Civilization: the Board Game


Civilization: The Board Game is a complex strategy game chronicling the rise (and fall) of civilizations. At home or with friends, you’ll find that hours pass swiftly as great cities are built and destroyed, new technologies are discovered and shared, and alliances develop and change.

In the classroom, you can easily stretch the game out over a week or two, comparing the events of the game with actual history and geography and considering how the flow of history is smoothed, interrupted, or changed by events and choices.

There are four ways to win this game, which is another way of saying that there are four metrics for civilization:

  • War: a player who takes another’s capital city wins the game. Players have many opportunities tthroughout the game to strengthen their defenses and also to adopt strategic positions for aggression. It was interesting to us to see how, once one player has shown an intention to win in this way, other players begin diverting resources from other goals to strengthening their military powers.
  • Economy: a player who amasses 15 gold coins wins the game. While 15 coins doesn’t sound like much, players are more likely to gain wealth in the form of natural resources, labor, or property than in the form of gold. Focusing on gold  means giving up many other opportunities.
  • Culture: players may choose to move their pieces along a path in the marketplace that leads to a cultural victory. The first gains are fairly easy, as a player can devote a city to the arts and receive a Culture Card giving special privileges and powers, but the price of cultural accomplishment increases as the game continues.
  • Technology: a player who builds a pyramid of technology cards culminating in space travel wins. All players work for technology, which must be paid for in labor and trade — or gained through espionage and alliances. Decisions about which technology to choose and how much to invest in technology affect players’ outcomes.

The players in the game are China, Egypt, Rome, Russia, Germany, and America. Each starts with certain advantages; for example, China begins with writing and gains extra culture points during exploration. However, players don’t have to follow the actual course of history. Players can choose their form of government and their path toward the hoped-for win.

The map is different every time, and it is gradually discovered. Natural resources and land forms affect the course of the game, and natural disasters (or those caused by humans) can change the course of history. There are also great people and great accomplishments which can be gained either by chance or through hard work and investment.

Each round in the game is played in five stages:

  • Start of turn: players can build cities, change their government, and take advantage of special opportunities they’ve earned. Often, especially at the beginning of the game, every player must pass during this stage.
  • Trade: players collect the trade produced by their cities, which they will use later in the game to gain technologies or for other priorities. Both luck and strategy can lead to increased or decreased production of trade. Players also trade with one another during this stage.
  • City management: players build things like libraries, marketplaces or barracks, build up armies and artilleries, and take part in the cultural life of their nation. This requires production points, some of which are gained by luck and others of which are strategically developed.
  • Movement: players take part in exploration and conquest. Activities in this stage range from scouting for resources to attacking other nations.
  • Research: players use their resources to gain new technologies.

In the classroom, this can be one day of play, and the class (playing in teams) can stop at this point and debrief, discussing the events that took place and the decisions that were made, and how they affected the players. For example, the discovery of irrigation allows a player to build an additional city. Discuss how irrigation developed in the real world, and how it allowed civilizations to expand away from rivers and to feed more people.

At home, it’s possible to stop in between rounds of play, but we never want to. This is a very fun, social game. We’d use Twitter on the classroom projector and allow players to text within their teams as well as using their smartphones to tweet publicly about the course of the game as it takes place. For younger students or classes in which most students don’t have the technology or its use is forbidden, teams can gather and discuss their moves, sending an envoy to make each move.

We found that it was hard to get the game started. There’s a magazine of instructions, and you have to read and understand them fully before you can begin your first game. This is probably more natural in the classroom, where it will bring up many thought-provoking questions. Here’s how the first round is likely to go:

  • Start of turn: each civilization builds a city, and places an army and a scout in the outskirts of the city.
  • Trade: each city collects the initial trade points on the board around its city.
  • City management: depending on the amount of production the city begins with, players may be able to build public buildings or to strengthen their military.
  • Movement: players move their scouts out in search of resources and places to build additional cities. They can only move slowly at first, until the civilization develops better technologies for travel. As civilizations move, they uncover more of the map.
  • Research: some players will have enough trade points to gain new technologies, while some will have to wait for another round of trade.

Russians in Civilization board game

Here the Russians have developed their pyramid of technology cards to the point of being poised to add space travel. Their city has been built up to encourage trade and productivity to pay for the expensive technology.

America in Civilization the board game

Here the Americans are working toward a Culture win. The small orange figures of their scouts and armies are not even on the board, and they’ve built their cities with Great People to gain culture points.

The combination of fun and teachable moments makes this an excellent educational game, but it’s also very enjoyable as a strategy and critical thinking game. Set it up in the corner of your classroom and let fast finishers spend a few minutes in play, or take it home and have fun with your friends.


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