Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution Review

Civilization Revolution for the DS is a distilled, streamlined version of the popular PC strategy series that succeeds despite its limitations.

Ever since its inception in the early 1990s, Sid Meier's critically acclaimed Civilization series has challenged players to "build an empire to stand the test of time." Civilization Revolution is the newest scion of the series, and like its predecessors, it's a turn-based strategy game in which you take charge of a notable historical civilization and lead it from humble beginnings to world domination. Cramming the strategic breadth of Civilization on to a DS cartridge is a formidable task, and developer Firaxis Games has done an admirable job. Though space limitations have forced some notable exclusions, Civilization Revolution is still an enjoyable, engrossing game.

The Mongol hordes advance on Spanish cities.
The Mongol hordes advance on Spanish cities.

Before the game begins, you must make an important choice: Which of the 16 civilizations will you command? Each has a starting bonus and four era bonuses that you'll gain as you progress through the ages; bonuses that will aid you in some way on your path to victory. There are four types of victory in Civilization Revolution: cultural, economic, technological, and domination. Each has particular victory conditions, and civilization-specific bonuses are a good way to start down the road toward meeting those conditions. Those seeking a cultural victory will appreciate that the Egyptians start with an ancient wonder, whereas military-minded players might choose the Germans and their veteran warriors. Trying the different civilizations on for size is great fun as you adapt your unique strengths to grow your empire and deal with your opponents.

Once you've chosen your civilization, the game begins in earnest. As you set down your first city, you'll see icons on the surrounding squares indicating how much food, production, or trade each produces. Food grows your population, production builds units/buildings, and trade furthers scientific research or fills your coffers with gold. Being aware of these resources is the key to your civilization's prosperity. As your city grows larger and encompasses more squares, you'll have the option of telling your workers to prioritize one resource over others or to work certain squares instead of others. Certain buildings and technologies will increase your resource yield, so the challenge lies in choosing what to research and what to build to optimize your city's production. This interweaving of strategic considerations is absorbing and spurs you to constantly refine the myriad facets of your grand plan.

With your first city up and running, you begin to go about the business of expanding your realm. You build warriors to defend your city and explore the surrounding area. Barbarians may threaten you early on, and destroying them will grant you gold or, perhaps, a bonus unit. There are also friendly villages that will offer similar bonuses and sometimes even grant you a new technology. Discovering impressive natural wonders, such as a great forest or a vast desert, will garner you a gold bonus, as well as the right to name the region. There are also a few ancient artifacts, such as Angkor Wat, which grant substantial boons to the civilization that discovers them. Although it's already a thrill to explore uncharted lands, these bonus incentives add more urgency to your wanderings and encourage you to keep up a brisk pace.

Contrary to your science advisor's claim, you actually can live without literacy.
Contrary to your science advisor's claim, you actually can live without literacy.

As you explore, create units, and settle new cities, you'll soon discover that you're not alone. Leaders of other civilizations will contact you with offers of peace, but don't expect these truces to last. Depending on your difficulty level, you may have a few leaders asking to trade techs, or they all may try to bully you out of hearth and home. You can do some bullying of your own from the diplomacy panel, as well as make peace, trade techs, or even pay a leader to wage war on another civilization. However, long-term trade agreements, nonaggression pacts, and open borders have been excluded, the latter of which is particularly missed during online games when passing through an ally's territory will cause a declaration of war. Oddly, the diplomacy menu won't tell you who you're at war with, but it's generally easy to keep track because your enemies tend to try to extort you every other turn.

If you refuse extortion attempts or want to pursue a domination victory, you'll declare war on your enemies and march your legions off to battle. Every combat unit has a separate attack and defense rating, so it's important to play to each unit's strengths. For example, in the early going, archers are twice as powerful on defense than offense, so leaving them to defend your cities while your more powerful attackers advance to the front may be a good move. Positioning yourself advantageously is rewarding, not only because of terrain bonuses, but also because of the satisfaction you get from winning a carefully executed encounter. Cutting through your opponent's forces and taking his cities is immensely gratifying, though large invasion forces can get cumbersome because you can no longer combine diverse units into a manageable stack.

The cartoon battle animations are a nice bonus.
The cartoon battle animations are a nice bonus.

Actual combat is merely a matter of sending your unit onto an enemy unit's square and seeing how things play out. Victorious units will gain experience and can earn special abilities, such as improved city defense. Combat has been streamlined, and the number of units available throughout the ages has been pared down from the robust PC rosters. Ships can now transport a huge number of units in any age, and give you a combat boost when postioned next to your warring armies. These are just some of the changes from the PC formula that, thankfully, don't feel like omissions. The strategies that the lost elements supported are still present and can make or break your martial campaigns.

There's a lot of information to take into account when playing Civilization Revolution, and fortunately, there are a number of built-in tools to help you. Your cadre of advisors will provide vital information about units, buildings, and technologies as you determine what to build and research. Unfortunately, the excellent console Civilopedia has not been included in any incarnation. All of the information you need can be gleaned from the tech planner or your advisors; you'll just have to be a bit more assiduous in piecing it all together. Civ vets will feel right at home, but beginners should play their first game on the easiest difficulty and take advantage of the thorough tutorial.

Civilization Revolution isn't a pretty game because the interface focuses on function over form. The animated battles, as well as the cartoon caricatures of advisors and world leaders, are the only graphical flourishes in an otherwise symbol-heavy landscape. This actually works to its great advantage because the iconic style communicates a large amount of information in a small amount of space. It feels a bit busy initially, but one or two games in, and you'll be reading terrain easily. There are some tricky bits, especially when two civs are similar colors or when there are a lot of units traversing a small region. Still, the style works well, and the grid-based screen is easily navigable with the D pad and face buttons. City management is also a breeze, and the only time you'll find yourself using the touch screen is when you need to select a particularly stubborn unit. As for the sound, it's mostly uninteresting sound effects punctuated with a few nice fanfares, so you're better off turning the volume all the way down.

Cleopatra is one sassy dame.
Cleopatra is one sassy dame.

Online play is smooth and moves at a reasonable pace, whether you're playing locally with multiple cartridges or over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. The former is your best bet because it's less likely your opponents will drop out after their early bid for a domination victory fails, but Wi-Fi works just as well, though it is markedly slower. Up to four players can compete on one map, but it is hard to develop alliances and conspire against foes within the limited diplomacy communication options, so free-for-all is generally the order of the day.

Played against human or AI opponents, Civilization Revolution is a great game that will let you plumb different strategic depths each time you play. It's incredibly easy to get engrossed in the rhythm of expansion and evolution, and to find yourself happily losing hours and hours at a time. Sid Meier and Firaxis Games have done a commendable job of streamlining many of the key game mechanics, and they've cut out some of the micromanagement without gutting the strategic options. While not as pretty or fully featured as its console counterparts, the DS version packs a lot of content into a small package. The addictive turn-based strategy of the Civilization series has been well distilled here, and folks looking to dominate the world wherever they go will be pleased with this game.

The Good

  • Engrossing strategic depth
  • Many ways to claim victory
  • Iconic visual style conveys a wealth of information
  • Meets high standard of the Civilization series

The Bad

  • Busy maps can feel visually cluttered
  • Diplomacy is a bit limited
  • Wi-Fi opponents rarely stick around for long games
  • Sound is best left off

About the Author

Chris enjoys aiming down virtual sights, traipsing through fantastical lands, and striving to be grossly incandescent.