I’m so excited to host another guest review on my blog! Unfortunately, there are too many great video games in the world for me to be able to play them all. Luckily, I have some great friends who are willing to help me out!
For this post, Becca L. shares her thoughts on Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, which was released for Windows and OS X in October 2016. The Civilization series started in 1991 with the first game, Civilization, and has enjoyed critical and commercial success throughout its many iterations. The Civilization games are turn-based strategy games in which the player develops a civilization from the ground up while conflicting or cooperating with computer controlled civilizations. There are several different win states, including victory through military domination or victory through cultural achievement. Civilization VI, the most recent installment, won “Best PC Game” from the 2016 Game Critics Awards and “Best Strategy Game” from both the 2016 Game Critics Awards and The Game Awards 2016.
I finally downloaded Civ VI for Mac recently. It’s impossible not to want to play every second of every day (just… one… more… turn!) but I’ve tried things like setting timers (does not work) and just telling myself “no” (really does not work). But of course, that is the appeal of Civ games. They have always been completely immersive, and Civ VI is, if anything, even more beautiful and engrossing than ever before.
If you’re familiar with the series, you’ll notice immediately that the artwork has changed. The hexes (an innovation from Civ V) are still there, but now they are brought to life with animations that give you all the information you need at a glance. Resources, tile improvements, wonders, and districts are clearly differentiated. The level of detail is stunning: tiny doves fly above my holy site, and little fires sparkle and dance in the barracks. My once static city is now a dynamic sprawl of farms, mines, districts, wonders, and armed garrisons, all teeming with life.
That’s right: I said sprawl. Cities now grow across hexes, instead of piling everything in a single stack. This means, among other things, that you need to be thoughtful about where you’re building those barracks and that amphitheater. It also means that each city is completely unique, since the landscape will determine where and perhaps even what you choose to build. This is a massive change from previous games, and one of my favorite developments in Civ VI.
Districts are arguably the most important addition to the game, and it took a lot of trial and error to figure out how to place them to their best advantages. Districts are huge investments: they take on average about 20 turns to produce (from a decent city, with decent production – try to place one in a newly founded city and you’re in for the long haul), and they occupy an entire hex, getting different bonuses based on landscape adjacencies. Their construction is dependent on a city’s population (unless you’re playing as a civ with special district abilities, such as Germany) so you need to be thoughtful about which districts you choose, especially in the early game. Once you build a district, you can start to develop it. For example, you’ll need the encampment district in order to build barracks, and you’ll need the campus district in order to construct science-generating buildings like the university.
Civ is as much about your neighbors and the map as it is your strategy. You can’t make your strategy in a vacuum –local resources and land formations are going to affect your gameplay. That being said, strategic resources in this game feel less necessary than ever before. You could theoretically win a domination victory, for example, without ever having access to iron, or coal, or oil. Let me explain. You don’t need strategic resources for the production of buildings, meaning that you can now build a factory without coal, and a spaceport sans aluminum. Moreover, each strategic resource makes possible the construction of two (but only two!) combat units, and civilization-unique combat units do not need access to their corresponding strategic resource. For example, France can build a unique unit comparable to the musketman without niter, and Scythia can create horse archers without a horse resource. This is a definite change from previous games, and in general I’m not sure that I like it. It has changed gameplay a lot and I think made it easier to survive without iron and oil, two previously indispensable resources. This means that you’re less likely to declare war for resources, less likely to be forced need to found new cities, and less likely to need good diplomatic relations in order to trade for them.
The departure from photorealistic to a frankly cartoony character design was a risk, and I know a lot of fans are angered by the new look of the world leaders. In my opinion though, it really paid off. Your allies — and enemies– are colorful, expressive, and completely memorable.
Look at Catherine de Medici – she is drinking champagne as she watches your cities burn.
The diplomacy interface is light-years ahead of what we had to deal with in Civ V. Each civ has a unique agenda that is visible from the start. Norway, for instance, respects other civs with strong navies, and Brazil hates civs that recruit more great people than they do. Not meeting these agendas is a recipe for bad diplomatic relations and potential unwanted declarations of war. Additionally, each civ has a randomized “secret agenda.” You need diplomatic access in order to see what this secret agenda is, and it changes every game. Some are relatively harmless – liking civs with happy cities, or civs with a big income; and some are downright terrifying. During one of my playthroughs, Victoria had a secret agenda called ‘Nuke Happy.”
The diplomacy interface is easy to use and gives all the information you need. However, there are still some bugs that I think will get patched in the next couple of months. For example, here is that scoundrel Pedro II of Brazil, denouncing innocent me for no reason.
5+ 2 -7 +2 +6 = DENOUNCED ? So many questions.
I played as that champagne-drinking broad Catherine de Medici of France on my first play through. I barely had any competition for my cultural victory, which the Civ main menu tells me is the most difficult to earn. Then again, I’m playing as Catherine de Medici, and her culture benefits are out of this world. Her “flying squadron” ability gives instant access to the other civs’ secret agenda—very helpful if you’re trying to keep the peace. Catherine’s circle of ladies in waiting will also tell you which wonders other civs are trying to construct, so you can plan accordingly.
Filling up my museums, cathedrals, and amphitheaters with actual great works was possibly my favorite part of my play through. It made the cultural victory feel fun in a way it never did in the previous games (although let’s face it: no victory in Civ is more fun than domination). But in Civ VI, you can recruit actual artists as “great people” and display their works. I collected Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Rembrandt’s Abraham and Isaac. Since Catherine has espionage bonuses, at a certain point in the late game, I had my spies sneak away with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from Brazil. Pedro never discovered the heist, which is surprising, since so many of his citizens came to my cities as tourists!
My second time around, I played as Tomyris of Scythia – going for early game military advantages and shooting for the conquest victory. I’ll be honest, I chose Tomyris basically at random because she looked like a beautiful warrior queen and I’m a sucker for that, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
Tomyris’s special ability allows her to automatically build a second light cavalry unit for every one produced. Put simply, this means you can grow your army fast.
Tomyris has a lot of early game bonuses and no late game bonuses, which means that in order to survive I need to move quickly. This works for me, because warmongering penalties are relatively light in the ancient and classical eras. In this game, Mvemba a Nzinga (Kongo) and Cleopatra (Egypt) declared surprise war on me for no reason very early on, which was fantastic since my military could easily wipe Nzinga off the planet. Fun fact: early cities aren’t able to defend themselves, and open borders are the default during the very early game.
Warfare is as enjoyable as ever. Like Civ V, Civ VI doesn’t allow stacked armies, so no mega stacks of death in this game. I know some people will be disappointed by this, but for me it was a plus. You can, however, after research, combine two or three identical units to make a corps and an army (or a fleet and an armada), gaining combat bonuses.
Revised city-state system. City-state gameplay was bonkers in Civ V – they were way too important for cultural victory and the number of notifications of their petty needs, feuds, and alliances was obnoxious — and I’m so glad that they changed it for Civ VI. You still meet city-states and complete quests, but now your relations are mediated through envoys, which you earn slowly over time. Because the cultural victory has changed so much, you no longer need to be friends with city-states in order to stand a chance of winning by this route.
New Civics tree system. In fact, culture has been completely revamped. They’ve changed the “social policies” from Civ V into a Civics tree, which acts as a sort of card game that allows you to sub in and out policies as you earn them. Anything that adds more complexity to this already heavily strategic game is good by me, and I loved this update.
As you progress through your Civics tree, you’ll eventually unlock new governments. Governments have unique bonuses, as well as legacy bonuses which stay with you even if you change governments later. More modern governments let you equip more policies, so it’s in your best interest to move beyond a classical republic or oligarchy early on to something like a monarchy or theocracy, and later to fascism, democracy, and communism. My experience with governments is that you’ll choose based on bonuses: merchant republic, with its trade route bonuses, will help you hoard gold quickly, whereas democracy will help you purchase and cultivate great people. You also get improved diplomatic relations with civs that follow the same government as you, which is useful for when you want to keep the peace. At one point, I changed my government to autocracy solely to appease Egypt while I plotted to take their capital.
Population management. Thankfully, Civ VI has returned to using city-wide happiness instead of population-wide happiness, so population management is much easier (and much more intuitive!) than in Civ V.
Finally: Sean Bean’s voice.
Frustrating map view. There are always some kinks in Civ games when they first come out – in mine, the map couldn’t zoom out far enough to see more than two of my cities at once. This changed after one of the updates, but it’s still not ideal. I miss being able to see the whole map from an eagle’s eye view.
Difficult for new players. As a first time player of Civ VI (but a longtime player of the Civ series), I did find it difficult to get all the information I need – like the hex bonuses for improvements. The Civilopedia feels especially useless (or maybe I’ve simply never needed to use it before). I had a lot of trouble at first figuring out how to expend great people after I had earned them, and the Civilopedia was no help at all.
Clever but repetitive sound design. Like previous entries in the series, each civilization has unique music that changes as you progress through different eras. In the diplomacy screen, the music of each civ will play as you talk with them. The music is incredible, but I’m putting this on the con list because the industrial age French music got old fast.
Overall, Civ VI’s increased depth of gameplay with districts, improved diplomacy, and the civics tree has added variety and fun to an already wonderful game series. The artwork and music are spellbinding. I honestly can’t imagine anyone, newcomer or veteran, not enjoying this game. But now I must return to Tomyris; she’s about to lay waste to Cleopatra’s cities.
Becca L. is an English PhD student writing on turn of the century American women authors. You can find Becca L. on Twitter at @SweetleyTrimmer.