Orcs Must Die 2 has eaten more of my life than I want to admit in front of my employers.
- No mobile/pocket/Facebook games: I've been a Tetris fanatic for decades, while games like FarmVille and Angry Birds enjoy huge audiences. Are they addictive? Yes. Are they in the same league as major MMOs, RPGs, or the best FPS's? No. A list of addictive browser/mobile games is just as valid as a PC focus, but it's pointless to try and compare across such different spaces.
- PC-Centric: Cross-platform games are included on this list. Console-only titles aren't.
- Franchises vs. specific titles: Game publishers rarely leave a successful title standing all by its lonesome. Additional gameplay and features may be added via expansion packs, full sequels, or online updates, but one way or the other, new content gets made. This makes it difficult to split the difference between multiple sequels and a single title. Rather than try, we've weighted them equally. When one game in a series particularly stands out, we've mentioned it individually. If multiple products are similarly habit-forming, we name the series.
Let's get started...
Civilization: (I - V, Alpha Centauri)
Most of the computer franchises that I loved in my childhood are dust. Space Quest, Quest for Glory, Wing Commander, and Ultima are all relics of another age. Sid Meier's Civilization is a happy exception to this sad state of affairs. The original game that I played on my 386 is long gone, but the sequels have endured the intervening years in remarkable form. Civilization II, which debuted when Windows 95 was still the primary OS shipping on systems, can apparently still run under Windows 7.
The original that started it all...
Civilization is a classic 4X game (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate). It wasn't the first series to implement turn-based gaming, but it became a ubiquitous example of deep, empire-building strategy. The first game allowed for ahem, creative exploitation; in a joint game, my best friend and I once discovered railroads in 1200 BC. Completely random warfare results meant it was possible for a Greek Phalanx to defeat a 20th century battleship -- and yes, I write from experience. Later titles sharply increased the role of espionage, diplomacy, trade negotiations, environmental changes, and added racial factors, religious influences, and a great deal more.
Each game has introduced enough changes and additions to stand independently of its fellows, with their own unique play styles and capabilities. What they share is a finely tuned balance of short-term goals, random events, and long-term planning. Whether you're planning a war, racing to discover new technologies, or fine-tuning the economy, it's easy to get lost in the lure of "just one more turn."
Civilization III introduced new unit level mechanics, an entirely new graphics engine, unit animations, and added the concept of culture as a gameplay mechanic.
Civilization IV made religious affiliation part of the game, expanded the use of Great People, was built to allow for 3D zooming from close-ups to space-based views, and fine-tuned a number of characteristics thanks to extensive use of Python scripting. Added bonus: The game was narrated by Leonard Nimoy.
Civilization V revamped unit movement, city squares (now hexagons), simplified water movement, allowed cities to defend themselves (and attack nearby units), and added city-states -- neutral cities that can be allied with for mutual gain and defense.
Each iteration of Civilization has built upon the title that came before it, but the previous games stand firmly on their own two feet, even after later titles were made available.