Civilization 5 Review

Official Civilization 5 release date (September 21st for US or 24th for other countries) is still several days away. With 2K making the game manual available for download I couldn’t resist going through it and making this offtopic post. After all I’ve played all games in the series starting with Civilization 1 more than 20 years ago. Although I wish I had a playable to Civilization 5 Demo to base this article on, reading the manual will have to suffice for now. This article would be mostly interesting to people who played previous games in the series (or at least Civilization 4) as it will focus on the differences in the game mechanics. So here goes…

Civilization 5 System Requirements

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8 GHz or AMD Athlon X2 64 2.0 GHz
Memory: 2GB RAM
Graphics:256 MB ATI HD2600 XT or better, 256 MB nVidia 7900 GS or better, or Core i3 or better integrated graphics
DirectX®: DirectX® version 9.0c
Processor: 1.8 GHz Quad Core CPU
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: 512 MB ATI 4800 series or better, 512 MB nVidia 9800 series or better
DirectX®: DirectX® version 11
Hard Drive: 8 GB Free
Not surprisingly these requirements (even on the graphics front) are not too high. Civilization V is a turn-based strategy rather than RTS or FPS that requires lightning fast hardware.

Civilization V Combat Game Mechanics Review

The single most important change in Civilization 5 is elimination of the “stack-of-doom” tactic. It has been present in all games of the series starting with the original Civ I 20 years back all the way to Civ 4: Beyond the Sword. This tactic entails attacking or defending with a huge stack of same or different units all located in a single square. By the end of the game (and especially on large maps) these stacks grew quite large, slowed down the game and generally made it more enjoyable. While stack could be wiped out with a nuke it didn’t deter either human or computer players from abusing this tactic. Another attempt to kill S0D was attempted when artillery and bombers were allowed to deal collateral damage to a limited amount of units located on the same tile.

In Civilization 5 rules were dramatically changed – no two units of the same class can end a turn on the same tile. There are only two classes in the game: combat and non-combat units (settlers, workers and great people). Problem solved! To sweeten the deal many units were given ranged attack capability that lets them attack enemy units from a distance or 2 or sometimes even 3 times. Some units can even attack without a direct line of sight to the target as long as there is another unit within the line of sight of the enemy. When performing a ranged attack, attacking unit doesn’t suffer retaliatory damage.

To balance things even more, now you can’t stack defensive units behind your city walls either. Only one unit can be stationed within a city either as a garrison (adding to city combat strengths but not fighting on its own or engaging in the best defense by offense – attacking sieging units either ranged or melee. Cities themselves become units with health bars and combat strengths. Once city’s health bar is reduced to zero – the city is captured. Cities start with twice the health of regular military unit and heal every turn. They also get additional defensive bonuses which can be enhanced even more by constructing certain buildings. Overall I rate this change as good. This eliminates the annoying need to build defenders in every city (now every city can defend itself rather well right after it is founded long enough for reinforcements to arrive).

Stacking requirement is enforced at the end of turn. So units are allowed to pass one another but can’t end turn on the same tile. You will not be allowed to end the turn until this condition is satisfied. So suppose you just finished building a swordsman in a city that already has one garrisoned and all tiles within 2 tile radius are also occupied by your units that are out of moves. Your only option in such case would be to delete one of the units form the game.

Unless additional measures were taken however in Civilization 5 “stacks of doom” would have evolved into “walls of doom” with players flooding all tiles with endless stream of cannon fodder marching on enemy cities or on each other until the end of times. Besides unit upkeep cost, you are also limited by strategic resources that you control. While weaker or defensive units are not constrained, you can only build so many swordsmen if you control just one iron resource.

So the combat in Civilization 5 is much more about optimally positioning limited number of units to maximize benefits of terrain and formation. Here some highlights of combat game mechanics:

  • Attacking unit gets 15% strength bonus for every ally adjacent to the enemy being attacked. So then attacking an enemy on a fully surrounded hexagonal tile you will get 75% bonus to attack. The funny thing seems to be that tank attacking another tank will still get 75% attack bonus even if the enemy tank is surrounded by 5 spearmen it could have otherwise easily smashed
  • In certain situations your unit gets 15% additional strength if there is an allied unit adjacent to it (but not necessarily to the enemy unit)
  • Units attacking from a hill get a bonus.
  • There are separate artillery promotion lines for attacking units in the open (plains) or in the forest/jungle.
  • Units have zone of control (ZOC). This means that when you try to sneak past your enemy by moving your unit from one tile adjacent to an enemy unit to another adjacent tile, you lose all your movement points and have to wait for the next turn to move further. Since the manual doesn’t mention any limitations to this rule it would be fair to assume that a spearman can halt an advancing tank column if for some reason tanks will chose not to attack him.
  • Fights are not necessarily “to the death”. Both units can survive the combat just losing some health and returning to their original positions.
  • All naval units are ranged so they can bombard each other without retaliation (although such attacks are less powerful than a direct attack)
  • Interestingly enough the manual doesn’t mention any limit for air units within cities. If there is indeed no such limit one could mount almost unbreakable defense just by keeping a bomber “stack-of-doom” in the city that would bomb all attacking forces into oblivion.
  • Great Generals no longer join units permanently but rather follow them on the battlefield as non-combat units providing combat bonuses to all units nearby. However as all non-combat units they are automatically destroyed if left unprotected or if protecting unit was destroyed. Since you can’t stack units there can only be one protector at any time.
  • Citadels can be constructed by Great Generals. These provide massive defensive bonuses and deal significant damage to any enemy unit that ends its turn next to it.
  • Transports are gone. Instead any ground unit can “embark” becoming (once appropriate tech is available) defenseless naval non-combat unit that is easily destroyed unless protected. This is not so if you are playing as Songhai Civilization – then your “embarked” units can defend themselves.

As I’ve mentioned before tiles gained two sides and changed from squares to hexagons. This results in a more natural distances between places and the fact that in Civilization 5 units can be attacked from 6 different directions rather than from 8.

Since a newly founded city can defend itself from the day it is founded this eliminates a rare but nasty scenario of one Civ being destroyed by another right at the start when their warrior is off exploring somewhere else.

Civilization 5 Non-Combat Game Mechanics Review

City-states are a major addition to the game. They are a non-player entities that don’t compete for victory but rather provide hefty bonuses to civilizations that ally with them by gifting units, gold or fulfilling missions. Just like original capitals they can’t be completely destroyed even if you drop 100 nukes on them.

Native villages are replaced with ancient ruins that provide the same benefits (free tech, money, settler, etc) minus a host of angry barbarians. There are separate barbarian camps for that now that yield some money when they are destroyed.

Economy was simplified somewhat:

  • There are no separate controls that distribute commerce between gold, research and culture. Instead if you start running budged deficit and run out of gold, you will lose a research beaker for each gold that you lack. So essentially poor economy automatically causes slow research just as it did before. It’s unclear what will happen if the budget deficit is more than all of the science research. It may be that there will be no further penalty (since the civilization is this situation is already really screwed) or perhaps buildings and units start to get sold or disbanded until a balanced budget is achieved.
  • Happiness is computed on a nationwide scale rather than in each city individually. If there is surplus happiness it will accumulate and eventually cause a 10 turn Golden Age. If your citizens are unhappy, your food stores will be penalized and you will not be able to build settlers of workers so your growth and expansion will be severely limited until you correct the problem. If your nation is very unhappy – your armed forces will suffer combat strength penalty, making you an easy target for conquest. Essentially in the long run it is similar to what used to happen in Civilization IV minus the micro management.
  • Religion, espionage and corporations are gone completely. While I never cared much for espionage (and I guess that many players didn’t either and that’s why it eventually got removed), I loved  religion and corporations (which are also in a way a religion ;)
  • You can buy cultural border expansion rather than waiting for cultural expansion which is still present in Civilization V
  • When a city is conquered you can either raze it (unless it’s a city-state or a capital), annex it or make it into a puppet state. Annexing cities carries happiness penalty (not sure if temporary or permanent) so making city a puppet is a compromise as it gives you access to some ownership benefits (except building units) but reduces happiness penalty (though it doesn’t eliminate it completely). Puppet cities can later be annexed at any time.
  • Any city that used to belong to another Civilization can be liberated and returned to the rightful owner when recaptured. Since original capital cities can never be destroyed, this means that any vanquished Civilization can be brought back into the game.
  • Barbarians steal gold, kill citizens and destroy buildings but they never actually capture your city.
  • Food mechanics remained largely the same. However granary now provides a fixed increase of food production rather than saves 50% of the food after the population grows. This task is reserved to a hospital and other similar building that become available much later in the game thus slowing the early growth.
  • Every civilization now has scouts at the start of the game (in fact it seems that all start with the same tech) therefore making the starting conditions more equal.
  • Rather than having a combination of two traits and starting technologies each civilization has a truly unique trait (like using forests withing its own borders as roads for the purpose of movement, or getting some culture for every vanquished enemy unit, etc) and one or two unique units. If there is only one unique unit the other one will be replaced by a unique building.
  • Civics are replaced by social policies that are grouped into 10 branches. Each branch has 5 policies that are activated once they are unlocked and the branch is activated. Branches and policies are unlocked by producing culture rather than being tied to technology. Though some branches become available only after certain technological eras. Some branches are mutually exclusive.
  • Special building constructed by great people are now built outside of the city in lieu of tile improvements. They can be razed as other improvements. However they can also be repaired like other improvements (new concept in Civilization 5). It may be possible to permanently destroy and Academy or Customs House by building a farm on the same tile (though it would be very unwise)
  • Individual building maintenance is back. On the other hand you can now gold-rush production of everything (including wonders) except of projects regardless of your civics/social policies. A good and welcome change.
  • You can always trigger a Golden Age by spending a single Great Person. The length of subsequent Golden Ages will shorten but will never be shorter than 3 turns.
  • There are two World Wonders that increase Golden Age length.
  • World Wonders in Civilization 5 never become obsolete. This has been balanced by the fact that they don’t seem as powerful as they used to be.
  • Great People birth mechanics have changed. You can always be sure which kind of GP you are going to get. You can still accumulate different kinds of GP points at the same time. However these points are compared separately to the threshold. Only type of points that becomes greater than the threshold is used. Other types of points continue to accumulate.
  • Overall it seems that Great People became less powerful in Civilization 5 but there will be more of them in the game.


Civilization 5 has definitely changed when compared to Civilization 4 Beyond the Sword. Many new concepts were added and many were removed. While I would wish that some things wouldn’t get removed, I’d rather have a simpler yet enjoyable game than another incarnation of “Master of Orion 3″ that became so complex that it was impossible to play.

Civilization 5 Trailer


30 comments to Civilization 5 Review

  • Dune

    good your mention “Master of Orion 3 ” that wasa awsome game!
    If you didn’t get it ..well
    I think you should play Civ5 …to complicated!LOL

  • Riv

    How can they even give a name “Civilization” to the game in which there is no religion, no espionage, no micro management of the cities… Instead of being more “life like” it is actually less so. You dont need a road to use resourcess, you cant decide on your own what is happening in your cities. Even the health factor is gone. Horrible :( (( so sad :(

  • Riv

    Also, even with terra, huge map size, and number of AI reduced to 4, we all start next to each other…

  • Ponche

    I agree with Riv, i dislike the new Civ 5, too much simplified. Even some wonders just add Culture to your city, not any special advantages, like in Civ 4. The combat is nice, but there is something that have been lose in this new game. I’m very dissapointed too.

  • pjscott

    If you’re running Civ 5 you’re lucky. I can’t even get the thing to run. Everytime I try to play the game it crashes. Their tech support was little help. I needed to close this, deselect that, disconnect the Internet connection and so on. To much to play a game. I would avoid at all cost.

  • Atilathebun

    I will continue to play CIV 5 for the new combat mechanics which looks like it might have incorporated some of the strategic play from Sid Meyers Gettysburg. However,I am saddened by the “dumbing down” of the rest of the game. Then again it might be a fair comment on the state of the civilization we live in.

  • Warchild

    You can micromanage the cities. Open the city panel and in the top right corner you can open the window to manage which tiles are being run.

  • Robc

    I dislike the simplification of the game. I found gameplay got to be repetitive far more quickly than Civ 4. Also, the supposedly improved diplomacy system seemed worse. I could discern no rhyme or reason why the AI would choose to attack or befriend me, and they would bounce back and forth on subsequent turns with positive offers or little taunts that got so repetitive that I wanted to just turn off diplomacy altogether. The City states were nice, but, they are too needy… an occasional message from them would be fine, the constant barrage of such and such City State wants you to do this, or do that, was tiring. I was a big fan of 4 so I’m dissapointed, oh well.

  • Trawet

    This reminds me of Heroes of Might and Magic 4 and later 5. They had a great game, but decided it needed more graphics and slowed the game to a crawl.

    Civ V is great to look at but the fun factor has disappeared.

  • I have played Civ 5 now for about 70 hours. Love this game!!! For the people that have mentioned the ‘dumbed down’ of the game. I disagree completely, you can micro manage many thing – your workers, your cities, your troop upgrades, your production, your money, your food…..not sure what everyone is talking about. In addition to all the city building you can do, you can also micro mange your army much better as well, such a better combat system, it take much more thinking then your ‘stacked troops from hell’ on Civ 4. Which made the combat a simple numbers game (who ever has more troops wins, basically)

    Also I did have to upgrade my computer to play it, but from what I ave experienced, I haven’t had any major crashes, becasue your system can’t keep up to the game – doesn’t make the game bad.

  • Palps

    Civ 5 is weak! The game has no depth compared to Civ 4, the lack of religion, espionage and corporations is just part of it. The only thing that is an improvement is the combat (no stacking is awesome). Otherwise I am completely bored already……….can someone make a mod for Civ 4 that removes the ability to stack? Really thats all they had to do with civ 5, the hexagons are nice I guess, so bummed out, I was waiting so long for this.

  • Palps

    Unless you are at war there is nothing to do!

  • WTFSid

    Civ 5 is a horribly sluggish beast. I have all the recommended hardware, but it still has little freezes during movement animations and turns here and there. So far I am not impressed as far as AI either. After 130 hours of playing this game on multiple systems, all I can say is…patch it…please…

  • mike

    i waited so long as well and now i have a hard time just trying toconnect to a game. Im not even sure if civ5 works everyday…boring

  • Eric

    The only hope for me is that expansions make this into a game as good as Civ 4 was.

    Why did you it down to a console game, Firaxis? Et tu Brutus?

  • Eric

    oops – that was, Why did you _DUMB_ it down to a console game

  • Scott

    I like the new combat and city defense capabilities. I’ve been lobbying for combat more like Sid Meir’s Pirates. This isn’t quite as, but it is a fair improvement. As for the rest of the game. It’s still addictive, but I don’t get the same satisfaction that I got from Civ 4:BTS. My favorite method of playing the game was culture warfare where I would assimilate my rivals cities like the Borg. That whole concept is gone. Cities don’t flip. Cultural expansion is now so slow that the only way to even move your rivals border is to use a Great Artist culture bomb. Without it you can play an entire game and not move their border one tile. Maybe someone will create a MOD to bring these aspects of the game back.

  • Britt

    My main complaint with Civ 5 is the new culture changes. The rest of the game is great. Love the combat and the new look, but I just can’t get over how horribly long it takes to get new policies, etc. I hate limiting myself to one or two cities to be efficient at culture–in my opinion there really should not be a penalty for the number of cities you build, it is all about what buildings you specialize in, like in Civ 4. I’m confident that Civ 5 will improve for the better in future expansions/additional content, but again the main thing they need to change back is the culture system.

  • Karl

    I played Civ 4 complete prior to this and I think my opinion may be biased, that was an amazing game with little, other than the stack attack, wrong with the game.

    Also waited for this for so long, installed and had no troubles running which I was pleased with. I agree with Robc, other nations were constantly offering to open borders and then a couple of turns later, for no apparent reason would cancel the deal.
    The city states are too demanding, every couple of turns one wants something doing and there is little benefit to fulfilling their requirements. I miss the religion and corporations, they were a key point for me in Civ 4 and my technology was centered around being the first to discover a religion. The loss of corporations removes the “global economy” aspect and makes it more about your individual economy than the rest of the world.
    The Cultural borders has also gotten worse, they don’t grow any where near as fast and often, I found it to be a single tile, it was quicker and more effective to buy the land yourself.
    I like the stack attack being removed from the game, and the concept of having bombarding units behind foot units, this makes the game much more like real life situations, though I don’t think it should have been extended to non military units as well.
    Graphics, no doubt about it they are a vast improvement, took the game into a whole new world and experience, I also like the concept of these Natural Wonders.
    In conclusion, a good graphics and better military set up however I think the cost far outweighs the benefits and I think I will be sticking to Civ 4 for a while.

  • cassita

    It sounds a lot like Microsoft’s Rise of Nations, actually. Well, except RoN still has decent cultural boundary growth even though cities don’t flip. Might skip Civ5 and just stick with that, which is sad because I also began with the original DOS civilization nearly 20 years ago and have followed each incarnation, down to the mobile phone game civ revolution.

  • Long Time Fan

    What a load of crap. I have played Civ from the very first game on 3.5″ disks. This is a load of unplayable rubbish. The Steam interface is piss poor, doesn’t work and locks up. If you are lucky enough to get the game to run, it too will freeze, lock up and takes over 5 minutes to load. It also takes for ever to have a turn. You can not even play local and not interface with Steam. It won’t let you.

    I am running an Windows 7 with an i5 with 8GB RAM and a 1GB video card, so it’s not my machine. This is by far the most disappointing game I have ever played. I will never by Civ again!!!!!

  • Roger

    We play civ 4 BTS multiplayer, with the Rise of Mankind mod, as BTS was too simple. After hundreds of hours we can still find the game a challenge. After playing Civ 5 for 24H I’ve researched everything, beat the game on emperor/ largest map. Why have they removed all the content that made the non-aggressive play fun/ feasible.

    Am now wishing I’d waited till the game was on budget and the modders have finished the game that the developers couldn’t be bothered with (better than thinking someone actually thought removing all the content that made BTS so fun was a good idea).

    P.S. Masters of Orion 3 Fantastic game (only series I’ve probably spent more time on than Civ or Sim City 4)

  • Turpija

    This game got only improved combat. Everything else is dumber. Game at peace is boring, civics are disaster.

  • After playing so much Civ5 I think it was time to make my review on my blog:

    Feel free to criticise, correct or comment, specially on the section about the changes from Civ4 (what was removed and added, for sure there are many things I could not remember).

    I think I will not keep playing, I’ll wait for the next patches and then give it another try. As you’ll read in my review my biggest complaints go for diplomacy, global happiness and boredom (not too much things to do).

    See you around,

  • mr x

    I agree with the just of the preceding comments. civ 5 is far too “simple”. no health, no religon, no espionage, no diplomacy, lack of control with respect to science. basicly i feel that the development team have truley done a great injustice to the civ franchise. there is no dimplomacy in tbat they got rid of map and tech trading giving other nations gold or resources or other jestures seem to have no affect on the ai’s view of you.

  • John

    My first comment is about MOO3. MOO3 was actually a macroscale game, NOT a microscale game. People tried to play it like MOO2 and that’s why they got confused. If you worked within the conditions of the AI, you could literally command far greater numbers of colonies than you could in previous MOO games.

    My research on Civ5 paints a very bleak picture. It looks like they gutted the meat of the game and just gave it better graphics, a couple things not in previous civ games, and a few extra accessibility features like no stacking and embarking and cities that defend themselves. If you wanted to move civ over to the console this would be a great move. But if you’re wanting to keep your audience that you’ve built over the past games it’s a complete fail.

    I guess the one good thing that came out of this is that I saw Civilization IV: The Complete Edition on Amazon for about $30. I’ve read a lot of good things about it and it looks like it’s ages ahead of Civ 5 right now. I think it’ll be a couple years before Civ 5 can compete with Civ IV and that’s only because of the mods that will come out in the next few years.

  • John

    I also watched a video of a talk Sid Meier’s had about his changing design philosophy and advice for other game designers of the genre. He basically said in no uncertain terms that:
    1 games shouldn’t punish us
    2 they should be simple
    3 realism like he did in past games was misguided
    4 that fudging the numbers to give players the illusion of achievement is better than confronting them with numbers they don’t understand and won’t understand and will just lead them to leave the game in frustration
    5 he is older now and wouldn’t play the games he made when he was younger because he doesn’t have the time for them and feels that at this point in his career he is preparing to make games that he would himself like to play
    etc.. etc.. etc..

    Pretty much all the same stuff. He wants to make different stuff now. So if you liked his games in the past you need to prepare for a new kind of Sid Meier that you might not like.

  • Louisjohn

    After playing Civs I, II, III and IV I was looking forward to Civ V. Silly me, it’s probably the worst game I’ve ever encountered. A total waste of money.
    Not just the hassle of plowing through all that Steam crap. The backgrounds on the hexs make me think I’m going blind. My computer is up to the specs required but the game is dreadfully slow and the map keeps flicking on and off with the control icons at an inconveniently rapid moments. Don’t bother making a Civ VI if it’s going to be anything like this one.

  • Richard

    The furore here reminds me of the reaction to Sim City Societies.
    This incarnation of Civilization falls woefully short of its predecessors in many respects. It looks “lovely”, but lacks any depth compared to Civ 5. 4/10

  • Ben

    You guys all are WRONG. Civ 5 is amazing !!!! Its a game dont play it 24/7 no wonder you get so mad. seriously get a life

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