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Sid Meier’s Civilization 5 Review

By on December 28th, 2010 7:16 pm

The Civilization game series is probably one of the best known and most played of all time. Created by Sid Meier these games are the hallmark of the empire building strategy games.

Civilization 5 is the latest installment of the Civilization series and while the matrix of the series remains intact this sequel promises to innovate in one important aspect of the game, the combat system. Combat is no longer fought in squares but in hexagons but most important of all you no longer stack units in single tiles, now the approach is 1UPT (1 unit per tile) which makes all the difference from the strategic and tactical point of view.

For the newcomers that never played the Civilization series I invite you to read my article Sid Meier’s Civilization V Preview that includes an introduction to the series.

Now let’s see how successful was Sid implementing this new combat system and the rest of the features of Civ 5. First, and this being a sequel, let’s start with the differences from its predecessors.

So what are the major differences in Civilization 5?

The Major differences in Civilization 5 from its predecessors, apart from overall better graphics, are the introduction of City-States and the revolution of the combat system by introducing the 1UPT (1 unit per tile) approach.

City-States are minor and independent powers normally reduced to single cities (as the name suggests). They do not compete for victory as the other civilizations but can be determinant to victory as they provide important bonuses that can make the difference in the long run. There are three types of City-States: – Maritime, Culture and Militaristic. The first provides food bonuses to your empire, the second provides culture bonuses and the third provides you with regular gift units. It’s up to you to know how to handle city-states. Sometimes they will make requests of you, if you comply you can get a boost in relations with that city-state. You can just conquer city-states and gain access to their nearby resources or you can make allies with them to benefit from the bonuses described above. It’s up to you.

Civ5: Rio de Janeiro City State
Civ5: Rio de Janeiro City State

Overall City-States are a very nice addition to the franchise as they provide more depth to diplomatic relations, more decisions to be made and ultimately are a fun feature that is undoubtedly a major plus for Civ5.

The other major difference in Civ5 is 1UPT. This is a completely new way to place and move troops. In its Civ predecessors troops could stack to a very big amount in a single map tile which sometimes resulted in the famous SoD (stacks of doom). Now in Civ5 a tile can only old a single military unit. This is a revolutionary feature that dramatically decreases the number of military units present in the world. To allow 1UPT the Civ5 mechanics changed significantly, for instance there is a limit of units you can build now, at least the ones that require special resources. To build swordsman you need iron, but if you only control 4 Iron resources you can only build 4 swordsman, in contrast to Civ4 where if you control a single resource of iron you could build an unlimited number of sword units.

Civ5: Hexes and 1 Unit Per Tile

With 1UPT tactical and strategical combat changes dramatically and gains a new meaning. Now each unit must be placed with care since only a handful of troops can attack a city or an enemy troop in the same turn. The units are now more valuable so you will not want to lose them so much. To add to this archers and siege units can now fire 2 to 3 tiles apart which enhances tactical combat even more. Maybe you will want to keep your archers in the back while you attack with swords in the middle and cavalry from the sides. It’s up to you to make your formations. Combat has evolved to a new level in the Civilization series. 1UPT is another plus for Civ5. I just have to remark that although 1UPT seems wonderful the AIs don’t seem to master it too well, at least at the time of this review. Maybe this will be fixed in future patches.

What about other changes, are there any?

The introduction of City-States and 1UPT were the really major differences of Civ5 in relation to its predecessors in my opinion but what about other changes? Apart from a different user interface, different music and new graphics is there any difference? Yes, there are plenty of differences.

In Civ5 they removed (from Civ4):

  • Random events
  • Local happiness management
  • Health concept
  • Maintenance(corruption) concept
  • Tech trading
  • Religion
  • Civics
  • Espionage
  • Corporations
  • Foreign trade
  • Map trading
  • Culture assimilation
  • No need to have naval transports for embarkation
  • No need to have a road or river nearby to access resources
  • Economy science/gold /culture sliders

They added:

  • Global happiness management
  • Social Policies
  • Research Agreements (instead of tech trading)
  • Pact of Cooperation (now declaration of friendship in new patch)
  • Secrecy Pact (now replaced by publicly denounce in new patch)
  • Increased building times
  • Can buy land to expand borders
  • Naval units can now bombard units and cities (present in Civ3, removed in Civ4)
  • Archers, Catapults, Artillery can now attack 2 to 3 tiles away
  • Cities now defend themselves even without garrisons
  • Science is mostly a direct output of the number of population and not a function of money (as in Civ4)

There are other differences that I cannot remember now, if someone wants to note others feel free to point them out, I’ll add them later on.

Civics are now Social Policies

In Civ4 you could choose civics that you could adopt in your Empire to gain some benefits. You could adopt civics in Government, Legal, Labor, Economy and Religion aspects. The choice of the civics influenced diplomacy (if you had the same civics as the other civs they would like you, makes sense). Now in Civ5 civics were removed in favor of Social Policies.

The concept remains, you can choose between several types of rule styles and ideologies like Liberty, Tradition, Autocracy, Freedom, among others. The good thing is that you can now have a mix of these, like you can adopt a Liberty measure and a Tradition measure but some are incompatible like Autocracy and Freedom (makes sense).

Civ5: Social Policies
Civ5: Social Policies

Social Policies have trees for each policy so in a sense they are like mini tech trees of their own. Social Policies are a nice addition but they don’t qualify as major additions in my opinion since they are more like a remodeled Civics feature.

Diplomacy is now more … mysterious

To explain how the diplomacy has changed nothing is better than listening what the Civ5 lead designer Jon Shafer has to say about it (this clip was taken from Sulla’s “What Went Wrong with Civ5 article” that you can read here).

Here’s what Jon Shafer said in an E3 interview: “Our goal was to make diplomacy feel more like interacting with other players or world leaders, rather than a system to be min-maxed. No longer are diplomatic modifiers shown since this used to give away pretty much everything your computer-controlled rival nations were thinking. That’s one way of doing diplomacy in a strategy game, but we wanted there to be more mystery in the interaction. Some leaders will work behind your back, and showing the numbers would either give everything away or provides a misleading sense of security.” And in another interview: “One of our early goals was to improve the diplomatic experience in the game. In particular, we want there to be a sense of mystery to it, where the player doesn’t know exactly what to expect from the other players.”

Well the intention seemed good but the result was not that good. Remember about the diplomacy positive and negative modifiers (numbers) that you got in Civ4 that told you exactly how each leader feels about you? That is no more. In fact after successive complaints by the fans Jon Shafer receded a bit and in the new patch (1.0.1.141) you can now see some modifiers, not exactly quantitative numbers, just some subjective positive and negative sentences. The problem was (and still is) that diplomacy became .. well .. too mysterious, to the point that it can be considered as erratic, random or illogical depending to whom you talk. But one thing is certain, it does not matter which civ fan you talk since all of them will tell you that they don’t like the way diplomacy behaves, and even after the new big patch (1.0.1.141) there are still many things that need to be corrected.

Civ5: Diplomacy
Civ5: Diplomacy

For instance sometimes the AI will tell you that you are expanding too much near him while you are far away from that Civ, the AIs after some point start to be hostile to you without any good reason and many times all at the same time. Sometimes you liberate a Civ, and it becomes naturally friendly with you but in 5 turns it starts saying you are a bloodthirsty leader and they became angry with no apparent reason. And there are more of these erratic behaviors.

Diplomacy is perhaps one of the worse aspects of Civ5. The intention was good but it did not come out right. Maybe they can fix this with future patches and expansions.

Happiness management is now Global, is that a good thing?

In Civ4 happiness was managed locally in each city. A building you create in a city influences that city happiness alone. You needed to manage each city individually doing what you could to keep it happy. Now in Civ5 happiness is managed globally. Every resource you gain access to but more importantly every happiness building you create contributes to the global empire happiness status. You can argue, as I do, if this is logical to start with. What does a coliseum built in a city contributes to global happiness? Shouldn’t that building influence that city alone? But apart from how the concept gets abstracted there is another aspect of global happiness that needs to be addressed.

Civ5: Global Happiness
Civ5: Global Happiness

There was always a mechanic in civilization games to detract an empire to become too big too quickly and turn completely unstoppable, and to avoid the player from adopting the infamous ICS strategy that is basically to create as many tiny cities as you possibly can. In Civ3 it was corruption, in Civ4 it was maintenance, in Civ5 it is global happiness. Unhappiness is generated by the number of population and number of cities so if you want to expand you need to access more resources and build more happy buildings. but there is a catch or more a side effect that the designers didn’t foresee.

Building more cities generates more population and subsequently more gold and more science, in contrast with Civ4 where for every city you built you suffered a substantial economy impairment that could only turn over in the long run. If you expanded too much in Civ4 you could stale very quickly, ICS was not viable in Civ4. In Civ5 if you expand too much you can say that you are going to become unhappy but that is not such a big deal since the penalties of becoming unhappy are not so important. So in Civ5 you can adopt ICS and expand a lot without penalty. This is not what the developers intended, they intended us to build big cities but it has not turned out that way. This has been addressed in the new patch (1.0.1.141) but it’s still not completely fixed.

Buildings take too long to build and there is not so much to do …

One thing that I started noticing while playing Civ5 was that buildings took too much time to build and another thing that I experienced was that I was not building most of the structures available to me (in contrast with Civ4 where I built most of them). You may argue that this is ok since you don’t need to build every structure available to you, but the thing is that I probably don’t build around 50% of them EVER. It is a very strange thing to me still that I don’t bother with many buildings, first because they take forever to build, second because they just cost too much money to maintain and third simply because I just don’t care. Something does not feel right about this and again ask to any game fan and they will tell you the same thing. Some mods already exist to address this (because now forests only provide 1 hammer, and mines provide also less hammers) to help solve this issue a bit.

Civ5: City Screen
Civ5: City Screen

This leads to my next big issue with Civ5, there seems not to be enough things going on to keep you entertained.

Everybody knows that the franchise is famous by its “just one more turn” syndrome. This happens because the game is very addictive, simply because there is always a lot going on, and in a single turn much can happen and this keeps the gamer glued to the screen full of excitement and expectation anticipating what’s coming next. I’m sorry to tell you but Civ5 does not feel so addictive as its predecessor, simply because there is not much going on to keep you engaged. Some people call this immersion factor, it is a state where the player forgets about time (about everything) and just keeps playing and playing and clicking end-turn fully engaged in the game.

The problem in Civ5 is that so much as been removed that not much is left to keep the player entertained. Sure the battles are fun and keep you entertained, but Civ is not only about war is also about the feeling of advancement (the next building, the next unit, the next policy, the next tech breakthrough, etc). The player needs to be given constant options so that decisions can be made. With so many things removed like religion, random events, local happiness management, tech trading, espionage, health, foreign trade, corporations, culture assimilation, map trading etc. What are we supposed to do between turns? Many will say that Civ5 is now more of a war game and if you want to take the full out of it you must engage in war. Unfortunately there are many gamers (like me) that prefer the peaceful-occasional-war style of play. For those the game feels a bit too boring.

Multiplayer

I did not tried multiplayer in Civ5 yet but judging from what the community is saying it seems it is still half-baked and full of problems. For example there is no Hot Seat :| (yet)

Graphics, User Interface, Sound and Music

In general Civ5 improved the graphics of its predecessors in almost every way. The terrain, see, lakes, forests are now more believable than ever. A remark on rivers that don’t look so nice.

The user interface is good and functional. The leaders animations in the diplomacy screen are specially nice. Only a remark on the building queue system that is not so good as before and to a nice feature now gone, the multiple selection of cities (clicking Alt key in a city would select all cities in Civ4).

Music is nice, I specially like the Greek soundtrack however and in spite the music is ok I still prefer the Civ4 music. Sound is also good. The sounds of rifles (like a firing squad), the artillery sounds, naval units, nothing to complain here.

Conclusions

Civ5 is generally an enjoyable good game but it does not live to the expectations of the hardcore fans. Just search the forums in CivFanatics for example. It’s true that the stakes were very high since its predecessor Civ4 Beyond the Sword was already the culminating peak of optimizations to the franchise, and so it would always be very hard to meet the fans expectations.

For Civ5 to be completely successful it needed to evolve and to be able to surprise and re-engage the fans. The addition of City-States and 1UPT were very nice evolutions and promised to lead the franchise in the good direction but unfortunately there are many problems with Civ5 that have disappointed the fans. Things like the diplomacy problems (that the game cover introduced as “improved diplomacy”), global happiness shortcomings, long building times, boredom (not much to do) undermine the game to the point where it cannot be named a classic (yet).

Some things may and will be fixed in future patches and expansions for sure. If we remember well Civ4 was far from perfect when it was launched.

If they can fix diplomacy, provide more things to do, decrease the building times and provide more justifications to build many structures I think the game can still become the best of the series. If that is possible only time will tell but it will not be with the same lead designer. Jon Shafer left Firaxis (don’t know the details) so maybe Sid Meier himself can supervise the evolution of Civ5, I certainly hope so.

You can buy Civilization 5 from Amazon here (box). If you’re interested in the download version go here.

civ5_box Sid Meier’s Civilization 5
(Buy at Amazon)
Space Sector score: 8.4

(about the score system)

The Good:
- 1 Unit per Tile is an evolution on the combat system
- City-States add depth and strategy
- Social Policies are nice mini “tech-trees”
The Bad:
- Diplomacy is erratic and many times illogical
- Global Happiness does not stop over-expansion
- Not much to do (boredom)
- Buildings take too long to build and many don’t justify their construction
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19 Comments


  1. don says:

    Good article. I am expanding across the ocean & have no way to protect my troops. I put ships nearby, but they are picked off by the barbarians sometimes. It is very boring. I seem to be able to walk away too easily. I cannot seem to afford to keep things paid for later in the game & seem to need to save great people to get some extra cash from golden ages. I think the fact that buildings are SO specific that there is no reason to build them (especially when they take so long to build…) Maybe I will return to Civ 4 or build all trading posts to try to build up cash.
    Thanks,
    Don

    • Angry Fan says:

      I hope they scrape Civ 5 and start new from Civ 4. I found civ 5 performance to make the game extremely boring. I never made it through a game. I don’t have 2 hours to get through just about nothing except 2 hours of boredom.

      This game is a 0 out of 10. Good ideas. Good Graphics. Completely boring. I waited for a year so exicited and never played after a few tries. One of the worst games I have ever played. I would say it is the worst but there must be something worse…I can’t think of one but is it possible this is the worst “game” ever created?

      • Adam Solo says:

        Have you been playing lately. I quit playing Civ5 in a while now and I was wondering how good the patches were in fixing the most problematic issues, where boredom (nothing to do) was surely one of them.

  2. Fashbinder says:

    An accurate review from another Civ Lover raped by Civ 5. It’s heartbreaking to have a quality series destroyed.

  3. Jacy says:

    Is this review a joke? You state that the game is plain boring right in the beggining, not mentioning that you understand that the very core and motivation of the game (diplomacy, right? If you don’t have diplomacy you are just playing a board game like war) is simply broken. And in the end you give it a 8.4?

    Gimme a break. What a ridiculous and worthless review.

  4. Adam Solo says:

    @don
    I agree with you regarding the buildings being too expensive to build and maintain. It is surely one of Civ5 shortcomings.

    @Fashbinder
    Thanks. I wouldn’t say Civ5 destroyed the franchise but surely it did hurt. I think they will probably fix the “buildings being to expensive” and “nothing to do” issues with time, and probably will be able to tweak a little bit the diplomacy and global happiness shortcomings. If they pull this off Civ5 is saved for me.

    @ Jacy
    I understand what you mean, and probably you are an hardcode fan of the Civ franchise as I am. I thought at first to give it an 8.0 but then decided to give it a little bit more (8.4), let me explain why.

    First I cannot be biased only by my personal opinion about the game. I do my reviews taking into consideration the overall appeal of the game, taking into account not only the hardcode fans but also the casual player, which from what I’ve been understanding do like the game. The second reason is that I think Civ5 has the potential to be much better with time. And third I do give a lot of credit to the developers for being bold in trying to evolve the franchise with the introduction of 1upt (a real bold design decision in my opinion). The game did not came out as good as they would hope but at least I give them credit for trying. Ok, the AI cannot handle 1upt very well but I think they will be able to fix that with time as well.

  5. Rob Hab says:

    Thanks for the review and insights…. I promised my son I would study this version of Civ to see if it is worth the time investment to play it. I would like to read more reviews before I attempt to play Civ 5. What is the best way to find more reviews?

  6. Art C says:

    Good review.

    Civilization 5 is a substandard game with many problems that will unlikely ever be fixed except by intensive modding.

    The blame clearly lies with Firaxis and 2K Games for putting out this half baked piece of crap that is supposed to appeal to the mass market, abandoning long time Civ players in the process.

    I cannot recommend this product to anyone which is a real shame since I have been playing the Civ series since its inception.

    Failure 5 is a slap in the face for Civ lovers everywhere.

  7. Paolo Bertiglia says:

    Good review for me also.

    I also feel that there is a potential classic hidden behind CIVV but it is not there yet.

    You can see from the huge amount of micro-changes made at each patch that they are still searching the good balance for the mechanics already in place.

    BTW I’m still partial for the CIVIII diplomacy where you could exchange everything for everything.

    BTBTW there was really a need to move to 3D?

    • Adam Solo says:

      I’m one of those that think Civ 5 has great potential, due to the (non consentual) use of 1UPT and City States. But I lost interest fairly quick due to the reasons I explain in the review.

      I agree, the devs are still balancing gameplay. I think this is ok to an extent however is totally unacceptable to be doing this kind of changes in a released game. The Beta release theory makes sense, now more than ever.

      I prefer Civ5 and Civ4 to Civ3. I still prefer Civ4 BTS to Civ5 though. You question the need for 3D. I think it’s a question of taste. I prefer it, I think better graphics help, most of the times, building immersion.

      I’ll wait for the Civ5 expansion before returning to Civ5.

  8. Paolo Bertiglia says:

    I also think that Civ4 BTS is for the moment the best Civ around, I was just pointing out that I felt something has been lost in the diplomacy part when we moved from 3 to 4.

    It should have been better and instead is more lame.

    For the 3D point of view I feel that the only plus that you can have with the 3D is the ability to zoom in and after a few games who is still zooming in? (unless there are childs around who want to see the elephants)

    On the other hand the maps were bigger in the 3 and the older graphics are just “non updated to modern resolution monitor sprites” (not really an hard thing to solve).

    So maps size against zoom in… from a strategic point of view the choice is clear.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I agree with the childs wanting to see the elephants :) My nephew adored watching me play just to watch the animals: elephants, cows, horses. They even make sounds, she loves it. Besides that, yeah not that important :)

      Diplomacy back in 3. Boy I don’t quite recall. But I do like Civ4 BTS diplomacy a lot (care to explain why Civ3 diplomacy was better?). Civ 5 diplomacy is a joke, don’t need to explain why.

      Regarding map sizes I don’t know because I always played Civ with standard (to large maps, very few) due to low end CPUs.

  9. Paolo Bertiglia says:

    Being a Mac guy I always have medium cpu and medium graphics by definition.

    BTW I heard on the forums that Civ5 can kill even mega-SLI-6core-rigs so who cares?

    About diplomacy in Civ3 it was much more free: you could exchange everything for everything: map, contacts, money, moneyxturn, techs, resources. It was almost a game by itself.

    In Civ4 it was much more constrained without giving anything in exchange.

    I don’t say that diplomacy in Civ3 was fantastic but just that it went downhill from there.

    Regarding map sizes it depends a lot on how you are playing Civ.
    For me it is an History simulator so I try to be ‘realistic’ in my games: I don’t overspecialize my cities.

    More than win the game I try to create my utopy… so a large empire with all the building in all the cities and often I go for a late culture win just to close it and rarely for a military victory.

    For to enjoy that at the fullest the biggest is the map the more ‘realistic’ is the game flow.

    In Civ3 it was very possible that at the end of a game there were still part of the planet unowned!

    Try a blast in the past with Civ3 (4.99 $ on STEAM for the complete package), the graphics are dated, the gameplay is not on par with Civ4 BTS, but… something there was forgot in the more recent iterations.
    And with a modern ‘low end CPU’ you can go ‘all in’ with it.

  10. Silfir says:

    This review reflects my game experience to a T. I loved the new hexagon map, I loved the new combat system – but the game did get boring, there really was so little to do overall. Didn’t like the diplomacy either. It was too simplified, in the end.

    It appears they try to completely reinvent Civ with each iteration. This, I think, is a laudable approach – whatever the fan’s complaints, it won’t be that they are being ripped off since the new game is just like the old game only shinier.

    Basically, the problem is this: They already made an almost perfect Civ back in 1996 with Civilization II. By reinventing their game, they got away from the Civ II formula, and had to find new ones. You will find no two same opinions among the Civ fanbase about which of the games have the best formula, but they will agree that they all feel different from each other in some very crucial ways, and that this leads to their respective preferences.

    My own reply if asked “What’s the best Civilization game?” will be, without a doubt: “Alpha Centauri”. It’s basically a continuation of what was great about Civilization II plus a great Sci-fi setting and a lot of new stuff that really worked (it introduced civics years before even Civ IV’s predecessor had been made, for one). Its flaw is that it lacks one crucial aspect of Civilization games: The “What if”. Gandhi wielding fleets of bombers, Roman legions being crushed under the heels of Sioux musketmen… The reason I got Civ II for Christmas way back in 1996 was because aside from being a game, it was a tool for education. If you point this aspect out to me, I will concede that my true answer for “What’s the best Civilization game?” would probably have to be Civ II.

    Enough of the rambling: Civ V didn’t turn out very good, but I’d try to keep the anger in check a bit. They tried new things, some worked, a lot didn’t. Civ VI will try new things once more. Shame that it will probably take four more years to see it. I find that that time is easily wasted playing Civ II, III, IV, or even a bit of after-patch or after-expansion V – whatever floats your boat.

  11. Jami says:

    CIV 5 sucks. Its clearly they wanted to compete against real multiplayer war games.

    This is clearly a war game, and doesnt live up to the franchise. Civ4 with Beyond the Sword was almost perfect. I mean almost because because there where still a few little things I would have added, one of it is weather, snow, rain, etc that would affect the world. This would had make the world or planet feel more alive, specially because weather is a very big point to consider on military tactics. Besides that I would also have made random effects like earthquakes, tsunamis, etc show up on the map with a little animation like in the originals simcity. Besides that I would not change a single thing in Civ4. Its a brilliant piece of art.

    Civ5 is completely hollow. Religion gone, really? Religion is one of the biggest factors of human civilization for war and peace as well influence. Diplomacy, economics, population or city management are all gone. War is the only option to win, others are not very depth of very well developed. The game is unbalanced. In civ4 war was an option but it you where not forced to use it as only method to win the game, you could also win with all other ways of conquer. Actually going into war was very expensive in the long run, giving you bad points with other leaders and even problems with your own population.

    As everything seems global there is no way to micromanage each city like with Civ4, so a city doesnt even feel that important anymore. Not needing boats to transport units is also a rocky mistake. This makes things to easy, specially on military tactics because it doesnt require planning anymore. That makes the feel or water border fake, as its not an obstacle anymore or an advantage (like having water border to protect you from being attacked via land units).

    Also the 3D is very nice in civ5 but everything looks fake, as there are so few elements to managed and control the whole game is boring after just a few plays.

    I still play civ4 after years. The original civ4 was good but Beyond of Sword made it perfect with random effects, more balance, etc.

    I really hope Civ 6 doesnt make this mistake. Taking stuff away on a new release is not improving the franchise. If I would have to make a new Civ I would take everything from the 4 version, adding even some from others, like corruption, greed and other human elements, and then add them to the graphic engine of 5. But for some people that is not even considered a bonus. I installed Civ4 on a my 3 year old laptop with a intel video chipset, it doesnt even have a graphic card and it runs perfectly, very fast. I cannot play civ4 on any system. Civ5 requires a medium graphic card.

    Civ4 was so depth it required a manual to dominate all aspects of the game. It was an adult game, you could play it for months, and have 10 friends on a massive play that could last weeks without getting bored. Its truly a computer world with smart AI. Civ5 just feels like a kid game, for fast playing.

    Im sure most Civ5 gamers will stop playing the game shortly after buying it and going back to 4. Some even say 3 was the best one but I did not played that one.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I agree with every single word you’ve said about Civ5 and Civ in general. I feel that way too.

      I bought and played Civ5 for a while but I stopped playing more or less at the time I made this review. I explain on it why I stopped playing. The reasons you mention complement perfectly the reasons I pointed out in the review.

      I still think Civ 4 BTS was the best Civ. So I don’t suffer from the retro effect of saying that the best Civ was the first I’ve played. I played all of them a lot. Though I know of people that think Civ 3 or 2 was the best of the series.

  12. Ben says:

    CIV 2 still rules! Mobile Armor, Advanced Flight, Fundamentalism game over

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