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Subject: First Impressions of Civilization A New Dawn rss

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Josh Hay
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I picked up the copy off Civilization A New Dawn I had pre-ordered today, and since I’ve managed to get a play in I figured I’d share some first impressions of it.

Overview
Sid Meier’s Civilization A New Dawn (its most proper title) is FFG’s newest game based on the classic video game series. It is far more streamlined than the other entries, doing away with things like individual units. FFG has said it is committed to supporting both its older Civ game and this one at the same time, so this isn’t a replacement or a second edition

Disclaimer: I haven’t played the older game, but I have played a bit of computer Civ.

The Stuff!
It may be superficial, but New Dawn really does come with a striking amount of stuff for a $50 box from FFG. The company seems to have stretched content thinner as they upped prices in recent years, and this is a welcome reversal. You get plenty of double sided map tiles to construct a semi-randomized board each turn, 44 plastic pieces, 100 something cards, and 250+ tokens.

It all works to add a lot of systems to a game that manages to be lean at the same time. You have variety in wonders, technology, leaders, the map, and so on. The compromise here, of course, is that FFG went wide with systems instead of deep. There are only two tech for each level of a wonder type, 8 leaders (compare to 23 in Civ VI, or 43 in Civ V), 8 city-states, and 5 game-end condition cards (of which you use 3 each game, meaning at least one will overlap from game to game). This is all serviceable in creating a deep, fun strategy game that I imagine – but cannot really say, with only one game – is very repayable.

It’s worth noting that the “focus bar” pieces you use to keep track of your technology cards are longer than the box, and must be placed diagonally, including during shipping. Mine got wedged against the edge of the box, causing a significant bend in them. I got mine flattened out (with a bit of laying a heavy game box on top of them, and a bit of careful bending the other direction) enough to play comfortably with – but it is a thing.

The Gameplay!
Gameplay in A New Dawn is simple, fun, and disarmingly confusing. This game seriously begs for a player aid that it doesn’t provide. The core gameplay loop is simple enough: you have a focus bar of 5 columns, each column with a number and a terrain (from Grass: 1, to Mountain: 5). Generally speaking, a card can do more things for the higher the number it is, and a card can only affect terrain of its level or below. You lay your 5 techs below these numbers, choose one to do each turn, resolve it, and then push it to the Grass: 1 spot, and advance everything that was originally behind it.

You are doing these things in the goals of accomplishing a few objectives laid out at the beginning of the game – no victory points here. The first to do one objective on each of the three cards (showing two objectives each) wins.

This is a pretty stellar gameplay loop. You must carefully balance getting the most out of all of your techs – it’s best to try and arrange them all to fire off at the 5 spot, but that doesn’t always pan out when you’re addressing the need to defend off barbarians and beat people to objectives (rather than lollygag around for maximum effect).

As you go, you become more efficient and unlock better abilities. And this is where the game truly shines. Almost no ability that got printed in this game is milquetoast or mundane. Sometimes the right situation never occurs, but almost everything feels powerful and unique in the right context. It makes sense – to condense Civ as much as has been done here, the ramping must occur faster. Wonders each come with a powerful special ability. One lets you place cities at any empty edge space on the board, rather than within a vicinity of your friendly terrain; another lets you, once per turn, remove the control of an opponent adjacent to you, a slow and inevitable encroachment on their territory. By the third level of the technology cards, you can blast mass media across the globe to gain cultural control of your opponent’s populace. By the fourth level, you can deploy devastating nukes – if you let that card mature its way to the fifth focus slot, of course. It never feels like a waste or a disappointment to accomplish or upgrade.

So what about that player aid? You see, the game I describe is exciting and simple enough. Yet it gets caught up in tons of tiny, niggling rules that would be instantly erased if more satisfactory player aids were available. As it stands, the game provides a reference for what each victory condition means (both on the back of every leader, and on the back of the rulebook), and on the back of the rulebook it also summarizes building wonders and resolving attacks. But what do I get if I attack a barbarian? What’s the reward for travelling a caravan to a city-state? What are the restrictions on control token placement? None of these questions are effectively answered by quick reference material, and you must dive back into the rulebook if you forget

A Warning
The suggested first game map – at least the suggested two player game – seems to be fundamentally unbalanced in a way that the full game would never be. The starting position for one player is in the midst of a ton of higher level terrain, shutting off a lot of the ability to do things effectively or at all. It’s possible to cycle cards without resolving them, or to “city-hop” by building nearby cities until you’re in a better position. But these are sub-optimal plays that one player must do, whilst the other faces no such situation. As the full game involves the players all constructing the map together and choosing their starting positions, you would never see a player put themselves in this position without a good escape plan. Because of this flaw in the suggested game, my opponent had a significantly less pleasant time than me.

The Verdict!
Sid Meier’s Civilization A New Dawn is a great, content-full box that makes every player feel powerful and impactful through an addictive gameplay loop, yet suffers because of its poor-to-nonexistent player aids and reference tools. It admirably condenses the most notable parts of the computer game experience – expansion, combat, wonder-building, tech-advancement, barbarians, unique leaders, and so on. However, if you’re looking for a “4x,” you won’t find it here. It has expand down pat, and exploit as well – resources and city-states to gather and utilize abound. Exterminate is iffy – it’s actually impossible to knock a player out (everything is destructible, except Capital Cities, so everyone’s always in it to the end), but there is impactful combat. Explore is also a bit compromised. The map setup, wherein every player contributes to it, adds a bit of the unknown to each game’s map, but you’ll have seen the full thing before the true beginning of each play. If we err optimistic, we can call each of those aspects half an X and say A New Dawn is a solid 3x game.

The Future
If it’s possible to expand a game, FFG will. And I’m perfectly happy to let them do that here. While the game is complete and varied as is, what I said about the decision to go wide instead of deep with content means there’s plenty of places to add more variety. I could imagine expansions looking something like: a new player color, 4 to 8 leaders, a couple map tiles, and some new cards for every card-based thing. I’d buy them. A few of those, and A New Dawn could truly grow into a unique, epic yet brief experience – a generator of new, exciting, and fun human histories. There is potential here, but even if it goes unmet, it’s a great game so far.
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Julio

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Great review Josh, thanks. One question: playing time is accurate as the box says? 30 minute per player? One of the reasons I gave away the old FFG Civ and got this one was for its extensive playing time.
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Mark Buetow
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jrescan wrote:
Great review Josh, thanks. One question: playing time is accurate as the box says? 30 minute per player? One of the reasons I gave away the old FFG Civ and got this one was for its extensive playing time.


This is definitely shorter. Second game with two when we were more familiar only took a little over an hour.
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Great review. This is one of those rare civ games that i could see supporting 5-6 players and not sacrificing too much game length, since turns are quick and player interaction is pretty strong, but not too in your face.
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Tim Royal
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Great write-up. Have you played Clash of Cultures? Curious if there are any similarities to it, since it 'distills' the 4x down quite a bit as well.

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Jexhai wrote:
if you’re looking for a “4x,” you won’t find it here. It has expand down pat, and exploit as well – resources and city-states to gather and utilize abound. Exterminate is iffy – it’s actually impossible to knock a player out (everything is destructible, except Capital Cities, so everyone’s always in it to the end


By that measure not one only one* of the top rated 4x board games is a true 4x.

It's 2017 and few people are willing to accept player elimination in anything but the shortest filler titles. This is a feature not a flaw. No one wants to go to a game night and sit around for hours while their friends finish a game they were knocked out of.

To satisfy that X in a modern board game all that is required is meaningful combat that allows for the extermination of units, not an a player altogether.

edit: *Eclipse has player elimination (albeit rare, and it is not at all the goal of the game as it was in many older games where all other players needed to be eliminated to win)
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Craig Sanderlin
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Auzette wrote:
Great write-up. Have you played Clash of Cultures? Curious if there are any similarities to it, since it 'distills' the 4x down quite a bit as well.



I'm curious about this too. Clash of cultures is awesome, and it would be hard to compete with. Hopefully it's different enough from CC that both can exist in a collection.
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lordpenquin wrote:
Auzette wrote:
Great write-up. Have you played Clash of Cultures? Curious if there are any similarities to it, since it 'distills' the 4x down quite a bit as well.



I'm curious about this too. Clash of cultures is awesome, and it would be hard to compete with. Hopefully it's different enough from CC that both can exist in a collection.


The main selling point of Dawn is a dramatically shorter playing time than CoC. That alone will earn it a place on shelves right along side it regardless of any similarity.
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Brett Moon
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Thank you for a really solid review. The lack of player aid/crib is clearly an oversight, but shouldn't be hard to fix. I often create my own player aids for new games - just a quick word doc with some basics and usually some iconography etc.
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Erik R.
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Got my first full play in today, a 2 player game.

First of all, I agree that this game needs a player aid; not for the main game action, but the particulars of combat bonuses.


Second, I don't think it's too useful to compare this to big, epic 4X/Civ games like Clash of Cultures. The Civ genre is simply too stuffed with things to be short. The computer game alone, which automates everything, easily takes me 2-3 days to get through a game. Civ board games generally try to abstract the computer game, and still end up being at least 3-4 hours. I would never expect a game playing at 1-2 hours to do as much, and this one certainly doesn't.

I would instead compare this to other short Civ-themed games like Antike, Deus, or even Scythe. These games give you a map to take over and some goals to race towards. You're not really managing an "empire" or tinkering with minute details of your government or production. You are more concerned with finding the right sequence and synergies to get ahead.

They have discarded a lot of "Civ" aspects, arguably enough to kick it out of the Civ genre, but it is a solid game. As a game primarily revolving around terrain, the modular map is gonna go a long way to make it replayable.
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Dmitry Vensko
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Can we compare it with Tempus?
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Has anyone played Historia? My wife and I dig that title for it's play length. A bit of an "icon salad" for sure, but it seems to scratch a lot of CIV itches.

I think the Sid Meier name alone will push my wife over the edge into acquisition.
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Marc Mistiaen
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Jexhai wrote:
FFG has said it is committed to supporting both its older Civ game and this one at the same time, so this isn’t a replacement or a second edition.

I wonder what this means. It's not that I don't believe them if they say they would support both, it's just that, independently of the publishing of this new game, the last expansion for the other is several years old now, and it does not seem they would support it anymore anyway. (Which would be fine, actually, given the expansions already add a ton to the base game, almost to the point of bloat – not that I'm complaining.)
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Corwin1980 wrote:
Jexhai wrote:
FFG has said it is committed to supporting both its older Civ game and this one at the same time, so this isn’t a replacement or a second edition.

I wonder what this means. It's not that I don't believe them if they say they would support both, it's just that, independently of the publishing of this new game, the last expansion for the other is several years old now, and it does not seem they would support it anymore anyway. (Which would be fine, actually, given the expansions already add a ton to the base game, almost to the point of bloat – not that I'm complaining.)


It simply refers to the fact that they literally just reprinted the older game, and have no intention of discontinuing it.
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Erik R.
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VDmitry wrote:
Can we compare it with Tempus?


Yes. That's another game on a similar level to New Dawn
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karkador wrote:
VDmitry wrote:
Can we compare it with Tempus?


Yes. That's another game on a similar level to New Dawn


I'm curious to see how this turns out. Tempus appeared to be a universal disappointment at the time due to its abstractions. I sort of liked it, but none of my friends did, so I couldn't play it enough to give it a good shake.

Now, it seems, we have another abstract Civ game in New Dawn. I prefer crunch over abstraction in my Civ games, but this does have some appeal ... I'm just not sure if I'm ready to pull the trigger yet.
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Peter O
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NuMystic wrote:
Jexhai wrote:
if you’re looking for a “4x,” you won’t find it here. It has expand down pat, and exploit as well – resources and city-states to gather and utilize abound. Exterminate is iffy – it’s actually impossible to knock a player out (everything is destructible, except Capital Cities, so everyone’s always in it to the end


By that measure not one of the top rated 4x board games is a true 4x.

It's 2017 and few people are willing to accept player elimination in anything but the shortest filler titles. This is a feature not a flaw. No one wants to go to a game night and sit around for hours while their friends finish a game they were knocked out of.

To satisfy that X in a modern board game all that is required is meaningful combat that allows for the extermination of units, not an a player altogether.


Both Eclipse and Clash of Cultures has full 4X. Each has full player elimination and full explore.
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tranenturm wrote:
Both Eclipse and Clash of Cultures has full 4X. Each has full player elimination and full explore.


In Clash of Cultures there is no real player elimination as that is an end game trigger. (the game ends in the next status phase if a player has no cities) You're correct about Eclipse though and I've edited the post above to reflect that.
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Ben Holdredge
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Gameplay in A New Dawn is simple, fun, and disarmingly confusing. This game seriously begs for a player aid that it doesn’t provide.


I COMPLETELY AGREE.

I love heavy games (TTA is my favorite game of all time), but I found the small details of this game to be inexplicably confusing. I was constantly referring back to the rulebook to figure out small details that are not easily remembered. This is largely due to the fact that each of the 5 actions in the game has a set of 3-4 rules you must abide by when taking that action, and they are detailed nowhere except the rulebook. By themselves, 3-4 rules are not too difficult to remember, but when you add that up to be 15-20 rules, it is easy to forget which ones apply to which action. In addition to this, resolving attacks and barbarian movement all have different rules depending on what is being attacked.

For example, when you attack a component, its bonus varies based on what you are attacking. A city-state has a bonus of 8, a barbarian has a bonus equal to the terrain it's on, a control token has a bonus of its terrain plus any cards/leader sheets, and a city has a bonus equal to 2x its terrain.

Then, if you defeat the token, a different thing depends on what type of token you defeated. A defeated city-state goes on your focus row card that shares the same type, then you get to put one of your cities in its place, and both of that city-state's diplomacy cards are placed face down. A defeated barbarian is removed from the map, and the player puts a trade token on any card in their focus row. A defeated control token is replaced with the attacker's own control token, and if it's a natural wonder space, you take that token from them. A defeated non-capital city is replaced with the attacker's own city (but if that space is a city-state space, then the attacker must choose whether to liberate or conquer it, both of which have their own rules). A defeated capital city loses 2 trade tokens to the attacking city.

Additionally, when defeating a city with a world wonder token, that wonder stays in the spot under the new player's city. But if the city was a capital city, you instead steal the wonder and put it onto one of your cities. But if you do not have room in any of your cities, then you cannot take the wonder.

Then, when barbarians move onto some component, they have a varying effect depending on what the component was. If it was a caravan, it's destroyed. If it was an unreinforced control token or a non-capital city, it is destroyed. If it was a reinforced control token, it gets flipped to its unreinforced side and the barbarian returns to its space. If it was a capital city, the player discards 2 trade tokens.

Also, for almost all actions in the game, you can only count through spaces at or below the terrain type of the slot you activated, but when making attacks, you can count over any terrain type.

Again, each of these rules may make sense by itself, but when you compound all of them together, it is excessively confusing for a game that is supposed to be a streamlined Civilization game. I think I would have a very hard time getting this game to the table at this point because I cannot confidently explain the nuances of each action without checking the rulebook. Even if I could, new players will need to constantly ask me about rule clarifications, which will slow the game down immensely, especially if I then have to look up the rule.

I very much want to enjoy this game, so I hope someone in this community makes a nice looking player aid that details all of these easily forgotten rules.
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Paul Naxer
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NuMystic wrote:
lordpenquin wrote:
Auzette wrote:
Great write-up. Have you played Clash of Cultures? Curious if there are any similarities to it, since it 'distills' the 4x down quite a bit as well.



I'm curious about this too. Clash of cultures is awesome, and it would be hard to compete with. Hopefully it's different enough from CC that both can exist in a collection.


The main selling point of Dawn is a dramatically shorter playing time than CoC. That alone will earn it a place on shelves right along side it regardless of any similarity.


This is exactly what I hoping for - I like CoC but would like something shorter/simpler to get to the table that still feels like a Civ style game.
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Peter O
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Thankfully player aids are by far the easiest thing to add to a game once someone in the player community makes one. Hint hint...
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tranenturm wrote:
Thankfully player aids are by far the easiest thing to add to a game once someone in the player community makes one. Hint hint...


So excited to hear that you're working on them already Peter, thank you for the hint! Look forward to seeing them as soon as they're added to the file section.
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NuMystic wrote:
tranenturm wrote:
Thankfully player aids are by far the easiest thing to add to a game once someone in the player community makes one. Hint hint...


So excited to hear that you're working on them already Peter, thank you for the hint! Look forward to seeing them as soon as they're added to the file section.


blush my hint was misinterpreted. I was hinting someone ELSE could pick up the torch. I’d have to buy the game first. But if I do and there still isn’t one, I would share anything made with the community.
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Dmitry Vensko
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Chronus wrote:
karkador wrote:
VDmitry wrote:
Can we compare it with Tempus?


Yes. That's another game on a similar level to New Dawn


I'm curious to see how this turns out. Tempus appeared to be a universal disappointment at the time due to its abstractions. I sort of liked it, but none of my friends did, so I couldn't play it enough to give it a good shake.

Now, it seems, we have another abstract Civ game in New Dawn. I prefer crunch over abstraction in my Civ games, but this does have some appeal ... I'm just not sure if I'm ready to pull the trigger yet.


Tempus wasn't illustrated like PC version. Neither it was from FFG... So this one is different story for sure.
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tranenturm wrote:
NuMystic wrote:
tranenturm wrote:
Thankfully player aids are by far the easiest thing to add to a game once someone in the player community makes one. Hint hint...


So excited to hear that you're working on them already Peter, thank you for the hint! Look forward to seeing them as soon as they're added to the file section.


blush my hint was misinterpreted. I was hinting someone ELSE could pick up the torch. I’d have to buy the game first. But if I do and there still isn’t one, I would share anything made with the community.


Misinterpreted? devil



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