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Who remembers when they first reached the moon? I certainly do. It was on a heady day back in the 1990s. I was using some God-forsaken low-end PC that I daren't now contemplate, and I was hooked on the original Civilization. I played it for days and days, almost solid - such was not only the game's addictiveness, but also its vastness.

Subsequent versions have never quite captured that original magic, but series creator Sid Meier is back this week with a fourth version of the game that he hopes will have you building cities and conquering worlds like never before. How does he expect to win over the gaming populous (pun intended), however? Read on.

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War - hurr! What is it good for?

As always, Civilization IV is about building up your race and taking over other people's. This time, there are a massive eighteen races in the game. Each race has a rich backstory - not surprising really, since each of the races has actually existed and thus, the creators of Civ4 have a whole wealth of real material to fall back on. For instance, the Persians:

"The term Persia has been used for centuries, chiefly in the West, to designate a region of southern Iran formerly known as Persis or Parsa; the name of the Indo-European nomadic people who migrated into the region about 1000 BC, eventually supplanting the Assyrians and Chaldeans. The first mention of the Parsa occurs in the annals of Shalmanesar III, an Assyrian king, in 844 BC. Cyrus II (559-529 BC), also known as Cyrus the Great, was heir to a long line of ruling chiefs in Mesopotamia and was the founder of the Persian Empire; he was called the father of his people by the ancient Persians. In 550 BC, Cyrus, the Prince of Persia, revolted against the Median King Astyages and welded the Persians and Medes together into one powerful force. Cyrus consolidated his rule on the Iranian Plateau and then extended it westward across Asia Minor. "

He said Prince of Persia. Hehe.

Each of the races, as you'd expect, has their own unique characteristics, etc etc. However, to twist things further, each race can adopt religions. These include Taoism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism. Religion can keep your citizens happier and more productive. Be the first to discover a particular religion and you also gain access to any technology associated with it.

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Cometh the hour, cometh the man

Now included are more options for the main individuals within your civilization. 'Great people' can be developed, and they give you access to plenty of options. These can include artists, tycoons, engineers and the like. They can open up more tech trees for you to research, they can give bonuses to the city they reside in, and they may even be able to help kickstart a new 'Golden Age'.

There are also more options for people to lead your civilization. Each race now has the option of at least two different 'leaders', each of whom have distinct benefits and bonuses associated with them.

The choice of leader is also influenced by the power model you define your civilization by. Do you go for the hereditary rule of a monarchy, or democratic elections between rival candidates? How will those options affect the happiness of your people? This leads us nicely on to...

I have a dream

'Civics' now form a crucial part of the game - this is an all-new mechanic for the Civ series. Barry Caudill, who is working on Civ4 at Firaxis games, explained this new feature to us:

"In the game, when you first open the Civics page you will see 25 options divided into five categories. The categories are: Government, Legal, Labour, Economy, and Religion. Initially, you will be limited to the lowest levels for each (making you a barbaric, decentralized despotism with tribal labour and practising paganism), but you will unlock more of the choices based on your research.

Changing to new Civic forms will have a dramatic effect on the character and success of your civilization. You'll be able to boost or cut productivity, wealth, and happiness, make choices to increase/decrease the spread of religion, and even affect your ability to produce and maintain a large standing army."

Fair enough then. But Civics aren't just about choices - they also have consequences. Different civic traits have different upkeep requirements, so a tremendously centralised government might leave the rest of your citizens in the poorhouse. A liberal regime might lead to an upsurge in liberties being taken; a harsh dictatorship might just result in a revolution.

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