Civilization Review

  • Vintage: 1993
  • Developer: Sid Meier/MPS Labs
  • Publisher: Microprose
  • Genre: Turn-based strategy

Sid Meier’s third solo project for Microprose (following Railroad Tycoon and Covert Action) was to make his name in the industry and spawn a franchise that spans three decades and is still going strong. It kick started a genre and opened up the strategy games market to a much wider audience.

Many believe that this seminal turned-based strategy game was based on a similar board game going by the same name produced by a gaming company called Tresham. However, Sid claims not to have played the board game before making the game, and that the name ‘Civilization’ only arrose during development. This claim is disputed by old colleagues who insist they saw him playing the game. Also, early versions of the game included information on how to order the board game. Later, Activision bought the rights to use the Civilization name from the board game’s publisher and then would attempt to sue Microprose for copyright infringement. The case was settled out of court resulting in Activision being able to use the Civilization name for their Call to Power game. Confusingly, Meier later released a board game adaptation of his video game entitled ‘Sid Meier’s Civilization’.

Originally developed for MSDOS PCs, ported to the ST in 1993. The graphics would suffer slightly at the hands of the STs 16 colour palette when compared to the VGA visuals of the original, but all of the gameplay and content made it over intact.


The year is 4000bc and your normally barbaric and nomadic tribe have decided to stop clubbing each other on the head, put down their loin cloths and get their act together. You, as their leader, must guide them through this difficult period, shepherding them through the trials and tribulations of communal living, technological advances, cut-throat revolutions and encounters with other cultures.


You start the game with a settler unit. These units are vitally important throughout the game. Initially they will build your cities and later irrigate fields for farming, mine hills and mountains to boost productivity and lay roads to transport other units and increase trade. The first thing you must do is find a good spot for your first city. The best locations have a balance of terrain types, a mixture of hills and grassland with a source of fresh water nearby. These resources will ensure that your city grows rapidly and is able to produce the improvements and units you require for further expansion.

When your city is established, you must decide what to build first. It is advisable to build a military unit as soon as possible to defend your fledgling city from barbarian invaders. Once your city is well defended you can start thinking about how to spruce the place up a little and I don’t think a few flowers and a park bench will do the job.

City improvements come in many varieties. Some will make your citizens happier (temple, colosseum) improve your units (barracks, lighthouse) or aid city growth (granary, aquaduct) amongst many other effects. Some improvements, known as ‘world wonders’ can only be built once by a single civilization and their effects are further reaching.

Expansion is ill advised if your military becomes too overstretched to defend your cities, so it is wise to build your military as your territory grows. Military units have three values: Defence Points, Attack Points and Movement Points. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on these values and train the correct units for the situation. For example, Phalanx units provide invaluable city defences early on, but will perish if used offensively – even against weaker militia units.



Early unit types
Unit Name Icon AP DP MP Description
Settler 0 1 1 Starting unit – can build cities and improve surrounding tiles.
Militia 1 1 1 initial military unit – weak but cheap and quick to train.
Phalanx 1 2 1 Good early defensive unit – use these to defend cities. Requires the bronze working advance to train this unit.
Cavalry 2 1 2 Offensive unit that can move quickly – strategically useful. Needs horseback riding.
Catapult 6 1 1 Formidable attacking unit – needs mathematics to build.

As your military might and your civilisation grow, your scientists will be busily ferreting away trying to conjure up those eureka! moments. From time to time your science advisor will inform you of a technological advance that your scientists have achieved. Each achievement allows you to build more units and improvements and unlocks the ability to research further advances.

Herein lies the crux of the game. Do you choose to develop technologies to ingratiate your populace and improve their standard of living in order to boost city growth, or do you concentrate on martial advances in order to build and train units of unequalled might to crush your enemies – taking their land and pillaging their gold? Each approach has its problems and benefits.

Eventually you will encounter other civilizations and your decisions up to this point will be held in stark contrast. If your Civilization has been developing peaceably, then you will not wish to start a war using an underpowered military and trading the advances and resources you have accrued may buy you the time or the friends you need to continue your mission of diplomacy. However, if you are more Genghis than Ghandi you may find that the time is right to strike. Veni, Vidi, Vici and all that.

Each turn you will be asked to give orders to each of your units. You can order them to move around the game map with a left click of the mouse or using the numeric keypad. Most units have specialist orders too: Settlers can build cities, irrigation, mines and roads; military units can go into sentry mode, waiting for the approach of an enemy unit or fortify, ‘digging in’ in order boost the units defence. Fortified units cannot move therefore cannot attack.

Combat is very simple. Just move the attacking unit to the same tile as the unit or city you want to attack and the ST calculates the outcome depending on various factors (ie. AP,DP,terrain defence bonuses etc.). If there are no units defending a city then you will capture it and gain access to all its recources and improvements.

As your units move around the map, they lift the ‘fog of war,’ revealing the terrain and enemy units. This means that you will not initially know what is happening around you. This adds to the feeling of suspense and exploration – “What resources will I find?” or “I wonder what Napolean is up to?”

The game’s interface is very intuitive if a little slow and sometimes unresponsive. All orders and options are available and information screens and helpful tips are frequent. If you ever need more information or are curious about any aspects of the game then the Civilopedia (an in game encyclopedia) is only a few clicks away with concise, well written help and information.


Not a lot really, sorely overlooked by the development team. Just a few (annoying) tunes played at key moments. More jarring than atmospheric.


More functional than fancy. Icons are easily distinguished and there is something quite aesthetically appealing about the game map. The intro and diplomacy screens are also well drawn.


One of the game’s biggest flaws is in the realism of combat outcomes. For example you may occasionally find your tank – bristling with weaponry and six inch thick armour – defeated by a Phalanx – some bloke in a tin hat holding a glorified tooth-pick – this is very frustrating and can spoil the feeling of immersion.

Also, the game, though generally considered historically accurate, is very U.S. centric in its approach to progress and development of technology and philosophy, yet unerringly glosses over the less attractive aspects of American progress (ie. slavery, racism and pollution amongst others).

Minor gripes aside, this game is seriously addictive. It has a ‘just one more turn’ feel that never lets up. You are always looking forward to the next civilization advance or using a new unit or discovering a new island. Ten minutes play quickly becomes an hour, and if you’re not careful then a whole day has gone and you’ve forgotten to eat. Even after you’ve finished a game, there are so many different strategic approaches to take, difficulty levels to conquer, and ways to win that you will keep coming back for more.

Review written by: StickHead


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