The first Civilization video game came out twenty-five years ago, and I’ve played every one of them for hundreds of hours. During that time, virtually nothing major has changed about the games; you start with a small tribe and try to build them into world-dominating cultures while other players do the same. Civilization has inspired spin-offs and imitators, but nothing matches the original series. And even though each entry is largely the same, I look forward to the next Civ release like an addict looking for his next hit. And Civ 6 gives me that hit, even as it makes some small tweaks that ripple out to have a huge effect on gameplay.
For those of you whom have never played a Civ game, first of all, welcome to the world of tomorrow—women can vote and those giant silver birds are called “airplanes.” In Civ you play the leader of one of the cultures available, based on a real world civilization (Egypt, America, Brazil, etc.) each with its own unique strengths. In a standard game, you start at the dawn of humanity, establish a city, then research technology and farm resources to expand your influence. You can approach other civs with diplomacy, subterfuge, or outright war, and you win the game by dominating them with your military, religion or culture, or by sending off a manned colony to Mars.
That’s right: Mars. In every other incarnation of Civ, your science goal was to send a generational starship to Alpha Centauri, but Civ 6 plays it closer to the real world as we know it—a Mars colony is the ultimate goal, and the research race ends with things like Social Media and Motorized Infantry. No more fantasies like uranium-powered mecha to win wars, or building the Cure for Cancer wonder.
This follows the streamlining that’s happened to the game, some of which remove elements I considered frustrating remnants of the original Civ—rather than micromanaging your cities’ citizens to maintain happiness, cities now have two attributes to keep track of: housing and amenities. Food is likewise simplified; you either have enough to grow or you don’t, and granaries simply add to your food-per-turn rather than letting you keep half every time a city grows.
Oh, and you don’t build roads. Yes, you read that right. Roads are created by trade routes, giving you an incentive to trade with your own cities. You can build roads mid-game with the Military Engineer, but Civ 6 has a curveball for you, because both Engineers and Builders (who replace workers) now have a limited number of charges, which make improvements instantly rather than being permanent units that build slowly over several turns.
The overall effect of this is that terrain becomes much more important because hills and forest effectively stop units from moving more than one space per turn. Until motorized units show up, everything except cavalry has to negotiate their way slowly across the map, making surprise attacks difficult. This is actually a boon when playing against an AI; rarely can an enemy surprise you with a declaration of warn then surround your city in one turn.
Combat-wise, the game is simplified as well. Every civ has a special military unit, but other than that, the types of units available are stripped down to one or two cavalry, infantry, ranged, and bombardier units per age. Gone are the paratroops and stealth fighters of previous versions.
The biggest changes, though, come in two areas. Research has been split into two timelines—Science and Culture—which you pursue concurrently. When you get to choose a government, you’re assigned a number of policy slots, broken up into four categories: Military, Economic, Diplomatic, and Wildcard. You can fill these with “cards” depicting bonuses from the other cultural advances you’ve researched. Totalitarianism, for example, gives you several military slots but fewer economic ones. You can change your policies virtually every time you discover a new one (as your people are excited to try new ones), but changing them mid-research will cost you gold or worse (reverting to a government you’ve tried before plunges you into anarchy).
And finally, blessedly, dealing with other leaders has been drastically clarified. Are you ready for this? The game tells you why they’re mad at you. I know, right? Every AI leader has two goals: one public (which never changes) and one secret (which is randomized). Roosevelt, for example, always admires other civs who fight barbarians, but might also be paranoid about strong militaries. Catherine of France employs spycraft and respects those who do as well, but Phillip of Spain hates religions other than his. There’s nothing you can do to make everyone happy (Ghandi hates war but Gorgo of Greece loves it), but at least you’ll understand what they want and why you’re angering them.
The game has some annoying bugs—the screen can get very cluttered, and with the current update you can no longer dismiss the research window (it’ll just keep popping up every time your turn starts). Also, getting the game to actually quit is a 50/50 proposition; get used to force quitting a lot.
So Here It Is
That said Civilization 6 is a beautifully-designed game where it’s obvious the designers took a good, hard look at the Civ franchise and separated the features from the cruft. The result is a fun, challenging game that somehow balances a fresh take without betraying the beloved classic.
Minimum Requirements: OS X v10.11, 2.7GHz Intel Core i5, 6 GB RAM, 1 GB GPU Minimum (eForce 775M, Radeon HD 6970, Intel Iris Pro), 15 GB disk space
Availability: Now on Steam and the Mac App Store