Civilization, I’ll stay right here!

It’s been five years since we last saw a Civ title (three if you’re counting Civ 4’s Beyond the Sword). Five long years. The game that stays the same as the decades go ’round, Civilization V is the fifth installment to Sid Meier’s Civ series. A series in which any poor bastard can stumble upon and realize that you can literally lose the track of time because you’re having too much damn fun. Now, there’s been a lot of hub-bub surrounding Civ 5, namely amongst the new folk, so hopefully I can quell some of the things going around from the perspective of someone who played more than a couple hours of the game (yes, that was an obvious put-down). End Turn.

War sometimes changes

Newcomers and old timers alike will be dazzled by the changes and the differences Civ 5 pushes out. For a quick brief through, the Civ series has always been a turn-based strategy game with a dash of sim qualities, as you run your own nation. And not just any nation, mind you, but any number of historic (and present) nations in our human history, all in a setting that allows you to answer the big “what if” questions. Like, what if I don’t encounter Montezuma early on in the game? Will he still be a bastard later on? The answer? Yes.

The Civ series works on a system of numerous factors that all tie in together for how well you can do in a game of Civ. While technology and economy management are detrimental to any successful Civ, it’s also important to keep with the times with defending your Civ with a sizable army while also expanding at the same time. This has been the tune of the Civ series since we’ve been looking at Stalin’s funny mustache. However, Civ 5 has made some pretty drastic changes to that system—so many, in fact, that the name of the game here in Civ 5 is to try and spot something they haven’t changed.

What will probably be the most recognizable is the hex system. In all previous Civ games, movement on tiles was always based on a square grid, allowing eight possible moves per tile (or points of attack). It was rather simple and to-the-point. The hex system reduces the number of possible moves to another tile to six. From an outsider’s point of view, this may seem like a drawback, but it actually fits in perfectly for the next big change to the game, which is the one-unit-per-tile rule (commonly known as 1UT in the community). That’s right folks. The stacks of doom are gone. No longer shall you be able to cheese your way to victory by stacking your entire army into an unbeatable force.

Because of the limits to movement, tile movement is all the more important and strategical, forcing players to make smart moves and plan ahead when it comes to trying to move a sizable army. Think back to historic moments in time where a large force of invaders was thwarted by a handful of defenders at a strategic choke-point. That’s right, folks. Somebody grab a hold of Gerard Butler and punt a guy into the pit of death, because now those tiles may be the deciding points in whether or not your Civ can hold off the invading Persian army.

Rather than leave it at that, I can provide you with numerous first-hand experiences at just how this plays out now. In my very first game of Civ V, I came across a city-state on a peninsula. The game often generates city-states in well-defensible positions, and this particular one had only a one-tile entrance over hilly terrain. Even though my empire had four melee armies, an archer contingent, and two triremes, the city-state was able to hold its own. This had mostly to do with the limit to warfare technology so early in the game, meaning that without specific technologies, it would be more difficult to attempt to brute force my way into victory.

Other notable examples include a desert choke pass with a one-tile entrance to my southern borders in another game. The rest of the borders were surrounded by mountains, making the one hilly entrance the only land-based way to invade my empire. After getting a Great General to build a Citadel on said tile, I was able to thwart off numerous invasions from would-be empires that attempted to destroy me at that one tile through smart planning and micromanagement.

It is clear that these two changes, amidst a sea of changes, has already drastically changed the Civ series for the better. Gone are the days of steamrolling cities with stacks of doom—you now actually have to use your brain past brute force tactics if you are expecting to make any progress in a game of Civ 5. You will now find that you will have to plan three steps ahead, much like in a game of Chess, before even making a move to ensure that what you are doing is even possible. That’s right, folks. Civ 5 now requires you to think more than it did from previous Civ games. Break out the asprin.

Going hand-in-hand with these two changes also comes along some amazing combat changes. Whereas in previous Civ games specialist armies like artillery and archers were easily steam-rolled by infantry units, Civ 5 makes unique changes to ensure that support units remain as support units instead of front-line units. Enter the era of ranged combat, which allows ranged or siege units to attack from a tile over (or, in future technologies, two tiles). This will play an especially important role in city besieging, specifically because of the limited visibility and range of melee combat with any city. However, like in previous Civ games, if a melee units comes a knockin’, say goodbye to your support unit. And you remember that age-old argument of spearman vs. tank? Yeah, those pointy stick bastards will never win a battle against units a tech higher than they are in Civ 5, which goes to say it’s the same for everything else as well.

Speaking of cities, gone are also the days of having to throw stacks of doom defenders at your cities for fear of them being captured. Because of the 1UT rule, cities no longer require a garrison to defend their selves and now work on their own siege terms when an enemy unit gets too close to their borders. This is really more a deterrent than anything else, as, just like in reality, you will need to use your own army to defend your cities. There’s also no more Blitzkrieg strategies of Kamikazing units into cities to quickly raze them before reinforcements can arrive—razing now takes x number of turns in direct correlation to the population of a city. In fact, you’re not allowed to raze capital cities at all.

Clearly on the combat aspect alone Civ 5 makes monumental improvements to the Civ series. Never before has the gameplay been so engaging when it comes to warfare. Whereas in the past it was a simple clickfest of watching your stacks of doom hit it off with other stacks of doom, Civ 5 keeps you on your feet with unit management, tactics, and overall strategy.

Plebs are needed!

Of course, not all is well for the changes in Civ 5. I wasn’t kidding when I said try and spot something that hasn’t changed. Unfortunately just about everything in empire management has changed, and not really for the better. Civics have been done away with and have been replaced with what are known as Policies. Whereas Civics allowed you to progressively choose how your empire acted according to your needs, Policies, instead, shape how your empire works. This includes focusing on providing more bonuses to your capital, or seeking early military advantages, or looking for better city-state bonuses, or trying for better cultural or research outputs. You get the picture. The problem? You can’t change them.

Instead you quickly learn the basics to Policies and which ones are the best and which ones you want to completely avoid. Of course since you can’t take back your picks, it makes it all the more troubling, especially once you realize policies are now awarded based on culture. Yes, culture, that damnable variable that spread your borders in Civ 4 like a cheap hooker. Culture now plays a much larger role now that it’s tied to Policies.

However, earning Culture has been made more difficult this turn around. For some reason the game throws at you negative bonuses for each new city you found—so much, in fact, that if you ever dream of a 15-city empire, don’t ever expect to be getting many Policies in the foreseeable future. There are, as always, offsets to this, such as buildings you can construct in cities that provide plus culture, but since city culture production has been removed, don’t expect to be doing it all that easily.

Which slides us into probably the worst change to the empire management, which is gold. Gold is now the lifeline of any Civ 5 game. Whereas in previous Civ games you could “hurry” production with gold (or even “sacrifice” population in the same way), you can now full-out purchase units and buildings with enough gold. And now that expanding your borders now only works with cities by one tile after they have reached their cultural level up, gold can also be used to extend your borders as well. And, of course, the old feature of upgrading your armies still costs gold. Then again, just about everything does.

No, I wasn’t exaggerating. Whereas gold’s use was mostly in “rushing” production or upgrading units or (namely) offsetting the research to culture production, gold now factors into everything as every building you construct in a city now has an upkeep cost. Every road also has an upkeep cost. Every tile improvement ALSO has an upkeep cost. Christ, I think there’s a fee you have to pay for just saying the word upkeep. And since foreign trade has been axed, good luck getting a working economy put together in your later stages when you’re rocking out to fifteen cities.

There are offsets to the staggering inflation, but it’s a little ridiculous to find every single thing you construct in a city to have an upkeep. In a way this challenges players to return to the days when cities in the Civ series were more specific and played out to be “specialist” cities. Whereas in Civ 4 every city could be an army mass-producing, Hollywood record-dealing, Ironworks industry-workin’, Wall Street money-busting city, cities in Civ 5 must be carefully managed to what you expect them to be doing specifically or else you’ll quickly find yourself tipping into the red.

All of this pales into comparison to the last change to the empire management—happiness. Apparently someone took that Guy Fawkes movie to heart, because I sure as shit fear my people when they’re not happy. Happiness is now the key element to existing, living, breathing, and shitting comfortably in Civ 5. Whereas happiness in previous Civ games worked mostly as fluff, it is absolutely detrimental to the very fiber of your empire’s existence in Civ 5. If the empire is unhappy, not only is production reduced in cities, but so is gold production, research, culture, and even your damn military fights at piss-poor strength. All of the sudden luxury resources become the uranium deposits of the world.

And yes, I did say empire. Happiness no longer works for each individual city, but as a total value over the entire empire. This, in my opinion, is perhaps the worst feature to the game. You will find yourself quickly having to trade surplus luxury resources with other players just to keep your empire happy, all the while trying to manage whether or not you can afford to build that damn coliseum or else it may throw your economy into the red.

This was painfully clear to me in one game of Domination, where only two Civs remained and we were all sitting on fifteen or sixteen cities. The population was unbearable and the evolutions in technology only allowed people to breed like rabbits. Each of us were depending on each other through the luxury resource trade. When I was getting ready to make war against one of them, I realized that by declaring war on them would cancel all of my luxury trade with them and send the empire happiness into the red, thus making my military units quite ineffective. Wars should be fought over personal grudges or resources and not clams and silk.

Overall you will find that the empire management aspect in Civ 5 has drastically changed to a challenging level (and a few eyebrow-raising changes). You will constantly ask yourself why the game insists on pushing you for trying to do what you are supposed to do in any Civ game, which is expand. But since there are so many negative bonuses to just doing exactly that, it would seem that playing on anything past a Standard-sized map is just asking for a world of headache trouble when it comes to empire management. Then again, maybe they were trying to mimic reality just a little bit too much on this one.

Your head would look good on the end of a pole

What’s a game of Civ without a bit of diplomacy? Civ 5 apparently. Joking aside, diplomacy has always been perhaps the most fun (and dynamic) aspect of the Civ series. Just being able to get George Washington and Mahatma Ghandi in the same room sounds like a kitsch idea, but you immediately see how awesome it is when Ghandi threatens to pillage your farms and families if you keep attacking his friend (what ever happened to that whole pacifism thing you bastard). Unfortunately diplomacy has seemed to have taken a pretty big hit in Civ 5.

Right off the bat you will find the lack of outlook modifiers missing, meaning that you will be thoroughly puzzled as to when or why a Civ may be unhappy (or happy) with you. Specifically the more traditional modifiers, such as having the same Civics, being brothers-in-arms, gifting them things, “trade has been forthright,” etc. have all been removed. Instead every Civ immediately assesses you as a threat based on three major values—your strength, your culture, and your luxury resources. Yes, I did say luxury resources. Did you not understand earlier just how important it is to keep your empire happy?

Anyway, it’s a pretty safe bet you won’t find Civs picking a fight with you if you’re too powerful or, specifically, if you’re too weak. That’s right. If a Civ doesn’t see you as that much of a threat, then they’re likely to ignore you the entire game. This can prove quite quirky for some specific winning conditions, such as scientific, diplomatic, and cultural victories. If you’re not threatening that Civ, then they’re pretty much okay with you building a spaceship to Alpha Centauri.

Other than that Civs are pretty predictable. When they come to you asking to join with them to fight a war against another Civ and you refuse, they won’t much care, but they’ll declare war ten turns later on that Civ 100% guaranteed. Of course if you go in with them relations will be on good terms for the duration, but as soon as you capture an enemy’s city, they’ll turn around and start calling you a “war monger.” Relations can turn around that quickly for no odd reason. And since there’s no way to tell why or how, you’re just left sort of confused as to how you go about your business.

Business with Civs has changed a bit, but to what end it’s a mystery. You can form Pacts of Cooperation with other Civs, which is sort of like…I dunno, a “let’s be friends” agreement? It has no apparent values or changes to any variables in the game. A Pact of Secrecy works much in the same way, which is you agree to “secretly” work against another Civ. What variables are changed based on this agreement is again invisible and not noticeable. I’m not even convinced it actually does anything really. I’ve had Pacts of Secrecy against every Civ at one time and nothing ever came of it.

Trade agreements have changed. They’re no longer permanent, for one, and they can’t be canceled (although the AI has found a way to cancel them when they want, so kudos on them). This proves to be more of a nuisance than anything else, as you have to constantly look at Caesar’s stupid Super Cut when he asks you for the umpteenth time to renew your Open Borders agreement. Technology trading, on the other hand, now works in a completely different way, as you are no longer able to trade specific technologies any longer. Instead you work on what is called a “Technology Agreement,” which, after thirty turns, has you providing the opposing Civ with a random tech they don’t have and they to you a random tech you don’t have. The best part to the agreement? It costs a boatload of money just to enact it. Oh, and it can be canceled.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, and its name is city-state. City-states work much like mini-Civs on a one city challenge. City-states are more so there for your benefit than anything else and they’re often placed near luxury and strategic resources. Once you reach a “friend” influence with them, those resources will be provided to you as a bonus. And once you’re allies with them, they’ll go to war with you. Of course the magic to city-states and influence is that it’s bought with (you guessed it) gold, adding yet another notch to how huge a role gold plays in Civ 5. However, you can also earn influence by completing “missions” a specific city-state wants you to undertake. This can range from destroying another city-state to completing a wonder, which adds an interesting aspect to what is otherwise a sandbox game.

In the long run, however, city-states are probably one of the best gold investments. You see, city-states have different designations to them. They are either maritime, cultural, or militaristic, and based on their designation, they provide a bonus to your Civ after a set number of turns when you’re allied with them—a free unit from military city-states, plus food to all of your cities from maritime city-states, and a culture boost from cultural city-states. Essentially if you’re ever down on your luck, city-states can turn it around in a way.

This especially rings true when I’m dominating everyone’s face as the Greeks (surprised?). You see the Greeks have the awesome Civ ability that slows down the degradation of city-state relationships. When I couple this with a Policy tree focused around city-states, then I find myself being able to earn influence easier and hold it longer, as well as receive greater bonuses from my allies as well as the often Great Person. Forget trying to make nice with other Civs—just ally yourself with about five or six city-states and no one will mess with you.

However, city-states cannot forgive the abhorrent lack of diplomacy in Civ 5. I find most games in Civ 5 are reduced to marking down the date on your calendar when the inevitable time comes when an opposing Civ declares war on you, which is essentially what the Civs pretty much do in every game, declaring war every other turn, making peace on the other, and then repeating the mess all over again. It happens so often in such a frequency that it becomes clear the AI isn’t interested in making friends at all.

Are you ready for a war, lads!?

While Civ 5 is missing some aspects that have previously defined the Civ series (namely diplomacy) as well as others that were pretty neat (espionage, civics), the combat changes in Civ 5 weigh heavily on the scale for the scope of the game. That is to say that you will find your Civ fix in Civ 5, and not only will you get your junkie blood going, but it’ll finally be fun to do so with the changes to combat gameplay. However, this can be weighed down heavily by empire management changes, as the learning curve can be steep to newcomers (and even to old timers), especially if you’re not a fan of how things work now on that aspect.

It’s a Civ title, alright, but it’s probably the first Civ title to appear polished. The art deco approach gives the Civ series style, and the specific rule set changes have also defined it as its own quirky game of checks and balances. Gone are the sandbox days as the Civ series finally presents itself like a game of Chess rather than a box set of plastic figurines that you set on a table and knock over in mass. The title is solid, despite its shortcomings, which makes it a definite plus in my books. Hours of time will be wasted, you will lose the track of time, and you’ll scratch at your face to find it unshaven, just like you did in previous Civ titles, but you’ll still be asking for one more turn…

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

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