Updated: Jan 2
First, it has to be said, kudos to Gibsons for republishing this classic board game. The game dates back to 1980 and was previously best known for its Avalon Hill edition (1981/82) although Hartland Trefoil were the game’s original publisher. Gibsons first published their edition of the game in 1988.
Civilization was designed by Frances Tresham. Though Sid Meier is the name most closely identified with Civilization, to the extent that a host of Civ games, including board game versions, have Sid Meier’s name attached as part of the game title, this game predates by a decade the first Sid Meier Civilization game (a version originally written to run in MS-DOS on a PC).
Coming to this original version of Civilization having played any of the Sid Meier computer games, you will recognise many very familiar features that you’ll only now appreciate originated with Frances Tresham’s board game. Indeed, Civilization introduced several elements that have become integral features of most ‘4X’ (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) games – particularly the ‘tech tree’ where players advance their civilizations by developing technology.
This version of Civilization is not really a 4X game, however. You are expanding and exploiting territory but there is no exploration and, though there is likely to be some combative competition for territory, this is not a game where you will be seeking to exterminate other players.
The game includes rules for 2–7 players but it probably shouldn’t be played with fewer than four and, like Diplomacy (another title published in the 1980s by Gibsons), it is at its best with the full complement of seven. The set up allows for some variability because the seven factions can be selected from the nine available. Victory is achieved by advancing your civilization ahead of your rivals. Players can co-exist in the same territories provided that the land can support the number of units present. If the total exceeds the capacity of the territory, then the units will battle. There are no dice: conflict is resolved by a simple process of attrition: each party removing a unit until the total is within the capacity of the land.
The game is engrossing but it’s not a title that’s designed for casual play. The rules incorporate a simplified version that you should be able to complete in under 2 hours and a ‘shortened version’ that is likely to take about 4 hours. However, you will need to set aside a whole day for a full unexpurgated game.
It’s great to see such a classic game given a new lease of life. It shows that you don’t need plastic minis to hold players’ attention. That said, Civilization does show its age. Gibsons have given this edition new artwork but the garish colours of the map are reminiscent of the Diplomacy board. The cards are thin but serviceable. What most lets the game down, however, is that the rulebook still looks like it hails from the 1980s. This is not an overly complicated game but the rules are presented as dense text with less illustration than players have nowadays come to expect. A more modern updated rulebook, with, for example, a fully illustrated set up, would have given this edition a huge boost.
That gripe aside, this game deserves to be more widely seen and more widely played, so this new edition is very welcome. Gibsons have some other great titles in their back catalogue (we’re looking at you Kingmaker!) so let’s hope this reprint presages more to come…