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Civilization the board game

Thoughts, feelings and first impressions after three plays

I had a very long break from boardgaming, not long after Francis Tresham’s masterpiece Civilisation was released, throughout my twenty year long board gaming hiatus Sid Meier’s Pc series was my game of choice, and when I got back into board gaming iIfelt at home because so many of the choices, attempts at efficiency and conflicting prirorites i had enjoyed in the PC game were present in modern board games – and even better you got to play with real human beings. For me a board game of Civilisation is the perfect subject matter, marrying my love of this hobby with nostalgia for night long sessions in front of the PC racing to build my space ship before the Greeks.


You have watched Drakkenstrike's video so you have a good idea of what to expect in the box. There’s lot of it, its nicely produced and when you get it on the table the overall effect if spectacular. The tiles create a varied landscape filled with cities, buildings, scouts and army figures. Each player needs a fair amount of space for their Civilisation card, pyramid, tokens and army unit cards.

Rule book

Its 32 pages long, its one of the best from Fantasy Flight that I have read and after your first game you won’t have to refer to it more than once or twice. The player aids that come with the game have a useful summary of actions and unit costs; I would like to have seen a player booklet with the techs, wonders and buildings described because until you know the game you are going to spend a lot of time leaning over the board looking at the options. I have printed out Kopernicus’s summary and I’d recommend doing the same, there’s a lot of information to take in and having a print out is much easier than constantly having to squint at the cards or put your arm pit in your neighbours face stretching across the table.

The game

The mechanics and actions are straightforward, however when you sit down to play the game you might now how to do it but you don’t know what to do with it. I was immediately struck by the similarity but difference with the computer game experience. You are in a very familiar world but whereas I might restart my sandbox Civilisation game on the PC on a whim, here you can’t – there’s almost instant pressure to get things right and your very visible opponents sitting a few feet away are plotting your downfall.

Each player chooses one of six civilisations to play, grabs there starting tile and slots on to the world of tiles. The Civilisations have different benefits and starting technologies, in the games i have played the winners have played to the strength of their civilisation, for example the Germans start with an extra two armies and gain a unit card whenever they unlock a tech that gives them a military upgrade - this points them towards a military victory, the Romans move up the culture track when they build a wonder or found a city so a cultural victory beckons. However, it’s not that straightforward, advancing towards all of the victory conditions provides its own benefit and putting all of your ‘meepeggs’ in one basket can backfire, i think it’s worth while keeping your options open until the finish line is in sight. A tech victory is within sight of all the players, and you are not going to progress quickly without adding to your pyramid so it’s one that you always have to keep moving towards. In my three games victory has come by Tech, Culture and Military – no one has got close to a coin victory and i suspect it’s the hardest to pull off.

I won;t going into detail about the game mechanics, suffice to say you build cities, trade with other players (this bit has been fun as players swap resources or agree who will be the beneficiary of a tech effect that helps two players), build stuff or collect stuff with your cities, move and fight, then research one tech. Repeat.

What’s obvious and what’s not

In my first game (and I have seen the same in people I have taught the game to) there seems to be some obvious things you need to do – like the computer game. The first thing is to get some buildings in the 8 square outskirts for your city to boost trade, hammers or culture. It also seems quite important to get technologies out as quickly as you can and to get the second city founded asap. Following these ambitions is not going to hurt you, however it’s not a disaster if someone has got a jump on trade production or hammers because there are two very powerful investments you can make for the future which are not obvious. The first is moving up the culture track, the first time i saw this very long long ladder to victory I wrote it off as too difficult to achieve and the action of devoting your city to the arts as time wasted that could be better spent on improving my industrial machine. I was wrong! Every step on the culture track rewards you with either a culture card or a great person. Both are powerful – and the further you get up the culture track the more powerful the cards become – they give you resources (more on these later), they allow you to swap techs, the can kill off opponents units, impoverish their lands. Moreover they are kept hidden so they have the advantage of surprise. ‘Great Persons’ work like buildings, there are six types and they really give a boost to the city they are placed in. The second thing you can do at the beginning is explore the map and take down the huts. The huts have a random resource which you claim when you move into a hut space and these resources can influence which techs you are going to want to research.

The three options you may take with your city is to build (a unit, a wonder or a building), ‘devote to the arts’ which collects culture tokens or collect a resource from within the city boundaries. In my first game I focused on buildings, however using one city as a feeder by collecting resources from its boundary or scouts you have sent out can feed other Cities Wonder building or culture leaps. Having a city surrounded by buildings helps with trade and hammers, but the resource effects on the tech cards can be a subtler and more efficient way of achieving the same end

What’s not obvious is the tech tree, there a mind boggling 36 to choose from, and most have multiple effects; either unlocking the advance that allows you to buy specific buildings or instantly upgrading them, unlocking new government forms, upgrading your army units, increasing your culture hand size, allowing you to spend a resource or multiple resources to some effect – some technologies do multiples of the above. You also have to plan in advance what techs you want to use, because the tech victory requires you to reach the fifth level of the pyramid your selections become more crucial the further you go up – choosing five out level one techs is not too difficult but you only really have three choices at level three and they must all count. I find myself constantly referring to what techs I have and the tech chart to plan it out as efficiently as possible, you don’t want too many duplicates so researching at techs that incrementally upgrade your units from 1 to 2 to 3 can be wasteful (unless of course there is another effect that you need). In all the games I have played I have missed a few opportunities at some point because by the time you are at level three you might have 6 or 7 resource fired options available to you.

The Czech elephant in the room

Should I face execution on the morrow my last request will be for a Steak and the gaoler to sit down for a game of ‘Through the Ages’. It’s my favourite game, my only 10. Civilization is the officially licensed game of the computer series, Through the Ages is its unlicensed heart and soul in board game form. They are very different games, with a different approach to creating the Civilisation experience; Fantasy Flight’s franchise game feels more like the recreation it is, ‘Through the Ages’ a re-imagining. Combat in Through the Ages is a brutal, Zero sum, affair, it can wipe you out of the game and sometimes it is difficult to spot it coming or prepare for it whereas in Civilisation you see it marching across the board towards you, you can delay it, you can build up, hell you might even get lucky with the card draw. What both games share is a tempo increase towards the end, in ‘Through the Ages’ you are seeding the deck with end game bonuses in Civilization the options explode as more techs layer on to your pyramid and you start to accelerate towards one of the victory conditions. The biggest difference between the two is the need to live within your means, in ‘Though the Ages’ there’s lots of it in Civilisation there’s none. Where TTA is closer to the Pc game in that you have to keep your population happy, fed and plan production so you don’t go corrupt – all when known to the PC devotee. In Civilisation these are taken out of the game, but it’s no bad thing as you have so much else to deal with and my thematic rationalisation is that all I do is set with the constraints of living of a balanced society. There are some small constraints in that if i can only build one starred building (Temple, Barracks, Market) in each city and the level two technology ‘Democracy’ prohibits me from attacking other cities (if only in real life....). In summary ‘Through the Ages’ feels like a Euro, Civilisation is a step closer to the dark side.

Flaws and the lack of them

I have not found any to be honest. It is, in part, a multiplayer wargame, so there is always the problem A bashes B then C bashes A and D has a right good laugh about it. There’s a steep to vertical strategy learning curve – for a four hour game this might be too much for the ‘play it twice’ and move on brigade, the flip of that is that after 3 plays and 12 hours I feel like I am scratching the surface and I want to dig deep into what this game has to offer. Another thing I have noticed slowing up play is the amount of counting trade symbols and hammers players have to do. You should be able to remember it from turn to turn but with so much else going on every turn is Groundhog Day. These are not really flaws, more reasons some people might want to steer clear of the game. I have not found the combat part of the game that exciting (apart from the end game capital city bash) , though it’s easy to grasp and does not take very long. I think given the game takes a long time to play its as good a system as could be fitted into a reasonable game length.


Fantasy Flight makes great games, but i don’t play them very often. I recognise that they are imaginative, often innovative and well produced. My problem is the subject matter – i am really not interested in the fortunes of the inhabitants of Terrinoth or the Warhammer universe, and though, for example, ‘Chaos in the Old World’is a stand out game I battle with indifference towards the’ Nurgle’ and friends. But I do care about the Egyptians, Romans and the rest, and the endless bits and pieces that accompany a big FF game make sense to me in Civilisation. I think Euro gamers whose gaming imagination is engaged by the historical and the real will enjoy civilisation – and if they have avoided FF games to date are in for epic treat. And the rest of the world you know already you are going to love this game

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