Civilization: A New Dawn board game review – channel your inner Napoleon for old-school empire building at its best

Classic video game of clashing cultures gets stylish board-game makeover, giving you the chance to play an armchair dictator on your living room table

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 8:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 8:15pm

For more than 25 years, the Civilization video game series has offered players the chance to play armchair dictator, discovering new lands, shaping nascent cultures and engaging in subtle diplomacy. Or, if it’s more your cup of tea, engulfing your enemies in nuclear fire.

Now, the empire-building game has had a board-game makeover, bringing its sweeping strategy to your living room table.

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Like its digital predecessors, Civilization: A New Dawn casts players as rulers attempting to turn their small, scattered tribes into globe-spanning empires. But it’s striking how boldly the game departs from almost everything long-time fans might expect.

There’s no painstaking city management or early-game exploration of uncharted territory. There aren’t even any military units to manoeuvre around the map. Instead, there is an ingenious system of cards representing different actions such as expanding your borders, conducting scientific research and trading with foreign powers.

Other elements will be more familiar to video-game veterans. There are natural resources to exploit and barbarian hordes to confront, as well as a selection of factions for players to lead, each with their own strengths, making for a subtly different experience every time you play.

The game’s one weak point, though, is its linear view of history. You’ll be able to upgrade aspects of your civilisation over time, but not to make real, fundamental choices about the nature of your culture.

The game assumes ideas such as militarism, nationalism and capitalism are inherently desirable – a criticism that has also been levelled at the original computer games. It leads to a feeling that while you might be steering your empire across the centuries, you’re not entirely in control of its direction.

It’s not enough to sink the game, though, and this is a fresh and thoughtful take on the world-conquering genre. It’s intensely competitive, and its streamlined cardplay ensures that while your turns stay quick and simple, it’s never at the expense of strategic challenge.

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It may not feel much like the original video games, but there’s plenty about A New Dawn to appeal to your inner Napoleon.