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Publisher: Aspyr Media    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: 10.3    CPU: G4    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 2000 MB    DVD-ROM    Graphics: 1024x768

Civilization III: Complete
February 10, 2006 | Ryan Fritsch

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I'm not a n00b
My track record with turn-based strategy games proves that I am a huge turn-based strategy fan, but for one glaring exception. The first game I played on my first Mac—a 25Mhz IIvi in 1992—was Warlords II. Since that formative experience, strategy Mac gaming has been one great port after another. Heroes of Might and Magic, Dominions, Master of Orion, Alpha Centauri and more recently Europa Universalis and Victoria sucked my time, ruined my eyesight, and stunted my social growth. But incredibly, inexplicably I've never felt up to the calling of playing the legend of legends: Sid Meier's Civilization. I blame no one but my own timid weakness.

Regardless of how hard you are laughing at me right now, maybe something useful can be gleaned from a reviewer with fresh eyes and virginal innocence for the franchise. What Aspyr has given us, after all, is a completely new port of Civilization III, with completely new content in the form of the long-awaited expansion packs Conquests and Play the World, the addition of online and hot-seat Mac-to-Mac multiplayer gaming (no cross-platform support sadly, though you can play by email with anyone), and lots more gameplay options and refinements. So in the eyes of a Civ newb (but strategy veteran), does Civilization III: Complete (C3C) live up to its name as the be-all and end-all of strategy gaming goodness?

Like a Kid in a Mesopotamian Candy Store
If you've never played Civ before, I happily report that the C3C plays with all the reckless glee of caffeinated Scottish kids tossing dad's caber around the highlands. The turn-based strategy genre is at its best when it plays as a historical simulation that puts the gamer at the center of events, and gives them the subtle (and not so subtle) tools of statecraft to play "what if?" C3C delivers that feeling in spades, in part thanks to thoughtful anthropological attention to the way dozens of different historical civilizations grow through the coalescing of cultural, technological, linguistic, economic, diplomatic, religious and militaristic innovation. But since no single civilization can do it all due to the constraints of resources, time and competition, C3C is all about making hard choices along the road from what you have to want you want. Making these pragmatic decisions, setting up the conditions to achieve them, and then crossing that point of no return by pressing the "end of turn" button is what turn-based gaming is all about. That C3C manages to instill this experience of cause, effect and the unexpected without any of its depth or functionality being rendered obscure, contradictory or confused elevates it above other games in the genre, and just makes it more damn fun. The game may be all about the visceral brutality of realpolitik struggle, but it pulls it off with the shrewd elegance of a master puppeteer.

That said, it took me around three hours of gaming before C3C started making sense, and I actually had to read the first few chapters of the adequate PDF manual to understand relationships between culture, wealth, corruption, natural resources, infrastructure and city growth that are not immediately apparent from playing the game alone. This is a fairly reasonable learning curve for a game of this breadth and depth, but the game nevertheless remains challenging at even medium difficulty settings and can get somewhat bogged-down in micromanagement on large and extra-large maps. It can also be tough to recover from early developmental setbacks of chance, like disease or the scarcity of key resources. However, with dedication, some historical knowledge and a sense of creativity, C3C pays off with endless variations on starting and win conditions, upgrade paths, and styles of gameplay. Do you conquer your foes with charm, might or money? Do you really need to conquer an enemy empire or just impose economic sanctions on the capital to cause its collapse? Or should you sow the seeds of rebellion through a propaganda campaign, the assassination of a leader, or by building wonders of your own? C3C really lets you do it all, from a caveman's slingshot to a president's nuclear button. And you get to invent the wheel, which is fun in any era.


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