Significant Choice: A preview of Civilization VI
One thing that all strategy games should have is significant choice. No gamer enjoys being railroaded or only being provided with the illusion of choice. Making choices and having the effects of that choice immediately affect the world (in one way or another) is one of the most important aspects of a game. How else would you know if you’re doing well in a game?
When I fired up the first 80 or so turns of Civilization VI, I had the distinct feeling that the developers at Firaxis feel the same way too.
In Civ IV or Civ V, it seemed as if there was usually a go-to strategy for every game. In Civ V it was ‘go tall’. That’s Civ speak for building as few cities as possible, making sure each city is packed with as many improvements and Wonders as possible. This usually means that cities were best in similar types of terrain; a much fertile land as possible, with some resources to ensure that production and trade didn’t falter. Similarly, if some irrigation is good, more must be better. I always had a game with at least one worker early in the game (usually 2 or more) improving all the tiles close to my cities. Sometimes I even had them improve everything in sight. They lasted forever and didn’t have anything else to do anyway.
Civ VI turns this conceit on its head with the implementation of two changes that essentially results in what feels like a whole new game: districts, and changing the immortal worker into the much more transient builder.
Districts unstack the city the same way armies were unstacked in Civ V. You are no longer able to fit all your buildings into the city tile. You now need districts, tiles that house all the Science buildings (Campus) or Military improvements (Encampment), among other things. Even Great Wonders take up their own tile now. This means that instead of just saying ‘Farm/Mine ALL the things’, you will have to make a conscious decision. Do you build a mine on that hill, or do you leave it for a specific district later on in the game?
Even more importantly, all districts and now Wonders have their own terrain advantages or requirements. Mountains used to only be useful for defence (since they couldn’t be worked on and were impassable), but now are integral to a faith or science based city. Deserts used to be anathema to me (since they usually had abysmal food and production bonuses), but now building the Pyramids dictate having a desert or two around. Add to that the fact that districts need time (and production) to build means that the ‘everything improvement in one city’ megalopolis is going to be a thing of the past.
Some may bemoan this change, and I will admit that I am one of the players who will miss the ‘tall’ megalopolis. However, I think this change is ultimately an improvement. Deserts are no longer useless. In fact, every terrain has some benefit to a district, or is a requirement for a Great Wonder. This means that every terrain tile has a reason for existing. This also means that while I may have a preferred strategy, the unique map in every Civ game will necessitate making significant choices about what to build (and thus how we advance towards victory). Builders magnify this aspect of significant choice through opportunity cost. Builders now only have three charges. Three improvements and POOF they’re gone. Where you place every farm and mine suddenly becomes much more important when it is the last improvement for a builder (and you don’t have the time to build another one).
There’s a plethora of other ways Civ VI’s developers have added significant choice to the game. I could talk about the ‘deck’ aspect of Civics and government, or the Eureka/Inspiration system, but the point is that there is a relation between significant decisions, a game’s complexity and richness, and how good a game is.
Of course, sometimes choice can be paralyzing. I only played 80 turns (compared to some of the others’ 100+ turns) because I spent so much time agonizing through my decisions. Considering I went into Civ VI with a decent amount of Civilization experience, I have the feeling that the learning curve for Civ VI will be high, especially for people who are not well-versed with Civilization (or 4X games in general). However, people who stick it through will be rewarded with a deep, complex, and addictive game.
If you want to know how else Civ VI has changed, check out what I feel are the 10 big differences between Civ V and VI.
Disclaimer: I was lucky enough to play 80 turns or so with the preview version of Civilization VI a few days back, and that is where most of my opinions stem from. For specifics however, I am looking at information aggregator sites like Well of Souls’ Civ VI overview. Because it is an aggregator of various articles, and even interviews, some of the specifics may be inaccurate or out of date, so details might be off. The general idea is there though.