Geek Gifts 2010: Sid Meier's Civilization V

Sid Meier's Civilization is one of the most enduring and endearing computer game franchises ever and the fifth version only enhances the legacy.

Sid Meier has been developing computer games for a long, long time and he is very good at it. The Civilization series has been one of his most successful endeavors and the fifth version builds on that success with subtle but significant changes to game play.


  • Product: Sid Meier's Civilization V
  • Company: Firaxis Games
  • Minimum requirements:
    • Operating System: Windows XP SP3
    • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1 8GHZ or AMD Athlon X2 64 2 0GHZ
    • Memory: 2GB of RAM
    • Hard Disk Space: 8GB Free
    • DVD-ROM Required for disc-based installation
    • Video: 256 MB ATI HD2600 XT or better, 256 MB nVidia 7900 GS or better, or Core i3 or better integrated graphics
    • DirectX Version 9c
  • Recommended requirements:
    • Operating System: Windows Vista SP2 / Windows 7
    • Processor: 2 4GHz Quad Core CPU
    • Memory: 4GB of RAM
    • Graphics: 512MB ATI 4800 or better, 512 MB nVidia 9800 or better
    • Internet Connection: Broadband Internet connection recommended

What I like

Graphics: This version of Civilization has received a significant graphics facelift. Taking full advantage of DirectX 9, 10, and 11, Firaxis has developed a Civilization game that is beautiful and functional. Information about what a unit is doing, what resources are available, and what is being produced is all presented in an easy to decipher manner. Digestible presentation is very important in a strategy game with so much information to process during each turn.

Research: The research tree in Civilization V has been streamlined and honed to allow the player to better determine which new technology leads to which new unit or building. Players can follow the progression of innovation and determine an overall strategic plan, as well as an immediate tactical plan, just by following the research tree. Once again, it is the design of the presentation that gives the player the tools to more easily process the necessary information. Combat: There are several subtle, but very important, changes in how units move, stack, and engage enemy forces. First, this is the first Civilization game to use the hexagonal  mapping system. Old war gamers like me are very familiar with hex-based play, especially when it comes to combat and the importance support units.

In this version of Civilization, only one combat unit is allowed to occupy a hex at any one time. That means players now have to use strategy when attacking enemy positions - just as we had to do when we played a war game like The Operational Art of War. And, now cites themselves have defenses, so players often cannot just attack with one unit, they must coordinate, use siege weapons and other support units. Overwhelming an enemy with superior numbers is no longer enough, now a strategy must be employed.

Simplification: In general, Civilization V concentrates on streamlining game play and it does it with great success. While there are strategic resources to fight over, the number of them is not overwhelming. Depending on the match at hand, players will have to figure out which resources to go after as vital to victory and which are merely helpful for the sake of efficiency. The streamlining makes the game feel like it is playing faster than Civilization IV, for example. Social Policy: The other significant streamlining change is with the social policies. Instead of deciding what government to use, what economic system, what religion, etc., players can now choose a social policy that incorporates parts of all of those dozens of separate policy decisions into a single choice out of eight. The social policy can still play a major role in your civilization building, but the granular decision making of the past is now consolidated.

What I don't like

Enemy strategy: This is a problem will all of the Civilization games - computer controlled opponents do not have very good strategies and can be predictable. Human players will find their budding civilizations at war for no apparent reason and then, just as inexplicably, peace will be declared. Diplomacy: The available diplomacy choices in the Civilization games in the series have been the one area where simplification detracts rather than enhances game play. I would like to have more choices than war or peace. For example, I might like to supply warring parties with support, and make a profit for my effort, but that is not really an option. Bugs: Civilization V is one of the first games to use the latest graphical features of DirectX 11, but the implementation is a little wonky for players that do not have the very latest video cards and the most up-to-date drivers. On one of my PCs, I have to force the game to play in DirectX 9, or a memory leak will cause a crash around the fifth move. This problem should be patched soon.

Additional information is available from GameSpot.

Bottom line

Civilization V sets a new bar for how a 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) strategy game is supposed to play. By making some seemingly small changes to how units stack on the map and streamlining the research tree, Sid Meier and the development team at Firaxis have freshened the genre and once again made a game that will have you thinking "just one more move" way past your normal bed time.

Geek Gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ****
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: ****
  • Overall: *****

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2010.

By Mark Kaelin

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to,, and TechRepublic.