One more turn...one more turn...
This is the terribly familiar chant of the Civ III newbie, staring at the clock, watching the sun rise outside the window, promising himself to save and log off after one more attempt to colonize a land, build an institution, establish relations with a rival nation, order research of a new technology, harness a new natural resource...or win a nuclear war. The creator of the game, Sid Meier, made a nasty remark in his promo DVD about how the addictive element of this game was its propensity to allow users to 'play God' (shades of Red Dragon!). Alas, friends, sad but true.
You get to select one of over thirty nations and pick as many rivals as you like in a game of world conquest that begins in 4000 BC. Your settlers, armed with sticks and stones, build their capitol city, the first of many that establish your fledgling nation. Eventually your little country makes contact with a neighboring state, and thus begins the quest. You can outlast your rivals by becoming culturally dominant, politically superior, militarily overwhelming...or even win the game by being the first to land a man on the moon. The game ends in the year 2050 AD, over a course of time extending through the Ancient Era, the Middle Ages, the Industrial years, and modern times. Just as in real life, your empire can choose many paths to follow, and hundreds of possible scenarios will lead to just as many different conclusions.
The game can be played on maps of different sizes, land masses, climates and topography, which adds to the diversity you can factor into your matches. I'm not one for fantasy football, but imagine if you could choose between outdoor/indoor, grass/astroturf, sunny/snowy. You can pick from a tiny map, ensuring a short and sweet game, or a huge map which can turn this into an epic odyssey. Smaller continents challenge navigational skills and make demands on overseas trade and travel; warmer climates create huge areas of untamed jungle hindering farming and transportation. Older maps make for larger mountain ranges that are great for military defense but hard to traverse during peacetime. You get to play Mother Nature and decide how hard it'll be for your world to make its way through history.
One reviewer compared this game to a cross between chess and Risk, and that analogy is not far off the mark if you include Life and Monopoly. Unfortunately, this game may not be for the ADD Generation, a fact substantiated by Meier's deviation back to the style and content of the earlier Civilization II in producing the later versions of Civ IV and Civ V. These games lack the depth and realism of Civ III and, unfortunately, are obscuring the greatest of all PC games with the passage of time. Obviously this is an effort to reach out to the growing population of attention-deficients, and the world is losing out on a wonderfully unique gaming experience as a result.
The graphics make one wonder why on earth Meier and Firaxis (the publishers of the game) reverted to the cheesier graphics of Civ II in the IV and V upgrades (?) after achieving what could arguably be considered perfection. The tiny workers in this version dig, cut, chop and run throughout the game; horses gallop, wakened warriors yawn and stretch, soldiers awaiting combat rustle their weapons impatiently. It is a Lilliputian world which can utterly captivate and enchant if it were not for the greater challenges ahead - namely, a collusion of AI (artificial intelligence) adversaries preparing to crush you and your civilization into the virtual dust.
If you've ever marveled at how games like Chessmaster could both condescend and overwhelm so as to make you feel there was another person on the other side of the screen...you ain't seen nuthin' yet. Meier's multiple personalities can be friendly, manipulative, double-dealing and hostile, and for a newbie it can be extremely difficult to keep in mind that one is dealing with AI as the game progresses. A friendly AI appears as a straw to a drowning man in times of trouble, while hostiles can distract a player to sacrificing the game in seeking revenge for a treacherous act. You may even find yourself feeling a twinge of guilt in nuking a close and trusted ally to gain a final victory. Those who doubt will find themselves trying to remember after their first epic struggle: it's only a game, it's only a game.
One side effect of getting hooked on this game is the remorseful feeling of devoting so much leisure time to such a trivial pursuit. Consider this, brethren: how much more wasteful is playing chess, or sudoku, or even poker, pool or backgammon? It can be argued that Civ III can consume the better part of a week per game, but if this game sharpens your wits, lifts your spirits and enhances your real-world creativity (if you can develop a civilization, why not your backyard garden?), well...more power to it.
Addicts will find a number of webpages and websites devoted to the game, as one becomes consumed with exploring different strategies and tactics in attempting to rule the world. Some versions come with manuals, which are downloadable in PDF form on many of the aforementioned sites. It helps newbies avoid figuring this complex game out from scratch, which can alternately prove frustrating yet astounding at times.
This game has been compared to strategy games such as Men of War and Rome; I bought a copy of Rome and have yet to open the box. Beyond Civ III, there is nothing else.
One more turn...one more turn...
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