Civilization: Call to Power
By mid - '99 we'll have three turn-based strategy games to choose from, each claiming to be the third-generation heir to Civilization. MicroProse own the trademark, but their Civilization: Test Of Time has yet to be seen. The original power behind the throne was games maestro Sid Meier and his offering, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, has just arrived in the shops. Meanwhile, relative outsiders Activision have got in on the act with Civilization: Call To Power.
Call To Power shares the isometric viewpoint of Civ II and its main rival, Alpha Centauri-not that you'd expect any less these days. The terrain is crisp and bright, and the units and buildings are cleanly drawn, with impressive optional animations and an uncluttered screen, even when units are packed together.
Before you begin building your little empire, you have to define how many civilisations you want in the game (from three up to eight) and the map size from small (24x48 tiles) to very large (70x140 tiles). You can also alter each of six variables that determine the shape and feel of a random map, including wetness, temperature, number of extra goods squares, diversity of terrain, amount of land, and the shape of your area, which ranges from islands to large continents. A map editor lets you design your own maps and even scenarios.
Follow My Leader
Like the original, Call To Power starts with you and your band of settlers on your own in the middle of nowhere. It's 4000BC and the virgin land is sitting there just waiting to be farmed, mined, fought over, built on and polluted, probably in that order. Of course, it's neatly divided into squares, which makes it a lot easier.
Step one is to find a square - a tile - with lots of nearby resources, and then build a city. Cities take up a single tile on the map but can harvest or exploit up to 20 others around them.
Terrain varies from swamps and plains to mountains and rivers, each one capable of producing different quantities of food, gold and an abstract term called 'production' - which is basically anything that's not food or gold. Find a good spot (right-click to find the value of a particular tile) and your city will grow; place it on tundra or desert and it won't - simple as that.
You can afford to take your time because, after all, Call To Power is a turn-based game and you've got about 7000 years to go - unless you happen to get eradicated by another tribe that has been more successful. In fact, the other tribe might well be controlled by another human player, as the multiplayer element is built in from the start - unlike earlier Civ games, where multiplayer was a give-us-more-money and hope-for-the-best extra.
The object of the game is to steer your civilisation through five eras - ancient, renaissance, modern, genetic and diamond, each with its own style. You can play as one of 'tribes', including English, Inca, Egyptian and Ethiopian, but they are all pretty much identical - unlike Alpha Centauri, where the seven factions have individual characteristics. At first, you build city 'improvements', such as granaries to boost food production, city walls, and knights and archers to defend them. After diverting resources to science and research, you can then add cathedrals, libraries and universities, followed by weird and wonderful advances like nanite defusers and ESP centres.
Each tile inside a city's radius can be improved to increase its food, gold or production value. Farms, for example, help you squeeze more food from a tile, while mines give more gold and production. With advanced research, the farms and mines get better at their job and there are special hydroponic farms for your underwater and space cities. Other tile improvements include roads, railways and tunnels under the sea to speed up movement, and listening posts, sonar buoys and radar stations to help you spot enemy units further away.
In the original Civ games, your settler or engineer units built the tile improvements. In Call To Power, they are paid for out of a central fund called public works. You decide how many resource points you convert to public works at each turn and use the fund to place farms, roads, mines and even fortifications.
In fact, Call To Power takes the same concept a step further and does the upkeep accounting centrally, too. Most improvements and buildings cost a certain amount of gold each turn, and this is calculated not on a city-by-city basis, but from the whole civilisation's coffers. This makes it possible to fine-tune your production so that some cities produce gold, some food and others production, although all cities need to have minimum levels of each resource to keep growing and to build units or improvements. That said, it can be handy to build one or two cities in the mountains - production and gold are very high as long as you make sure basic food requirements are taken care of.
It's different to Civ II in that you can't send a settler from a big city and add it to a small one to balance population growth. It's an oversight, but one that longstanding Civ enthusiasts might miss. But it does include Wonders of the World - special improvements that only the first civilisation to build it can achieve. In some cases, improvements and wonders can be made obsolete by certain advances and wonders. The nanite defuser, for instance, eliminates everybody's ability to make nukes.
Another novel idea that Call To Power introduces is three levels of military readiness. At peace, units cost very little to maintain but there's a price to pay in the event of sudden war in that units take five turns to change from zero readiness to the more resource-costly full combat status. If they start fighting before that, they don't fight at full effectiveness.
To move into later eras and get all the juicy units, like aircraft carriers, bombers and submarines, you have to invest a lot of time and resources on research, but it's important to think about the direction you're heading in. Going for tool-making and then ship-building, for example, gives you triremes to transport your settlers and invading armies across narrow stretches of water; research hullmaking and you'll get Viking-style longships... and on and on, all the way to the four-legged undersea crawlers of the future.
Many of the research paths cross each other, so that to get a ship of the line - a decked sailing ship - you'll need to research not only ocean-faring from the sea research tree, but the first three mechanical discoveries: agricultural revolution, mechanical clock and machine tools. If your tribe is land-locked and needs to expand, you'll have to guide your research along these two distinct paths. Of course, while you're researching these, you'll have to wait until you've finished before you can research other areas, such as medicine, electricity, flight or construction or any of the other 72 improvements and 112 different discoveries.
If this was all there was to it, Call To Power would be easy. But there's more. The six different types of city inhabitants are another complication, and all have to be well fed and watered to prevent them from turning on you. They can be workers, scientists, entertainers, merchants, labourers or slaves, and each one contributes to the economy in a different way. Slaves, for example, work for a lot less food and wages which, morality aside, makes them quite handy. Until an opposing tribe comes up with an abolitionist unit and incites them to riot...
Call To Power supports Internet network and play by email. You can alter most of the features, Including the amount of starting gold, in addition to the same custom rules as you can select in single-player mode, such as the behaviour of barbarians, the size of the map, world climate and topography.
To connect over the Internet you need to have a dial-up or other connection already up and running. You get a list of available servers, together with their ping numbers, and are invited to create a player profile for yourself. You can also award yourself one of six experience levels, which equate to the single-player difficulty levels, but don't expect hardened Net-heads to take any notice. Purists would maintain that turn-based strategy games weren't meant to be played in multiplayer mode, but you either subscribe to that point ot view or you don't.
Civilization: Call To Power will please a lot of Civ fans yelling for more, but it still has the mass appeal to attract a whole new generation of would-be strategy gamers. Despite the apparent complexity, it's not too daunting - the help system or library is simple and well thought-out, and the tabbed interface works well, particularly the 'max' tab, with which cities can be set to maximise either food, production, gold, happiness or science.
There are a few niggles, unfortunately. There's no way to insert things into the build queue, for example, and you can't save your preferred game settings. Some of the units seem rather inappropriate, too, such as the animated native American Indian warrior, which looks silly if you're playing as a Welsh tribe.
It takes a while before Call To Power gets the adrenalin pumping, but as long as you're prepared to spend the first thousand years doing very little, except clicking the end-of-turn button, there is endless variety and lots of replay value. With the possibilities opened up by its space and undersea exploitation, coupled with the fascinating creative units, Call To Powehs an addictive addition to the rehabilitated turn-based genre. Perhaps not quite a bullseye, but not far off.
Warfare Art Thou?
Do your homework to boost your killing power
To move around, explore the map and, naturally, attack other civilisations, you need units - either military ones or specials. All you have to work with at first are horse archers and warriors, but research will reward you with far more powerful troops, such as musketeers, pikemen and cavalry. In the modem era they become tanks, marines, battleships, aircraft carriers and planes, while in the futuristic stages, genetic and diamond, you have storm marines, stealth submarines and star cruisers - just a handful of the 67 unit types available.
In the original Civ, unit combat was simply a measure of attack versus defence with a few modifiers for terrain and unit status thrown in. The basics are the same in Call To Power, but where multiple units are involved, there's a battle screen, which gives It an almost wargame-style feel.
The computer arranges the close combat units in the front rank up to a maximum of five. Up to five ranged fire units (such as archers or cannons), or those that didn't fit In the front rank, are placed In the second, and non-combatants, such as slavers and diplomats, appear in the third. This works out fairly well because the stacking limit Is nine combat units.
Battles begin with a ranged phase, where the second rank fires at the enemy front rank, and follows on with a close quarters fight where the two front ranks meet. If you win and happen to have a slaver in the third rank, you can take a random number of defeated enemy units as slaves. The combat system Is reasonably effective and there's a good argument for using balanced forces in battle with, say, five archers and five infantry types, such as legions or musketeers. If you get bored with the battle screen, you can quickly dismiss it and just watch the result.
Download Civilization: Call to Power
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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