or cards held. It is even possible for a player to go backwards on the AST, conjuring up pictures of a culture plunged into barbarous darkness.
Civilisation is a great game, but suffers in one respect: its length. In practice most games end well before the end of the AST is reached because there is simply not enough time to finish. Turns flow very swiftly in the first hour as each tribe multiplies and spills across the board, but once cities and card trading come into operation then things slow down considerably. As catastrophes come into play (civil war, plague, famine), the markers on the AST really begin to crawl forward. I have personally sat up until five in the morning (in my misspent youth) playing "Civs", and that was normally with a maximum of four players. The only time I have ever used all seven tribes was one weekend ten years ago when I set the board up on my parents' dining room table. Needless to say, it took two days.
Avalon Hill recognised this problem and brought out Advanced Civilisation a few years later. This was an add-on with extra rules and cards. The 11-card limit was removed and enough cards were provided so each player could purchase whatever they wanted, rather than having to go without, say, Mysticism (which was a common enough problem in the basic game). New cards included such interesting additions as Mining, Military and even Theology. Although I have not played it myself, I understand the playing time is considerably improved by this set. There is also a Western Expansion Kit available, which takes the board up to the edge of the Atlantic and thus includes Britain and Gaul. Finally, a computer version was released which I believe included the elements of both basic and Advanced Civilisation.
Inevitably there will be comparisons with Sid Meier's computer game. I have played both (though not the Avalon Hill computer game) and enjoyed both equally. AH's game is probably more academically true to life and less ambitious - no Wonders of the World, no differentiated units like Legions, Knights or Fighters, and no modern technology. On the other hand there are a good many subtleties - for example, can you avoid stagnation or inflation, and can you maintain enough agricultural land to supply your cities? Economic management in the middle game is usually quite tricky without the burden of your opponent slipping you an "Iconoclasm and Heresy" disaster card with the commodities you exchanged.
This game was designed to be played by a good number of people. Now that Avalon Hill's future is in the hands of Hasbro, try to buy a copy of the game and either leave it set up on a table somewhere or buy Advanced Civilisation, which is probably the more convenient option. Set aside a weekend night, get the beers and snacks in and compete with your friends to become the next Hammurabi or Julius Caesar.
"Advanced Civilisation: A Guide for Learning the New Game", Gary Rapanos, The General Vol 27:4.
"Forgetting History: Thoughts on the Assyrians in Civilisation", Michael Anchors, The General Vol 28:1
"Slavery in Civilisation: An Economic Variant", Kevin McPartland, ibid.
"Aspects of Culture: Advanced Scoring in ADVANCED CIVILISATION", Bruce Harper, The General Vol 28:4
"Independent Kingdoms: An Advanced Civilisation variant", Bruce Harper, The General Vol 29:3
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