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Posted on Oct 6, 2010 in Electronic Games

Sid Meier’s Civilization V – PC Game Review

By Doctor Sinister

Sid Meier’s Civilization V. PC Game. Developed by Firaxis. Published by 2K Games. $49.99.

Passed Inspection: A beautifully rendered addition to one of the most well-known PC games series, this is engaging, entertaining and utterly addictive.

Failed Basic: The AI is a little erratic and can swing from one extreme to another, issuing cutting insults one moment and grovelling apologies the next.

This is a game that seeps into your very pores and won’t let go.

It is dark within my secret command centre as I study the map of the world laid out before me. I chuckle to myself as I lazily scroll around the planet’s surface with my mouse and keyboard. There’s my capital city, London of course, complete with its famous pyramids and the Great Lighthouse, and over to the Northwest is the continent of Germany, a land which has been under my rule now for over two hundred years. The fools thought they could stop me by building the Great Wall, but they were mistaken.


To the south, the ancient lands of Egypt lie prostrate before my all conquering forces. I recall that they hadn’t stood much of a chance against my Musketmen fifty years previously, and nor had the American cities of Boston and Seattle on yet another chunk of land to the East. I conquered those lands from the Inca people, who had unfortunately managed to eradicate my American allies not long before. Of course, I would have betrayed them eventually anyway, but we did have some rather lucrative trade deals going at the time.

Finally, I scroll to observe the Eastern border where my troops surround the land of the Aztecs, and I take a quick look at the date. It’s 1820, and I’ve just invented flight.

To anybody who is new to the Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise (Civ’ to its friends), this sort of slightly twisted account of history is quite normal. This popular series lets a player taking control of the destiny of a chosen people from the stone ages right through to the near future, leading them to ultimate victory through military domination, cultural supremacy or simply by surviving long enough.

After a simply … astounding … full-motion video opening sequence, players have numerous choices at the outset of a game, ranging from which country they wish to represent, (China, France, Greece, etc.); who their opponents will be; the size of map they wish to play on, which includes a neat "duel" size (two players only) for shorter games; and the type of terrain they will encounter; and eight difficulty levels ranging from Settler to Deity.

These settings effect the length of the game a player wishes to undertake. Duel games could take just a few hours, whereas embarking on a domination campaign set on a huge world might keep a player engaged for weeks.

Game play takes place on an isometric view of the world; unexplored areas are blanked out with a cloud-like fog of war that simply begs to be investigated to uncover its secrets. Starting with a single Settler, players must found their initial city, commence research to develop their culture and build improvements to the city, or train warriors and settlers to conquer new lands and found new cities across the planet. Workers can be trained to maximise the potential of surrounding lands, and it’s even possible to build Wonders of the World, which will have impacts on cultural influence and production. Unfortunately, whereas Civ’ IV showed lovely animated videos of your Wonders, Civ’ V only shows a still picture.

Area tiles in Civ’ V are hex-shaped, like in a traditional wargame, not square-shaped as in previous editions in the series. These hexes often offer up abundant resources, sometimes unique to the area, and cities may be founded in suitable tiles. In order to advance through the ages of man, these resources must be mined, traded, and spent. Research must be undertaken, production must be enhanced and enemies must be defeated if a player’s chosen race is to overcome the odds and emerge victorious.

Often, players are forced to go to war simply to gain control of a vital strategic resource—and sometimes, they will fail because they lack the very thing they are fighting to obtain (upgrading troops to the most modern technology available is essential).

Alternatively, diplomacy may be required with other nations to set up trade deals, engage in research pacts or to stir up trouble elsewhere. Diplomacy is usually fun, although the AI can be erratic. Once, when I had the leader of the Ottoman Empire on the ropes, he offered me four of his five remaining cities and nearly all of his gold and other resources if I agreed to not attack him for 10 turns, which was nice, but rather excessive. I accepted, of course, and simply finished him off 10 turns later.

To those familiar with the series, this all sounds pretty familiar, but there are some important changes in Civ’ V that will alter strategies.

Cities still expand and spread their culture within a border around where they are founded, but now they expand intelligently, not uniformly. Resource-rich tiles will be chosen for expansion over less rich ones. More often than not, players will be forced to buy additional land with collected gold to ensure the expansion of their empire.

Those new hex-shaped tiles now only hold one military unit at a time. There is no more stacking of units; players will have fewer military units available at any one time, so considered thought, not brute force, is the order of the day. This prompts the clever use of flanking tactics and ranged attacks

What was that? Yes, I said ranged attacks. This is new to the Civ’ series, and it’s fantastic. Right from the earliest ranged unit, the Archer, players can layer their forces in depth, with ranged units able to fire over the heads of other units directly on the front lines. And ranged offshore fire support from a battleship or destroyer against a city can be utterly devastating. You get a real sense of a proper siege when an enemy city is surrounded and being pummelled from all sides, but be careful: even if your enemy neglected to garrison any troops inside the city, it can still fire back! This is another innovation in Civilization V.

The concept of roads has also changed. Whereas before merely linking the cultural borders between two of a player’s cities would mean those two cities were trading, it’s now necessary to establish trading routes between cities with a road, or later a harbour if they are on the coast. To a degree, this means that cities are functioning independently until they are linked up. There’s some satisfaction to be had in creating a connecting network to increase revenue, but some may find it a little tedious that roads tend to be the last thing to which a Worker will give priority.

However, players no longer need to construct transport ships to ferry armies to distant lands. Troops can now embark into the water on their own. This makes moving divisions around the planet much easier, although I confess I used to quite enjoy the logistical side of things when I played Civilization IV.

The addition of city-states to the game adds an element of intrigue. No longer are players merely facing other nations, be they computer controlled or handled by another real person online. Now there are also other single-city nations, which do not expand but will often be found clinging to the coastline. These city-states often give rewards of gold, food, even military units depending on how they feel at the time. Players can undertake missions for these city-states or conquer them outright, but beware—picking on city-states can lead to one’s downfall. If a player takes on too many, the remainder will ally together or even with another race against your nation and seek its destruction.

Finally, there are the social policies adopted by a player’s chosen people. In Civ’ IV, it was necessary to completely ditch one social policy to adopt another, but here things are dealt with a little more intelligently. Social policies follow different branches and, with a few notable and logical exceptions, several can be active at the same time. They can also be enhanced, and this gives the impression of an evolving society in a less blunt way than in previous versions.

So what do I think of Civilization V? Well, there’s an obvious improvement in eye candy—the game’s graphics look absolutely sumptuous—but it’s how a game plays that really excites me.

I have decided some games really ought to come with government health warnings—not because they are particularly violent or bloody, but because of the effect they can have on one’s wellbeing, as addicted players finally crawl into bed at 3 AM, bleary eyed, their heads still full of strategies and intrigue.

This is the effect that Civilization V has had on me over the past couple of weeks. My marriage has suffered, I can’t concentrate at work properly and my dreams are filled with images of vast armies marching across maps of the world. Okay, so that last one tends to happen to me anyway—I’m that sort of person. But in the last fortnight I have at times awoken with a start as a sudden thought occurred to me. I’ve taken to keeping a notepad at my bedside to record these random thoughts so I can act on them later.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way, because this is exactly what’s happened to me with every iteration of the Civilization series since I picked up a copy of Civ’ II back in 1996.

Do sleepless nights and nightmares make Civ’ V a bad game? No, they make it an exceptionally good one, because this is a game that seeps into your very pores and won’t let go.

There are some unfortunate bugs in this new release, however. For example I am currently unable to finish one game in which I selected Domination as my sole victory category; it seems I can’t own more than 69 cities. I understand the developers are looking at this glitch.

In addition, I would urge players to make sure their PC is man enough for the job of running the game. My PC exceeds the minimum specs, but on huge maps it still struggles. You’ll want to make sure your graphics card drivers are up to date as well.

Bugs aside, Sid Meier’s Civilization V is a game of epic scope and strategy, and I recommend it to anyone who hates sleep.

Armchair General Rating: 94%

About the Author:
Doctor Sinister is the online pseudonym of Armchair General’s previous Military History Editor, Andrew Summersgill. Andrew and his alter ego somehow manage to inhabit the same body, which is probably why, between them, they never get any sleep. Andrew has written more than 100 articles for the Armchair General website

Aside from, or perhaps because of, his desire to achieve total world domination, Andrew is just a typical bespectacled British person with more hobbies and interests than can possibly be good for his wallet. These include a lifelong fascination and obsession with the British TV SF series Doctor Who, and a large collection of LEGO bricks.

He will often be seen at LEGO events in the UK building spaceships and tanks from plastic bricks and flying them around the room making swooshing noises. Do not approach him.


  1. Very nice review, doctor! Makes me want to pick up a copy and try it out, which is a good thing.

  2. I own a couple of these games…….they are the worst games out there.
    Send me a SASE and $2 and you can have both. Yuk.

  3. I find Civ V wanting. There are so many elements they could have kept from Civ IV that they didn’t. You can’t trade technologies anymore and so far I can’t seem to extort lesser AI countries into paying me anything. I miss the religious aspect as well and traffic jams abound when dealing with one army per tile. Ranged units should at least be allowed to have a unit capable of defending them in the same hex. That being said the game is well laid out and most of the problems go away with playing against other humans. I found the AI to be erratic as well when I was considered by several other countries as “bloodthirsty” after attacking just one city-state (city states was a good idea). In the current game I got attacked by one nation and then the next turn by two others on the far side of the map and once I reduced the one that attacked me down to just 2 cities he surrendered offering me his only other city. The next turn the other two countries offered peace at humiliating terms in spite of them only losing a few units. This game has a lot of work to be done on it and I hope the mods can fix things. There is already a mod I’m about to try that allows more than one unit per hex.

  4. I found the game to be garbage. Waste of money. The game ran slow and I have a brand new u beaut computer. I have adsl2 and it took 7.5 hrs to download the game which used 9GB. What sort of S**t is that. I played it once and I found it so lacking I would rather go back and play civ 3. There was no advance in the game only backward steps and I to like building huge navy’s to conquer foreign land. If they wanted to design a game that was meant to be played on small scale between 2 real people they could have done it better and not sullied the good civilisation name. I tried to sell it back to some shops but they wouldn’t have it. Doesn’t sell. Don’t buy this garbage.


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