In the game, you choose to be one of many historical leaders. From Abe Lincoln to Zara Yaqob and Boudica to Queen Isabella, pick your favorite and get to work. And what work is that, you may ask? Well, you start with a single settler family on a map of thick wilderness in the year 4000 BC, where all manner of hungry beasts lurk and raging barbarians hope to pillage all you have.
Wolves pose an early threat to your vulnerable civilization, but just wait till you tap a uranium mine!
The family must find a permanent place to settle, preferably close to valuable resources like horses (which you can eventually domesticate) or gold (which you can eventually mine). Once you've established your first city, you must improve it through gaining new technologies. For instance, when you discover masonry, you can build a wall around your city to better protect it from exterior threats. Learn the ways of pottery and you can build a granary to better store your crops. Keep learning, keep improving. Get the idea?
Civ IV also has a feature in which players can found various religions. If you're the first to discover meditation, for example, you have the choice to convert your people to Buddhism. Polytheism will get you Hinduism. Monotheism=Judaism. Theocracy, Christianity. And so on. The game designers were careful to create all the religions equally so as not to offend players. Wise choice, given the behavioral tendencies those of opposing religions sometimes display. And guess what? If a neighboring civ happens to follow a different religion than you, might as well ramp up for war at some point during the game. Because it's coming. And we all know we simply cannot accept someone believing something different than we do. Just like real life, right?
Queen Isabella urges you to adopt her religion under threat of war
But I digress. I'm here to tell you what playing Civilization taught me. Ready?
It taught me what not to do. It taught me what we, as a global population, should not be doing, even though we do it every single day, happily, and with abandon.
If your civ is "lucky" enough to have access to uranium and is advanced enough to have discovered the rocketry tech, you can develop nuclear weapons. Both short-range tactical jobs or full blown ICBMs. Then, if another civ slights you, you can blast away. As expected, the target city suffers enormous damage and population loss and the other civs regard you as a global villain and then you can pretty much kiss any shot of Diplomatic victory (see below) good-bye.
You see, there are six ways to "win" the game, at least in its 4th iteration. I'll list them here individually and let them sink in.
Conquest - You must eliminate all other civilizations
Cultural - Possess three cities with "legendary" culture
Domination - Lead the world in population by 30% and have 65% of the world under your control
Diplomatic - Win a United Nations election as world leader
Time - Have the highest score when the game ends in the year AD 2050
Space Race - Build and launch a space craft to get to Alpha Centauri before your rivals
Okay. Let's break that down. First off, ignore Time victory. That's just a default in case none of the other conditions are met. It's boring and tedious.
However, at least two of those "victories" sound absolutely horrifying. Eliminate all other civilizations? Yeah, pretty sure that's the definition of mass genocide. That's a way to win the game?
Or what about Domination, where you control greater than half the world? WTF, man, right?
A parade to flaunt your military might sounds just right
Diplomatic victory means the most popular leader gets voted to be in charge of the world and we know where electing "popular" leaders gets us.
Oh, guess what else? As time passes, and your civ builds forges and factories and coal refineries and nuclear plants, guess what else happens? Climate change. Yeah. Where once you farmed corn, wheat, and bananas, now you've got completely worthless dead brown patches. Your workers cannot irrigate them. Your cities begin to starve.
By the end of a given typical game, assuming you survive to AD 2050, your civ resembles a ragged war-torn nation. That's some win. You go on and fly that W.
This all sounds familiar, thought, right? Because we're working toward this W every single day. We're living it.
About the only hope this game offers is the Space Race, in which your civ gets to leave all the mess they created behind in the hopes of messing up somewhere else.
Be the first to haul ass off the uninhabitable planet you created!
I can recall few times when art so clearly imitates life. And few times as ugly. Are we ready to try something else yet? I am.
But, hey, at least your civ can drink wine. Assuming you're lucky enough to have wineries within your borders. *sobs*
How about a nice chardonnay while we watch the world burn, dear?
Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Rise and Fall is now available.