Stu: Civilization - PC

Simply, the king of weekend-wasting games. Civ’s brutal combination of exploration, trade, historical development and empire-building resulted in more lost Saturdays and misplaced Sundays than I’d like to remember and – as I was a student at the time it came out – did for an equally worrying number of weekdays.

It didn’t matter that the original game’s graphics were spectacularly rudimentary, even by the standards of the day, nor that it was – in essence – a glorified board game with only the most basic combat strategies. What mattered was Civ’s ability to sucker you in. Just one more city, one more wonder, one more conquest then I’ll.... ow ..., bloody Napoleon, I’m not going to sit here and take that from you, I won’t rest until I’ve razed each and every French city to the ground....” In our house, the sure sign of a Civilization addict was when someone remembered to get lunch at 4pm while still wearing a dressing gown. Sad to say, I’m not the only person I know who had at least one day where they started playing Civ at eight-ish in the morning (“just a quick game before breakfast” and found themselves still playing at 3am (having had short breaks to eat and maybe shower).

Obviously, Civ scores big on its influence on other games. Without it we’d have no Age of Empires, no Rise of Nations and arguably no Total War. It was also one of the first games that made you realise that history, as much as Hollywood action, fantasy or sci-fi, was a compelling subject for games. Even now its intricate, beautifully balanced game mechanics stand up as a model for how these things should be done, and Civ hit a perfect balance between complexity and accessibility. Steadily, almost imperceptibly, it ramped up to match your burgeoning skills and always keep you challenged.

By the end of a game, with whole continents of citizens on the verge of riot, road and rail links to build and a rival Civilizations constantly pressing on your borders, it was a real handful. Few games with such a stately pace could feel so frantic. I’ve played several Civ sequels and pseudo-sequels over the years, but none has every quite got me like the original. Still, it doesn’t pay to take any chances. Somewhere in the room I’m sitting in right now is a copy of Civ 4, which I’m practically keeping under lock and key in case I get dragged back to those dressing gown days once again.

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