Last Updated on February 8, 2024
I’ve been playing Sid Meier games for nearly 40 years. Basic recollections place my first exposure to his title as about 1990, when I first encountered Railroad Tycoon running on a friend’s Amiga 500.
However, more in-depth research reveals that the first Sid Meier title I played was Solo Flight, on the Commodore 64 (I found it tricky to land; my Dad was very good at it, however). Meier was also involved to varying degrees with F-15 Strike Eagle (which I didn’t own) and F-19 Stealth Fighter (which I did).
I could probably write a whole different article about that game.
He’s been involved with 45 or so titles since 1984, designing and programming on most major platforms, but Sid Meier (born February 24th, 1954) didn’t build a lasting impact on gaming until he looked at board games by Francis Tresham of Hartland Trefoil Ltd, and thought “this could work on a computer.”
As a result, Civilization sold an astounding 6 million copies after release in 1991. That’s the original PC and 16-bit version, not the sequels. But Meier has plenty of other games you’ve probably heard of, from Silent Service to Railroad Tycoon, Colonization, or even Pirates!
Flying high at Microprose
With former pilot Bill Stealey, Meier founded Microprose in 1982 to develop flight-based games for 8-bit systems. With a heavy military element, Microprose went on to issue flight, sea, and land-based combat similulators, with Meier developing AI algorithms for enemy units.
By the mid 1980s, Microprose was garnering huge respect from gamers and reviewers, with a succession of well-received titles. Later, Meier founded Firaxis with Jeff Briggs in 1996, overseeing sequels and remakes for newer platforms.
Civilizations need Railroads
Apparently simple games at first, Meier’s titles hide a surprising level of complexity that keeps you coming back again and again. But they’re not wholly serious affairs, and retain a sense of humour (the Elvis Entertainment Advisor in Civilization II, for example), from in-jokes to cameo appearances by Sid Meier in his games. For instance Sid occasionally appears in some form in the Civilization series; he’s been seen as a science advisor, and later in Civilization VI he provides a tutorial. I first spotted him in the opening screens of Railroad Tycoon and later a likeness appeared on promotional material for Sid Meier’s Railroads (this game was released on Android and iOS in 2023).
Meier’s vision as a designer and skill at building development teams (often including Brian Reynolds) paved the way for subsequent RTS and 4X series such as Command and Conquer and Age of Empires. Meanwhile, the flight simulator genre – largely limited to the Microsoft Flight Simulator – wouldn’t have got off the ground without Meier’s influence.
3 Sid Meier games to try today
If you haven’t tried a Sid Meier game yet, now is the time to try. I started with Railroad Tycoon, and while this isn’t currently available to buy (believe me, there really is something special about linking up two towns, building a station in each, sending a train to carry goods between them and watching the pennies roll in!), you can find other Sid Meier games on GOG.com and Steam.
Sid Meier’s Civilization II
While the game series continues to this day (although I’m not sold on the new mobile Eras & Allies title), my feeling is that Civilization II was the best. As well as being graphically superior to the original, it advanced gameplay considerably (it wan’t until Civilization VI revolutionized gameplay with zones).
Civilization II offers more conquest options, improved economy and diplomacy and a larger map, resulting in an unforgettable (and long!) gaming experience. Oh, and there’s Nuclear Gandhi, although Sid says this isn’t a bug, it’s simply perception…
Sid Meier’s Colonization
Colonization gives you the choice of playing as England, France, Spain, or Holland with control of early settlers to the New World. Running from 1492 until a successful Declaration of Independence, you need to master trade and combat and diplomacy with First Nation civilizations and rival European kingdoms to generate enough support to declare independence and overthrow the monarch’s forces.
The game was remade as Civilization IV: Colonization in 2008.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
A sort of unofficial sequel to Civilization II, the gameplay moves to an alien planet and forces the player to manage relationships human factions and native life. Interesting political and religious philosophies drive the NPC factions, and you’re also charged with juggling diplomacy, future technologies, unit design, and a new dimension of population management.
If I’m honest, Alpha Centauri is probably my most favourite Sid Meier game. It isn’t just Civ II overlaid onto an alien planet; the science fiction element is baked in, making it a truly memorable experience.
You can learn more about Sid Meier in his book, Sid Meier’s Memoir!
(A previous version of this article was published on Bright Hub, since moved to Altered Gamer)
Gaming since 1984, retro gaming since 2004. Contributes to Linux Format magazine, TechRadar.com, and other publications.