Developer: Firaxis Games / Publisher: 2K Games / Played On: PC / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Drug Reference, Mild Language, Mild Violence]
Civilization V’s previous expansion, Gods and Kings, was a dose of needless complexity for an already-complex game. Thankfully, the newest expansion couldn’t be more different. Civilization V: Brave New World adds new content, yes, but does so in a way that re-contextualizes the game mechanics already in place. In the same way that Terminator 2 made the original movie more awesome by filling out the story and characters, Brave New World mixes together content from Gods and Kings and the original Civ V so profoundly that the base game now feels incomplete.
Even with a slew of new civilizations to play, BNW’s most critical revamp is its cultural victory. Previously you just stockpiled culture by massing cultural buildings then racing your way through the cultural flowcharts. Mechanically, this was virtually which is identical to a scientific victory, in which you simply stockpiled science to blitz through the tech trees. Now, the process revolves around “tourism.”
The mechanics are complex but I’ll try to bottom-line it for the sake of time: you generate tourism by hosting great works of art, music, and writing in your cities, and that acts as an influencer over other civilizations, effectively battling that influence with their own culture. As you generate more tourism, other civs must generate more culture, otherwise you gain “influence” over them. Become influential over every civilization and bam, you control the world with your own brand of pop music and denim jeans.
The mechanic succeeds with its strategic depth. For instance, you can earn a multiplier on your tourism to other civs by establishing open borders, trade routes, or establishing your religion as the dominant one in their country. Not only does this work in the previously-marginal religion mechanics from Gods and Kings, but working towards any of those goals can open up a whole can of problems.
Here’s an example: I wanted to spread my religion to another civilization to boost my tourism with them. I started sending a ton of prophets over to spread the word, but they got pissed at me for exporting the holy love of… whomever and withdrew our open border treaty. Now I’m worse off than when I started. I have to find other ways to make them happy so I can get away with converting them, all in the pursuit of winning a cultural victory. These problems are fundamentally different than churning out military units to raze towns to the ground; the challenge is refreshing and new.
The new civilizations in Brave New World can also change the game in profound ways. My favorite is the most extreme; Venice can’t produce settlers or even annex other cities. You’re locked to a single city, though you’re granted double the trade routes and can occasionally purchase city-states with great merchants. Playing this way forces you to rethink your options and strategies, and manages to up-end one of the primary tenets of the 4X genre (eXpansion). Other new civs are not as extreme but are still clever. I enjoyed Ashurbanipal, who gains a free tech for every city he captures and even has a race-specific siege tower to fuel his militaristic annexation.
The two scenarios included in Brave New World give Civ addicts even more new ways to play the game. “American Civil War” is just like what it sounds: a fifty-turn military campaign challenging you to capture the enemy’s capital before the war is over. “Scramble for Africa” recreates the European landrush in Africa in the late 1800s. You have 100 turns to snap up as much of Africa as possible to produce the highest score, which puts a huge emphasis on getting Africa’s natural wonders under your own borders. Both scenarios take Civilization’s ruleset and apply it in interesting ways, showing just how robust the system can be.
That’s the ultimate strength of Brave New World — every addition is more than just a +1 to the feature list. Instead, it ricochets up and down the systems that are already in place, giving you new options and methods of play. Brave New World is the real Civilization V; get it and never look back.