Today's announcement of the Civilization V: Gods and Kings expansion pack promises much more than a fresh coat of paint on an already excellent formula.

Entire game systems have been tweaked. Civilizations have been added. And Religion is making a comeback.

Expanded Epic Game: The core game experience has been greatly expanded with the addition of new technologies, 27 new units, 13 new buildings and nine new Wonders.

New Civilizations and Leaders: The expansion features nine new civilizations including Carthage, the Netherlands, the Celts and the Mayans, each with unique traits, units and buildings. Gods & Kings also adds nine new leaders including William I, Prince of Orange, Boudicca and Pacal the Great.

New Game Scenarios: Three new scenarios let gamers experience the medieval period, the fall of Rome, and embark on a new adventure in Empires of the Smoky Skies, a Victorian science-fiction scenario.</p>

• The Return of Religion: A first for Civilization V, players seek out Faith, choosing a Pantheon of the Gods and creating Great Prophets to found and spread their customized religion across the world.

• World Domination: The fight for world domination is more dynamic than ever. Gods & Kings features a reworked combat system and AI that places more emphasis on a balanced army composition. Additionally, the navy is now split into two different ship types, melee and ranged, making coastal cities vulnerable to a surprise naval attack.

• Enhanced Diplomacy and Espionage: Establish embassies at foreign courts for closer ties or clandestine operations. As the religions of the world start settling in and the world moves into the Renaissance, spies can be unlocked to establish surveillance of foreign cities, steal advanced technologies from your strongest competitors, or garner influence with City-States through election rigging, or even a coup.

The first 100 turns of a Civ match is one of my favorite 'things' in all of gaming. Setting up camp, debating when to produce settlers and which tech trees to attack, sending scouts and warriors to take on the Barbarian encampments… done efficiently, it's a highly addictive formula.

I've been piling up hours in Civ V recently (my camel archers are a terror) so seeing Firaxis doing so much with the game's fundamental gameplay systems has me both excited and a little apprehensive.

I'm anxious to give the new AI a spin to see how this 'balanced army composition' affects gameplay. And as an old-school player (I have a bias toward brute force), the improvements to Diplomacy and Espionage have me intrigued.

The Religion addition to Civ V is also compelling, and portents a great deal of adjustment to the early-mid game prioritization.

Civilization V: Gods and Kings is slated for a "late spring 2012' PC release.