Civilisation II could well be the greatest strategy computer game ever invented. The brainchild of Sid Meier this game allows you to oversee and run the development of a civilisation from it´s foundation until 2020, or before if you conquer the entire globe or succeed in the space race. It is a deeply complicated and absorbing game which takes alot of getting used to, but if you put the effort in you can gain serious satisfaction.
Civ II was originally a Microprose release and it has spawned a number of sequels and related games, not to mention cheap rip-offs. Alpha Centauri was the follow up from Sid Meier (the original creator of the game), Civ II: Call To Power came from Activision but neither offered much in the way of improvement on the original format. Alpha Centauri looked weird and much of the fun of the original game was controlling real Earth based civilisations, not strange factions on alien planets.
You begin the game with a measly settler unit and must build cities and nurture your growing population. The range of features is astounding. You have the option to choose random maps, downloaded maps, real earth maps or ones you have created yourself. You then select a civilisation from a fairly wide selection including Egyptian, Roman, French , English or even Mongol. There are others but unfortunately no Scots (although you can create custom civilisations and choose your own city names).
To begin with the map is mostly covered and you must explore to find suitable city spots and meet other civilisations. Cities need resources and these are displayed in a fairly simple format in terms of graphics. You can build a variety of different units for trade, building and improvements, diplomacy, and of course for warfare. The buildings and units you can build increase as you develop scientific breakthroughs. You choose what to research and the level of science you acheive is dictated by science ratings in the city, buildings and certain wonders. Wonders of the world take a long time to build and have a variety of positive effects on your civilisation. There is so much information in the game that I can only cover a fraction here but a large handbook is provided explaining the game concepts and how to progress, there is also a civilopedia in the game which tells you all you need to know about the different units, government types and buildings.
As in real life you tax the population and spend the money wherever you think best. What percentage to use on research, luxuries and whatever you spend on completing buildings or units quickly. This will also be affected by your government type, which range from despotism to democracy. Each allows different speeds of development and research and all have different effects on the happiness and behaviour of your population.
One of the most enjoyable features of the game is diplomacy. You must interact with other civilisations in the game. Some will threaten you and demand money, others will exchange knowledge, you may be able to foster good relations and forge alliances or you may end up with every other nation of the world against you in an all out war. Tactics are up to you, friendly traders, developed and rich or imperialistic and acquisitive. Usually it will require a mixture of these to win. There are a couple of ways to win the game, in a normal game it will be the first civilisation that builds and sends a spaceship to Alpha Centauri successfully that wins. However it is possible to select the bloodlust option which means you must conquer the entire world. To add to the difficulty there is pollution to deal with (especially bad if anyone uses a nuke) and barbarian uprisings.
The game is huge and on a normal map will probably take a good five hours to complete, on huge it can take days. The beauty of it is the detail, you become completely immersed in your civilisation, deciding where to build next, trying to complete a road network and attacking enemy cities. There are a number of different levels of gameplay and you have to juggle all of them. The game is turn based so it passes round each player and they make all their moves before the next one goes, and so on until the end.
Civ II improved on Civ I by adding units, buildings and video clips which run when you build a wonder. There are also extra diplomatic possibilities although these are annoyingly limited after a while. The graphics are not majorly impressive but everything looks more or less like it should. The sound is good for the units, gunfire and shouting when riflemen attack, the sound of bombing for bombers etc. The music is poor and must be turned off after a while, although it is better than most games.
Ultimately this game stands the test of time really well, the gameplay is so absorbing and constant that you can easily spend days of your life zombified in front of the computer. The only other game I have gone back to as much as this is probably champ man, although I prefer the new versions of that, while with Civ II the original is best. You could get this for a tenner easy, maybe even a fiver and it is well worth getting. However if you really want to get into it persistence is important, there are six levels of difficulty to choose from so start out easy, Deity is horribly difficult.
The main bad point about this game for me is that it eats time, you can´t just play for half an hour and come back later. It takes time to settle into the game and to pick it up again when you've been away and consequently I have found it works best when you set aside a whole day and complete it. Just watch out for the onset of blindness or exploding bladders.
I prefer to play the game in the bloodlust mode as the space race gets boring, late on you tend to end up with loads of cities building parts and nothing else to do but wait for it to finish. At least with conquest, although painstakingly slow and difficult at times, you are constantly having to think strategically. There are also certain wonders which I consider essential (at least for playing on the higher levels). Firstly Leonardo´s Workshop which automatically upgrades all your military units, this prevents that city you forgot about being invaded by tank and having only a pikeman and archer to defend it. Secondly, The Great Library which allows you to gain access to any newly developed knowledge as soon as two or more other civilisations have it, this prevents you falling behind in the science race. Thirdly, Women´s Suffrage which allows units to go to war without the host city becoming unhappy, you really need this if you intend to wage war on everyone.
I have never found a game as satisfying as this in the strategy/God genre. The ability to choose actual civilisations and attack other ones is really enjoyable. There are also scenarios available, such as WW2 or Napoleon's conquest, these are fun but miss out the really great starting out bit, where you can explore a virgin world and spread your seeds of victory across it. A brilliant game that everyone interested in strategy or God type games should own. No one has yet reached this high tide mark, although I hear Civ III will be out at the end of October and they have re-united the original civ team with Meier so that should be worth looking out for.