Review - Sid Meier's Colonization (DOS, 1994)

Let's go back, way way back to the ancient time of 1991. Ya know, pre-Doom era computerized entertainment? Sounds weird, doesn't it? It existed; trust me. But anyway, back then a well-known game designer by the name of Sid Meier created this strategy-type game and called it Civilization. I remember looking at it in Ye Olde Local Software Shoppe and thinking to myself, "Hmmm, well, the box is ugly. Let's check out the back here . . . . . . hmmm, the screen shots look pretty ugly too. Next?" Microprose didn't get my business that day, but a month later, after listening to every reviewer in the world lick Sid's shoes and ask for seconds, I decided to give it a try, ugly or no. I liked it. Of course I liked it! Everyone loves Civilization. Archaeologists will one day unwrap a mummy who'll hold up a copy of Civ and say, "Yo Sid, right on, man!"

There had to be a sequel. We all knew that years ago. Now it's here in the form of Colonization. After a long wait I was finally able to get my sweaty anxious hands on a copy, and since then sleeping and eating have just been considered wastes of my time. It's gonna be a good year for Microprose. Again.

As I'm sure you've figured out by now, Colonization is a strategy game that lets you direct a European country's expansion into the new world of the Americas. You can choose from the English, French, Spanish, or Dutch, and this early decision affects where in the new world you start off in, and also sets the abilities of your colonists. For example, if you decide to play for Spain and help in their conquest of the Americas, your units will gain a 50% bonus when attacking Indian settlements. The Spaniards were good at that sort of thing, after all.

You start out with a small ship carrying only what you need to establish your first colony. Once you get settled in you'll quickly discover that the natives are eager to trade with you, and will even train your unskilled colonists. There's always a catch, though. They will eventually become disenchanted with your overuse of the neighboring lands, and will grow displeased of your presence in general. Also, it's almost impossible to find a viable site for a colony that won't overlap Indian territory. Like in Civilization, two cities can't work the same square, so you'll quickly find that those nice people you've been trading with are restricting your growth. Time to use those aggressive Spanish skills, I think.

Building a colony is Colonization is fairly similar to building a city in Civilization. European colonists can be imported, but you must be able to feed them. Each colonist can have a special skill (except for indentured servants and petty criminals), and unskilled colonists can be sent to friendly Indian villages to learn a trade. Apart from feeding themselves, the main goal of the colony is to produce useful goods (tobacco, cotton, ore, cigars, etc.) that you can either trade with the natives, trade with foreign colonies, or transport back home to sell. Each colony can also produce liberty bells, which stir up rebel sentiment and will eventually allow you to declare independence from your mother country.

While Civilization was never meant to be a war game, conflict was seldom far away; Sid Meier himself even admitted that any game in which you move military units around on a map and attack other military units could be considered a war game. In keeping with this somewhat broad definition, Colonization could be considered a war game, although military attrition is even less of a focal point than ever. The main thrust of Colonization lies in exploration and economic development. Still, war will occur, despite your every effort to remain peaceful. The length of an average game of Colonization is just as long as an average Civ game, maybe even a little longer, and there's a lot to do. This is one of the most balanced games I've ever seen, with military power wholly reliant on a strong economic foundation, and a strong economy requiring the occasional war.

If you've played Civilization you'll find Colonization to be a familiar design, but not derivative in the least. It appears to be the perfect sequel: one that reminds you of the past glories of its father game, but doesn't draw unflattering comparisons by treading the same ground. And yes, it's as addictive as all hell. If you start up a game to relax after a day's work, don't be surprised to find yourself calling in sick the next day for want of sleep.