Thinking of good civilization games doesn’t usually bring to mind good family games. Civilization games tend to be long, complex, and really benefit from the players having some knowledge of history to get into the theme. If Granna can pull off a light, civ-building game for families (including kids 8+), this reviewer is ready like Leonidas at Thermopylae.
CVlizations is a card playing, resource management family game for 2-5 players that takes 45 minutes to play. It plays best with 4 players.
Players take on the roles of unseen hands guiding a tribe through the ages. As they do so, they will engage in resource gathering activities with the aim of acquiring knowledge and tools in the form of idea cards. Each card awards happiness points at the end of the game and/or a special ability to gain advantage over opponents.
The components for CVlizations are very nice. The wooden resources feel solid and chunky, including the food resource which cheese aficionados will find appealing. The cards are of good quality and shuffle well. Other components include wooden tracking tokens and exceptionally thin cardboard tokens for “happiness”. A nicely wrapped board and plastic insert for the pieces rounds out the bits.
Where CVlizations may attract or distract is in the card art. The style is akin to Sunday morning, single-box comics such as The Far Side or The Quigmans. Players who don’t take game art too seriously will love the refreshing style. It’s perfect for a family game, and often looking at how the cards represent their subject matter is the most fun.
How to Play:
As the main board is set up with resources and cards, players begin by each taking a standard hand of action cards in player colors. These cards represent different actions to be taken each turn. Players also take a single stone, food and wood to begin.
Following this, on each game round, players move through four phases:
Order Phase: In player order, each player takes two action cards from their hand, placing one face up and one face down. These generally revolve around the acquisition of resources, either by gathering, stealing or trading.
Action Phase: All face down action cards are revealed. Now players move through the sequential operations of the cards based on priority number. For example, thieving goes first, logging second and hunting third. Depending on the number of other players who took the same action, each player’s chosen actions could be more or less beneficial. Some actions are even denied completely if three or more players played the card.
Development Phase: In player order, each player uses their resources to purchase idea cards. The cards show how much happiness they’re worth at the end of the game and what special ability it might grant. Each card purchased is replaced immediately so that players always see four available cards to buy.
Cleanup Phase: Normally in this phase, it’s just a reminder to move the turn order token (a wooden viking helmet) to the next player. However, after players have played six action cards, the game advances to a new age. Age I and Age II have the same idea cards. Age III provides cards more geared towards generating happiness.
At the end of Age III, the game ends and happiness points are totaled.
CVlizations, despite the difficult name which references the publisher’s previous game, is a wonderful family game. It hits just the right marks for length, engagement and style. The only noticeable downside is the less action-oriented theme which may get some eye rolls. Adults and history buffs will likely love it.
Where CVlizations shines is in the tactical and strategic nature of the gameplay. Early cards purchased can guide an overall strategy or aid in the potency of actions taken. Players attempting to choose the right balance should realize that the game only has nine play rounds, resulting in difficult card choices. In addition, on individual turns, knowing just the right moment to steal from opponents (yes this game has a bit of “take-that”) can be key to denying them cards during the development phase.
The other aspect which makes CVlizations a keeper is the play time. It’s almost as if playtesters were laser focused on a stopwatch during testing because this game plays FAST. Even with downtime waiting for opponents to select cards, the simultaneous reveal and quick resolution of actions means every round quickly gets to the development phase, the main scale of progress in the game. The only thing likely to slow this game down is individual players overcome with analysis issues.
The idea cards are also a highlight of the game. In a group of adults, it’s likely that all the idea cards are straightforward topics learned in high school or college. However, a few cards, if some players are not familiar with their concept, are great points for learning. Discussing the benefits of rationalism, consumerism, or postmodernism is welcome and important in a discussion of how civilizations have developed. Alternatively, players can just invent the sword and go around stealing. And any game with cinematography as a civilization development wins points in this reviewer’s eyes.
But, there are a couple of aspects of the gameplay which negatively affect this review score.
There are some idea cards which provide bonuses if a certain number of players (low or high) use a certain action card. Depending on player count, these cards will have the occurrence of their effect happen more or less frequently. This comes as slightly distracting and new players may not necessarily know this.
Also, as cute and fun as the game tries to be, it is still a resource collection and card purchase game with a history theme. This will turn off some kids. They might need to be dragged into a game, but once there, CVlizations tends to keep their engagement through the tactical choices and inviting them to choose a key moment to play the “stealing” card against family members.
Gamers looking for an intellectually stimulating game for the family that doesn’t bore everyone to tears should be looking at CVlizations. It strikes the right balance of play time and decision making with a lightly implemented and fun theme. It’s not a game that will come out at heavy game night, but for post-turkey holiday gatherings, CVlizations is a wonderful game to add to the game bag.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of CVlizations, you can get it for about $30.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A wonderful family game that offers moments for teaching historical concepts as well as interesting strategic and tactical choices.
• Power of some cards changes with player count