I was never much into Sid Meier’s Civilization, which is considered the one of the best computer games ever. However, I really liked Colonization, the game created by Brian Reynolds and Sid Meyer in 1994, similar to Civilization in name and UI, but quite different in game mechanics. While waiting for its upcoming remake (Civilization IV: Colonization, to be released this fall), I installed DOSBox and started playing good old Colonization again.
You play as an explorer of one of four European nations (England, France, Spain and Netherlands), who is entrusted by king to discover and colonize New World. You compete with other nations, establish diplomatic relations with them and with natives, build colonies and trade routes. The ultimate goal is to gain freedom by winning the independence war against your homeland.
User interface is simple and clean, a joy to use. Graphics and sounds are OK, but nothing special. Music is great, it’s actually one of my favourite game soundtracks. It’s basically just a collection of folk songs and melodies from colonial era, but after a while they get under your skin and you end up recalling and humming them long after you've finished the game.
What’s so special about this game is the gameplay. Game mechanics are intuitive and simple to learn, but on the other hand there’s a complex game system with many layers and possible game styles. You can play the as tycoon, dominating the New World economically, or as warlord, conquering all your enemies by brute force. You can cooperate with other European nations and indians or choose to annihilate them, each appoarch has its pros and cons (you gain wealth, but lose potential allies, and vice versa). And what’s more, all gameplay elements seem to be based on some historical fact: Founding Fathers, destroying goods as a protest against European government, conquests of indians...
Colonies are way more flexible than cities in Civilization – each colonist can do any profession, but only trained experts are really effective at it. Without experts, you can’t do any real progress, so education plays an important role (colonists can be trained in Europe, by indians or by experts in school which you have to build). Even soldiers are just colonists, so you can come to town with an army, store horses and weapons and send your troops to harvest crops, work in manufacturies or construct new buildings. On the other hand, when enemy attacks and there’s not enough soldiers at hand, you can equip farmers with muskets and send them to battle. The flexibility of professions is a great concept and it’s a shame that it’s rarely used in strategy games.
However, not everything is great, there is also a couple of shortcomings:
- combat is too simple and it’s basically a lottery. There are just a few combat units.
- AI of indians and other colonists isn’t great
- micromanagement of colonists can get repetitive and boring at middle stage of the game (until you turn your nation into well-oiled machine)
All in all, Colonization is a great game. It has several shortcomings, but they cannot outweight by any chance the perfect game mechanics and well-thought UI which creates great and addictive gameplay. It’s a computer game classic, a must have for every fan of strategy games.