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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 16:31 GMT
Budding emperors wanted
Screenshot from Civilization III
Familiar but subtly different - Civilization III
By BBC News Online's Mark Ward

There are few more venerable computer game franchises than Civilization.

The first Civilization title appeared over ten years ago and the broad outline of the game has changed little in that time. It gives you 6000 years to get from a couple of peasants to a world-beating Civilization.

The key to creating a world-spanning Civilization is establishing cities, researching scientific advances, establishing trade routes and diplomatic ties with other cultures and occasionally waging war.

Successive versions of the game have improved its look, tweaked its rules and expanded its scope to include alternate worlds and star-spanning empires.

CivIII - specifications
Pentium II 300Mhz
32 MB Ram
500 MB hard disk space
4xCD drive
DirectX 8.0 video card
Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000 or XP
Display capable of 1024 x 768 resolution

The vast number of changes made in Civilization II and the update known as Call To Power might have left some wondering how the game could be changed, or improved, in its third incarnation.

They needn't have worried. Civilization III is the best yet. The changes made from earlier versions are subtle but turn it into a very different game.

Combat training

For a start the graphics have been improved. The look of the game world strikes a good balance between reality and annotated map. The animations of the units that labour under your rule are also better.

Now triumphant warriors roar to proclaim their victory, scouts look like they are sprinting as they gradually reveal the world, and mounted troops move smoothly and convincingly.

This third version also introduces unique units for each culture, many of which are tied to particular eras of the game making any advantage they confer short-lived.

starting screenshot from Civilization III
The world is dark and lonely in the early stages of the game
The Romans have an advantage because their legionaries are better fighters and defenders than other combat units.

Other unique units include Greek Hoplites, Japanese samurai, English men-o-war, and German Panzers.

Resource wars

Also new in Civ III is the idea of strategic resources. Unless your culture controls a source of these precious commodities - which include iron, oil, horses and uranium - it won't be able to create units or city improvements that need them.

No iron means no swordsmen, no oil means no mechanised units. The strategic units are only revealed when you have completed the necessary scientific research to use them.

This can mean you suddenly have to annex some territory to secure a source of a vital resource, or you can find that your culture is suddenly being courted by the other nations because of the mineral wealth suddenly revealed within its borders.

Culture vulture

Possibly the biggest change however, is the introduction and importance of culture. Many of the improvements you can make to your cities generate culture points that crudely capture just how educated, advanced and enlightened your civilization actually is.

The borders of your nation expand the greater your cultural achievements and the higher your culture score. Cities from rival nations that fall inside your cultural boundaries will gradually be won over to your point of view and defect.

Screenshot from first version of Civilzation
How it used to look
Simply by being the most advanced culture on the planet can mean victory without a shot being fired. You no longer have to grind rivals under the jackboots of your soldiers. Just show rivals what a fab place your civilization is to live and their citizens will come calling. Neglect culture and you could see your citizens deserting you for a better way of life.

It's remarkably realistic and changes the scope of game enormously.

Diplomacy and trade become much more important and are easier to manage via computer animated advisors that regularly offer advice on what you should do next.

Anarchy

What hasn't changed is the formidable amount of micromanagement you have to do in the middle and later stages of the game.

Cities have to be watched to ensure they don't slip into anarchy, workers have to be told what to do, diplomatic relations have to be carefully nurtured and trading relationships need regular reviewing.

In-game advisors can help lighten this management headache but only so much. To be fair this fault is suffered by almost all strategy games and is a minor problem given the other good things about Civ III.

So, if you are looking for a way to escape your family or friends this Christmas, and probably for many months to come, then you really can't do any better than Civilization III.

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Civilisation III: Your views
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