In terms of gaming's forefathers, we hear so much, and rightly so, about the living legend that is Nintendo visionary, Shigeru Miyamoto. What you probably won't hear so much about is the guy who became the second inductee of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame after him. In 1991 Sid Meier gave the world Civilization and the strategy genre had a new messiah.
For those not familiar with the Civ format, it's a historical, turn-based strategy game in which you must take the reins of a classic civilization and leader to build an empire "that lasts the test of time." And when they say test, they're not kidding. For there are many other regimes just as intent on world domination and you may find yourself neighbored with Stalin, Gengis Khan or Julius Caesar himself.
As you would expect, since Civ is on version 4 these days, the graphical standard is a highly interactive 3D world and you are in charge of everything from building cities, adjusting the research rate for new technologies and fighting off those pesky barbarian invasions. Whether you decide to conquer the world either by sheer cultural magnificence, landing the first spaceship or via bloodthirsty brute force is just one of many strategic decisions you will need to make.
Most of Civilization IV is still there but Beyond the Sword has moved the goalposts. In comes espionage and you can now gain significant advantages by placing emphasis on developing it. Opposition leaders, even on Chieftain difficulty (that's piss-easy to you and I) are more devious and will sign 'Open Borders' agreements, simply to scout out your undefended cities to the highest bidder. New Civilizations are on hand too, with over 12 new ones including Maya and Portugal and new leaders such as Peter of Russia and Winston Churchill (no introduction required).
However the most crucial change is the introduction of 'Random Events', which as the name suggests, enters a roulette wheel of fortune and mishap, secret quests and lucrative incentives for their completion. You could be given anything from profitable prairie dogs to conquering neighboring territory. And it is this which effectively creates a whole new spin to what was already a stellar and engrossing game. Added to even more scenarios from World War II to space wars and it's evident that this is more than just a data update.
Criticisms can only come in the form of cheated full-price CIV IV buyers and with the versatility of online modders adding even more civilizations and twists to the game, this can only be recommended for what it is: an essential update for Civ fans and strategy fans alike.