If, like me, you’ve whiled away hours of your life developing the nuclear arms program of the Holy Roman Empire on Sid Meier’s Civilization V, the news of a board game version no doubt came as exciting news.
Finally, a way to give your eyes a break from the screen, but not waste valuable Civ time on things like going outside or catching up with friends and family!
But is it any good? Let’s find out.
Brief Overview of Civilization: A New Dawn
Civilization: A New Dawn has taken a classic video game and crafted it into a comprehensive 4X tabletop version. Choose from eight different civilizations and then explore, battle, trade and innovate your way to dominate the region.
Each game sets up differently, with the map being set up at random and victory conditions chosen from a shuffled deck. Then, players must use patience and foresight to determine how best to advance their science, military, culture, economy, and industry attributes to come out on top.
Just watch out for those pesky barbarians.
Unboxing Civilization: A New Dawn
According to the old adage, Rome wasn’t built in a day. However, in this box, you’ll have all you need to build (and potentially ruin) it in the space of just a couple of hours. Here’s what you get:
- 16 map tiles
- 1 event dial
- 8 leader sheets
- 80 focus cards
- 4 tech dials
- 61 cards
- 240 tokens
- 8 city/capital city miniatures
- 36 caravan miniatures
- 2 dice
Straight off the bat, fans of the video game will instantly find themselves feeling at home. Taking out the map tiles, you’ll see they are are all made up using the classic ‘Civ’ hexagonal map structure, while the artwork throughout is clearly emulating that of the video games. When all is set up, it really makes you feel like your digital empire has been transferred onto the table. The colors, graphics, and design all match up nicely with the game.
The bulk of the components are made out of cardboard, such as the map tiles, which makes me feel like this might struggle with several years of rigorous play, but on the whole it works well. That said, watch out for the long, thin focus bars, which are likely to be the first to perish.
There are some plastic miniatures included representing the various cities that will crop up throughout the game, which is a nice touch, bringing a 3D element to the board. I suppose they could have made them individual from one another but considering they don’t really bother to do so in the digital version it was not to be expected. You’ll also find some plastic caravans.
It would have been nice if there’d been some eye-catching plastic wonders in there, but perhaps that’s a little ambitious!
How to Play Civilization: A New Dawn
To start with, each player chooses which civilization they want to play and takes the corresponding pieces. Then take a focus bar and focus cards, and lay out the focus cards in the order that your civilization’s leader sheet dictates in order to create your focus row. One of these will be the Foreign Trade card, place your caravan on that card.
Now it’s time to build the map. This is done at random by following the specific rules in the rulebook. Then, for every icon on the board – such as resources, barbarians, and city-states – place the corresponding token on it.
Next, set up decks for each type of wonder and select three random victory cards and place them face-up next to the board.
Aim of the game
The objective of the game is to achieve one of the agendas on each of the three victory cards that were picked at random at the start of the game.
Each victory card has two agendas. Once you’ve achieved one, place a victory token on that agenda. It doesn’t matter if later in the game you no longer meet the criteria for that agenda. Once your token is on the card, it cannot be removed.
The first person to have a token on all three cards wins.
The Focus Row
A key concept of Civilization: A New Dawn is the focus row. This is made up of five types of action cards, representing the key areas of interest to your nation: science, military, culture, economy and industry.
The row runs from left to right. The further a card is to the right-hand slot, the more powerful it is. Each turn, you can play a card from any slot, but when you do it is shifted back to the first slot and all the others are moved up to replace it.
Therefore, the longer you leave a card, the more powerful it can become. Throughout the game, you’ll also be able to upgrade each card.
Note, too, that each slot on the focus row has a terrain type attached to it. The tougher/more valuable terrains are further up the focus row and will affect the actions you can take.
A player’s turn consists of choosing a card from their focus row and resolving its effect. Play then moves on to the next player. The five cards act as follows:
- Culture – place control tokens on a hex adjacent to your existing territory and claim its resources. The higher up the focus row, the more tokens you can place. Also, you may only place tokens on terrain that matches the slot the card was in.
- Science – advance your tech dial by the relevant to the focus row the card is in. Once your tech dial reaches a ‘tech level’ marker, you can choose to upgrade any of your focus cards to that level.
- Economy – move your caravan the number of spaces shown on your card. If you reach a city-state or rival city, you get trade tokens, which can be placed on your focus cards to boost their effects. You may not move your caravan into terrain that is in a higher focus slot than the card.
- Industry – this lets you build a new city or wonder. If building a city, you may only build it on the terrain type that corresponds with the focus slot the card is in. It must also be on the territory you control or where you have a caravan. If (to both wow the world and grant yourself powerful abilities) you are building a wonder, the slot contributes towards its cost.
- Military – either reinforce your defenses or make an attack. The focus slot affects how many territories you can reinforce or how strong your attack is.
Resolving an attack comes down to who between the attacker and defender has the highest combat value. This is determined by both sides rolling a dice, and then adding on any other attacker/defender bonuses. There’s also the option to spend trade tokens for extra point value.
The Event Dial
Once the game is underway, the starting player will have the job of moving the event dial forward before their turn to represent time passing. When this happens, a world event may occur (i.e. an effect that isn’t caused by a player). This basically controls the movements and actions of the barbarians on the map, and whether or not you receive taxes from city-states you control in the form of trade tokens.
Moving Through The Game
As turns progress, players expand their territory, battle barbarians, grow resources and develop their civilization, all in an effort to achieve three of the agendas set out on the three victory cards.
Your First Game of Civilization: A New Dawn
Civilization: A New Dawn isn’t an overly complex game to play, however it might take a couple of turns before everything falls into place. This is partly because I think the rulebook makes things look a little more complicated than they really are. However, it does handily provide a map tile layout to use for your first game as you walk through the first few turns.
One rule that apparently gets missed quite regularly is that, when boosting your focus cards, you are only allowed three trade tokens on a card at one time. Missing this, you’ll probably end up piling them high on your military cards and it can massively distort the gameplay towards the combat aspect. This is hidden at the end of the trade token section in the rulebook, so it is easily missed when the game is underway.
Bear in mind, too, that if you fail when attempting an attack, you are welcome to try and attack that target again on the same turn. Maybe this time you’ll get a better roll of the dice!
Pros & Cons
- Solid empire-building game
- Some good mechanics
- Randomizes set-up to increase replayability
Civilization: A New Dawn fits neatly into the 4X and engine-building category. There are plenty of things ticking along in the background and any strategy game fan will enjoy getting their teeth into it. I especially thought the balance between the science, military, culture, economy and industry civilization attributes was really strong, as often it becomes clear quite quickly in these types of game that some areas of focus are more effective than others.
This balance is helped a lot by the randomization of the victory conditions, making all attributes important at one time or another. This also adds nicely to the replayability of the game, which is boosted too by the fact you have eight civilizations to choose from and can set up the map tiles differently each time, creating unique strategic challenges to overcome.
The focus bar mechanic is a real stand-out feature for me. This requires players to think long-term about their actions and plan several turns in advance. Each time you don’t play a card is an investment in its future strength, but how long can you hold on? Similarly, it’s great fun mapping out what cards you need at what point along the focus row, as grueling as it can sometimes be.
- Doesn’t quite live up to the video game
- Perhaps over-simplified
- Military aspect disappointing
However, all that said, coming at the game as a huge fan of the original Civilization video game, several areas disappointed me. In particular, the military aspect. You don’t have any military units to move around or battle tactics to command. Instead, combat takes place by expanding your territory and is resolved by simply rolling one die. This makes it an incredibly transactional affair, entirely sucking out any sense of military conquest.
Of course, I understand that the further up the chain of command you go, the more detached you become from what’s happening on the ground. But this goes too far. Military combat becomes just a numerical exchange. Forget anything you know about military sieges. This exchange feels more like taking on the role of a corporate behemoth maneuvering to evict an old man in order to construct a shopping mall.
Sadly, the same can be said for your other available actions, which have all been stripped back to be appropriate for the table-top version. They’re all there and work perfectly well. But, compared to the original, they’ve lost what made them exciting. Ultimately, each turn has been simplified too much for this to feel like a comprehensive strategy game. You get one action, and that’s it. Now to wait for the next one.
Civilization: A New Dawn is a stripped-back, table-top version of the video game so many of us already know and love. Like its digital counterpart, the aim is to expand your empire, discover new lands, build world wonders and conquer your opponents. As a straightforward 4X game, it does the job well.
Sadly, though, on converting to analog, lots of the granular detail and complexity that made the original so engrossing was sidelined. So, while it’s a solid experience in its own right, diehard Civ fans may not quite get what they’re looking for.
Overall, Civilization: A New Dawn is an enjoyable and complete 4X strategy game. It’s a solid empire-builder, requiring a lot of thought and foresight to play well. The focus bar mechanic, in particular, is a really interesting concept, which encourages a much more long-term and patient style of play.
However, as an installment of the overall Civilization franchise, A New Dawn doesn’t quite cut it for me. The team rightly tried not to pack in too many of the moving parts of the original to avoid making it overweight in detail. But, this sadly comes at the detriment of some of the features that make the original video game series so engrossing. Military conquest, in particular, suffers.
I’d compare it to Weezer’s cover of the classic Toto song ‘Africa’. If it’s your first ever exposure to that song, you’re probably going to have a good time. But for those that already know the original, it just won’t feel the same.
Have you tried Civilization: A New Dawn? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think!