Feature Article

Civilization 6: 150 Turns of Combat, Espionage, and Failed Diplomacy

Hostile negotiations.

The barbarians emerged from the fog to the North, riding toward Paris, three lines deep on foot and horseback. They were healthy and determined, moving downhill at a measured pace. I aligned my spearmen around the capital city, but these soldiers were weak, drained from months of fighting and diminished food supplies. They were hanging by a thread, with no end in sight.

I could have avoided this if I had just ignored Zanzibar.

At any given period in my French empire's timespan, from its meager beginnings as a primitive settlement, to a flourishing nation in 1780 AD, I had to consider my people's scientific aspirations, cultural impact, military strategy, diplomatic stance, public reputation, geographic location, health standards, and economic stature in the global marketplace. In Civilization VI, there's more weight to each turn than those of its predecessors, and there's less waiting as empires unfurl through history.

The first thing that struck me during my recent 150-turn demo was Civ VI's new art style--it's bolder, more vibrant than the entries that came before it. Soldiers take on a more cartoon-ish hue. Cities display more detail in their structures. The fog of war covers the land behind my scouts, crawling back over the plains in the form of stylized parchment, straight from an ancient library covered in dust. It's as if developer Firaxis molded the colorful palette of Civilization Revolution with the grounded reality of Civ V.

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Spectacle soon took a back seat when I glimpsed the first barbarian unit in the mountains outside of Paris. "Where there are barbarians, there's usually a nearby camp," I thought. As the stoic leader Catherine de Medici, I began training a soldier unit in my capital city, and sent my scout North, up the mountain range, to find the hostile tribe's home. In only two more turns, I found it. Two turns later, I destroyed it and pillaged it for gold.

Thinking the barbarians disposed of, I turned my attention to internal matters: growing food, fostering culture, creating a defensive military force, and establishing a sustainable economy. For 100 years (five turns), my civilization flourished, and I was ready to establish a new city, to the Northeast, where the river ran out into the ocean. That small patch of land would become Bordeaux, a region famous for its wine in the real world, but known for its military might on this virtual Earth of mine.

Civ VI's new district system became evident as soon as I decided to make Bordeaux a military stronghold. By building an Encampment district to the Southeast of the city center, I not only created a second line of defense against attackers, but also a place to build barracks and train soldiers. In previous Civs, this would all be done on one tile, where my city first sprang up. Now, by "unstacking the cities," as Firaxis is saying, there's more nuance to metropolis creation. Bordeaux expanded, my population grew, and all in all, my people were happy.

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This was thanks in large part to Civ Vi's active research system. It functions like a list of side quests tied to individual branches of the technology tree. Although I wanted to research the wheel, which would open up more modern machines down the road, my research rate at the time was only good enough to complete the project in eight turns. However, because I made three farms in the interim, I boosted progress on the wheel. It created an alternative to simply waiting. As time continued, I checked the tech tree often, discerning whether I could boost any other projects through tangential side quests.

But then the barbarians came. Not the foot soldiers from before, but cavalry this time, and many of them. They must have come from a different camp, I thought. They were riding toward Paris fast.

By unstacking cities, Civilization VI adds more nuance to metropolis creation.

As Catherine de Medici, an Italian noblewoman who became queen of France through familial ties in the late 16th century, I had a finger on the pulse of the diplomatic scene--the Flying Squadron, her unique ability, places women in the courts and forums of other empires, feeding her information as other leaders make crucial decisions. Based on the info from my contacts, Hojo Tokimune of Japan and Teddy Roosevelt of America were both creating numerous settler units, implying swift expansion across the Eastern part of our shared continent. Knowing this, and knowing how quickly real estate can disappear on crowded landmasses, I set about removing the barbarian obstacle.

The fight lasted for 80 years. As my people grew tired of strife, my food supplies plummeted, my trade routes dissolved, and international relations weakened. Qin Shi Huang and his Chinese Empire craved Wonders, and were envious of The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, draped as they were over the banks of the river outside of Paris. Roosevelt threatened me with American troops on the plains outside Bordeaux.

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My fight with the Northern tribes had distracted me. Leaders in Civ VI have historical agendas, which dictate AI behavior based on actual real-world events--but they also have hidden agendas. These require more intuition and intelligence to discern. As it turns out during the recent playthrough, I had neither.

I hadn't paid attention to the intel my spies afforded me. Tokimune had been pursuing favorable relationships with Zanzibar, a nearby city state, and grew envious of my good standing with the entity. If I had just backed off a little bit, decreased trade relations with the city, maybe stayed neutral instead of maintaining the alliance, I could have avoided a two-front conflict. But Tokimune, with his hidden agenda geared toward city state relations, declared war before I could prepare. His troops were crawling across Paris in only two turns, weakened as it was from the previous fight.

Despite my failure, that playthrough taught me a lot. There's more to consider in Civ VI. There's more potential for conflict at every turn. The active-research side quests, nuanced diplomacy system, and unstacked cities all add major factors to the decision-making tempo of the long-running strategy franchise.

Being a leader might require more of me this time around.

Mike Mahardy on Google+
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Mike Mahardy

Writer and Host. New Yorker. Enthusiast of gin, cilantro, and rock and roll.
Sid Meier's Civilization VI

Sid Meier's Civilization VI

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Avatar image for mekentosh

I hope it's more like IV than V.

Avatar image for HuSSaR83

Looks like old school Civilization players are being forgotten and new kids born around year 2000 are new focus with the graphics and dumbed down play it can only mean one thing for me ... So long Civilization!! I didnt need this childish graphics and gameplay when I was a kid playing old first Civ games....so definitely dont need it when I'm in my 30s.

Avatar image for GamerbyDesign

@HuSSaR83: Am in my 30s and I've play Civ games for a while. Gameplay doesn't seemed dumb down from V and I happen to like the art style.

Avatar image for jessgamespot

@GamerbyDesign: Also in my 30s and have played Civ since I was fairly young. I remember being excited and counting down the days until the release of Civ2.

I haven't played IV, I've put maybe 10 or so hours into 5 (though both games seem fine to me, from what I know of them).

I spent 100s of hours in 1, 2 and 3.

I'm really excited about VI. It doesn't seem dumbed down at all. As someone who actually played Civ1 a LOT back in it's day, I can honestly say that Civ VI seems MORE complex than Civ 1.

The guy who wrote the comment about "So long Civ..." sounds to make like he's just trying to be a trendy wanker. Probably never even played the old-school Civs back in the day.

Avatar image for Open_Sights

@jessgamespot: I started playing the series 19 years ago, when Civ 2 was still new, so I am not acquitted with how it was "back in the day", but civ 1 doesn't seems to me a complex game, much on the contrary.

However, I kind of agree with the guy above. CIV 4 was dumbed down. It was about expanding to the best spots early on and just watch throngs of your units later. If you were a reasonable player you could do a lot with just luck to keep and win land soon. Otherwise the game could go into a cold war stalemate for centuries, as war is too expensive unless you win territory. Civ 5 tries to fix the mechanic that requires upkeep of cities (you need happiness instead of gold), but still, it's far from good. The developers are more focused in developing a balanced game (e.g. introducing a new spying system to balance huge tech advantage) than introduce more historical accurate elements (e.g like Paradox's games).

Avatar image for jessgamespot

@Open_Sights: Yeah - I never played CIV 4, so I can't really comment. Although, I hear that once the final version + expansions + user mods were all in their prime it was a fantastic experience (I found the same with Civ 3). And I only played a small amount of 5.

But yeah - I think calling Civ VI dumbed down, based on the videos, reviews, articles, etc seems a little silly - considering from what has been shown it seems to have MORE complexity than 1,2 and 3 (which is where my 100s, if not 1000s of hours lay).

Avatar image for ecs33

@HuSSaR83: I played Civ 1 when I was like 7. This is way more complicated than Civ 1. Civ 1 is uber simple. Even the free civ mobile games you can get have a more complex system than original Civ lol.

Your nostalgia blinds you.

Avatar image for jessgamespot

@ecs33: my thoughts exactly.

Avatar image for CatAtomic999

@HuSSaR83: What are you talking about? It doesn't seem dumbed down at all. They've sanded off a lot of weird little quirks that one installment after another has inherited from the early games, but it doesn't seem simplified. It actually seems more flexible and dynamic.

This 'mobile game' bs seems to be based on nothing but the fact that they've finally chosen to go with an actual art style for the game, instead of the old neutral 4x look.

Avatar image for dmblum1799

I've been playing these games for 25 years. I prefer a more realistic art style, but this game has never really been about graphics.

For me it's always about building and growing.

Avatar image for GamerbyDesign

@dmblum1799: For me its always about the next turn.

Avatar image for jessgamespot

@GamerbyDesign: oh God.. the next turn..

Avatar image for jwsoul

I think it looks great but silencing people who disagree if that is true is a big NO NO for me.

Avatar image for KingKalo

@jwsoul: Where is the proof of such a harsh statement


Avatar image for archav3n

Really disappointed with their cartoony art direction in the game. What's more they are actively silencing people and banning their own customers who complains about it

Avatar image for GamerbyDesign

@archav3n: What is considered actively silencing? What are people being banned from?

Avatar image for jwsoul

@archav3n: This is what all BAD devs do who do not listen to fans its actually sickening.

Avatar image for Arkhalipso

I wonder why they went with that cartoonish style. Oh well.

Avatar image for Orontes13

This series has become quite stale and un-evolved. I see very little incentive here to invest time and money in this “new” game over its predecessors. They need to borrow some fresh ideas and character from Paradox, Koei (Nobunaga / ROTK) and AGEOD.

Avatar image for Gaming-Planet

I was expecting some kind of footage.

Avatar image for jessgamespot

@Gaming-Planet: Yeah, I assumed it was a video show-casing 150 turns!

Avatar image for stoneproof

Can't wait for this game! Romance of the Three Kingdoms 13 was a disaster. I need a good strategy game.

Curious...Anyone here play Orion or Stellaris? They are pretty good too.

Avatar image for jessie82

doesnt really look like civ anymore..

Avatar image for ahpuck

@jessie82: If they don't change a game, whiners say "It's the same game! copy paste! Lame" if they change the game, whiners still complain. . you just can't win with the whiners.

Avatar image for doomsday7teen

@ahpuck: Agreed, whiners just want to be heard. Their like roger off american dad: "They need to get their bitchy-ness out". Lol

Avatar image for GamerbyDesign

150 turns and I get 3 pictures? WTF is that.

Avatar image for serialkisser

Really looking forward to this, probably the only game left that i will buy in this year along with Mafia 3.
Devs giving demo to critics 2 months before release is generally a good sign and happens only when they have good faith in their product. Looking forward to 'waste' 100s of hours into this just like i did in Civ V.

Avatar image for GamerbyDesign

@serialkisser: 100 hours? You barely even played the game.

Avatar image for serialkisser

@GamerbyDesign: Notice the 's'. Steam logs 607 hours for Civ V, even more for IV.

Avatar image for serialkisser

@GamerbyDesign: Notice the 's'. Steam logs 607 hours for Civ V, even more for IV.

Avatar image for GamerbyDesign

@serialkisser: It is true I never saw the S.

Avatar image for killerious

20 years after, developers don't make these type of games anymore. That said, there is very little innovation in this game, I think they are afraid of ruin the game by releasing something completely innovative.

Avatar image for jollyboy00

@killerious: Are you serious? Every new innovation in Civ is often met with hostility. Its a fine line trying to please the "really" old fans and also gaining new ones.

Avatar image for GamerbyDesign

@killerious:That is incorrect they are afraid ruining people's perception of what they expect when hearing the name Civilization. Also they are afraid of making new games without the Civilization name attached because they won't sell.

Avatar image for Vojtass

@GamerbyDesign: XCOM made a lot of money (for a strategy/tactical game). I would love to see completely new IP from Firaxis, but Take Two won't allow them probably.

Avatar image for jgui

Now, imagine Gandhi as your neighbor in the middle of all that?!

Jesus, this game will be hard!

Avatar image for ferna1234

Maybe it is a bit ambitious, but I'd love a civilization game where you start as tribesmen hunter gatherers, and a billion turns later you're harnessing the energy of a black hole to get enough to slingshot a homungus fleet to other galaxies and colonize them.

Avatar image for mvilleguy88

This sounds great.

Avatar image for Dilandau88

One of the best games ever made; Civ V. Can't wait for VI

Avatar image for ecs33

Played Civ 5 for like 3 hours yesterday.

These games are forever addicting and fun. Looking forward to 6.

Avatar image for GamerbyDesign

@ecs33: How do you even play Civ for only 3 hours? Every time I play Civ after dinner its all of a sudden 6 am and I have to get to work.

Avatar image for ecs33

@GamerbyDesign: Lol well I have to put the game down for life haha.

Civ 5 is such a great time waster though.

Avatar image for bbq_R0ADK1LL

@GamerbyDesign: First couple of times I played Civ V, it was 9:30am before I stopped playing.

I'm still pretty cautiously optimistic about Civ VI though. Beyond Earth Was a huge disappointment, I put about 27 hours total into that game which is crazy considering I put 20 hours into Civ V within the first two days.

Avatar image for ecs33

@bbq_R0ADK1LL: BE vanilla sucked but the expansion actually fixed the game. It didn't seem like such a Civ 5 clone but honestly BE vanilla should have been what the expansion was.

It's all apart of a sickening trend of developers finishing their games with the expansion packs..lol

Avatar image for Nick3306

@GamerbyDesign: The sheer correctness of this comment is too much for the world to handle.

Avatar image for PETERAKO

cool! Maisie Williams is in it!

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