This game got in my lap because I played all the Civ games along the years, but mostly because everybody ran for the hills from it. Yet hundreds of strategy turns later, boring at first, full in the middle and very satisfying in the end, I can give the all clear for those who ran out the back door. Civilization V is one of the friendliest games in the series and gives exactly what both veterans and beginners need.
In a way, we can view the whole series like a Total War approach, but high on weed. If the famous historical game keeps the realism quota very high, Civilization turns it all upside down. Napoleon meets Oda Nobunaga in 3460 B.C., Catherine of Russia stumbles upon Hiawata and talks about the greatest feather panache; Darius I of Persia protects Singapore and Copenhagen, bizarrely placed on the same continent, side by side, stalking the next development stage to get one more mine. And the examples can go on and on, because Civilization throws historical reality out the window and uses it just as a pretext to give you the freedom to lead one of the 18 nations (19 in the Steam version) to world domination.
Since there is no narration, players jump into the colonizing adventure on random settings or customizing their choices. For the second part there are loads of options: the number of nations, of city-states (newcomers in the game), the types of victories, map size and many more that make the gameplay easier or not (frequency of barbarian appearances, limited number of turns, available resources etc).
The road for the Japanese led by Oda Nobunaga started in a long lost era, with poor Kyoto lost in the middle of a vast continent. The first novelty is represented by the hexagons that have replaced the squares, and element that supports the other changes in fights and tactics. Each nation starts out with one city and, turn by turn, it will grow and add new citizens, along with new territories.
Almost any hexagon can be improved with loads of constructions, both on land and water. Once the workers are created, they will build farms, mines, roads, more advanced once the needed technologies are researched and a new era begins. Also, you can construct a variety of buildings and wonders in the cities, all offering different bonuses.
At any time, depending on the tactics and the options set at the beginning of the game, you can create settlers to found new cities and extend your territorial dominance. Be careful though, expanding too fast can be harmful, because many things depend on the happiness of the people in those cities. Although only a numeric entity, unhappiness will cripple you: armies won’t do damage anymore and the construction turns become almost infinite.
All these elements, the turn-based strategy, workers that have to be sent to the right place, construction management, technologies to research, diplomacy and commerce can be too complex at first glance. And they really are, but the people at Firaxis have a huge experience and that helped them hide the numbers very well, and Civilization V has one of the friendliest interfaces I’ve ever seen in a TBS. If you ever tried Heroes, Total War or Disciples, you know what a cluttered interface means, full of buttons, more buttons and smaller buttons with icons that did all sorts of mysterious things and covered at least half the screen.
Almost all of the options in the interface can be hidden and there’s also a bi-dimensional strategic view, to be able to tactically analyze the situation. By default, only the strategic map is visible in the lower right corner and the rest is nicely hidden in drop down buttons: research, army, diplomacy, building etc. Thus, you get a map as big as your screen resolution and never lose the big picture.
Unlike other games in the series, Civilization V doesn’t allow army stacking anymore (the infamous Stacks of Doom), so there won’t be huge masses of soldiers on top of each other, with long fights. Each unit now occupies its hexagon, except the workers that can do their stuff anywhere. This unique approach for the series changes the battles a lot, when combined with the rock-paper-scissors mechanics. Moreover, the ranged units are now really ranged and in an advanced game, artillery is essential to capture a fortified city fast and without significant losses on your end.
Probably to the disappointment of veteran players, some elements have been removed, like espionage and technology trading, health and pollution, governments or religion. All these have been reorganized, regrouped and modified, resulting in a higher degree of synthesis and, for the seasoned players, less effective control. But for the beginners it’s good that there’s less micromanagement, as they can advance into the detailed sections at their own pace.
On the other hand, the advisors are back, a tutorial of sorts all along the game that gives you advice on what to do next. This doesn’t mean that the huge Civilopedia is gone, quite the opposite, it has been offered before the release of the game as a 300+ pages .pdf document for the fans to study.
Culture points are spent on the new policies, structured in several opposite branches that can’t function together, a cumulus of the governments. Each policy gives concrete bonuses and, once 5 branches are completed, you gain access to the Utopia Project, the condition for a cultural victory. But the aggressive AI won’t let you do that too often, especially if all victory conditions are selected. Most common are military wins or point victories, once the year 2050 arrives, considered the upper limit in terms of turns.