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Review: Civilization: New Dawn

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The dawn of civilization. Ancient cities and ancient relics. Empires vying for control of the known world. Barbarians, competing city-states, and barely enough resources to go around.

The whole history of the world, now playable in about an hour.

How It Plays

Civilization: New Dawn is a civilization-building game that plays in 90 minutes or less. Up to 4 players compete to complete 3 agendas before anyone else in order to claim victory.

It’s a small-ish world but so it goes

The core mechanism of gameplay involves what the game calls the Focus Row. Each player has a row of 5 cards in a line in front of them, representing the actions they can take in the world under 5 categories – Culture, Trade, Industry, Military, and Technology.

On your turn, you simply choose one of the five cards and resolve it. However, the further to the right the card is in your focus row, the more powerful it is, and when you resolve a card you move it all the way to the left and shift everything over.

The board is an oddly-shaped hex grid with a variety of territories, a few city states, some natural wonders, and some barbarians – in addition to the starting player cities.

The wheel of time (and barbarians!)

The purposes of the focus cards are as follows:

Culture cards allow you to expand your influence on the board with control tokens. The more control tokens you have on the board, the further you can reach to influence other spaces. Cities fully surrounded by control tokens become “mature” and start to produce trade goods on a regular basis. Control tokens prevent barbarians from appearing or other players from building cities. More powerful Culture cards let you add more control tokens, and place them further away from your cities.

Trade cards allow you to send out Caravans to city states and other player’s cities. When a Caravan reaches another city it earns you trade goods, and in some cases special abilities (because of diplomacy!). More powerful Trade cards give you additional Caravans and more movement points to reach across the map.

Industry cards allow you to build new cities and new wonders. Wonders provide you a powerful bonus, and of course Cities help you expand your control of the map. The more powerful industry cards make it easier and cheaper to build Cities and Wonders.

Military cards allow you to attack and defend yourself. To defend, you flip your Control tokens (earned from Culture) to their Reinforced side, which adds aa defensive point to that space as well as every adjacent space. To attack, you choose a target within range of one of your control tokens or cities, count up your attack power (and your target its defense power), and roll a 6-sided die to see who wins. More powerful Military cards increase your attack power, attack range, and the number of tokens you can Reinforce.

The Focus Row (and other stories)

Technology cards advance your technology dial. When that dial passes certain points, you can exchange a card from your Focus row with a newer, better version of that card. There are 4 levels of technology for each card, each providing new benefits. More powerful technology cards not only bump up your tech dial, but provide you with some additional resources.

At the start of every round, an event dial indicates any global events. This can involve Barbarians moving, barbarians spawning, or cities producing trade goods. (This isn’t a randomized dial. You can easily see what’s going to happen next.)  When Barbarians attack, they automatically destroy whatever they touch.

Resources on the board can be collected and spent to help build Wonders, and Natural Wonders if controlled provide a specific resource every round (instead of being a 1-time use like normal resources). City-states can be conquered, providing a Trade good every round.

Trade goods can be used to enhance the power of Focus cards.

The actual goals of the game vary depending on which 3 of the 5 victory cards come into play. You may need to build 2 of a certain type of wonder, or control 15 tiles next to water. You may need to build all 7 of your cities, or conquer 2 city-states. Each card has 2 Agendas on it and you can claim either one. Once you claim a card, you mark it with a control token, and you can’t lose it even if you no longer satisfy the condition of victory. The first player to mark all Victory cards in play wins the game!

Victory can be yours!

Dawn, Dusk, and Everything In Between

Civilization: New Dawn is not the game most people expected it to be.

When it was first announced, there was a lot of excitement, but also a lot of confusion. Was this an expansion to Fantasy Flight’s Civilization: the Board Game? Was it a streamlined update, in the way Eldritch Horror followed the legacy of Arkham Horror? Was it a brand new take on the 4X genre?

The answer turned out not exactly to be “yes” to any of these questions. It’s not an expansion or a revamp, and it’s not exactly a 4X game. It is, however, a Civilization game, and an excellent strategy board game.

New Dawn does involve building up your civilizatio. There’s even a hex-gridded map with plastic miniatures, control tokens, terrain types, and barbarians. You’ll build new cities, trade with other civs, build world wonders, and even attack. But instead of complex systems to handle the minutiae in detail, it’s all been condensed down into an abstract mechanical system that plays rather quickly.

Most notably missing from what you’d expect from a Civ game are the “dudes on a map.” There is a map, yes, but you’re not building armies and sending them to invade other cities or attack other armies. This element of the PC game is reduced to almost nothing. Combat can be initiated on any target within range of a player’s control token or city. Targets include barbarians, city-states, and other player cities. Combat values are based on territory (or the focus row slot) plus effects of Wonders or Diplomacy cards, plus a simple roll of a 6-sided die.

Watch out for ‘dem barbarians!

This news may come as a huge disappointment to some. I know I saw plenty of talk on forums in various corners of the internet where users discussed how combat would work and armies would be built, seeking comparisons to the original Civ board game. These comparisons are nearly impossible because the games are just so different. If you put two columns next to each other, just about every meaningful row would be empty on one side except for “based on a Sid Meier Civilization game.”

So let’s talk about what Civilization: New Dawn is, and not what it’s not.

This is a slick strategy game with a tantalizing core mechanism: the focus row.

The focus row is so elegant, and everything about it is fun. You have the 5 core actions right in front of you, clearly describing what you can do with them. The information you need is clear, with a nice cardboard aid reinforcing the value and flexibility of the more powerful positions. The row encourages you to play with a variety of actions, to think a few turns ahead, and to spend your resources wisely. It also doesn’t corner you into choosing (or not choosing) a specific card on any given turn.

‘Bout to blast off with some brand new tech cards

Each individual card resolves quite quickly, which results in nice short turns. Still, each turn feels like it matters. You’ve got tough decisions on what you need to do next, but the game doesn’t overwhelm you with information, and the focus row guides you into suggested actions if you’re stuck. Combine that with the abilities you gain throughout, there are plenty of opportunities to feel clever and powerful.

On top of that, it’s fun to resolve a card. Very tactile; you slide a card down, do the action, and then slide over all your other Focus cards making them more powerful. You inch closer to the climactic moment that will score you an agneda. You’ll upgrade your cards into newer, better versions of those cards, which is very satisfying.

But it’s not just a card game, either. You still have the grandeur of a sprawling land represented by a board. You still get to drop cities on that board and see your civilization grow. You spread your control using Control tokens, making it quite visually clear how far you’ve expanded and giving you a sense of grandness even without the normal 4X map features like production resources and army units. As you build wonders (which give you cool, fun powers) you slide wonder tokens under your cities. You can send trade caravans across the map to collect trade goods and gain new abilities through diplomacy.

Cyan’s got Wonders!

I say diplomacy, but I should clarify – this isn’t a negotiating game. You can’t trade goods for resources, or pay for favors. Diplomacy is purely mechanical; you send a Caravan to another city or city-state. When it arrives, you get trade goods, and you get to take a diplomacy card (either from the city-state or from the player who’s city it belongs to) which grants you some useful bonus. Both sending your caravans across the map and gaining cool abilities are fun activities.

Back to the focus row. While New Dawn is not an accurate facsimile of the PC game, the focus row captures one of the most famous features of the Civ series: the “just one more turn” aspect of play. No, you won’t be constructing buildings in your cities or sending your armies across the map or building ships. But you will be waiting just one more turn for your Military card to reach the end of the row so you can kill off the barbarians threatening your cities. You’ll be waiting one more turn for that Industry card to reach a level that allows you to afford the next Wonder card. One more turn, and you can upgrade a tech card. It’s not an exact mechanical representation, but it’s thematically evocative in the right way that makes this feel like a Civilization game.

Now, there are a few quirks to this game that will hit different people in different ways. I can’t really call them bugs or features – it depends entirely on what you’re hoping for in a game like this – but I do think they’re worth mentioning to help you, the reader, make an informed decision.

These people are looking for a fight

The main thing in question is player interaction. Yes, you share a map, and you’re inherently going to take things that other players want and vice versa. However, there’s not a lot of motivation to initiate conflict with someone else. There’s enough combat in dealing with barbarians or conquering city-states, which you must do for your own protection or to score certain points. But engaging in conflict is overall the least directly productive towards gaining the points you need to win the game. It’s almost like the map is too big… you never really have a problem accomplishing the victory conditions in your little corner of the map. There’s plenty of space to build all your cities, afford all your wonders, and put control tokens on the map. You’re not going to be fighting over real estate. The biggest reason to go after someone is to stop them from achieving a goal, but you can only slow them down so much and you’re likely spending more turns using combat (and derailing from your own victory path) than the turns you’ll cost them for undoing their stuff.

I say this with a caveat: your group can be as combative as you like, and it will probably work. And combat certainly is a way to victory; there are a couple ways to score VP with combat, killing barbarians gets you lots of trade goods, and hey – sometimes it’s easier to invade someone else’s city than to build your own.

Red’s got a solid foundation of defense

Another element that affects this is that once you claim a victory point, it’s yours forever even if you lose the thing you did to earn it. That means you don’t really have to worry about a support network to hold on to your territory for any length of time. You don’t have to hold on to those city states when you conquer them. This is good in that it keeps the game from derailing into a cycle of “take-that” counter attacks that keep anyone from winning, and that’s one way the game length stays down in the 60-90 minute range. It also has the effect of encouraging players to stay in their corners and work furiously on their own victory points, steering Civ into more of a euro-style economic game than a dynamic and interactive thematic game. That being said, you can’t avoid combat entirely. Those barbarians can just destroy your stuff, all the easier if you fail to reinforce your control tokens. You might also end up vulnerable and easy to target with a quick combat roll if you don’t reinforce those tokens, so just watch out.

My biggest actual complaint, though, is the amount of content included. I say this warily, because honestly: at the $50 price point, you get plenty of content. 8 different leaders provide their own unique bonuses and challenges, the board is dynamic and surprising, there are different city-states, wonders, natural wonders, and every board tile is double-sided. For the price, you’re not getting ripped off. At the same time, I just get this sense that for the game you don’t get as much content as would be nice. You use every wonder in a 4-p game, and every board tile. There’s no variation on the number of natural wonders or city-states in play, and there’s only 8 of each. Unlike the leaders, the city-states and natural wonders are on double-sided tiles so certain combinations can never happen. Perhaps worst of all, there are only 5 Victory cards which you use 3 of each time.

Again, it’s not that there isn’t enough content to keep the game interesting and provide replay value. It’s just that there could be more. It feels like this game, trim as it is, was slimmed down to its barest bones. Maybe Fantasy Flight wasn’t sure the game would succeed and wanted to minimize the risk. Maybe they were just aiming for the cheapest price point they could hit. Maybe I’m just greedy and too used to big huge games like Twilight Imperium.

I mean, okay, there are a decent number of parts in the box

All I can really hope for is that this game gets a nice meaty expansion with new leaders, tiles, and wonders, so it doesn’t feel like the game is falling into a rut. Civilization was always, in part at least, about explore the myriad of ways to approach building a civilization.

So please, what I’m saying is, buy this game so FFG will release an expansion.

Anyway, as far as the components actually included in the game, I’m very satisfied with the quality. The card stock seems sturdy and durable to me, and there’s not a whole lot of shuffling going on. There are plenty of tokens to go around. Identifying which Natural Wonder or City-State token goes with which spot on the board can be a little tough at first, but as far as playing the game I see no real obstacles. Designs aren’t color-oriented either, so I don’t imagine colorblindness is an issue (feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong). The minis are nice and detailed, too, with cute little cities to place on the board.

Upgraded tech is exciting!

One feature worth mentioning – the board tiles are not rectangular or hexagonal. They’re broken into hexagon spaces, but they’re sort of a wonky shape that lends itself to completely unique maps each game. The overall shape of the board won’t even be the same! And you can even build the board with gaps in the middle, just filling those gaps with extra water tokens provided in the box. Neat!

Okay, it’s time to wrap up. Civilization: New Dawn is highly recommended, as long as you know what you’re getting into. It’s not a broad and expansive 4X game, or even a slick and streamlined one. But it is a clever and challenging strategy game with a brilliant core that looks and feels fun to play. It’s all wrapped up in a satisfying package that lasts 60-90 minutes (and that’s not one of those lowball estimates that assumes you’re speed-playing the game as fast as humanly possible). I just hope the game does well enough to get me an expansion someday.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Fantasy Flight Games for providing a review copy of Civilization: New Dawn.

  • Rating 9.0
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Summary

Pros

Lots of strategic choices
Focus Row is a clever, tightly packaged core mechanism
Nice combination of cards with on-the-board play
Good quality components
Plays quick with little downtime

Cons

Feels like there could be more content
In some ways, the interaction seems more limited than it could be

9.0 Excellent

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. Wolfie,

    Thank you for such an outstanding review! This one has me thinking, as I love Historia and Nations, but both of those also play exceptionally well solo. I’m glad to see a game that doesn’t suffer from overly militaristic ends, I’m looking at you Through the Ages.

    Again, great review!

    Cheers,
    Joe

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