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Is It Possible to Dislike Civilization IV?

May 22nd, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 20 Comments · Gamers

On this week’s Rock, Paper, Shotgun podcast, a reader writes in with the question “I don’t like Civilization IV. What’s wrong with me?” (26:12 point.)

And, as is typical of my British colleagues, they never quite get around to answering that question. John Walker respects the greatness of the design, but never got into the series. Jim Rossignol says his dad likes it. (I may have these names backwards because all British game journalists sound alike.)

This could be a very uninteresting question. If turn based strategy games are not your cup of tea, then the entire Civilization series can be seen as a waste of time. If this is simply reduced to a matter of taste then there is clearly nothing wrong with someone who does not like Civilization IV.

But can a strategy gamer not like Civilization IV? When Civ III came out, there were people in the Civ community who held to the conviction that Civ II was better. But that’s a matter of preferring one iteration of a design over another. Among Civ fans, I can’t think of many examples of people wanting to go back from Soren Johnson’s design in Civ IV.

Of course, I love the series, and Civ IV is probably the only game that I still play every week. And, showing the bias endemic to people as old as I am, I find it hard to believe that anybody – even so-called non-strategy people – wouldn’t enjoy it if they just gave it a chance. Which is a stupid thing to say.

I can get strategy people not liking Age of Empires. And Dominions 3. And even Defcon. So how about it? Does anyone out there want to cop to not liking the best turn based strategy game ever made?


20 Comments so far ↓

  • Gunner

    At launch there were (and I imagine still are) quite a few vocal hardcore Civ players that hated Civilization 4 compared to 3. Claimed it was ‘dumbed down’ and such. Nonsense if you ask me.

  • JonathanStrange

    I was bored (at first) with Civ 4; I found it to be too much like work and put it aside. However, I think at the time, I was still soured by my Civ 3 experience (to put it mildly I was sorely disappointed by Civ 3) and I wasn’t in the mood for more “improvements.” I came back to the game months later with a “I’ll just play anyway I feel like playing and have fun. I won’t try to max/min anything.” And I had fun, was intrigued enough to learn more, to visit CivFanatics, to download mods, etc.

    Now I love Civ 4 and have for years. It’s probably my GOAT simply for endurance.

    But I can understand most non-strategy gamers not liking it. I think I might sympathize with strategy gamers that don’t “feel the love.”

    I don’t lose any sleep over them though. I could not care less why. To each his own.

  • rsm

    I never got into it much. Not that I actually dislike it, but it’s so bland and tasteless.

    It’s a good game, but unless you’re playing for the deliberate purpose of creating a narrative such as with a succession game, or a challenge game from a forum group like Civfanatics or Realms Beyond there just isn’t much to hold my attention.

    I have to say my biggest gripe with the game is that it is really hard to play the game *my* way. There is just nothing I find engaging as a process in the game. The starts are all the same, and the slog is all the same. You either play efficiently with Micromanagement or you lower the difficulty so you can relax, but then there is no point to playing that vs. playing MoM, MOO or something else.

    It all boils down to ‘it’s all vanilla’. Great design, boring. And as you discussed in one of your podcasts, if it’s about the escape then Civ 4 isn’t a good one, not enough hooks to hang your hats on.

  • FhnuZoag

    I don’t like Civ IV that much. I wouldn’t say I hate it, but well…

    The main problem, I think, aside from a number of quibbles, is that in the end it’s pretty restrictive in terms of successful strategies. This is especially the case in higher levels, where it becomes more of the case that if you try to do something differently, you lose.

    The next problem is that there just isn’t that much diversity of gameplay. Honestly, the different nations are not that different from each other. So that hurts replay value.

    And in the end, the entire civ setting is getting a bit worn out by now, I think. Despite the improvements, fundamentally civ is the same game we’ve been playing for a decade or more. It’s too familiar.

  • Paul

    Yeah, I’m not too fond of Civ IV. I’d rather play an EU game or GalCiv (especially since Arnor was released). The Civ series is certainly solid, I just get bored with playing the same tech tree over and over again. It isn’t the setting (though I do think Alpha Centauri and GalCiv are more interesting because of their setting) because I love EU games and their ilk.

    This is a question I’ve been struggling with for years. When I play a Civ game, I get completely sucked in. And then I don’t play for months. Once I’m done with a Civ match I’m pretty much exhausted by it and don’t find myself wanting to jump back in and slough through the same exploring, expansion, yada yada yada.

    If you combine rsm’s and FhnuZoag’s comments, you pretty much get how I feel.

  • JonathanStrange

    With all the mods like Fall From Heaven 2 or Rhys and Fall and others, I don’t find Civ 4 bland at all. There’s plenty of radically distinctive civs and different strategies in the mods.

    I do enjoy less and less the ordinary Civ 4 Beyond the Sword historical nations but more out of “Civ fatigue” than of any fundamental flaw with the game.

    I think many people are focused on winning as defined by the game (coming in first pointwise or culturally or space victory) whereas if I’ve fought the good fight and come in 2nd or 3rd after surviving a poor start location, powerful neighbors, disastrous wars, etc. then I consider myself the winner in terms of enjoyment.

    That gives me the freedom to play “my” way and ignore the silly min/max strategies (which are often helped by constant map regenerating to get a great start, using WorldBuilder for goodies, reloading after unlucky combats). I take the cards I’m dealt and try to play them well.

  • Dan506

    I’ve always loved strategy games but I just can’t really get into Civ 4. I’ve always sort of wondered why. I think a big part of it is I feel like I don’t really have to make any meaningful choices. Technology is fairly linear, combat is boring and tedius, and I just don’t really feel like my choices really matter that much.
    I do enjoy the exploration and expansion side of it – and I can certainly recognize the ‘good’ aspects of the game and how well designed things are – but it just doesn’t work for me. To be honest, I’d much rather play MOO2 or Alpha Centauri – even now.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Count me in the ‘meh’ crowd. The earlier Civs do it much more for me than IV, though I can’t put my finger on the exact reason.

  • SwiftRanger

    It’s the whole human history thing for me, I always think each time period deserves more attention and detail than the Civ games are offering. Of course, going up in tech is the whole point of the game but the tanks vs swordsmen thing just doesn’t do it for me.

  • Cautiously Pessimistic

    I enjoyed it for a while, and I don’t dislike it. If I could make a single improvement, it would be to make unit maintenance go up the further a unit is from the nearest allied city. I don’t like the lack of logistics, such that you have huge stacks wandering around on the other side of the world in the iron age.

    I haven’t kept up with mods or expansions, so there may be something out there that does this.

  • Dave

    If you don’t like Civ IV (and call yourself a strategy gamer), then there really is something wrong with you. No offense, right?

    I especially disagree with the criticism that Civ IV lacks variety and has limited effective strategies. Starting isolated on an island plays very differently than starting sandwiched between civs on a pangea continent. Just having stone instead of copper can determine whether you build wonders or wage war through the ancient and classical ages. You can build up your entire economy based around the cottage to town progression, or specialist citizens, or trade routes, or religious buildings and the wonders that enhance them, or settling great people in one city, or stealing all your techs through espionage, or some combination of those. And all of this works on the high difficulties.

    I guess I can see why some people might find Civ IV to be hard to get into. It can be dry and gamey because it doesn’t do much to try to immerse the player in its world, unlike Alpha Centauri for example. Also, some important strategy decisions can be subtle things in your build order and how you adapt it to each city’s surroundings, or what you use your great people for. Those decisions might not even matter unless you’re playing on one of the higher difficulty levels. But that’s how I play it, and that’s why I’m still playing it.

  • Nezz

    I wouldn’t say I dislike it, but my reservations against it are the same as against all games using polygonal graphics: They lack the representational clarity of icons, and they take too long to load.

  • JonathanStrange

    Interesting comments all.

    I can see myself playing Civ 4 or its descendant ten years from now. It’s like chess, in its attraction: little flash, seemingly standard openings and strategies but plenty of subtleties and variations.

    I enjoy other videogames far more but I rarely have any strong desire to play them after I’ve experienced their novel setting or graphics. Dull Civ 4 I can replay again and again: now a quick-rush warmonger, then a peaceful builder, here an isolated seafarer, there a vigorous space-race contestant. And I can set up another map, and try something else.

  • skshrews

    Having played every version of Civilization much-too-much, I have one predominant complaint: the end game (essentially the 20th century onward) becomes too “booged-down” with individual units.

    The clutter of artillery, planes, boats, corporate agents, etc. is so great, that my CPU often bogs down. Moving across the map can become tedious, and micromanagement starts to take up ever increasing amounts of time.

    I wish older units would update automatically or just disappear with time. If multiple units could be compressed into single “army” units (a Civ III improvement that failed to survive), this too would make maneuvering over the map easier.

  • Ginger Yellow

    I prefer SMAC in the grand scheme of things, but I doubt there’s another game I’ve played as much as Civ IV, except possibly the first CIV.

  • moromete

    Everything is possible but outright disliking Civ IV is pretty improbable. Even the “meh” crowd pretty much admits it’s a good game which they couldn’t get into… the overall quality of the whole experience makes it impossible to actually dislike the game.

  • Dan506


    I would say it’s perfectly acceptable to be a strategy gamer and not like Civ 4. While I personally like it enough to play it – and recognize all the things it does right, it just doesn’t ‘feel’ right to me.

    The game itself just feels dry. Most of my time is spent pressing the End Turn button and micromanaging my cities. Techs are too broad, imho, and ages pass way too quickly. Wars are generally all or nothing affairs, and starting with arrows and finishing with rifles is not uncommon. Pacing is weird – it can take hundreds of years to move an army from one city to another. Wars generally consist of ‘send stack to city, take it, repeat’ rather than any real strategy ( besides maybe unit composition ).

    Like I said, I like the exploration and expansion side of the game – but when it comes to technology, war and city management the game just feels too shallow.

  • Alan Au

    Civ IV is a terrible wargame, even though “wargames” are technically “turn-based strategy” offerings. Of course, you have to draw the line somewhere. If you keep narrowing the scope, it becomes “people who call themselves Civ IV players cannot dislike Civ IV.” Well, okay, I guess they can but then I would suggest that they find a new hobby, because the current one is never going to make them happy.

  • Rythe

    I haven’t played a Civ game since the second, so while I’m sure the later two iterations have improved the experience, it still looks like the same experience.

    I got bored of the Civ strategy experience because it focuses on a few small areas – linear advancement, micromanagement, and a handful of victory conditions.

    I’m tired of the tedium of micromanagement. The narrow advancement path is over and done with after a playthrough or two – so advancing gets stale very quickly. The victory conditions are little more than mastery of a specific system with its own little nuances.

    I dislike Civ (II) because I’m bored and tired of games coming down to a mixture of luck (quality of starting location, etc) and mastery (min-maxing) of narrowly defined systems. You’re basically working for the game. I want a game that works for me. The big counter example I can think of would be Magic: The Gathering. It’s not about how well you throw down the card; it’s about when, where, and how you use the card. If Civ were translated into Magic: The Gathering terms, it’d be like having one monster card, one damage spell, and one enchantment that says you win in X turns with all the actual game play involved in mucking around with your land cards.

    I’m assuming Civ IV is considered a timeless strategy game because it does the resource management thing very well – make the most of what you got. To an extent, that’s the core of every strategy game. The problem is that the Civ formula makes it a chore and the strategy aspects beyond raw resource management are all rather shallow. For some, resource management is interesting enough on its own, and to them, Civ IV is an amazing game. For others, it isn’t.

  • Joew

    As RSM and others have said, it is a good game but i dont enjoy it that much for the reasons they list (i cant play it my way, feels sort of the same, etc), though i do enjoy playing some of the mods (Fall from Heaven, etc). In the end i would rather play MoM or MOO2.

    It is kinda like Company of Heroes for me. I can appreciate that is it is a good game but i dont enjoy playing it. Where CoH is too stressfull, Civ4 doesnt have the right mix of challenge and , i dont know, relaxment ;-) for me. I guess i want to think a little bit but not too much ;-)