This 4X strategy clicker may be small, but it's eating up massive chunks of my time

An atom bomb exploding near a city
(Image credit: Ondrej Homola)

You won't be hearing from me for a while—I'm going to be quite busy clicking. That's because I started playing 4X city builder clicker Microcivilization this morning, and then I didn't stop. I played it before work, I played it while I was in a meeting at work, and I'm about to keep playing it over my lunch break.

I didn't expect to get so quickly drawn into this unassuming pixelated little strategy city builder. Things start out innocently enough: in the stone age, begin by foraging for food (by clicking) and building huts (by clicking). Research new technology for farming, cooking, and combat (by clicking and then waiting), build a market to earn gold, build a fort for defense, and—click—you've suddenly got a busy civilization going.

But things can turn south pretty quickly as your civilization encounters a crisis. These crises—barbarian raids, mammoth stampedes, deadly fires, communicable diseases, and occasionally all-out revolutions—are always exciting and frantic. Each disaster has a huge health bar you have to chip away at using your soldiers, archers, and other combat units, enhanced by whatever special abilities your buildings have stocked up. At the same time you need to protect your structures and citizens using your city's defensive capabilities, as the attack arrow on the crisis bar slowly approaches events like mass deaths or the destruction of buildings. 

While all this is happening, you need to regenerate spearmen, forts, and whatever else you're burning through in the fight, and spend gold to quickly buy more resources, all by madly clicking away. It's amazingly tense and surviving a crisis by the skin of your teeth is a huge relief. Each defeated crisis also grants you a new hero who will give your city a buff in combat, resource gathering, industry, or wealth. Over time you can collect dozens of these leaders (some from actual history like Cleopatra and Marco Polo) and even merge them to create new elite heroes.

My current president (well, monarch, I guess, because she wasn't elected by the masses, just dragged-and-dropped into power by me) generates 22% more wood each time I click, and reduces the risk of the next crisis by a full 20%! Unfortunately, when I have this ability of hers activated, 1 citizen in my city is killed every 2 seconds. You can see why she probably wouldn't have won an election with that kind of campaign promise, but her ability to stave off disaster in exchange for human sacrifice is worth it to me as long as I don't think about it.

At the end of that first primitive era is a massive crisis, much worse than anything you've faced, and if you survive it you can ascend to a new age, taking your leaders and heroes with you. Advance to the classical era, the medieval age, the renaissance, the industrial era, and even modern times, building new cities, learning new technologies, and battling against new crises like bombing runs from enemy airplanes to meteor strikes from gods themselves.

It's all pretty captivating and hard to stop playing because new unlocks are always just around the bend and the promise of surviving to a new era of civilization and technology is alluring. The pixel art and animation is fantastic, too, as you watch your tiny handful of citizens grow into a city packed with buildings and structures. Right before the angry herd of mammoths rush in and begin stomping all of it.

Microcivilization launched on Steam today in early access, and it's 10% off for the next week. And a little tip to save your clicking finger from someone who's literally still playing it while writing this: you can also just hold down A and S to generate food and buildings. Be warned: no matter how you click, you can always overdo it. Try to mash out too many citizens and buildings too quickly, and you may trigger another crisis. So, cool it from time to time. 

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.