Our empire has stood for many ages. Our knowledge and technology has grown from the domestication of horses, to harnessing the power of steam, to gliding through the air on metal wings. During this time, only one opposition has stood in our way: the Aztecs. While they are fierce opponents, ones certainly worthy of respect, Japan is not about to go down without a fight. And so, we send this glowing ball of light into the skies of your kingdom. Let hellfire rain down upon you all and may Japan rule these lands for all eternity.
Civilization: A New Dawn is a spinoff of the popular videogame franchise of the same name. There are also previous board game versions of the game, but this one brings some new mechanics, more refined gameplay, and a shorter play time. Players choose one of eight rulers, with variable bonuses, and work to expand their empire across a pre-defined map. For your first game, it is recommended to use the map build in the rule book, but there are more advanced rules that allow players to build their own maps, making each game different. Players will place their capitol cities, and on each turn work to collect resources in various parts of the map, explore outward and trade with city-states and their rivals, build wonders, and attack each other (and the npc barbarians). This is all an attempt to complete a set of goals chosen randomly before the start of play.
The biggest complaint about previous versions of this game is that the playtime can drag on a little long. This has been improved with this version. Games were timed well and stayed within the recommended playtime on the box (60-120 Mins). Now, your first game will obviously be a bit longer. While the game is easy to play when you know what you are doing, there are a lot of variables to deal with. So, getting there will add at least another hour to your first game.
The rulebook is well written for the most part. There were a few times where the answer to a question wasn’t 100% clear or took a little bit of digging to find. Lately, FFG has been going with the Rulebook and separate Reference book combination, but for A New Dawn, everything was condensed into one book. Overall, it did its job. It recommends a particular board setup for the first game, and I have to say that this was executed much better than other “First Game” scenarios presented in other FFG titles (the worst I’ve seen being Warhammer Quest ACG). Players will easily be able to do the first game setup, and then move on to the advanced game board building for future games.
Everything is traditional FFG production quality. The fact that you even get plastic miniatures for your capitols, cities, and caravans, is pretty surprising for a FFG game at a $50 msrp. There are 8 different rulers for your civilization. You will pair these with one of four colors for your faction, each with a dedicated and color coded focus deck of cards, control tokens, diplomacy cards, and miniatures. There are also sixteen double sided map tiles; offering many possibilities for variation of future plays. Nothing in the game felt cheap and while I’m sure there will be some who want to switch out the cardboard resource tokens/control tokens/wonder tokens for miniatures, I was very happy with the feel and look of the ones included.
The mechanics in Civilization are well thought out and refreshing. I would like to highlight two particular aspects of it:
First, to perform an action you must play a card from your focus bar. This is essentially your player board and sits in front of you. There are five types of cards indicating different areas of a civilization (culture, economy, etc). The focus bar they sit under has five spots, one for each card. These five spots are numbered and represent different types of terrain. As you play cards from the right (closer to the number 5 with a terrain of mountains), you must move them to the beginning of the row (spot number 1 with a terrain of grasslands). Usually, cards can only execute their action on the terrain of the spot the card usually holds or lower. They also often become more powerful the longer (closer to number 5) you wait to play them. This introduces a large amount of planning and strategy. It is a little reminiscent of Concordia in a way. One of the cards lets you advance your technology level. This is how your civilization essentially moves through the ages and acquires new technologies. Technologies are essentially a deck of cards split into three ages (four including your starting age one cards). As you advance your technology levels, you will be given the chance to reach into the deck of cards and replace one of your existing cards with that of a more powerful card from a more advanced age. However, you will never be able to work the entire deck into your hand of cards within the focus row. This is always limited to five and only one of each type. Therefore, you must choose wisely in what cards you go for, and pick ones that work best with your ruler bonus or map position.
The second mechanic that I found unique was the controlling of the barbarian npc tokens. At the beginning of the game, a barbarian direction token is placed against one side of the map and has a numbered line that aligns itself with each direction the hexes on the game boards face. On each new round, at the start of the first players turn, a dial is advanced that indicates if players should: move barbarians, spawn barbarians, collect supply tokens, or do nothing. If players move barbarians, they roll a D6 and then move the barbarian tokens on the board in accordance with the matching direction of the barbarian direction token. Its simple, but elegant, and allows these npcs to travel the map and ruin your plans. You will battle and be annoyed by them. If they are defeated, they can also return to the map when the dial hits the spawn barbarian selection. In this case, the token is just returned to its matching spot on the board.
Outside of those two things, you will be working to expand you empire across the map in order to achieve the goals listed on the cards selected at the beginning of the game. Every aspect of this is smooth, and once you learn the game, turns move quick. It is easy to get distracted from the goals that will yield you victory. I often found myself wanting to just conquer, even if I was supposed to be building three culture wonders. There is a lot of interaction between players (and barbarians) but being that this is not a wargame exactly, it is not a primary aspect of the game. The goal cards prevent that. We found the game to be extremely balanced with the different ruler powers. There are other bonuses you with get along the way, but even if your enemy has more than you, the single action per turn never really makes it seem like your struggle is hopeless.
Nothing is ever perfect, and maybe it is because I have been spoiled by other great titles, but I do have two….suggestions….or “house rules” that might make this game just a little bit better: secret victory goals and the capability to explore off the map by adding new tiles during the game. You see, with the way the goal cards work, you always know what your opponent is trying to do. While this is fine, it removes a sense of mystery. I feel like they could have taken a note from Suburbia and had two public goal cards, with each player having a set of secret goals they could strive for. Also, I can’t help but want to be surprised by my exploration across the map. I want to be able to draw a new tile from the box and place it down, unaware of what my caravan might find as they venture into it. If you have played Xia, or most 4x games, you will know exactly what I am talking about. Fortunately, both of things things are easily house ruled and you can try adding them sometime.
The biggest struggle you will have with Civilization is learning the game, and even that isn’t difficult. We had a lot of fun playing this, and with the short playtime and streamlined gameplay, I see it being an almost 4x game that is going to hit the table very often. Without a doubt, I recommend this and look forward to the expansions that I guarantee will be coming out for this.