Game Buzz – Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game

When I was in college, my parents got a sampler CD that featured previews of a number of games available for Mac.  I went through most of them, and found a few that I really liked.  Chief among them was Civilization II.  It was only a demo, and I was a little ticked when I couldn’t play anymore.  At around that time, Civilization III was about to come out, and I got myself a copy.  I wasted SO MUCH TIME on that game.  I’d be playing in my dorm room and look at the clock, only to see that it was 3:30 in the morning and I had forgotten to go to bed.  And I would keep playing because it was THAT ADDICTIVE.

Making the system into a board game is nothing new.  In fact, Sid Meier was inspired by a board game, also called Civilization (designed by Francis Tresham and published in 1980) when designing his PC game.  Since then, a few designers have tried turning the PC game back into a board game.  In 2002, Eagle Games came out with Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game, designed by Glenn Drover.  In 2006, Vlaada Chvátil came out with Through The Ages: A Story of Civilization, which was indirectly based on the computer game.  Now it’s 2010, and a completely new game is coming out from Fantasy Flight.

Cover - image by BGG user Surya

Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game (to be referred to as Civilization from here on) was designed by Kevin Wilson.  It is not a new edition of the 2002 version, it is a new game.  Published by Fantasy Flight, the game is for 2-4 players, plays in three hours, and is for ages 13 and up.  In the game, you’ll be leading a historical civilization as it develops, trying to become the greatest.  The game covers centuries of history, and there’s opportunities to develop technology, culture, military, economy, knowledge, and wonders.

This is one of those licensed board games that has the potential to attract nongamers.  However, at this moment (before looking at the rules), I feel that it will scare those nongamers away.  Much like another FF licensed title (Battlestar Galactica), I think this will probably more of a gamers experience than a casual Civilization fan will want.  But we’ll see.

Since this is a Fantasy Flight game, there’s a bunch of stuff, including (deep breath) a 32-page rulebook (which includes a two-page ad for the Civilization V PC game), a market board, six civilization sheets, six trade dials, six economy dials, six plastic connectors for the dials, six home map tiles, 14 neutral map tiles, 12 city markers, 24 plastic army figures, 8 plastic scout figures, one plastic Russian army figure, 55 square combat cards (artillery, infantry, mounted, aircraft, and combat bonus), 224 TINY CARDS (setup, government, tech, space flight, culture event, and wonder), 12 wonder markers, six culture level markers, 18 great person markers, 28 military tech markers, 49 building markers (harbor, trading post, workshop/iron mine, library/university, granary/aquaduct, market/bank, temple/cathedral, barracks/academy), 20 hut markers, 10 village markers, 12 disaster markers, one first player marker, 16 market resource tokens, 90 culture tokens, 28 wound tokens, 75 coin tokens, and 4 reference sheets (gasp).  I love how Fantasy Flight does their rulebooks because, while this component list takes up half a page, the next 4.5 pages show and describe the components.  It’s a nice touch.

4-player Setup - image by BGG user thinwhiteduke

Players all start with a random civilization.  Your choices are the Americans (USA! USA!), Chinese, Egyptians, Germans, Romans, and the Russians.  You can also choose which one you want if everyone agrees.  Each player gets six army and two scout figures, as well as a capital and two city markers, four military tech markers, a deck of 36 tech cards, four government cards, a reference sheet, and a setup card.  The market board is set up with unit cards, military tech markers, building markers, wonder markers, culture event cards, and culture level markers.  The map is set up with each player laying out their home tile (which has your civilization’s leader on the back) in a certain place, and then laying out six, seven, or twelve map tiles (with 2, 3, or 4 players respectively) face down in a particular pattern.  This is cool to me since one of the most interesting parts of the PC game is going out and exploring unknown lands.

The start player is the one who can trace their family back the farthest (or chosen randomly).  Players place their capitals on one of the center squares on their home tile.  This is the City Center, and the eight surrounding squares are the outskirts.  Each civilization gets a bonus to start – America gets a random great person (USA! USA!), China gets walls around its capital, Egypt gets a random ancient wonder, Germany gets two extra infantry units, Rome begins as a Republic rather than a Despotism, and Russia gets the white Russian army figure.  All civilizations place one of their army figures and their scout in one or two of the outskirts spaces.  Each player draws their starting tech card (not random – it is set at the beginning), and set up their government stack so Depotism or Republic (for Rome) is on top.  You’ll set the trade dial based on the trade symbols in the outskirts, and sets their economy dial to zero.

On a turn, there are five phases – the start of the turn, trade, city management, movement, and research.  Every player will complete every phase, and every phase will be completed by everyone before moving to the next phase.  At the start of your turn, the first player marker passes to the left (except in the first turn).  Each player, in order, performs start of turn actions if able, builds any new cities, and changes governments if they want.

Once all players have finished their start of turn phase, it’s time for trade.  You collect trade from each of your city outskirts, increasing your trade dial.   You can also negotiate with the other players if you want, offering points of trade, unspent culture tokens, resource tokens, culture event cards, or even non-binding promises.  This phase is completed simultaneously, unlike the previous phase which happened sequentially.

Next is the city management phase.  Here, you get one action for each of your cities.  Each player will take all of their actions before the next player goes.  City actions include item production (including buildings and units), gaining culture by devoting to yourself to the arts, or harvest a resource.

In the movement phase, you will move any of your units that are on the board according to your travel speed.  Your speed starts at two, but can be increased as the game goes on.  You can flip one map tile face up if you have a figure standing right next to it and if you spend a movement point.  each tile has an arrow, and that arrow should be facing away from the unit that flipped the tile.  You can also explore huts and villages that you find in unexplored territories by ending your movement there.  Huts are absorbed by your civilization, and you earn whatever is on the flip side of the token.  Villages will attempt to fight you off, with an opponent playing the barbarians.  You’ll also get into a fight if you enter a space with enemy units (unless they’re scouts, who die instantly).  Other fights will happen if you enter enemy cities.

The last phase of a turn is the research phase.  Here, you can learn one new tech by spending trade points.  This phase is also done simultaneously.

There are four ways to win the game.  One way is by gaining a certain amount of culture.  Another is by researching Space Flight.  Another is by gaining 15 coins on your economic dial.  Another is by conquering another player’s capital city.  And that’s the game.

Reading through the rules, I am really flashing back to my time playing Civ.  From the discovering of unexplored territories, to wheeling and dealing with opposing leaders, to encountering enemies and barbarians, to the multiple paths to victory, it really seems like a fantastic adaptation of the computer model.  Obviously, there are several things they can’t do.  In Civ, you could only see two spaces ahead (unless you were on a hill).  Here, you’ll be flipping a whole tile, meaning that you get 16 spaces at once.  It’s also hard to simulate roving barbarians and to completely randomize the terrain.  However, Kevin Wilson always does a great job with his designs and I’m sure this one will be just fine.

This game also seems to do a better job of emulating the PC game than Through the Ages.  Now, TTA was not necessarily an adaptation of the PC game.  It was inspired by Sid Meier’s game and has a bunch of similarities, but TTA was ostensibly a card game.  I haven’t played TTA either, but I’d be interested to see a side-by-side comparison of the two.  From what I hear, Eagle’s Civ: The Board Game from 2002 was pretty terrible, so I don’t care about a comparison there.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really interested to play this game sometime when I have 3-4 hours to spare.  You can read more at BGG.  The game is $60 if you’re interested in purchasing.  Thanks for reading, and insert clever tagline here.

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