Civilization A New Dawn is a board game about building a civilization from ancient times to the modern day by making tough military, cultural and economic decisions. It offers a new mechanism that makes play quicker but doesn't lose the fun.
When a friend introduced me to the computer game Civilization in college, I was hooked. It was unlike any other game I had ever played. The machinations of building a civilization from the dawn of time to the end of days was super exciting. Board game fans wondered for years if it was possible to create a tabletop game that could even come close to the computer in terms of complexity and fun. Then Fantasy Flight Games pulled it off. They created Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game in 2010.
A new civilization game?
Being a fan of Fantasy Flight's already stellar title Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game, it was with eager excitement that I sat down to play the new board game, Sid Meier's Civilization A New Dawn. I was curious what the differences were and in my heart of hearts I hoped that the playtime was faster. One of the complaints of their first Civilization game was its long playtime lasting up to four hours at times.
Sid Meier’s Civilization A New Dawn is for two to four players and lasts from one to two hours. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of its older brother but it has its own secret sauce, an original new mechanism that streamlines play while keeping things detailed and interesting.
Players are randomly dealt one of eight civilization leader cards at the beginning of the game, indicating which civilization they will represent. There is Rome, Japan, Aztec, America, France, Egypt, Sumeria and Scythia. Each civilization begins with a special unique power.
The table is set with modular board pieces consisting of several hexes. These double-sided pieces can be configured differently each game. Players take turns creating the map by adding these modular pieces to the board. It's quite fun to decide where certain resources, starting civilizations and terrain types will reside.
After deciding the starting hex for each of the participating civilizations, players are given a focus board and five focus cards. At the core of Sid Meier’s Civilization: A New Dawn is a new mechanism involving these focus cards and board.
Exciting new focus mechanism
The focus bar is a thin strip of cardboard with the numbers one through five listed in numerical order left to right. Above each number on the focus strip is also a terrain type with lush grasslands associated with one, hills with two, forests with three, deserts with four and mountains with five. Under those numbers and terrains are placed the five focus cards. Think of them as cards in numbered slots.
Focus cards represent actions that can be completed during the game. Each civilization has the same set but the game starts with different configurations of the action cards depending on the civilization. The five focus cards deal with science, culture, economy, military and industry.
On a player's turn, he or she must decide which card to play. Each card becomes more powerful if it is used in a higher numbered slot. When a card is played, it is rotated back to the number one slot on the focus board and the other cards rise in rank. Timing is crucial because the action needed at the moment may not be in the highest slot of the focus bar, thereby giving its most powerful effect.
For example, if a player uses the industry focus card, he or she may build a new city. The location of the new city could be on one of five different terrain types: grasslands (1), hills (2), forest (3), desert (4) or mountains (5). Depending on the numbered slot the industry card was played from determines what terrain a new city can be built on. An industry card in the five slot allows a player to build on any terrain type, but if played from slot three, a new city can only be placed on grasslands, hills or forests.
If the science focus card is selected, it will grant players a certain amount of points to add to their tech wheel. At certain levels on the tech wheel, players are granted a technology boost. One of the five focus cards can be exchanged for a better version. But the game doesn't allow for a player to be the best in each area of focus. Players have to customize and decide if their civilization will pursue money, culture, technology, industry or might. This makes the game highly replayable as players choose different strategies each game.
Culture focus cards allow players to expand the borders of their cities using control tokens. Bigger borders can include more resources. Control tokens can be attacked by barbarians or rival cities and lost. An endless supply of barbarians wander the lands and randomly attack cities and borders. They're nasty, but steps can be taken to minimize their impact.
The economy focus card allows players to move caravans. Players can send out caravans from their cities to visit rival cities or neutral city-states. Trade tokens are earned for completion of trade routes as well as the acquisition of cool power cards that allow civilizations to break the rules.
The military focus cards allow players to reinforce their control tokens or perform attacks. Attacks can be made on rival territories, neutral city-states and pesky barbarians. The military aspect to this version of civilization is very different. It is simplified and involves no military units. Attacks and defenses are determined by military tech levels and the roll of a die. Defeats and wins simply alter the placement of control tokens.
The industry focus card allows a player to build a new city or world wonder. The city can only be built on terrain associated with the focus number or lower (read example above). And the player must have enough resources to build a wonder.
Wonders of the world
Don't worry. This version of civilization still has world wonders. Players can build wonders such as the Forbidden City or the Eiffel Tower. These wonders require a lot of production but help meet game-winning goals and provide cool, exclusive powers.
Winning the game
To win the game, players must accomplish one of two agendas on three different communal victory cards selected at the beginning of the game. For example, one card might be completed by building two science-based world wonders or having eight cities on the map. Once either of the agendas is accomplished, a player puts a token on that card. If all three cards have received a player's token, that player wins.
Sid Meier’s Civilization A New Dawn is by no means a light game and it may seem that there is a lot going on (there are many things I haven't even talked about in this review). However the core mechanism is extremely simple. Choose a focus card each turn and resolve it. That's it. For my friends who don't want to sit at the table for four hours but still want the taste of a civilization-building game, this is it.
The game-designing geniuses at Fantasy Flight Games should truly be commended They have come up with a wonderful new edition of Civilization and introduced a fantastic, original game mechanism that will add to the collective conscience of the board game industry. This game gets my highest recommendation and will remain part of my game collection for years to come. Be sure to check it out before you buy, but while you're dilly dallying, I'll be choosing my next empire's leader.