GLOBAL – It’s 1100 AD and Mahatma Gandhi has just launched a surprise attack. He’s overrun New Orleans, my second largest city, with his Pikemen. My own army is badly outdated after centuries of peace, so there’s no chance of me taking it back by force any time soon.
I try diplomacy. But Gandhi’s price for peace is that I give him the hard-won secrets of gunpowder, the latest invention from my boys in the lab. It doesn’t seem like a smart move to give the latest in military tech to someone so clearly intent on destroying my whole empire. So I grit my teeth and offer him half my treasury instead…
This is the sort of thing that only happens in Civilization Revolution, a turn-based strategy game in which you and a number of AI-controlled rival emperors battle it out across the centuries to “build an empire to stand the test of time”.
21 years of Civ
Civilization – 1991
Civilization II – 1996
Civilization III – 2001
Civilization IV – 2005
Civlization V – 2010
Civilization is more than a game; it’s an institution and a massive part of computer gaming history. I’ve been playing it since version one. That’s 21 years ago, I was rather disturbed to discover.
While each iteration has brought graphical refreshes and tweaks to the gameplay, the core of the game has remained the same: build cities, expand, research and dominate your rivals.
There are several ways to win, but the classic – and in my view, only genuine – victory condition is to build a space ship to establish a new colony on Alpha Centauri.
When you start out with a settler and a soldier, the gameplay is simple. But as the years progress and you’ve got multiple cities all working on different projects – and enemies poking at the weaknesses on every border – the complexity increases. There’s half-a-dozen things happening every turn that demand your attention.
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And after a few turns, it becomes impossible to switch the thing off.
There’s a “just-one-more-turn” addictiveness that, when I was younger and stupider, saw me sitting up till four in the morning because I was convinced that I was on the cusp of victory – for hours on end.
Phone versus PC
In many respects, I’ve found the Windows Phone version of the game more fun than recent desktop PC outings. The Revolution version, by necessity, cuts out some of the complexity. And I’ve found that a good thing, on the whole. It helps keep me focused on the core gameplay rather than the distractions created by new elements like vassal cities and waging cultural as well as physical warfare.
The graphics are crisper and simpler than on the desktop, too, which improves their clarity for the smaller screen.
There are downsides, as well, of course. Civilization is a game that demands you grasp what’s going on across a world wide map. On a 3-4 inch phone screen, you can’t see an awful lot of that.
This can also mean that operations like moving troops from one end of your empire to the other can require several jumps, rather than being able to plan the whole thing in one go.
Those two caveats aside, it’s absolutely remarkable how much of the desktop experience has been brought to this phone version – and the way in which its core addictive proposition remains intact.
Focus on the fun
It’s the central mechanics of building, exploring, research and conflict that matter. As series producer Sid Meier has said:
Our approach to making games is to find the fun first and then use the technology to enhance the fun.
Bang on. If the core mechanics of a game deliver a compelling experience then the fripperies don’t matter one iota.
Nonetheless, the amount of computational power required for a game like this must be staggering. Quite clearly, my Lumia phone outguns the first five or six computers I played the desktop version on. That’s quite something. It’s games like this that make you re-evaluate what a phone can be in 2012.
As with other Xbox Live games on Lumia, Civilization Revolution has a decent trial version available so you can work out if it’s for you. The full version currently costs a trivial £2.29.
Have you played it yet? And any tips for getting to Alpha Centauri in this latest version?