The Definitive Strategy Game of Our Time: A Civilization 5 Review

Does the fifth installment still make me want to play "just one more turn?"
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We’ve come a long way since the early days of Sid Meier’s classic, Civilization. There are plenty of fond memories along the way.

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Civ 2 had railroads that created infinite travel loops for the AI. The Alpha Centauri spin-off gave us the ability to create our own units with varied armor, weapons, and travel methods. The second version of the Colonization spin-off gave us the nigh unbeatable without-a-patch Royal Army.

There have been plenty of ups and downs in the series, but you can’t argue that this game franchise is one of the strongest of our time. The Civilization series has spawned five original games, several spin-off titles, even a board game, and is currently working on a new spin-off game, Beyond Earth. Franchises such as Age of Empires and Total War have provided excellent competition, but never really reached the master of strategy games, Civilization.

If you enter Civilization with no previous experience, you will be inundated with options. First, you get to pick a civilization, ranging from ancient Babylon to more modern civ’s such as America or Napoleon’s France. Each civilization comes with a special ability and unique units or possibly a unique building.

personal screenshot

Each civilization will usually be tailored for one of the five victory conditions; Conquest, Culture, Technology, World Peace, or just earning the most points. A few bonuses just improve your game and it is up to you to decide which victory condition you think is best.

After selecting your civilization, you still have to choose your map size and type, the difficulty, and how long of a game you would like to play. The difficulty rating has become a challenge in itself with veteran players. Just because you beat the game on the Immortal difficulty, doesn’t really mean you beat the game.

Advanced set up options will even let you pick your opponents and teams. If you don’t like all the options given to you, you can just hit “randomize” and jump right in. Once the game begins, be ready to spend away your whole afternoon or month.

The game starts you off near the beginning of human history with nothing but a family and a few men with sticks. Your first city should be built right away. Once your burgeoning empire has started, you’ll be well on the way to conquering the world. 

Combating Barbarians

Barbarians will likely be your first experience with the new combat system that improves drastically over the old versions. Veterans will notice the first and most drastic change is the lack of “unit-stacking.” In older versions of the game, you could put several troops in the same tile.

This allowed a player to put one or two incredibly defensive units on top of several weak ranged units. In order to reach the weak units, the enemy would need to tear through the tough units one by one with a strategy that was eerily similar to banging your head on a wall. Now only one military unit may reside in each space.

This allows you to use terrain more strategically than in the past. Be careful, your opponent can do the same. The speed of mobile units and the range of artillery will all play a much different role than before. It’s simple enough to keep your ranged units behind a strong front line, but one break in the line could prove disastrous for your undefended archers.

Managing your cities

Deciding what your cities will build has always been the most significant part of Civilization. In the early game, you often were required to build a military unit or build a settler and take the risk of an undefended city. Civ 5 introduced one of the best improvements in the series by giving cities a natural defense of their own. Cities are now able to defend themselves for a few turns which is usually enough to get troops nearby to turn the combat in your favor.

Midgame: the Meat, One more turn.

Once you’ve started to expand your country, you will start to run into other civilizations through out the world along with city-states, one city countries that will join you if you support them through regular quests. The other civilizations also want to win, so be careful how to proceed with them. While each victory condition represents one specific path to victory, you will need to work on all of them to win the game.


In order to truly attain a conquest victory, you will want to plan on it from the beginning of the game. Several World Wonders, only one in the world may exist, will set you apart from the other civs in early domination. The problem is, you might lose in the technology arena, allowing smarter players to build better units than your simple axemen and archers. It will take a long portion of the game to conquer all the civilizations in the world. As you get closer to victory, the rest of the world will band together against you. This remains true for all of the victory conditions. You will need to balance technology and army strength to win this way.


Culture represents how much people around the world would rather live in your country than their own. Originally, culture was only good for an abilities tree. Once you filled five of those trees, you could build a Great Project that would win you the game upon completion.

Fortunately, Brave New World completely changed the culture game for the better. It became harder to earn massive amounts of culture, but you were able to seek out ancient treasures left around the world from past battles and former cities. You can pile these into your libraries and museums for more culture. In order to win the game by culture, you must be “influential” on all the other civs in the game, meaning your cultural output is overwhelmingly greater than their own. This can be relatively easy over militaristic civilizations, however, they will usually attempt to attack and destroy you before you can claim victory this way.


The Technology victory should be called “space travel” instead. Once you have the technology to start building a space ship, you can begin immediately. You can even start building engines before you have any idea how to build the cockpit.

Once you build all the spaceship parts, you can send them to your capital for assembly. Put all the parts together and you win! Your people begin their trip to another world, quite possibly the world of Beyond Earth.


Diplomacy or World Peace is simply a matter of getting the whole world to like you or at least most of it. It’s easy enough to convince the city-states to join their cause by giving them enough money and completing quests for them, but you will also need to “pacify” a few of the other countries to pull it off. Strategic military gains are the best way to do this. You can’t just go to war with whomever you want. You need to goad your opponents into attacking you. On a high difficulty level, this shouldn’t be an issue. Take their cities and expand your own reach. Eventually your size, plus your command of city states will make it possible to take over the world, through peace, of course.


No one tries to win this way, it just happens. Scoring points in Civilization is somewhat ambiguous. You get points for nearly everything; people, cities, wonders, units, and culture. The points you earn for each isn’t completely clear. If the game runs all the way until the last year, you likely won’t be winning anyway.

Why not a 10?

The franchise has come a long way and the games are markedly improved with each new incarnation. Unfortunately, because of the detail in this game, some interactions just can’t be seen. Quite often, with the release of a new game or expansion in the series, a patch is required to make it playable again. The first version of Civilization V had an opening movie you couldn’t skip and no loading screen. If your computer wasn’t at the graphical peak of the time, it would often crash trying to open the game.

Civilization has been an experiment working on the “perfect” strategy game since the beginning. Each edition brings us one step closer to that perfect game. Civilization V is no slouch on bringing us new elements for that perfect game. If they do make the perfect game, will they stop making Civilization or will they want just one more turn at it?

The Definitive Strategy Game of Our Time: A Civilization 5 Review
Does the fifth installment still make me want to play "just one more turn?"

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Landon Sommer
While I do play some of the greats like Civilization and X-com, consider me your Tabletop guru here at gameskinny. Want to know about a tabletop game? Just ask!