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Beyond the Sword is the Costco of expansion packs: You’ll get more than you asked for, and for a really top-notch experience, you’ll have to suss out pockets of quality rather than stuffing yourself with sheer quantity. There’s a lot going on in this game--and there’s a lot to like.
This Civilization IV update twists the game’s global-dominance strategy with new nations, buildings, and other alterations. Changes to the franchise’s fundamental gameplay turn this iteration of Civilization into various new games, from space conquests to fantasy adventures. Without a good index, the add-ons can feel overwhelming, but with persistence you’ll find new favorite ways to play.
Some of Beyond the Sword's scenarios essentially add new graphics to the basic Civ IV rules. But others make drastic changes. You'll flounder a little, digging through everything without a comprehensive guide, but you'll find new favorites too.
Boldly go beyond a typical Civ game in one of many completely converted modes.
Beyond the Sword’s basics are similar to Civilization IV’s, but some clever changes improve an already excellent game. As before, you use a turn-based strategy model to build up a society from meager beginnings. In the end, you can win by defeating others with a military, getting the most votes in a U.N. popularity contest, dominating the world economy, and more.
A single game, made up of tiny turns that last between seconds and minutes, can stretch to 10 or 15 hours. One of the new updates lets you begin in a later stage, moving past some of the dull opening turns. It can be a lot more fun to buy cities, units, and technologies from a fixed allotment, instead of earning your way up from the dawn of civilization.
Beyond the Sword adds additional victory conditions too, although most are moderate updates. For example, instead of just being the first to launch a spaceship to colonize a foreign planet, you now have to add enough engines to be the first ship to reach Alpha Centauri. The upshot is that a faster ship can win even if launched after an opponent’s.
Outside the standard games, a dozen new scenarios provide overwhelming variety. You can play in space with altered rules, swapping the global map for a star chart. Tactical combat scenarios add dozens of new units re-create historical situations (such as WWII) or take fighting into a sci-fi future.