Speak softly and carry a big stick, Teddy Roosevelt said. Judging by a recent game of Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, he was onto something: empire building is as much about careful consideration as it is making crucial decisions, each and every chance you get.
By and large, Civ VI is a much more active game than any of its predecessors. That is, you won’t spend most of your turns just waiting for projects to complete—you’ll actively build your city districts, complete civic side quests, and plan a military strategy for cutting off key industrial points in your enemy’s territory. You’ll encounter choice after choice, dilemma after tense dilemma, in your effort to explore, expand, and improve your own empire.
“We’re not just introducing new systems,” lead designer Ed Beach says. “We’re introducing new systems that interact with one another. We’re not just building on top of the existing Civ formula—we’re changing some things from the ground up.”
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After my time with the game, Beach’s proclamation isn’t inaccurate. In fact, I spent more time each turn than I ever did in Civilization V. I was learning all of Civ VI’s new systems, yes, but the knowledge of how they worked only led to more questions: Will my holy site function better next to my market district, or will it siphon precious supplies from research efforts? Will my encampment aid me more at that choke point in the mountains, or should I build it farther south, where Roosevelt’s American troops have attacked more than once?
Beach and his team at Firaxis want the world map to be a character in itself: something you examine, learn, and adapt to as your empire expands, or shrinks, in response. By unstacking cities from what was previously one tile, Civ VI makes you consider each construction project more carefully, lending each turn much more weight.
By completing research on astrology, I unlocked the campus district. As a hub and sanctuary for scientific minds, it buffs your civilization’s progress in whatever technology you might be pursuing, which in turn affects where you go from there. This could function as somewhat of a butterfly effect, altering your approach to your army composition, diplomatic policies, and world exploration.
It’s not just a question of when to build a campus in your city, but more importantly: where. The scientists in this district receive bonuses from nearby mountains, all the better to study constellations and weather patterns from. So although that tile nestled in the mountain range may look like a prime spot to dig a mine and increase building production, its long term scientific potential far outweighs anything else. Civilization VI necessitates foresight in your geographical considerations.
An evolving city in the Roosevelt’s American countryside.
“What seems like a good choice at the moment, what seems like might be the best place for your next building, might not be the best place in the long run,” Beach says. “Once you start to learn the game, you know how different districts will affect things down the road. It’s about weighing your options as you learn more in the process.”
Beach said the team also hopes this will make Civilization VI different in each playthrough. Previous series entries saw players falling into tried-and-true patterns each time they played. In the newest installment, however, the higher importance placed on the procedurally generated worlds could alter even the most habitual player’s strategy: new landmarks mean different districts, which mean different technologies, which mean different cultural obsessions. These lead to new political aspirations and military engagements History’s most memorable leaders were adaptable. They could speak softly, and carry a big stick.
“[Civilization VI] is about moving forward, however you can,” Beach says. “We’ve changed things to keep people from falling into these patterns. We want it to be a different game, both in the bigger picture, and throughout each playthrough. We want choices to be meaningful each and every time.”