11 December 2017

Civilization: A new dawn boardgame review

Civilization: A new dawn is the latest "Civilization" themed boardgame released to date. The game is only a couple of days old, we stumbled upon this by watching a review online and then seeing it the same day in the local store. I really liked what I saw in the video review as it looked like a more fast paced and streamlined version of the other civilization game by Fantasy Flight Games (Civilization: The board game) which though a good game can be a bit much to teach and play with new gamers. 

This version of Civilization is a fast paced streamlined version of the basic ideas that make a Civilization game: expand territory through spreading of your own culture, building wonders and several different ways to win the game through culture, military and exploration (not so much economy in this game).
First of all, compared to most of Fantasy Flight Games recent releases the game is in the cheaper end of the mid-range spectrum. In Sweden it goes for roughly 450 SEK / 50 USD. When you open the box there are not that many components to sort and setup on the table - which again lends for a game you can break open late in the evening or as part of a boardgame marathon. 

The components are really good looking, the game comes with 8 leaders, and components for up to 4 players. The map tiles are hex based but come in assembled segments of which you piece together several to form the map depending on the number of players taking part in the game. The idea of map segments containing multiple spaces too makes for a super fast setup. Cards and plastic pieces are great looking with vibrant pastel colors. The printed terrain on the tiles is good looking, and the map tiles come with starting positions for natural resources and also spawn points for barbarian camp.
The only thing that could have been better in the component department are the two dice you get with the game, which I find ugly and sort of out of
place - easily replaced with something from your own collection though.

Now what made me pick this game up was the design ideas that merge a lot of different elements into fast paced, easy to learn and easy to remember rules. Some of these ideas are improvements of other ideas already out there in different games, but I think
Civilization: A new dawn manages to pull off some excellent design in terms of rules.

First of all, a turn is composed of each player playing - 1 - action. The actions can be described as: moving trade caravans, fighting and reinforcing your defenses, improving science and picking new research, building cities or wonders and spreading your own culture on the map. But instead of players just having a list of these 5 actions to pick from, the actions are instead represented by cards (one for each type of action). The cards are placed in front of the player below a cardboard bar showing two things, terrain features and a printed number.

There is an elegant mechanic at work here, in that when you play an action you simply pick a card, do what it says and move it to the end of the row (space with number 1 printed on it). This moves other cards towards the number 5 slot. The slots determine how powerful a card is, which makes much of the gameplay revolve around timing when to play which action for maximum benefit or to minimize risks. Combining the power from the printed number,  you also have the printed terrain type (grasslands [1], hills [2], forest [3], desert [4] and mountain [5]. This also tells you the difficulty level of traversing terrain types, expanding culture and fighting in said terrain.

For instance, if you want to activate your trade caravan card happening to be located on space 3 on your track it means that your caravans are able to move across the map - but only through spaces of equal or lower difficulty rating as your current card slot. This works for combat in a similar fashion, where tokens and cities get a defense value based on the terrain value.

Spreading your culture will also be easy on grasslands, but will require you to wait until your action card reaches space 5 in the card slot until you can spread into mountain regions (and also to take over natural wonders).

Furthermore, woven into this, the game adds technology upgrades as each card type comes in 4 versions ranging from Technology level 1 to Technology level 4. So depending on how advanced the action card is you can do different things and also get completely different bonuses to your actions.

The design of this idea is mindblowingly well done and runs super smooth - it also manages to keep down the amount of book keeping, tokens, cards and miniatures.

Combat and armies is an abstract affair symbolized by cities or culture tokens you own - or roaming barbarian tokens. When selecting the combat action card you are allowed to perform a number of attacks up to a certain distance away from your own territory. You resolve attacks one by one. The attacker has a combat strength equal to the card slot number combined with any bonuses provided from your leader, bonuses from wonders, the military card you play + 1D6 die roll.

The target uses the terrain location as the foundation for the defense value, adding adjacent fortified culture tokens, bonuses from wonders and leader card +1D6 roll.

As an example:
Player A activates his attack by playing a military card located on the third space in his card slot. The attack thus has a base value of 3. No leader or wonder adds any bonus to his attacks. He rolls 1D6 and scores a 4. 3+4 = 7 combat strength

Player B defends with an unfortified culture token located on grassland (defense value 1). He has a wonder that conveys +2 when defending and rolls 1D6 scoring a 2 on the roll. 1+2+2= 5 combat strength.

Player A wins combat, and replaces the defeated culture token with one of his own. If he has more attacks left he now resolves the remaining attacks 1 by 1.

This brings me to the next thing, resource tokens and trade goods tokens. Scattered on the map there are resource tokens representing natural resources such as oil or marble. These are valuable when you want to build wonder fast, or simply very expensive wonders. Each wonder has a cost value. Even early wonders exceed your basic build capacity when you activate the building action from the 5th card slot. Often times you need to boost your construction by spending natural resources. Wonders have specific natural resources printed on them, and if you add one or more of those  tokens when building wonders you get a +2 to your production value. Natural resources are then spend and removed from your inventory to the supply , in the early parts of the game you will collect natural resources by expanding culture into territory occupied by natural resource tokens. Later on, you will be able to produce some natural resources yourself through the action cards.

Trade goods, which is a generic resource type,  can both be added as a construction bonus to building wonders but will also most of the time be used to boost the action cards themselves. For instance the culture card allows you to place 1 extra culture token for each spent trade goods, military card allows you to boost your attack by 1 for each spend trade goods etc. Trade goods are generally obtained by defeating roaming barbarians, but most of the time by trading with neutral cities on the map (city states). When you establish trade with a city state you get trade goods corresponding to the resource type the city produces and place them on your action cards - such as science trade goods that are placed on the science action card.

Finally you win the game by being the first player to achieve 3 victory conditions. The game comes with 5 cards that each have two different victory conditions printed on them. You are only allowed to score 1 victory condition per card. As soon as you meet the requirement to complete a victory condition you mark the victory condition card with one of your tokens to show you have achieved it. Even if you on later turns lose territory, culture, buildings etc that made you score that card - it still count as achieved. In other words you cannot lose achievements.

So, what are my final thoughts on the game?
Generally I'm impressed and enthusiastic about the game. The game looks great, it is super easy to setup, plays fast, has great design elements to it and for a Fantasy Flight Game it is also cheap, the rules are easy to learn and easy to remember.

My main concern revolves around two things, the victory condition cards of which there are only 5 and the number of action cards of each type of which there is only 4.

Starting with the action cards that also symbolize the technology upgrades of your civilization. This is a great idea, however, since all players have identical decks the diversity will not be too big between players. True enough, you will not be able to max out with level 4 on all your action cards, but you will most likely end up with a variety of level 3 and level 4 cards and the difference between these high end cards is not that big. In reality, what makes your civilization differ from your opponents depends more on what wonders you have built as the wonders convey a more specific and unique ability than technology levels do. If you stick to the idea of the wonders combined with a technology level give your nation their flavor then all is well. However, I would not mind having a bit more detail and depth in the action card department. 

The second concern, with the victory condition cards, has more impact. You only have 5 victory condition cards, each come with 2 victory conditions printed on them - you get 10 victory conditions in total. This would not be that bad if not for the fact that you always get the same pair of victory conditions with each card. Also, 4 of the cards contain the victory condition of building two wonders of a specific color category. Building wonders is quite easy, and even though all players may not be able to complete this victory condition in a 4 player game as there would not be enough wonders per player, it is still the preferred pick compared to the companion victory condition that is offered on the same card. I think that the game will lose some of its appeal and replay ability because of the victory condition cards being designed this way.

These two things are arguably very easy to fix with a small expansion focusing on adding more cards to the game. I also think that it is slightly strange that the game has no scoring system, instead it only count achieved victory condition cards towards your victory. 

You could easily add house rules yourself to add scoring points for building wonders, constructing cities AND fulfilling the
requirement on the victory condition cards and play to X number of points instead. The game comes with an "long game" variant that add a 4th victory condition card, which I think should be standard in your games to make it a bit more diverse and challenging. The easiest way would simply be to separate the victory conditions on each card, making 10 separate victory conditions from which you draft 5 cards. You could also make up your own victory conditions easily this way, such as:

- Control 2 barbarian camp sites
- Be the first player to achieve technology level 4 on 3 action cards
- Control a wonder of each different color type
- Build fully developed cities on 3 different tiles and terrain types.

The number of victory conditions to achieve are limited by your own imagination. To get them balanced would be the main concern. But I think it should be easy enough. I also think this is a primary target for an expansion if such a thing would be released in the future.

All in all, Civilization: A new dawn is still a highly enjoyable, if somewhat flawed around the corners, game that represents well the main theme of "Civilization". I think there is a great game here not quite reaching its full potential due to a few easy to fix flaws.

The question if you buy this game, will you make your own house rule fixes or wait for Fantasy Flight Games to release an expansion?

7,5 / 10


  1. Thanks for reviewing this particular game. We were looking at it but weren't quite sure if they'd succeeded with some mechanics.
    As you say, the game is not perfect, but succeeds in being a decent Civilisation game.


  2. Looks pretty interesting. I might have to give this a try.


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