"Civilization: Call to Power" for Linux

Pros: Great replay value; hours and hours of fun
Cons: Sometimes tedious; unevenly balanced; hours and hours of fun when you should be working
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

First posted 1/18/2001

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on computer games. This is just my experience and opinion. Hopefully it contains enough information for you to judge whether you’d like the game.

I’ve been a Civilization fan forever. Well okay, eight and a half years. All those long years ago I got a copy of Civ, played it on a dreadfully slow computer (no, really – it could take more than five minutes to rotate between turns), and played for 26 hours straight my first time out. I don’t think I stopped for more than five minutes at a time.

For you ten people who haven’t heard of Civ before (okay, there are probably twenty of you), it’s an empire-building game. You start out with a couple of settlers and you explore your world, building up your empire one city at a time. Call to Power has a different interface than the original Civ games; I like it better. The learning curve is a little steeper, but once I picked it up it seemed fairly intuitive.

There are other civilizations out there with you, of course. You can fight with them, make treaties with them, trade scientific advances with them, give them gifts of gold, and ask them for their maps.

You choose which “improvements” your city will build. You can make units: early pikemen through musketeers, marines, and even fusion tanks, as well as settlers, to name just a few. There are buildings: temples and coliseums to increase happiness, banks and airports to bring in money, recycling plants to reduce pollution, SDI to prevent a nuclear attack on your city, universities and bio memory chips to increase your science output, factories and nuclear plants to increase your production, and more. Then there are also “wonders of the world:” things like Edison’s Lab, which grants free scientific advances. GlobeSat gives you radar coverage of the entire world. Hollywood gives you gold for each foreign city that builds a Television improvement. The National Shield puts forcefields around your cities. You advance in the sciences, starting out with such things as iron working and the railroad, and working your way up to alien archaeology.

You can improve the land around your cities, terraforming it and adding things like farms, fisheries, maglevs, mines, radar stations, and air bases. You can even enact new types of government as you discover them through research or through trading with other civilizations. Each one confers different advantages and disadvantages in production, gold, growth, science, and the military.

Luckily the game comes with a poster that details on one side the science tree, so you can work toward the advances that interest you the most. On the other side you’ll find the governments (along with all the details of their relative advantages), the terrain types, the units with all of their statistics and special abilities, the tile improvements, the city improvements, and the wonders of the world. Once you have the hang of how the game works, this poster is most of what you’ll need.

Effort

I would recommend, with this particular game, reading the manual once through before starting. There’s a lot of information the game needs to convey and allow you to manipulate, so the interface takes a little learning. The game does provide a tutorial to help you pick things up.

For people like me this game is a lot of fun. I love to play Civ to relax. I like sitting here for hours manipulating which cities are producing what, fiddling constantly with happiness, science, and production, taking over the enemy city by city, and exploring one tile at a time. However, even I find that parts of this game get a little tedious. Let me give you an example. There are wonders of the world that virtually guarantee your citizens’ happiness. There’s the Sensorium, which late in the game eliminates unhappiness in your civilization due to overcrowding and pollution. Since city improvements cost you gold to maintain, of course at this point you want to go back through your cities and sell off all of the improvements that reduce overcrowding. Unfortunately, the only way to do this is to go to each separate city (and you might have quite a few by this point in the game), scroll through the list of city improvements, and sell off a maximum of one improvement per city per turn. This gets tiresome very quickly.

I would prefer to not have to micromanage their cities quite so much; it would be nice if there were options for allowing the cities to manage themselves in this case.

Variety

Luckily there’s a lot of variety in this game to help keep you from getting bored, since a good game can go on for days. There are 10 governments, 27 tile improvements, and 22 terrain types.

There are 66 units. You’ll find everything from abolitionists to archers, battleships to cargo pods, clerics to corporate branches, eco rangers to infectors, lawyers to longships, nukes to paratroopers, samurai to slavers, spies to star cruisers, subneural ads to televangelists, and war walkers to wormhole probes. You can convert other people’s cities to siphon off their gold or production. You can use advertising to make them unhappy. You can file an injunction against them to stop them from producing anything. You can use spies to foment rebellion among the peasants. Corporate branches allow you to open franchises. Slavers let you capture other people’s populations and enslave them. There’s an incredible variety of action possible.

Next you’ll find 43 city improvements, from drug stores to city walls, nanite factories to security monitors. There are also 35 wonders of the world. You’ll gain access to various governments, tile and city improvements, units, and wonders as you research your way through the science tree. Also, as you advance through some technologies, others become obsolete. It can throw a real kink in your plans when your happy-making wonder suddenly ceases to function. Unlike the original Civ, Call to Power progresses farther into the future, allowing you to play with more futuristic technologies, improvements, units and wonders.

The Settings and Rules

You can do a fair amount of mucking with the rules and settings to make things as easy or difficult as you’d like. You can turn pollution on or off, for example. You can set “bloodlust” on, which requires total destruction of one’s enemies as the win condition (otherwise you can also win by creating an alien life form). You can affect how wet or dry the climate is, how much land mass there is and whether it comes in islands or continents, how many civilizations are present (up to 8), and of course the difficulty level.

The difficulty level is my sticking point, though. Chieftain is the easiest level, with Warlord after that, and, well, lots of difficulty levels above that. I know I suck at strategy games, but I find that sometimes I can’t even make it through Warlord. With pollution turned off. With the barbarians turned down as low as they’ll go.

On the other hand, once you start winning that’s sort of it. Pollution is really the only thing holding you back once you technologically outstrip everyone else by enough of a distance. So Chieftain’s too easy, and Warlord’s too hard. It’s not that I can’t manage the harder difficulty levels that bothers me – I’m used to that with games. It’s the fact that there’s such a quick, drastic line between “easy win” and “nigh impossible” that irritates me.

The Details

The graphics are fairly simple; this isn’t a 3D shooter or anything. No panoramic vistas or… well, I guess there are the little movies you get when you build the wonders. I happen to think those are pretty.

The sound effects are simple, and get annoying after a while, although I like the music. The problem is that I find having the sound on to be very useful; there are audio cues to events (they probably aren’t necessary, but I find they help me). But when you add things to your cities’ build cues, it says “construction started” – every single bloody time. I hate it now.

Again and Again…

I’ve been playing Civ for 8.5 years now and I still love it; Call to Power is a good, solid, enjoyable version of the game. I tend to binge for a bit, then need a break for a while, and then go through the cycle again. If you play it for too long, you start to notice that everything comes down to manipulation of a few simple variables (with most of the rest of it being window-dressing on those variables), and then the variety isn’t so impressive any more.

Make sure you have some free time when you start playing, though. It’s hard to play this game for less than a few hours at a time, and it’s way too easy to play for five or fifteen hours straight.

Call to Power does support both network play and hot-seat multiplayer play. Hot-seat is a bit unwieldy, as of course it requires you to get up at the end of every turn to let your friend sit down in your chair to take his turn. Network play, however, is quite enjoyable. If Civ seems to be getting a bit old, it’s one way to liven things up and make them more interesting.

Posted in Gaming, Reviews

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