Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution releases your inner despot

Gandhi is threatening to invade my country if I don't share the secrets of gunpowder with him. Consulting with my advisers, I'm told his army is no threat, its technology far behind mine. I don't believe the numbskulls whispering in my ear: The Indian's army has marched right to the edge of my capital for maximum bargaining leverage, and outnumbers mine 6 to 1. I hand over our people's knowledge of gunpowder, and the formerly raging little wise man's face softens. He thanks me casually as if we weren't just on the brink of war, and then marches his army back to India as if nothing ever happened.

He may think it's over, but I won't forgive this humiliation so easily. I put in an order for what will ultimately be a fleet of tanks destined to roll on New Delhi sometime in the next decade. The voters won't go for it of course, so I'll just take a page from Emperor Palpatine and dissolve the Senate before seeking my revenge. A bunch of politicians aren't getting in the way of my making the Mahatma kneel at my feet.

No question: Aside from the bizarre, quasi-historical spectacles you encounter in Civilization Revolution (President Genghis Khan launches his first battleship, anyone?), you sometimes get to see a new, ugly side of yourself, too. And it's damn fun.

For those tragically unfamiliar, Sid Meier's Civilization games — much like Will Wright's Sim titles — start with a simple concept: Guide a civilization from its bearskin-wearing origins all the way to a modernity of atomic power, space flight, and assholes sitting alone in restaurants talking too loudly on a silly headset phone.

Should your people be enlightened, cultured artisans? Technological geniuses? What about savage, warmongering monsters every step of the way? All up to you. And as you spread out across the map growing around (or through) neighboring tribes, you even manage the day-to-day problems of a city planner: Should you build a temple or a marketplace in your capital? Fortify the town with archers or form an army of horsemen to ride out and, ahem, "visit" the locals? Each has ramifications.

However complicated it all sounds, the game does an excellent job of walking you through the system, even giving you a comprehensive in-game encyclopedia to refer to as needed. The basics are easy to pick up, and most games move briskly, short enough that you can squeeze in a couple before bedtime.

If anything, that's the aspect that will disappoint the devoted fans of the series: Revolution is a stripped, streamlined interpretation of past Civ games. On the bright side, fewer nuances mean the game clicks along much faster than its PC brethren, making a session less a commitment and more accessible to novices. But to do this, reams of micromanagement were sacrificed on the altar of simplicity, making it a bummer for PC fans who actually enjoyed the minutiae of, say, picking the specific acres around a city to be irrigated.

Likewise, the game is a bit short on options — multiplayer is great, but forcing players to take on computer-controlled playmates is silly — and the computer's AI ranges from brain-dead on most difficulties to an abrupt mad-dog-insane on the highest two, with little in between. Likewise, it seems to have an unspoken agreement with other AI tribes: "gang up on the organic life form."

But then you pay Cleopatra to declare war on Napoleon, hoping the distraction will allow you a chance to finish your nuclear weapon . . . and all the little problems just don't seem like that big a deal.

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Gary Hodges
Contact: Gary Hodges