How Civilization Works

Playing Civilization

The Russians' civilization sheet. If you step into Catherine the Great's shoes, you might consider conquering via Technology.
The Russians' civilization sheet. If you step into Catherine the Great's shoes, you might consider conquering via Technology.
Image courtesy Fantasy Flight Games

I'd been warned that Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game could take up to six hours to play, so when I found the rulebook's suggestion about first playing a shorter sample game in which there were no winners or losers, I jumped at the chance. It cut the playing time to two hours and seemed especially helpful to a player like me who wasn't familiar with the video games. However, if you've played the "Civilization" video game series, you'd probably be able to begin with standard game play; the board game is similar in rules and concept to the video game [source: Goodhead].

To begin the board game, each player selects a civilization sheet at random: Each contains information about the civilization it represents, including the name of the leader and what type of government and technology the civilization starts out with. The sheet also lists the civilization's special abilities, and has a dial to track its current trade and total coins [source: Fantasy Flight Games]. China, for example, starts the game with an abundance of Technology, but very little Culture. This imbalance, whatever it is, may partially determine a player's tactics. If dealt the China card, it would be easier to pursue a military victory rather than a cultural victory [source: Goodhead].

Unlike many games in which players only take action during their own turn, in Civilization, each player takes action during every phase of every turn. During your own turn, you go first in each phase. (This isn't always a perk in a game that relies on trumps to determine the outcome of battles.) The five phases are Start, Trade, Management, Movement and Research. Start, Management and Movement go round-robin around the table starting with the player whose turn it is, but during the Trade and Research phases, all players can make their moves simultaneously.

The object of each phase, in the order that they're played, is to:

  • Start: Build new cities, change governments or perform other designated start-of-turn actions using the Wonders or Culture event cards.
  • Trade: Collect trade from your cities and negotiate resource trades with other players.
  • City management: Take action within one of your cities, like devoting it to the arts or to goods' production.
  • Movement: Moves your armies and scouts the number of squares that matches their travel speed (travel speed always starts at two spaces and increases depending on a culture's technological discoveries).
  • Research: You may discover one new technology, but must spend trade to do it.