2-4 players, 60-120 mins, ages 14+, £49.99
Designer: James Kniffen
For more than 25 years, the Civilization video game series has offered players the chance to play armchair dictator, discovering new lands, shaping nascent cultures and engaging in subtle diplomacy. Or, if it’s more your cup of tea, engulfing your enemies in nuclear fire. Now, the revered empire-builder has had a board-game makeover, bringing its sweeping strategy to your living room table.
Like its digital predecessors, Civilization: A New Dawn casts players as rulers attempting to turn their small, scattered tribes into globe-spanning empires. But it’s striking how boldly the game departs from almost everything long-time fans might expect. There’s no painstaking city management or early-game exploration of uncharted territory. There aren’t even any military units to manoeuvre around the map. Instead, there is an ingenious system of cards representing different actions such as expanding your borders, conducting scientific research and trading with foreign powers.
Other elements will be more familiar to video-game veterans. There are natural resources to exploit and barbarian hordes to confront, as well as a selection of factions for players to lead, each with their own strengths, making for a subtly different experience every time you play.
The game’s one weak point, though, is its linear view of history. You’ll be able to upgrade aspects of your civilisation over time, but not to make real, fundamental choices about the nature of your culture. The game assumes ideas such as militarism, nationalism and capitalism are inherently desirable – a criticism that has also been levelled at the original computer games. It leads to a feeling that while you might be steering your empire across the centuries, you’re not entirely in control of its direction.
It’s not enough to sink the game, though, and this is a fresh and thoughtful take on the world-conquering genre. It’s intensely competitive, and its streamlined cardplay ensures that while your turns stay quick and simple, it’s never at the expense of strategic challenge. It may not feel much like the original video games, but there’s plenty about A New Dawn to appeal to your inner Napoleon.
2-4 players, 20-30 minutes, ages 7+, £39.99
Designer: Marc André
If global domination is a bit of a tall order, this game of fantasy kingdom-building might be more your speed. It puts players in the shoes of nobles competing to recruit citizens for their growing realms. You add new characters to your population on every turn, with each affecting the game in different ways: earning you points, attacking your rivals or defending against invading armies.
What’s interesting, though, are the knock-on effects your decisions can have on other players. Hire an innkeeper, for instance, and anyone with a brewer in their city gets a bonus due to the rising demand for beer. It means you’ll always have to consider the ways you could be inadvertently helping your opponents, and while Majesty never gets bogged down in complexity, it offers some tricky choices.
With two players, it’s tight and analytical. With more, it becomes less predictable, forcing you to react to your rivals’ actions. And with beginner and advanced modes included, there’s the option of moving on to a new challenge once you have mastered the basics.
2-5 players, 30 minutes, ages 8+, £32.50
Designer: Kirsten Hiese
The Indian state of Kerala is famous for its festivals featuring brightly decorated elephants, and this family-friendly tile laying game throws you and your opponents into the celebrations. You’ll compete to create eye-catching displays, scoring points for building connected areas of matching colours.
It sounds simple enough, but you are only allowed to place tiles next to a pair of wooden elephants that wander around your board as you build. You have to think carefully about how you move them, finding the best ways to maximise your score while avoiding painting yourself into corners – something that gets steadily harder as the game goes on.
It feels like the real-world equivalent of an addictive smartphone puzzle app: a slick design with brain-teasing gameplay that takes minutes to grasp. It’s also visually polished, with vibrant colours, swirling patterns and chunky elephant figures: perfect for a quick hit of light but cerebral fun.
- What have you been playing this month? Let us know in the comments below.
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