Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: 21 October, 2016
Platform: Windows / Mac
Genre: 4X Strategy
By Chris Picone, 26 October 2016
I’ve been playing Civilization since the original, back in 1991, and one of the things I have most enjoyed about each new sequel is that they aren’t just clones with a few tweaks and some better graphics. And while changing core features of a game can be a risky business, just as likely to alienate the core fans as not, Civilization seems to be one of the rare exceptions that handles it so well that they get away with it. I’m going to start out by saying straight up that if you are already a fan of the civilization series, you’re going to enjoy this latest version. So if that’s all you wanted to know, you’re done here. Since this is the sixth in the sequel, it’s the changes I’m going to focus on in this review. I will warn that this review will be a little longer and drier than most as I cover some of the changes in detail. Okay, a lot longer. As in, probably four or five times the size of a normal review. To alleviate this, I have split the review up into numerous subsections so you can skip through and just read the bits that interest you. Enjoy.
Note: I rarely dabble with mods or online multiplayer modes, so I won’t be discussing either of those features here.
The story’s the same as ever; develop and manage a civilization from the dawn of time through to the near future. You can change the map types to suit different play styles, alter the speed or change the starting period for a longer or shorter game, and there is also mod support and will no doubt boast a variety of scenarios you can have a crack at, if you wanted a more specific experience. You will still be managing your wealth, scientific, and cultural income, but there are a few new additions such as faith and tourism. There are five victory conditions, which I cover in detail below.
There are a few complaints floating around the net about civilization VI’s new, cartoony graphics. While I agree that the choice was a bit bizarre, and in terms of visual quality seems like a step backwards from the ultrarealistic graphics from civilization 5, I’ve got to say that “they’re fine.” The cartoon heads on top of realistic bodies is a bit strange but it doesn’t really detract from the game and you quickly forget about it – everything still looks modern and pretty. More importantly from my perspective, the game seems to run a lot faster than its predecessor. Civilization V started chunking a little on my computer as the game progressed and the world was sprawling with cities and units, but Civilization VI runs smoothly even in the late game, and even on the highest settings.
The sound in Civilization VI is a definite improvement from its predecessors. The music’s in a similar style to that from V, nice and “cultural” - except that every civilization seems to have their own playlist, and the music changes as you progress through the eras. I can still remember with Civilization III, having to quit out of the game because I forgot to open my music player before I started, but thankfully those days are behind us.
Boasting 20 civilizations, and with plenty of new victory conditions and features to explore which are significant enough to make you change the way you play the game and actually want to experiment with things, while also allowing you to customize the play worlds or have a crack at scenarios, the game is incredibly replayable, even for old-time Civilization players that have already burned hundreds (thousands) of hours on the series.
Two technology trees & Eureka moments
This is probably one of the more drastic changes, and seems as good a place to start as any. A clear evolution of the social policy system from Civilization V, there is now a civics tree which basically covers everything that isn’t strictly “technology.” The prime function of this tree is to unlock new governments and policies, but it also features cultural improvements such as the amphitheatre and colosseum, unlocks diplomatic features like open borders, provides envoys (more on that below), improves certain things already in play such as making pastures provide extra food, and a number of the civic advances interact with the technology tree by either providing boosts to particular technologies, or unlocking buildings that particular technologies may require. I feel like this was a step in the right direction, but the implementation perhaps wasn’t the greatest. There are certain civics you beeline for, such as divine right (to unlock Monarchy), suffrage (to unlock diplomacy), and neighbourhoods (critical for big cities) and maybe a couple of others that give you access to particular buildings or wonders, but the rest of the tree is littered with extraneous policy unlocks. Similarly, the interesting interactions between the two trees only seem to last up to about the medieval period. By the time I’ve unlocked Suffrage, the whole rest of the civics tree is almost completely irrelevant to me other than the occasional bonus envoy they provide. So I’m generally happy with the new system and think it’s a step in the right direction, but hopefully they’ll fix it up through updates or at least in Civilization VII. It might be better if they tightened up the swarms of redundant policy unlocks and re-integrated religion in the civics tree instead (you’ll find my complaints about the new religion system below). The other new feature is “boosts” or eureka moments, which involves a substantial boost to your research toward a particular technology or civic when you meet a certain condition. These represent the enlightenment brought on by the activities of your civilization; for example, when you first establish a trade route, your civilization discovers the need for a better method of valuing goods, which leads to a boost in the currency technology. In reality, you’ll end up spending half your game trying to unlock the boosts you need to speed up your development, so instead of your actions guiding your development as was intended, your development ends up guiding your actions. It also means that you end up doing many of the same things in the same order each game, as unlocking those boosts is the most expedient way of progressing. A way to resolve this might be to include a few possible conditions for each boots, or to make the actual condition invisible, giving only a clue instead. Still, it’s a nifty feature. Hopefully they’ll tweak it in the updates, or in Civilization VII.
Government & Policies
I think Civilization VI features by far the best government & policy system in the series. You unlock governments (which are few and far between) through your civic tree, which come with a set of policy slots; military, economic, diplomatic, and “wildcard”. These governments also give you bonuses which, along with the number of slots in each category you receive, are linked to the nature of the government; for example, totalitarianism provides 4 military slots but only 1 slot for each other category and comes with an additional bonus to combat strength and unit production. Governments also come with legacy bonuses which are incremental bonuses gained by turns spent with that government, that follow your civilization as you change governments. The policies themselves are also unlocked through the civics tree, and afford a great amount of flexibility to your civilization. You can gain additional policy slots by building certain wonders, etc. There are absolute swarms of policies that address just about any play style you can think of, and you can change your policies for free every time you unlock a new civic, which means you might put in policies that give you bonuses in combat when you are at war, and then swap them out for policies that give you bonuses to income when your civilization is at peace. Other than seeing the need for a bit of tweaking, I have found the new government system to be absolutely fantastic.
The new great people system is, uh, great. Now, certain buildings and wonders will earn you specific “great people points”. For example, military buildings or if you spend a lot of time fighting will earn you “great general points”, whereas your campus district would earn you “great scientist points”, and your commercial hub earns you “great merchant points.” In addition, you can rush “production” of your great people by spending gold or faith. This is particularly useful because you are now competing to produce great people from a limited pool shared by all of the civilizations. These mostly work how the way you would expect; if you activated a great scientist, you would earn some technology boosts, for example. Writers, artists and musicians are much the same as they produce their great works, except that you can only create the works in specific buildings that have the right kind of – and free – gallery space. For example, an amphitheatre can only hold a single great writing, but an art museum can hold three works of art. This can become annoying as it is much easier to pump out great artists/writers/musicians than it is to build the districts and buildings to house the works. The generals, while still bestowing combat benefits to nearby troops, now obsolete themselves. Genghis Khan, for example, can only provide passive bonuses to early era troops. When you run out of those, he would be useless, except that there is now also a nifty feature to retire the general to gain some other bonus.
These have improved out of sight. When city-states were first introduced in civilization V, they seemed like a great concept that had come out a little half-baked. Basically, you could pour a ton of money into them for some kind of bonus like a luxury resource, for example, but otherwise they were basically just convenient little towns to conquer since you could usually do so without repercussions. Now, city-states are an integral part of the game. There is a new envoy system, in which points are mostly gained over time through government bonuses but also from certain civics. You spend these on city-states to gain certain bonuses; a small bonus from your first envoy, a bigger bonus from your third envoy, and an even bigger bonus from your sixth envoy. Unless you decide to attack that city-state, these bonuses are permanent. However, it doesn’t stop there. If you have more than three envoys with a city-state, and more envoys with that city-state than any other civilization, you become the suzerain. This gives you a small additional bonus, makes the city-state follow you into wars, and even allows you to temporarily take control of the city-states’ army – for a price. You will find yourself competing against other civilizations to maintain suzerainty, and it can be an interesting spanner in the works when you are at war with a civilization, and the envoy relationship suddenly changes, making your ally turn against you, or surprising you by suddenly having a new enemy on a different front. The city-state armies aren’t super powerful, but they can still have a substantial effect on battlefield attrition, and otherwise occasionally make themselves useful by obstructing the terrain between you and potential enemies.
Cities: Districts & Sprawling
This is probably the single biggest change to the game. First, there is a new feature called “districts”, which are built in the same way as a building, except that they are where your buildings actually go. You can’t build buildings in a town without first having the relevant district in place. For example, to build military-related buildings such as a barracks or armoury, you first have to construct an encampment district. The district itself actually takes up a tile on the map inside the city’s zone, and then your relevant buildings are built inside it. This is a great new feature, for many reasons. First, the fact that you need the relevant district to build certain buildings prevents your buildings from turning into a higgledy-piggledy of random structure like they have been in the past. Second, the number of districts you can have are tied to the city’s population, which means that unless you are building in a large late-game metropolis, your cities really need to specialise to be effective. One city may be a culture hub, while another is a garrison town, for example. The tiles you build things on also have an effect; adjacent mountains or rainforests provide a bonus to campus districts, for example. In addition, and particularly relating to wonders, certain things can only be built on certain tiles, like the Oxford University, which can only be built on flat grassland or plans that are adjacent to a campus district that has a university built in it. Finally, and most obviously, since your districts are actually taking up precious tile space on the map, they are now competing with improvements, and city planning suddenly becomes interesting instead the old arbitrary click-click-click repeat.
Workers, Traders, & Improvements
These haven’t just been streamlined, they have been changed drastically. The original model had you painstakingly move the workers tile by tile, manually building every single improvement one at a time. The later automated model was super convenient but meant that the workers would frequently build things in places you didn’t want them, or not build on critical resources, or build over an improvement you wanted to keep. It also meant that at some point you would end up with swarms of workers buzzing aimlessly around the map or sleeping in your cities. Civilization VI has an entirely different system, returning to manual control although now your workers can only produce 3 improvements each before removing themselves from the game (this figure can be raised with certain policies). The reason this works so well is because your improvements are competing with districts now, which means that you don’t need so many of them. The other reason it works so well is because the building of roads is now integrated into your traders, who build roads as they progress along their trade routes which means that the tedious part is still basically automated. The trade system has drastically improved too, with much better district- and policy-based trade bonuses, which means that even if the traders didn’t build your roads, they are still very much worth the investment.
There are a whole host of new additions to the units you can deploy. I’m not sure what Firaxis were trying to achieve with these – my best guess is that they were trying to give the player something productive to do when their civilization was at peace and their armies are immobile, by having them move utility units around the board instead of just clicking “end turn”. Whatever their intention was, I don’t think they achieved it. The archaeologist was bizarre. You had to get a special civic to unlock it, and then could only build it in cities with a particular district, and using faith to pay for it, and then you had to move the archaeologist around on the map to collect artifacts from sites that would appear on the map like resources, and then return the artifacts to a city that had a museum, where they would then simply be added to your collection of great works. The amount of cost, time, and work involved in just building the museum meant that this was an exercise you will probably only go through once. I had a similar experience with the military engineer, who I built solely to create a single improvement to trigger a eureka moment, as none of their other abilities seemed particularly useful (do people really use forts?) and again you could only make a few of them before the engineer would deplete and remove itself from the game.
Religion features very heavily in Civilization VI. Unfortunately, the mechanics are not as transparent as they should be and are less intuitive than most of the other changes in the game. So I set it aside, figuring that there would be a point in the game where it would become crucial and I would just have to figure it out, but that moment never came. First you start off by building a pantheon, which is supposed to give you some kind of minor bonus until you can found your own religion. In earlier games the religious technologies were critical to early progression, and so you tended to use them. In Civilization VI they’re almost on a separate branch of the tree, meaning you can just about go through the game without getting any of them. The first game I finished without even building a single holy site (the district where you would build a shrine, temple, etc.) – although I did capture a city that had one, which I then produced missionaries from, which move around the map spreading whichever religion they belong to and having theological battles with other missionaries. Except that again, it didn’t seem to have much of an impact. I believe you only get religion bonuses in cities whose religion matches your state religion, but the bonuses aren’t that powerful. For some reason the AI seem to be nuts about spreading their religions, with missionaries swarming the map at all times, which meant it was a significant amount of work just to maintain your own religion in your own cities, let alone trying to spread your own, and the payoff just didn’t seem worth it so in the end I just didn’t bother. In the second game I found the religious buildings actually did provide some neat gold and food bonuses so I built them, but this time I didn’t waste any time with missionaries or spreading religion. There is a new type of resource too, called “faith”, which is the only currency you can use to purchase missionaries and other religious units. For some reason, this is also the resource that you use to hurry your production of great people, so I just used it for that. Perhaps they would have been better off calling it “inspiration”.
Don’t get me wrong, the idea itself is good. It is an evolution from the system in Civilization IV in which all religions were functionally identical so they were used primarily as a diplomatic tool and as a method of gaining civic bonuses. Civilization VI introduces a politically correct method of distinguishing the religions, by allowing the player to found their own religion and choose from a range of beliefs, which come with different bonuses. And the missionaries, etc., were no doubt an attempt at making religion an active rather than passive part of the game, which again is a good idea. Unfortunately, I found that the implementation of these ideas wasn’t quite up to scratch – hopefully they will fix it with updates, or implement a better version of the system in Civilization VII.
In Civilization VI, if you start a “surprise war” - which has so far been the normal method in Civilization games - you will be branded a warmonger, which usually leads to massive relationship penalties and usually hostility from every other civilization. To avoid this, you first denounce a civilization and then wait five turns, after which you will still receive a warmonger penalty but a significantly smaller one. However, you can now also declare Casus Belli, which is a justified war such as “reconquest” in which you may declare war with no warmonger penalties in order to retake a city lost in a previous war. There are six different casus belli, which are unlocked through civics. Immediately, this is a great improvement to the game.
Opponents, Agendas, & Diplomacy
The opposing civilizations now have two agendas that dictate their actions, and their sentiment toward other civilizations. One of these agendas is open knowledge; the other is hidden, until you either reveal it through espionage or by increasing your relationship with them. My personal favourite is Gandhi, who has “peacekeeper” as his first agenda, which means that he automatically has negative relationships with warmongers, and also means that he will never declare a war in which he would be labelled a warmonger. This means that the India civilization will push for religious victories, which also aligns with their civilization bonuses. This can be quite annoying because it means there will always be swarms of missionaries moving around the board converting your cities back and forth. Curiously, and seemingly at odds with the first agenda, Gandhi’s hidden agenda is “nuke happy,” which means that he has positive relationships with other civilizations that use nukes, and won’t hesitate to use his own. By comparison, Victoria’s first agenda is “sun never sets”, which means England will smash out a bunch of settlers and expand like crazy. So far, other than the positive or negative effects caused by your alignment with other civilizations’ agendas, it is unclear what other things effect your relationships and how much. In previous Civilizations, you were able to see that you might have a negative score for owning one of their cities, a positive score for going to war with one of their enemies, and other bonuses related to trade and gift giving. These aren’t as transparent in Civilization VI, probably to encourage the use of espionage, which is good, except that I feel like you should at least get some indicators on the obvious stuff. Without having delved too far into espionage yet, my impression is that the weighting given to the agenda bonuses is so high that the other stuff just doesn’t matter all that much. If I have pleased their agendas, they send me declarations of friendship; if I oppose their agendas, they tell me they’re unhappy and denounce me. I’ve never come across a situation where I’ve pleased their agendas but they’ve denounced me for some negative action I’ve taken, or vice versa. The trade system seems to have improved in some respects. The actual dealing itself seems to go a lot more smoothly and sensibly than in previous Civilizations. My only gripe is that, again, transparency is an issue. I’ve been trading my luxury resources for theirs, or for gold, because I assume this it will benefit me in some way, but I have no idea if diamonds are worth more than spice, for example.
Civilization VI has taken massive steps to streamline features to the game – I have not played Civilization Revolutions, but I’m led to believe this streamlining is its legacy, as the game would had to have been drastically streamlined to be simplified enough for console play. Overall, the effects of this streamlining have been positive; I can’t quite put my finger on a lot of the changes but I’m noticing that I’m opening up menus and submenus a lot less than I used to, and many details of the game are now visually displayed or colour coded to make life easy. The downside of this streaming is that a lot of the detail is gone. For example, if I hover over my gold resource, it simply tells me “+x per turn from cities.” From cities. Fantastic. Sure, I can click on my civilization report button to see how much I receive from each individual city, but if that was what I was meant to do, why does it have a pop up at all? And why doesn’t it tell me how much I’m gaining from other locations, such as trade, or luxury resources, etc. There is a lot of information missing from the civilopedia. Good luck trying to work out how amenities actually work. Are the amenity bonuses increased if I have more than one of the same luxury item? Who knows. Demographics are another casualty; I can check my overall scores for a variety of fields, but it no longer tells me how my civilization is doing for literacy or health. Sure, these don’t have a direct impact on the game which is now entirely dedicated to the victory conditions, but they added a lot of flavour, gave players something to strive for, and they also used to affect your total score. And the other night I watched as an oracle seemed to be built seemingly turn after turn for about eight turns in a row. In the original game, wonders were all one-offs. Later games had minor wonders, which every civilization could build, and major wonders, which were still one-offs. I’m not entirely sure which system Civilization VI uses, because I couldn’t find it clearly stated anywhere. Again, these are all minor issues. The system works fine, everything’s great. But I think the sort of people that enjoy games like Civilization are also the sort of people that like to try and wrap their minds around complicated game mechanics, either for the unadulterated joy of doing so, or just to try and improve their gameplay. It’s certainly been bugging me.
The score victory is the same as ever; survive until 2050AD (turn 500 on a standard game), and if you have the highest score based on your achievements, you win. Domination has been streamlined; instead of having to destroy every single thing on the entire map, you now only have to conquer the capital city of every other civilization. The science victory also seems to have been streamlined; I haven’t had a crack at it yet, but instead of having to build a spaceship piece by piece as we have in the past, now you achieve certain milestones; launch a satellite, land a person on the moon, and establish a Mars colony (what happened to Alpha Centauri!) As I said, I haven’t played it yet, but the premise sounds better. The culture victory has also changed, by necessity since how culture is used in the game has changed. Now, it somehow compiles your incoming culture per turn, and a separate figure for tourists, which is gained by great works, wonders, and cultural attractions, and compares them to other civilizations’ tourism. When you have more foreign tourists than any civilization has domestic tourists, you win. The concept doesn’t make much sense, the maths behind it is not transparent so progress is difficult to judge, and it is extremely grindy although quite easy to achieve. This is how I finished my first game; I didn’t have any real competition, and I basically had to just sit there clicking end turn for fifty turns just waiting for my tourist figure to slowly tick up until I won. The religious victory consists of spreading your religion until is the predominant religion in every civilization. While possibly interesting (mostly since you can engage in theological “wars” with civilizations you are at peace with), this victory condition didn’t particularly appeal to me and the religion/faith system is about the least intuitive part of the game so it will be a while before I have a go at this one.
If you’re already a fan of the series: Why aren’t you playing it already? It’s amazing. I haven’t slept for three days. Just one more turn!
If you’re new to the series: I honestly have no idea. If you’re into epically long and super complicated board games, you’ll probably love it. If that’s not your thing, don’t waste your time. However, it’s not that simple. The game really is quite complicated, and has a steep learning curve. I’ve been told that it’s an easy game to play but a difficult game to play well. I was brought up with the game and have played every sequel as they came out (excluding some of the expansions) which made it easy to pick up as each game only changed a few things at a time but are drastically different between the first and the sixth games. I might suggest you to try an earlier version of the game first, as it would theoretically be simpler and therefore easier to learn, but how far back would you go? Maybe Civilization III? The graphics would be quite dated too, but at least the game should be cheap so if you found you didn’t like it, you wouldn’t have spent much on it.
Things I miss
This section doesn’t have any information on Civilization VI – it is mostly a collection of the (mostly minor) things that I felt the prequels handled better, or simply long-gone features that I am nostalgic about. So if you are only reading this to learn about the new game, stop reading here.
Happiness: Although this element is still in the game to some extent, in the form of the mysterious “amenities”, it’s nothing like it used to be. Sure, it could sometimes be tedious having to try and manage your “happy buildings” to prevent your populations from rioting when you wanted to build wonders or go to war, but it also meant that you couldn’t just churn out super cities filled only with banks, universities and factories. It also meant that you actually had to consider war weariness, building your armies up before-hand so that when you did go to war it was for the minimum time possible, which also meant that wars would stop at some point without requiring one civilization or the other to be annihilated like Civilization VI seems to require. Which leads me to:
Golden Ages & We Love the King Days: Although they are a comparatively minor feature, I was quite sad to see the golden ages and “we love the king!” days gone. You can make your cities become “ecstatic” but it just isn’t the same as watching all your cities throwing up fireworks every turn, or feeling that sudden surge of excitement as your empire gets a nitrous boost for a few turns while it enjoys a golden age. The recurring golden ages got a bit silly, but it would be nice to see empires get a single golden age triggered by some sort of civilization-unique condition.
Culture borders, puppet cities, and liberation: This was a quirky feature when it was introduced. Simply building heaps of monuments and wonders and then watching your enemy’s cities slowly flip into your control was quite bizarre and perhaps a little over-powered. It’s good to see that gone, but on the other hand it presented an interesting challenge to try and conquer cities while on the warpath, only to find that if you didn’t quell the unrest by building courthouses, garrisoning troops, and so on, the city was just as likely to rebel and overthrow you, returning to the original owner’s control. However, to combat this you were could create puppet cities, which were self-managing and would still provide you with the normal town bonuses, except that they would not contribute to your culture, and you couldn’t use them to build military units or wonders. In addition, if you conquered a city that used to belong to a different civilization than the one currently occupying it, you could liberate it, returning it to its owner instead of razing it or taking ownership. As you can imagine, this would have a fairly drastic effect on diplomacy.
Evolving advisers: In the original games, you would receive regular updates from your military, economic, and scientific advisers. These would evolve as you went through the ages, so your scientific adviser might originally be some sort of soothsayer wrapped in cloths, but eventually would turn into a man in a lab coat standing in front of computers. These were replaced with icons in the build screens and tech trees, and in the latest incarnation you can’t even hover over them for advice anymore. To be fair the advisers almost always give you awful advice that you shouldn’t follow anyway (this remains true for Civilization VI), and so are largely redundant, but the old way of doing it was much more interesting and had a lot more flavour.
Alternative leaders: While it’s nice that Firaxis keeps shaking up the playable civilizations, one feature I enjoyed from a predecessor was the ability to pick different leaders from a same civilization; for example, if you picked Germany you could play as Otto van Bismarck or Frederick the Great. These would share the same unique unit and building, but would have different bonuses and penalties, and in Civilization VI they could also have different agendas.
Rushing production: You can still purchase whole buildings or units with gold, but unlike great people points and everything else in the game, they don’t get cheaper when you’ve already spent a heap of production points on them. It might also be interesting to stretch faith points even further to let you use them to rush production of wonders. Theoretically this would self-manage as you wouldn’t be able to do it all the time because you still need the faith points to produce religious units, if that’s your thing, or great people for their amazing effects.
Civilopedia: In the later versions of the game, the civilopedia only tells you mechanical information about how things in the game work. The latest version seems to have even less information in it than previous versions, and several times I found that I was unable to find a clear answer about how something worked. However, that isn’t my complaint. In the original games, the civilopedia used to also have short segments on all the historical aspects of the game. Short biographies on the leaders, interesting highlights about each of the civilizations, and sometimes even a bit of history about how the lowly units came about or were used. I used to spend hours poring through it. I swear Civilization I, which came out when I was in first grade, was responsible for my entire history education up until about grade 9, was the basis for my first ever short story, and even inspired me to become a history teacher. It was a sad day when it went.
As you can see, these are all quite minor things, and are far outweighed by the new and changed features present in Civilization VI.