Civilization VI, Part 1

Released in 2016, Civ VI is the latest release in the Civ franchise as I write this in 2021. Although there has been a general gap of 5-6 years between versions, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have slowed down many things. But this story from PCGames suggest that work is underway, and we may get an announcement any day. In the mean time, this is the game I play now when I play Civ. I’ve played all of them from the first, and put in many hours here. Since I now play Civ on Steam exclusively, I have statistics! I played Civ V for a total of 769 hours, and so far I have played Civ VI for 689 hours, but since this is what I play for now I will probably exceed my Civ V hours unless they release Civ VII pretty soon. BTW, I probably have well over 1000 hours on Civ II, which I think I have played the most, and certainly more than 3000 hours total over all all versions.

I’m going to cover this without worrying too much about whether it is the base game or an expansion. Fact is, Firaxis have started moving to something more akin to a subscription model when they introduced the New Frontier Pass, which works very well when you are on Steam. The idea was that you bought this pass, and very few months got new content, and on Steam it would automatically be downloaded to your account. That is not to say that there weren’t actual expansions, but since the last thing they released was this “pass”, i’m kind of wondering what they will do with Civ VII. In any case, let’s take a look at this.

Gameplay

Again, you start with a tribe in 4000BC which founds your first city, and you immediately begin building units, exploring, researching, and developing your city. this is a time-tested mechanic that never changes. but there are some interesting changes that make this game fascinating.

First, in the earlier versions of Civ you thought of yourself as playing a particular civ, which came with a particular leader. In different versions of Civ the name of the leader might change, like for France you might have Napoleon on some versions, or Joan of Arc in another, but in each case one civ gets one leader, so you tended to think of yourself as playing the nation. Rome might be Caesar in one version, Augustus in another, or Trajan in yet another. (Fun fact: Sid Meier says he always plays as Rome because it just feels right to him). In Civ VI this linkage is broken. One leader, Eleanor of Aquitaine, can be played as the Queen of England, or she can be played as the Queen of France. And each version has different abilities and strengths. If you want a fairly easy Culture victory, play her as Queen of France, and watch as other players’ cities rebel and join your Empire because they admire you so much. Teddy Roosevelt also has two different manifestations, Rough Rider Teddy, and Big Stick Teddy, when you have all the expansions. China has two possible leaders, with different strengths: Qin Shi Huang, and Kublai Khan. And Kublai Khan can be either Chinese or Mongolian, with different strengths. So in Civ VI you don’t think of what Civ you want to play, you think of which leader you want to play.

Every leader comes with a Civilization Ability, a Unique Unit, and a Unique Infrastructure. These matter a lot. For example, take John Curtin, the leader of the Australian civilization. His Civilization Ability is called Land Down Under, and it gives him +3 Housing in coastalcities. Building a Pasture triggers a Culture Bomb, claiming surrounding tilesCampusCommercial HubHoly Site, and Theater Squaredistricts gain +1 to their yields in tiles with Charming Appeal, and +3 in tiles with Breathtaking Appeal. Then his Unique Unit is the Digger, a melee military unit that replaces the Infantry unit. And his Unique Infrastructure is tile improvement called the Outback Station. This gives you increased food, production, and housing, some of which varies according to what is on surrounding tiles. The point is that each leader gives you very specific advantages that you should play to. In Civ VI it is even more important to tailor your strategy to the particular leader. Leaders like Frederic Barbarossa or Simon Bolivar are very good for Domination, while Peter the Great and Saladin are very good for Religious victories. If you take a random leader be ready to adapt your play style and strategy to fit, or alternatively decide what kind of victory you want to achieve and pick a leader who is good at it. Or if you want a real challenge, pick a leader who is not suited to the victory condition you are aiming at. But keep in mind that the game may take you in places you didn’t expect. One game I picked Wilfrid Laurier of Canada, who is ideal for Diplomatic and Cultural victories, and I thought I would be going for a Cultural victory. But Wilfrid’s strengths come from his advantages on Tundra land tiles, and I somehow managed to spawn in the middle of the map with no Tundra tiles at all in my empire. I had work hard to manage a Science victory in that case.

Districts

This is a major change in Civ. In earlier versions you built buildings inside of cities, and you tended to build the same buildings in most or all cities. You were only limited by your ability to generate Production to get them done. Civ VI is different. You have to place Districts on specific tiles, and and you can then develop the district with added buildings. If you want to develop your industry, you can place an Industrial Zone, and then add a Workshop, then a Factory, then a Power plant, and so on, each one increasing your Production. For Science you place down a Campus District, then a Library, then a University, then a Research Lab. And the game mechanic means you cannot built everything in every city. You can place one district at the start, then one more when your city reaches a population of 4, then a third one when you reach 7, and so on with each added population of three allowing one more district. The point is to force you to make choices. Districts get adjacency bonuses which increase their output. The Campus (generates Science) and the Holy Site (generates Faith) both benefit from adjacent Mountains, and the effect is additive. So if you find a tile with three mountains around it, you will want to place one of these districts there. Districts also get adjacency bonuses from other districts, so the planning the layout of your cities is really important to maximize these bonuses. And they can get bonuses even with adjacent Districts that belong to a different city!

Another key district is the Encampment, which let you build better, more veteran military units. Since building units requires Production, you should build build an Encampment in a city which has a lot of Production, and that probably means one with an Industrial Zone. A Harbor District would go in a city with coastal tiles, of course. All of this requires planning. Expert players will usually start out by exploring to see what the map looks like around them, what terrain features they have to work with, what resources are available, and so on. Then, around turn ten they will plan out their next cities, and figure out where they want to place districts and so on. There is a built-in “map pin” system for this, and it can be improved by installing the right mod. While you don’t have to do this, it does help you to be successful.

Maps and Terrain

Terrain features matter a lot in this game. We already mentioned adjacency bonuses of Mountains for Holy Sites and Campuses, but there is much more. The map is divided into Continents, and it is quite normal for a contiguous land mass to contain two or more continents if it is large enough. Think of how Europe and Asia are really just one large land mass to see what I mean. This matters because certain units may defend differently depending on which continent they are on, or some civilizations may be affected from having cities on a different continent. Terrain features like Rivers are extremely important for the placement of cities because they provide fresh water. You can sometimes get around that by building an Aqueduct to bring water from a Lake or a Mountain, but that means using up one of your city tiles, and spending production to build it. If you can place your city on a river you can avoid that problem and get off to a fast start. But the downside is that rivers can flood, and that can wreck your improvements. A big idea for terrain is Appeal. Each tile has an Appeal level ranging from Disgusting to Breathtaking, and it is determined by a combination of the tile’s features themselves and by adjacencies. The modifiers are added together to determine the Appeal level of the tile, and there is a lens you use to view your Appeal levels on all tiles, which are color coded. This matters particularly if you are trying for a Culture victory. Culture victories are own by generating Tourism, and while some that can come from things like Museums and Wonders, you will really want to maximize your Tourism to win this game, and two good ways to do that are building National Parks and Seaside Resorts. You can only do that if the appeal is at least Charming (or even better, Breathtaking). If you find you cannot build them in what seems like a good spot, chances are Appeal is the problem. So check that out. You can, for instance, remove marshes (which give negative appeal), and plant forests (which add appeal), and that might be all it takes to get these going.

The underlying issue in managing your cities is that you only have so many tiles, and a tile that might be great for a farm might also be great for a District. You need food to grow, and you need to grow to put down Districts, so you are always making choices about this, and that is what makes this a great strategy game.

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