Civilization: Call to Power

The Background

Around the time that the original Civ team left Microprose to form Firaxis, another player made a brief appearance. It all started with Avalon Hill, which had created a board game called Civilization in 1980, and later they even created a computer game called Advanced Civilization (1991). The original board game was clearly a predecessor to what Sid Meier did, but Sid never claimed a direct relationship, and the games are different in many ways. The Advanced Civilization computer game came out around the same time as Sid Meier’s Civilization, but again they are different games. They coexisted in the marketplace, but Sid Meier’s Civilization was the clear hit, and when Civilization II was released by Microprose it was mostly over for Avalon Hill’s entry. Except…

Avalon Hill decided to try and get some money by licensing the rights to their game to Activision, which created a game called Civilization: Call to Power. This was very similar to the Microprose games, one might almost say a deliberate copy. And while Avalon Hill never had the resources to try legal action, Activision defintely did, and they sued Microprose for copyright infringement. They probably hoped to gain control of Microprose, which was pretty successful. But the executives at Microprose played hardball as well. Avalon Hill had actually licensed the board game from a British company called Hartland Trefoil, and had licensed other intellectual property from this company. So Microprose simply bought Hartland Trefoil, and rescinded all of Avalon Hill’s licenses. Ultimately a settlement was reached that allowed Activision to sell the original Civilization: Call to Power and a sequel to be called simply Call to Power II, dropping the Civilization name. And in the end Hasbro bought out all of them and owns the name Civilization. And that was fine because Firaxis didn’t want to be a publisher, just a designer, and they have designed every sequel from Civilization III on, and no doubt will continue to do so.

The Game

If you have played any of the other Civiization games, most of the gameplay is pretty familiar. The game uses tiles that can contain improvements of various kinds like roads and farms. You view them in an isometric view similar to Civilization II. The cities you found with your settlers can produce buildings, units, and Wonders. But there are also differences. One new idea brought in with this game was the Public Works budget. In Call to Power settler units only settle new cities. They don’t create roads and farms, or any of the terrain improvements that settler units did in Civilization II. Civilization III did something similar, but in that game they created a new unit called the Worker, which took over those tasks. In Call to Power, though, you allocated a portion of your gold revenue to a Public Works budget that would let you place improvements directly on tiles after paying the cost. The options you have for improvements increase as you discover new technologies, and include Terraforming, which lets you turn tiles with less productive uses into something better, such as turning a jungle tile into a grassland tile. And since you can’t place a farm on jungle or forest tiles, turning one into grassland first can be necessary. There are also coastal sea-based options like Ports, Fisheries, and Nets. Nets are available from the start, but the others require some advancement before they can be built.

Of course Trade is important since that is an important source of the revenue needed to fund all of this stuff. And this is different as well. If a city has a resource available, you will know because one of the tiles will have an icon, such as a Bear or an Elephant. This is worth knowing when you are picking a site for a city because you will want to pick a site with a tradeable resource when possible. To set up as trade route you need to build “caravans”, but unlike in Civilization II these are not visible units you move around the board. They are more like points you need to accumulate to create trade routes. So for example you might see that you can send a resource from one of your cities to some other city that demands it, but creating the route will require “4 caravans”. This means you should be regularly adding caravans to your build queues so that you have some available to create trade routes when you gain a resource.

Another new wrinkle is that you have a hard limit on how many cities you can create, and this limit is determined by your government type. This nerfs the Civilization/Civilization II strategy of just outbuilding to AI to steamroller them. In those games you could often be successful by setting each new city to build a military unit for defense, then a new settler unit, so that you grew exponentially. That would work unless you spawned near an aggressive neighbor. In later Civilization games they introduced problems like increasing inefficiency as you grew, or maybe increased citizen unrest, so it became a management issue, but in Call to Power they just stop you at a certain point.

Call to Power retains the 4000BC start, but lets the game go longer, up to 3000AD. And they divide this into 5 ages: Ancient, Renaissance, Modern, Genetic, and Diamond. And this means that they can have more advanced technologies. As you advance you get to do things in Space, and in the Ocean. And to do this they retain a feature introduced in Civilization II: Test of Time of having added levels to map. In effect, each tile now has 3 coordinates, x,y, and z, with z representing the releative height. So you can be in space over a tile on the Earth surface, or in the ocean under a tile on the ocean surface. And of course your technology tree will let you discover the technologies needed to make use of these places as you progress through the game.

In most other respects Call to Power is pretty similar to other Civilization-type games. There is a technology tree that you have to move along, and you can either select technologies to research one by one as you go, or you can set a “goal” technology and the game will have you research everything in the tree needed to achieve this goal. As an example, in one game I was on a continent with a lot of swamp tiles. And unlike in Civilization/Civilization II, I couldn’t just use my Settler unit to drain the swamp, I had to go through the Public Works mechanism, and there it turned out the ability to drain swamps did not appear until you had researched Industrial Revolution. This would no doubt have surprised the many ancient civilizations that were perfectly capable of draining swamps, but the game is the game. So I set Industrial Revolution as my research goal, and eventually got the tech I wanted.

As in all Civilization games pollution and global warming are issues. An added feature to this is that destruction of the ozone layer is one of things that can happen, with of course consequences. Pollution can be cleaned up, but costs resources. And global warming can cause the ice caps to melt and the seas to rise, and that in turn can destroy cities on low-lying coastal lands. As a player you have to balance the production needs of your economy with the pollution costs, and decide if you want to avoid pollution in the first place, clean it up when it happens, or develop clean technologies, or maybe just let it go. It’s your empire, after all.

Another balancing act is the happiness of your citizens. Unhappy citizens can stop working, or a city can even revolt against your empire if they are unhappy enough, whereas a very happy city can produce “celebrations”. Happiness can be increased by building buildings like Temples, Arenas, Cathedrals, and so on. These affect happiness in a particular city where they are built. You can also increase happiness for your whole empire with certain Wonders, such as the Ramayana or Contraception.

Bottom Line

So, how is it as a game? Well, there are some good concepts in here. I think you could enjoy a game or two if you were stuck inside during a snowstorm. But compared to the other games available, I don’t think it would be the first choice. I will give you a few reviews to consider. The first is a review by Niko Nirvi in the May 1999 issue of Peli, where he concluded that Call to Power will be allowed to hang out at the same bar as Civs and Alpha Centauri, but will have to buy them drinks. And in Next Generation the review said that Civilization: Call to Power was “not without its good points, but in the end it’s difficult to enjoy. Gamers hungry for a worthy sequel to Civ II will find it in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.” And finally, the game was a nominee for GameSpot‘s “Most Disappointing Game of the Year” award, which went to Ultima IX: Ascension. So this is not a game I would seek out, even though it is available on Good Old Games. Personally, Alpha Centauri is far more likely to get my attention, and ofcourse these days the later Civilization games are pretty good. In passing I will metion that it was ported to Linux by Loki, but even there I would probably fire up Freeciv, the open source clone of Civ III, before I would go for Call to Power.

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