A Brief History of 'Civilization' (the Game)


Civilization II was the first game I ever really got into. I would spend hours steering my civilizations from the humble beginnings of one little settler to the glories of democratic capitalism and world domination. To this day, I'm still loyal to that particular version of the franchise.

Last week saw the arrival of the latest iteration: CivWorld, a multi-player edition for Facebook. Long-time fans may not be pleased with it: one game may drag on for weeks as players wait on each other to make their turns, real money can be used buy advantages over players, and, to top it off, bugs and an overloaded server have hampered eager first-movers' attempts to actually give it a try.

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The original Civilization was released in 1991. Inspired by a mix of other sources -- SimCity, Risk, and a British board game also called Civilization -- the game challenged players to lead a civilization from the year 4000 BC into the modern age. In the cockpit of your civilization, you were in charge making decisions such as what to build in your cities, which scientific discoveries to pursue, how much of your resources to devote to building up your military might.

Civ II, released in 1996, built on the basic principles of the original, improving the game's artificial intelligence, graphics, and the complexities of military battles. Animated advisers debate various strategy options, and short movies display the advantages of different wonders of the world you can build.

In 2001, Civ III added the element of "culture" to the games many variables. Culture, improved by building improvements such as temples or wonders of the world, expands your civilization's borders and helps to keep your citizens happy.

Civ IV, which came out in 2005, offered a dramatically improved game-playing experience, with more vivid graphics, a Grammy-winning theme song, and narration by Leonard Nimoy. This edition also added the concepts of religious traditions (previously, civilizations could build temples and cathedrals but not adopt, say, Taoism) and the ability to build "Great People," such as Moses and Einstein. In 2008, versions came out for Nintendo DS, XBox 360, and PlayStation 3.

That brings us to Civ V, released in 2010, which is possibly the franchise's greatest disappointment. A "rants thread" on the Civilization Fanatics website runs for pages, with well over 600 posts. Criticizing it for being slow, stupid, and buggy, many players have stuck with Civ IV, widely regarded as the best of the bunch.

Much the same may happen with CivWorld. Of course, we won't know until it starts working more smoothly.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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