Civilization: Beyond Earth

In 2014 Firaxis decided to try another future-based spin-off with Civilization: Beyond Earth. Just as Alpha Centauri was based on the Civ II game engine and concepts, Beyond Earth was based on the Civ V game engine and concepts. I think a good metaphor for where this fits in the Civilization pantheon is that it is the Magical Mystery Tour analog. Every fan checked it out, but in most cases they didn’t go back to it very much. I have talked to a number of Civ fans who said they never really got into Beyond Earth, and actually preferred the older Alpha Centauri for interest in continuing to play, despite the older game engine and dated graphics. But Beyond Earth does have some features worth examining.

It is clear that the developers, while using the Civ V game engine, also were looking at the previous Alpha Centauri for inspiration. Once again, the alien planet is itself a player in the game, and a fundamental decision that each player has to make is whether they want to adapt themselves to the planet, or attempt to adapt the planet to them. And like Alpha Centauri, the game is divided among factions that differ in ideological orientation rather than different civilizations like in Civ. As lead designer David McDonogh said:

“For all the fans out there of Alpha Centauri, this is the game we have made for you.”

There are some interesting elements to this game, which are worth a look. I would like to see some of them reappear in the future.

Back story

Something nasty but unspecified happens on Earth called The Great Mistake. Whatever it is, it pushes people to colonize other planets. You don’t really know a lot more than that. But by 2210 the political system of Earth has changed, of course. You no longer have the nations of Earth as we know them today. Instead you have:

  • American Reclamation Corporation
  • Pan-Asian Cooperative
  • People’s African Union
  • Kavithan Protectorate
  • Brasilia
  • Franco-Iberia
  • Polystralia
  • Slavic Federation

Each of these entities sends colonists to the planet, but you can choose which one is sponsoring your ship. And since each one has a special Ability, you need to adapt your game play to that ability somewhat. And each of these factions has a leader who will have certain tendencies, but because you can redesign your faction traits each game it is tendency, not a predetermined outcome. As co-designer Will Miller said:

Our leaders definitely have personalities that you can latch onto, both for their faction and for their gameplay implications, so there’s still the Genghis Khan leader that’s a little more truculent than the rest of them but he may have taken different loadout options from one game to another, so you can’t always predict what they’re going to do, but you can get a hint. We never want there to be a critical path through this game.

Building your character

After you choose your Sponsor from the above list, the next major choice you need to make is to choose is your Affinity. There are three of them

  • Harmony – This affinity is for people who want to adapt to the planet. They will go so far as to change their own DNA to help them fit into this alien environment.
  • Supremacy – This affinity is very technology focused, and ultimately aims to cybernetically transform themselves into a massive digital consciousness and transcend material bodies.
  • Purity – They want to transform the planet into what Earth was before The Great Mistake by terraforming the planet. They use technology, but are not changed by it.

This affects your relations with other factions. If they share your Affinity you will get along better. Otherwise there will be conflict. If you are trying to wipe out the alien life, and another faction is trying to adapt and fit in to the planet, they might just go to war with you.

Following choosing your Affinity, you choose your Colonists, which can be:

  • Random
  • Scientists (+2 Science in every city)
  • Refugees (+2 Food in every city)
  • Aristocrats (+3 Energy and +1 Health in very city)
  • Engineers (+2 Production in every city)
  • Artists (+2 Culture and +1 Health in every city)

Then your choice of Spacecraft (5 possibilities) can give you added capabilities, like revealing resources or giving you energy, and choosing your Cargo (5 possibilities) for the spacecraft can give you things like a unit or a building to start with in your first city without you having to build it there.

Then you choose the type of Planet. Unlike Alpha Centauri which had a single planet that was always the same, this is like Civ where you could choose what kind of Map you like. There are 3 basic choices, but also 10 “Advanced” choices, for a total of 13 possibilities. And if you don’t like your choices here, you can “Rescan” to get different ones.

Taken together, you can choose from among 39,000 (8x3x5x5x5x13) starting combinations for your faction! This is infinite replayability, in effect.


On the planet there are a number of alien species which function much as the Barbarians do in Civ games. That is, they are not particularly tough to deal with, but they are there to distract you and give you an added problem to deal with.


This is a real innovation that I would love to see built upon more. Unlike the versions of Civ which had an essentially linear tech tree (A leads to B which is needed for C), Beyond Earth has a Technology Web which allows you to develop your own path. You won’t develop all of the possible techs in this web, that is not practically possible, so you have to decide which ones will best fit your strategy. This is a brilliant innovation, in my view, and the choices you make and the path you take through the web can be different in every game, and will guide your faction to different outcomes.


The Quest system in Beyond Earth is another new feature. Quests are given to you throughout the game, and align with your Affinity type. They help you advance to the Victory condition for your faction/affinity. Each comes with a reward of some kind, which can be things like a Unit, a building, some science, and so on. This is an interesting feature, and was adapted in Civ VI, but I think this is the first appearance.


In this game, Espionage has been so buffed that it is unbalanced. It is possible to use espionage to take over another faction’s capital city, and not have them declare on war on you as a result. This just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Other aspects

Pretty much everything else in the game is vanilla Civ V, though some of the features get new names. The policy trees from Civ V become the Virtue trees in Beyond Earth, but pretty much work the same. Similarly, combat and trade pretty much follow the Civ V model. Sometimes this is jarring. If you think about it, any entity capable of sending out an interstellar colony ship should be capable of mapping, but you still start with a single settlement and the rest of the map “unknown”. You just have to suspend disbelief on this point, though to be fair Alpha Centauri also had this problem. Other aspects of Civ simply seem to be abandoned, such as Religion. Maybe in a few centuries Religion will no longer be part of human society, but I somehow doubt that. And Great People are nowhere to be found here. In this respect it feels more like an update to Alpha Centauri than a version of Civ V. Perhaps they wanted it that way, but I found it a step back in that respect.

Victory Conditions

There are six possible ways of winning Beyond Earth:

  • Domination – This is just like Civ V. Control of every other player’s original capital gives you a Domination victory. Any faction can win this way.
  • Contact – You can win by making contact with a superior Alien race. You get there by completing quests or by developing certain technologies. Any faction can win this way.
  • Transcendence (Harmony) – This victory involves linking all of the minds on the planet into a single consciousness, transcending the individual.
  • Promised Land (Purity) – This victory involves bring more pure Earth colonists to the planet. This makes me think of Nazis, lebensraum, and pure Aryan stock.
  • Emancipation (Supremacy) – This is the like the Cybermen in Doctor Who. The idea is to send strong units back to Earth and “emancipate” everyone there by making them part of the machine intelligence.
  • End of Time – If no one has won by turn 500 the game is over, and the highest score wins. Any faction can win this way.


In 2015 the Rising Tide expansion was released. It did the usual things of adding new factions, biomes, and units, rebalancing gameplay in several areas, rebuilt the Diplomacy system into something brand new, and expanded the aquatic gameplay. This includes a new submarine unit, and floating cities that can move around on the ocean. There are no breakthroughs in this expansion, certainly nothing that can compare to what Firaxis did with the Civ V: Gods & Kings expansion.


When you come down to it, this is not a game I go back to. I don’t find it to be very fun, and I know a lot of other fans who feel the same way. I don’t actually recommend that someone should play this, although I know that when it was released most Civ fans bought it, and the game did get good reviews. The problem with a lot of reviews is that they don’t come from in-depth playing of the game over time, and on the surface this looks like a better game than I think it really is. Nevertheless, there are some brilliant ideas here that I would love to see developed further, and in at least one case I know this has happened, as Quests were adapted into Civ VI. I think the Affinity system could be great, but not the way they did it here. The longer you look at each Affinity, the darker it appears to be. Maybe that was the intent of the designers to show a dark future, but for me it doesn’t work. The multiple choices of building your faction (39,000 possible combinations!) is a definite keeper. And the Technology Web is another brilliant idea. Implemented properly, the starting combinations and the Technology Web should give you infinite replayability, but only if the game itself is fun, and this one simply isn’t. Which is too bad. Civ fans all bought this hoping it was going to be the next great Civ game in the franchise history, which it certainly was not. Fortunately, that next great game was just around the corner: Civilization VI!

Obtaining Civilization: Beyond Earth

The usual sources come through again. You can obtain the complete bundle of the original game, the Rising Tide expansion, and a Map pack on Steam for $11.99. Or you can get the game bundled with Civ III, Civ IV, and Civ V on Steam for the same $11.99. You kind of get the idea that even Steam knows this is not a big winner. On Amazon you can get the original game for too much money, and the collection (complete bundle) is unavailable and they don’t know when it will be available. My guess is never.

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