Flawed Gameplay Will Make You Want To Rebel
It has taken me far longer to write this review than normal, because try as I might, I couldn’t get over the fact that a game with Sid Meier’s name attached to it could be so bad. Even at the easiest levels, the game is ridiculously difficult to win, and requires a bunch of counter-intuitive play strategies for you to even stand a chance at ultimate victory.
Right off the bat, I’m not sure why this title was stuck with the Civilization IV moniker. It has nothing to do with Civ IV. You don’t need Civ IV to play. And if you try to use Civ IV techniques when playing the game, you will lose. I guarantee it. It’s almost like it’s setup to be a trap to knock good Civ IV players.
But to the beginning. Colonization was a game that I was very much looking forward to playing. I played the original and it was a very fun game. Though it seems limited in scope compared to the sprawling titles of today, it was a solid game that had very good rules of play. In fact, it’s the one thing that the developers of this remake probably shouldn’t have messed with. Improve the graphics and sound, sure. But leave the gameplay alone.
You play one of four nations establishing a colony in the new world. Each leader (there are two per nation) has different strengths and weaknesses, much like Civilization. But there are only eight choices, so it’s not really too big a deal.
Once you jump off the boat, you can instantly build your first city. Then you need to start assigning people to jobs inside and around your colony. Jobs inside the colony include things like working in the local church, the blackSmith’s shop or a secondary trade like turning tobacco leaves into cigars. Outside jobs are mostly resource gathering ones, like farming corn or fishing, or mining silver or ore.
You start with only two people in the new world, so your colony is pretty limited. You can get new people in one of three ways. First, you can pick up new immigrants in Europe. But to get them to move from "thinking about coming over" to the docks where you can pick them up, you need to generate crosses in your colony, which represents religious freedom. You gain crosses by building structures like churches and cathedrals and putting people to work in them. Since you are mostly worried about survival at first, you will probably need to "hurry" a few people to the docks, which can be done by buying them with gold. Secondly, you get a free person when your food totals more than 200, which takes a while but costs you nothing. And finally, you can recruit a Native American, though this requires that you found a mission in their village and wait a while.
People can be free colonists, which means they can do anything they want, or specialists. A specialist can also be assigned to any job, but if they get a spot in the industry they are experts at, they produce many more goods. Native Americans get bonuses working in resource gathering trades outside the colony, but a penalty when working in one of your factories. There are also criminals and indentured servants you can get from Europe, who receive a penalty on anything they do.
Unlike Civilization, you don’t control all the land within your cultural borders. No matter what, you only control the eight squares around your town. Given this, I’m not sure why they forced the Civ concept of cultural borders into Colonization, where it’s really out of place. In fact, it works against you most of the time. When your cultural borders overlap an Indian village, they almost always agree to abandon the place. This is so stupid that it’s best to decline their offer to commit suicide. If you accept, you can no longer train units at the village, which is one of the biggest advantages to having one nearby. Also, when you eventually go to war with your king, having a friendly village stocked with warriors on your side nearby is a good thing.
Almost any unit can found a new town, and its something you probably want to do when you can. Your goal in the early part of the game is to make as much money as you can, and if you keep selling one item to Europe, the price on that item will go down as you saturate the market. Founding a new village with different resources helps to keep the market in balance.
Even with limited resources around your colonies, you can get a pretty good income going, especially if you have high dollar resources like silver, or can setup a two tiered economic system like trapping furs and then processing the furs into coats.
But although you can setup and manage an efficient colony, you will still lose the game. The only way to win is to declare independence from your motherland. Every so often the king will pop up and raise your taxes, so that each load of goods going to the new world nets you less income. At first this is not a big deal because after all, you are a colony of your homeland. Giving eight or even ten percent back to your motherland is not a big deal, and really the point of a colony in the first place. It’s kind of like running a company and paying back your investors.
But the king is greedy and continues to raise your taxes. Supposedly they can get as high as 99 percent, though I have never had a game last long enough to get there. Games are capped at 300 turns. So if you are not independent by then, you lose. There are no points for having a highly profitable colony filled with happy people.
In fact, the game takes a nosedive when you start to think about independence. Historically the way it worked was that there were a few people working towards independence the entire time, and they slowly gained power as relations with the mother country (in the case of the US and England) began to sour. But forget about that here. If you have a few people working for independence, the king will become alarmed and add troops to his nearly invincible Royal Expeditionary Force. And once he starts adding, he doesn’t stop. Pretty soon he will have 20 or 30 regular army troops and an equal number of dragoons and artillery, not to mention his man-o-war ships which are more powerful than anything you can produce. His army can quickly outnumber the total population of everyone living in the new world, and this is on the easiest levels of play. In the original game, the king had to use your tax money to build his army, so if you wanted to freeze him out, you could stop trading with him. Here, he has unlimited money not based on anything, and adds troops and ships at will so long as you even have one percent of your people favoring independence.
Given that you can’t declare independence until you get 50 percent of your people to support it, the run-up to that decision can, and probably will, kill you. The only strategy that works is to not produce any liberty bells (which transform into independence points) at all until you have an infrastructure in place to devote to it. That means building newspapers and printing presses in every town and training master politicians (called elder statesmen) but not putting any of it to use. Then you cram three statesmen, the maximum allowed, into each town hall and run up to the 50 percent mark as quickly as you can. This is really stupid, but there is no other way to even have a chance.
The king’s army is incredibly powerful and geared to conquer cities to boot. Even his regular troops get bonuses when attacking cities. And he has a special unit called artillery which is even more powerful than your cannons (you can’t make artillery). Artillery gets a HUGE 150 percent boost when attacking your towns. Even if you turn each town into a fortress, the maximum bonus you will get is 150 percent, which makes you equal to the default artillery power. That does not even take into account the fact that his man-o-wars have a strength of 12 (the maximum ship you can make has a strength of 8 and will cost you way too many resources to construct) so they will wipe your navy off the map in the first or second turn. And then they will bombard your cities to reduce your defenses. So all that effort you put into your fortress is pretty much wasted.
To win you have to defeat every single troop the king has, which means that if you somehow fight him to a standstill, or the 300 turns runs out before you have killed all his men, you lose. Talk about lopsided. Even this might work if the king couldn’t add infinite troops and ships to his side seemingly out of thin air.
Frustrated gamers have come up with a tactical system to somewhat counter this horrible military simulation. The solution is almost as silly as the way to declare independence. The way to win at least a couple battles is to leave one stupid troop stay inside a city to be sacrificed to the royal juggernaut. Let the king conquer your town. Then on your turn, you attack him, which negates his 150 percent bonus for artillery, because they only get that on the attack. There is no guarantee this will work, but at least you have a chance to win a few battles.
So you have an enemy force that is more powerful than your troops man for man, have more bonuses that you do that just happen to be geared at destroying your towns, and an enemy leader with seemingly unlimited resources willing to spend them on making sure he has more troops than you. So you are outnumbered and outclassed. Great fun! You get a bonus based on every percent higher than 50 your rebel sentiment is when you declare independence, but if you wait to get that number up, the king will simply add more troops to his army and armada. So you really need to go independent the second you are able.
The really sad thing is that the biggest flaws in the game come in the last ten percent of it. Basically you have a great and very fun economic sim cobbled together with one of the most lopsided war simulations ever invented. Most Civ based games are a walk at the easiest setting. It lets you learn the game. But here, it starts out nearly impossible and gets harder from there.
I hate to be the one that says the emperor has no clothes, but Sid Meier really dropped the ball on this one. I wonder secretly if he had anything to do with the game other than putting his name on it. It just seems too unpolished and untested to be a Meier title. As such, avoid Colonization unless Firaxis puts out a patch and an apology to their fans.
Sorry Sid, but unlike the king of Colonization, I won’t kiss your ring this time.