Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Author: Glenn Drover

Publisher: Eagle Games 2003

G@mebox Star



The last decade has seen the release many different kinds of boardgames with a plethora of rules, playing mechanisms and background stories. However, a branch which has remained relatively unexplored is the boardgame-adoption of successful computer-games. To a great part this is due to the fact that it is the predominant opinion that the variety offered by a computer-game hardly can be transformed into a moderate-sized boardgame with rules still short enough to handle, and thus many designers refrain from even trying such an ambitious project. At the moment I can only remember one such project from the last years, and this was Klaus Teuber's adoption of Anno 1403 which was release by KOSMOS two years ago. However, this game - although well playable - lacked exactly the playing depth and variety the computer version could offer, and thus it can only be qualified as being an effort of moderate success.

Having this history in mind, I was doubtful when I first heard of EAGLE GAMES and their ambition to produce a boardgame-version of the famous and award-winning computer-game-classic Civilization. This exactly was a game with enormous playing depth, and I would have sworn that it would be virtually impossible to turn this specific computer game into a successful boardgame, especially since the PC-version of Civilization had been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of players worldwide and so a boardgame would find a broad, qualified audience which would carefully scrutinise the final product.

However, as you will (hopefully) see in my review, my fears proved to be unnecessary indeed, since I was surprised by a set of rules which was complex enough to reflect the possibilities of the PC-game but could still be handled with ease and moderate effort. Perfectionated by very nice graphics and nicely designed playing pieces, the game enthralled me right from opening the box, and I was rather eager to start playtesting in order to see whether the rules would keep the game fluid and interesting. But now the time has come to turn to the game itself...


Civilization is a game in which the players take up the roles of leaders which manage the fate of their civilizations during four eras from Ancient Times over Medieval and the Industrial Era to Modern Times. The HUGE gameboard reflects the world itself which has been divided into lots of land and sea regions, but the view of the world has been distorted a bit for reasons of playability and unit placement. To set the game up, a number of different kinds of playing cards and counters will be placed at hand, and each land region on the gameboard will receive a randomly chosen, hidden Exploration Marker which will be discovered during the course of the game and which reflects some landmarks or an event for this specific region. To complete the setup, each player is allowed to chose two regions on the gameboard, and in each of these regions he will be allowed to place one Village, one unit of Ancient Infantry and one unit of Settlers. Furthermore, each player receives a Technology Card showing a basic technology which was available at that ancient time.

The main game then is played in turns (with alternating starting players), and each turn is divided into four phases in which each of the players is allowed to act.

The first phase of each turn is the Purchase Phase, and in this phase the players may spend their Gold in order to obtain units, city improvements and technologies. Of utmost importance are the technologies, since each kind of unit or improvement in the game depends on the fact that it needs to be discovered by a player purchasing the corresponding technology. Once a player has purchased the technology, the new unit or improvement becomes available to all players, but the player who owns the corresponding technology will receive a fee whenever such an unit or improvement is built. Furthermore, the technology also will provide its owner with a special benefit which only he may use. However, the players are not free to chose a random technology, but instead they have to consult a chart and look which technologies have been purchased so far in order to see which technologies have become available now. This ensures a moderate progress throughout the game ("No spaceships before gunpowder!"), and it also reflects the real technical progress over the ages. A further use of the technologies is that, if a technology associated to the next epoch has been purchased, the new epoch will start at the next turn, making older technologies cheaper but also possibly replacing them.

Apart from technologies, players may also purchase improvements or military units which they make place at one of their settlements. The availability of improvements also depends on technologies, and the improvements either lead to an upgrade of a settlement to the next possible size or to giving a settlement increased "Happiness" or "Productivity" values. These values indicate how productive each settlement will be in creating income for its owner.

The next phase is the Movement and Battles Phase, and now the players move their units on the gameboard in order to explore new lands, build settlements or wage war against other players and conquer their lands.

Exploration is done by Settlers-units, and whenever they move into a yet unexplored land the player owning the Settlers may look at the Exploration Marker which has been placed in this land at the beginning of the game. These markers show either Resources, Events or Terrain features which may have different impact on productivity of a settlement which is founded here or on playing conditions as a whole. Depending on whether the player deems this space a good place for founding a new Village, he may either continue moving the Settlers on his next turn or he may exchange his Settlers unit for a Village which will be placed in this land.

A very well done feature of the game is the handling of the military units. All units may be moved for different ranges on the gameboard, depending on the type of unit and the era in which it was produced. In battle, players may combat each other with units from different eras, but now the technological superiority of advanced units will come to bear. A combat arises when two or more players have units in the same land or sea space and when one of them declares that he wants to fight. Basically, each round of combat consists of each player secretly chosing one of his units and then revealing them simultaneously. Now each player will roll a number of dice according to the unit which he uses in this battle (units from later eras roll more dice than units from an earlier era). The rolls of both players are adjusted by a number of modifiers for defense of a settlement, battlefield superiority, unit level and airplanes, and the player with the highest total will have won this round of combat, resulting in the elimination of the opposing player's unit. The battle then is continued until only one player has units left. If the attacker has won, he is now allowed to take over the battled land region and any settlement it contains.

After all units were moved and all battles were fought, the game moves into the next phase - the Trade Phase. In this phase the players are allowed to trade the goods produced by their cities with the other players, provided that the other players are within "trade range". This "trade range" is determined by the technologies which have been purchased so far, and the range between the trading players gets higher the more advanced the world becomes.

The sense of trading the produced goods is twofold: On the one hand players may try to get access to several cities producing the same goods, since having access at least to three settlements producing the same goods will give the players an additional income. Furthermore, part of the following phase will be the making of a dice-roll by which a "Critical Resource" is determined, and players might speculate which resource this might be in order to trade for it. If they should have a settlement producing the "Critical Resource" they will get additional income as well.

Apart from these - temporary - trades of city productions, the players may also make many kinds of permanent trades. Thus, they may trade Gold, Settlers, Military Units, Technologies or Cities if they should desire to do so.

Once all trade have been made, the Production Phase will be the final phase before a new turn will start. In this phase the players now will collect their income in Gold, and it will be determined by the current size of their cities with bonus Gold being distributed for owning the "Critical Resource" or for having three or more Settlements producing the same resource (thus having a Monopoly).

Once all four phases have been played, the turn is over and a new turn will start with a new start player.


Having outlined the basic structure of the turns, you will also be eager to know how the game will come to an end. Here now comes another nice twist into the game, since it allows the players to adopt different strategies and to end it in one of four possible ways:

  • The most obvious way in which the game may come to its end is a Total Conquest. This means that one player has eliminated all the others, and thus he will be declared the winner of the game.
  • A different kind of end comes along with a Diplomatic Victory. Late in the game one player will get the United Nations, and that player may declare the game to end whenever he desires to do so.
  • Yet another different ending is the Military Victory, and this comes when the owner of yet another advancement, the Apollo Program, will declare the game to be over.
  • Finally, there is also the possibility of a Space Victory, and this will directly take place when a player purchases an Alpha Centauri Colony Ship

Apart from winning the game by Total Conquest, all other kinds of ending will require the players to count their victory points in order to find out who is the winner of the game. The players now will get points for number and size of settlements, Wonders of the World, special (seminal) discoveries and furthermore some bonus points depending on which kind of Victory caused the game to end. As might be guessed, the player with most victory points will have won the game.

As a matter of fact, this has review has proved itself to be quite difficult, since I had to squeeze a lot of descriptive elements into a moderately sized text which still can be read in coherence. In a way, this also reflects the rules of the game since - although they are quite easy to handle and not too complex - it takes a while to get behind the basic playing mechanisms and to keep everything in mind while playing. To some extend this is due to the fact the designers decided to split the rules into a "basic" and an "advanced" part (with the latter one containing the full rules presented above). Although it certainly is advisable to start learning the game on a smaller rules level, players will be eager to start the full game and in most cases the basic rules will be skipped. This however results in a bit of a mixture between elements from the basic rules and new elements from the advanced rules, and this makes the game a bit difficult to handle especially for the owner (and rules-teacher).

However, once these initial difficulties have been mastered, the players efforts will be awarded by one of the best strategy games ever produced. As indicated above, the game runs rather smoothly and furthermore it succeeded rather well in capturing both the challenge and the spirit of the computer game. Especially the combat rules work rather well, at a complexity level which can be compared to that of MB's classic Axis & Allies. However, Civilization also scores with the rest of its rules and the design of its playing components, and thus I would deem it to be the most advanced and best constructed boardgame in the class of "Build-and-Conquer" Games. To my mind, this game is an absolute must for a strategy gamer, but it will also appeal to all other players would want a game with real playing depth and a great atmosphere.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany