My brief review of Civilization 5

If you didn’t know already, I am a big fan of the computer game series Civilization. In the last week or so, the latest version of Civilization – Civ 5 – was released. On the weekend, I bought a copy of the game after playing the limited demo a few times.

My laptop does not come close to meeting the minimum specifications for running the game, but one of the great things about the Civilization series is that it can run (albeit slowly) on computers that are quite old. However, the graphics on my machine are dialled down to the lowest possible settings.

If you don’t know what Civilization is, then this post is probably not for you. (Or you could check this Wikipedia article.)

Overall views

Civilization 5 is a worthy successor to Civ 4 – to date the best version of the Civilization series. It is a very different game to Civ4, requiring different strategies and tactics to win, while still being recognisably a Civ game. Civ 5 has that awesome “one more turn” feeling – where you struggle to finish playing a session because there is always another turn, another unit, another rival to attack.

Civ 5 is a great game that feels like it needs an expansion pack and a major patch to be “perfect”. There are a few annoying things that really bug me (see below), but they aren’t enough to be deal breakers.


There are some massive changes that have been made – things that completely change Civ 5 from Civ 4.

No stacking

The most significant for me is that units can no longer be “stacked”. In all previous versions of Civ, you could place more than one unit on a single square. By Civ4, this had devolved into what were called, on Civ forums, “stacks of doom”. Civ games would be resolved by a few stacks of units moving around the map and fighting one another and attacking cities.

However, in Civ 5, you cannot stack any units. This completely changes how combat works. Now, placement of units really matters, and the entire game takes on a more tactical feel. Pure brute force won’t automatically work. This can be quite annoying, as you can only garrison one unit in cities, which means if you have a large army, you end up having them spread out all over your empire’s lands. Similarly, you cannot stack Workers – so you can no longer improve a tile with multiple workers at once.

No more large empires or large armies

There are some major changes to how empire management works, as well as things like strategic resources and happiness. For example, having large numbers of cities reduces happiness across your empire, instead of just city-by-city. Unhappiness reduces the productivity in all your cities. Capturing an enemy city will fill your empire with unhappiness – which means that during a war when you’re on a conquering spree, it can come to a grinding halt due to decreased production in your cities.

Similarly, strategic resources come with limits now. Whereas in Civ 4, a source of iron would be enough for your entire empire, in Civ 5 it is only enough for a few units that require iron (e.g. Swordmen or Catapults). This puts a major limit on building your armies in massive, unstoppable military forces.

The optimum empire size seems to be not much more than 5 or 6 cities…

Hexes instead of squares

All previous Civilization games have had square tiles. Civ 5 has hexagonal tiles. This gives the game a more “war-gaming” feel. It is a noticeable change, although I feel it reduces options from 8 (4 sides of the square, plus 4 corners) to only 6. This does change how the game plays, but it’s neither a good or bad change, and its easy to get used to.

Everything goes more slowly

Money, culture and research all seem to accumulate more slowly. I’m not sure if this a real change, or just a symptom of my sub-par laptop. Money is really important now, and culture is really hard to get. Cities’ culture expands more slowly. The game I played was on “fast” and on a small map, and I was still frustrated with the pace. I definitely won’t be playing on the regular or “marathon” speeds.

Good things: The things that I really like

  • Gameplay is as good, if not better, than Civ 4.
  • Social policies are good – they are benefits for your empire that you “buy” with culture.
  • Domination victory condition now only involves capturing the capital cities of your rivals, instead of every city.
  • The units and buildings feel about right – more modern units properly out perform outdated ones.
  • The battle “predictor” no longer uses percentages, but gives results like “decisive victory” or “minor defeat”.
  • Cities have “hit points” and can “bombard” enemy units – which means you don’t need to garrison cities any more.

Bad things: Things that I really dislike

  • A bunch of little things. You can’t zoom out to a “global” view. The minimap is really basic.
  • No stacking of units – surely there could just be a limit of 5 unit stacking or something. Or at least allowing garrisoning of more than 1 unit in a city.
  • You can’t seem to sell buildings that you no longer want.
  • There’s no Culture/Money/Research slider any more. I can’t really see how I can influence these things.

Other things: Not sure how I feel yet

  • City states are new, one city “empires” that never expand. They periodically request things, can provide allies with units and resources. Not really sure how I feel about them. In the game I’ve played, I really didn’t worry about them too much, since it’s the major empires that cause trouble.
  • Roads now cost money to maintain, so you no longer cover every tile with roads. This was something to get used to, and feels a bit annoying as it makes it difficult to move troops around without roads (especially since you can’t stack units).
  • The AI seems a bit stupid (in terms of unit tactics), but I won’t really mind about that unless I start to easily beat the Immortal difficulty level.
  • Diplomacy has changed significantly – I can’t see why rival empires are angry or happy with me, and there doesn’t seem to be technology or map trading. This just means I’ll engage in less diplomacy than in Civ 4.

I’ve played one game of this game so far – playing Russia on a small Earth map against 6 other civs. I’ll be playing this game a lot in future. Definitely a great game that will be made better by expansion packs and patches that let you turn on unit stacking.

[box type=”info”]You can buy Civilization 5 from[/box]

3 thoughts on “My brief review of Civilization 5”

  1. I found it a bit odd to have so many of what used to be 'health' resources, but they don't seem to have any value (except I think one extra food per turn). There are certainly some aspects to this game that have an 'unfinished' feeling.

    Cultured city states are good for a bit of extra early culture.

    1. Yeah – looks like they're just extra food. I only really focus on the strategic and luxury resources in Civ 5 – horses and iron, and gold/silver etc.

      I've only ended up allying with one city-state, which was good because they had heaps of luxury resources that solved my unhappiness problem in the middle of a war. Can't see much point making them a focus of the game though.

      I agree about the "unfinished" feeling – definitely needs a few major patches to fix things like rivers, diplomacy, etc.

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