Civilization II

"Your attempted 'review' makes us laugh."

A while back, I said that I would never have the time for a proper game of Civilization, where I'm in control of every tiny detail, micromanaging my units across the globe. I had fun with it, but felt it was a little bit automatic, with advisors prompting me into this or that, promising me that it would mean something in the future - only I never knew what, exactly.

Why was I going down this path? Why should I build this unit? What is my strategy? I had little idea and was just following the motions until eventually wiped off the face of the map.

Fast forward to the here and now, and it's Civilization IIs time to put my knowledge to the test. What's changed? What's new? Will I still start as the English?

Well, duh, yeah.

Fun Times

At the time of playing this PlayStation port I had forgotten what the original Civilization looked like, but even so, I was impressed with this isometric world view and simple, cartoony units pottering across it.

Each square will offer your young empire opportunities for growth. Building cities on the coast can reap the rewards of the sea. Setting up next to a mountain range might bring in something useful from the rocks. Chain a few cities together with a road network and you're laughing at the speed with which you can navigate and dominate the world around you.

At least that's the promise of Civilization II.


Save for making a few mines at the end of the game, I did none of that. I have no idea what the mines I built would do - I just built them because the little dude on the map said: "Hey, we should build a mine here". Okay, little dude. You busy yourself with that, I'll just keep advancing these troops...

Civilization is a game where your military might is mighty important, so let's go back in time a bit to see how my first game went. A small map, a handful of competing empires and some barbarians. Nothing too complex, just to get a game up and running.

Further Fun Times

I was plopped into a corner of the map with a few settlers, ready and eager to get going. York soon followed London, and then Nottingham a little further away. Founding cities is easy, but they really need a reason to be there, so I decided on my goal for this game - map the world.

I don't know how I was able to develop a ship so quickly, but a ship I had and a ship I sailed. I was advised to develop and research a few milestones in human history, some of which I took on board, and others I cast aside. I still don't see a direct enough link between knowing how to make pots and making progress in Civilization, but I bet it's bloody important.

After seeing a few towns on my trip, I had a better idea of my place in the world, but I needed boots on the ground to really get going, and it wasn't long before those boots found the Indians.

Gandhi is notorious in Civilization, so for now, I wasn't going to do anything to get into his bad books. I got laughed at, mocked, but eventually welcomed into a peace treaty. I had every intention of breaking it, but not now. I had a more important target.

A few turns of movement away from London, across the seas, were the French. While the Indians were dealing with the Celts, I was going to see to the French personally. By this point, I had made more advancements through the technology trees, and my cities could produce more varied units.

Warriors and Archers made way for Pikemen and Catapults, and even Crusaders and Elephants, which I think I found in a hut somewhere, I really couldn't recall. No matter how they came into my Empire, they were going to be put to use.

Oxford, Newcastle, Canterbury and Coventry were sat between the Indians and around the French, and one by one, French cities were taken by English troops. Paris was under siege by units produced in Lyon and Rheims. It was only a matter of time.

I'm making this more dramatic than it is, by the way. Battles are a matter of selecting a unit, moving it into a square with an enemy unit and watching two teeny tiny health bars whack great chunks out of each other. It's over in seconds - if that - with the loser just disappearing. Do that enough times to weaken the enemy, then advance a unit into their city and you take it over.

Now it was time for the Indians.

In a show of force, my upgraded naval fleet surrounded Delhi - sadly out of reach of anything, so they just had to sit there, menacingly. Catapults and troops surrounded them to the south, and then I declared war, only to watch them all amicably return to the nearest city first...

So that was a slight setback, but the plan was put into motion. The plan wasn't well thought out - just a case of throwing units into Delhi until they stopped dying - but I'd make it work.

It was around this time in the late, late game where I started to see investments pay off. My units were upgrading along with the time and technology. While there is a curious mix of Holy Crusaders and Musketeers, it's all part of the charm of Civilization - I took a bunch of scruffy blokes and turned them into a dominant force. Apparently, a bunch of barracks would do that too, but again, couldn't see any tangible benefit to doing that. 

Delhi was surrounded by farmland and a road network headed off to the north, to the city of Karachi. It was a lovely road. My troops marched along it about five times faster than they would have without the road, so I now know that roads are great.

Trading and diplomacy are probably great too, but that all seems like a chore to set up. I want to crush my opponents into a pulp, and I was more successful at things this time around.

Wait... there were Russians on this map?

One peaceful explorer, four hostile Barbarians. Time for a sleep, my friend...

Final Word

I couldn't put the controller down when playing Civilization II. The constant discoveries, both on land and in the tech tree, keeps pushing you to do more and more, and yet I was still doing things with no real clue why I was doing them.

Advisors are still there prompting you for everything. There is even a council of them that pop up from time to time, involving actors dressed in period costume, trying to argue their views across to you.

It's useless.

I simply have to go back to the argument that you're very much along for the ride in this game, only it's abundantly clear that you're not.

I chose to go exploring by sea, I chose to map the world by foot, I chose to not be an idiot and attack Gandhi with one Warrior and little else. You make those decisions and I'm sure they do something really important, and really neat.

You can 'win' a game of Civilization II by wiping out your competition or reaching the stars by developing a spaceship before a certain point in time. That sounds great. I want to do that. I want to see how far I can develop in peace. I want to see what roads and farmland and mines do for me, but I can't.

I can't because, when military action is so easy, there's just no need for all that faff.

The interface on this PlayStation port isn't brilliant and often gets in the way, but I can't blame it for being faffy. The isometric controls, mapping orthogonal controls to diagonal movements can make for some cumbersome movement, but I can't blame that either.

At the end of the day, I just want things to be nice and clear, at which point they'll get done. The clearest option I had in Civilization II was to build a unit, move that unit, fight with that unit. It was the simplest thing to do, and the quickest thing too. Would it hold up in a multiplayer match, or against harder AI? I sure hope not, because Civilization can be far, far better than what I make it out to be.

In my haste to just have fun, I'm ignoring vast chunks of the gameplay and its strategy for instant satisfaction, rather than the slow burn of playing the same game for an age to see how it progressed 'properly'.

Civilization II is, thankfully, so much nicer to look at than the original, so if I am going to go back and play it, at least I know I'll enjoy my time. But, I'm still not completely convinced by it all. It has all this potential, but I'm not seeing it. More accurately, I'm not using it. I'm more of a problem than Civilization II is.

If you get a fun time out of a game, it's done its job. This game has done its job for me. I recommend it. One day I might be able to recommend it based on how good an empire simulator it is, but all I can say right now is that if you like moving units into other units, Civilization II is great.

Fun Fact

So says the Internet: "Civilization greatly favoured the military approach to achieving victory. We've now adjusted the balance to make trade and diplomacy a more integral part of the game." Not on Baby's First Civ mode, you haven't...

Civilization II, developed by MicroProse, first released in 1996.
Version played: PlayStation, 1998, via emulation.