Civilization (computer game)

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Sid Meier's Civilization
Developer(s) MicroProse
Publisher(s) MicroProse
Designer(s) Sid Meier
Release date(s) 1991
Genre(s) Turn-based strategy
Mode(s) Single player
Rating(s) ESRB: Kids to Adults (KA)
Platform(s) MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh, Amiga, Atari ST, Super NES
Media Floppy disk, CD
Input Mouse, keyboard

Sid Meier's Civilization is a computer game created by Sid Meier for Microprose in 1991. The game's objective is " build an empire that would stand the test of time". The game begins in 4000 BC, and the players attempt to expand and develop their empires through the ages until modern and near-future times. It is also known simply as Civilization, or abbreviated to Civ or Civ I. It is generally acknowledged to be a pioneer in the genre of turn-based strategy games.


Civilization is a single-player game. The player takes on the role of the ruler of a civilization starting with nothing but a single Settler unit (sometimes two of them). The player attempts to build an empire in competition with 1-6 other civilizations. The game is turn-based and requires a fair amount of micromanagement (although less than any of the Sim games).

Along with the larger tasks of exploration, war and diplomacy, the player has to make decisions about where to build new cities, which improvements or units to build in each city, which advances in knowledge should be sought (and at what rate), and how to transform the land surrounding the cities for maximum benefit. From time to time the player's towns may be harassed by " barbarians", units with no specific nationality and no named leader. Later in the game these threats come from the sea, when no unclaimed land is available for the marauding barbarians to spawn from.

Before the game begins, the player chooses which historical civilization to play. Minor differences exist, such as which starting technology or the initial number of units. In addition it prevents the computer from being able to play that race. Computer-controlled opponents display certain traits of their civilizations. The Aztecs are both fiercely expansionistic and generally extremely wealthy, for example. Other possible civilizations include the Americans, the Mongols, and the Romans. Each civilization is led by a historical figure, such as Mohandas Gandhi (Indians) and Josef Stalin (Russians).

The scope of the game is huge—larger than most other computer games. The game begins in 4000 BC, before the Bronze Age, and can last through to 2100 with space age technologies. At the start of the game there are no cities anywhere in the world: the player controls one or two Settler units, which can be used to found new cities in appropriate sites, and also alter terrain and build improvements such as mines and roads and, later, railroads.

As time advances, new technologies are developed; these technologies are the primary way in which the game changes and grows. Players choose from, at the beginning, advances such as Pottery, the Wheel, and the Alphabet to, near the close of the game, Nuclear fission and Space flight. Players can gain a large advantage if their civilization is the first to learn a particular technology (the secrets of flight, for example) and put it to use in a military or other context. Most advances give access to new units, city improvements or derivative technologies: for example, the Chariot unit becomes available after the Wheel development, and the Granary building becomes available for building after the Pottery development. The whole system of advancements from beginning to end is called the Technology tree, or simply the Tech tree, a concept adopted in many other strategy games. Since only one tech may be "researched" at any given time, the order in which technologies are chosen makes a considerable difference in the outcome of the game and generally reflects the player's preferred style of gameplay.

Players can also build Wonders of the world in all the epochs of the game, subject only to possession of the necessary knowledge and if no other civilization built it first. These wonders are often important human achievements of society, science, and culture in human history, ranging from the Pyramids and the Great Wall in the Ancient age, to Copernicus' Observatory and Magellan's Expedition in the middle period, up to the Apollo Program, the United Nations, and the Manhattan Project in the modern era. Each of these wonders can only be built by one civilization and takes up a lot of resources to build (far more than most other city upgrades or units). However, each of these wonders provides unique benefits that can be gained by no other methods. Wonders can also be made obsolete by technological advances.

The game can be won either by destroying all other civilizations, lasting until the end of the modern era, 2050, or by becoming the first civilization to succeed at space colonization, in this case reaching the star system of Alpha Centauri.


This game has been one of the most popular strategy games of all time, and has a loyal following of fans. The game (by means of all its versions and updates) has endured for over a decade and a half, with product being offered for sale the entire time in retail stores. This high level of interest has spawned a number of free software versions, such as Freeciv and C-evo, and inspired similar games by other commercial developers, as well.

CivNet was released in 1995 and was a remake of the original game with added multiplayer, improved graphics and sound, and Windows 95 support. Gameplay was almost identical to the original game. There were several methods of multiplayer, including LAN, primitive Internet play, hotseat, modem, and direct serial link.

In 1992, Civilization won the Origins Award for Best Military or Strategy Computer Game of 1991.

In November 1996 Computer Gaming World's Anniversary Edition, Civilization was chosen the #1 of the 150 Best Games of All Time, and it was described as follows:

While some games might be equally addictive, none have sustained quite the level of rich, satisfying gameplay quite like Sid Meier's magnum opus. The blend of exploration, economics, conquest and diplomacy is augmented by the quintessential research and development model, as you struggle to erect the Pyramids, discover gunpowder, and launch a colonization spacecraft to Alpha Centauri. For its day, Civ had the toughest computer opponents around - even taking into account the "cheats," that in most instances added rather than detracted from the game. Just when you think the game might bog down, you discover a new land, a new technology, another tough foe - and you tell yourself, "just one more game," even as the first rays of the new sun creep into your room... the most acute case of game-lock we've ever felt.


Meier admits to "borrowing" many of the technology tree ideas from a board game also called Civilization (published in the United Kingdom in 1980 by Hartland Trefoil (later by Gibson Games), and in the United States in 1981 by Avalon Hill). The early versions of the game even included a flier of information and ordering materials for the board game. In an ironic twist, there is now a board game based on the computer game version of Civilization.

Meier was the third major designer to plan a computer version of Civilization, but the first to actually carry out that plan. Danielle Bunten Berry planned to start work on the game after completing M.U.L.E. in 1983, and again in 1985, after completing The Seven Cities of Gold at Electronic Arts. In 1983 Bunten and producer Joe Ybarra opted to first do Seven Cities of Gold. The success of Seven Cities in 1985 in turn led to a sequel, Heart of Africa. Bunten never returned to the idea of Civilization. Ironically, Meier's designs of Pirates and Colonization both contain elements of Bunten's The Seven Cities of Gold. Don Daglow, designer of Utopia, the first sim game, began work programming a version of Civilization in 1987. He dropped the project, however, when he was offered an executive position at Broderbund, and never returned to the game .

Intellectual property status

As of late 2004, Atari, the latest publisher of a Civilization game sold the intellectual property of the Civilization brand to Take 2 Interactive Software, who will distribute Civilization games under the 2K Games label. Take 2 went public with news of the sale on January 26, 2005.


Civilization has inspired the creation of a number of sequels, including Sid Meier's Civilization II, Sid Meier's Civilization III and, most recently, Sid Meier's Civilization IV.

Similar games

In 1994 Meier produced a similar game called Colonization. Colonization, while being very similar to Civilization, never became quite as popular. It has also been criticized for leaving out slavery and other historically important features in the creation of many nations and empires. Civilization IV, however, recognized slavery in the game play.

The game Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri is also by Meier and is in the same genre, but with a futuristic/space theme. Many of the interface and gameplay innovations in this game eventually made their way into Civilization III and IV.

In 1993 Microprose published Master of Magic, a similar game but embedded in a medieval-fantasy setting where instead of technologies the player (a powerful wizard) develops spells, among other things. The game also shared many things with the popular fantasy card-trading game Magic: The Gathering.

In 1994 Stardock released Galactic Civilizations, a similar turn-based strategy game for OS/2 which became one of the best-selling games for that platform. They released a reprogrammed Windows version in 2003, and a sequel in 2006.

The designers of the historical strategy game Age of Empires received much inspiration from Civilization, with many similar features (e.g. technologies, wonders). The main difference here is that Age of Empires is not turn-based, but plays in real-time.

In 1999 Activision released Civilization: Call to Power, a sequel of sorts to Civilization II but by a completely different design team. Gamers that year had a choice between a new game with the Civilization name but no involvement of Sid Meier; and a "space"-themed civilization game without the name but clearly designed by the same team ( Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri). Call to Power spawned a sequel in 2000, but by then Activision had lost the right to the Civilization name and could only call it Call to Power II.

Civilization's introduction

An introduction movie shows when a new game is started in Civilization. The movie was added to give players something to look at while the game world was being created, though it can be cut short.

The following words form the actual introduction of Civilization:

In the beginning, the Earth was without form, and void.

But the Sun shone upon the sleeping Earth and deep inside the brittle crust massive forces waited to be unleashed.

The seas parted and great continents were formed. The continents shifted, mountains arose. Earthquakes spawned massive tidal waves. Volcanoes erupted and spewed forth fiery lava and charged the atmosphere with strange gases.

Into this swirling maelstrom of Fire and Air and Water the first stirrings of Life appeared: tiny organisms, cells, and amoeba, clinging to tiny sheltered habitats.

'But the seeds of Life grew, and strengthened, and spread, and diversified, and prospered, and soon every continent and climate teemed with Life.

And with Life came instinct, and specialization, natural selection, Reptiles, Dinosaurs, and Mammals and finally there evolved a species known as Man and there appeared the first faint glimmers of Intelligence.

The fruits of intelligence were many: fire, tools, and weapons, the hunt, farming, and the sharing of food, the family, the village, and the tribe. Now it required but one more ingredient: a great Leader to unite the quarreling tribes to harness the power of the land to build a legacy that would stand the test of time:


The game pulled the introductory text from a text file located in the game's computer directory, and it was possible to alter the text file to manipulate the game's introduction.


Civilization was originally developed for MS-DOS running on a PC. It has undergone numerous revisions for various platforms (including Microsoft Windows, Macintosh, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, PlayStation, N-Gage and Super Nintendo) and now exists in several versions.

Points of controversy

A contentious aspect of the game occurs in combat when a modern unit is fighting an obsolete or ancient unit. The ancient unit can sometimes win what most players consider to be an impossible battle. The most notorious of this is the infamous "spearman defeats tank" phenomenon in which ancient combat units could defeat modern ones (such as tanks and, amazingly, aircraft) due to status modifiers such as terrain, fortifications, and veteran status.

"Veteran players of Civilization were occasionally disconcerted when a veteran phalanx unit fortified behind city walls on a mountain would defeat an attacking battleship. Mathematically it was possible but the image just didn't sit right. How could ancient spearmen destroy a modern steel warship?"

The historian and anthropologist Matthew Kapell has published an essay critical of the Civilization series. It suggests that the game uses unique American myths of progress and the frontier in culturally elitist fashion. (“Civilization and its Discontents: American Monomythic Structure as Historical Simulacrum.” Popular Culture Review Vol. XIII, No. 2 (Summer): 129-136.)

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