Just in case you finally managed to drag yourself away from your PC and go live a productive life, the good folks at Firaxis have released a new expansion to their superb 2010 strategy game Sid Meier's Civilization V. Titled Gods and Kings, it represents the first "full" expansion to the nearly two-year-old, turn-based giant. Though previous expansions have featured new cultures, scenarios, and gameplay tweaks, they haven't brought new game elements into the mix. Gods and Kings does so, and it rekindles that "just one more turn!" addictiveness that has become the hallmark of the Civilization series.
As its title suggests, the foremost new inclusion in Gods and Kings is religion as a cultural and political force. A new cumulative resource, faith, is now part of the game, riding alongside culture, gold, and happiness. Faith can be gathered initially by building shrines and temples, or by stumbling across a random quantity as a prize for searching through ancient ruins. Get enough, and you can start your own polytheistic pantheon, which provides you with a choice of many potential enhancements for your civilization. Some of these help you generate more faith (for example, by giving you some faith for each gold and silver mine you have), and some give other benefits (such as enhancing the amount of food each of your hunting camps generates), but all are helpful in one way or another.
Eventually, you garner enough faith to move from your basic pantheon to a full-on religion. At this point, a great prophet, whom you use to start your religion, spawns near your capital. From here, you choose the symbol and name of any of the dozen major world religions, or create your own, and then you decide what benefits you want from that religion. You need to be careful here, because your choices have a massive effect on how you guide your civilization toward victory, especially in the early to mid game, and you almost always want to synergize your religious benefits with the strengths of whichever civilization you're playing. For example, the French, who are both expansionistic and culture-focused, might want to choose religious benefits that fortify their culture and reduce their level of unhappiness (a by-product of large empires). Conversely, more warlike civilizations, like the Aztecs or Japanese, might want religious benefits that focus on quicker production of military units or more efficient logistics.
Of course, even if you don't ever get to found your own religion, you can still take on one that was founded by another player. And if you have founded a religion, it's in your interest to convert rival civilizations and city-states to your way of viewing things. This provides both you and them with benefits, but the advantage is yours, since you ultimately control the direction of the religion (which you can alter once during the course of a game). Furthermore, civilizations that follow the same religion tend to be friendlier and more willing to help one another (although this is far from a given), and conversely, those that follow different faiths tend to form coalitions against each other. It's an aspect that greatly enhances Civ V's gameplay.
Eventually, the influence of religion begins to dwindle (depending on which benefits you've chosen), and you derive most of your income and power from other sources. At this point, Gods and Kings' other major enhancement comes into play: espionage. While spying isn't as fundamental or as critical to success as religion, it is vastly more robust and important than it has ever been in a Civilization game. Spies aren't trained, but are instead awarded at particular intervals throughout gameplay and can be assigned to do everything from stealing technological secrets from rival factions to fomenting a coup d'etat in a city-state and installing a government that's loyal to you.
Spies' missions require a roll of the dice to succeed, but the more successful they are, the more they level up, and the more they level up, the more successful they are. On the other hand, it's also possible for spies to fail, even to the point of causing an international incident and starting a war. Indeed, if caught and interrogated, spies have the potential to reveal secrets about their owners' civilizations, so the espionage game can be risky. Late-game buildings and social policies can affect a civilization's susceptibility to being spied on, but most players will need to take advantage of spies at one point or another to catch up to their rivals.
Besides religion and espionage, Gods and Kings adds a bevy of new units, buildings, wonders, and civilizations to play. The newly added civilizations bump up the number of female world leaders, and include the semi-mythological Dido, queen of Carthage, and Theodora, empress of the Byzantine Empire. Also included are a bunch of new city-states, including two completely new types: religious ones that boost your faith when you ally with them, and scientific ones that boost your research. On the downside, Gods and Kings doesn't include any of the civilizations or scenarios from previous Civ V expansions, with the exception of the Spanish and the Mongols, the latter of which was free downloadable content anyway.
But that's just about the only thing you can say in the negative about Gods and Kings. Along with all the nifty additions to gameplay and content, AI has been noticeably improved across the board. It no longer puts artillery on the front lines, builds cities right in the middle of someone else's empire, or behaves as if it were schizophrenic in diplomatic negotiations. It's still not perfect, but it's a lot closer than it was before and remains a challenge much further into the late game now. And, depending on how long it has been since you last played Civ V, you'll also notice a slew of gameplay and rule tweaks that help close exploits and loopholes in the rules.
In the end, the best thing you can say about Gods and Kings is that it makes Civ V noticeably more fun--something that anyone who's already familiar with the game would likely say is an impressive achievement indeed.