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CIVILIZATION

Reviewed by Selwyn Ward

CIVILIZATION (Gibsons Games, 2 to 7, ages 12 and up, 4 to 8 hours; about £46)

 

If you mention the game Civilization to most people, they immediately think of Sid Meier. It was Sid Meier whose name is above the title on the first and most subsequent versions of the all-conquering computer and video game, now in its umpteenth edition. The computer game has led to board game editions, most of which also bear Sid Meier’s name, as with the Fantasy Flight Games’ recent Civilization: A New Dawn. Sid Meier’s name has become so closely identified with Civilization that it has become part of the brand name regardless of how large or small his actual role in the creation of that edition.

In fact, however, the first Civilization board game predates Sid Meier’s involvement by a clear decade. Civilization was actually designed by Frances Tresham. The first edition of the game was published by Hartland Trefoil in 1980. A year or so later, Avalon Hill republished the game in an edition that was perhaps the best known. In the UK, Gibsons first published their version in 1988. It wasn’t until 1991 that the first Sid Meier computer version of the game appeared, written to run on a PC in MS-DOS.

                                                          The NEW Gibson Games edition

Though his name has been eclipsed over the years, Frances Tresham maintained his involvement in the development of the board game which he originally designed. His name was credited in the design of the famously massive wooden box edition of Mega Civilization, published in 2015 by 999 Games. This was a version so large that it accommodated up to 18 players and required a surface the size of a billiard table to lay out all the mapboards. It also had a playing time that could easily run to 12 hours or more. If you missed it, a not quite so “mega” Mega Civilization is due to be published by 999 Games later this year: a version aimed at up to 9 players, taking up less room, less time and probably packaged in a more modest cardboard box.

If you want to get back to basics though, Gibsons have gone retro and published their own new edition of the original 1980s game. It’s just arriving in games stores in the UK. I don’t know what the plans are for distribution in the US.

Coming to this original version of Civilization having played any of the Sid Meier computer games, you will immediately recognise many very familiar features that you’ll only now appreciate originated with Frances Tresham’s board game. Indeed, Civilization introduced several elements that have become integral features of most “4X” (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) games, including the “tech tree” where players advance their civilizations by developing technology.

                 The first Avalon Hill edition

This Gibsons original version of Civilization is not really a 4X game, however. You are expanding and exploiting territory but there is no exploration and, though there is likely to be some combative competition for territory, this is not a game where you will be seeking to exterminate other players.

The game is engrossing but Civilization is not a title that’s designed for casual play. The rules incorporate a simplified version that you should be able to complete in under 2 hours and a “shortened version” that is likely to take about 4 hours. However, you will need to set aside a whole day for a full unexpurgated game.The game includes rules for 2–7 players but it probably shouldn’t be played with fewer than four and, like Diplomacy (another title published in the 1980s by Gibsons), Civilization is at its best with the full complement of seven. The set up allows for some variability because the seven factions can be selected from the nine available. Victory is achieved by advancing your civilization ahead of your rivals. Players can co-exist in the same territories provided that the land can support the number of units present. If the total exceeds the capacity of the territory, then the units will battle. There are no dice: conflict is resolved by a simple process of attrition, each party removing a unit in turn until the total is within the capacity of the land.

It’s great to see such a classic game given a new lease of life. It shows that you don’t need plastic minis to hold players’ attention. That said, Civilization does show its age. Gibsons have given this edition new artwork but the garish colours of the map are reminiscent of the Diplomacy board and may look unsophisticated to modern gamers. The cards are thin but serviceable. What most lets down this new edition of the game, however, is that the rulebook still looks like it hails from the 1980s. This is not an overly complicated game but the rules are presented as dense text with less illustration than players have nowadays come to expect. A more modern updated rulebook, with, for example, a fully illustrated set up, would have given this edition a huge boost.

That gripe aside, this Civilization deserves to be more widely seen and more widely played, so this new edition is very welcome. Gibsons have some other great titles in their back catalogue (we’re looking at you Kingmaker!) so let’s hope this reprint presages more to come. – – – Selwyn Ward


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