The Civilization computer game series, which has had five main installments and countless other expansions and spin-offs over the course of two decades, is both incredibly ambitious and highly addictive, especially for fans of world history and cartography. In the game, the player takes on the role of one of the major civilizations in history, leading that nation from the ancient era to modern times. The player starts with one city, and expands by building more or conquering the cities of other civilizations. War, trade, exploration, scientific advancement, and cultural influence are just some of the critical components of the game, which requires a great deal of practice and research to truly master all of the complex mechanics of gameplay. One beats the game by covering a significant portion of the world’s territory, destroying every other civilization, attaining cultural supremacy, winning a diplomatic vote among all nations, or being the first civilization to launch a spaceship to colonize other worlds.
Even more fun for many players is not the actual playing of the game, but the creation of the world map upon which it is played. When one starts a game, he can let the game randomly create a world, choose among maps which have already been created, or create one himself. (Sidenote: The World Building program, which lets one create a map, is not available with the Mac version.) There is a thriving community of players, using sites such as CivFanatics.com, who create and share maps with others. These maps often resemble real world geography, and one of the most popular types of map is the Earth Map, made to depict the planet earth accurately, both topographically and politically. Below is one such map, which was created for use in the most recent version, Civilization V, by user Veneke on CivFanatics.com:
There is high attention to detail in this map. Deserts, mountains, rainforests, tundra, and other topographical features are placed in the positions where they appear in real life. The creator also placed key strategic or economic resources such as oil, cotton, and bananas in the areas where they are predominantly found in our world. This ensures, for example, that whoever controls the Middle East will have a surplus of oil for building late-game weaponry and trading with others for a profit.
The other salient feature of the map is the location of major cities, which represent the capitals of civilizations as well as city-states. Some of these are historical, and some are modern. For example, Rio de Janeiro represents the Brazilian civilization, and Cusco represents the Inca, even though these two civilizations never existed together at the same time in history. The map contains 21 civilizations and 17 city-states, for 38 total, but there are many many more potential civilizations that can be used in the game. Placing them all on the map, however, would be impossible, especially since some of them have capital cities which share the same space (for example, one could not place both Rome and Vatican City in Italy at the same time, as Vatican City is inside of Rome).
The level of freedom and creativity allowed by Civilization V and its World Builder program give players the chance to create the world in their own manner and direct the course of human history themselves. One could, for example, lead the Inca to conquer Europe or see what would happen if the land bridge between Russia and Alaska stayed in place after the end of the last Ice Age. The possibilities are nearly endless!