Would you like to rule a civilization?
Originally published in February 2002.
Historical note: I have played every iteration of Sid Meier's Civilization games - it is the one game franchise I always have on my computer ready to play.
Name: Sid Meier’s Civilization III
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Developer: Firaxis Games Inc.
Publisher: Infogrames Interactive Inc.
Requires: Windows 95 or higher, Pentium II 300MHz or better, 64 MB RAM (128 MB RAM recommended), 550 MB free hard disk space, Direct X 8.0-compatible video and sound cards.
Retail Price: $49.95
Street Price: $39.95
According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, addiction can be defined as a “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.” The addictive substance in question can be identified as any computer game from Sid Meier. This is most certainly true for his latest masterpiece Civilization III. For those of you not familiar with the computer game legend, Sid Meier and his nearly decade old Civilization franchise are inductees into just about everyone’s computer game Hall of Fame.
With Civilization III, Sid Meier and company have taken all they have learned from the three previous installments of their conquer the world strategy game and refined it into an elegant turn-based strategy game that is so addictive that I guarantee you will lose sleep, lose weight, and ignore your family. I say three previous installments because I consider Alpha Centauri, which takes place in the future on a colonized planet, to be part of the Civilization franchise. Sid Meier and his Civilization game defined what has become to be known in gaming circles as the 4-X game: eXplore, eXpand, eXperiement, and eXterminate. Civilization III is the new signature game of that strategy genre.
The 4-X’s explained
For those of you who may not know, the premise of any 4-X game is really quite simple in concept. Starting with one single settler, you must start a civilization, explore your surroundings and expand into new areas where new resources can be harnessed. As you expand, you must experiment with new technologies and advance the knowledge of your civilization so that it can continue to grow. Of course, there are eight or so other burgeoning civilizations trying to do the same thing. Since there can only be one supreme ruler, at some point these competing civilizations must be exterminated either by war, attrition or absorption.
While that may seem deceptively simple, the depth of Civilization III and the attention to detail famous in all Sid Meier games, makes game play quite addictive. There are so many factors to keep track of during each move – what is each city building, what land improvement is each worker performing, what resources are each citizen generating, what form of government is best for the civilization at this point, what research should be conducted, should the civilization declare war or conduct trade? These are just a few of the questions that must be answered.
As you answer each question and plan your next move, you feel compelled to go to the next turn to make sure it is working they way you wanted. However, this feeling of being compelled to see the fruits of your labor during the next move is there at the end of every move. This is where the addictive properties of Civilization III kick in. As you play, time compresses, eating and sleeping become less important and family obligations just get in the way of your world conquest.
For Civilization III, Firaxis developed a new and improved interface that simplifies a very complicated game into an elegant, everything you need at your finger-tips, advisor metaphor. Using advisor screens, players can get a handle on the various aspects of their growing civilization, such as foreign relations, economics, citizen unrest, and military status.
The in-game graphics and sounds are wonderfully depicted and add to the overall feel of playing a supreme leader. The art is colorful without being overpowering and you will seldom find yourself wondering what unit that icon is supposed to represent. All aspects of game design are top-notch. The game manual is a small book of 235 pages and will take some serious study time to read completely. But it does come with an index to help you find what you are looking for later.
The one complaint I have with Civilization III in comparison to Alpha Centauri, the third game in the series, and the other previous Civilization games, is the lack of philosophical and historical discovery. I miss the little pieces of philosophical debate that takes place in Alpha Centauri as you discovered new technology. Those little multimedia pieces served to raise the stakes on the player’s decision to use or not use a new technology. There were social and ecological consequences to exploiting resources. While there are still consequences for using a certain technology in Civilization III, they are more abstract and less severe than before.
The game is rated E-Everyone by the ESRB. Which is appropriate for the game in terms of violence I guess, but certainly this game is beyond the cognitive capabilities of most pre-teens. Or if not beyond their cognitive capabilities, certainly beyond their attention span. My apologies to the child prodigies out there of course.
Crafting a civilization
This game is the epitome of the 4-X strategy game. If you have not played a game in this genre before, Civilization III is an excellent introduction. However, be forewarned that this is not a simple game to play and it is certainly not a quick game. Action gamers will have to do some major downshifting if they want to master it.
For lovers of this genre, many of which probably bought a copy of this game the week it was released, Civilization III is really nothing new. It is the same 4-X game we know and love, done about as well as it can be done. While it may not take the genre into any new direction, it is still a worthy addition to your game library.
Sid Meier is a master craftsman of computer games. He has mentored and developed a staff of fellow game developers that follow his established principles of high quality game play. Civilization III is the capstone achievement of the series. It is an example of what can be accomplished by talented, motivated and principled game developers.