Sid Meier's Civilization World (Beta) Goes Live on Facebook

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If you haven't overdosed on the Sid Meier's Civilization franchise and don't mind giving 2K Games access to your private Facebook info, Civilization World is available now (though still in beta, according to the launch graphic) by clicking here. Like most Facebook apps, it asks for permission to access your basic info (networks, user ID, friends list, etc.), to send you email, post to your wall, access your data "any time," and so on. You've been warned.

The launch music, which I instantly wanted to disable, sounds like an attempt to channel the Afro-pop "Baba Yetu" intro (in fact a Swahili rendition of "The Lord's Prayer") that—strangely, since the game debuted in 2005—won Civilization IV a 2010 Grammy. I liked "Baba Yetu." I don't care much for Civ World's obvious knockoff. Once it finishes, things settle into the usual polite birdsong and "something happened!" sound effects.

Those sounds come from a giant Flash-based (read: frightfully slow on a Mac) box that looks more or less Civ-like. Actually that's only half true. Have you played the Anno [insert year here] games? The Settlers? Where you're essentially building micro-economies within small villages instead of networking abstract cities and eventually world-sized empires? Think that, where you're zoomed on micro-level activities.

For instance, you'll distribute houses, gardens, corn fields, orchards, guard towers, theaters, and so forth around a plot of land. Eventually you'll "harvest" what you've grown. Citizens can be assigned to work different types of jobs (scientists, merchants, artists, etc.). Mini-games like "click through a maze" unlock bonus research points. All of these things feed abstract indices like "happiness" and "production." Yep, it's that kind of game.

It's also pathologically pop-up littered. I made the apparent mistake of trying to upgrade my town's theater before I had sufficient production points, prompting the game to fire the same pop-up window at me literally hundreds of times (where's the "cancel upgrade" option guys?). The window advises I click "Get CivBucks" to remedy the problem.

When I finally did, just to see what CivBucks were, the game loaded a menu that converts Facebook Credits (which cost real money) into CivBucks. While this approach can work in free-to-play MMORPGs, where you can often solo around the imbalances, I generally avoid competitive strategy games that allow players to "win" by simply injecting real world cash.

[UPDATE: 2K Games says it's put a limit cap on "game-affecting actions" that use CivBucks, and that it's still testing to determine what it believes that limit ought to be (it's 10 CivBucks per day, currently). I'd still argue any game whose profit model hinges on offers of gameplay advantages to top real-cash spenders is fundamentally flawed, unless you believe in money-for-advantage gaming.]

And you're definitely competing here (in my first game alone, I'm counting 170 players). 2K Games describes Civilization World as "a persistent online world where players collaborate with friends to become the strongest nation to accomplish an end goal of becoming the world’s most powerful civilization." No resting on your laurels, in other words.

That's all I can tell you this morning. I was planning to play longer, but the game kicked me out and threw up this error message.

All of which, to be fair to the game, means I have yet to "team up with friends to win great battles, forge powerful alliances, grant clever treaties, and create sinister schemes to outwit and overpower adversaries," or "share technology to jump ahead of rivals, pass important civics and vote on vital policies, spy on enemies, and create the great wonders of the world."

But as first impressions go, I'm less than impressed, verging on annoyed.

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