The start of the game sees the player set in the shoes of one of four European superpowers during the 1400s, and also covers the first landing of Europeans in the Americas.
The four playable powers are the English, the French, the Dutch and finally the Spanish. Each of the factions have their own abilities, with the English having higher immigration levels, the Dutch having improved trade and markets keeping their prices for longer, and the Spanish with a bonus towards conquering native villages.
After the first ship has landed, the game takes a lot of micromanaging to make sure that the required goods and items are provided to the new settlements. Much like the Civilization series, Colonization has a sub-screen to instruct colonists to do certain tasks. Such as instructing a lumberjack to cut wood, a fur trapper to trap fur or a farmer to farm.This also applies to the townships and villages that are founded, for example a master rum distillers distilling more rum than a untrained colonist.
However, the game is not simply about building settlements and clashing with other European powers. The ultimate goal of the game is declare independence from the Monarch of which the player is working for. Over time, the Monarchy adds more units and vessels to its armed forces, and this is brought to the player’s attention as soon as it happens.
Thankfully, the player can actually manufacture muskets to arm their own forces and breed horses to train up dragoons. In the earlier parts of the game, these are usually used for conflicts with other European powers and against the natives. In the later parts, veteran soldiers are upgraded to Contential Infantry, and all soldiers gain the ability to use woodland to their advantage.
It is not possible to directly rebel at the start of the game, as the player must generate liberty bells and sway the colonists towards independence. This is done through using the town hall, newspapers and elder statesmen. Also, if the player manages to get a founding father, such as Thomas Jefferson or Simon Bolivar, the liberty bells are generated faster.
Straight up, the game is rather simple to play, with a single left click being the most often used button the mouse. In fact, it’s possible to play the game without touching the keyboard. Assigning jobs to colonists is a click and drag action, which also applies to supplies. Moving troops and colonists around the map is simple, as it only takes a single click to move them, then another to send them on their way but use of the keyboard gives makes sure that the selected unit moves in the correct direction.
Unfortunately, there appears to be some issues with the mouse times as very often during game play a single click will not respond and a quick double click is needed. While it can be a bit of annoyance, it does not stop the game play from the rest of the game.
While the graphics are outdated by today’s standards, most of the units are easy to tell apart. This, unfortunately doesn’t apply to the weavers, distillers, and the tabacconists, as they only have a couple of colours that tell them apart from each other. This is rather annoying, especially when they belong to another European power.
When the game starts, the player finds themselves somewhat dependent upon supplies from Europe. As the game progresses and the settlements become more self-reliant, then sending a ship to Europe to trade is not required. Especially after construction of the customs house. However, colonists still need to be picked up and transported back to the Americas.
As time progresses in game, untrained colonists can be trained up by specialised colonists for different tasks. This is carried out through building a school, college or university, and placing the experienced colonist inside. However, the player does not choose which colonist is educated and the computer seems to randomly choose a untrained colonist even if an untrained colonist is working in the job that the experienced colonist is teaching.
Through use of the drydocks, it is possible to build up a strong navy and operate privateers to attack and loot foreign ships with almost no penalty to the player’s faction. Each ship has a strength and a drawback, with the Frigate being the strongest available to the player until indepence is declared.