When Caltech student Walter Bright used a stack of punchcards and a mainframe computer to program one of the first turn-based strategy games, little did he know the long legacy of the genre that followed from that initial game of Empire. Over a decade later, Sid Meier created the crowning jewel of the genre, Civilization – chosen by Computer Gaming World in as the best computer game of all time. Fast forward to 2008, and you can now play Civilization in a portable format via your Nintendo DS!
The Nintendo DS continues to dominate the handheld strategy category with the introduction of Civilization Revolution published by 2K Games. For those who are unfamiliar with the game, Civilization is a turn based game sometimes labeled the 4X genre which stands for the typical progress of the game. Players initially eXplore their surroundings, eXpand their territory in order to eXploit local resources, and finally eXterminate the competition. The Civilization brand is known for its depth of theme, with a nod to historical events and discoveries in its technology tree and the various wonders of the world that can be built as city improvements. Players found cities and then use them to construct units or new city upgrades for further economic, military, or technological development. In the newest Civilization incarnation for consoles and the Nintendo DS, the standard Civilization formula is streamlined in an attempt to make a faster, more exciting play experience.
Normally, attempting to make a turn based strategy game more exciting is probably not a wise move. But as the Civilization franchise has grown, so has the game’s complexity. Civilization Revolution has been slimmed down in several ways to make it more accessible to the console and portable gaming crowd. The technology tree is much shorter and has less branching, units gain experience through battles – growing in power so they can be useful for longer periods of time, and some of the complexity of diplomacy found in more recent versions has been reduced. Other new additions include special powers like additional movement or attack bonuses granted to units who perform exceptionally well, three units can be combined into a single army unit with triple the statistics, helping level out the technology gap between nations and making the game more combative. In addition to the default random map games, special scenarios can be played, many of which give starting players a huge boost in starting position for those gamers who don’t want to mess around with building up their own empire before heading out to destroy all the others. Multiplayer on the DS can be played using the local wireless or over the internet, but is not supported for hotseat (single game card) play.
Clearly, Civilization Revolution is a must buy for any fan of the genre looking for a portable fix. Unfortunately, all is not a bed of roses. The game is slightly buggy, in that researched technology does not always allow a player to then build the appropriate building. Many times I researched pottery but was unable to build a granary (as the description for pottery indicates) in some cities. Other newly founded cities produced absolutely no gold until I fiddled with the city development settings. This could be a feature due to the way city planning/advisors work, but I was unable to revert to a zero gold production state after finally getting some cities to produce. I have even had the entire game hang while I was moving units around, forcing me to reboot and start over at my last save point. The user interface also has several glaring omissions. I found no way to conjure up a full map of the world. The screen has a fairly small local view, so the ability to zoom back and examine a wider swath of land would have been welcome. There is even a world map displayed as a movie at the end of the game, showing the development of the game from start to finish, but it isn’t accessible while playing the game. One thing that surprised me was the lack of any forwarding waypoints for city production. As this version is supposed to be a slimed down, action oriented version of the game, I was surprised it did not give players the ability to route a city’s production directly to the front lines as soon as it was made.
Hard core wargamers, simulation buffs, and those who don’t like change will need to stay away from the new version. Its jazzed-up roots will make realism buffs wince. I has several armies of experienced, dug-in spearmen that were terribly good at killing off attaching waves of fighter jets. But, if one is willing to overlook some realism issues in return for a tighter, faster playing game, Civilization Revolution brings that classic Civ feeling to the DS in a very palatable package.
With its shiny new format, this is the most accessible Civilization game in many years. The planning and thought necessary to win at the higher levels make it best for teens or interested preteens. Other than a couple bikini-wearing technology leaders and animated cartoon battles (with no blood or gore), there are few things that would cause offense. Of course, Civilization’s claim to fame is the “just one more turn” style of gameplay, so perhaps Civilization Revolution shouldn’t be played on a school night!