The first entry into my best goddamn games of all time forever involves one of my favorite genres: 4X games.
But Nikky, what is a 4X game? These are your turn-based strategy type games. They’re a rare species, normally found only on PCs. Technically the 4x stands for “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate” but let’s be super real here when it really means “games Sid Meier has made and clones thereof.” Lo and behold, the best 4X games ever made have Sid’s grubby hands all over ’em. Basically what you do is lead a civilization by controlling cities (they build things), and units (which kill things). Research and gold and whatever are all important too, but it’s mostly about cities and units.
You get to control a “civilization” which consists of a leader, some sort of backstory, and unique abilities and units to your particular civilzation. For instance, Elizabethan England gets hella bonuses to their maritime units, and the Mongolians get super rad horse archers and can burn down rival cities super fast. Really, the Civ you play as matters a lot less than the civs you play against: as their AIs are pretty awesome in their subtle differences and occasional insane moves.
Although 4X games obstinately claim that they’re about exploring and expanding, they’re really all about exploiting and exterminating. Usually there are a few victory conditions available to you, but 80% of every game will end in military conquest or military defeat. Just like the real world, 4X games recognize that all the culture shit only goes so far before the might of your army.
I’ve handpicked two supremely rad 4X games to talk about: Sid Meier’s Civilization V, and Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. (Aha, there’s that sneaky Sid Meier again.)
There are a lot LOT of Civ versions out there. Civ V is my favorite iteration mostly because it’s the most current one. The introduction I gave about 4X games essentially sums up Civ. You start in the pre-stone age and end up with giant killer robots in the near future.
The genius about Civ is that each game is a unique work of art. The map is randomly generated, your enemies are in random places, and your strategy will vary widely upon what resources and location is available to you. Got a lot of tundra? Maybe you won’t have a large civilization, but you will be able to build a lot of tanks once oil is discovered. Tons of food nearby? Better create a bunch of cities and research as you ain’t building anything else.
You’ll be playing against some of the (many, many) other civilizations that exist as your primary opponents. Some of the best fun about Civ is how coolly calculating each AI opponent is, and how well they will take advantage of their civ bonuses and starting location. Elizabeth of England is a notorious hatin’ AI, as she’s programmed to be amazingly aggressive and attack you at the drop of a hat. Greece’s Alexander is A+ hater. You’ll learn to curse them out and crush their dreams whenever they turn up.
And Gandhi? Peaceful Gandhi really loves dropping nukes. In earlier games, he had a likelihood of dropping nuclear arms as 0 on a scale of 0-255. However, certain advances can cause this value to drop another 10 points. It’s an unsigned int tho, so this wraps around to something like 250. And then the normally peaceful Ghandi goes nuke crazy. This behavior is still retained in the latest Civ games. And it’s amazing if you can manage to get Gandhi mad enough to declare war against you.
Civ V does a lot of simplification of various mechanics compared to earlier incarnations of the game, and they’re mostly good changes that take away a lot of niche and broken strategies. Additionally, Civ V has a couple of expansions. The first one, Gods and Kings, is very much worthwhile. It introduces a nice religion and spying aspect while filling in a lot of gaps that the original release didn’t have. The next release, a Brave New World is okay, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it to a beginner.
Although a Multiplayer option is available, Civ is only really fun online when playing with or against friends. Since it’s such a small component of the game, I won’t even discuss multiplayer further.
So that’s Civ in a nutshell. Play it. Like it.
Next Up: Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. A classic straight outta the 90s with some serious street cred.