Civilization 5: Brave New World Review – Old Is New Again

Oda Nobunaga looked at the strategic map in his war room. Finally angered enough by Ethiopia’s passive-aggressive diplomatic sanctions in the World Congress, he decided to end the threat once and for all with an amphibious invasion. The constant belittling proposals – such as an enforced world religion of Eastern Orthodoxy, or the banning of all trade with city states – would come to an end with the fall of Ethiopia.

Unlike previous Civilization games, Civilization 5: Brave New World makes these situations happen.

Civilization 5: Brave New World
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: July 8, 2013
MSRP: $29.99

A common thread throughout all the Civilization games is the lack of a good victory condition besides conquest. With Brave New World, that thread is finally severed, and diplomacy and culture now have far more impact on the course of history than ever before. By making this change, Firaxis managed to transform Civilization 5 from an alright game into their best title since Alpha Centauri.

As this is Civ, it’s all about the new features over any sort of narrative. Brave New World has four big changes to the mechanics of Civ 5: trading, world congress, tourism, and ideology.

Trading is the only feature of Brave New World that is completely new, and it’s excellently implemented. After you reach a certain point in the tech tree, you are able to produce caravans and cargo ships to trade with other civilizations or city states. These trade routes produce gold and science (if they have a technology you don’t), and spread religion faster than having no trade route at all. They can also be used to shuttle food and production between cities, allowing multiple cities to contribute to production in a single city. Caravans produce less gold per turn, but they are also easier to defend thanks to the shorter distances they travel. Unfortunately, neither caravans nor cargo ships auto-renew their routes, which is a bit frustrating for the macro-oriented player.

It’s a very important mechanic to take into consideration. Trade routes can produce incredible amounts of gold if left alone – as Venice, I reached +800 gold per turn by the end of the game thanks to all my trade routes – and are a great way to extend your influence with other countries. After all, attacking your trading partner can end up bankrupting you unless you have a back-up plan. In addition, many buildings, wonders, technologies, and even cultural policies have been changed to take trading into account. The depth that trading adds to the game is substantial and satisfying, and you can use it to avoid war if played right. When you start making huge amounts of money, the benefit of constant trade becomes obvious.

All that money becomes useful once the World Congress is founded, and that leads into the second major change of Brave New World: diplomacy. Once all civilizations have been contacted by a player that owns the Printing Press technology, the World Congress is founded. This body convenes regularly to vote on proposals ranging from economic sanctions to planning the World’s Fair, and civilizations receive more votes (delegates) according to how many city states they are allied with, among numerous other factors (wonders built, diplomats in capitals, and so on). Those gold gifts to city states look mighty important now!

As a result, diplomatic victory has changed a bit from the core game. Rather than requiring a wonder and support from other civs, it’s now a function of votes, much like any other proposal to the World Congress: get a majority of delegates, and you win. This makes fighting over the support of other civs and city states a prominent part of the game, with the conquering of city states becoming a legitimate way to stop the diplomatic ambitions of other players. Even if you aren’t aiming for a diplomatic victory, using the World Congress to boost your interests or harm another player is a valid way of ruining the plans of the ambitious. The worst proposal to be slapped with is an embargo, as it removes all trade routes to and from the civilization in question, rendering them penniless. It gives some major teeth and complexity to diplomacy, as there is more to player interactions than “war” and “peace.”

For those that don’t want to rule the world with coin and subterfuge, there’s a new cultural victory system in place. Rather than having cultural victory revolve around maxing out each tree, players now gain a new resource called “tourism.” This resource is created by a new class of item – Great Works of Art/Music/Writing – which are placed in cultural buildings like museums, opera houses, and wonders. When you have tourism, it increases a “tourism total” for each civilization you have met. Once that tourism total exceeds their cultural total, you are said to be “influential” over them. Get influential with all the civs, and you win. It’s a tough prospect, but doable, especially when you reach the Modern Era and start receiving all sorts of bonuses to tourism.

If you want to raise your tourism output, there is a feature known as archaeology that serves as a great way to get more Great Works. Once you research archaeology, you can see terrain resources known as Antiquity Sites and produce units known as Archaeologists. These sites are the locations of former battles and/or cities, and are related to specific era; for example, you might find an Antiquity Site that is from the Ancient Era. These sites can be excavated to produce one of two things: a landmark, which is a tile improvement that produces culture, or an artifact which is placed in a city like a Great Work.

It’s a complicated system, but the short of it is that large civilizations are no longer shafted for cultural victories. Smaller civilizations can certainly gain an advantage – they usually produce Wonders (which create Tourism once you build a Hotel) and gain social policies faster than larger civilizations – but large civs also get the advantage of more territory and thus more potential excavation sites. It’s a great way to make cultural victory important to more than just the one or two civs that can do it (looking at you, India), and the level of management isn’t terribly great. The game will teach it all to you until it becomes second nature.

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