E3 2008: Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization Updated Impressions - New Information and Details

We check in with this total conversion for the award-winning Civilization IV at E3 2008.

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E3 2008 is underway, as are press demonstrations of Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization, the upcoming total conversion for Civ IV that will revive the classic Microprose game, Colonization. According to Firaxis, the game is, in the broadest terms, Civilization IV with everything not relevant to Colonization stripped out, and all of Colonization's classic gameplay, and then some, added in. The new game, like the original game, will be turn-based, and will unfold over the course of 300 turns as you explore the new world under the banner of an imperialist European power. As we've noted previously, the game's four playable nations are Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands, and each nation will have two different selectable leaders who, like the leaders in Civ IV, will offer certain special bonuses that will enhance different strategies.

The original game of Colonization typically started with the voyage of a single ship. This ship bore your people and their hope of freedom from religious persecution and usurious taxation, and in the new game, as in the original, you'll steer this ship toward land and build your first settlement, often encountering native tribes almost immediately. You'll have numerous diplomacy options with each tribe, such as negotiating peace treaties (and war treaties in which you enlist one tribe to attack the settlements of a rival nation), setting up barter trading, and even selling them muskets for handsome sums (just make sure that you don't make them angry afterward). Like in the original game, you'll spend that early-to-midgame section collecting raw materials and building finished goods to either trade with local tribes or ship back across the sea to Europe, while maintaining a subservient but eventually grating relationship with the boorish king.

In the early going, you'll want to remain on good terms with the king because he can provide you with soldiers of fortune to defend your borders, and also because he tends to start off with many more soldiers, cannons, and battleships than you have. In fact, you can spend much of the early game building a thriving economy with trade routes spanning your entire holdings and leading up to the homesteads of various tribes, who, when parlayed with properly, may provide special training to help further your cause, even producing "great people." One such great person is a master furrier, who can craft exceptionally well-made coats out of the raw material of animal furs, which will fetch an extremely high price on the marketplace.

However, sending larger and larger shipments of goods back home to the Old World will eventually draw the attention of the greedy royal treasury, which will levy increasingly higher tax rates on each shipment until you decide that you've had enough of the king and his taxes and declare your nation's independence. You will then be subject to attacks by the royal army and navy, with the king's forces attacking in waves across successive turns. Considering that the game has a limited time frame of 300 turns, you can't decide to declare independence with only 10 turns left because you simply won't have enough time to turn away the tide. The demonstration version that we watched declared independence at about turn 225, which may or may not have been premature, given that we had only 55 percent of our colonies' popular support, and not nearly enough ships and soldiers to turn away the attacks of the king.

Fortunately, declaring independence will at least help you to enlist the aid of the 52 founding fathers, who historically founded the Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence. Depending on which nation you're playing and which strategies you're using, different founding fathers will become available to join your cause and grant your nation substantial bonuses. However, Firaxis suggests that despite the game's turn limit and your eventual duty to overthrow the monarchy, the game still offers huge variety in how to play. For instance, you'll be able to found different types of government after revolting, such as a new monarchy that will let you continue trading with Europe. However, the real variety will come from the game's random-map generator, which is the primary map type that Firaxis expects players to use. The random generator, like the random generator in the Civ games, will create a differently shaped landmass with different resources and native tribes in different locations each time, and will hopefully lead to that happy little problem of having to take just one more turn.

Colonization looks very solid, and the gameplay improvements that the Civ IV engine brings make it a very intriguing prospect for strategy fans indeed. The game is scheduled to ship later this year.

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