This is the first, but will hardly be the last, game on this list authored by game developer Sid Meier. Before we dive into this entry, though, let's take a moment to honor the enormous stones it takes for a guy to put his name so prominently on his output like that. I mean, it's one thing to go to the movies and see Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan. It's quite another to go see Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer. His name is IN THE TITLE. Good for him.
And good for us, because Meier's stuff in the 1990s was absolute gold. The guy was behind some of the best video game franchises of all time (including Civilization and Pirates! - I mean, Sid Meier's Civilization and Sid Meier's Pirates! - but more on those later). His capacity for sprawling worldbuilding and endlessly detailed game mechanics were second to none. He mastered the tar-baby turn-based strategy game that ensnared the player and would not release. "One more turn...one more turn...oh man, it's two in the morning?" A lot of the resource management mechanics are so familiar as to seem almost quaint now - harvest crops, collect gold, build structures, etc. - but these were novel then and in the hands of a genius.
It's probably not difficult to imagine why my first selection from his oeuvre is Colonization. (Sorry, Sid Meier's Colonization.) This 1994 game asks the player to traverse the Atlantic in 1492 as a representative of the English, French, Dutch, or Spanish crown and then to carve out a colony in the New World. You've got to farm food and cash crops like cotton or tobacco, build a stockade and church, and much more. There's trading runs back to European ports to sell goods and recruit specialized colonists like blacksmiths, carpenters, and statesmen. There's exploration of the countryside, locating primo spots for new colonies and encountering indigenous tribes who may or may not prove receptive to these interlopers. That's one of the places this game was ahead of its time. The locals aren't presented as either cardboard cutout foes to eradicate or simpleton noble savages, but as complex and unique nations. Depending on your latitude you might encounter Iroquois, Sioux, Cherokee, or even Inca. Some are agrarian peoples looking to trade, some are more hostile. Balancing those relationships, and your relationships with the other growing European colonies, is a big part of the job.
The eventual goal is to declare independence and to survive the waves of military reprisal your parent empire sends to deny that declaration. Along the way you'll have the opportunity to recruit historic figures to your cause such as Thomas Jefferson, Simon Bolivar, or Francis Drake, with specialized benefits coming from each. It's all catnip for a history nerd like me. Now if you'll excuse me, that cotton isn't going to weave itself into cloth. I just need one more turn. (Sorry - Sid Meier's one more turn.)