In my own personal estimation the higher echelons of PC gaming are dominated by those that have a profound effect on our senses. Deus Ex, Half Life, Championship Manager and more recently The Movies captivated me profoundly, but only Civilisation II had me truly astonished. How can a game with such limited graphics resources, outdated textures and slightly annoying sound effects still be so easily re-playable after nearly ten years of it's release? (Not to mention at least three follow ups!) Simple - charm and depth.
As the god of your empire, you must build up your cities, explore strange new lands and discover new technology. You start the game with a settler (or two). They can either form a new city, or develop land to help existing ones. You can choose what kind of empire you would like to lead, be it a violent militaristic expansionist (like the Romans) or a peaceful idealist (the Indians). Certain city improvements will give you different advantages. For example, if your goal is to build up an army, building barracks and units will aid your war exploits. However, if your goal is financial or scientific you may want to build markets or libraries.
You can conquer other empires by capturing or plundering all of their cities. This isn't easy - it requires a large amount of units and trained mercenaries. As you explore you may find small tribes that offer you gifts. Sometimes it's scrolls of science, other times it's units or money. Be careful though, you might yourself having to fend of hostile barbarians. The bigger your empire the more demanding your people become. The ideology of your government can effect your empire too. If you're a monarchy the freedoms of the people are quite restricted, thus not producing much trade. However running a democracy allows the citizens of your empire more allowance and thus creates larger cash flow. The problem here is that with more freedom comes more responsibility. People won't be afraid to start riots in a democracy. All forms of government range from the religious fundamentalism to the senate-run republic.
In light of Civilisation IV's release it's probably not the same playing #2. To have survived as long as it has is testament to it's durability. It's fantastic and in my opinion one of the greatest games ever made.
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