Thursday, May 13, 2010

Colonization

Officially the title of this game is Sid Meier's Civilization 4: Colonization.

But since that unwieldy, marketing- and brand-driven mess might be the worst word-gruel in the history of the English language (prior to this tortuously long sentence anyway), I will refer it here by the name Colonization.

This game is a classic and is a game any strategy fan, simulation fan or history fan should own. It traces the arc of the colonization and rebellion of the colonies. You can play as a colony of England, Spain, France or the Dutch.

Most of this game is actually a trading sim, where building your infrastructure for successful and profitable trade with Europe is vital. Cash is king in Colonization and you'll find yourself earning it but also spending it in big gobs.

The main way you make said gobs is by gathering raw materials, such as cotton, sugar and tobacco then turning these raw commodities into finished goods such as cloth, rum and cigars. You then load up your ship and take your goods back to Europe and sell them, turning a very tidy profit.

This money is spent on things you can't make yourself. In the early game this might be finished goods you haven't the infrastructure to make yourself, such as guns or ships. More often however, you are hiring specialists, such as Master Carpenters, Distillers or Tobacconists to make your colonial towns even more productive.

If you don't want to hire specialists (or can't afford them, as often occurs in the early game when you're struggling economically) take heart- the new world is a beacon for the poor, the dispossessed and the plain unpopular.

A lot of these are not folks you'd hire, such as petty criminals and indentured servants, while most are run of the mill, generic "free colonists" but there are a few specialists mixed in as well. What you get is pretty random, but the free manpower is nice, especially in the early game.

How combative the early and mid game turn out to be is in your hands for the most part. As you expand into the new world, you will run into the third player in our colonial drama: the natives. There's a quite a few varieties, from the Iriquois to the Sioux to the Apache to the Aztecs.

They aren't super happy about you "discovering" their land but a payment of (wait for it) that cold, hard cash you earn from your lucrative European trade networks in return for their land will keep you and the natives on a peaceful footing.

Or you can buy guns, tell the natives to get bent when they complain about you stealing their land and have a good, old-fashioned manifest destiny.

It won't be a romp though. First, the natives know the land and get movement bonuses, as well as terrain-generated defensive bonuses. Second, there are a lot more of them than there are you (if its early in the game, make that a frakking lot more).

Your advantages are guns and horses, which can be decisive, but watch out for your fellow colonial powers. They have a nasty tendency to make some quick cash by selling the natives guns and/or horses, especially if one of their rivals (like you for instance) are in the middle of a shooting war.

Or you can take a different tack and play nice. While this will cost you some coin, the benefits can be serious. First, the natives are generally nice guys and if they like you, will occasionally just give you stuff.

Second, they know this land better than you and can teach your regular colonists handy specializations, such as Expert Farmer, and a few, such as Expert Tobacco Planter that only the natives can teach you.

And finally, the natives can be a source of manpower. You can establish missions in native villages and every now and then a converted native will appear, ready and able to work to aid your colony.

But of course, you aren't found a civilization but a colony, ostensibly one still loyal to her mother country. Said mother shows up on occasion in the form of a schoolhouse-rock-esque caricature of your home country's monarch, who demands you "kiss his ring".

Kissing his ring, as you might guess, comes in the form of cash- either a straight up demand for a lump cash sum, or a tax, that makes all your trades a little less profitable. Injustices like a 10% tax rate will not long be borne by your hearty colonists and eventually you will want to spread the word of revolution.

This prompts your monarch to get "testy" and begin assembling an expeditionary force to put you in your place. Eventually you declare your independence, raise a militia and see if you can put down the technologically superior force of your motherland.

This last part of the game is always a tense battle and seems to actually be harder if you are a Civilization veteran. In Civilization, bunkering down behind the sturdy walls of your city with a large army is a tried and true tactic.

In Colonization though, cities are a death trap. You're definitely outgunned and probably outnumbered too, especially on the naval front. Thanks to better ships and better artillery, cities tend to be death traps.

So you take to the hills and forests, fight a guerrilla war and if you're lucky, independence will be yours.

The game looks great, with a very authentic feel and might just have the best soundtrack of any Civilization game ever, topping even the great soundtrack of Civ 4.

Colonization gets 5 stars out 5.

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