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Birth of a Nation

Ryan gets uncharacteristically diplomatic with this first look at Sid Meieir's Civilization IV: Colonization.

Colonial Meiersberg
Colonial Meiersberg
When we went to Microsoft’s Games for Windows event in San Francisco earlier this week, Brad and I approached Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization with much trepidation. Neither of us has had any first-hand exposure to the much-loved Civilization franchise. The closest I’ve ever come was a brief obsession with Sid Meier’s SimGolf, an elegantly accessible Tycoon-style game that featured the same time-sink qualities of Sid Meier’s most notable work. Between its apparent complexity and its rabid following, it’s just an intimidating franchise for newcomers. That said, I’m glad we checked out Colonization, which, if nothing else, sparked a desire in me to become more familiar with Civilization.

The first surprising thing about Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization is that, despite what you might deduce from the name, this isn’t a Civ IV expansion pack. While it’s running on a souped-up version of the Civ IV engine, it’s actually a remake of Sid Meier’s Colonization, a game originally released in 1994. There are certainly some similarities to Civilization here, as both are turn-based and feature prominent empire-building qualities, but Colonization seems to be a much more focused affair. There are a number of ways you can win a game of Civilization, but there’s only way to win a game of Colonization: revolution.

A game starts with you landing with a ship full of eager colonists in a randomly generated New World populated only by tribes of Native Americans. You can choose which European country you hail from–England, France, Holland, or Spain–with different nations offering different bonuses. Your relationships with the Native American tribes can bear fruit in a few ways. Stay friendly, and they’ll teach your colonists various skills, allow you to colonize their land, and act as wartime allies. It would seem that this might slow the speed at which you can expand your colony, though a Manifest Destiny approach can result in expensive military conflict.

Much of your financing will come from cultivating goods like food, textiles, and ore, and shipping them back to Europe. Occasionally, your patron will demand some gold tribute, though blowing off these demands may result in your inability to ship certain goods straight back home, requiring you to explore alternate trade opportunities, be it with the natives or other colonies.

As you build up your colony, and along with it, the loyalty of your colonists, you’ll also fill a meter plainly marked “Revolution.” When it hits a certain percentage, you can then declare your independence from your European patron, effectively going to war with them. At the start of your revolution, you’ll also get to define the terms of your new nation’s constitution, allowing you to decide whether you’ll allow slaves, the right to bear arms, the separation of church and state, and so on. All of these decisions, of course, will have some impact on how the rest of the game will play out.

As with Civilization, you can adjust a number of variables before you start a game that can determine how long a game will go for, and you’ll also have straight online and play-by-email options for multiplayer action. Depending on how you choose to play, a game can take anywhere from three hours to three months. Colonization also promises lots of mod and map-making support, potentially lengthening the game’s post-release legs.

As a Civilization outsider, Colonization still seems pretty intimidating, and the 2K reps I talked to stated pretty plainly that newcomers might be better off getting their feet wet with the upcoming console-only Civilization Revolution. Still, it looks to provide the same addictive experience that Sid Meier has built his name on, and fans of turn-based strategy should definitely keep an eye out for this one.