Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution

We like to imagine a young Sid Meier, before he became a mega famous video game designer, sat in the bath with his toy ducks and submarines trying to come up with a new game concept. How about a fantasy game with orcs and goblins? Too clichéd. Or what about a futuristic strategy title based broadly on Star Trek? Nah, been done before.

"No," he probably said to himself, "what I'll do is encompass the entire span of human history, from the dawn of humanity to the colonisation of space, include politics, diplomacy, technology trees, combat, empire building, strategy and the ability to win the game under various conditions. Yes, that should keep me busy for the next few months."

And so it was: Sid Meier pretty much invented the most ambitious video game ever conceived.

What's more impressive is that Civilization is as startling and ambitious now as it was nearly 20 years ago when he first dreamed it up among the soap suds (or wherever he was at the time).

But before we get into the nuts and bolts of how Civilization Revolution works on DS we should point out from the outset that this game is going to get you into serious trouble. Serious trouble because while you're playing it the time slips away at an alarming rate. Expect to stay awake well past your bedtime; expect to be late at least once if you begin a new campaign.

Sure there are addictive games around, games that have that 'one more go' factor and games that will make you want to replay them several times. But games like Civilization come around rarely; they are so absorbing that they make a mockery of Einstein's general theory of relativity. Believe us, time will have no meaning once you begin a Civ campaign – there's always one more army to build, one more defensive unit to put in place or one more technology to perfect.

In principle the goal is simple: you must become the greatest empire on earth by expanding your dynasty and out-smarting the other civilisations vying for world dominance. But the beauty of this game is that muscle is not the only route to success. Along with military dominance, you can win the game by becoming the greatest culture (by accumulating enough great people and wonders), through economic means (amassing 20,000 gold in the treasury), or finally, via a technological victory (learning enough techs necessary to launch a space ship to Alpha Centauri).

This engenders a startling level of strategic thought as defeat can always be snatched away from the jaws of victory – every civilisation will be attempting to reach the end goal by a different means. While it's possible to go around bludgeoning other empires with your military might in the early phases of the game your focus on war units will be at the expense of your cultural and technological progress. You will need to strike a fine balance because another civilisation may easily out-flank you by focusing on tech then batter you later on with only a few units, but ones that take advantage of modern science.

In fact, one of Civilization Revolution's most endearing features is watching as one empire's traditional resources get crushed by another modern technology: catapults getting pummelled by bombers, Hoplite centurions pitifully defending themselves against World War II fighter planes. And it's never pretty.

Though the strategy is deep, developer Firaxis has done a fine job of keeping the menus streamlined and the command interface uncomplicated. There's a good hand-holding tutorial in the early rounds (which can be switched off) and as there are five difficulty settings you should find the game as challenging as you want it to be. Indeed, we would have no qualms about recommending this even to people who usually find strategy games a little overwhelming.

Everything works via turns, so each of your units gets to move its allotted distance and you can also tweak the production in your cities before your competitors get their go. Combat is simply a case of moving into the same space occupied by an enemy unit and watching an animated sequence to see who emerges triumphant. These sequences can be skipped but we actually found them to be brilliantly tense and absorbing.

Diplomacy is also a satisfying and rewarding feature and whether you are playing against the CPU or human opponents you will have to make some very canny judgement calls. Do you, for instance, allow a strong neighbouring empire to bully you into swapping your discoveries for a short span of peace, or covetously keep everything to yourself in the hope they are bluffing?

To be truthful, Civilization Revolution on DS is so impressively vast we can't hope to outline every feature in such limited space but we can give you edited highlights. Spies are brilliant; they can infiltrate enemy cities and trigger espionage missions which include bringing down the defensive fortifications. Great people emerge in great civilisations, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Florence Nightingale, and you get to decide exactly how they are going to influence your civilisation. Or why not create caravans which can travel to the cities of all civilisations earning vast amounts of gold along the way?

While it may not be up there with the Temple of Artemis, distilling the Civilization franchise onto DS is a magnificent achievement. Picking out the games few flaws seems pernickety but we did find some of the colour coding of civilisations a little confusing (cyan and pastel blue – they look the same to us), and by its very nature the wi-fi multiplayer mode suffers from drop-outs and these games always tend to degenerate into military battles due to the lack of communication options.

But minor issues aside, Civilization Revolution is the kind of pocket game that packs a big punch – you will enjoy it from the very first skirmish but always find hidden depths just when you thought you knew it inside out. Plus we love the fact Ghandi can wage a terrible technological war against Genghis Khan – not many games can do that.

Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution

Subtle, hugely addictive and massively fun, this is a rare strategy title that manages to be as accessible as it is deep
Mark Walbank
Mark Walbank
Ex-Edge writer and retro game enthusiast, Mark has been playing games since he received a Grandstand home entertainment system back in 1977. Still deeply absorbed by moving pixels (though nothing 'too fast'), he now lives in Scotland and practices the art of mentalism.