Genre: Turn-based strategy
Developed by: MicroProse
Published by: MicroProse
Platforms: Mac, MS-DOS
Feeling Like: Economics Major
Do I…do I call it Sid Meier’s Civilization? I usually prefer not to. No disrespect to Mr. Meier, an undisputed industry legend, it just feels tacky. Like Lee Daniel’s The Butler, or Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. I get unnecessarily anxious about nomenclature, so for now, I’ll just say Civilization; you’ll know what I’m talking about, and I can save a few keystrokes. And if Sid Meier himself ever reads this, I’ll gladly change it.
Civilization is an all-timer, but like many classic video games, they’ve long since been overshadowed by their sequels. The idea, the concept, the uniqueness, the originality were revolutionary in the early 90s, particularly since games were just hatching from the proverbial creative egg to become a dominant pop culture force. It’s weird to think of new genres just popping out of nowhere, but they did. As technology got better, the possibilities widened.
Here’s a game that’s not about running or jumping or shooting in space. Do you know strange and rare that was in 1991? Civilization is about starting a new empire from scratch and working your way upwards to World Domination. It’s not necessarily about killing people, but it’s not “not” about killing people. Future games in the series would give you even more freedom with winning conditions, but for Civilization, it was all about expanding your territory and conquering the enemy…or making it to space!
What comes to mind more than anything else is my time spent with Civ in Mr. Ollech’s Grade 7 class at Glenlyon-Norfolk Junior Boys School. We had a black and white computer at the back of the room that I’m pretty sure was only used for Civilization and nothing else. I guess it counted as an educational experience?
My greatest lesson learned that year was economics. Not through math, or homework, or even Civilization itself. It was through the lunch auction we created every day at noon. Nobody seemed content with the specific lunches their parents had packed them. Or, it was just more fun to eat something you weren’t used to. Or, it was just fun to indulge in the madness. Either way, the bidding usually started with Dave offering up his frozen mini pizzas (which I have just recently discovered have been discontinued?!?!?) as the starting bid. They were the most coveted item, ever since Mr. Ollech surprised the classroom with a microwave. Naturally, we’d zap the pizzas while they were still in the plastic. Kept the flavor in, you know?
Look, we were 12. Anything new was exciting. Hell, we used to love when the Garbage Guy came in his giant truck to collect the bins and we’d scream and wave hello to him. A microwave and switching lunches were the highlight of our day. I’m not exactly sure how the auction structure was designed, but time with Civilization was definitely up as a prize. Or a bid. Or, whoever finished their lunch first. Alright, I’ll admit it – I have zero clue now how it worked. But, like my leftover nostalgic love for Romeos (Tuesday was Pizza Day), Civilization remains in my memory like a friendly garbage man, or benevolent teacher, or barely functional Macintosh.
Civilization is so grand in its scope that it’s intimidating. At first, you’ll only have a few units to worry about, but before long your progress snowballs and your responsibilities become overwhelming. Every city needs to be told what to produce, scouts will need a route to follow, armies need orders, diplomacy with other leaders needs to be considered, research need to be studied, resources need to be found, roads need to be built and this is where it’s easy to see how the series is infamous for being one giant time vampire. A single turn goes from taking seconds to 5-10 minutes. And a single turn is never enough. I’ve almost conquered my neighbors. I’ve almost discovered the whole map. I just built that wonder. One more turn becomes several more hours, and we definitely didn’t have hours at lunchtime.
Still, even the early parts of the game were massively appealing. Each city improvement led to a quick cut scene of it appearing among the other buildings in your town. As time flows and you enter different eras, the cities are upgraded with a more modern look. You can name every city (and yes, we were 12, so you can imagine the maturity of the naming scheme). So many details and intricacies and all this from a game made six years prior.
I doubt it’s held up. The series would see a MASSIVE improvements in its sequel, Civilization 2 let alone the myriad of other iterations in the franchise. But it was a computer game in 1996 that I had access to, and got to share with my friends at GNS while we yelled over who won Dave’s pizzas. That’s reason enough to warrant a spot at 325 and close out a Running Start.