Eleven Game Changers: Civilization

Time for part IV in my series of board games that changed the hobby, and possibly even had a far reaching impact outside of the hobby. So far, we’ve looked at Acquire (1962), Dungeons & Dragons (1974), and Cosmic Encounter (1977). We move now to 1980, and the game of

image by BGG user garyjames

Civilization was a game designed by British designer Francis Tresham and originally published by Hartland Trefoil. It was one of the first, and remains one of the most highly regarded, games in the genre of ancient civilizations.

Francis Tresham was already a well-regarded designer when Civilization came out. His first game, 1829, was the first entry into what has come to be known as the 18xx series – train games with a heavy economic emphasis. I probably could have based an entry into this series on that – 18xxers often don’t want to play anything else, so 1829 was incredibly significant to them. However, I think Civilization made an impact beyond the tabletop hobby, so we’re talking about this one instead.

After the initial publication in 1980, Avalon Hill bought the rights to the game and published a first edition in 1981, and another in 1982. An expanded and reworked edition of the game titled Advanced Civilization came out from Avalon Hill in 1991. 2015 saw the release of Mega Civilization from 999 Games and Pegasus Spiele. This edition allowed for play by 18 people (as opposed to 7 in the original game), and is listed as taking 360-720 minutes – that’s 6-12 hours.

Avalon Hill edition – image by BGG user Darthlord
image by BGG user Purple
image by BGG user nevesmat

This is not a game that I have played, so this (admittedly brief) overview is all hearsay. Each player chooses one of the seven ancient civilizations and starts in that location on the map. Players will be spending turns paying taxes, expanding across the board, moving existing units, attacking, building cities, drawing trade cards, buying civilizations advances, and resolving calamities. As you build out, you want to get your population up so when you start bumping up against other civilizations, you’re going to be at an advantage. The more cities you get, the more technologies you’ll have access to and the more efficient you can be. In the end, you want to be the first one to reach the end of the score track, which means you have successfully advanced through the Late Iron Age and are the best civilization.

I apologize that this is a major oversimplification of the game mechanisms, but there’s no way I’m going into all the details of a 6-8 hour game. Instead, I want to talk a little bit about what makes this a Game Changer. For one thing, this game really established the civilization game as a legitimate genre. In an era of gaming where most of the strategy games that were coming out were war themed, this was a game that was about building up, trading, and some cooperation. Yes, war is an element of the game, but if that’s all you focus on, you’re not going to do well. This multilayered focus later grew into what we now know as 4X games – eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate.

This game is also notable in that it is frequently pointed to as the inventor of the tech tree. A technology tree is basically where you get a technology, and then having that technology allows you to get better technologies. This idea has been expanded on in many many other games, notably the Civilization computer game series designed by Sid Meier (which was inspired by the board game). But there are a ton of other computer and board games out there that use tech trees, and you can trace them all back to this one.

Civilization was really a game unlike any that people had previously seen. It came out, and had a major effect on the gaming landscape. It really was a Game Changer, and it’s one I should probably try someday if only to say I have.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading!


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