A game I fondly remember playing again and again, burning the midnight oil and gaming the night away because of it, was Sid Meier’s Civilization, released by MicroProse Software in 1991. This retro MS-DOS based game had it all: outstanding gameplay, a well-executed concept, and superb graphics (for its day), and was yet another hit from Sid Meier and his team.
Players started with a single settler (a covered wagon) at the dawn of civilization, chose a location to found their first city, and from that built an empire as the game timeline progressed to the Space Age. Sometimes you’d find another computer player right next door, and either had to keep the peace with non-stop diplomacy, or – more times than not – send in the troops to crush them like the insects they truly were. Up to six other civilizations were out there to discover, and they all had to be dealt with, one way or another (either the Americans, Aztecs, Babylonians, Chinese, Egyptians, English, French, Germans, Greeks, Indians, Mongolians, Romans, Russians, or Zulus.)
Yet this wasn’t just yet another military simulation; players had to build their empires by monitoring the happiness of their citizenry, providing improvements that would encourage growth in their cities, establish trade routes, and pursue technology advancements through scientific research. Neglect anything for too long and the consequences could be dire: fall behind in the technology and your troops might be like the Polish Cavalry facing the Blitzkrieg on horse with sabres. Forget to keep your citizenry content and your cities begin revolting. Overlook trading with other empires and find your city improvement budgets limited. Limit your internal and external upgrades of your cities, and watch them spontaneously Neglect to build up your military might and watch as your cities fall to the armed might of your bitter enemies – or worse yet, random barbarians raging across the continent. A strong empire builder needed to be aware of all aspects of their empire!
But, wait, there’s more! This was an incredibly deep game. You start out as a Despot (where do I sign up?), but as the game progressed and new ideas developed as a result of technological improvements, other forms of government presented themselves. Each had its advantages depending on your goals and current state of your empire, but each also had disadvantages. It wasn’t a great idea to switch to Democracy in the middle of a military build-up or full-blown campaign, as your citizens tended to be on the pacifistic side. On the other hand, if you wanted to push the envelope on scientific development, ruling over your cities with an iron fist as King wasn’t a winning strategy either.
You could also gain serious advantages over the other empires by building one of the many Wonders of the World. These took a long time to build, using up many resources, but could be the difference-maker between victory or defeat. These Wonders varied by game era, and could become obsolete with new technological advances. Some had limited appeal and should only be looked at under a specific set of circumstances, however.
This game has not only stood the test of time, it has spawned many sequels: Civilization II, III, and IV, CivNet (the first multiplayer Civilization), Civilization Gold, and Civilization Revolution, as well as many similarly-themed games, such as Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Civilization: Call to Power, Colonization, and Master of Magic. And the franchise doesn’t appear to be running out of steam anytime soon. If you love retro games and you haven’t played the original Civilization, what are you waiting for?