by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
A lot to rectify for an expansion pack
The Civilization series. Need I say more? It has been with us since 1991 and seen several sequels and expansion packs and - in more recent years - a couple of somewhat forgettable related titles for consoles and social media. The basic premise has always remained the same: build an empire, survive through the ages and emerge victorious at the end of times. The victory conditions have changed from game to game, but they have always included more than just war-mongering, allowing you to craft a lifelike civilization, see how it develops through the ages and finally choose your own way of attaining that far-off victory condition.
One can argue that it was so up until Civilization V. Where Civilization V brought many renovations to the series, most prominently the hexagonal map instead of squares, it also changed the focus of the game towards that of a more traditional victory-oriented boardgame. It offered less time for ‘playing’ with your civilization, less time to simply have fun expanding or even for switching policies now and then to simulate the changing times. No, in Civilization V you needed to begin the game by first choosing the way you would play it, which victory condition you would strive for. Then you chose the civilization best suited for the attempt and every move from the very beginning of the game was focused on forwarding your progress towards that victory condition. What policies you chose stayed with you and no form of cataclysm could change them later. In short, you had to choose your policies from the very beginning to serve that - one - victory condition. Additionally, whereas previous games had their mix of civilized, peaceful and aggressive civilizations in various forms, Civilization V had only aggressive civilizations in various degrees. No longer could you play your game in peaceful cooperation with your neighbors, but had to be prepared for war at all times. In short, Civilization V was a war boardgame, rather than a civilization simulator.
Giving Civilization V a new chance
Gods & Kings aims to make Civilization V fun again, offering players more to do than mere warmongering. In the base game, peacetime can become a boring string of pressing the ‘next turn’ button and occasionally giving workers and cities new build orders, the Gods & Kings expansion pack will reintroduce concepts such as religion and spies to play around with during those less exciting times. Additionally, the diplomacy options and City State quests have been revamped and are more meaningful. The expansion pack brings a lot of new Civilizations and units as well but we’ll focus on the more important aspects first.
Beliefs connected to religions work along the same lines as Policies, giving bonuses to certain aspects of the civilization and supporting your work towards the victory conditions. The beliefs are separated to Pantheon, Founder and Religious Beliefs. First, you get to pick from a number of Pantheon beliefs, such as God of the Sea, Goddess of Love, Sacred Path etc. Eventually, the beliefs will form a full religion. But, even though the game offers you known religions to pick from (Buddhism, Christianity etc.), they are only names and symbols: the player can freely rename the religion and the belief system underneath the title is customizable. When a religion is founded, the player can pick one Founder Belief that benefits the city that founded the religion and other cities in the empire. These include about 10 beliefs, including Pilgrimage, Title, Just War, Initiation Rites and Church Property. Finally, you get to pick Religious Beliefs that benefit any city that follows the same religion, including that of other civilizations. These include beliefs like Religious Art, Holy Warriors, Choral Music, Swords into Plowshares etc. Overall, the Religion system is very customizable and offers a great freedom of choice to the civilization builder. Firaxis has stated that the religion game tapers out in the last third of the game, when espionage becomes more important. Just how is not yet revealed.
Whatever the reasoning behind the tapering effects of religion are, spies will enter the game during the Renaissance. You get one additional spy every era and they are not played as units on the board. You assign spies to various cities and tell them to rig elections in City States, create unrest, steal technologies.