Retro-Ramble: Sid Meier’s Colonization

This one’s about closure. Despite playing it zealously for weeks on end back in 1994, I didn’t ever complete a game of Sid Meier’s Colonization, a sequel of sorts to the first Civilization. Powered by Brian Reynolds as much as it was Meier, it’s a turn-based strategy tale of establishing colonies in the New World or Americas, and eventually winning independence from their avaricious motherland. My copy silently, immediately and cruelly crashed to a DOS prompt whenever I finally bested my imperial oppressors, denying me the ending sequence and sense of victory I so richly deserved. Disheartened, I duly forgot about the game for a decade and a half, but lately it flitted across my brain by chance, and a curious longing awoke within me. I need to win my colonies their independence at last. I need to know what happens. I don’t care how brief or stupid or hilariously low-tech it is. I need to know.

The unfortunate crash was, I later established, because the ending sequence wasn’t actually there, having somehow been ripped from the game’s files so it’d fit onto a couple of biro-inscribed floppy disks. Up until fairly recently, and truly ubiquitous broadband, piracy has had a fascinatingly utilitarian approach to games – getting the nuts and bolts of a new release into the unpaying hands of as many people as possible was an unblinking priority, so the trappings that feed emotional attachment were sacrificed in the name of filesize. Cinematics, music, sound effects – these were so often removed entirely, or later supplied as add-ons by the mysterious, glory-hungry pseudo-altruists who circulated these game rips.

15 years ago, buying new games was a financial impossibility for me, so I depended on a drip-feed of pirated titles from more affluent… I hesitate to call them ‘schoolfriends’, but ‘school-people-who-also-owned-PCs- when-most-didn’t’ is not a pretty phrase. Oddly, the process was a little like reviewing games for a living is now – I didn’t really have any choice about what I played. I got what I was given. It’s highly unlikely the scifi-obsessed, ADD-cursed oik I was back then would otherwise have played a turn-based strategy game about trade in the New World circa 1500-1800. Frankly, I’d still need word of mouth recommendation to consider it now. Floppy-diskian nurture, not enquiring-minded nature, made me into quite the gaming omnivore back then – I played flight sims, racing games, football games, many of which I sometimes struggle to remain open-minded about today, without apprehension or preconception. Of course, this was as much a natural result of growing up a gamer, during an era when this still newish medium was determinedly exploring places far beyond its arcade roots, as it was my own choiceless straits.

Each and every one of these new delights was borrowed and copied from a friend – I treasured my fat notepad full of scribbled passwords and folded-up photocopies of codewheels. While I don’t wish to condone today’s wide-scale, remote gluttony of bittorrenting games, without a doubt this social piracy was a key factor in making me into the occasionally convincing simulacrum of a games journalism I am today. Each Monday, after a weekend spent with some fresh digital wonder, I was armed with new anecdotes, celebrations and complaints to prop up my otherwise sparse playground chat. Being admonished in front of the entire class for drawing crude Dune 2 ornithopters onto every page of my history exercise book was perhaps the grandest sign of just how hard I had fallen for PC gaming.

God only knows how I managed to figure out how to play Colonization at the time – there’s no tutorial, and replaying it from an old budget version, fired up in DOSBOX, this past week required more referring to the manual (which wasn’t supplied with that pirated floppy copy) than I was entirely comfortable with. And yet, the occasional yearning for tooltips aside, once I did understand it, it all seemed so straightforward. The interface creaks a bit and the AI can be gamed a little too easily, but this remains oddly fresh.

I thought of Civilization 4, acclaimed for restoring some veneer of accessibility and charm to the hitherto increasingly sombre and glacial old-hand of TBS. And it suddenly seemed so clunky, so fussy, so overloaded with minor detail that might well serve to make its veteran players think they’re smart, but in many ways was just layers of fiddly obfuscation between the player and the game. Colonization floats in such a small pool of numbers, is devoted to its key concepts, not sideline frippery, and it’s honestly a better game for it. Feature creep pleases players who feel they’ve seen everything already, who want new angles of approach to the game – Colonization didn’t have to worry about that. Though a sequel to Civ, it was enough its own game to just knuckle down and get on with its job.

As a sequel, it’s a fascinating creature. We’re now accustomed to new Civ iterations every few years, while pretty much any game that’s reached franchise status has as its priority refinement, graphical progress and often continuation of a narrative, not exploring new territory. In 1994 though, there had only been one Civilization game. Civilization II was still two years off. Instead, Colonization was the breathlessly-awaited Civ sequel, and, boldly, its approach was not Civ-but-bigger, but rather Civ-but-smaller – focusing in on and expanding a very specific part of the game. Establishing remote colonies and trading were only minor parts of Civ, mere footnotes to its tale of global conquest and technological progress. Colonization zooms into and fills in this sketchy back-story. It could be said to born of the same quiet-the-mewling-fanbase thinking as the Star Wars prequels, only rather than simply filling in all the gaps on Wookieepedia it genuinely has its own purpose.

I choose to play as the Dutch. My tendencies towards anti-patriotism means I tend to shun the English option, while the Spanish emphasis on military might isn’t how I prefer to play Civlikes, lily-livered liberal pacifist that I am. And the French… well, maybe I am suffering from some patriotism after all. Actually, it’s simply that the Dutch focus on profits strike me as the most sensible way to approach a game that’s so trade-centric.

I sail for the new world. My pioneers make landfall at a lovely coastal spot, with ideal conditions for sugar plantations, a nearby mountain rich with ore, and lush forests providing endless timber. Yes, I shall call this place home. Or ‘New Amsterdam’, to be specific.

Things go well. A few return trips to Europe with a cargo of excess sugar and lumber swells my population enough to set up a small rum distilling business. I meet the natives, the amiable Arawak tribe, and we proceed with some gentle trading. Handily, they seem to have a taste for rum. This is the life. Fort Orange is founded in short order – or tobacco town, as I like to think of it. Then Fort Nassau set ups just along the coast, the local deer population making it a fur trapper’s haven. My colonies’ slim population means I’m dependent on the high prices Europe pays for my fancy overseas goods for now – gold is all, but it’s an easy enough life.

Things fall apart; the self-made centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the New World. The hated Spanish arrive, and quickly seize the cotton-rich corner of land I had my eye on for my next expansion. We eye each other with diplomatic mistrust, but so long as their newly-founded Santo Domingo doesn’t stand on New Amsterdam’s toes, they can stay. Oh look, they’re off to meet the Arawak. I sure hope they’re not selling rum too!

My native chums’ nearest village is wiped out within a couple of turns. Oh. That’s right – Spain are conquistadors. I’m furious – not only were the Arawak a vital source of trade income, but, y’know, they were my neighbours. I’m from the future, after all – I know full-well what European settlers do to indigenous tribes, but I was not gonna be the pseudo-Holland to do it, no siree. Spain! Spaaaiiiiiiin! You’ll pay for this! Except, of course, my peaceful nature means I’m almost entirely devoid of muskets and artillery. And so my economy becomes a war one, but by the time I’ve painstakingly purchased and transported a small army from the motherland, it’s too late. The Arawak are gone. The Spanish are now headed towards the nearby Sioux with murderous intent. Tellingly, they’re also crowding troops around two of my colonies. They’re not attacking, but they are blocking access to my trade wagons. I can offer the Spanish leader a few hundred gold to move ‘em, or… Well, peace treaty, my arse.

The battle is swift, as mercifully Spain had yet to invest in artillery. There’s no rock, paper, scissors to speak of in Colonization’s battles – simply the escalating power of men, guns, horses and cannons. Santo Domingo is a fine town, it transpires, its cotton fields plentiful, and exactly what my newly-arrived Master Weaver needs to create hugely profitable cloth. Isabella too is a welcome addition to the Dutch colonies. Mainland Spain ships over a couple more, ultimately futile expeditionary forces, but eventually offers peace and grumpily sets up shop anew on the other side of the continent. The Sioux are saved. They don’t thank me, but they do trade with me, and that’s enough.

In one of Colonization’s more interesting mechanics, each Spanish soldier I defeated is not killed, but demoted to a mere colonist – the game’s key resource, able to perform any unit function in the game, and to be switched to another at will. Sure, a colonist can learn a specific function, so a Master Distiller will produce more rum than simply a colonist working in the distillery, but that doesn’t preclude you from sticking a fishing rod or a musket in his hands to cover some production deficit. Human beings are infinitely adaptable creatures, something other strategy games entirely overlook. So, I capture these unarmed Spanish strays, and my own populace swells.

My 20-turn war has not only won me two new colonies, but a steady influx of brainwashed enemies into the existing settlements transforms them into bastions of industry. I’m a little confused. I’d presumed this war would, even if it didn’t prove the end of me, so severely impact my economy that I’d be on a back foot for the next century. Instead, what I’ve inadvertently done is unite two colonial factions, pooling their peoples into something that’s very nearly self-sufficiency. Peace through tyranny.

I ship over a few more malcontents and hired trade specialists from Amsterdam, set up a pair of new colonies, and then, there it is. I’m making everything myself – food, weapons, profitable luxuries, horses… I can and do sell them to Europe for a tidy sum, but crucially, I don’t /need/ to. While Civilization is characterised by sudden technological leaps, Colonization’s resources of war and economy are the same throughout. A musket is a musket, and the only possible way to improve it is to give it to a veteran soldier. The change in the game’s nature is beautifully gradual, an almost invisible escalation from struggling to turn a buck into a self-fuelling engine of industry and, finally, into a proud nation that will fight for its independence.

Which isn’t something I can just do on a whim. There’s a metaphysical resource in Colonization in addition to all that ore and lumber collection: liberty bells, a sense of nation and of discontent with the escalating taxes Europe demands for tradegoods. Each colony generates a few of these, but dedicated statesmen increase it exponentially. Building printing presses and newspaper offices squeak out a few more. Liberty bells erode the Tory sympathy in colony – once that’s less than 50% averaged across the entire new world population, I can set my people free.

This is where Colonization’s resource management system really shines; a politician may well rouse the populace, but sitting in an office shouting about liberty hardly gets the fields ploughed, does it? On top of that, he’s another mouth to feed – each city can only generate so much crops and fish, so a large population can be untenable. To support a couple of statesmen in a given colony, alongside the harvesters and specialists, elaborate trade networks are required – wagons and ships conveying a constant rotation of one colony’s excess to feed another’s deficit. It’s hard work. I’m never going to get enough bells to declare independence by 1800 at this rate.

I’m saved by Thomas Jefferson. Throughout the game, I’ve been choosing Founding Fathers to form my continental congress at irregular intervals (again dependent on how many Liberty Bells I was generating), each of whom bestows a meaty bonus. My ships sail further thanks to Ferdinand Magellan, I can trade with foreign powers thanks to Jan De Witt, and Francis Drake has been a big help in my secret high seas piracy operation.

Now, old Tom increases my liberty bell production by 50%. This is enough to lure over Simon Bolivar in no short order, who increases my population’s desire for independence by 20%. The time is now. I’m almost trembling with pride as I click the magic button. Independence! Unalienable rights! Life, liberty, and the pursuit of reasonably-priced rum!

The king’s forces are upon me within moments. My privateers and frigates are no match for his Men O’War, which plough through them until they reach land, onto which they spew a horde of veteran soldiers and cannons. Fort Nassau, Isabella, Vlissingen and New Holland barely last a turn. There is no way I can win this. No way whatsoever. I sigh, and reach for the Load/Save menu.

Before I can do so, everything changes.

No. Fucking. Way. My liberty bells have hit critical mass, and it’s enough to convince a foreign power that the Dutch king should not claim the colonies as his own. Well, Spain wasn’t going to help, after that messy Santo Domingo business, while France rumbled that I was the guy behind the privateers who’d been robbing their galleons blind. England I hadn’t troubled. England, my England, with the Man O’War full of veteran fighters it’s just gifted to me. One-by-one, I reclaim my colonies. I’m on something like my 16th hour of the game at this point (spread over a weekend), and I’ve had my 10834-song MP3 collection on random all that time. As I gear up for the final push, the moment I’ve waited fourteen years for, iTunes pulls up Rag Doll, by Kevin Rowland (the second track at that link).

You’ll know Kevin as the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners, a band most folk sadly judge by Come On Eileen and the theme from Brush Strokes. I adore Dexys dearly, but Rowland’s solo stuff has never made it past curio status for me. 1999’s My Beauty was intended as a comeback after years in the drug-addled wilderness; legend has it the album sold just 500 copies, which can be at least partially attributed to its front cover:

Good work, Kevin. On top of that, the album was a consciously irony-free, super-glossy collection of covers of heart-on-sleeve songs Rowland claimed helped him through difficult times – including Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All and The Beatles’ Long & Winding Road. It’s a fascinating work, but I’d hesitate to say it was a great one. It certainly wasn’t a smart one. Of course, Rowland didn’t know that at the time, so for him the songs constituted something like self-celebration, having been persuaded by Creation Records’ Alan McGee that the world was breathlessly awaiting his comeback. I’m now in the state I (arrogantly) presume Rowland was in when he recorded the album – I’ve been denied glory for so long, and now, at last, I’m about to get what I deserve. I’m about to catch my Moby Dick. I’m going to beat Colonization. Rag Doll, ridiculously melodramatic and in so many other circumstances more than a little embarrassing, is here laughably inappropriate and ecstatically appropriate all at once. “Shiiiiiiiine!” trills an angelic backing choir as my Dragoons seize back Isabella.“Shiiiiii-eee-iii-eee-iiine!”

There are tears in my eyes. Real tears. Then Rowland leans into the mic and intones one of the spoken-word sections he’s so prone to. “That beautiful choir. They’re all singing for you. They’re singing for you.” For me? “That’s yours. It belongs to you.” Yes! This is my moment. “It’s over. The bad stuff’s over.” No more imperial tyranny – my independence awaits! “Here we go.” My last cannon closes in on Vlissingen, just as Isabella declares a Tory uprising and half its populace take up arms anew for the enemy. No. I’ve waited fourteen years for this moment. If that cannon is defeated…

It’s been a long time since a game made me quite this overjoyed. My reward is coming. Closure. Triumph. Rapture. I’m ready for it. I’ve been ready for years. Just… don’tcrashdon’tcrashpleasedon’trcrash. Shiiiiiiiiiiine.

Yankee-Doodle plays. Fireworks explode. Tri-corner hats are hurled skywards in celebration.

It’s everything I ever wanted it to be.


  1. Adam Hepton says:

    Brilliant. Just brilliant. Spookily, I’ve been playing Colonization this weekend. I can only hope that when my dénouement is reached, it is as satisfying as yours.

  2. Nallen says:

    I reinstalled this along with Pinball Fantasies, Synd, Space Hulk etc last time I got an emulator on my PC. I can honestly say it’s one of those formative games from my youth, and yet seems to be some what maligned (much to my disappointment).

    I’m so very glad you managed to join us members of the tri-corver hat throwing community though :)

  3. Babs says:

    I’m going to try for the most pedantic spelling correction in the history of the Internet: You spelt Wookieepedia wrong (oh yes, it exists!). Do I get a prize?

    And yes, Colonization is one of those games I will always have fond memories of. At an age where I couldn’t quite grasp Civilisation it enthralled me.

    Edit: And for those who haven’t tried it, there is an open source version called FreeCol. I’m going to have a play with it tonight.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    Random Kevin Rowland fact: Jonathan Smith, Chris Buxton and myself actually bought the thing, which means that getting on for 1% of the total sales were to PC Gamer writers. Which says something though what, I just don’t know.


  5. Lucky says:

    But what did the people name after you in the end? You left out the most important part!

    I too found Colonization through piracy, but have since then bought it twice, first as a re-release and then in the original box, so I hope my sin has been atoned.

    Colonization is definitely an awesome game, but I believe it hasn’t aged as well as it could have. The interface is clumsy, the AI acts pretty stupidly and… well, that’s all. But these two points are pretty annoying and make me want Firaxis to finally create a proper sequel, as I kinda remember that they bought the rights from Microprose a few years back.

    Has ANY game designed by Brian Reynolds other than Civ II gotten a sequel?

  6. antonymous says:

    I played the Amiga version to death because it was one of the very few games that ran windowed on the desktop errr Workbench.

    The Colonization AI is positively braindead, but the game is one great piece of design!

  7. Alec Meer says:

    I got a bird. And an infectious disease during my initial playthrough, when I was trying to remember how to play the damned thing.

    The only interface thing that really bugs me is it’s not very good at letting you choose when to end your turn – you’ll suddenly have control whisked away from you just when you’re planning to go shuffle around a colony screen.

  8. Nallen says:

    Railroad Tycoon next? please? xx

  9. Him says:

    But is the PC version as pretty as the Amiga version? Inquiring minds my dear fellow! They insist on knowing!

  10. Kieron Gillen says:

    (Good work, Alec.)


  11. WanderingTaoist says:

    I loved this game back in the days more than Civilization itself. And I, too, found it through piracy. And bought it three times since – once the original floppy version mainly because of lovely 100+ page manual, then the convenient CD version and then the Win version, which made playing it under Windows easier back in the DOSBox-less days. Pure nostalgia. I demand a remake!

  12. Poddagoblin says:

    Alec: Manuak Turn end is definatley an option…I’m sure it is!
    Lucky: Rise of Nations got a sequel. Frankly, I’ll buy anything with Brian Reynold’s name on it these days.

    Also, I have yet to see a strategy game — of any kind, either RTS or TBS or 4x or blahblahlbah — treat people and resources in the same way Col did. Take a prisoner, give him a horse, he’s a scout! Go scout, boy! When you need that horse for your army, just kick him off it and make him work in the cotton fields. Once he’s worked those fields, you take all the grain and cotton from one farm and ship it to your big, main city, who’s eating itself out of house and home and is concentrating on making guns.

    Though it was slightly exploitable in a way (if you shipped 200 grain to a city in one turn it would gani a new citizen. With enough grain income you could get craploads of people spawning in one city each turn. New troops to feed the machine with!)

    I also liked the way it dealt with buildings vs troops. In other civs you had to build a church OR a musketeer. That never sat right with me. Why would my construction workers “build” an army? Or do they turn into one? I loved the way you just threw people into the blacksmiths and demanded them to work and then if anyone attacked you you could just round up everyone from the fields/buildings, give them guns and say “FIGHT!”. Or possibly the way your army, after killing and maiming, could just create a new colony, anywhere, make a bunch of resources and send it back to your home city.

    There’s millions of little possibilities created by treating resources and people (who are resources too, essentially) in this manner. It makes it so muych more interesting, fun and most of all satisfying than Civ ever has come close to. I demand a sequel or at least some game to just blatently copy it (this doesn’t include FreeCol – which last time I checked didnt’ even have AI players).

    edit: Sidenote. As a kid I never played Col. I would always see it advertised in amiga magazines and laugh. “Haha, it looks like a rip off of Civilization”. How wrong I was. What a fool! I’m glad it was one of the game the early version of the Underdogs carried. Thankyou, Mr Underdogs, thankyou.

  13. Alec Meer says:

    So I just tried out that Freecol. Two AI nations declared war on me in the same turn, about five turns in. I’ll stick with the original, I think.

  14. Poddagoblin says:

    If you do stick with the original, I suggest you check out the OPTIONS menu :)
    Not only does it allow you to turn on Tutorial Hints but there’s an “End OF Turn” option aswell….

  15. terry says:

    Good article, though it doesn’t excuse the whole Rowland thing. My outrage is in the post.

  16. Lucky says:

    “Rise of Nations got a sequel.”

    Ohh. I always thought that Rise of Legends was just a very ambitious expansion.

  17. Troy Goodfellow says:

    “Thankyou, Mr Underdogs, thankyou”

    It was Ms. Underdogs, actually.

    Colonization is a game that I’m fond of, but I don’t really love.

    In many ways, it is the truest representation of European/Native relations in gaming. Admittedly, that’s not saying much, but there’s some real subtle stuff going on there.

    Expansion will almost certainly bring you into conflict with your aboriginal neighbors, but you can try a peaceful route. This might cost you in the short run – or even the long run. And, there are great profits in killing the Aztecs and Incas. But it’s all a player choice. You can even manipulate your local allies into causing trouble for your rivals. If France (no one ever plays France) is in a war with natives on a different island, I’d sell muskets and horses to the underdog.

    There are still some issues with the game from where I sit. Independence is the only winning condition, but your European rivals don’t move towards independence. They don’t compete for Founding Fathers. The diplomacy – so essential to success here – is even more of a black box than the original Civ.

    Nice AAR Alec.

  18. Kieron Gillen says:

    Strictly speaking, Rise of Legends wasn’t a sequel, but a brand-expansion thing – like Alpha Centauri was to Civ.


  19. Winterborn says:

    Man. Playing ragdoll while reading this was an experience.

    Great stuff.

  20. Alexx Kay says:

    Also, I have yet to see a strategy game — of any kind, either RTS or TBS or 4x or blahblahlbah — treat people and resources in the same way Col did. Take a prisoner, give him a horse, he’s a scout! Go scout, boy! When you need that horse for your army, just kick him off it and make him work in the cotton fields. Once he’s worked those fields, you take all the grain and cotton from one farm and ship it to your big, main city, who’s eating itself out of house and home and is concentrating on making guns.

    Check out the little-known Original War. It’s sort of like Jagged Alliance-meets-RTS. You can build vehicles and buildings as in a standard RTS — but the buildings and vehicles don’t *function* without people operating them. And you have a strictly limited supply of people, so you often have to reassign what they are doing based on the needs of the moment.

  21. unclebulgaria says:

    I loved this as a kid.

    When tools get too expensive, you can call up a Master Toolsman (or whatever they’re called) and get 100 free tools as well as a colonist. I seem to recall as tools max out in price (i.e. as you buy them to finish buildings) this works out cheaper.

  22. Larington says:

    Yeah, one of my (Many) favourites. Could someone please explain to me why/how the AI supposedly isn’t very good though? I’ve never personally had any problems with it, but maybe others are seeing things I ain’t.

    And yes, the options menu is the first place I go when I install the game (Might need to have loaded a game first) primarily to stop that whole new turn thing.

  23. Pidesco says:

    While I enjoyed Colonization, it never quite gripped like Civilization. And anyway, Colonization was reviled here in Portuguese lands, for not including Portugal as a playable nation. We practically invented the overseas colonize, steal and mercilessly exploit thing.

  24. Lacero says:

    I think Ms. Underdogs deserves three cheers even if the site hasn’t been updated in two years and is infested with popups. A true hero of PC gaming.

    As for colonization, I agree with poddagoblin, being able to settle your rampaging army wherever it ended up made the game feel completely fresh. It actually felt like you had the freedom the original pioneers would’ve had instead of being restrained by the rules of the game.

  25. Troy Goodfellow says:

    “Could someone please explain to me why/how the AI supposedly isn’t very good though? I’ve never personally had any problems with it, but maybe others are seeing things I ain’t.”

    My main problem with the AI is that it has different goals from you, so it doesn’t have to bother with statesmen, for example. Different goals for AI and human are common in games, but in a 4x game its usually assumed that everyone has the same gameplan. If I could collect every Founding Father (and I often did) there wasn’t a lot of pressure in that 1/3 choice. Do I take Minuit now or Stuyvesant? I’ll get both eventually.

    But there are some problems with the computer opponent. I have found the AI is too quick to clear cut forests unless it has one of those timber bonuses. It is often too hasty to start a war that it can’t finish. It will park soldiers on your fields and do nothing with them, even if they could be used better somewhere else.

    Of course, the AI in Civilization wasn’t that much better; a Civ would pay you off and forgive you, giving you time to rebuild and kick its ass again. It would do laps around a phalanx parked on a mountain. And because it did not know how to value wonders, Meier just “gave” them as random prizes to AI controlled powers.

    For some reason at the time, I was able to forgive Civ its quirks but not Colonization. Maybe that’s because we Canadians didn’t see the need to fight for our independence, so being forced to do so when the AI wasn’t seemed a little cheesy to the young nationalist in me. (I have since sold out to the hegemon.)

  26. Alec Meer says:

    As someone said, the diplomacy’s paper-thin too, which applies to the AI to a certain extent – I kept calling my Spanish war on and off again purely to give myself the upper hand for the next assault, but they seemed to lack any awareness that I’d previously screwed them over repeatedly.

    Have to say that, even aside from forgiving some sins because of its age and because of fond remembrance, I’m genuinely happier with the other nations not chasing independence/statesmen – I enjoy that it’s specifically about me versus the motherland, and the other nations are obstacles rather than competitors. It’s the game’s focus on a very specific goal that most endears me to it – I have a thousand Civs if I want something more open-ended. But yeah, it’d be nice if there was at least an option to have them directly challenge the player; I’m quite sure there would have been, had this ever seen a sequel or two.

  27. Troy Goodfellow says:

    I enjoy that it’s specifically about me versus the motherland, and the other nations are obstacles rather than competitors.

    I can see that. The poor AI and iffy diplomatic feedback made them more nagging foot pain than true obstacles, but if you see Colonization as Heroic National Narrative with your colonies as the star, than the design makes sense.

    Speaking of this, did you ever play Conquest of the New World? It was probably best known for the neat little tactical battle game and letting you name natural landmarks you discovered (leading to hundreds of Mt. Butts, I suspect.) But it also had independence as the goal and you had to compete with other colonial powers to get there first.

  28. Alec Meer says:

    That one was never snuck into my piractical drip-feed, sadly. One to bring up when we hit 1996 in the RPSchive, perhaps…

  29. Mull says:

    Yeeeeeeeeeeeeesss, the overlooked civ sequel gets its due! I played months of this game, and was the foundation for all I knew about the settling of America and the founding fathers. Which is possibly a bit worrying from a historical accuracy point of view.

    I definitely got the ending screen on my 486 back in the day, however; I remember impressing my parents mightily with the ending hats-in-the-air completion screen.

    Of course, the game was easy to ruin because of a fundamental bug that was never fixed; you could press the shortcut key for ‘sell good’ when back in your home port, and it would sell even if your king had boycotted the product. Can’t say I ever needed that though, because I was all about the Spanish; get a load of dragoons, conquer the Aztecs and the Incas and set the indentured Indians to work on silver mining. Ahh, the memories of pixellated genocide.

    (P.S: I too used to doodle Dune 2 stuff at school: in my case, designing bases on graph paper in science. Good times.)

  30. Vinícius says:

    Now that is a great game that seriously interested me. Never played it, though.

    However, if Sid keeps his “occasional remake” tendency, that might happen pretty damn soon. After Pirates! and Railroads… Colonization is the next one.

    Or what, you think he is going to make Alpha Centauri II this soon? Pff. It is Sid’s ace in the sleeve.

  31. King Pod of France says:

    Troy Goodfellow: I never knew it was a Ms! Then again I don’t know much about HOTU. I always assumed the following:
    It’s based and run by someone in China, hence why it takes 5 days to connect and was allowed to grow.
    ….That’s pretty much it.

    Alexx Kay: Thankyou you fatastic bastard. I was coming up with all sorts of ideas in the shower after reading this article. Dreaming up new TBS games that require people to do things. Anyway, this looks very interesting. Thanks!

    Pidesco: Nevermind Portugal, Colonization didn’t even include SLAVERY. Quite a major topic of those times to be missed out, especially as the potential to enslave the natives was missed…..

  32. Larington says:

    I dunno, as much as a more significant representation of slavery might make the game more accurate, I doubt it would make it better. Whats that saying, about how you know its done not because theres nothing left to add, but because theres nothing left to take away…

    Thanks for the responses with regards to my earlier question btw. Personally, I always got the impression that the other empires were designed to act, somewhat naturally, and wouldn’t be aiming to trigger independence since A) it’d suck to have that decision taken away from you and B) if I remember theres supposed to be a deadline (Though that may just be the scoreboard thing I thinking of “Early Independence”) of some sort where one of the other empires will eventually declare independence bringing the whole shebang down on you as well. I could be wrong on that however as its been a while since I last played it.

  33. malkav11 says:

    I really loved the Mac version of Colonization. The whole colonist mechanic really grabs me in a way no other game has really replicated. Really hard game to properly win, though. That Royal Expeditionary Force absolutely smashes your regular colonial forces – your only real hopes are a) the special independence army troops generated based on your loyalty figures and b) the eventual intercession of a foreign power.

  34. King Pod of France says:

    For what I remember, it’s quite easy to “trick” where they come — ie they all land on a swamp square next to a heavily fortied mountain city, etc. But that’s a “dodgy A.I.” issue again. It’s a shame you’re forced into independence. Why can’t the King love me like all of his other sons? Make me into a proper Colony? Why Daddy, why?

    Larington: I wasn’t really after gameplay additions, I just wanted to point out there’s a lot about the New World that is ignored in the game. Such a pity, such a promising game.

    Infact there appears to be a lot of half-finished remakes. All of them look very promising in very different ways, but at the end of the day what we’re all really yearning for is Sid and Brian to bash their heads together and make a Col2.

  35. sinister agent says:

    The French are a deceptively powerful faction – their native-friendly ways allow you to expand early on without worrying about upsetting the natives, and they can continue to trade profitably with the natives (find those Incas, fast) long after everyone else has built one road too many and brought the Aztecs down on them.

    Also, you can essentially use the natives as mercenaries if you play your cards right. Anyone can do it, but the French have the advantage as they usually haven’t annoyed them as much. Sell a tribe a load of muskets and watch them wreak havoc on those pesky Spaniards.

    Then there are those glorious few games where the price of silver crashes in La Rochelle, so you can buy thousands of tonnes of it and flog it to the Dutch for a 900% profit. Then buy a load of mercenaries and attack, reclaiming the silver so you can sell it again to the English. Suckers.

    Oh, you’ve got me wanting to play it again now, you fiend. It’s still a highly addictive game.

    I think its greatest trick was role reversal, particularly if you’re the Spanish. At the start of the game, your soldiers are all more powerful than the natives, and your cannon can wipe them out in the right position, but their terrain bonuses and sheer numbers can wreak havoc on your forces. But come the revolution, even your srongest soldiers are weaker than the worst Imperial troops – but you get the terrain bonus, and should have superior numbers if you’ve any sense. It’s a neat little change of perspective, and forces you to use superior strategies, where with civ (and I love civ, don’t get me wrong) you just need to build the most powerful unit and you’ll crush everything in your path.

    I really hate the way the AI loiters constantly around your colonies, mind.

  36. MeestaNob! says:

    I adored Colonisation at the time, and even then marked it higher than Civilisation.

    However, even then I never understood why you were subtlety pushed by an invisible power towards independence. You were never encouraged to be an expansion of the empire, you were always destined to be a precocious child who eventually got too big for his father to put over his knee.

    I think the designers were afraid of tackling the slavery issue, but I for one would have been fascinated to see how it could have been handled.

    The AI doesn’t need to fight you, or try to race you to establishing independence, it just needs to be. If it gets in your way, crush it, if not, trade like Ferengi in heat. Anything that benefits you.

    More options for dealing with natives (for good or ill) would have been good too.

    I want Colonisation II more than Alpha Centauri II, and that is saying something, however my fear is that neither would satisfy my decades long desires, as numerous Civ sequels have steadfastly refused to address issues raised by fans, preferring to approach them from a different angle.

  37. Lucky says:

    “I want Colonisation II more than Alpha Centauri II, and that is saying something, however my fear is that neither would satisfy my decades long desires, as numerous Civ sequels have steadfastly refused to address issues raised by fans, preferring to approach them from a different angle.”

    What did Civ IV do other than get rid of layers of micromanagement and a broken corruption system?

  38. Horatius says:

    There’s a strange zeitgeist thing going on where all these retrospectives are being published at the same time they’ve been running through my head.

    I think one of the best aspects to Colonization was the wonderfully simple, yet clear pixel art. Civilization II was the superstar around the corner, but honestly, it looks like rubbish today, Col still looks charming.

  39. moromete says:

    Man, I played and played this over and over eager to get a better score and title at the end. I play it from time to time but the appeal is much diminished. Why? Because I have hit the dreaded objects limit, a point when no new object can enter the Colonisation world unless another one is destroyed…

  40. Pete Wilton says:

    V enjoyable read Alec. Col was one of those strategy games I missed in my intermittent sampling of non-consoledom (hopping straight from obsessive playing of Settlers 2 to even-more obsessive playing of Civ II). More games should be made about PROGRESS and the pursuit of happiness, more I say! :-)

  41. Him says:

    On a somewhat related note, I see there’s an expansion out for Anno 1701 – and that looks like it channels the spirit of Colonisation quite nicely so I’m off to grab the Gold Edition from in a few days. Until then, back into the black hole of Armageddon Empires…

  42. Dan Forever says:

    Troy! I have my copy of Conquest of the New World ripped to iso so that I can run it through DOSBox whenever the fancy takes me! t’was an awesome game that one, sucked up many years of my youth. I actually found out only recently that it’s a clone of a little known game called “colonization” that I have never had the pleasure of playing….

  43. Sir Podder Raleigh says:

    I haven’t been to bed yet. I spent all night playing Anno 1503 after someone mentioned it on this thread…. Annoyingly, there’s a bug that won’t let me progress in the campaign. Grr.

  44. Veloxi says:

    Ah Colonization…such a wonderful game. Now I need to load it up and play it again. The mid-late 90’s was such a golden age of gaming…[sigh]…

  45. roflmonkrofl says:

    Wow…floods back the memories for me. I feel like almost playing this now. Strangely enough I caught wind of this from some Spanish MMORPG players…who made fun of me one day for enjoying Sid Meier’s works. :) Cheezy games ftw. ( btw..I have a copy of this on disc, kinda glad my dad was a great nerd back then.. before the internet became a “virus” and pc’s are bad now.) LOL.

  46. Gap Gen says:

    Good shout on the game, but may I ask what’s wrong with the soothing midi warblings of the game’s native soundtrack?

  47. alphaxion says:

    this review caused me to write about by own cathartic retro obsession of late.

    link to


    The mid 90’s were indeed a great era for PC gaming!

  48. KindredPhantom says:

    The wonders in colonization were great, you could discover around 3 fountains of youth, good times.

    The best was the music, it is so great. I only discovered the game a few years ago and i do find my self playing it sometimes.

  49. Chandrose says:

    Just found the site, so I’m new to these parts. Articles like this one are going to keep me coming back. Good read.

  50. Gap Gen says:

    Aye, the Fountain of Youth tune is called Old Joe Clark, which is a great one to play very fast, with electric effects.