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Civilization IV: Colonization

In Sid We Trust.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Uncross those fingers, unfurrow that brow and breathe a big, candle-snuffing sigh of relief: Firaxis hasn't mucked up. The ball has not been dropped, the pooch has not been screwed, the baby's bathwater has been disposed of carefully and without any grievous consequence. Yes, it's my happy duty to report that one of strategy gaming's most sacred relics has been brought kicking and screaming into the 21st Century with minimal loss of brilliance.

But first: time for an obligatory history lesson. It was in The Year Of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Ninety Four that Messrs Sidney Meier and Brian Reynolds unveiled their near-perfect Civ semi-sequel. Turn-based, tile-mapped, and as lovable as a chipmunk in a Pilgrim Father costume, Colonization was all about dispossessing American Indians. Starting mid-Atlantic with a shipload of supplies and emigrants, players scrambled to grab and grow New World colonies. Independence from an increasingly greedy motherland was the ultimate goal.

En route, resources had to be reaped and processed, goods traded, indigenous tribes befriended or butchered, European rivals outstripped. Where Civ was a surreal history-mangling marathon, Colonization was a tech-tree-free 3000m steeplechase. The shorter span and tighter focus gave it a more rooted, more realistic feel. Some connoisseurs even dared to claim it was the better game.

For those familiar with the original, the news that Firaxis was readying a new version was cause for both celebration and consternation. More than a decade on, could it capture the same magic and subtlety? Would the fact that it was being built with Civ 4 code lead to compromises? Were we going to wind-up with an awkward Beyond the Sword-style mod? Nerves jangled.

The Civ IV connection is obvious. They really didn't need to mention it in the title.

Happily, it turns out we were all worrying for nothing. One of the first things that hits you about the reassuringly magnetic Civ IV: Colonization ('Colonization II' would have been so much neater) is just how similar it is to its ancestor. There's the lone ship surrounded by sea and darkness. There's the beige settlement screen with its unshowy building illustrations. There's the eager emigrants waiting on the resolutely 2D dockside. Wisely, Firaxis has resisted the urge to meddle. There are no pointless graphical embellishments, no new, nailed-on concepts. Yes, there are changes - a sleeker interface, Civ IV-quality visuals, multiplayer, borders, unit promotions... - but none of them upset or over-burden the expertly stacked Colonization applecart.

Not that the Colonizations are humble applecarts. Groaning fruit-and-veg stalls is what they are, veritable Covent Gardens of choice, colour, and succulence. Every turn is chock-a-block with the kind of dilemmas and opportunities that make sleep, food and friends seem desperately unimportant. Take a look at my current game for evidence.

If Colonization was a perfume it would combine hints of tobacco, pine needles and pilgrim sweat.

It's 1551 and I'm playing as Dutch coloniser/fag brand Peter Stuyvesant (English, Spanish and French personages are also playable). Things are going swimmingly, but there's still plenty to ponder and lots to do. Issues currently stacked in my mental in-tray include a warehouse bursting with furs in New Amsterdam, an idle settler in Dontgiveadam, and an imminent starvation situation in Claudevandam (Yes, you can name your own settlements).

The overflowing warehouse situation is easily sorted. All I have to do is check a couple of export/import checkboxes and my automated fleet of cargo vessels will swing by regularly to pick up surplus pelts. Rather than ship the skins direct to the Old World, I'm going to drop them off at Tarmacadam where an expert furrier will transform them into valuable coats. The good people of Holland love their mink cagoules and beaver parkas.

The idle settler situation requires a bit more thought. Right now I'm torn between employing him in a cigar factory (cheroot prices in Europe are sky-high at the moment) and turning him into a missionary and packing him off to a nearby Indian village to convert braves. Actually, scratch that. I think I'm going to send him north to mine silver in Rightlittlemadam. There's a lot of money buried in those hills.