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Civilization IV: The Games That Made Us

Patrick goes back to his childhood to explore his love for Sid Meier’s Civilization IV

Already a nerdy history geek by middle school, I loved historical novels, movies, and television shows. It was only natural that when Sid Meier’s Civilization IV was released by Firaxis Games in October 2005, I immediately put it on my Christmas list. This is the fourth main title in the Civilization series, but it was the first that I played, having discovered it in the Target PC Games aisle. When I opened this game on Christmas morning, it was the first thing I played, and I played it all day. When you boot up this game, you are met with Christopher Tin’s Baba Yetu, which is one of the greatest musical compositions for a video game (and Baba Yetu became the first video game theme to win a Grammy award). And the historically inspired gameplay that let me lead my chosen civilization throughout world history was unlike anything I had ever played. I was hooked right away, always wanting to take “One More Turn”.

In the Civilization series, you lead one of the greatest civilizations throughout world history. You start at the earliest moments of settled history in 4000 BCE and bring them to the future (2050 CE). Throughout these 6000 or so years, you build world wonders, found religions, research technology, go to war, build buildings and infrastructure, expand your territory, and even explore the stars. The winner is the first to achieve one of several victory conditions: conquering the rest of the world with your military might, controlling a majority of the world’s population, dominating in the realm of culture, winning the election for world leader at the United Nations, being the first to launch a spaceship that reached Alpha Centauri, or having the highest score when the game reaches 2050 CE without another victory condition being achieved.

Mali preparing to attack Greece’s capital of Athens/Sid Meier’s Civilization IV, Firaxis Games
Mali preparing to attack Greece’s capital of Athens/Sid Meier’s Civilization IV, Firaxis Games

The original Civilization IV included the most diverse list of civilizations for the series yet: America, Arabia, Aztec, China, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Greece, Inca, India, Japan, Mali, Mongolia, Persia, Rome, Russia, and Spain; the Warlords expansion added Carthage, the Celts, Korea, the Ottomans, the Vikings, and the Zulu, while the Beyond the Sword expansion included Babylonia, Byzantium, Ethiopia, the Holy Roman Empire, Khmer, the Mayans, Native Americans, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Sumer. Each civilization has its own abilities, unique unit and building, and alignment towards a specific victory condition. Each civilization has a playstyle that leads to a differing experience that ends in hours and hours of replay as you try out different playthroughs and styles.

One of the features of Civilization IV that I quickly became obsessed with was building world wonders. Historically significant buildings ranging from the Pyramids to Broadway, the Taj Mahal to Versailles and Stonehenge to the Cristo Redentor could all be built in your cities. It was always a race against your opponents to be the first to complete the wonder (as only one was allowed in the world). And there is nothing as satisfying as finishing the Hanging Gardens or the Great Wall before anyone else and getting the powerful bonuses these big projects provide.

As someone who is not particularly good at games that need a lot of hand-eye coordination, such as shooters, Civilization IV was awesome for me. Its point-and-click interface did not impede my ability to play this game, and the strategic focus played well into my background of playing just about every Tycoon game. And throw in tons of world history and historically based features? I was home.

A city with both the Pyramids and Stonehenge – only in Civilization!/Sid Meier’s Civilization IV, Firaxis Games
A city with both the Pyramids and Stonehenge – only in Civilization!/Sid Meier’s Civilization IV, Firaxis Games

In addition to all the tailored-specifically-for-me content of Civilization IV and its expansion, this game has something else that is particularly special: this game was narrated by Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy’s narration, in his eerily comforting voice, the same he uses to voice Spock and the King in one of my all-time favorite movies, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, is ingrained in my memory. Sitting there every day after school and hearing Nimoy’s voice read quotes from Aristotle, William Shakespeare, Hammurabi, and Leonardo da Vinci were more formative than seemed possible. When Nimoy passed away, I knew I was not the only Civilization fan who thought fondly on hours upon hours of hearing his voice narrate our achievements throughout world history.

The Civilization series has long had a passionate following. Some gamers and streamers are solely dedicated to Civilization games. One of the best parts of Civilization is that it is always evolving. The 34 civilizations and 41 world wonders in Civilization IV were the most diverse yet in that series. But Firaxis Games did not stop there. Civilization VI and its expansions bring us 50 total civilizations, including first-time entries Canada, Gran Colombia, Hungary, Kongo, the Māori, Scythia, and Vietnam; there are also 53 world wonders ranging from Great Zimbabwe to the Panama Canal. They have introduced city-states, natural wonders, city districts, golden ages and dark ages, climate change, and natural disasters, as well as new game modes, such as secret societies and monopolies that greatly expand a playthrough’s gameplay options. As the series is most likely gearing up for the seventh entry in the franchise, expect more innovation and diverse inclusion to feature.

The Civilization series has continued to develop/Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, Firaxis Games
The Civilization series has continued to develop/Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, Firaxis Games

Civilization IV was an important game for me because it helped make me who I am. It showed me that there were others out there like me who was fascinated by the history of our world and wanted to spend time deep-diving into it. It made me feel like I had a place in the gaming community. I have since branched out into other genres of games since discovering Civilization IV, but I know I never would have found my other favorite games like Mass Effect if it wasn’t for the countless hours spent playing Sid Meier’s Civilization IV. Here’s to always taking “One More Turn”!

Civilization IV: Complete Edition, which includes the base game and the expansions, is available on Steam for PC and Mac. Civilization VI: Anthology, which includes the base game, all DLC, and the expansions of the most recent entry to the Civilization series, is available on Steam and the Epic Store for PC and Mac, as well as on Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch.

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