I had no idea what I was doing when I bought “Civilization II” many years ago, but I have been influenced by the series ever since. So whenever a new “Civilization” is out, I try to get my hands on it as soon as possible.
There has been a lot of talk about the changes Firaxis made with the new game. Ever since the very first one (the only “Civilization” I never played), the world of “Civilization” has been made up of squares (so was the world of “Alpha Centauri”, the unofficial “Civilization” made by Firaxis when they didn’t have the licence for a new game from Microprose). This means eight adjacent tiles for every tile you look at (as the diagonals count). The new game now deals with hexagonal tiles instead, taking the number of adjacent tiles down to six. The hexagonal tiles give the game a more realistic look, though (who has ever heard of square forests?) and make the city influence zones look more natural, too. (In addition, the growth of the zones can be influenced by the player now, by buying tiles they’d like to acquire for a city.)
Another big change is the new battle system. Military units can no longer be stacked on a tile. While the games before allowed for various military units to stay on the same tile, only one unit can occupy one tile now. The only exception is the combination of one military unit and one civilian unit (settler, worker, great person) for protection of the civilian unit. Cities have a defensive strength now, meaning you have to take the city’s defences down before you can take it over. Ranged units (such as archers or siege weapons) can shoot over one tile, meaning you can and should place them in the second row. Once you have taken a city’s defence down, you can choose to annex it or turn it into a puppet. The first choice will turn the city over to you completely, meaning you will treat it like your own cities in the future (decide about what’s going to be constructed, buy tiles for the city and so on). This makes people more unhappy than becoming a puppet (they generate money and culture for you and their populace is added to your civilization, but the city itself stays independent), so you might to decide on making it a puppet first – you can annex it later on, if you wish. You can still dig in (take up a defensive stance) when your units are damaged, you can still upgrade the units and they will gain experience points that can be invested in bonuses (better health, fighting abilities and so on). Units can now embark, once you’ve done the necessary research, so you do not need to create transports for them.
City-states are another change in the gameplay. Sooner or later you will find cities with a striped border instead of a border in just one colour. Those are city-states which do not belong to any civilization. They will not grow and they will not create new cities, but they can be extremely useful. You can ally yourself with them and gain diplomatic victory that way, because their voice counts in the United Nations (which you can build and then become head of). They might also give you a unit every now and then and they will go to war with everyone you go to war with. To ally yourself with a city-state usually includes gifting a few units or some gold (1,000 gold will do the trick almost every time) or completing a mission (like elimination of a barbarian camp close to the city-state or creating a certain wonder).
Religion and political systems have been taken out of the game. You no longer decide on one religion and one system for your civilization. Instead, you have the choice of ten social policy branches (tradition, liberty, honour, piety patronage, commerce, rationalism, freedom, order, autocracy), each of which comes with a host of five effects you can buy with culture points. Those effects can be for your cities (more food to make them grow faster, for instance), for units (like more health or better attack stats) or for more happiness. If you have completely bought up five social policy branches, you can achieve cultural victory by building the Utopia Project.
Apart from that you can still win by domination (eliminate all other civilizations), by science (be the first to build a spaceship) or by points at the end of the game (every game has a natural end).
I started the game and was immersed in it after only a few minutes, as despite the changes it still was “Civilization” over all. Turn for turn (that’s something that can’t change – you can’t control ten or more cities and a huge number of units in real time) I was taking control of a continent, being diplomatic, going to war, building up an empire. I made friends and allies out of city-states, eliminated two civilizations (well, the first one went to war first, I just had better units) and achieved diplomatic victory as head of the UN in the end. The ‘just one more turn’ feeling was back almost immediately and I started to enjoy looking at the large gathering of troops on my map. Seeing a long line of troops advancing towards an enemy city instead of just a stack moving from tile to tile makes it feel a lot more ‘real’. And, of course, it’s a lot easier to scare your enemy with it… (And with the Gigantic Death Robot you can build towards the end of the game.)
The new “Civilization” is very much like the old “Civilization”, only better and with new features. It’s exactly the kind of game I hoped for and it will keep me occupied for a long time, that much is for sure.