Sid Meier's Civilization series is a turn-based strategy game that has been described as the most intense board game ever. Choose one of the several civilizations, each with their own unique traits and start your journey to greatness with nothing but a settler and single military unit. Use the settler to found your first city from where you can train additional units, build structures and wonders or create additional settlers and expand your empire. You also need to pay attention to scientific research which will move you from age to age, unlocking new buildings and upgrading your army's weaponry from clubs and swords to rifles and tanks.
Along the road, you will meet other civilizations and may choose to either build a positive relationship to benefit you both or send your forces into foreign lands to claim for yourself what was once theirs. Every decision you make will influence the game later on so choose wisely which roads to take lest you find yourself being despised by the entire world. Your goal is to be the first to achieve one of 5 victory conditions including domination, science, culture, religion or score. To do this you will need to build a mighty empire, balance several resources, keep a strong military and form relationships with your fellow leaders.
Civilization VI is about more than just being the strongest, smartest or most cultural. You have to be a combination of them all and maybe, just maybe your name will live on among the greatest legends of history.
Civilization VI is now available on Steam for $59.99
There has been some controversy regarding the new art style used in Civilization VI which I don't fully understand because this game is breathtakingly beautiful. Having pre-ordered the game I immediately have access to the Aztec civilization for the first 30 days after release, so of course, I had to start with them. My leader, Montezuma, wears a jaguar helmet, golden amulet, and bracelets and is covered in green feathers. The detail is mightily impressive from the various tattoos and muscular lines across his body to the various cultural designs on his apparel. He looks exactly like you'd expect an ancient Aztec king to look, complete with the soul-scorching intimidating stare. Similarly striking were the other leaders I'd meet a bit later. Peter of Russia was distinguished in his Victorian style suit and curling moustache, which to be honest made him look a little pompous and very much like a douche. Next, I'd meet Barbarossa of Germany who is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. He's dressed in full armour, with gold crown and sceptre. That coupled with his fat belly and impressive beard made him seem like the kind of leader you don't want to upset, a feat a failed at miserably. The leaders aren't just well designed, they have personality. Leaders in previous Civilization games had no facial expressions and barely any movements but with Civilization VI they really feel like they've come to life.
So I founded my first city Tenochtitlan, I can't pronounce it either, and found myself surrounded by the most spectacular landscape. The tiles are vibrant and each resource can be distinguished, even without their icons. When you start building improvements then you'll see amazing little animations from spinning water wheels to burning torches that give new life to each and every tile. Even the farms look different depending on what you're farming. The cities are filled with structures which increase as the city grows and the new district system, which we'll get to a bit later, allows you to spread your various structures across the map allowing you to see exactly what you've built without having to check the structure list. When designing the units, Firaxis opted for a slightly less realistic look than before to allow for more creativity.This might sound like a step back but I assure you it's not as each unit looks amazing and they have the coolest animations for various tasks they perform.
Then we have the day-night cycle which lets you see time pass as you play. Everything is bright under the scorching daylight and as time progresses you can see the sun's reflection move across the water when it sets. At night the cities shine brightly with flaming torches and you'll see the little windows light up too. This sounded like a good idea when I first heard about it but I found it annoying playing at night because apart from the cities, everything else was dark. I ended up disabling this option and left time standing still around noon.
Finally, we come to arguably the most spectacular design feature in Civilization VI. Any area of the world that hasn't been discovered yet is presented as a map drawn on old parchment, complete with sketches of ships and sea life as well as latitude and longitude lines. Move to unexplored territory and the map flows out like liquid to reveal the area. As soon as you move out of that area the tiles you discovered will still be visible but the brown colour of the map returns making it seem like that's how the map was drawn in the first place. No description or image can do this feature justice, it really has to be seen to be appreciated.
Loyal Civilization fans will remember Baba Yetu, the Swahili version of the Lord's prayer which was created as the theme song for Civilization IV by composer Christopher Tin. This was the first and only song created for a video game to ever win an Emmy award, cementing itself in the history books and our hearts for all time. After the forgetful theme song used in the previous game they've asked Tin to return for Civilization VI, and this time he created Sogno di Volare (The Dream of Flight) which is another true testament of his creative genius. I thoroughly enjoyed this new theme song although it's not as great as Baba Yetu in my opinion .
The full version of Sogno di Volare, complete with Italian and English subtitles.
Furthermore, you'll be entertained by various soundtracks when playing which is specific to each civilization. With previous Civilization games, I found myself muting the music after a while but I haven't had that urge with the latest soundtracks yet. The Civilization series is also well known for the impeccable voice acting used in their games. Leonard Nimoy was previously used as narrator and has been nearly impossible to replace. This time around they've gone with Sean Bean who has done a phenomenal job and thus far I haven't heard the sound of a blade slicing through his neck during any of the voice overs so it would seem that for once, he may just have survived.
TECHNOLOGY, CULTURE AND GOVERNMENT
All Civilization games include a technology tree which starts with simple techs like the wheel and pottery and progresses through the ages until you reach sailing, gun power, combustion, flight and eventually space travel. You always have loads of technologies to research, each granting you access to new units, buildings or wonders. The cultural aspect of the game, however, has had a few different iterations in the past and this time round they've once again revised the way in which culture is utilised by letting it fuel a second "tech tree".
The developers at Firaxis realised that many technologies in their tech trees actually have nothing to do with technology, like chivalry, theology, and military tradition. So they've taken all those technologies and moved them to a new tech tree with some new additions. In addition to unlocking the various cultural and faith based buildings, the civics tree also unlock numerous governmental systems and policies. You start off with the chiefdom government which allows you to use just one military and one economic policy while later governments allow their own combination of policy slots among the military, economic, diplomatic and wildcard categories. At the start, I utilised the "Discipline" policy which granted me additional fighting strength when fighting barbarians along with "Urban Planning" which aided my cities with some additional production. Later policies can have a multitude of effects to benefit you in all areas of the game so culture has truly become more important than ever.
For a veteran Civilization V player like myself, this change posed the biggest challenge. Previously, I had a good sense which technologies to research next depending on what my plans were but now I had to relearn the entire system. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it simply poses a new challenge that'll take some time to master.
Another addition found here is what Firaxis calls Active Research. Every technology and civic has a side quest of sorts which, if completed awards you with 50% of the research required to finish the tech. This not only eliminates some of those dreary turns where you're just waiting for things to happen by constantly giving you something new to do, but also ensures that you progress quicker along the routes for which your civilization is particularly suited at that time. For example, founding a city on a coastline boosts your research towards sailing which makes sense as people who've never seen the ocean will hardly know how to build a seaworthy boat. This must be one of my favourite changes in Civilization VI, if only for the fact that it brings some additional energy to the sometimes boring mid and late game.
In Civilization V we were wowed by the introduction of unstacked units which meant you could no longer move your entire army together on one tile. Instead, each military unit had to occupy its own tile, this created an entirely new approach to warfare because it meant you actually had to plan your attacks instead of just running in head first and hoping your opponent had fewer soldiers than you. With Civilization VI we now also have unstacked cities which refer to how your building placements are done. In all previous Civilization games, you could build endlessly in each city without being troubled by pesky physics that should let you run out of space. Now, you have to place various districts to house certain types of buildings like military, science, culture, faith, entertainment and others.
Each district takes up a tile around your city which would previously be used for farms, mines and others. This principle also applies when building wonders as each wonder takes up its own tile. This not only means that you won't be able to create all buildings in every city but also that you need to plan which districts to construct and where to place them because if you don't leave enough workable tiles then your city will stagnate. When building a district or wonder, you will see the structure being built on the tile you selected in real time. With each progressive turn it'll grow nearer to completion and when building a wonder you will afterwards be treated to a short animation of the wonder being built from scratch. In Civilization V, I frequently found myself queuing production in some of my cities when I had a few things I wanted to build, but the districts as well as the added housing and amenity mechanics, which is basically the housing space and happiness of the city, ensures that each and every build order has to be carefully considered and thus the build queue is no longer available. Unstacked cities bring an entirely new form of strategic planning to the game which makes as great a difference in Civilization VI as unstacked units made in Civilization V.
When I started my game as Montezuma, I found myself near a mountain which grants me additional science points when placing a science district, also called a campus, next to it. This made me decide to try and pursue a science victory as I seemed to have an advantage in that area right off the bat. After exploring a little I came into contact with two other civilizations, Germany and Russia as well as two city states. City states are neutral civilizations that are bound to a single city. If you prefer you can just conquer them and take over their cities but mostly it'll be much more lucrative to become friends and reap the benefits they offer. The city-state system is another one that's been reworked in Civilization VI which now lets you send delegates in order to win their favour. This means that city states no longer automatically ally with the person who gifts them the most gold, also the rewards for cozying up to a city-state has been greatly increased.
Upon meeting Germany, I was welcomed with open arms and immediately got the sense that Barbarossa and I would become bffs. Peter from Russia, however, scowled at me during introductions and refused to accept my delegation, he probably thought his twirly moustache made him superior somehow. In Civilization VI each leader has a unique agenda which is based on the actions of their person they're based on. They also have another agenda which is randomly chosen for each game and is not visible to you until much later when you've had a few pints together and shared your life stories. The agendas give you some info as to what each leader likes and dislikes and should avoid instances like in previous Civilization games where your long time allies suddenly declare war for unfathomable reasons. My old chum Barbarossa's agenda was disliking civilizations who interact with city states in any way other than conquering them. This posed a problem to our future bromance as I had every intention of becoming friends with every city state I met. After he invaded one of the city states I had my sights on and settled a city right next to my capital, a prime spot I was just about to claim for myself, I knew that it was only a matter of time before we could no longer have any sleepovers. On the flip side, I eventually became friends with pompous Peter which made me realise you really shouldn't judge a book by its moustache.
As expected, I eventually saw Germany's forces amassing around my borders. I prepared for a declaration of war at any moment until I remembered that we had a public friendship agreement which needed to expire first, this gave me some time to prepare. I didn't waste any time however and as soon as our friendship contract expired I challenged him to a duel. It was a fierce battle but I eventually managed to reduce his forces to a lowly few and conquer the city that was supposed to have been mine from the start. I then set out towards my fallen comrades in the city-state he conquered earlier but was distracted by a shiny peace agreement offer which awarded me with some luxury resources and a lot of money. I would of course accept but only until my forces have been replenished and I can avenge my city-state brethren.
As with Civilization V, you can't stack military units but to add some spice to this mechanic you can now build support units which can be stacked with regular military units. Previously supporting units only included great generals and great admirals who added some fighting strength to surrounding units, now, however, you have new options like the battering ram and siege tower which when stationed next to an enemy city, helps you overcome the added defences provided by their walls. Additionally, you are able to combine several military units to create a single, stronger force. A single merged unit is not as strong as two separate units but it makes battle strategy a lot easier when you have a huge army to move around the map. This is not available to you at the start though and has to be unlocked through the civics tree.
After rebuilding my forces and arranging them neatly around the city state I wanted to liberate I once again denounced Germany so to incur fewer warmongering penalties when I declared war a few turns later. To my surprise, a barbarian encampment had spawned just a few tiles away and was now sending in everything they had to attack the city. Having already surrounded the city, I found myself in the middle of a conflict which wasn't intended for me but nearly wiped out my forces nonetheless. I read previously that the barbarians have been given a shot of steroids this time round and are a lot more menacing than before. Even with the prior warning, I was not quite ready for what ensued. Barbarians are no longer brainless brutes who hide in their camps, instead, they send out scouts to find worthy targets and then muster a raiding party. Should a scout stumble upon your city, he'll head back to the hood and return a few turns later with his homies. I'm don't mean those peace loving, hippy gangsters from the 60's, I'm talking straight gangsta's who want nothing more than to bust a cap in yo ass! Seriously, the barbarians are a nightmare when left unchecked but they definitely keep things interesting. After regrouping and taking care of the barbarians was I finally able to declare war on Germany. The city was quickly taken and after liberating the previous owners by giving them back control of the city, I not only removed most of the warmongering penalties I received but also had a valuable ally.
Another update from previous games is the switch from workers to builders. In previous games, you would add a few workers at the beginning of the game, improve all the key resources and end up switching them to auto-pilot. Firaxis wanted to change this by introducing the builder unit. Essentially the same as the workers of old but instead of taking various turns to create a tile improvement, these jobs are now done instantly. However, a builder only has three charges and after those charges have been used the unit evaporates into thin air. Playing with the Aztecs gave me access to their unique Eagle Warrior which has a chance of turning a defeated enemy unit into a worker, this was rather useful. The unit promotion system has also received a few tweaks and now present you with two branches to improve along, creating either an offensive or defensively specialised unit. After two promotions, you can now also name your units which make them easier to identify but more importantly, allows you to fight with a band of spearmen named "The Fantastic Llamas" or a tank named "The Little Engine that Could". How cool is that?
Further changes include a new Great Person system which works similarly to the one introduced in Civilization V with the exception that each Great Person has a unique ability. Examples include a Great General who can convert adjacent barbarians to fight for you and a Great Scientist who'll instantly add a library and university to a campus district. Then there are the roads which are no longer built by workers but are created automatically when you form a trade route between two cities. This makes sense since that's mainly why roads were built in the past. The religion system works similarly to Civilization V with added pantheons to choose from. After receiving a Great Prophet, I proudly started my religion, House of the Great Panda. You can now achieve a religious victory by making your religion the predominant faith in every civilization. This has replaced the political victory of old.
The one update in Civilization VI I didn't enjoy was the change to movement points which limits the movement of your units quite a bit. This was introduced because the developers wanted to extend the exploration part of the game but it also puts a burden on military strategies because your forces take that much longer to get to where they need to be. This may sound like I'm nitpicking, and I am, but this is the one instance where I think the changes were not an improvement.
Upon writing this review I hadn't even gotten through 200 turns of my first game and already I had so much to say. After over 1000 hours of Civilization V, I was still discovering new things so who knows what I'll find after a bit more time with the new game.
Civilization VI is, in my opinion, by far the best instalment in the series. Honestly, I thought Civilization V was perfect after the introduction of the Brave New World expansion but after playing the latest iteration I don't know how I could ever go back to the way things were. I tip my hat to the developers at Firaxis for coming up with these ideas and putting them together so well.
Civilization VI then has phenomenal designs, another epic theme song and great improvements over the already exceptional gameplay from previous titles in the series. The available civilizations to choose from are somewhat limited but this has been the case with most new Civilization games in the past and should change soon with some DLC's or an expansion. Thus far, with the exception of the movement point update, I find it difficult to fault this game and plan to have enjoy blissful hours of "just one more turn" in my near and extended future.