Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is the newest in a series of strategy games in a genre called “4X”, which stands for explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. It makes one sound a bit like a Dalek, frankly. Civilization IV builds on the successes of Civilization V in so many ways, so in our regular review fashion, grab your nukes and meet me down on the battlefield.

Naturally, there’s no story to a game like Civilization, but if you’ve never played a Civ game before, here’s how it all works. You select one leader of a nation, say Trajan of the Roman empire, and start settling cities on a map that has been subdivided into hexagonal tiles. Since this wouldn’t be fun without some measure of opposition, a number of other leaders and nations also start on the map. As leader, it’s your task to choose which units to build, which buildings to place in each city, and to some degree, which civic policies to enact. The units you build—soldiers, cavalry, air force bombers, and the like—can explore the map or defend your cities at your whim. The other nations you encounter on the map will have their own agendas and plans, and will be expanding their own borders accordingly, and if you do things right, you can enter into political and diplomatic agreements with them, trading favors and so on. That’s the theory. What USUALLY happens is that you manage to annoy one of your neighbours enough for them to start a war with you. Hope you built enough soldiers to defend your territory. All of this culminates in one of several victory conditions, and each victory type has its own set of conditions to fulfill–as long as you reach one of those conditions first.

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That’s the nutshell explanation of a Civilization game–and 4X games general for that matter.  Civilization VI does a number of things different from prior Civilization games. In the older games, any districts you build are part of the main city tile. Barracks, for example, which improves any soldiers you build, will still exist as part of the main city. Civilization VI unstacks a whole bunch of these constructions and asks you to place them on tiles outside the city, but still within the borders of your country. By placing similar districts together, you can earn a number of bonuses, whether it be time to build units, gold, or the happiness of your citizens.

Speaking of happiness, Civilization VI does away with the global “happiness” meter from prior games, and presents your citizens’ satisfaction on a per-city basis instead, allowing you to fine-tune matters where they aren’t perfect. This means that you can see quite quickly which cities are being troublesome and which ones need little interference. This also helps you decide better which features each city needs more urgently instead of simply following the “monument-shrine-bank” linear progression from prior games. Building certain features also speeds up relevant research, as does performing certain actions. For example, if you’ve not yet researched sailing, but you construct a fishing boats improvement, the time it takes to research sailing is reduced quite drastically. This makes a heck of a lot of sense and is one of my favourite improvements from before.

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To segue on from tile improvements, your builders—who were SO industrious in prior Civ games constructing farms and mines and roads and plantations—are now considered more of a resource than a unit. They were an important early-game unit before, and were essential for the growth of your nation. In Civilization VI, they have a very limited number of actions before disappearing. You have to think very carefully about what you need to build and why. If your city is doing well enough on food but your nation needs iron, you better not be wasting your builders on farms. Naturally, this isn’t the only way to get stuff–you could always trade or use diplomatic ties to get what you want, but the change in the builder mechanic disrupts the focus of acquiring assets in a good way. And should you use your precious turns to construct an army, buildings, ships, or builders? It becomes a much more strategic question now. Because of the change, builders aren’t in charge of constructing roads anymore; now, this is the domain of traders, and if you haven’t built trade relations with a given city, don’t expect a road there.

Another factor I liked was that leaders now have a secondary, hidden agenda that affects the way they react to you. And yes, Gandhi is still a jerk of note. These hidden agendas don’t stay hidden, of course: you can discover them by becoming besties with said leader. These other nations aren’t the only pests around. Barbarians make a return to Civilization VI, and are just as much a plague as before. You’ll receive the odd kudos from other leaders for dealing with them, but I found that the barbarians were far more troublesome later in the game than in Civ V.

If you’re playing Civilization VI primarily to play against other players online, you’ll have a great time, and is a similar experience to playing online in Civilization V. The problem is that the single player AI still has a few issues to work through, and can present you with uneven or untenable gameplay. This becomes particularly egregious at higher difficulties and at longer game sessions. That being said, I had far fewer issues than I did with Civ V (pre-expansions, that is).

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I know everyone has their favourite Civ, but this one is definitely one to play. It still has that “one more turn” addictiveness about it. I’m still personally getting used to and understanding the changes in cities and units in Civilization VI; I have to profess that I’m still not completely on top of it. I’ve found that in some places, this game brings out the worst in me–Teddy Roosevelt particularly got so up my nose with his repeated surprise attacks that I spent a very satisfying couple of turns eradicating all sign of his existence. Surprise attack me once, shame on you, but forgive and forget. Surprise attack me twice…let’s just say I’m a vindictive b****d when I’m pushed. Regrets? None. And now I’ve got to get back to my Roosevelt-free empire, so if you’ll excuse me.

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