Just like its predecessor, Civilization VI is offering us a brand new vision for the series. Although it keeps many of the same features as Civilization 5, it offers more than just a few minor changes. It offers a new way to play the game. From diplomacy to warfare, the new mechanics and changes Civilization VI promises could have a major impact on how we play. How is it going to deliver that, and what are we going to see? Here’s what I expect and hope for:
Raiding and Pillaging
‘Unpacked cities’ is the core new feature for Civilization VI, which means more important infrastructure will be visible on the map, rather than hidden away in cities. From a gameplay perspective, cities are now much more vulnerable to pillaging, something which was more of a minor annoyance in the past than a real threat to your economy. Now, should you choose to fall back to protect your city centers, an unchallenged enemy will have the opportunity to raze districts that are vital to your empire.
In practice, this continues Civilization V’s goal of bringing the battles out into the fields, rather than in the cities. It also makes war more flexible. In the past, going to war just to pillage a few farms wasn’t worth it, except maybe in the very early game. You were aiming to take cities, often with the goal of crippling your enemy beyond repair. Now, though, pillaging a science or manufacturing district on the border could set your enemy back drastically. A rich financial district you can raid might be worth declaring war over all by itself.
Combine this with the idea that diplomacy may also be a much more fluid concept than in previous Civilization games. Although we haven’t seen much of the new diplomacy system, we certainly know that there is such a thing as a ‘surprise war’, and there’s also likely to be a ‘casus belli’ system similar to the grand strategy titles of Paradox, in which wars must be justified somehow. Often this comes down to a difference in politics or religion, claims on specific areas of land (not just “all of it”) or even simply being insulted by another leader. Under this system, declaring war without justification provokes outrage among your neighbors, but they might look the other way if you can provide a reason for your actions.
Early warfare is likely to hinge less on requiring casus belli, and more on opportunism, while the late game will supposedly tend more towards peaceful co-existence, with wars being a civilization’s last resort. If early game opportunistic wars are more common, and pillaging more powerful, we may see a lot more wars being declared that are more about raiding than conquering.
Historical events like the Viking era and nomadic invasions will hopefully become more exciting and dynamic, more like skirmishes and less like watching the emergence of a Medieval Third Reich. Imperialism and Total War can be relegated to more modern eras, where it makes sense, leaving the early ages to engage in border disputes instead.
The changing face of war will also be represented through new types of units, allowing for combat that actually changes throughout history. Historically, major events such as the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic Wars and the World Wars all had massive impacts on both diplomatic and military theory. In Civilization, meanwhile, units fight in the same way throughout history while their stats just get bigger.
It’s expecting a lot from a game like Civilization to be able to model the vastly changing tactics from one era to the next, let alone the differences between different parts of the world (compare Medieval France with the Mongols, for instance). However, if there’s a Civ game to change all that, Civilization VI is the one.
As well as the new diplomacy system, which will impact how and why wars are fought, the introduction of ‘support’ units, ‘corps’ and ‘armies’ allow the field of battle to change considerably from one era to the next. We already know that battering rams will be a support unit that allows melee units to do huge damage to walls, which are otherwise impervious to their attacks. We might also assume that catapults and later siege weapons will fulfill a similar role. As we enter the Modern Era, though, I would expect to see SAM units and possibly even anti-tank weapons, trench diggers or machine guns also fulfill support roles. Modern armies may be much more dominated by a mix of support units than their medieval counterparts, which only use the system for catapults.
We’ve also been promised ‘corps’ and ‘armies’ in the later game; a new mechanic in which groups of units can join together to become a single, far stronger entity. Partly this is to resolve issues where the late-game map is carpeted with units. By the time production is high enough that you can spawn that many units, they’ll need to start grouping up in order to have any real bite. But if these entities are unlocked through technology, they will heavily benefit those civilizations who reach that technology first. A rifleman will perform much better than a musketman, but two riflemen stacked together will absolutely destroy it. Vital military leaps in the Napoleonic and Modern Eras will allow for sudden bursts of conquest by ambitious militarists, far more than in previous titles.
With these changes, we might also see a return of some Civilization IV mechanics, such as the obsolescence of walls in the age of gunpowder. Will muskets and cannons be able to penetrate previously impervious defenses? I’ll also be interested to see if Firaxis takes a Civilization IV approach to the semi-stacking system, and allows cavalry to hurt siege weapons even while they’re defended by a real unit. If so, might we see artillery become a dominant force as cavalry decline in strength?
A major feature in both of Civilization V’s expansions was the politics of the late game. With Gods and Kings, Ed Beach tried to encourage civilizations to hate each other based on which of the three late game social policy trees they picked. The feature was expanded, codified and improved upon in Brave New World as the late game policies became ideologies instead. With Ed Beach continuing the lead the design of Civ VI, we can expect these late game politics to come into play once more. This time, though, they’re in the game from the beginning, giving them a much more stable foundation to work with.
What will this mean for late game politics? Hopefully, at the very least, some more consistency. Civilization V managed to increase the hostility effect of ideologies so much that countries which had been BFFs since the dawn of time were suddenly at each other’s throats. With the AI receiving a new-game refresh, perhaps now we’ll see historical friends stay together by embracing similar ideologies.
I also expect ideologies to play a large part in the late-game casus belli system. In what way, we can’t be certain. It would be simple to give every civilization a casus belli against anyone who doesn’t follow their way of life, but perhaps too simple. It might be more interesting to see Autocrats viewing all neighbors (even other Autocrats) as potential threats and victims, while Freedom following civs might only be able to step in as an interference in other wars. Or perhaps Freedom hates Autocracy, Order hates anyone different to them, and Autocracy just hates everyone.
With late game politics being a given, I’d also love to see what mid-game politics becomes. England and their leader Victoria were recently announced, and they clearly have a strong focus on the Imperial game. Will this also mean we see some Imperial reasons for war, such as the ability to declare on people who are technologically or culturally behind, or perhaps purely based on the acquisition of wealth and resources? The Imperial age has been a weak point of many Civilization games, partly because of the AI’s poor understanding of naval invasions, partly because of a lack of mechanics encouraging cross-continental warfare, but mostly because the idea of colonizing new lands is meaningless when most of the map is settled before the end of the Medieval Era. Civilization 6 has a chance to change that.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m hoping for a Civilization game that approaches mechanics somewhat more historically. I don’t expect, nor perhaps do I want, a Civilization version of Crusader Kings 2, which represents the dynastic politics of the Middle Ages by tying its gameplay to the mechanics of managing your family and dynasty. Civilization covers a topic too broad to be able to pay such attention to detail. What I do want is a game which emphasizes the role that a civilization’s history has in its development, that celebrates the uniqueness of any given civilization, and which doesn’t rely on a “one size fits all” narrative based on a Eurocentric view of history.
It may be a high ideal, but I’d like to see a game with some more historicity. Civilization’s mechanics will always be simplistic compared to real history – no game can capture historical moments with 100% accuracy. I do suspect, however, that it’s going in the right direction. The recruitment and equipment of soldiers might not be based on your civilization’s history of warfare, but your tactics will change based on the tools you have available. Leaders might be immortal God-Kings of their empire, but their diplomatic and political options are becoming much more human. ‘Civilization’ might conjure up images of Rome, Persia, Great Britain and China, but now we may also see civilizations which don’t normally get the limelight.
Civilizations such as the Mali in Civilization IV, or Songhai and Siam in Civilization V, represent regions of the world which the games don’t draw many options from. For Civilization VI, Ed Beach wants to improve the spread of civilizations on True Starting Location maps – maps where each civilization begins in its historical location on a world map. This should mean less civilizations from Europe, with more from South Africa, South East Asia and the Americas, which are often underrepresented in Civilization games.
It feels like Civilization 6 is striving for more historicism while also moving away from Eurocentrism and stereotyping. It’s great to see Roosevelt as leader of a slightly different America than past civ games, one focused on affairs at home and, later in the game, the rise of ‘soft culture’ and a booming tourist industry. Civilization 6 is focused on leaders with ‘big’ personalities, but hopefully it will also offer all of its civilizations some internal consistency that previous iterations have lacked, and perhaps a greater diversity of civilizations across the world.