How To Fix Civilization 6

civilization_vi_cover_artI’m absolutely shocked by the extremely positive reception that Civilization VI is receiving. Those familiar with me know that I have a long history with the series, and have been playing since Civ III–apparently, whenever you attempt to criticize one of the games, you must point out how long you’ve been playing the series, and if you can’t at least claim to have started with 3 then your opinion becomes invalid. This is rather like how people can’t criticize Final Fantasy X unless they started with Final Fantasy VII or earlier–on that note, I started with Final Fantasy. No number. Beat that.

I am doing a full review of the game for Cubed3, and I’m going to post what I have so far here, but I’m going to be a bit more honest afterward. Anyway, here’s the yet-to-be-finished review. Please ignore the BBCode:

[i]Civilization VI[/i] is a game where players attempt to build cities while a psychotic AI declares war on the player, marches its troops up to the city centers, and then politely stands there while its army is bombarded to death. Much has been said about the awful AI, but given that diplomacy is such a critical part of the game, it’s nothing short of disgraceful that the AI-controlled players seem to have no idea how to play the game.

 

It’s not uncommon to hear complaints that, before the one hundredth turn, every single civilization on the player’s starting continent had declared war on the player. In a few games, enemy civilizations were [i]introduced[/i] to me—they hadn’t yet been discovered—by declaring war on me. “Oh, hello there, Brazil. It is a pleasure to meet—[i]we have had enough of your insolence![/i]” None of the games in the series have had intelligence that could remotely qualify as “intelligence” by even the most under-achieving programmer’s standards, but this reaches absolutely remarkable levels of [url=http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ArtificialStupidity]Artificial Stupidity[/url].

 

Diplomacy as a gameplay mechanic is such a cool concept, but it continues to elude Firaxis on how to implement it. Not only is the AI horrendously stupid, but the only options presented in diplomacy are trade deals and war declarations. This is such an enormous step backward from the ability to tell rival civilizations not to build so closely, not to send their missionaries, and things of that nature. Again, the Community Patch Project rightly expanded the options of the predecessor, such that they were as extensive as those found in Civ IV, but [i]Civilization VI[/i] represents a gigantic step backward from even vanilla CiV.

 

It’s difficult to convey, but in one game I built a second city to claim a natural wonder I’d found. The very next turn, England contacted me to request that I not build cities that close to them. That was no problem, as I generally expand empires circularly, as opposed to growing in one direction. Everything seemed fine—diplomatic crisis averted—until the next turn, when Victoria declared war on me, saying that she could not tolerate my behavior any longer, and sent almost one whole warrior to conquer my capital. She proceeded to send an entire warrior to punish me for several turns, at which point I grew tired of her nonsense, surrounded London with archers, and eliminated her from the game. As my archers rained doom upon her city, she contacted me just about every other turn offering me a peace deal, and there was still no button to say, “You brought this upon yourself. Now die with dignity; I’ll not receive your diplomats again.”

 

AI lunacy knows no bounds this time around, and that’s not getting into the glitches, bugs, and other oddities that gamers have now come to expect from new, expensive video games. Perhaps the most interesting of these is when Gandhi is contacted by Gandhi to declare that Gandhi will no longer put up with Gandhi’s aggressive behavior, and that Gandhi thereby declares war on himself. For bonus points, this can happen with any civilization, and to the player, though there appears to be no in-game effect. Aside from that, it’s not uncommon to end a war and immediately be contacted by the loser stating that they’ve noticed the army on their borders, and they’d like to know if this means war. The best cases are when a nation on the other side of the world declares war on the player, and then offers a peace deal a dozen turns later offering up a bunch of gold. It’s bad in ways bizarre and embarrassing.

 

The focus is said to be on the multiplayer experience, but it was notoriously prone to desyncs and crashes upon launch, and the game, for this reviewer, has always been best single-player. Maybe the AI doesn’t always offer the best challenge, but there are few things more rewarding than starting a new Civilization game on a lower difficulty—to get accustomed to the new systems—and gradually work back up to King or Emperor. For years, I was stuck at Lord difficulty in [i]Civilization V[/i], and then I made the breakthrough of managing my city specialists; the next thing I knew, I was up to Emperor.

 

1UPT (One Unit Per Tile) worked very well in this game’s predecessor, although there were some flaws that had to be ironed out. It was up to the Community Patch Project to fix the civilian traffic jams that irritated everyone, but this time around the civilization traffic jams appear to be there by design, not by accident. Missionaries and apostles are the worst offenders, though there were many occasions throughout the reign of CiV that it was necessary to declare war on someone because their missionaries stood blithely in the way. Given the religious fervor on display by nearly all the world leaders, it’s sure to be a problem through every playthrough.

About to get my head kicked in on CiV.

About to get my head kicked in on CiV.

 

One advantage the predecessor had with 1UPT was that movement costs were clear and easily understood. Planning an attack against a city surrounded by jungle on one side and mountains on the other took tactical work, and it was fun for that reason; it was a genuine and fairly real-to-life representation of why the United States didn’t stand a chance in Vietnam. Building roads across the empire didn’t just connect cities; it was crucial to allow armies to get where they needed to be in a reasonable time frame. Much has been written about the changing of Workers into Builders, how roads are constructed by Caravans, and other gameplay changes, but there were always going to be such changes to the formula; it happens every game. Remember when each city was a mess of roads because every tile had to be connected to the city for its resources to be used? Change is fine. The real problem here is that it’s almost guesswork, moving armies across the world and over various terrains, and the caravan-constructed road appears to have no effect on movement cost.

 

It was once feared that culture and policies were doomed to become an alternative technology tree and that, based on the trends of [i]Civilization V[/i], everything was ultimately going to “become a technology tree.” Civics policies certainly did so, and each civic gives the player a few civic policy cards that can be activated. Government types have returned, too, and different government types, in addition to providing their own bonuses, allow for different combinations of cards to be used. For example, the Classical Republic government allows for two Economic Policy cards, but no Military Policy cards. It’s a neat, modular system that provides lots of ways to ensure that the government is maximized for the land and people.

 

Cities no longer occupy a single tile, and this is certainly a change for the better. It’s “the” feature of [i]Civilization VI[/i], just as 1UPT was “the” feature of CiV. Rather than simply building a Barracks, one must select a tile within the city’s borders and build an Encampment upon it, after which a Barracks can be built in the Encampment. As a nice touch, units then constructed by the city then appear on the tile that contains the Encampment, rather than the City Center, which makes tile selection all the more important.

Graphics have changed from the realistic style of V to a cartoonish style heavily reminiscent of [i]Civilization IV[/i], largely regarded as the apex of the series. The UI is the best yet for a Civilization game, though information can be a bit hard to find. Whether one likes or dislikes the style will be a matter of preference, but the Fog of War is absolutely terrible. Rather than lowering the brightness on tiles not currently within view of a unit, here they are colored brown and bereft of distinguishing details, a look that is drawn from medieval maps. It looks absolutely [i]terrible[/i] to have a sea of brown wash over the land like it’s [i]Dragon Age: Origins[/i].

mess

 

The terrain is more important than ever. It became extremely important with the advent of 1UPT, but now it’s of critical significance—[i]the[/i] deciding factor in the game. Placing districts upon a tile obviously means that tile cannot have a refinement constructed by a builder, and there are interesting ways that the districts and improvements work off each other. A bit of logic is all that’s really needed to take advantage of this, though. Don’t throw an Encampment right in the middle of a bunch of Farms, for example. Rivers, it has been noted, are important once again, instead of simply being the early game movement hindrance they were in the last entry; in Civ IV, of course, rivers were vital for forming free trade routes between cities. In CiV, they were an irritant that slowed movement through the early game and then dictated whether the city could build a Water Mill. That’s basically what they do here, except it’s more complex than the Boolean question of whether the city center is on a river.

 

The district concept doesn’t change the gameplay nearly as much as 1UPT did, and the result is that this feels like the sort of addition that would come via an expansion. Whether the player builds a Barracks or designates a tile to be the military district and [i]then[/i] builds a Barracks isn’t very different from simply building the Barracks. It’s a cool idea, and the synergies between the terrain, districts, and improvements offer plenty of possibilities for maximizing productivity, but it doesn’t actually represent a fundamental departure from how cities are constructed.

In fact, the whole District thing is pretty much the meat & potatoes of the game. Beyond that, it’s just Civilization V with worsened AI and changes to city-states and religion. Well, I say “changes” to religion, but it wasn’t really changed; the only difference is that you can now only construct religious units like missionaries in a city where you’ve made a religious district and plopped a temple or something there.

It was when I was building my third Commerce District that I realized what was going on. This isn’t anything even remotely new; it’s just a slightly different way of doing it. See, in ages past, it was always best for the player to have a few specialized cities: one that focused on culture buildings, one that focused on economic buildings, one that focused on military units, and, most importantly, one that focused on production. There’s an obvious flaw in the system here, isn’t there? That’s right, because Production is a generic resource that is used to build economic buildings, military units, culture buildings, and pretty much everything else except missionaries. And that is where Civilization 6 screws up.

The only way they could have made this District system truly shine is if they added a few new currencies to the game. Why not? There are already several: Science, Production, Food, Culture, Gold, Faith, Great Person Points, and probably some others I am not thinking of at the moment. The obvious flaw in this problem is that an industrial city–that is, a city that focuses heavily on production, subsumes all the others. Production is king, because production is literally used to build all the other things. What good will it do the player to have a bustling Cultural District if it takes 57 turns to build the next cultural building because the city’s a cultural powerhouse, not a production powerhouse?

A city that focused on culture, for example, will have a bunch of culture buildings that it has built over the last 60~ turns to produce 31 culture per turn. That’s a bit high, but whatever. It’s not important. If that city comes under attack because some long-standing ally like Genghis Khan decided to straight-up betray you–as he tends to do–and your army is going to take 5 or more turns to get there, then that city is gone. All of that culture will do nothing to cut down on the 24 turns it takes to build one freaking Crossbowman. If, however, it was  Production City, then it would be able to produce those 7 culture buildings in 35-40 turns and would be able to produce the crossbowman in 3 or 4 turns. It’s the core of how the game is designed: Production is King, because Production is literally what allows the player to increase everything else. Production is at the heart of it.

Need to build a Market to increase Gold? Then you need Production to build it. Need to build an Amphitheater to increase Culture? Then you need Production to build it. Need to build a University to increase Science? Then you need Production to build it. Need to build a Crossbowman to pick of Gayghis Khan’s army? Then you need Production to build it. This is the nature of the game, and, as I said, I’ve been playing Civilization since my senior year of high school. Before that I was busy playing in a rock band and dating the hottest girl at the school, so you’ll excuse me for not nerding it out with Civ 1 and 2.

With each new release, I begin at the lower difficulty settings to familiarize myself with the new mechanics, and I work my way back up to Emperor or Deity–whatever the hardest difficulty is named. I’ve got a video somewhere of me easily claiming a Domination Victory on Emperor in Civilization V, and that’s no small feat, considering the entire Happiness system of V is meant to discourage Domination Victories. Of the victory possibilities, Diplomacy is the easiest by a huge margin; without even trying, it’s easy to become Allies with most of the city-states in the game by the time the United Nations is formed, and every time the vote occurs the two civilizations who ranked highest receive 2 additional delegates; it becomes a matter of three or four more sessions, at the most, before the Diplomacy Victory is won. Cultural Victory is probably the hardest to pull off, but primarily because it’s so freaking boring and tedious.

The point is: I know how to play Civilization games, and I’m damned good at them. I love Civilization V the most because it finally added a tactical layer to the game, making it much more in-line with chess in being a combination of strategy and tactics, and yes–I’m even including Civilization IV: BTS in that estimation. I think a lot of people who say that Civ IV is the best would be very surprised if they went back to it and tried to give it another go. It’s terrible compared to V. Don’t get me wrong. BTS was perfection itself when it was in its prime, but we are a long way from that. The ridiculously overpowered religion dictating all diplomatic efforts was a particular problem, never mind the Stacks of Doom.

Civilization VI aims to prevent this problem of Production being King… by forcing players to specialize cities whether they like it or not. I still ended up with an Industrial District in every city, because otherwise build times were absolutely ridiculous. It comes back to that point above: What is the reason for having a Cultural City if it takes 25 turns to build the next Culture building, if I can specialize it in Production and take 17 turns to pump out all the cultural buildings?

There isn’t one. It’s just a broken gimmick and a half-baked idea.

The only way it could have worked is if:

  1. The new currency Conscription was added to the game. This is basically Production,but it can only be used to build military units and military buildings, in the same way that religious units can only be purchased with Faith. Valor, Bravery, Conscription–whatever Firaxis wanted to call it. This way, there’s actually a point in specializing a military city. It would produce more Valor, and since Valor is used to build military units and military buildings, it doesn’t hurt the city to specialize in it instead of Production.
    1. As an addition to this, obviously, military units could still be constructed with raw production. The Encampment District would specifically allow x per turn Valor to be generated, and additional construction of buildings could be done with either Valor or Production. Districts, of course, are built only with Production. Each Armory increases the Valor yield of the city by +2, each Barracks by +1, and so on. A Swordsman can be built with 180 Production–or however the hell much it costs–or with 5 Valor Points. The same rule would still apply that only one unit can be constructed at a time–the city couldn’t build a Swordsman with its Valor while building a Commerce District with its Production.
      1. Or why couldn’t it? Isn’t that the point of building the Districts, after all? This would actually be a fantastic way of handling it, and giving the Districts actual utility versus being boolean triggers that allow the production of specialized buildings as they are now. Why can’t I use the new Valor resource to build my Musketman while the City Center uses its Production to build a Commerce District on the other side of town? However, Production could not be split: one could not use 30% of the Production to build the Swordsman and 70% to build the Commerce District; each currency can only be used for one thing at a time. This makes the Districts far more valuable, as not only would it be faster to build a Swordsman with Valor, but using Valor to build the Swordsman also frees up the City Center to use its Production to build something. Come on, Firaxis, how did you guys not come up with this?
  2. The new currency Artistry was added to the game. This is basically Production, but it can only be used to build cultural buildings and cultural units. The game is not comprised only of Great Generals, and neither is Planet Earth. There should probably be normal Artist, Musician, and Writer units that can be used in much the same way as Missionaries, except that they generate one-time cultural bonuses or one-time tourism bonuses. Obviously, all of these units would be stackable with each other, but not with themselves. We don’t want to increase the roadblocks, traffic jams, and choke points. An Artist can occupy the same tile as an Archer and a Missionary.
    1. Similar to the above, the Artistry being produced in the city’s Cultural District could be used to build a Musician or a Concert Hall while the Valor in the city’s Military District could be used to build a Swordsman or an Armory and while the City Center could be using its Production to construct a new Holy District.

The Culture Tech Tree needs to be completely reworked so that it’s… not a tech tree. C’mon, Firaxis. This was the concern we expressed when we saw the Civic Policies of Civilization V! This is precisely what we said: “It’s cool, but we’re worried that culture is going to become just another tech tree.” And voila–the next game releases, and culture is just another tech tree, and tied strangely to government systems and civic policies. I realize that the connection between government systems, civic policies, and culture has been in place for a very long time, but it’s time to separate the things, especially now that Culture Victory is a serious thing. There is no logical relationship between a people’s culture and their governmental systems or their civic possibilities. I realize that you need a gameplay currency that allows for the progressive unlocking of governmental systems, and that it didn’t go over so well when they were tied to technology as they were in the past, but that should tell you that you’re barking up the wrong trees.

As an anarchist, I would actually argue that you’re looking at it backward, as governmental systems are the primary stifling force against cultural growth, but that’s another matter.

I don’t have an alternative system for the Civic system here in VI, but please get rid of the tech tree that it has become. That was exactly what we were worried would happen after Civilization V. I’m sure you can still find posts about it in the CivFanatics forum.

Map clutter has to go, too. Holy crap, why is the map so freaking cluttered? It is borderline impossible to tell what anything is, and I had resources sitting on my map for hundreds of years going unused because:

  1. I’m honestly not sure whether there’s even a benefit to grabbing yet another resource of tea or cows. In previous games, this information was presented clearly and unambiguously. “Build a pasture = +1 Production.” It’s a no-brainer, even if I had a billion cows already. And even though I never build mounted units, except the occasional Knight, I have dozens upon dozens of horses.
  2. The map makes it terribly unclear whether the resource has been improved or not.
  3. And never freaking mind searching the map for non-descript icons washed in the hideous brown of the Fog of War to see if there is some coal or oil I could grab. Who on the development team came up with that? “Hey, let’s wash the entire Fog of War in shit.” “What do you mean?” “I mean let’s take all the color and replace it with the color of shit.” “Wow! You deserve a promotion!”

Civilization V was a bloody mess at launch, too. It was, in fact, the last game that I bought on launch day, until Dragon Age: Inquisition came along and reminded me keenly why I stopped buying games until they’d been patched a few times. After lots of patches and a few expansions, Civilization V proved to be an excellent game–my favorite in the series, though I think I have fonder memories of IV. If you take my advice and add some new currencies to actually give value to these districts besides making them pointless gateways to other buildings, then I think Civilization 6 could go on to rival Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword. And fix the Fog of War. It’s ridiculous.

But that’s all the Districts are now: gateways that determine what type of buildings can and can’t be built in a city. They’re methods of forcing specialized cities onto the player, even though nothing was done to curve the awesome power of Production–and thus every city gets an Industrial district and becomes specialized not in Culture but Industry & Culture, not in Military but Industry & Military, and not in commerce but Industry & Commerce. It’s a gimmick that limits what the player can do, rather than giving the player new ways to improve.

And that is the very definition of “bad game design.”

 

 

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