Firaxis Games has an amazing little racket going with its Civilization series. The studio releases what is essentially an unfinished game and then proceeds to fine-tune and update said game over a period of years with multiple expansion packs that are sold at a premium. It would be downright evil if the core content were anything less than excellent.
Make no mistake, this is a compliment: Civilization V was a very strong game when it came out in 2010. Firaxis improved the hell out of it in 2012’s Gods & Kings expansion, with tweaks to diplomacy and the introduction of a system for religion. That three-year-old game has improved yet again with Brave New World, an expansion that focuses on giving non-violent players a wider array of options with trade and culture.
The trade adjustments lean toward acknowledging the profound impact that global markets can have on individual societies in the real world. Remember when McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Russia (then the U.S.S.R.) in 1990? Or, looking further back, the British Invasion? Trade isn’t just an exchange of goods and currency; it’s also an exchange of ideas.
In gameplay terms, it’s simple enough in the early days: construct a caravan or cargo ship and set up a trade route with another city, either one of your own or one belonging to another civ or city-state. As time marches on and elements like religion and tourism – a new feature for Brave New World – come into play, the additional influences starts to bleed into trade routes as well. A healthy trade network is vitally important for expanding your influence across the globe.
This is where the tweaked culture systems come into play. Every civ still has a culture rating determined by buildings, Wonders, and social policies, but set apart from that rating is an entirely new system: Tourism. Many culture buildings now come with slots for housing different types of Great Works, from one of the three new “Great Person” categories: Artist, Musician, and Writer. Creating one of these consumes the Great Person in question and fills a slot with some creation or another that attracts foreign visitors to your land.
Tourism becomes the swinging sword of the non-violent Civ player, and it immeasurably improves the complexity of the mid- and late-game when the aim is to avoid military conflict. You’re not just erecting a series of culture buildings and clicking “Next Turn” anymore. Now you’ve got to monitor your Great People and make sure they’re delivering new Great Works while also weighing the value of different trade routes. The most lucrative route from a gold perspective isn’t always the best choice if you intend to also leverage a better standing for yourself on the world stage.
The heftier mid-game also gets a boost from the World Congress, a sort of pre-U.N. organization that sees the civs of the world gathering and voting on various resolutions designed to have a far-reaching impact. The number of delegates voting on behalf of each civ is determined by size and influence. Once a resolution is put up for vote – anything from staging a World’s Fair/Olympic Games to establishing a standing military tax to smacking a feisty civ down with a trade embargo – a number of turns go by before the vote actually happens.
During these pre-vote periods, a series of new options appear on standard diplomacy screens that allow players to work behind the scenes on putting together a voting bloc. It is entirely possible to walk into a World Congress voting session with just two delegates repping your civ and still have a vote go your way using nefarious, behind-closed-doors negotiation tactics. This brings a new level of strategy to your non-military interactions with competing civs, especially when espionage and religion start to factor into your play.
Then there are Ideologies. This new late-game feature comes into play for civs as soon as they enter the Industrial Era, at which point you are asked to choose between Freedom, Order, or Autocracy. These function much like the game’s Social Policies, save for the fact that you can only choose one and you’re stuck with it once you do. Over time, you can flesh out the advantages you receive from your chosen ideology by selecting additional tenets from each three-tiered tree.
The new systems and mechanics are of course joined by an expected assortment of new Wonders, buildings, units, social policies, and civs, plus two scenarios (American Civil War and Scramble for Africa). More content is always welcome, but there are some genuinely fresh concepts at play here, particularly with the new civs. The Venetians, for example, can’t “build” settlers or annex cities, but receive double the normal number of trade routes. The Indonesians, on the other hand, receive bonus luxury resources and cities that can’t be razed when settling on distant continents.
If there’s any shortcoming in Brave New World, it’s entirely rooted in problems that have been around since Civ V first launched. The AI responsible for managing competing civs is just plain bad. At the easiest difficulty levels, they’re all just total pushovers that you can walk all over with little concern over retaliation. Higher difficulties bring more aggressive leaders, but never in any way that seems human. They’re all out to backstab you, and their idea of “fair trade” generally involves screwing you over in one way or another.
This isn’t a game-breaking issue, but it’s frustrating. Rather than playing and building your civilization as you might, you’re constantly having to account for programming quirks that effectively break the spell of being in your own little alt-history version of Earth. That said, Brave New World amounts to an excellent expansion of the core ideas introduced in Civ V and Gods & Kings, and it is an absolutely essential add-on for any fan.
This game was reviewed on a Windows 7-equipped Alienware X51 gaming PC using a Steam code provided by the publisher, 2K Games.