The Steam release of the old games got one enormous caveat for modern systems: they are emulators embedded with the games, and that custom-made emulator doesn’t support any other resolution than the native 640x400. They also don’t come with the manuals. The games aren’t very complicated, but their interface obtuse enough to make such an omission quite glaring.
They bothered to actually update the original games though: saving is a lot easier and you get a lot of extra slots and, more importantly, they got rid of a freaking terribly annoying horn that was resonating everytime you clicked something. That issue alone makes playing the original emulated a bad idea, in my opinion.
The Neo Atlas variation has got a much better human interface, thanks to the gamepad interace that makes zooming in and out of the map — the thing you spend the most time doing in the game — a breeze. The interface itself is much less sexy, what with the Cherubs versus the classical paper map style of the first game).
Neo Atlas also introduces a few issues: it is more directive (you are incentized to explore such and such places, to follow some “narrative” thing. I think you actually were in the original too, although the game didn’t tell it to you, giving a false sense of freedom ;), and the exploration mission reports seem lengthy (but that might be because my own tolerance lowered with age).
They also didn’t fix the most problematic issue of the game that I should have mentionned earlier: if a fleet encounters land, it turns back instead of following the coast in the general direction of the pre-planned expedition.
To me, the most enjoying part of the first Civilization was revealing the world map. It’s like the character making in Might & Magic 3: I can’t explain why, but I could do it all day (and I actually did). The Atlas games are basically built around that single aspect. A 1X game, if you wish. For a game venturing into the ocean, it is probably quite shallow (you really spend most of your time scanning the maps for pictures to click or ballons to pop, in the most casual of games’ manner), but it’s also unique. For instance, when you send your expeditions out, they don’t uncover the map as they go: you only discover what they’ve seen upon their return. It is a very major part of what gives the game that “age of discovery” feel to me, but I’d understand if it’s an annoyance to somebody else.
I have never played Lunatic Dawn. I played only Eikanwakimini (the most unexciting highschool baseball simulation I ever played), some A-Trains, but more importantly the Carnage Heart series, a series of console-only games about programming robots, that was open to the non-programmer’s mind in ways a lot of games treading that path nowadays should draw inspiration from.