Civilization V: Gods & Kings

While long term fans of the Civilization series had mixed responses to Civilization V, I count myself among its advocates. I like the less busy combat system and in general find the game to work pretty fluidly.

As a result, I’ve played a fair amount of games of Civ V since its release in 2010, though admittedly it has gotten a little stale at this point. The Gods and Kings expansion comes at a good time then for me. I have been ready for a little variation on the game, and Gods and Kings, as a fairly robust enhancement of the basic game, offers quite a bit of variation.

In addition to adding some new civilizations to play (most of which are designed to benefit from the new features of the game), Gods & Kings features a new resource, faith, which, of course, relates to the addition of religion to the game. Also, the game adds elements of espionage to the base game in the form of spies who can steal technology from competing civilizations and influence cities in which they rig elections.

Influencing civilizations and city-states is probably the dominant focus of the expansion as both spies and religion change relations with your competitors and allies. I found diplomacy a rather onerous and costly strategic option in the original version game, but these additions make that a much more viable option for me at least.

Since most of what is done with spies is confined to more menu-driven controls, religion is the more interesting addition to the mechanics for me. Essentially the founding of a religion within your civilization comes in two phases, a form of pagan worship followed by the birth of a more organized form of religion.

Initially, a civilization chooses a pantheon to worship, which confers a bonus to the civilization. In my first game, for instance, I chose a pantheon that granted bonus faith to any city built in hexes adjacent to undeveloped forests. The concept is rather cool as these holy areas are initially useful in building up faith but then become less useful (since these bonuses are small ones in the long term) as one modernizes and needs to put that sacred ground to more secular purposes (in game terms, bonuses to production, food, and the economy) — a rather nice simulation of the movement away from nature worship towards more systematic philosophies friendlier to a more urban outlook.

When a civilization accrues enough faith, a Great Prophet will be born and an organized religion can be founded. Firaxis seems a bit timid in the way in which real world religions are incorporated into the simulation at this point, though. When a religion is formed, you name it by choosing from one of a number of familiar world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. However, these names are essentially just placeholders for a set of mechanics, as choosing, say, to play an Islamic civilization does not feature any different gameplay options than, say, playing as a civilization that is dominated by a faith like Judaism.

What one is capable of doing when one founds a religion is build new units, Great Prophets, Missionaries, and Inquisitors, which are capable of evangelizing other foreign cities or stamping out heresy in cities belonging to the player. Since religion changes the influence that you have within your own civilization and those of your opponents, this is a perfectly workable and interesting mechanic. However, it seems to me that the developers have essentially created a simulation of Christianity, with its emphasis on missionary work and evangelism.

The Great Commission as a central tenet of the Christian faith places a high emphasis on conversion, but the notion of missionaries of Judaism is an almost nonsensical concept. Other faiths, like Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, do indeed have missionaries, but, again, this really is not such a central component to those faiths, and Firaxis hasn’t really designed any additional mechanisms to try to focus on, say, the centrality of the scholarly life that adherents of Judaism focus on by passing on the traditions of the Torah throughout generations.

Again, the mechanisms here integrate well with the systems of the game as it has existed previously, and I certainly understand the dangers of stereotyping or just being offensive if one tries to present someone’s religious philosophy and fails to do so conscientiously. Still, though, it would be interesting to see these religions defined more by their particulars and, perhaps, in a less generically Westernized way.

Still, though, this “Christian sim” does create some interesting moments. For example, in one game I was at war with Babylon, and I realized that the only way to get my missionaries in to share their gospel of truth with a nearby enemy city was by sending them in with a “military escort”. Suddenly, my missionaries resembled crusaders, sharing their gospel with the aid of the sword.

Quibbles about the generic presentation of organized religion aside though, this is a tremendously rich expansion of an already tremendously rich simulation. While I was merely looking for some variation on the base game, the truth is that Gods & Kings with its additional emphasis on diplomacy and culture really seems to feel like it “completes” the game more than anything else. Civ V fans should feel confident in shelling out a few extra bucks for this more complete experience.

RATING 8 / 10