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Digital Subscriptions > Tabletop Gaming > March 2018 (#16) > The Story of Civilization

The Story of Civilization

In a rare interview, designer Francis Tresham reveals how one of the most revolutionary, influential and celebrated board games of all time came to be

In 1980, a board game called Civilization was published in the UK by a company called Hartland Trefoil. Created by the company’s founder, Francis Tresham, Civilization was the whole of recorded human history packed into a box; each player controlled a single nation from the invention of agriculture in around 8000 BC until the arrival of the Roman Empire in middle of the third century, expanding and advancing their people as they discovered new technology. Civilization was a revolution in gaming, introducing a level of depth and complexity never seen before and pioneering the civilisation-building genre that would go on to flourish and is today populated by games as diverse as Through the Ages, Twilight Imperium and 7 Wonders.

Civilization wasn’t Tresham’s first published game. In 1974 he had invented an entirely different genre with 1829, a lengthy simulation of operating and trading stock in railway companies that gave rise to the niche but cherished 18xx series. The following year saw the release of a lesser-known abstract strategy game, Kingdoms. His interest in designing more complex games for older players was sparked by a combination of encountering 1964’s Acquire, Sid Sackson’s classic game about investing in hotel chains, and being unimpressed by the ‘unbalanced’ gameplay of mainstream offerings of the time.

“We should not forget that there were precursors, including honourable ones, [such as] Dover Patrol, that hinted strongly at the glories that could be, but you needed eyes to see and the mindset that could detach itself from established custom,” Tresham recalls today. “Some were prejudicial, such as ‘real boys play rugger not board games’.

“Sid Sackson had already devised an excellent game based on building hotel chains and this became a flagship in 3M’s range of bookcase games – most of which were very good apart from a few duds. Then Monarch Avalon came along in the wake of SPI, both of whose growing ranges were heavily cantered on combat simulations of various types. These were wargames and this nullified their appeal to ‘peaceful’ players and, of course, they were strictly two-player creations. Before this we had Monopoly, technically a ghastly invention because it became unbalanced long before its official conclusion. Give that game its due, though. Many a family survived the blitz by playing Monopoly in blacked out air raid shelters.”

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About Tabletop Gaming

Dive into March’s issue of Tabletop Gaming read our whopping exclusive interview with Blood Rage mastermind Eric Lang about his next legendary strategy game, the incredible Rising Sun. You won’t want to miss it! As Pandemic turns 10 years old, we catch up with series creator Matt Leacock and some of the designers, artists and publishers that helped bring the groundbreaking co-op hit to life, hearing how a simple idea became one of the biggest board games of all time. Also taking a look back is Francis Tresham, the inventor of original empire-building epic Civilization. In a rare interview, he tells us about turning his fascination with history into a brand new genre and the lasting legacy of the game almost four decades on. The next instalment in our ever-popular How We Made feature meets up with Splendor designer Marc André to peek behind-the-scenes of his chip-collecting gem, discovering how his childhood hatred of chess and love of maths inspired one of the most absorbing card games in years. There’s plenty more to discover inside the latest issue of Tabletop Gaming, from tips on taking a board game holiday and a look at Legend of Korra sports game Pro-Bending Arena to new columns diving deep into indie games you might’ve missed and the history of the tabletop’s most influential mechanics. Not to mention our regular buffet of hobby tips, designer interviews and more. Of course, there’s no shortage of reviews, either – this month we give our definitive thoughts on Dinosaur Island, Escape the Dark Castle, Altiplano, Transatlantic, Favelas, Dungeon Draft, Kitchen Rush, Elite: Dangerous RPG, Empires, Nusfjord, Time Barons, Coaster Park and many, many more.