Civilization is not so much a game, but an alternate universe. In fact, I've played so much Civ V that you could argue that, at times, it becomes the main universe I live in, and this other place where I write, eat, and occasionally see my wife and kids is the "alternate". Unlike many gamers, I became a civ-aholic late in the series history. I found the early versions a bit too ponderous, dry, and complex to constitute "fun". All that changed for me with the streamlined gameplay and enhanced graphics of version five; now the complexity was still (largely) there, but hidden under the hood until you were ready to graduate to it.
As good and all consuming as CivV can be, it was not without its flaws. The AI controlling other world rulers often seemed schizophrenic, turning on a dime from friend to foe without reason. More seasoned players complained about the lack of religion and other features that gave previous versions of the game depth and complexity. When I first tried the game I couldn't imagine being able to take into account any more variables, but I have to admit that after a year of intense playing I had put CivV away. I, too, was looking for something new to give CivV some new verve.
The expansion set "Gods & Kings" refines and expands the CivV experience: It balances game play, sparks new strategies with interesting new additions, and then makes things a bit more "deep" through the inclusion of religion and espionage. It isn't a full reworking of the game, but it is a significant series of enhancements particularly of interest to those of us who have played the original game to the point that it has begun to get a bit stale or limited.
Religion and espionage are new resources that impact on the game, though generally not so much as might be expected, particularly from the former. In the Renaissance religion wasn't just a matter of faith, it was intrinsically tied to culture, military and the State. Yet here, religion is something of an afterthought; a new set of plates that need to be kept spinning. Move fast enough and you can create your own religion, assigning to it special powers that will help propel the growth of your civ. For instance, it might give you more happiness or production from being in peacetime or from war, depending on whether you follow Venus or Mars. Faith also impacts on your ability to interact with city-states. For instance, Austria has the general power to annex city-states through "arranged marriages". However, you can have all the gold in the world, if the city-state follows a different religion you won't be able to pull off the coup .
Religion feels slapped-on, not fully integrated into the rest of the game. This may have more to do with the lack of clear explanations within the game, but it seems that most of the time a religion can help you, but rarely hurt you. For instance, I wasn't aware of losing any units to conversion, and when a city of mine converted to another religion it merely slowed down my religious growth, it didn't seem to significantly impact on the rest of the geo-political-military situation. An annoying "feature" of the game is that enemy prophets wandering through your nation can't be captured or countered without starting a war. This gives you reason to build religious units to reconvert your cities. Instead of being a game changer, though, religion feels more like an idea that was good on paper, but in practice just makes "work" for you. The impact is not strong enough to really care about it that much.
Spies are managed from a pull-down menu, not with unit pieces. As your civ grows you gain more spies. You can 'place" them in your cities as counter-spies or send them to other cities to ferret out information or, in the case of city-states, rig elections. It was never clear to me exactly how I earned spy points, and much of the information they provided was not startling. Occasionally, you'll be able to steal enemy research, but this is more of a bonus than a strategy on which to bank. On the other hand, the influence wielded by spies in city-state politics did help influence the game, as did the diplomatic issues that arose when spies get caught.
New leaders and new civilizations round out the expansion. Carthaginians, Mayans, Celts and others give you new challenges, and nine new leaders give the game new "personality".
Additionally, there are two new types of city-states: Religious and mercantile, providing new reasons to take allies and vassal states.
There are lots of new units: "Great War" bombers and fighters, machine gunners (a one-hex-ranged unit), Gatling guns, and African Forest Elephants, just to name a few of the combat pieces. On the sea there are now melee and ranged combat ships and Admirals. This makes the sea-faring elements of the game more dynamic and managing coastal cities more challenging.
Thirteen new buildings are also available. Constabularies are used to counter spies and keep other civs from stealing your technology. Religious buildings generate faith. Others enhance production.
Three new scenarios add some spice to the mix: In the 'Fall of Rome' you play as either an Imperial defender or as part of the barbarian horde. Medieval pits the Europeans against the Mongols and Turks in a semi-historical sim. Finally, 'Empire of the Smoky Skies' is a steam-punk like scenario. Each gives new ways to mix it up in the Civ universe. If you're tired of world domination, and who isn't, then these three custom expansions offer new kinds of fun.
With summer now in full bloom, what better time for this expansion pack. Fire it up, turn on the AC, and watch the hours disappear as you become, once again, fully enmeshed and immersed in the wonder that is Civilization.