I Heart… Civilization II

It was the summer of 96 and, despite being in the middle of the first heat wave I can remember experiencing, I found myself shying away from the sunlight and huddled around a computer in a friend’s house. The game in question was Grand Prix II which, at the time, was how we were spending our summer. Fuelled on nothing but junk food and armed with a high end PC, which must have had no more than 333 MHz of processor power, we would spend our days in the cockpit of our Formula One idols, our trusty Microsoft Sidewinder guiding our cars around the track.

We had just finished the Monaco Grand Prix and with only eight laps remaining my trusty Williams Renault suffered suspension failure meaning my race was well and truly over, my friend at the time having crashed out earlier thanks to an incident involving a puncture and a questionably placed wall.

Suffice it to say that it left us with a bit of a sour taste in our mouths, and not even a session of driving head on into cars along the Hockenheim track could cheer us up, put a smile on our face yes, but not make up what was an agonising few days of driving down the drain – as back then we used to play on 100% race settings so each race would literally take days to complete when you factor in the practice sessions and qualifying.

That evening I just so happened to be spending the night at my friend’s house and, with the sour taste of defeat still languishing on our tongues, a new game was loaded up – a game that went by the name of Civilization II. I remember vividly the artwork on its shoebox style box, the Statue of Liberty and the pair of elephants calling out to me. I wanted to know more and so, reaching for the manual, I had my first real take on just how serious a game it actually was. This was at a time when I’d never read a book outside of school, not even the TV Guide could keep me interested for too long, but there in front of me sat a game manual of truly epic proportions.

Tank beats everything.

Those of you familiar with the Civilization series will be nodding your heads sagely, but for those of you who aren’t, let me explain. The manual that came bundled with Civilization II was a behemoth by today’s standards. I’m not talking a twelve page flimsy pamphlet that fits in a DVD box, this thing was a monster. Weighing in at approximately 200 pages, with glossy front and back covers it truly was something remarkable.

At this moment in time I had doubts that this game would be anything but enjoyable, but as the game installed and my friends dad explained the basic concepts to us we quickly drew up a battle plan for our Celtic empire.

Of course within the first twenty minutes all our best laid plans went out the window and we quickly found ourselves on our own. Our first night as leaders of the Celtic empire didn’t exactly go to well, civil disorders in the majority of our cities were causing no end of trouble with Gandhi seemingly hell bent on wiping us out as he continued his attacks from the north.

We built this city on...

That game lasted just a few short days before finally we suffered defeat at the hands of the Japanese, our primitive empire no match against the armies of the land of the rising sun. It may have only gone on for a couple of days but we had learnt a lot, and subsequently a couple of games later we had finally started to pull things around and were actually starting to win.

A few games after that and we were the dominant forces on the planet; our Celtic empire had risen from our very first Settler right up until we were a sprawling metropolis that spanned a good quarter of the Earth’s surface.  It was at this point that a truly remarkable thing happened, I began to read. I stepped away from the television, plonked myself on my bed and gazed upon the text.

There is no single driving force behind the urge toward civilization, no one goal toward which every culture strives. There is, instead, a web of forces and objectives that impel and beckon, shaping cultures as they grow. In Civilization II, there are four basic impulses that seem to be of the greatest importance to the health and flexibility of your fledgling society.

It took me a good ten minutes just reading the same paragraph over and over again until I finally began to absorb it into my brain and file it away as understandable. In hindsight I could have probably picked an easier first book than the Civilization II manual, but I’m truly glad I didn’t. The next week was a mixture of trying out new things in the game before retiring each night to my bed to make my way through the next fifty or so pages of my new found love interest. Every page I read would seemingly teach me something new, that magic moment when I was just sat there only to go “So that’s how that works” occurred more times than I can remember. Every chapter filled me with fresh information read for the next day’s play session, new techniques to try, new strategies and, more importantly, new ways to win.


The tech tree in all its glory.

The summer holidays were fast coming to an end and, with only two weeks remaining, we decided to take the decision that the next time we play we would win emphatically. We’d learnt a lot from the dozen or so practice games in the week prior and confidence was high.  If anyone was going to get us through the ordeal it would be the Aztecs; the Celts had done us proud, but it was time for a change and the Aztecs were just the people to get the job done.

The position for our first settler was excellent and had the mixture of resources that we’d need for a healthy start and within seconds the great capital of Tenochtitlan was born. An hour or so later the Aztec Civilization was numbering a total of six cities, each one doing exceptionally well, and then disaster struck. Gandhi found us… again. A thorn in my side was old Gandhi, and whenever he would make an appearance you can bet that it wouldn’t be long before war erupted; this time was no different. What Gandhi didn’t take into account though was the fact that just a short distance away from his capital city was a mighty fine Aztec city, one that just happened to be the designated ‘build nothing but military units’ city. It didn’t take too long before humble pie was being consumed as the city of Delhi turned a lovely shade of Aztec yellow. Peace was made shortly thereafter, but not before two more Indian cities fell under our mighty banner.

Bad times to be a Yorkshireman

The game was progressing superbly, and our capital city was the pride of not only the empire but the world. Boasting a number of great wonders, imagine it – a city with the Great Wall of China, Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Great Pyramid all residing within its walls, and we were still only in the ancient era! With Gandhi at bay and keeping up his end of the peace treaty the next hundred years or so rolled by relatively peacefully, with exception of the odd barbarian skirmish. Military proceedings were put on the back foot and as we began to enter the industrial age the cities of the great Aztec people were some of the best in the world, the population was happy and more importantly the score kept ticking upwards.

The mighty capital Tenochtitlan was now on nothing but World Wonder duty and by the year 1200AD had every single Wonder located within its walls, it was the crown jewels of the empire.  Shortly after the construction of Leonardo’s Workshop which, in turn, upgraded all our units, emphasis was turned back to the military front. Armies were rolled out of the majority of the cities under our command, it was payback time for Gandhi and shortly afterwards the Indian civilization had no choice but to submit defeat as the last of their cities crumbled under the pressure of the mighty Rifleman. Soon after the nations of Rome and England were also toppled leaving us only the Russians and Vikings to contend with, and contend with them we did.

The Great Pyramid of the Aztecs, rewriting history.

By the end of the game Aztec cities covered almost the entirety of the world map, Tenochtitlan carried on its tradition and as the last turn was complete you couldn’t help but marvel on a city that boasted every single world wonder. The Viking capital of Trondheim was the last AI city to fall and as we marched through it almost unopposed a sense of relief washed over my body, it was done, the game was beat.

It was gaming bliss, perfection and joy all rolled into one, a summer of my youth that I will forever look back upon with nothing but fond memories (except for that bloody suspension failure). Civilization II resulted in me reading my first book, sure it was an instruction manual but it was more words than pictures and had more pages than an entire years’ worth of TV Guides.

I learnt things from it, history being one area that particularly benefited. Fair enough I’m sure the Aztecs didn’t actually wipe out the Indians in 1400AD, but even the minor details like learning about world wonders. Let’s just say that when it came to that homework assignment I did pretty well, and I owe a lot of that A+ to Sid Meier and Civilization II.

It was my first major love affair with the PC and the game that started it all off, sure I’ve had a few console mistresses along the way but nothing really compares to the amount of fun I have had with my gaming rigs.

I heart you Civilization II, thank you for the memories and above all else, thank you for showing me another side of gaming that I never knew existed until that fateful summer of 96.

Last five articles by Ben



  1. Ste says:

    I loved Civilisation 2, it was a masterful game. I too remember that massive instruction book, I’m pretty sure I could have used it as a weapon if push came to shove, it was that heavy. I’m currently hooked on Civ 5 and being honest if you stripped back all of 5′s fancy graphics and what not Civ 2 is by far the better game still.

  2. Richie richie says:

    I never got onto Civ2 because I loved the viewpoint of Civ1 and also it was just about as micro-managey as I like to get. Anything more complex would annoy me. That said, this article has got me tempted.

  3. Edward Edward says:

    Brilliantly written :)
    Though it’s probably unintentional that I have Summer of ’69 stuck in my head as a result.

    The game sounds fantastic with a predication towards advance thinking and a lot of strategy, which would have massively appealed to the younger me that lost so much time of his life to Red Alert and the original Command and Conquer.

  4. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    It’s odd to think that, as someone who literally wants to rule the world, I haven’t played ANY of the Civ games. I know, I know… it’s a crime… I’ve heard it all before, believe me! I’ve played Sim City, and that was fun… and I’ve played the C&C series, which is also about building things and destroying things, I guess I’ve just never felt drawn towards the whole Civ franchise. I’m sure I downloaded a demo of it for my Nokia Communicator about five years ago, but I don’t know which release it was and I never got around to playing it.

    I’m not discounting it though, as I DO think it’s something I could get pretty drawn in to. My free time just isn’t as it used to be though, hence my lateness reading the review. I did consider giving Civ V a shot when I saw it recently, so I may yet delve. If I do, I’ll be sure to play as the Aztecs and not the Celts!

    I love these I Heart pieces, really enjoy reading other people’s passions.

  5. Lorna Lorna says:

    Great piece, Ben. I remember buying CivII but I never did get around to playing it, since I was more obsessed with Colonization, first for the Amiga and then for the PC. It is one of those classics which I regret having missed out on which is why I was considering giving Civ V a go.

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