When I first went to college in 1994 (egads that seems like forever ago now!), the administration tried something different with our freshman class: we all got laptops on the first day. Now, they weren’t free — I think we ended up paying $2400 apiece over four years for these buggers — but the concept of a whole campus that was computer-enabled was huge at the time. A year later, and the college got wired for the internet (although we never got this in our dorms, alas).
As crappy as those little laptops were compared to today’s standards, we loved those machines. You could lug them around to do your homework anywhere instead of your dorm room, bring them to class to take notes or (heh) play games, and generally feel like you were taking the first step into a much more technological age.
Because we all had the same computers, game sharing became prolific and popular. My friends were constantly engrossed in computer games instead of console titles, and we thrilled to some of the classics of the mid-90s: X-Com, Master of Magic, Jedi Knight, Command and Conquer, and Colonization.
Egads, how I did love Colonization. I’ve always been an on-again, off-again fan of the Civilization series, but those games usually lose their luster fairly quickly. I think it’s because I never liked the veeeery slow ramp up through the ages and technology that suddenly went exponentially fast at the end game. Colonization felt better, because you were put in one era and left there — the three-hundred-or-so year span from 1492 to 1792 in the New World.
Your mission was pretty simple: Build up an empire of colonies for your mother nation, and when you felt ready enough, to declare independence and fight to win it. The bulk of the game was in expanding your territory, engaging in buying and trading goods, and edging out the competition. There could and often were conflicts between the colonies and the natives, which had to be resolved either by diplomacy or force.
There was a lot more emphasis on creating goods and trade routes than in the Civilization series, and I always got a thrill in exploiting a new avenue for profit. But more than anything else, the game was a fertile ground for an inner story. I mean, sure, there’s a loose overarching one of a colony looking to become independent, but as with a lot of these types of games, the bulk of the real story grew in my head as the game unfolded. I’d imagine all sorts of vendettas and epic struggles that were played out on screen, and it wasn’t uncommon for me or my roommate to be up way past midnight to see what happened next.
While they did come out with a Civilization 4 variant of Colonization, I never tried it. I don’t think it could come close to the fun I had with the original, really. Even today, the graphics and basic gameplay are still pretty solid, and I’d love to see an iPhone port.