I forgot how terrible the civilization stage of the game really is. The basic problem with Spore (and I'm saying this as someone who loves the game) is that it dangles the possibility of choice in front of you and then snatches it away.
Take the creature stage, for example. In the creature stage, your diet is restricted by your creature's current mouth. Fair enough. You can find new creature parts by exploring the world and befriending or killing Alpha creatures . . . except for mouths. The only mouths that will spawn in the creature stage are those from the category that matches your diet in the cell stage. Thus, before it was even an option, you had to make a decision about what sort of creature you want to play and work towards it directly, lest you be locked out of your favored category.
Bringing this back to the terribleness of the civilization stage, in order to unify the world and ascend into space, you have to pursue one of three basic strategies - military, religious, or economic. On the surface, it looks like you have a choice . . . except that the military and religious approaches are mechanically identical, and the economic approach is only available if you have access to an economic city. It should go without saying that you have no way of directly choosing whether a city is economic or not. It's all determined by how you finished the tribal stage. If you did it peacefully, your first city is religious. If you did it violently, your first city is military. If you did it with an exact balance between peace and violence then (and only then) is your first city economic.
Given that first city, it is only possible to change strategies if you manage to capture an opposing city of the appropriate type . . . provided one spawns close enough to you that you can change your strategy early. It's a completely fucked up way of doing things that manages to sap all the energy from what should be a dynamic and interesting stage of the game.
Yet I can't really stay mad at Spore. There's just something about its presentation that cuts right through my cynicism. The colors are so vibrant. The tools for shaping creatures, vehicles, and buildings are so easy to use. The results of your actions can be surprisingly diverse, given the simple palette that you're given. It's like playing with digital play-dough. Even when the rules are unnecessarily restrictive, there's just something incredibly pleasurable about creating new things and watching them move through the world.
It's enough even to make me forget about the terrible civilization stage.