It keeps me up at night. The glow of my screen as I plan my next turn. Then the one after that, and another. Then I discover something new, something that requires immediate reaction. A war breaks out, and I must defend my cities. Now it is 2AM and oops, I hit that next turn button.
Civilization VI feels fresh but familiar, thanks to a whole new way to build and manage cities, how culture works and several other facets that I will try to detail below. From the outset though, I can tell you that this feels like a good and proper Civ game.
Time to destack
No matter how big your city got in Civ, everything you really needed was always conveniently kept on a single tile in the game. Sure the barbarians could pillage a mine or a farm, maybe break a road, but your city kept running close to 100% efficiency. That has all changed. Now things like wonders, factories, the barracks for your army or science generating buildings take up tiles outside of the city. These districts change the way you approach building a city and working out where to place them in the world, even if many of the underlying systems work the exact same way. What it does change is the one size fits all approach to city building: you can’t just build every single improvement and wonder in a single city. Instead you need to make a few choices. Will this city have a thriving economy, or perhaps it is the training and staging area for your troops? Do people come here for entertainment, or perhaps to see the research campus with its library and university? Each district gets bonuses from various adjacent tiles, and offers bonuses in turn. Truly successful cities need to be tuned to make full use of the adjacency bonuses but while they are nice to have, don’t worry if you mess it up a little bit. As cities grow in population the number of specialised districts increases, allowing truly massive cities to have several districts, generating gold, science, culture and faith all at once. Just remember to watch your housing and amenities or your cities will stagnate.
This really changes the first few turns for a city. Will you focus on production and then get the other resources that you require? Can you defend all of those districts from roving pillagers? It adds a lot of thought to the improvements you choose for your city. Sure you want more research, but can you wait for your city to grow 3 or so more population before you get a military district built?
Builder, not worker
This also means you can hit your enemies where it hurts. Go for their research district and slow them down, or turn their industry off so that they can’t produce soldiers to defend against the attack. The same tactics will be used against you and a spy sabotaging a district or seeing it pillaged will set you back several turns as you repair the district or send a builder out to fix it. Wait what is a builder? Workers have been replaced by builders and their function is similar but how you use them changes their worth completely. Normally you would build a few of these at the beginning of the game and set them to automatically build improvements for your cities and never really look at them again, except to see that they took several turns to build one farm. Builders build a farm or mine on a tile instantly, but they have limited uses before they disappear. There are policies and wonders that increase the number of uses they have before they leave the game but it means you get the bonus from a tile right now and not in several turns. It also means you need to remember to build a few every now and then to flesh out cities that have expanded borders, or to repair pillaged districts. It also makes capturing a builder really satisfying as they scurry off and build a lumbermill for you.
Where is my coal / iron / plutonium?
When discovering new strategic resources later on in the game, I was disappointed by how few of them spawned in the area I had explored and settled in. Researching how to build musketmen, then realising there is no nitre near any of your cities is unfortunate, as is discovering a similar lack of other resources. Yes this encourages trading with others, or if you are lucky the city-state you are the Suzerian of might have it. Perhaps you can build a city near that deposit of it over there? Just remember that you will make the other civs unhappy for building so close to their borders. It does wonders for creating tension and promoting aggressive expansion, but if you were hoping for a laid back game where you build up your cities and make friends with everyone, this might pose a problem later on. Luckily later techs tend to remove the requirement for some of the strategic resources, which means you can tough it out.
Tech and Culture
When you first see the Tech Tree, you might find it a little sparse. That is because there are two tech trees this time. No wait, before you run to the hills, it is pretty simple. Your tech tree contains the normal things you expect to learn through research and the pursuit of science. Writing, mathematics, gunpowder, electricity. Those standard things. But culture now gets a much more defined purpose and fuels a second tree of things to unlock. New government types, civic improvements, methodologies for research agreements and alliances. All those “technologies” that require civics, culture, ethics, and debate to ratify. Now you can have a civilization that is on the cutting edge of technology, *and* have a refined nation that values democracy and the best government policies in place, that is much easier to achieve now.
Late game crashes
I found in a game on a large map closely approaching turn 400 eventually became unplayable. I am hoping this is a memory leak in the preview build causing a crash to desktop and that it won’t be a major issue in the final game.
Pleasing the other civs (and killing them)
Pleasing your neighbours can sometimes feel a bit hit and miss when the AI has its own idea of what you should do and doesn’t really express it. Luckily you can see exactly why a Civ is unhappy with you, and what you share in common with them. Some will be friendly if you share a government type or run many productive cities. Some are paranoid of units or cities being too close, so send your armies elsewhere if you have upset them. It makes it a lot easier to understand if an alliance between you and someone else will be possible when you take their values into account, which takes some diplomacy to uncover. Building embassies or spying on your neighbours will tell you a lot about their personality, which will allow you to plan how to not upset the person with the strongest military in the world. At least until you build up a strong force to counter them. The best change is the inclusion of different war declarations with each having a different effect to whether people see you as a warmonger or not. A surprise war has the worst effect, while a colonial war, one where you are two ages ahead of someone in terms of technology, has less of a sting in your relationship with others. The civic tree has other options that allow you to declare war without upsetting everyone overly much, allowing you to eradicate one Civ without having everyone turning their backs on you right afterwards.
Faith and archaeology and espionage
I like that so many features are in the game from the get-go, instead of releasing later as an expansion. Once you get used to the how say great works or artifacts affect your culture and tourism, it feels so barren when the next game comes out without these facets. Civ 6 is skipping that, giving us a pretty solid package. Establishing a religion and spreading it can lead to some amazing bonuses, like extra resources per citizen following your religion. Espionage lets you learn more about your neighbours, and possibly steal technology or skim gold off the top of their commercial district. Archaeology leads to some amazing cultural bonuses and the relics you find can be used to sweeten deals with other civilizations. Having so much to do from the get go in the base game, plus looking after each city to make sure they develop in a balanced and efficient way means you will have less turns just sitting there hitting the “next turn” button.
I have put 14 hours into the preview, with a few false starts and one game that just keeps crashing in the very late game with Pericles going for a culture or science victory (turn 350+ on a large map) and a rousing military campaign with Hoji Tokimune leading Japan to conquer the world, battleships destroying catapults as I cut off where the AI could build or leave its territory.
Civilization VI has changed up the formula a bit, but has kept or refined several systems that made the game just tick over nicely. With 20 leaders to try I am sure I will play a few more games, but I will wait for the full release, which will include those cinematics that have always made the beginning and end of a Civ game so great. Farewell Sean Bean, I will be back to listen to your warm timbre soon. Also I need to watch every wonder get built, the animation of them being built in a super-fast time lapse is just far too satisfying.
Civilization VI launches exclusively for PC on 21 October.