13 August 2018
Put your empire in the history books in rapid time
Sometimes, you can tell quite a bit from a name. In the case of CIV, it’s that this is a game trying to do a lot with a little. You see, ‘civ’ is an obvious nod to the empire-building theme of this dinky card game, but it’s also a pretty clever pun: CIV is 104 in Roman numerals, and that’s exactly how many cards are in the box. The creators have tried to further justify the wordplay by making it the acronym of ‘carta impera victoria’, which translates from Latin as something like ‘charter, rule, victory’ – essentially the barebones of the gameplay. Like we said, clever.
The game itself is trying to be just as smart, condensing the feel of a civilisation-building epic into a 20-minute race for cultural supremacy.
The gameplay is very straightforward: play a card, perform various abilities based on how many cards are in front of you and then draw back to your hand limit. That’s it. What makes CIV surprisingly deep is the way that these abilities can be chained together – permanent abilities available when a certain number of matching cards are laid down, and discard skills that involve sacrificing one of your set for more powerful options.
The powers align with each of the six domains, broadly modeled after classic strategy game tropes – military, religion, economy, science, culture and utopia – and involve everything from being able to cycle more quickly through your own hand of cards to searching the discard pile and taking cards from an opponent.
The ultimate aim is to collect a set of seven (eight with two players) cards in a single domain, which instantly wins the game through a simplified simulation of hegemony – although the number of cards you need to win can be increased by opponents using their utopia discard ability, which comes into play towards the end of a match.
A match is structured into three ages, each with a unique number of cards for each field that represents the shifting focus of a developing civilisation – so military and religion fade in importance as science and culture take precedence, for instance. The mechanic lends a dynamic effect to matches and a sneakily deep complexity, although new players will need to keep an eye on the card totals (presented clearly upfront) to avoid being caught out.
Fortunately, the game’s components are a joy. Each player’s thick reference board handily sums up every available power and the number of cards in each domain for each age, leaving the cards themselves to showcase Christopher Matt’s gorgeous abstract artwork free of text. (Vivid colours and clear symbols ensure it’s quick to see exactly what you and your opponents have, while being colourblind-friendly.) The illustrations evolve through the ages, which does a decent job of adding to the theme and sense of progression – it doesn’t feel like the empire-building idea has been pasted-on for the sake of a pun. The compact box is excellently laid out, making setup a matter of seconds. Plus, there’s a metal coin used to track the target of the culture domain’s unique copycat power, which is a delightful – if extravagant – touch.
It’s impossible not to admire CIV. It’s packed with clever gameplay, beautifully presented and is small and fast enough to cram into a lunchtime or train journey. It’s not quite the light filler its vibrant artwork and slender box might suggest, so don’t expect to master it on your first go or for it to replace that copy of Love Letter that comes out after a couple of drinks. That’s a good thing, because you’ll want to come back for more – and it’ll have plenty to offer.
Lots of big ideas in a very small package, CIV lives up to its clever name with an engrossing reimagining of building an empire in the time it takes to make a cup of tea.
Designer: Rémi Amy
Artist: Christopher Matt, Ian Parovel
Time: 20 minutes
This review originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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