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Originally created by Sid Meier, this massively popular series of turn-based strategy titles has directly influenced the production of many other franchises, including Master of Magic, Galactic Civilizations, Sins of a Solar Empire, and many others. It is considered to be one of the establishing franchises in the 4X genre of turn-based strategy games.

Civilization

Developed and published by MicroProse in 1991, the original Civilization is generally considered to be one of the pioneering turn-based strategy games, which helped to establish the genre. An exclusively single-player game, the original Civilization has players take on the role of the leading figurehead of one of many different civilizations across the world, and challenges the player to develop an empire while in direct competition with up to six other civilizations across the planet. Players will need to micromanage certain aspects of their civilization as they slowly expand, explore new territory, advance their technology and knowledge-base, construct armies, conduct diplomatic negotiations, and defend their empire from aggressors. Each new game begins in the year 4000 BC, and can potentially last until the year 2100, which leads to advances in theoretical technology including a faster-than-light star drive, enabling the colonization of the Alpha Centauri star system. Players can win the game by either destroying all other civilizations, attaining the highest score at the end of the "modern era" or by winning a space race.

Civilization II

Released in 1996, Civilization II was one of the few Civ games not developed by Sid Meier. Civ II built upon the popularity and solid gameplay mechanics of the first game, but added some new mechanics of its own and completely revamped the look of the franchise, changing the way in which the game was displayed from a top-down, bird's eye view to a 3/4 isometric perspective. Changes were made to certain units and civilizations as a whole, new technologies were added, and the artificial intelligence was improved upon greatly, removing the majority of random events, and forcing the computer opponents to develop their civilizations in the exact same way as human players do. New game features include a system of hit points and firepower ratings, allowing units to be sent against each other based on their inherent strengths and weaknesses, as well as giving the player the ability to consult a High Council of live-action actors portraying stereotypical government advisers, whom gave the player various bits of advice on how to proceed through the game. Like the previous game, players can win by either destroying or conquering all other civilizations, or by constructing a starship and colonizing the Alpha Centauri system before any other empire. The popularity of Civ II led to the production and release of two expansion packs, a second, stand-alone title under the Civ II series and a multiplayer addition to the original:

  • Civilization II: Conflicts in Civilization
    Conflicts in Civilization added an additional 20 new scenarios to the core game, eight of which were created by fans. Additionally, it added an enhanced macro language for fans that wanted to script their own scenarios. Some of the twelve scenarios created by MicroProse included the American Civil War, an Alien Invasion, A World War in 1979, and a post-apocalpytic attempt at rebuilding civilization.
  • Civilization II: Fantastic Worlds
    Fantastic Worlds provided an additional 19 scenarios for the original game that were based on science-fiction or fantasy settings, including tributes to games like X-COM and Master of Orion. Additionally, the game shipped with several intuitive tools for fans to use to produce their own scenarios or edit existing levels.
  • Civilization II: Multiplayer Gold Edition
    The Multiplayer Gold Edition of Civilization II added multiplay to a Civilization game for the first time in the franchise, and included all of the scenarios from the Conflicts in Civilization and Fantastic Worlds expansion packs, as well as the scenario-editing utilities for fans to produce their own content.
  • Civilization II: Test of Time
    A stand-alone title bearing the Civilization II name, Test of Time provided the original Civilization II single- and multiplayer campaigns with significantly improved graphics and effects, as well as two original campaigns centered around science fiction and fantasy/Norse mythology settings.

Civilization III

Developed by Firaxis Games and published by Infogrames, Civilization III continued to improve upon the graphic fidelity of Civilization II and Test of Time. It also significantly changed a large portion of the game mechanics and features from Civilization II. The core gameplay of the franchise remains, but the amount of micromanagement required from players to manage their civilizations and push their empires forward was increased. The victory conditions of the game were expanded upon, allowing players to complete the game in a number of ways, including conquest of all other civilizations; gaining control of at least two-thirds of the world's land mass and population; utilizing a new cultural mechanic to generate a global desire to be a part of the player's empire; being elected the United Nations Secretary General; and producing a colony ship to travel to the Alpha Centauri star system. Additional changes of any significance include diplomatic agreements, forced labor/slavery, and line-of-site functionality for units at different altitudes. Civilization III's nearly universal acclaim led to the release of two expansion packs, which added new scenarios and multiplayer capabilities:

  • Civilization III: Play the World
    The first expansion pack for Civ III, Play the World added several new civilizations to play as and compete against, a multiplayer feature, new units, new modes play, including a "turnless" game type, which unsuccessfully attempted to blend turn-based and real time gameplay together over multiplayer.
  • Civilization III: Conquests
    Conquests supplemented the original Cvilization III and Play the world with seven additional civilizations, bringing the total for the series to 31. Additionally, the game provided two new traits for Civ III, which were utilized to specify a particular civilizations' cultural strengths or weaknesses. Two new governmental bodies were added, as well as four new bonus resources, two new terrain types, and nine new scenarios for use over multiplayer.

Civilization IV

Developed by Sid Meier and Soren Johnson, Civilization IV was released in 2005 to nearly universal acclaim, and further improved the franchise for a new generation of computer hardware and gameplay expectations. Players can now research up to 86 different technologies, and must micromanage even more aspects of their empire than ever before, including several features new to the Civilization series. Players can now utilize Great People, which provide bonuses or special buildings, they must deal with the creation and spread of various religions, they must maintain their cities to prevent them from falling to corruption or over expenditure, and the overarching governmental system was replaced with civic models representing different societal divisions (Legal, Economy, Religion, etc). Additionally, the United Nations can pass binding resolutions, the artificial intelligence can no longer view the entire game world at the beginning of each game, and military forces are no longer as complicated as before, with their many individual ratings broken down to a single "strength" statistic. Finally, many graphical enhancements were integrated, including a switch to a fully 3D engine which allows players to freely zoom between many levels of detail. Just like the previous two games, the overwhelming popularity of Civ IV led to the release of two expansion packs:

  • Civilization IV: Warlords
    The first expansion pack for Civilization IV, Warlords added many new features to the core game, including a new category of Great People (known as Great Generals), the ability to create vassal states, new units and resources, six new civilizations to control or conquer, eight new scenarios, and several other additions.
  • Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword
    The second expansion pack for Civilzation IV, Beyond the Sword focused on adding new content to the game that occurred after the creation of gunpowder. A total of 11 new scenarios, 10 new civilizations, 25 new units, and 16 new leaders were included in the game, and the expansion pack additionally allowed players to create corporations, conduct espionage, expend more time and effort to attain Space Race or Diplomatic victories, and start an advanced nation with several key components towards establishing a powerful empire already in place.

Civilization Revolution

Sid Meier's Civilization: Revolution was developed by Firaxis and published by 2K Games for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, DS, and iPhone. A Wii version was in development but was placed on hold in 2007. Similar to the PC series upon which the console and handheld installment are based, Revolution features a fast-paced alternate history that gets played out between a historical figure of your choosing and other such luminaries.

Civilization V

Developed by Jon Shafer and Firaxis and published by 2K Games, Civilization V was released in 2010 featuring a dramatically new combat system and tile grid. The square grid used by past games was replaced by a hexagonal one, and unit stacking was removed. The game was made more tactical, in the vein of strategy games like Panzer General. Important features from Civilization IV like religion and espionage were removed, while new features like city-states and social policies were introduced. However, the core gameplay remained mostly the same, micromanaging your empire and its cities to bring your civilization to victory. Civilization V also introduced the series to DLC, selling civilizations, scenarios and map packs outside of the expansion format.

  • Civilization V: Gods & Kings
    Developed by Ed Beach, Gods & Kings adds religion and espionage, two highly requested features, back into Civilization. It also rebalances the combat system and diplomacy with new options and strategies. A total of 9 new civilizations, 27 new units, 13 new buildings, 9 new wonders, and 3 new scenarios are added to the game.

Free Civilization

In the vein of Civilization II, a free version, appropriately named "Freeciv" is available here

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