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Civilization IV: Colonization

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis
Release Date: Sept. 22, 2008

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PC Preview - 'Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization'

by Alicia on July 8, 2008 @ 10:16 a.m. PDT

In Colonization, players lead one of four European nations on a quest to conquer and rule the New World. Players will be challenged to guide their people from the oppressive motherland, discover the New World, and negotiate, trade and fight with both the natives and other nations as they acquire power and fight for freedom and independence.

A lot of people mistake Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization for a Civ IV expansion, and I can't blame them. It's a fairly reasonable assumption, and it's rather misleading that Civ IV's name is in the game's title at all. The upcoming Colonization game is actually a remake of Sid Meier's Colonization, a 1994 turn-based strategy game that was comparable to Civilization, but tasked players with a very different goal. Colonization was a game about the settlement of the New World, allowing players to take one of four factions through the process of competitive colonization. The first faction to declare independence from its mother country and win a revolutionary war won the game. Civ IV: Colonization is explicitly a remake of the 1994 Colonization that happens to use a version of the Civ IV engine as its base. This version of the Civ IV engine is so enhanced that Colonization is actually incompatible with Civ IV, and the two games don't share any features or functions, just a slightly similar interface. Otherwise, Colonization has enhanced the original Civ IV graphics and streamlined the interface to be more user-friendly. So, if you were hoping for more Civ IV, the new Colonization is only slightly likely to interest you, while fans of turn-based PC strategy games have reason to do happy dances. Civ IV: Colonization is the remake that the original Colonization has desperately needed for over a decade.

A game of Colonization begins with you choosing to take the role of one of four colonies: the Dutch, English, French or Spanish. Each colonist type has certain inherent advantages that others don't possess, and which colony you prefer to use is largely going to be a matter of your personal play style. Likewise, each colony has two potential leaders that can be selected to also give your colony a particular bonus. The demo showed off the two English leader options, George Washington (who made soldiers 50 percent cheaper to equip) and John Adams (who grants a +25 percent Liberty boost). Who you pick is going to depend on what kind of game you want to play, but George Washington seems to be a good choice for neophyte players.

Each game takes place on a randomly generated map designed to roughly resemble the continents of North and South America. The geography won't be strictly realistic, but you'll always have a northern and southern continent connected by a narrow but utterly impassable isthmus. Alternatively, you can play a Caribbean game, which will generate a map comprised entirely of small islands. Each type of map offers its own challenges as well as advantages, and most players are probably going to end up preferring one type of game over another. What land you control determines what resources your colony can get, but the allocation thereof won't necessarily be realistic. Your Midwest may produce minerals instead of grain, for example.

In each game of Colonization, all four colonial factions are competing to see who can first declare their independence from the mother country and then win a war of independence, exactly like the 1994 original. This means you'll have to share your map with three other colonies, and also with any Native Americans who've been randomly placed around the map. How you relate to various tribes around you can determine a lot about your success or failure; you can opt to try peaceful coexistence or wipe out everyone in your path, but the game offers way too many advantages for coexistence for Indian Wars to be a worthwhile goal.

When you have friendly relationships with a nearby tribe, you can expect a steady stream of gifts from them, forge alliances and receive troops when you go to war with a rival colony, and offers to train your people in any skills at which the Natives are experts. In the demo, the English were next to a tribe of friendly Native Americans who happened to be expert sugar planters and offered to train English units in sugar planting, knowledge that could rapidly give the English side an economic advantage over the other three colonies. The only real downsides to trying to coexist with Native Americans is that they'll get upset if you build too many colonies near their cities without paying them for the land, and they may expect you to side with them if they choose to go to war against rival Native tribes or your rival colonies.

Native Americans will also get upset if you expand your colony's borders too quickly or too much, even if you're expanding away from the friendly tribe's territory. This can lead to war, but it's better if you instead give the tribe gifts and favors to placate them. You can also opt to send missionaries to a tribe's city to build a mission, which can begin converting all of the local tribesmen into populations loyal to your particular colony. That part of the game is almost so realistic that it makes me a little uncomfortable, but it certainly seems to be a winning tactic, judging from the part of the demo that looked at a game that was close to ending.

Early on, making your colony grow means finding useful local resources or growing useful local crops and then sending merchant ships back to Europe to sell them. You then need to turn around and invest these resources in expanding your territory and trying to start a local army. It's a slow process, as one might expect of a Sid Meier strategy game. You can begin a revolution when you've built the rebel sentiment in your colony to 50 percent or more, but it's best to wait until you have both rebel sentiment and a lot of ships and troops at your disposal. It's also best to wait until you aren't at war with another colony or Native tribe on top of wanting to fight off the inevitably powerful forces that the mother country will send once you rebel. Exactly how many troops your mother country has to throw against you depends on how good you've been at sending gold back to the King. If you've sent him lots of gold and he's happy, he won't have as large an army on hand when you rebel as he would if you'd been holding out on him and not handing over any cash.

When it's time to declare a revolution, you begin by declaring the principles of the new country you're trying to found. You aren't obligated to pattern your nation too closely after America: The English colony in the demo was a theological monarchy. Each characteristic you pick grants your new nation particular bonuses, so what kind of country you choose to found may have more to do with how you like to play games than what sort of political beliefs you have. Once you declare revolution, you have a brief time to prepare your colony for war while the mother country's troops sail across the Atlantic to come give you a beat-down. Once they arrive, the fight's outcome really comes down to how well-prepared you are. You can use ships to sink enemy ships before they can land troops on your territory, which makes winning the war easier. Unfortunately, building ships is expensive, and it's rare you'll have as much of a navy on hand as you wish you did. Once the fighting starts on land, then it really comes down to who has the most powerful units. There's nothing you can actually gain by defeating European ships that aren't carrying troops, since defeating the invasion force dictates whether or not you win independence. While the war goes on, you'll have to keep an eye out for other colonies that may join in the fray, but you may also get valuable help from any Native allies you've cultivated. It's not guaranteed that rival colonies will want to fight you once you declare revolution, but you need to make sure that you keep everyone happy while you trade with them.

Civilization IV: Colonization looks like a really interesting spin on the basic turn-based colony concept. It's enough like Civilization itself to scratch that empire-building itch, but the way you achieve victory and the overall strategy of the game is completely different. Perhaps best of all, Civ IV: Colonization is the sort of game that could really only ever exist on the PC, with the advantage of a mouse for input and a keyboard at your disposal for making all kinds of shortcuts. The PC market is being increasingly clogged by console ports designed to be played with pad controls, even down to the grungy licensed titles that are embarrassing enough before you waste a PC to run them. Civilization IV: Colonization is instead the sort of intelligent, deep game that everyone says never comes out for the PC anymore.


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