Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization Review - Death, Liberty, and Taxes
Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization is a standalone Civilization IV spinoff that aims to simulate running the New World colonies of a European power from founding through to independence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it reminds me a lot of the Anno games in that it is almost entirely about creating production and export chains. The game is basically a race between all the colony players to get their support for independence above 50%, declare independence, and then destroy the land forces that come to put down your rebellion. Your first attempt will quite likely end in failure because the strategy here has very little to do with what works in regular Civilization and the tutorial system is even more basic than in the other games.
Most Civ games have a variety of win conditions that strike different balances between aggressively fighting everyone around you, diplomacy, and focusing on domestic production. Colonization doesn't really bother with any of those. Fighting the other players is almost impossible to justify given that you need to preserve every ounce of military strength for your rebellion and there's so much empty land available that you'd hardly gain anything from conquering them. Diplomacy is similarly irrelevant because Europe has everything you need more readily available and no one will help you against them in the end anyway. Even building your local economy is something of a red herring since the most valuable outputs have no utility other than as trade goods and it's almost certainly impossible to achieve natural population growth at anywhere near the rate you can get by attracting new colonists.
Instead, the approach that works is to put all your energy into producing food and trade goods, then use those to get more people who can make more food and more trade goods. The trade goods are far more important, because they let you spend money to bribe new and skilled colonists to come to your cities. Those new colonists are more productive and, once you have a school, can train your existing crappy colonists to be as good as them. The game is basically a race to found cities near something valuable and cram them with people until they turn a profit, then repeat.
There's a little more to it since you also have to worry about increasing support for independence, building out a military, and a few other things, but if you've got enough cities making enough trade goods, it's relatively easy for everything else to figure itself out from the spare population. At least until you rebel, anyway. Clicking that button immediately prompts you to make a handful of significant choices about the policies of your new country towards things like slavery or democracy, then abruptly spawns all of your mother country's prepared units right off your coast.
The war that follows is mostly a check of your ability to survive the initial landings. Preparing anything like the number of troops that will land against you would be extremely difficult, but no reinforcements will ever arrive. As long as you've built up enough defenses to hold on to some of your main cities and have a way to keep producing troops, you'll win through attrition before long. You technically have the ability to build ships and try to prevent the enemy from ever landing, but the naval war is so hopelessly stacked against you that it seems pretty pointless to try. Sinking the enemy navy isn't necessary to win.
I had a good time overall, but I'm not sure there's much reason to play more than one complete game. Since this is trying to simulate a particular historical narrative, there's far less variation than in your typical 4X, and the limited number of options for map settings and starting colonies are unlikely to change that much. It does have a scenario play option that I assume was intended for player content, but out of the box it's just one game with a debug name. That lack of variety is really the one sticking point I've got with the game - it's fun and unique enough that I'd suggest most Civ fans try it out at least once, but the $20 price tag is awful value compared to any other game in the series. I'd suggest getting it either in a bundle or deeply on sale.
Time to beat: About 6 hours for a quick game