Designed by Christian Marcussen
Published by WizKids!
2-4 Players | 180-240 Minutes
In this highly anticipated update to the original 2012 game of the same title, players take on the role of some of history’s greatest civilizations. From humble beginnings, expand your empire flexing your power, prestige and influence. Seek your place in history by developing technology, evolving your culture, spreading your influence and seeking victory in war. There are many paths to victory, but is Clash of Cultures the right path for you?
Growing up I spent hours in front of my PC playing the game Sid Meier’s: Civilization. I started playing in the evening, and before I knew it, the sun was coming up. I am aware of the different Sid Meier games available and their own rabid fan base, but Clash of Cultures was sold to me as the most literal interpretation of the classic video game to date. While I never had the opportunity to play the original game released by Z-man Games, I am fully aware of both the visual and mechanical updates available in the new release. I’m going to approach this review allowing Clash of Cultures: Monumental Edition to stand on its own merits apart from other civ-building games or seeking to compare it to the previous edition.
That said, I know many Clash of Cultures fans will be pleased to know that the Monumental Edition comes with the much sought after Civilization expansion. This included expansion allows players to take the helm of some of history’s greatest civilizations and their most infamous leaders. An addition that brings asymmetrical player abilities, some unique strategy and setup options and a lot of personality to the game.
In Clash of Cultures: Monumental Edition, players start small with high aspirations. Throughout the game, players will carefully choose their actions as they explore the land and seek to grow their culture in both size and knowledge. Let’s take a look at how it plays, what I thought and hopefully determine if this massive civilization builder is right for you.
HOW IT PLAYS
Players begin the game with a simple village and a single settler unit. The play area is composed of a number of hidden tiles waiting to be explored.
The building blocks of growth in the game initially revolve around the ability to gather resources. Resources are gathered based on both the size of a particular city and their proximity. Resources represent the raw materials necessary to equip your culture with the tools to both grow in size and knowledge. As your civilization grows in experience and understanding, you’ll discover new ways to achieve new technological and philosophical goals.
The game takes place over 6 or 7 ages. Each age consists of 3 rounds and a status phase. Each round allows a player to perform 3 main actions consisting of 6 primary choices. These primary actions include advancing on a tech track, founding a city, activating a city, moving your units, increasing a city’s happiness and influencing culture. I won’t delve too deeply into the details of each of these actions, but I will briefly discuss a few to provide a better feel for the choices you’ll be making.
The Advance option allows you to trade resources to advance on your personal tech board. These boards consist of 9 different fields of study as well as 3 unique government choices. As players advance on these fields they may receive instant bonuses or unlock future opportunities. Achieving these new advances provide end game points, so pursuing knowledge is not only a necessity to achieve other goals in the game, but a legitimate primary focus… if you so choose. You may seek agricultural growth to increase food storage, pursue warfare to improve your military tactics or seek spiritual growth that increases happiness and discounted futures developments just to name a few.
Players may choose to found a new city or activate an existing city. Activating a city means you can gather resources in direct relation to the size and location of your city, construct a building in a city or recruit units into that city. Your city’s level is determined based on the number of structures in that city. Building up your city is both hugely beneficial to production and satisfying because it just looks cool.
Each city is made up of uniquely sculpted modular buildings that piece together forming your city as it grows. A larger city will be able to gather more resources, but can only be as large as the number of cities you possess as a whole. You must grow wider before you grow deeper.
The game features 250 individual miniatures for your tactile enjoyment. Many of those miniatures are military units. Some of these units require certain tech advancement to produce. In fact, military units can’t move around the board until you’ve developed tactics under the warfare tech tree. Once that bit of knowledge is achieved, your military units are free to both stand guard or move about the land looking for opponents to devour.
Even if you’re not looking for a fight, it’s likely you’ll eventually encounter one. The game features both barbarians and pirates that spawn at certain times throughout the game and you’ll have to deal with them. Each battle consists of rolling a single dice per unit. Each die-face has an attack value as well as an icon representing a “clash” ability for a certain type of unit. If you roll a clash icon featuring one of your units in battle you receive a battle bonus. Victory goes to the player rolling the highest attack value and casualties are determined by that total attack value divided by 5. Additionally, players may have action cards that can supplement a battle in a variety of ways.
Players may also increase the happiness of a city on their turn. Happy cities are productive cities. Each round a city can be activated without affecting it’s overall happiness, but you might find yourself in need of gathering resources and producing military units in the same round. This amount of overwork forces the city to be less happy. Cities can find themselves in 3 states of happiness: happy, neutral or angry. An angry city limits your production, while a happy city provides an additional resource.
Additionally, players may attempt to influence other cities. If you are able to meet certain proximity requirements, players can attempt to influence opponents cities by successfully rolling dice. When a city is successfully influenced, the active player gets to replace one of that city’s buildings with the same building of their color. Each building piece scores points at the end of the game. Also, players may attempt to influence their own cities to combat the influence of another player.
The status phase follows each age, allowing players to announce any achievements, receive a free advance on their tech track as well as few other upkeep actions.
In addition to the 8 standard city pieces, players may have the opportunity to build one of the 8 wonders in their city adding additional benefits as well as substantial end game points.
The game ends after the final status phase is resolved or a player has no more units left in the game. Points are tallied based on objectives achieved, tech advancements, city pieces in your color, wonders created, certain event cards and defeated opponent leaders.
I previously mentioned the 250 miniatures. This is really the game’s big feature. There are 6 different military units and 16 different building pieces. While some are really well done, overall it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The city’s pieces are all fantastically produced. I love how they fit together as you grow your city. The game pieces come in 4 different colors (6 if you count both the gray barbarians and black pirates), but the wonders have a gold wash that really helps them stand out.
The problem really just exists in 2 of the military units. The cavalry and leader units feature a spear and flag respectively. They are just too thin in certain areas and don’t appear as they should. While this doesn’t necessarily ruin my enjoyment of the game – I just expected a little more from a game that does so much right, visually.
All the player boards, tiles and player aids look and feel solid. While the tech board isn’t double layered, it is die-cut so your cubes set nicely beside each achievement.
The various tokens, markers and dice aren’t exceptional, but they’re solid and they get the job done.
The rulebook for the game does an amazing job explaining all the intricacies of the game with some great examples and visual cues. These are really great resources for any challenges you face over your first few games.
Again, the production certainly gets the job done and doesn’t detour any of my enjoyment of the game… but I had ultra-high expectations and these components didn’t quite meet me there.
The game’s artwork is solid and fits the theme nicely. The board tiles are nicely illustrated and the leader cards all feature unique artwork of each character.
The graphic design and iconography are pretty good throughout. While the type is a little small in some places, it’s a fair necessity and I didn’t have any problems with it. While the iconography itself is clear, some of the markers and tokens took me a little out of the theme and mood of the game. I’m being nit-picky here.
Overall, the artwork and design is well done and does its job to instruct, inform and draw you into the theme.
I’ll come out and say the obvious: Clash of Cultures: Monumental Edition isn’t for everyone. This is a game that requires investment and commitment from a regular group of gamers before you can really enjoy the benefits in this ambitious box. Let me break down some of the bigger ideas and concepts to help you determine if it’s right for you.
The theme is really strong here. All your choices are fully immersed in the game’s idea and it really draws you in. And the choices really cater to the player who wants freedom. You are responsible for your pathway for success or failure. There are so many ways to approach this and you can quickly get lost without a plan… but getting lost doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not having fun. I did love the opportunity to mold my culture the way I wanted to see it grow. Unfortunately, some of my “brilliant” plans led my culture to sputter and floundered in mediocrity.
Players each receive objective and action cards throughout the game. Like in any game, objectives can provide a baseline for your strategy – or at least a starting point for success. I often felt these cards were a little all over the place. Some goals were realistic while others were immediately dismissed. The action cards provide a military and non-military benefit. So while they are flexible to an extent, I felt you needed to be in the right place at the right time to really benefit from them.
For me, I preferred targeting my tech tracks and using those triggers to guide me. I’m a self-described euro-gamer and this felt a lot more comfortable to me. I did appreciate the engine building element to it. Targeting certain tech advancements could lead to additional free and discounted advancements. I liked that certain tech advancements unlocked new military units as well different strategies (be it infrastructure, cultural, military or government).
One of the game’s key mechanics involves how these tech advancements are executed. Each player’s tech board has a spot for 3 cubes. When a new advancement is achieved you draw one of these cubes and place it next to the advancement. When all 3 cubes are spent you draw an event card. These event cards can be beneficial, but most likely serve as a way to cause trouble to all the players on the board and keep things spicy. This is where barbarians and pirates are spawned as well as plagues and famine spread. While it’s not anything revolutionary, it’s a mechanic I really enjoyed here.
It’s probably time to discuss the “clash” in Clash of Cultures. The military aspect of the game is obviously more tactical with a good amount of luck thrown in. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t get me too excited. I thought the dice with the unit icons on them was interesting. Achieving those clash bonuses could really spur you on to victory. I also thought the way you determine fatalities was pretty thematic. Dividing your total attack value by 5 to determine your opponents fatalities seemed fairly realistic. You can lose a battle but your warriors can still survive. Pursuing military victories isn’t a necessity to the game, but I know a lot of players will be looking to make this a primary focus. I did go all-in on the military in one game, but it left me feeling like I was missing a big chunk of the game. Even if you want to pursue military dominance, I would still recommend a balanced approach.
There were a number of different circumstances that led to some of my early games falling a little flat. Four games in and I still found myself making minor rule errors. There are a lot of little rules and nearly everything on the action cards and tech advancements create variations to these rules. While a lot of these rule changes benefited me, there were so many times I often overlooked them and missed the benefit. The same could be said for the action cards. It was common for a turn later to discover I missed out on a military benefit that would have given me an additional die to roll.
While there is a bit of luck in the game, I felt that mostly enhanced the play. Military battles could always be mitigated by bringing more troops. With the event cards, you never know when a plague is going to break out. But there was always something you could do to combat it.
I think my biggest advice is to make sure you have a group that is willing to invest. Uneducated and inexperienced players often made poor decisions that left a lot of the entertainment value in the game off the table. I really think you’re looking at half a dozen plays before you get comfortable with your decisions and how you want to grow your civilization. And that would be for all players involved. This is a big, pricey game and if you really want to enjoy it, you have to have the right players.
DIFFERENT PLAYER COUNTS
Clash of Cultures was surprisingly good with only 2 players. This is definitely something you could do with 2. I think you miss a lot of the interaction that comes with 3 and 4, but it still plays well. Four players was fine, but depending on the players involved, it could tend to go a little long for me. I really think 3 is the sweet spot. Games go by quickly enough and there is still plenty of opportunity for battle, trades and stand-offs. The play area does adjust for your player count so it always felt tight enough for the number of players on the board.
With the 15 unique civilizations and the huge variety of advancements (not to mention the military tactics) – there is plenty to keep you busy for a long time. The flexible player count also adds to that replayability, creating new tensions and new experiences.
Clash of Cultures: Monumental Edition has a lot going for it. There are so many choices in the game to really help make it your own. Each player is going to have the opportunity to employ their own strategies and taking into account the asymmetrical, historical civilizations – each game has the potential to be a different experience. Everything was in place to be a huge win, but I found myself wanting to be able to do more. That’s typically a sign of a great game, but I often had a hard time getting my civilization moving in the right direction. Looking back at the end of the game, I felt like I didn’t really accomplish as much as I wanted to. I definitely think a lot of this was due to my inexperience, but I always seemed to run into that issue in some aspect with each play. It left me feeling a little unsatisfied.
I think the right audience knows who they are and I think for them, this could be a huge home run. There is a lot going on in this game and I think some are going to be in love with the choices, the components and the experience. The theme is really solid. I felt completely immersed in the story the game is trying to tell. Setup isn’t a huge undertaking and the game could potentially play pretty quickly with the right players. I do like the flexibility and openness the game provides. This is the kind of experience where you dream about the potential of your next game… imagine if I build this huge army… or what if I took a spiritual approach and dabbled in governments.
While it wasn’t a resounding success for me, I respect its ambition and I enjoyed it for the better part. I do know this is one that will definitely rile up the inner war monger for a lot of people and can comfortably say, for those players, that this is one that will make you happy for a long time.