In the mid-90s DOS was becoming pretty ancient, and Civilization had been extremely successful, so a new version was created to take the franchise forward in 1996. Civilization II was designed to run on Windows 95, so it can take advantage of more resources, making for improvements in game play and in appearance. Also a new lead developer made his appearance, Brian Reynolds. Although Sid Meier’s name is always plastered all over the games his company makes, the fact is that it has more to do with being a marketable brand than a statement of authorship. So don’t think of these like a series of books that have a single author, think of them more like a TV series like Doctor Who, where the actors, writers, directors, and producers change continually. Sid was the lead developer for the very first version of Civilization, but since then he has simply maintained some oversight without being involved in the nitty-gritty of producing the games. Each iteration of Civ has brought in a new lead developer.
Brian Reynolds was a developer at MicroProse, the original studio that Sid Meiers helped found with Bill Stealey, and had worked on previous titles there such as Sid Meiers’ Colonization. Following his work on Civilization II, he was also the lead designer on Sid Meiers’ Alpha Centauri. He left the company to become the CEO of Big Huge Games, where he created Rise of Nations.
On paper, Civ II is not all that different from Civilization! And yet, it hooked me badly. I spent so many hours playing Civ II that I’ll never get back, but I had fun along the way, and I still enjoy playing it 25 years later. Sid Meiers has said that he used a “1/3” rule for new versions of Civ, which is: 1/3 should stay the same, 1/3 should refine what came before, and 1/3 should be new things. Some things he has said will never change:
- Civ will always be turn-based. Interestingly, the very first version Sid wrote was “real-time”, but he said it never really worked right until he changed to turn-based. And all subsequent versions of Civ have kept the turn-based feature. In fact, the phrase “one more turn” has become a featured part of the marketing. Back when I played it in my younger days, I often witnessed the sun rising as a result, even now I might think I will stop after this turn and make dinner, then realize 45 minutes later I still haven’t stopped.
- Multiple Paths to Victory: In the early versions, that meant only 2 paths, but it did expand in later versions. In Civilization and Civ II you could achieve a Science victory by being the first to land colonists on Alpha Centauri, or a Military victory by wiping out all other players in the game.
- Global Warming/Pollution/Climate Change: This shows up in every game, though the mechanics might be different.
- Tech tree: Every version of Civ has a tech tree you must navigate to research technologies and advance.
Some of the changes were the refinements. A few items got small changes, like The Pyramids (an Ancient Wonder) now giving you a free granary in every city, or the Legion unit getting stronger but also a little more expensive. A new difficulty level was added, the Deity level, which made for even more of a challenge for the player. The number of Civs in the game increased from 14 to 21, and the number of Wonders increased from 21 to 28. An interesting addition was the introduction of a new government type called Fundamentalism, which could be pretty powerful for a military victory but less useful for a Science victory. And another new introduction was Scenarios that came included with the game, one for Rome and another for World War II. Civ I had diplomats, but Civ II added spies. And a new metric for Reputation meant that your past actions would influence how other civs would interact with you. In fact, the diplomacy aspect in general was beefed up deliberately to make peaceful strategies more successful, including making alliances. And if you were at peace with a neighbor, they could demand that you withdraw your units from their territory.
But if war was in the cards, that was improved as well. Units now had “hit points”, which made combat more tactically interesting, and pretty much eliminated the rare, but possible in Civ event of a Spearman defeating a Battleship. And this made the era the unit was from more important as well. In the early game a Phalanx was a great defensive unit for your city, but you needed to upgrade your military as time went on, going to Pikemen for defense in the Medieval era, and to Mechanized Infantry in the Modern era.
But the most noticeable change was in the graphics. Instead of DOS graphics, you had something a little easier on the eyes. The “top-down” flat view of Civ 1 was replaced with the 3-D “Isometric” view, and all of the units got new graphics. The Wonders all got movies explaining their significance, and a new High Council was created to provide advice to the player, though the advice was mostly of use to newer players. After a while I just ignored its existence. On the High Council you have various advisors, who are actors filmed in costumes, giving you advice in their area. There is Science advisor, a Military advisor, an Economics advisor, a Diplomacy advisor, and a Happiness advisor. The last requires a little explanation. In Civ, keeping your citizens happy matters, since if they get unhappy they can revolt and bring down your empire. This is one of the things that continues to be true through following versions of Civ, even though the mechanics of it might change.
The biggest advance came from the Scenarios. This was the start of the modding community around this game, as players could create their own scenarios and share them around. Modding has only increased in popularity, and is actively encouraged by the developers since it only increases interest in the game.
These days when a game is popular, developers will release DLC (i.e. Down-Loadable Content) as expansions, and they can be free or be sold as the developer wishes. But back when Civ 2 was released we didn’t have Steam or as developed an Internet, so the expansions came in the form of CDs available for purchase. Civ 2 had a number of these.
- Civ 2 Scenarios: Conflicts in Civilization – This had 20 added scenarios, 12 of which were created by the developers at MicroProse, and 8 by fans of the game. And it also shipped with an enhanced macro language for building scenarios.
- Civ 2 Fantastic Worlds – This had 19 additional scenarios, of which 11 were by the developers, and 8 by the fans of the game.
- Civ 2 Multiplayer Gold Edition (MGE) – This added multiplayer, something that Civ never had before, but it had some problems, and I never really cared to play against human players. My gaming was when I happened to have some free time to spend, and trying to coordinate with other players made no sense for me. So I never bought this.
- Civ 2 Test of Time – I played this a lot, possibly more than the original Civ 2. The main thing this did was expand the game by adding Alpha Centauri. In Civ you always had the option of a Science victory by being the first to land your colonists on Alpha Centauri. In this expansion, landing on Alpha Centauri did not end the game. There was an Alien race on the planet, and it competed with other Civs all through the game. You could even play as the alien race, though it was never as interesting since you had no other Civs to interact with until very late in the game when one or more of the Earth Civs would land. It also introduced the feature of multiple maps, since you had two planets to keep track of, and there were ways when you developed the technology to move back-and-forth between the maps/planets . There were some other minor changes in graphics and such, but in most respects it was Civ 2. It also shipped with a couple of scenarios that took advantage of the multiple maps capability, a Fantasy scenario called The World of Midgard, and a Science Fiction scenario called The Universe of Lalande 21185.
Once you have learned the relatively minor differences between Civ and Civ 2, the gameplay is really just the same. You again start out as a band of wandering nomads in 4000BC, you settle down and found your first city, you build military units, buildings, and more settlers. Settlers still are the ones to create roads, irrigation, and mines. You still research technologies, and you still try to win by either a Science victory (landing on Alpha Centauri) or a Military victory (wiping out all of the other players). While it is out of print, you can possibly find the disks at places like Ebay, but you have other options. Steam unfortunately does not have Civ 2, nor does Good Old Games. But you have other options. Play Classic Games has both Civilization II and the two expansions Scenarios and Fantastic Worlds, so you can play them online that way. Unfortunately, they do not have Test of Time. However, Myabandonware.com does have Test of Time and Multiplayer Gold Edition. But I found a site where some enterprising person has packaged up the game for download so you can run it on your computer pretty easily, and I have tested it on Windows 10 and it works. The original Civ 2 won’t run on Windows 10, and I even kept an old laptop that has Windows XP around so I can play it when I want to. And I will keep that old laptop because when I am on the road online games and Steam are not convenient, but I can play my games using my CDs on this laptop. One tip is that Civ and Civ 2 play a lot more easily using the number pad to move units around, and since my laptop does not have a number pad I bought a USB number pad to plug in.