The RPS 2016 Advent Calendar, Dec 9th – Civilization 6

At the beginning of every year, the RPS crew begin work on a team-building crafting project, which we recreate wonders of our world: 2016 was the year of the matchstick Blackpool Tower. Welcome to day nine of The RPS Advent Calendar, which highlights our favourite games of the year, daily. Behind today’s door is…

The year’s best 4X game: don’t settle for less, it’s Sid Meier’s Civilization 6 [official site].

Alec: Forgive me, but I’m going to be a little bit mealy-mouthed here. I picked Civ VI not for as pure a reason as “I really like it” but instead because it relieved some anxiety that Firaxis was going off the boil. Civ: Beyond Earth wasn’t a terrible game, but it was misguided and weirdly joyless, while even XCOM 2, which I liked a lot more, couldn’t always see the woods for the trees. Civ 6 has its foibles, but it’s very much the work of a studio that Gets It, that totally grasps what makes us keep playing Civ and what gave Civ IV so much charm.

It’s beautiful, too. That antique map presentation is delectable, and the charisma of the animated leaders is off the charts. I suppose I wish there was a little more than felt new-new rather than re-establishing, and that diplomacy system, though well intentioned, needs a serious tune-up. As for the UI….

But! I’m not sat here whining “needs an expansion, maybe the expansion will sort it, what about the expansion”, as I did for both Civ V and Beyond Earth. Civ VI feels substantial and, well, complete. A full-fat, clear-eyed Civ, right from launch. Not a definitive 2016 Civilization, no, but not too far short. It’s mere tweaks I want, not rethinks or whole new features.

Adam: I agree with some of Alec’s complaints, though I’m apparently immune to a lot of UI issues (I think playing Paradox games for so long may have been some sort of vaccination program). When improvements come along, I’ll gladly take them, but apart from a few inconsistencies and screens that don’t display the information I need right away, I found Civ VI a pleasure to play.

A couple of months down the line, it’s still taking up more of my time than any other game released this year. Marathon games are my new thing, history stretched out as long and broad as possible, and small decisions echoing down through the ages. I love founding a city in the classical era and already having, in my mind, an image of how it’ll look two thousand years later. The university district nestled between the mountains to the east, the world-famous theatre, the wonders that surround the city centre.

Of course, priorities can change over the decades and centuries. The new city-building might be my favourite feature but there’s something less tangible that’s kept me coming back, and will probably carry on doing so for the next few years. It’s that this is the Civ that accommodates reactive playstyles best, allowing you to change long- and short-term strategies on the fly without placing blockers on your plans. The new civics systems and research boosters allow for a flexibility that changes my approach completely, and makes it that little bit easier to feel like part of a developing world rather than a race to the finish.

As I argued in my review, that’s what Civ is – a race to the finish. It’s a competitive game, history as point-scoring, but Civ VI has enough variety and flavour in its strategic possibilities that you can, to a great extent, play your own way without losing sight of the front-runners.

I’m excited to see what expansions might bring, but I’m just as excited to go back to my current playthrough this weekend. What alarms me is that over the year as a whole, this isn’t even the Firaxis game that’s taken most of my time…


  1. DrollRemark says:

    while even XCOM 2, which I liked a lot more, couldn’t always see the woods for the trees

    Oh god, please don’t tell me you’re not going to put XCOM 2 on this calendar?

    *begins hyperventilating*

    • Zenicetus says:

      Well, the selection is for “year’s best 4X” and XCOM2 isn’t a 4X strategy game, so no worries yet anyway. I agree it needs some recognition here somewhere. Year’s best tactical turn-based squad game?

      If there was recognition for “year’s best 4X potential but not there yet” it should go to Stellaris, which grabbed me a lot harder than Civ6 with its ugly new visual design. Stellaris should make next year’s list if it stays on track.

      • teije says:

        Fearless prediction – By patch/DLC 1.7 next fall or so, we’ll be praising Stellaris as the ultimate space 4X/GSG mashup. Paradox’s cowboy approach to game dev drives me crazy sometimes, but I love how their games evolve.

  2. Xocrates says:

    I have a somewhat complicated relationship with Civ VI. On one hand I recognize it as a very smart game and probably the best base Civ since IV, but on the other… well… I’m just not having fun playing it.

    Overall part of the problem is that it did not fix or change the stuff that made me grow bored of civ V (which Beyond Earth did fix – which feels somewhat ironic since that’s supposed to be the bad one that plays like civ V) and the other is that it feels like the game added a lot of complexity without adding a lot of depth – since now stuff like tech boosts and terrain bonuses make deciding what to research or build a lot more complicated, but at the same time highlights optimal play patterns.

    Essentially, I end up feeling like Civ VI is too much about min-maxing, and as a result I feel like I’m playing on auto-pilot for much of the time. So while it’s undoubtedly a good game, right now is mostly sitting on my hard drive waiting for an expansion to come out.

    • Nauallis says:

      I agree with you whole-heartedly, and this is essentially what I’ve been so far unable to put into words.

      The actual city specialization is really quite interesting, but the game does such a fantastically bad job of explaining future yields and where strategic resources can show up, that in order to plan a city around a specialization at founding, you have to have already played one or more complete games just to have some idea of strategic planning. I realize why they did it – so that there’s wonder and discovery for more than just the first couple of games…. but it makes long-term strategic planning more stressful. It would’ve been great to know that commercial districts get way more specialty buildings and adjacency bonuses if near rivers, for example. Or that a district within four hexes of any city shares its bonuses with all cities in range. Which is to say, to add to your comment, than min-maxing isn’t really that fun, because it’s not very well explained.

      And that’s not even mentioning the insanely aggressive AI, even on the lowest difficulty tiers.

    • mpk says:

      Yes, yes, yes and yes.

      You have both put my own thoughts into words – I’ve stopped playing Civ VI after only 44 hours because it’s just not as interesting as Civ V was. There’s something lacking – the same sort of something that was lacking from Beyond Earth, although on a smaller scale. To mangle an oft-repeated phrase, the sum of this games parts do not add up to an enjoyable whole.

  3. wyrm4701 says:

    I’d have to give Stellaris the edge over Civ6 just based on the latter’s terrible, insane AI. I understand that’s always been a complaint with Civ games, but it seems particularly pronounced here, in what’s otherwise an exceptional game. An amazing job is done constructing the illusion that faction leaders have personalities and rules governing their pursuit of various goals, and then… well, the AI goes insane, the player is inexplicably labelled a warmonger and the entire diplomatic aspect of the game falls apart. It’s probably a testament to the immersiveness created by the leaders’ personalities that the standard Civ AI just ruins the game for me.

    • Disgruntled Goat says:

      Hopefully the AI can and will be improved.

      It just makes no sense that when I’m in the Information Age researching how to build the Internet that another civ absolutely despises me because I declared war on some OTHER civ back when we were still trying to figure out how to bang two rocks together.

      I’ve played 3 complete games of Civ 6 and all the civs absolutely eternally despise me no matter what I do. I more or less just ignore them and do my own thing, I can usually take care of my own amenities so there’s no need to trade with them (and they will only accept outrageously ridiculous offers anyway, so why bother?)

      • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

        It’s even weirder when the other AIs all hate you because someone else declared war on you. You get just as big of a warmonger penalty for killing units that are attacking you as you would if your units are on the offensive. That’s nuts.

        But I guess I defended myself in 2000 AD so it makes sense that the entire world despises me 4000 years later. :|

    • Ericusson says:

      The warmongering thing makes the whole diplomatic layer of the game pretty much useless indeed.

      I also never got so saturated by a Civ game so fast than I did with Civ 6.

  4. BluePencil says:

    Another Civ6 puff-piece that fails to acknowledge the AI doesn’t know how to play the game.

  5. Asokn says:

    Civ 6 is the game which showed me that the series isn’t for me anymore. I’ve played them all since Civ 2 but from 5 onwards the design decision to have the AI leaders ‘play the game’ rather than ‘play like leaders’ has killed the fun for me. I hoped it was just a problem with 5 but after having the Vikings become close friends with me over a long period only to inexplicably declare war caused me to play one more turn, save the game and I’ll probably never go back to it.

  6. Sic says:

    CIV6 is rubbish.

    I’m sure all of it started out as good ideas (at some point), but the result is a game that simply does not function. Neither is it especially respectful of its predecessors’ relationship with history.

    Someone just hasn’t thought it through properly.

    Sure, it’s exiting with new features, like the tech boosts/civic inspirations, and the districts—it’s just that in the end, they don’t actually constitute fun gameplay. Someone simply didn’t bother to check if any of it made sense.

    Why am I sitting turn after turn planning in detail how to game the boost/inspiration system to exploit balance issues in production, for instance? I’m researching things, only to abandon them the turn before they’re finished (or at 50%, if they’re not boosted/inspired), so that I can get my core districts (always Industrical Zones and Commercial Hubs) up and running before they get expensive (it’s based on how many techs/civics you’ve researched). The only focus you need to have is on hammers/cogs, because everything else is a cakewalk in comparison.

    The idea that boosts/inspirations and districts make you play differently is complete and utter bollocks. You can hit each and every boost/inspiration, and you’ll basically build/focus on the exact same districts every game (with slight variations based on what victory you’ll be going for). The only difference is that things are spread out on the map now, and that only affects how you wage war (but not by much).

    The boosts/inspirations could have worked if they were much (!!) harder. Say you got a 75% boost instead of 50%, on a line of techs/civics (say, 5-10), but you had to do something crazy, like find all of the natural wonders, or conquer at least one city from each competing civ. The system, as it is implemented at the moment, is simply a chore, and it makes the lack of balance in culture/science/production extremely apparent. Even without making any science or culture buildings, you’ll have issues with even being able to make a handful of units from a certain age, before whizzing on to the next; unless you focus solely on exploiting the Industry Zone (the production district).

    The AI, in being unable to do anything with competence, only exacerbates the issue. You’re left to do whatever you want, and that means min-maxing, and revealing how utterly broken the new systems truly are.

    The new leaders could have been great. It looked like they were going to focus on transparency, and having clear problems to solve, to strategise around, but the opposite is true. They’re impossible to understand, and their traits are completely non-threatening. Their only contribution is to make the diplomacy system look bad (and by bad, I mean non-functioning).

    Then there is the opaqueness of pretty much all of the salient information. In the release version, you didn’t even see how many turns there was left until your cities expanded, nor the tiles they expanded to. I didn’t even know if culture was the driving force behind expanding cities anymore. The information was nowhere to be found.

    … and then there’s the Civilopedia, which could have been a slight remedy, but there is next to no information there either, and the little it does inform you of is confusing. They haven’t even bothered to be consistent with words describing game mechanics (it seems the intern they hired to program the AI and write the entirety of the Civilopedia the week before release just didn’t quite have enough time to do either).

    All this is on top of an aesthetic that screams anti-intellectualism. The lack of interest in historic detail in the visuals, where appropriate. The quotes, that seems to have been googled 10 minutes before Sean Bean arrived at the studio (seriously, a bunch of them is on the first page of hits if you google the tech name), and is an absolute insult to the history of these discoveries and inventions. The cartoon intro cinematic.

    It’s like Firaxis suddenly thinks all of western history is all a big joke. Not to be taken seriously. Humanity, topkek, amirite?

    No. CIV6 is not a good game. It’s not even an OK game. It’s a rushed piece of dung that desperately needed a better game designer at the helm. Ed Beach might have fixed CIV5, but he dropped the ball entirely with CIV6.

    Unless it is completely redesigned with patches and expansions, everyone is better off forgetting this dud ever existed.