I’ve been on a YouTube history kick lately, listening to long historical biography videos while doing things around the house. If you’re a history nerd like me, listening to the intrigues of medieval kings gets you hankering for a piece of the action, albeit a sanitized simulacrum of the real thing.
Yes, that means I have been playing a great deal of Civilization VI. I was a bit sick this past weekend, so I had hours in bed conquering the world as Poland. If your fantasy is a world in which an Eastern Orthodox Poland controls all of Europe, Asia, and most of Africa, as well as large swaths of North and South America, then you’d have loved that game.
With turn-based strategy still fresh on my mind, I’d thought I’d look back to this review of a far more primitive game in the legendary Civilization series: Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution on the Nintendo DS Lite.
Last week I took some time to play a few games, notably The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Once my niece and nephews arrived, though, I didn’t have time for much else (although we built some cool planes and helicopters with a big bin of LEGOs). They love Uncle Portly’s “devices”—my Nintendo Switch Lite (the “big device”), Nintendo 3DS XL (the “medium-sized device”), and Nintendo DS Lite (the “small device”). My older nephew will spend hours building levels in Mario Maker 2 if left to his own devices. My niece usually ends up with the “medium-sized device,” leaving my littlest nephew to play whatever I happen to have that will run on the DS Lite.
In digging around for games a two-year old could grasp, I found my old copy of 2008’s Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution. It’s an interesting, almost “abridged” version of the full Civilization experience—what would now be a cellphone app. The game contains the major elements of a Civilization game from the Civilization IV era, and the game bears the stamp of many of that iteration’s innovations (as well as one of the major contributions from Civilization III, culture borders).
Naturally, my nephew wasn’t going to be playing that, but I popped it in one evening after the kids went to bed and found the game highly entertaining.
To be clear, Civilization Revolution, at least on the Nintendo DS, is very rudimentary. It removes some of the mechanics of the PC game, such as builder units, and streamlines the victory conditions (instead of builders, players pay gold to build roads between cities). The classic victory conditions are there—Domination, Science, Culture (which blends in the Diplomacy victory condition)—as well as one I don’t remember in other Civ games, Economic. Each reward different styles of play, though I find that they all go together: Culture relies on attracting Great People to your empire, and reaching some Economic milestones rewards the player with Great People. Great People can also be captured when taking enemy cities; while I’m not sure if these count towards your total, capturing an enemy capital is often a big culture boost, especially if there are Wonders there.
In a recent (successful) playthrough of the “Beta Centauri” scenario (the game essentially starts all civilization in the Modern Era with all technologies researched), I captured the capitals and destroyed the civilization of the French, the Greeks, and the Germans, and was gearing up to capture Beijing to seal a Domination victory when the massive cultural outputs of Paris, Berlin, and Athens catapulted me to a Culture victory. Berlin built the United Nations (which is required to win a Culture victory after attracting twenty Great People to your empire) in four turns flat, and the ChiComs didn’t stand a chance.
Honestly, it was a very welcome outcome. The game was becoming a slog at that point, as I was slowly amassing huge numbers of troops to dash against the rock of Chinese resistance. In this regard, the game is very punishing: combat is not as lopsided as in Civ III (in which, infamously, ancient spearman could destroy a modern tank at full health), but it’s often a matter of a.) who strikes first and b.) who has formed units into armies. Terrain does provide defensive bonuses, but some of those are very generous. The game also carries over Civilization II‘s differentiation between offensive and defensive strength, so that very strong offensive units are often highly vulnerable to attack, and must be protected. Players coming from Civilization VI, in which units cannot be stacked, will have to adjust to old-school Civ combat, in which massive stacks of soldiers is the norm.
The game also suffers from a problem that, to my knowledge, no version of Civilization has ever addressed adequately: the late-game doldrums. As I mentioned, the endgame for me was a real slog, as I was just praying I could grind down the Chinese defenses with my Japanese tanks and bombers. The alternative victory condition was a godsend at that point.
While the game shares that unsolved weakness from other Civ games, it also shares their greatest strength: the (in?)famous “just one more turn” quality. Civilization Revolution had me constantly losing track of time as I’d keep playing one turn after another. I was also playing the game on my Nintendo DS Lite, which is smaller than an index card when closed, and about as thick as my pocket calendar. Naturally, that means it slips very comfortably into a jacket pocket or my back pants pocket. Sunday morning I absent-mindedly slipped it into my sports coat’s breast pocket and caught myself playing before the service started!
And that is Civilization Revolution‘s greatest strength: it is fun, and it maintains that same addictive quality of the other games. In my younger days, I would routinely make the mistake of launching a game of Civilization at, say, 9 PM on a weeknight, and suddenly find myself, red-eyed and weary, playing at 1 or 2 AM, knowing full well I had to put in a full day of work the next day.
I’m not so reckless now, but this portable version is dangerous to have around at all times. The small screen size of the DS Lite makes for a bit of a cramped experience, but the game controls very intuitively (I’m supposed to use a stylus with it, but mine fell out long ago). It would be a bit more comfortable on the Nintendo 3DS XL, which boasts a substantially larger screen, but for some reason the game was not running on mine this weekend.
Regardless, I had a fun walk down memory lane playing this little game. I’m thinking it will become a part of my bedtime routine—a few turns (or several dozen turns) before bed. If I start complaining about sleep deprivation and staying up until 2 AM, though, call the Civilization Anonymous hotline.