After playing over 500 hours of Civilization V, I was prepared to jump into Civilization VI fairly blind. I read the announcement details, kept up on which leaders were in the game, and knew some of the basic features that were being added. However, I also had to learn a lot under fire in my first few games. I went into the game playing with the same mindset that I would play Civilization V with.
There were moments where this prompted me with a minor annoyance. The way movement worked was changed to not allow players to move onto a hill or forest with only 1 movement point left. So when I was playing Civilization VI and tried to move onto a plains tile and then onto a hill, I was surprised that I couldn’t. But this was a small change that I was able to adapt to on the next turn.
A much more surprising change came about 100 turns later. Out of habit from playing Civilization V for so long, I tried to build The Great Library as soon as I could. It turns out the wonder is a lot less useful than it used to be, but that’s not what really caught me off guard. What I was surprised by was that I couldn’t build the wonder. With the new district system, wonders need to be placed on specific map tiles. The Great Library had to be placed both next to a campus district and on a piece of flat land. I had built my districts up to that point in a way that the only available tile next to a campus was on a hill. Needless to say, I didn’t build The Great Library.
See, the way that districts in Civilization VI work are that you cannot remove one once you start building it. The second you make that decision, it is there for the rest of the game. Therefore, you have to think ahead about what you might be building down the road. This was a lesson I learned for future games, and it has made me completely reconsider the way I approach the early game.
The first thing it makes me do is choose a direction early. In Civilization V, I would typically try to build a well-rounded civilization early on and go for a specific victory later in the game. Now I need to know what I am aiming for when I place my districts. The culture, science, religion, and military districts all have wonders associated with them (others do too but aren’t as clearly tied to specific victory conditions), and you only have so much room in your city. You need to keep the area around that city empty if you are going to want to build relevant wonders.
And there is even more you have to consider, because tile improvements are still a thing in Civilization VI and are still important. You need to build improvements on resources, but these are easy to work around. A little trickier are farms. The way farms work in Civilization VI makes it a smart strategy to build them in triangles in order to maximize food adjacency bonuses. What this all means is that you need to build districts in a way to maximize output, leave room for wonders, avoid resources, and dedicate space for a group of three farms, ideally with acess to fresh water. This makes me want to get out a piece of paper at the start of the game and plot out some city plans. It also means that you have be particular with where you found your cities. Moving your first settler was a smart advanced strategy in Civilization V, but now it feels like a requirement.
And here’s the kicker. You could plan all of this out to have the perfect city and then get screwed over by either your opponent building a wonder before you or a strategic resource like oil or coal popping up on a tile you were reserving for something else. There is no such thing as a foolproof plan.
I think this is all incredible. There are very few games where what you do in the first few minutes will affect you in five hours in a way you did not foresee when you started. And with Civilization, there is rarely a clear point that you can go back to and load an old save. You have to take your lumps and hope to win regardless.
Videogames that allow you to pre-plan are nothing new. I have been playing a lot of Hitman recently, and I plan out a kill before I execute it. However, I also create hard saves and can retry this plan as many times as I want. I’ll know the outcome of my plan within minutes at most, and I’ll know exactly what went right and what went wrong. The game is built for trial and error, and there is nothing wrong with that. I love puzzle games, and that is a key part of what makes the genre fun. But Civilization VI offers something completely different and more true to life.
Something unforeseen throwing off all of your plans is a recurring theme in a lot of people’s lives. Thinking about this from the perspective of a college student, I could have every semester from freshman year to graduation planned out with what classes I wanted to take, when I want to do an internship, and all that other good stuff; but just one class could, for better or worse, throw that trajectory off completely. And I’m not really speaking in hypotheticals here. I’m about to be changing my major for the second time, despite going into college with a pretty clear goal in mind. Civilization VI presents a very fantastical version of history, but it provides an experience that is truer to life than a lot of other games.
Trial and error can be a great asset to a game, and it is not a concept that is wholly absent from real life either. The difference is that while it’s a pleasant luxury in life, it’s something we rely on in games. This makes Civilization VI throwing a wrench in even the most well-thought-out plan fairly unique for the medium. The fact that learning to deal with these setbacks and executing even just 50% of your plan still manages to provide a sense of satisfaction is a remarkable achievement and the thing that will keep pulling me back to Civilization VI.
Note: This piece was lightly edited in September 2018 as part of a site overhaul.