Most 4X games ultimately revolve around setting up your empire to dominate via economy, industry, or technology. While Colonization shares some elements with the rest of the genre, its unique mechanics fundamentally alter the way you approach the game. In this exploration-age simulation, you don't win by conquering the world or eliminating the opposition. Victory is had simply by declaring your fledgling colony independent – and then surviving the massive onslaught your former king sends to slap your ­rebellion down.

Since Colonization is more of a race against your rival colonies than a strictly adversarial game, the pressures on players are very different than in a standard 4X. You've got to deal with your local natives, either by befriending them via money and religion or taking their land at gunpoint. The King must be appeased, lest he raise your tax rate even faster and demand even more money from your cash-strapped treasury. Founding Fathers (each of whom has awesome global effects, and are the closest thing here to technology) must be recruited before a rival picks them up. Plus, there's the small matter of forging a handful of malcontents fresh off the boat into an industrial power that can stand up to the might of Old Europe.

Like all good strategy games, Colonization's greatest strength is how it forces players to fit a somewhat-random set of pieces into an ever-changing puzzle. Since you need money for everything, setting up your economy is the first order of business. Choosing which resources to harvest, shipping them to a production center staffed by skilled artisans, and then sending them off to Europe for sale sounds simple – and it would be, if you were doing it in a vacuum. Instead, you're balancing it against the needs of self-defense, the King's arbitrary dictates, the growth of your industrial capacity for the eventual war with the motherland, and expansion of your borders. The game's many mechanics work seamlessly in concert, and adeptly create that ''just one more turn'' feeling that Sid Meier's games are deservedly famous for.

Colonization's interface rarely gets in the way of implementing your many decisions. Most of the Civ IV scheme is unchanged here, and it still does an amazing job giving the player most critical information without needing to dig through menus every ten seconds. However, it's difficult to efficiently automate repetitive goods transfer between settlements, and the contents of a city's storage are hidden a level too far. This interface is still one of the best in the genre, but compared to Firaxis' typically high level of polish these flaws are disappointing.

Combat is incredibly simplistic, with only a handful of units on land and sea. During normal gameplay this isn't a problem, as wars are infrequent and generally brief. However, it does make the endgame rebellion less exciting – the AI-controlled royal forces are happy to throw themselves at the nearest few cities no matter how heavily fortified they may be, and you generally know whether you're going to win or not before the war of independence even starts.

These few minor knocks shouldn't dissuade any strategy fan from buying this otherwise excellent title. The random map generator, several unique factions and difficulty levels, and many approaches to the ultimate goal of independence give Colonization as much replay value as any title you care to name. Barring a hate for the 16th and 17th centuries, any gamer should have a blast with Colonization.