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Too many games are gimmicks or copies. They make a big splash, hang around for a few months, then fade away as they’re replaced by new fads or better-looking clones. “Civilization” is not a gimmick. Since the first version was released in 1991, it has been clearly one of the most varied and playable computer games. Its developer, Sid Meier, became the second person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences’ Hall of Fame after Nintendo founder Shigero Miyamoto. His fame is well deserved, as the original game’s turn-based exploration, construction and world conquest made it truly difficult to stop playing.
The two sequels made the game even more complex and intuitive. “Civilization III” in particular made some fundamental changes, adding the dimension of culture and making geography more important with additional natural resources.
If those were small tweaks, the brand new “Civilization IV” is a revolution. The most obvious change is in the graphics, which are finally in true 3D. The Civ world has come alive: elephants, sheep, cows and beavers wander their squares, carts come in and out of fire-spouting mines, and windmills and waterwheels turn. The appearance of cities on the map changes to accommodate growing populations and new buildings. And all of this can be seen from whatever angle or distance the player chooses. In the game’s most impressive visual feat, it’s possible to zoom in close enough to see individual houses and then, in one fluid motion, zoom out to see the planet from space.
Changes in actual gameplay are just as significant and impressive. “Civ IV” features an entirely new combat system based on strength ratings and situational bonuses rather than simple attack/defense numbers. For example, an archer has a strength of 3, but gains 50% if he is defending a city and 25% if he’s fighting from a hillside. As units gain experience, they receive “promotions” for additional situation bonuses that the player can choose. The result is a fresh, multidimensional experience that trumps the old strategy of building 200 tanks and razing everything.
Another major change is the new culture system ― most prominently the addition of religion. Although there is no material difference based on which religion is chosen, they form a new source of revenue and diplomatic pull for your state. In negotiations, other leaders will remember not only what you have done to them in the past but how you have interacted with their friends and enemies, and whether you share a religion.
Government has also been overhauled. Rather than the previous choice among five forms of government, players can now build their own governing system, mixing and matching different types of legal, labor, economic and religious systems, all with different costs and benefits. For instance, a civilization could conceivably blend hereditary rule, free speech, serfdom, state property and theocracy.
Before the game’s release, 2K Games ran a fake online support group for recovering “Civilization” addicts as tongue-in-cheek marketing. After I’d started playing again I felt as though I should join. “Civilization” is more brilliant than ever. But when you sit down after dinner to play, make sure you set an alarm to remind yourself to go to work the next day.

by Ben Applegate
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