I'm not sure the Japan I've created at the end of my 150 turns would've withstood the test of time, but I'm proud of it. I'm playing Civilization VI, which is still every bit the game that Firaxis has shepherded for all these years since MicroProse released the first title in 1991. It's evolution of that core title, strongly resembling the endpoint of Civilization V, but with a few tweaks and change.
Even after 150 turns, I still wanted one more.
For my latest Civilization VI demo, I'm given a choice of any of the civilizations that have already been announced: Teddy Roosevelt of the United States, Victoria of England, Cleopatra of Egypt, Qin Shi Huang of China, Hojo Tokimune of Japan, Catherine De Medici of France, Montezuma of the Aztecs, and the newly-announced Pedro II of Brazil. Every leader is fully animated, sporting exaggerated features while still retaining facets of their real-life looks. (Unfortunately, the means your chosen leader will retain the same look, regardless of era. History may change, but Montezuma does not.)
I chose Japan as my civilization and jumped right in. Immediately, you'll find there's a new look to the game's fog of war: instead of a thick white cloud, it closely resembles an ancient map spread out on a table. Within of your sphere of influence, everything is bright and clear. It's surprising how much detail Firaxis has put into each and every building.
Tiny flags wave on amphitheatres, donkeys drag carts of ore out of mines, your traders stamp paths in the dirt. Within your cities, adding improvements leads to tangible visual changes within your city centers and districts: given enough knowledge of the game, I believe you could tell what type of city you have merely at a glance, rather than opening up a menu screen. We've gotten to the point where graphically, the cities look like tiny models.
Outside of your direct influence, it's a blank map. Even once you've seen a region, discovered tile features like mountains, rivers, and cities are shaded in that same, weathered tan. Visually, it's a treat, while still providing you with the information you need.
Kicking off the game, you still begin in the middle of nowhere with only a Settler and Warrior to your name. This time around the choice of where you'll place your cities is far more important. In the past, having your city next to certain tiles provided bonuses to things like Science, Food, or Production, but each city remained within a single tile regardless of how large it grew.
Living At the Center of the World
In Civilization VI, Firaxis has changed cities drastically by unstacking and expanding them. Many city improvements are dropped in tiles outside of the city center, so as your city grows it expands physically. In the past, this was just a colored area of influence. That's still here in Civilization VI, but many times you'll be building new structures directly within the area you control.
This new expansive city-building system is joined by the district system. Within a city, you can build districts that are focused in different directions, like an Encampment for military power, a Theatre District to build Culture, or a Industrial Zone to improve that city's production. Each district receives strong bonuses from the adjacent tiles: a Science-boosting Campus district is improved if it's next to a mountain or rainforest and the money-making Commercial Hub gets much better next to a harbor or river. Even the Wonders themselves require certain terrain to even be built. I couldn't construct the Pyramids because I wasn't near any deserts and the Colossus needed to be built on the Coast, so I had to settle for the Colosseum and Great Library.
This means you'll spend far more time thinking about where each city is located. If you want a city to really be a great financial boon to your empire, you should probably have water nearby. If you're looking to be a captain of industry, your Industrial Zone district needs to be near a Mine or Quarry. And that's before you realize that your cities will inevitably expand outward. Late in my demo, my starting cities of Kyoto and Tokyo were touching because I hadn't built them far enough away. I've learned my lesson for next time.
The expanded cities mean you'll also have to think a bit more about defense. Enemy units can pillage specific parts of your city, making them useless until you can repair them. I had a persistent problem with barbarian hordes because my military wasn't up to snuff. My food production was down and I couldn't figure out why until I looked at my city and realized that barbarians had pillaged and burned one of my Farms. A more savvy opponent could've directly targeted an Industrial district, preventing my city from building a defense quickly. The option is there now.
My military failure was largely down to my technology choices. Until late in the game, I persisted in choosing technologies that would improve my cities, like Mathematics, Engineering, Construction, and Education, neglecting the early Iron-Working tech that would've allowed me to build the Samurai, Japan's unique unit. Once I finally unlocked it, my pair of Samurai were able to make short work of the barbarian hordes.
I survived without any military technology because of the new Civics Tree and Government systems. The Civics Tree is the place for all of the old Civilization technologies that dealt primarily with Culture, Religion, and Government. These civics include things like Recorded History, Drama and Poetry, and Theology, which are researched in tandem with the classic Tech Tree. Learning new Civics not only unlocks city improvements, it also unlocks Policies.
Policies are cards that slot into different government types. Each government has a certain number of policy slots in the categories of Military, Economic, and Diplomatic, with an additional Wildcard slot for powerful policies or any policy from one of the other categories. Some may have more military slots, while others may be focused on economic slots; part of picking the right one for you is determining which policies you use more often.
The best part of Policies is they can be switched in and out whenever you unlock a new Civic. My policies allowed me to firm up places where I was deficient. Since I was low on the military side, I could slot in policies that lowered the production cost of melee units, or increased my Warriors' strength against barbarians. Essentially, my government covered up my weaknesses for a short period of time, until I could research Iron-Working like a good warlord should.
Small Change, Small Wonder
Civilization VI also features a number of small changes to the overall gameplay. Workers are no longer persistent units, instead having three charges. Each time they perform an action, they use up a charge and once the charges are gone, the unit disappears. This alleviates an old issue, wherein you'd have a huge compliment of workers doing nothing, but it means that your city workflow needs to include Workers in-between building improvements.
Another change is with road building. In previous Civilizations, roads were an improvement you could have your workers build and using a road increased the travel distance of your units. In Civilization VI, you can't build roads, at least not until a later era. Instead, roads form naturally between cities when you establish Trade Routes. As your trader moves along on their journey, a road will be formed on their path. This means that trade routes become even more important than they were before, providing not only money and resources, but also improving transit in your empire.
In my last preview, I felt that the Eureka system, which gives players bonuses to Tech and Civic research for completing certain in-game tasks, was pretty strong. This time around, I didn't run into as many Eureka moments, so the game's overall pace didn't feel as fast. I'm unsure if that's just a perception based on the strategy and choices I made this time around, or an actual tweak in the system by Firaxis, but when we spoke last, Civilization VI lead producer Dennis Shirk did tell me that there would be a lot of "knob-turning" to do.
So 150 turns, 4 cities, 2 eras, and 2 wonders later, I'm still down with what Civilization VI is doing. If you've been playing Civilization for the past few years, you may have to adapt a bit, but the game itself still feels like Civilization should. The changes they've made to the game are for the better and I can't wait to get my hands on the game again.
150 turns simply isn't enough time for me to fully crush my enemies.