This game, to the uninitiated (me, for instance), might not at first glance be particularly appealing.

You take Civilization IV and change the scope to the colonisation era of the Americas, as Europe expands across the globe. Remove Civ's multiple victory conditions, most of the warfare units (can’t have nukes in this era, stupid historical accuracy!) and give everyone silly hats.

You may get the feeling I’ve never played the original Colonization, or have any idea what it was about. You’d be right. However, I can confess to being a Civilization fiend, so I popped the disk in and prepared to take over the world. Well, a corner of it.

Colonization is all about 1492, and Europe getting its occupation on. Your goal is to conquer (rather diplomatically) the ‘New World’. Not the supermarket, but the Americas. You start out with a ship, and a couple of colonials in uncharted waters with no land in sight. Initially, all you have to do is find some land and drop off your colonials, before sending your ship back to Europe to wait for some more colonials to appear.

The game really starts when you build your first city. The choice here is very important, as where your city is located correlates to what resources you can get and how much food you can generate. Your first city is probably best placed near the coast, as water tiles generate a lot of food from fish, and food is what lets you grow your cities and produce colonists on land, rather than dragging them all the way from Europe.

Once you have a few colonists, you can either build some more cities, or allocate them to your existing cities. Each city must have enough food to support the colonists you wish to add. Adding them to a city enables you to allocate them to production of goods, food, or religion points.

Unlike Civilization IV, where everything comes down to production, here you must build the things you need, from the appropriate resources. Want guns? You’ll have to make 'em. And you’ll need to allocate a colonist to do so. Luckily colonists can be specialised, and you may just get an expert gunsmith to produce guns at a far more efficient rate than a typical colonist. The same applies to trade goods, such as sugar, rum, cigars and so forth. The usual balancing act applies, so if you have too many colonists producing commodities then not enough food is produced, and vice versa.

As your economy gets going, you’ll follow some basic Civ principles. Expand, expand, expand!

In Colonization, diplomacy is far more important than military might, and expansion normally involves paying off the local tribes to use their land. Whilst New Zealand history teaches us that this isn’t necessarily going to work long term, it’s the easiest path to success in the mid game here. The local tribes are a good source of income via trade as well. Careful management will see you avoid any real conflict with the local tribes, allowing you to get on with making some cash.

Trade is a clumsy affair at times, as land-locked cities will need trade wagons to move goods to port cities in order to get the next ship back to Europe. I may have missed an option somewhere, but I was frustrated at continually having to move my ships manually from port to Europe and back, especially when my colony got reasonably big. The automate option for the trade ships didn’t automatically stock up my ships and send them to Europe. Lazy asses.

In your cities you can build a fairly unsurprising selection of buildings to assist production. Docks, churches, sugar processing plants etc. will give you a boost in their respective resource areas. Buildings do seem slow to build compared to Civilization IV, but eventually they do prove useful.

To head towards the end game, you need to facilitate your colony’s declaration of independence. As your colony improves, your rebelliousness grows. Eventually you’ll be so sick of your King asking for taxes and demanding you kiss his ring that you’ll tell him he can kiss your backside instead.

It’s at this point you’ll want to have been producing weapons for a wee while, or you’ll be in trouble quickly. The King's army will generally outnumber you by a fair margin and the battles come down to tactics and strategy rather than sheer firepower. In a nice touch, you’ll often be forced to resort to tactics used in real life, even during our own colonial years. In the New Zealand Wars, the Maori Pa served as a fortress and small raiding parties would leave to attack colonial forces before returning to the cover of the Pa. The same approach works well in this game as you can’t go toe-to-toe with the King's army. So you send out a small attack force, gimp some enemy units, then run back to your defence-bonus-providing cities.

Game victory occurs when you successfully destroy the King's forces in your new country. No treaties, just flat out victory.

Colonization offers a new experience for those a bit burnt out on Civilization IV. The graphics are marginally better, the gameplay is more focused, and you may even learn a thing or two.

It is obviously based on American history predominantly, and so it is a bit detatched from us here in the southern hemisphere. But when you sit down and think about it, dirty old NZ is a shining example of colonisation and negotiation with local tribes. For me personally, it got more interesting when I applied the principles of the game to NZ history and considered how the game mirrored many of the aspects of the early years of our modern history.

Some people have criticised this game for being racist. I'm not sure how they make that link, given that the game leaves the approach towards colonisation to the player, and there are ways to expand colonies without being anywhere near as violent as real history was.

The only criticism I can personally level at the game is that after a few hours of play, I was filled with a burning desire to play some Civilization IV, rather than have another round of Colonization. But let's be fair, the only game that could dethrone Civilization IV would be Civilization V. While we wait for that one to happen, Colonization provides a welcome return to all things Civ-like.


We have a trailer for Civilization Colonisation available at GP Downloads (90MB).