10 April 2012

Civilization the boardgame (boardgame review light)

While not a proper review (hence "review light") as I write this from memory after but 1 game and without knowing the rules beforehand, I want to share some of my impressions about this game which I got to play over at a friend’s house this weekend. First of all, I had very little Civilization "PC game" experience prior to playing the boardgame so my impressions were mainly about the boardgame itself and not how it compares to the PC game series.

So for those that don't know what Civilization is about, it's basically a game where players take the role of a culture/nation and strive to achieve military, economical and scientific greatness. Those are pretty much the three victory conditions in the game as well, players may focus on warmongering and destroying other players, win by amassing a specific amount of gold, or be the first player to research space travel.

The board is made up of square tiles with a 4x4 grid, the world when playing 4 players has 4x4 of these tiles placed on the table. These tiles have symbols showing trade, production and luxury item symbols. Players start out in the the corners of this world map and are then free to explore the tiles that are face down by moving next to them with a military or settler unit.

Towns are founded by the "settler" and gives you access and control to the surrounding resources (8 squares if placed ideally). Everything you build for your town relies on how much "production" it has access to, the more production the better buildings and upgrades you can buy. You place buildings and scientists/great persons in the area surrounding your town - these additions to the board replace the value printed values of the world tile with the one's printed on the markers. Thus it can be a bit tricky to place stuff in a way so that you don't cripple yourself when it comes to resources.

On the outset of the game players pretty much focus on themselves, building and expanding their town, gathering luxury items and exchanging these for culture tokens which are needed to research new technologies. Culture can also be obtained by special characters belonging to you, or by specific buildings. The game has a technology track divided into 3 periods each with a deck of cards belonging to it. During period 1 you only need to spend 3 culture tokens to research a new technology, while it takes 5 culture tokens once you reach period 2, and becomes even more expensive to research in period 3.

Players have 3 decks belonging to each period, and every time a player advances on the technology track he is allowed to go through the deck belonging to the correct period and pick out a technology that he wants to research. Technologies are required to be placed in a pyramid shape in order to unlock period 2 and 3 tech's. So you would need two period 1 cards to unlock a period 2 card which would be placed on top of the two period 1 cards - if that makes any sense.

So obtaining scientific knowledge like this is one of the ways to win the game. The other, the economical victory requires gold tokens. Gold is very hard to obtain, or at least that was my impression. You can get gold through some special characters and technology cards. Players are also free to trade resources and luxury items with each other at the start of each turn, this is simply done by asking around if someone is interested in something you have and try to get something you need in return, a very unrestricted form of trade based solely upon the players initiative and willingness to cooperate. Though diplomacy is absent in the rules - meaning players are free to form alliances and trade unions themselves - I found this game to be better at performing this than Game of Thrones for a couple reasons. The map is symmetrical so no one is at an instant disadvantage, and everyone starts the same distance away from the other players so you can't instantly cripple another player by backstabbing him.

The third way to victory is by conquest, if you capture each enemy capital you win. This is also not that easy. Building units requires lots of production to amass armies fast. Your intentions will also become very clear to the other players so you can only expect that they will gang up on you rather quickly. Armies are represented by small tokens moved about on the map, once contact is made with enemy forces each player has a pool of unit cards representing close combat infantry, cavalry and ranged infantry. The game mechanics for combat are pretty much "rock/paper/scissors", defender places a card down on the table which he wants to use in defense - the attacker then places a card which he wants to attack with. Depending on what unit type is placed that unit would strike first before receiving damage. Archers would get to fire at infantry, but would not be able to fire at cavalry for instance. Damage is worked out and wound markers applied to cards if they survive the first clash with enemy cards. Players keep working out the combat until one or both sides run out of cards in which case the player who lost the most cards loses the battle.

Combat is perhaps a bit crude and the least interesting part of the game but it works. Units can be upgraded several notches to make them better at surviving and dealing damage. Most upgrades are directly linked to technology cards so you simply cannot race ahead and get tanks to fight enemy spearmen unless you invest heavily in technology.

Overall, I rather liked the game. Though it needs to be said that every victory condition lacks a time limit, so the games played can drag out for many hours before a winner emerges. This is not a game that you can finish in 2 hours.

Now how does it compare to Civilization the PC game? I installed Civilization 5 just to make a comparison, in many aspects the two are very similar. Especially the resource handling is almost identical. The boardgame combat and scientific research is very streamlined in comparison - I actually find the boardgame to be more fun and interesting than the PC game. The only thing I don't like about this game, and which is a part of both the PC and boardgame version is the nonsensical mix of cultures. I mean, ancient Romans and 19th century American culture at the same time - and they both start at a stoneage level? But that is pretty much my only complaint.

Also, the picture quality may be slightly off this time around. Had to use my cellphone camera.


  1. Very interesting post ;) I like the look of the board game, although I've only ever played the PC & Xbox versions. Can't imagine anyone I know being bothered to sit down and play though...:)

  2. Looks like you need a big kitchen table too! Cheers for the review.

  3. Big kitchen tables are pretty much a standard requirement for boardgames :-D

    Even more so if the game is made by Fantasy Flight Games, they always come with a ton of components.

  4. Nice one Anatoli, a couple of beers and some munchies and this would be a good night!

  5. Thanks for the review. I think I would enjoy this game, however I'll likely never play it. I just don't think I can sell my games group of the long playtime.

  6. @Adam, yes that is one problem with this game - the unpredictable and lengthy game session required to finish a game, especially if you play 4 players.


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