Digits & Dragons
The Empire of Meier
Compared to Hollywood, there aren't a lot of big names in the gaming industry. There are some,
however, whose quality and quantity of work merit a place in gaming stardom. Sid Meier, with
good reason, is one of these game celebrities. He has been responsible for dozens of excellent
titles over twenty years and continues to create great games today.
My love of Sid's games began back on our sweet 386 with Civilization. For many of you, it was
probably the same. Looking back, those early days were pretty rough. I remember spending
agonizing minutes between turns while our sluggish computer worked through all of the
computer's turns. And, sadly, many of my early civilizations would end in heartache after my
enemies would nuke me till I glowed. I progressed, though, and pretty soon I was the higher
branch on the tech tree, voyaging to Alpha Centauri and keeping peace through superior
Civ is a series which has stood the test of time.
Civilization began the addiction that many Sid gamers have experienced. The "just one more
turn" mentality has led to a lot of late nights for gamers who just wanted to get one more
technology, build one more wonder, or conquer one more city. Unlike a lot of action and
strategy games, there is no strict path to follow and nobody to hold your hand: where you take
your civilization is up to you. This open-ended philosophy has been a cornerstone of all of Sid's
successful games and is much of what makes Sid such a great designer.
Colonization: Not exactly a Revolution
Though it does come off at first as a Civilization clone, my favorite of all Meier games is the
often-overlooked Colonization. Colonization came out a couple years after Civilization and adds
a lot of new features to a familiar structure. Colonization takes the turn-based empire building
format but adds a historical framework and a sense of purpose to your developments. The
civilization-building, trade, and warfare are all there, but unlike Civ, you can't win purely
through diplomacy; at some point you are going to have to cut the apron strings and put your
motherland in its place.
While I'm sure there's a lot that is historically ludicrous in Colonization's world, my interest in
early American history certainly began with this game. To aid in your colony's progress, you
can recruit historical figures such as Pocahontas, Thomas Paine or Paul Revere. These figures
and others in your Continental Congress kind of take the role of wonders in Civ; they give either
permanent advantages or one-time bonuses. To this day, whenever I hear of John Paul Jones, I
immediately think, "Oooh, free frigate!"
The music of Colonization really created an immersive, revolutionary atmosphere. There are a
number of tunes for each situation: upbeat military songs for war time, Indian beats for meeting
with the natives, and peppy revolutionary songs to get you in the mood to break free. Until the
Final Fantasy series, no video game music was closer to my heart than the tunes of Colonization.
Resail the seas of Pirates!
Arrgh, admit it, you've always wanted to be a pirate. Maybe it started with Disneyland, maybe it
started when an eye patch was all you could find for Halloween, but there is something in us that
sees a pirate's life as romantic and exciting. Well, if you've wanted to be a pirate, Sid's given
you the chance!
The original Pirates! was done by Sid Meier way back in '87, four years before the first
Civilization was released. I was just a decade or so too young to get in on Pirates! when it was
first released; but luckily, it has undergone a massive revision and was re-released under the
same name last year for PC and Xbox.
Whether you are after action or strategy, dueling or dancing, there is something for everyone in
this game. And the amazing thing is, each of the many components is done well. In typical Sid
fashion, there are objectives and a story to this game but you are in no way rushed to complete it.
It is up to you how long you want to take in following the storyline and what path you take in the
After plundering Santiago, my flotilla sets off in search of new adventures.
Not surprisingly, much of your time is spent seizing other ships and hauling off their booty. Ship
battles take place in real time and you will have to take into account wind velocity, cannon firing
distance, and crew morale as you attempt to sink or weaken an enemy ship. If plunder is your
goal, you probably won't want to outright destroy your victim's ship; in this case, you can board
their ship to duel with the captain.
Fighting for keeps: win the duel and your enemy's ship is yours!
While fun at first, I found that the duels get mundane fast. Until you fight some of the truly vile
villains, all of your opponents are laughably easy. Just a few slashes of the rapier and they will
be swimming with the fishes. Quick footwork isn't necessary only on raids, though. You will
also have to be light on your feet while dancing with governors' daughters.
Why any governor would want his daughter dancing with a pirate is beyond me but quite a few
seem to, and I kept quite busy gaining the ladies' favor. When you impress one of these dames
on the ballroom floor, she will reward you with a unique item to aid you in your adventures or
with a crucial piece of information. Following the lead of your partner through the dance steps
can get frustrating when the music speeds up; I thought the gals were supposed to follow the
guys! Like the duels, the ballroom dancing is pretty fun and original at first, but quickly turns
into a pale Dance Dance Revolution imitation. Except without clear instructions. Or a workout.
The graphics, sound, and dialog all help to create a fairly immersive Caribbean adventure that I
really enjoyed. I've sunk about twenty hours into this game and there are still a lot of family
members to rescue, governors' daughters to woo, and booty to plunder. Argh!
Civlization IV and beyond
Despite the complaints often heard about a lack of creativity and new ideas in the gaming
industry, sequels can be a blessed thing. Most of the popular games being developed rely on the
base of gamers who have already played and loved earlier versions of the game. Many of Sid
Meier's recent games have been sequels, including his most recent work, Civilization IV.
If you are anything like me, you are already WAY too familiar with the basics of civilization.
Thankfully, Civ IV doesn't try to reinvent the wheel in the essentials of city growth, treaty
navigating, and empire building. It does, however, bring some new features to the table with a
fresh pseudo-3d world, religions, and more flexible forms of government.
An amazing graphics update isn't the only improvement in Civ IV!
I haven't had the hundreds of hours necessary to really sink my teeth into the latest installment of
Civilization, but just the first couple hours were enough to make me realize this game could suck
a lot of hours away. Which, after all, is the sign of a Sid Meier game, right?
Whether you want to play as Persians, pirates, or pilgrims, Sid is a master of creating immersive
and challenging games. If you want to avoid the figurative (and literal) corridors that most
games confine you to, pick up a Meier game and break free.