Civilization Part 4: Tall Play

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jul 2, 2020

Filed under: Retrospectives 114 comments

Like I said at the start of this series, Civilization VI frustrated me by deliberately working against my preferred playstyle. So let’s talk about where it all went wrong.

Broadly speaking, there are two main approaches to building your empire in these games: You can build tall, or build wide. Building wide means expanding rapidly and covering as much of the map as possible with small cities. In contrast, building tall means focusing on a small number of cities and making them as large and as sophisticated as possible. 

These two strategies can have an enormous impact on your power level, your city development, and even how long it takes to play the game. 

Go Tall or Go Home

I've got just 6 cities in my half of the continent. The AI would probably cram about 15 cities into this same space.
I've got just 6 cities in my half of the continent. The AI would probably cram about 15 cities into this same space.

As many people already guessed in the comments, I am a huge fan of the tall playstyle. In fact, I think that’s the central appeal of the series for me. I obsess over making sure my cities are placed far apart so they have lots of breathing room and don’t crowd each other in the late game. I enjoy having lots of workers buzzing around my cities, improving tiles and laying down roads. I’ll obsess over tile improvements and look for ways to optimize land usage to make my cities flourish.

“Hm. This tile might be a fantastic place to grow food, but it also makes a perfect choke point. If I drop a fort here and place a unit in it, then I can keep my pesky rivals out of this peninsula entirely. I can make up for the lost food by developing this square of (some strategic resource) into a farm. I’ve already got another source of that resource in another city. Oh! But before I do that, I should put a mine on this hill so the city will have better production and let me finish my military unit that much sooner!”

My plans are usually fairly complicated and they vary quite a bit depending on the terrain and the position of my enemies. However, this all falls apart when I find myself with a dozen cities. I can’t keep track of that many projects and plans at the same time. They all kinda blur together in my mind and I start worrying less about optimizing my cities and more about optimizing the use of my real-world time. The game will move my camera to a worker that needs new orders and I’ll stare at the city, trying to remember what I was trying to accomplish the last time I was here.

“What was my plan for this city? Did I have one? I don’t remember. I don’t even remember when I got this one. Whatever. I’ll just do the next most obvious thing and move on. I’ve got two dozen of these decisions to make every turn, and I can’t linger over all of them.”

It all starts to feel sort of random and haphazard after a while. Even if I’m winning, I’m not enjoying myself because I don’t get the satisfaction of making each city perfectUh, ignoring the fact that I’m not particularly good at this game and I’m probably making a dozen mistakes I don’t know about in these “perfect” cities.. One of the reasons I liked Civilization V was that it was very accommodating for players that preferred to go tall. As long as you didn’t try to play on a huge map, you could make a good showing with just 4 to 6 cities.

Civilization VI seems to be designed to strongly reward wide play and punish tall cities. Once you get your city above a population of 10 or so, the mechanics start working against you. It becomes harder and harder to increase the population, and at the same time each additional pop is less useful than the one before in terms of outputting resourcesGold, productivity, religious faith, and culture. that are useful to you. In this game, the optimal way to build is to blanket the map with tons of shitty little low-population towns, all crowded together. Maybe that makes it a more accurate simulation? I don’t know. 

An aside for people who aren’t familiar with the series: The population numbers are pretty abstract. If a city has a population of “6”, does that mean 6 hundred thousand? Six million? Some N^6? A pop of 1 is supposed to represent a village. (Less than 1,000 people.) You usually hit a population of 10 somewhere around the mid-game, which should probably map to the size of ancient Rome. (A million or so.) The practical max size is probably around 30, which ought to correlate to something like Tokyo or Delhi. (~30 million.) Maybe you can come up with a function where 1=100, 10=1,000,000 and 30 = 30,000,000, but I think the formula they use in the game is:

Yes, I used CamelCase here just to annoy the mathematicians.
Yes, I used CamelCase here just to annoy the mathematicians.

The point is: I HATE managing 20 generic cities. It’s not just that I don’t find it fun, it’s that I find it actively irritating. 

The Punishment For Tall Play

Like I said earlier in this series, I only played a few games of Civ VI. I jumped between the three rulesetsWhen starting a new game, you pick the ruleset you want to use. The base game, or either of the expansions. and played games of varying map sizes. Through experimentation I can tell that wide empires are massively more powerful than tall ones, but I never bothered to drill down and identify the underlying mechanics that drive this. 

In a broad sense, it seems clear that there’s a sharp dropoff in usefulness as your city grows. A population of 20 isn’t nearly twice as powerful, productive, or useful as a population of 10. It seems like there’s some threshold where additional citizens become crazy expensive to care for while doing less work for the empire. This stands in stark contrast to Civilization V, which took the opposite approach. In the previous game, additional cities would incur a penalty, thus encouraging you to make fewer cities overall and instead try to make the most of each one. 

Another thing that hurts tall play is with how city districts are handled. In the previous game, a lot of your productivity came from the world map. If you wanted a city to have more factory output and less food, then you surrounded the city with mines instead of farms. In this game, your output comes from city districts, and each city can only have one of each district. This sort of takes away your ability to specialize. You can’t have one city that’s all factory production and another that’s all science. Instead, both cities will probably have a factory AND a research campus. If you want more factories, you need more cities.

The Biggest Culture

Nice. Ludwig just created one of his B-sides for me. Too bad I don't have any more room in my massive cities to store additional songs.
Nice. Ludwig just created one of his B-sides for me. Too bad I don't have any more room in my massive cities to store additional songs.

The other thing that punishes tall play is that – as I found out the hard way – culture is REALLY strong in this game. Or rather if you’ve got a wealthy, technologically advanced, well-armed nation with few cities, you can be easily defeated by a backward, broke, ill-equipped empire with tons of bullshit little towns pumping out culture points. Culture is very strong when combined with a wide empire. Even if you’re going for some other win condition, you’ll need to build up some culture as a defensive measure. You can argue that this makes sense from a historical / balance perspective or whatever. That’s fine. My problem is, the bulk of your culture comes from famous works and rare artifacts you display in your cities. Which leads to this:

Shamus: I’ve unlocked the Great Person Sun Tzu here. He’s supposed to write the Art of War for me, which will generate culture points each turn. But he can’t. The little interface button is disabled.

Civ 6: You need a place to store that book before he can create it.

Shamus: No problem. I’ve got a museum here in Athens.

Civ 6: Wrong kind of museum. That one is for ancient artifacts, not books.

Shamus: Ok, I’ve got an art museum here in Sparta.

Civ 6: You can’t use that one. It’s full.

Shamus: It’s only got two items on display!

Civ 6: Yeah, like I said: Totally full.

Shamus: There’s a library here in my science district.

Civ 6: Certainly not. A library is no place to store books!

Shamus: Okay, so you’re telling me I need to build another entire museum if I want to store this book?

Civ 6: You can’t build another one in this district. The Theater District can only have one museum at a time.

Shamus: So I have to build another entire Theater District just so I can build a museum so I can put this one book in it?

Civ 6: No! You can’t have two Theater Districts in the same city! That would be madness. One district type per city. 

Shamus: You let me build more than one neighborhood in the same city.

Civ 6: Shut up. 

Shamus: So what you’re telling me is that the ONLY WAY I can store this book is if I build ANOTHER ENTIRE CITY, just so I can build a Theater District, just so I can build a museum, just so I can put this book on display there?

Civ 6: Not necessarily. You don’t have to build the city from scratch. You could always build an army and conquer a city and use their bookshelf.

Shamus: I hate you.

Civ 6: I hate you too.

This game makes me crazy. Anyway, that’s my central gripe. I can’t play the game in my playstyle, even with turning the difficulty downEh, maybe I could make it work if I played on a really tiny map, but I’m bored and annoyed with this game and I want to move on rather than fight with the game designer.. I mean, expert players have done a one-city challenge on the hardest difficulty, so it can be done. But I’m not an expert player and I don’t feel like losing a few more nine-hour games to learn how to make tall play work in Civ VI. Even if I win, I’ll still be having a lousy time. I might as well go back to Civ VActually, I should probably just play Master of Orion II again.

Correcting for Civilization V

It’s a shame for me, but I think this design choice makes a lot of sense. A lotI have no idea how many. I just know I read a lot of complaining. of long-term fans disliked the previous game, so it makes sense to go in the opposite direction. 

Also, this design shift is true to the spirit of the series. The Civilization series is built on the 33/33/33 rule. The aim is to have 33% of the game feature new material, 33% is iterating and improving on ideas from the previous version, and the remaining 33% sticks with the tried-and-true gameplay that people like. That’s a really bold approach in an industry where just slightly changing the DPS of rifles is considered “controversial”. If shooters evolved as much as Civilization, then in one entry you’d level up your character, then in the next entry your character would be static but your guns would level up, then in the next one your character would work for some sort of military organization that would level up based on the performance of its members, and in the next one you’d go back to leveling up your character but now you earn XP based on how frugal you are with bullets.

What I’m saying is: I don’t like playing this particular Civilization game, but that’s fine. I’m happy if the series keeps evolving and keeps recreating itself. This one isn’t for me, but it’s possible I’ll love the next one. 

I have few more gripes regarding Civ VI, and a few more nitpicks on the series as a whole. We’ll get to those in the coming weeks.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Uh, ignoring the fact that I’m not particularly good at this game and I’m probably making a dozen mistakes I don’t know about in these “perfect” cities.

[2] Gold, productivity, religious faith, and culture.

[3] When starting a new game, you pick the ruleset you want to use. The base game, or either of the expansions.

[4] Eh, maybe I could make it work if I played on a really tiny map, but I’m bored and annoyed with this game and I want to move on rather than fight with the game designer.

[5] Actually, I should probably just play Master of Orion II again.

[6] I have no idea how many. I just know I read a lot of complaining.



From The Archives:
 

114 thoughts on “Civilization Part 4: Tall Play

  1. Higher_Peanut says:

    Heads up: Whole article on the front page

    1. Gautsu says:

      Damn it, you beat me to it

      1. Higher_Peanut says:

        Success, 20sided achievement unlocked!

        1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

          Sorry, you didn’t call him “Boss”, no achievement for you.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            I wonder if Shamus has a way to parse the comments for how often the break gets omitted. I’d love to see ‘whole article on front page’ data next time we get a site statistics post.

            1. Kai Durbin says:

              You could probably just look at the first comment and see if it contains ‘front page’ to see if he screwed it up. I doubt that kind of search would get it wrong most of the time.

              1. Nimrandir says:

                That’s what I was thinking, but I’m not sure if the site’s backend lets him search through comments easily.

                Of course, he may be able to sic his own data-scraping bot on the site to find out the answer.

            2. BlueHorus says:

              I, too, would love to see this. A percentage of articles that have such a comment vs ones that don’t. Would be fun!

  2. Bubble181 says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this. There are quite a few changes I likes in Civ VI (such as the way policies are on a second research track, basically, and combined with the cards to further make your civ unique), but the way tall play is completely uncompetitive is just saddening.
    Civ V originally didn’t really support tall play either, but the expansions made it much more handleable. Neither Civ VI expansion did anything for tall play, though.

    In the beginning some civs, like Germany with their Hanza, somewhat allowed tall play by having 4-5 Hanza’s close to each other all affecting all cities- but that was nerfed into the ground, making it perfecly clear this wasn’t the intended experience.

    1. John, says:

      Tall play is perfectly fine in vanilla Civilization V. I don’t own any of the expansions and I routinely beat the game with just four cities on the default difficulty. It usually helps to conquer an extra city or two and make them puppet states but even that’s not strictly necessary.

    2. Michael says:

      I’ve never actually played Civ V, but tall play is completely uncompetitive in Civilizations I, II, III, and IV, so I tend to suspect it’s not competitive in V either.

      One of the most fundamental issues is that a city works a number of terrain tiles equal to its population plus one. So two cities of size 2 work 6 tiles, where one city of size 4 works 5 tiles. (While, as Shamus notes, also having greater unhappiness and requiring more food.)

      1. WarlockOfOz says:

        Tall play was good in V. Extra cities would slow your science and civic gain, there were benefits that applied only to a few cities, maintenance costs were per city, each new city required happiness from your global total.

        I think there’s a happy medium – the player shouldn’t ever look at a huge expense of empty, fertile soil and think ‘ugh’, but neither should they want to cram every possible city into a landmass regardless of land quality or crowding.

      2. Joshua says:

        “I tend to suspect it’s not competitive in V either.”

        Ugh, this is vastly incorrect, as you can probably tell from Shamus’s article and the rest of the comments. Civ V largely has Tall play being superior to Wide play. Part of the design mechanics were making it feasible to actually compete as a single city civilization, which is what Venice is based around being.

        So, the costs for science and culture get more expensive with each city you build. You can compensate by building/buying more buildings, but it takes awhile to overcome the increased costs. You start receiving unhappiness quite quickly the more you expand, and that once again takes time to overcome with buildings. The overall effect is that you tend to expand one city at a time, wait until the most recent city has developed enough infrastructure to be able to afford starting another new civilization. There’s also only so much reasonable space on the map to place cities that have enough room to expand. When you expand the whole map, you’ll typically see that most civilizations will have 4-6 good cities. If they have more, it’s usually due to the AI city-spamming and placing cities in crappy areas.

        Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot of incentive to build cities in any place that’s not an ideal location with good mixes of farmland, productive forests/hills, access to river/ocean, and 1 or more resources. The marginal costs outweigh the marginal gains. In theory, a wide civilization could churn out many more units than a smaller one, but in practice I only tend to have 2-3 cities produce units, because they’re the ones with the best production and the buildings that give starting experience, and for many units starting out at level 3 or so can make a sizeable difference. About the only benefit I can see from having a lot of cities in Civ V is that it can make (human) players think that it will be too much of a hassle to fight you due to all of the warmongering rep they would accumulate.

        tl;dr Civ V heavily favors having 4-6 developed cities over an empire with 15 smaller ones.

  3. Higher_Peanut says:

    I enjoyed playing around with Civ 5 and while it was good for the player to go tall, the AI certainly didn’t think so. They tended to spawn as many cities as possible, very aggressively. Even founding in very poor positions for a city, near or within other empires. The worst example of this was when an AI plonked a city down in the middle of my empire and then complained when I bought up all the tiles nearby so it was stuck on minimum size.

    This behavior meant late game worlds were full of tiny AI cities, not worth conquering, taking up a lot of space. Which gave newer players, trying find out why a rival empire is doing better, the wrong information. Does Civ 6 have a similar sort of issue where the player is encouraged to play one way, while the AI plays by its own nebulous ideals?

    1. Joshua says:

      I remember playing one game with Hiawatha where he built 15 cities, and I was like “How?!?”

    2. John, says:

      Civilization V is the first Civilization game which, to my knowledge, explicitly incentivizes war crimes. Because of the happiness penalties that you get from extra cities and extra population, most of the time it’s just not worth keeping a conquered city unless it’s got a Wonder you want or gives you access to a resource you don’t already have. Consequently, I end up razing a lot of cities, especially in the late game when the AI builds lots of them in awful, awful places.

      1. Joshua says:

        Also, the Civilization game with the easiest method of war and Domination victory, IMO. I don’t think it’s intentional, but it’s an interesting combination. Then you add on the fact that once you get enough bad rep to get denounced (sometimes it doesn’t take much!) and that it’s nigh impossible to get your reputation back after, it tends to turn into You want me to be a Warmonger? So be it.

        1. John, says:

          I don’t know about that. For easiest Domination victory, my money’s on Civilization Revolution, or at least its Nintendo DS incarnation. I’m normally a Technology kind of guy, but I went Domination almost every time in Revolution DS. I think it was because Revolution DS was so, so stripped down that there wasn’t much to do but wage war. Civilization V, on the other hand, has a functional if imperfect diplomacy system that makes taking on the whole world quite risky and unit-movement mechanics that make waging war with distant enemies tedious and difficult. I find it much more pleasant to mind my own business and tend to my own cities until I build a spaceship or, occasionally, a big shiny Culture Wonder, uh, thing.

          1. Joshua says:

            I can’t say anything about Revolutions as I haven’t played it, so you might be right. But the unit-movement mechanics in Civ V (and VI?) heavily, heavily hamper the computer worse than the player due to piss-poor AI tactical ability. In previous games, you also had to wipe other civilizations off of the map if you wanted a Domination victory. Here, you just have to take their capital city. This oftentimes isn’t too hard, and is absurdly easy on an island map once you get Frigates.

            1. John, says:

              The Domination victory in Revolution works more or less the same way as the Domination victory in Civilization V, but moving units around in Revolution is much less tedious.

            2. Abnaxis says:

              One of my favorite changes in 5 was giving every unit at least 2 movement points. Movement in that game got so much better.

              And then they changed it in VI so it’s a slog again. Now units have 2 movement, but they almost never get to use it because you can’t enter difficult terrain with only 1 remaining move any more. I hate it.

      2. Asdasd says:

        “the first Civilization game which, to my knowledge, explicitly incentivizes war crimes”

        Tit for tat nuclear exchanges with Ghandi notwithstanding?

        1. John, says:

          That has never happened to me.

        2. The Puzzler says:

          Nuclear exchanges weren’t really incentivized in early Civs. You were usually better off capturing the city as intact as possible. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.

          Rome: Total War is my example of a game that encouraged brutal play. Unrest was proportional to population, which would keep going up until things got out of control. The only way to deal with it was to move your garrison out of the city to encourage a revolt to take place, then march back in there, kill the rebels, and massacre 75% of the population. That would keep them happy for the next few years.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            They were referencing the infamous bug, where Ghandi started out with minimum aggression, adopted democracy which should reduce aggression. However, the code for that didn’t check for overflows, so he instead ended up with maximum aggression.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              Now that it’s come up twice, his name is spelled Gandhi in our alphabet. I must confess that I don’t know if the same is true in the native letters.

              1. Crokus Younghand says:

                Yeah, the native pronunciation is also Gandhi in Gujrati/Hindi.

                1. Thomas says:

                  And as someone trying to learn Hindi, the “dhi” part is really hard for western english speakers to pronounce properly. I’ve spent ages huffing into my hand trying to figure out if I’m aspirating or not.

            2. Chad Miller says:

              Strictly speaking, that’s underflow. An example of overflow would be that Final Fantasy endboss you can kill with a healing spell. :)

              1. Anonymous Coward says:

                Common misconception, but that’s still called overflow:

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integer_overflow
                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underflow

            3. The Puzzler says:

              That ‘bug’ is a rumor apparently sourced from some anonymous guy on reddit, denied by the creators of the game, and not made any more plausible by the spreadsheet linked from that page that shows Gandhi’s aggression level being exactly the same as multiple other leaders…

  4. Asdasd says:

    I guess the RPG analogy would be that your cities are like party members, and the more you have the harder it is to form a meaningful attachment to each. I’ve definitely had games of Civ where I felt like my cities had distinct ‘personalities’ based on what they contributing to my empire.

    1. stylesrj says:

      My first few cities I have an attachment towards like they’re my primary party, but later members tend to be treated as just there for moral support. Adding a few extra numbers to the main party with the passive buffs I guess?

  5. Dev Null says:

    “I have no idea how many. I just know I read a lot of complaining.”

    And when the complaining stops, you’ll know that your internet connection is down.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Not that that stops the complaining; in fact, the amount of complaining has just doubled!
      You just can’t read it anymore…

  6. Steve says:

    The only Civ games I’ve ever played are Civ 2 and then FreeCiv in Civ 2 mode. Back then there use to be gripes on forums about ICS or “Infinite City Sleaze”; IIRC you could win against the AI with “tall” play but in multiplayer it was apparently almost impossible to beat a player who just spammed the map with as many undeveloped cities as possible.

    FWIW, if you do want to come up with a less amusing and more correct formula for population numbers, https://mycurvefit.com/ is a low-hassle way of playing with this for small numbers of data points. You just type in your values and choose different fit types until the graph looks nice. I’m sure there are better tools but when you’re just messing around instead of doing proper research this works fine. I came up with y=0.4080037 (plus) 166307*e^(0.1731712*x) using it.

    [Something seems to be stopping an actual plus sign from working in that equation, I don’t know why. So I’ve bodged it.]

    1. Nimrandir says:

      That’s twice this week someone has reported a plus sign not showing up in a comment. Weird.

      I appreciate the link; I will compare the results with Excel’s trendline function and my TI-83 regression tools at some point. This past semester, I had some students without Excel at home and in need of trendline tools. Google Sheets will do a trendline, but it disagreed with Excel quite badly.

      1. Geebs says:

        Just show them how to use R. Next term, 97% will have a copy of Excel, and 3% will be statisticians ;-)

        1. Nimrandir says:

          Doggone it. This just reminded me that I need to teach myself how to use R for a data analytics class. Thanks a lot. :-)

    2. tmtvl says:

      Yeah, the way to win in Civ 2 MP: spam cities, race to Republic, celebrate your hundreds of cities to size 12+ monsters, hope you have more whales than your opponents.

  7. Vinsomer says:

    The other thing that punishes tall play is that – as I found out the hard way – culture is REALLY strong in this game. Or rather if you’ve got a wealthy, technologically advanced, well-armed nation with few cities, you can be easily defeated by a backward, broke, ill-equipped empire with tons of bullshit little towns pumping out culture points. Culture is very strong when combined with a wide empire. Even if you’re going for some other win condition, you’ll need to build up some culture as a defensive measure. You can argue that this makes sense from a historical / balance perspective or whatever. That’s fine. My problem is, the bulk of your culture comes from famous works and rare artifacts you display in your cities. Which leads to this:

    If anything, wouldn’t a huge city be more culturally influential IRL than multiple small settlements?

    Which is more culturaslly influential? London, or the hundreds of small villages-upon-rivers in the arse end of nowhere-shire?

    It also sounds like you’d enjoy Stellaris. Other than being a Paradox game (so prepare yourself for a A LOT of DLC), expansion is much more difficult. You not only have to find planets suitable for colonisation, but you also have to spend a lot of time colonising them. It’s a much more lengthy and costly process which means playing wide is really risky. After all, that colony ship could have been a fleet that you may need to defend your empire. Tall vs wide also ends up being concentrated vs spread thin.

    I guess that’s my issue with Civ’s wide vs tall. It should be either two viable strategies, or a high-risk, high-reward strategy vs a safer strategy that yields fewer rewards. Instead, it’s simple optimal vs suboptimal, and that;s exactly why I don’t really play Civ any more. Becauuse once you learn the game’s systems and start getting good, you realise that the only thing you’re learning is how to optimise yourself into a narrow branch of strategies, rather than developing stategies yourself with any meaningful measure of player expression. Which is a problem when the conceit of the game is taking historical civilizations and putting your own spin on them as you take them to places they never were.

    1. Joshua says:

      One thing I found frustrating is locking yourself into certain strategies, even just picking your starting Civilization, before getting to explore the world and seeing what the optimal strategies would be. You pick a random Civ and map? Hope you don’t get Polynesia with Pangaea, or Mongolia with Islands.

      In Civ V, while I love the Culture tree system there, it’s permanent nature can be problematic. Social Policies like Honor and Piety are best chosen as early as possible if you’re going to use them at all, but that’s quite a gamble to take if the game you get isn’t ideal for them. So, I tend to find myself always choosing the same Social Policies that seem ideal for most situations.

      Although I do like the Ideology Early Adopter system. Being the first or second to choose an Ideology gives you bonus policies, but at the likely cost of being at odds with other civilizations who received ideologies early. You can choose the safer route of following the leader, but you will get less bonuses for it.

      1. Vinsomer says:

        One thing I found frustrating is locking yourself into certain strategies, even just picking your starting Civilization, before getting to explore the world and seeing what the optimal strategies would be. You pick a random Civ and map? Hope you don’t get Polynesia with Pangaea, or Mongolia with Islands.

        It’s funny, at risk of brushing up against the no politics rule, I was recently in a discussion and used strategy games as a way to explain the idea opf historical materialism.

        The root of the problem is that Civ treats the real-world achievements and technological, social and political advances of each civilization as inherent to them, rather than then result of a myriad of historical forces that aligned due to material differences. And in doing so it not only presents a pretty problematic view of history and mankind, but it completely stifles any kind of creativity players might enjoy actually taking civs in directions they didn’t go in real history. If Polynesians did live in one huge supercontinent, they would have certainly taken a different path technologically. But also there is no point in playing a game where you can’t explore that because your civilization’s entire strategy is determined by the bonuses you start the game with. It would be one thing if certain aspects of a civilization were treated that way, but when it comes to base technologies I think the game just gets it completely wrong. For example, Japan having great fishermen isn’t comething that happened because Japanese people are inherently great fishermen. It happened because as an empire of islands, they developed the technology to best make use of their material reality (and yes, you could stretch historical materialism and even Sapir-Whorf your way into saying Japan would be linguistically and culturally completely different in that alternate world, but at that point you may as well play Spore). But you could argue that having a Kabuki theatre is something a hypothetical different Japan could have created.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      If anything, wouldn’t a huge city be more culturally influential IRL than multiple small settlements?

      Which is more culturally influential? London, or the hundreds of small villages-upon-rivers in the arse end of nowhere-shire?

      ^^This. That nonsensical system for storing cultural artifacts described by Shamus seems so illogical that it shouldn’t have even been considered. Big cultural achievements tend to happen in the big cities because they’re big cities!

      I get that the games want to change up the systems between sequels – but the series is called Civilization. Shouldn’t it be influenced by the way historical Civilisations worked?

      1. Erik says:

        I didn’t play much Civ V, but I recall from Civ 4 that more densely developed cities were still much more effective culture sources for the overall cultural victory (which was my usual), but that you needed smaller cities to spread the culture and keep your borders stable.

        That really is the core issue here – the change. A favorite playstyle of many players (self included) seems to have been explicitly designed out of the game with no notice and no given rationale. It’s just, “Oh, you like to play tall? Fuck off.” That’s a major failure.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          In IV you literally can’t get a culture victory without supercities; “3 Legendary Cities” was the win condition. Reasons to have more than 3 cities included:

          * Production of other things necessary to maintain your civlization like workers, military, etc

          * “Cathedral” type religious buildings. They added 50% culture to any city where they were built, but you needed 3 temples for each Cathedral so that’s a minimum of 6 other cities.

          * Extra resources, tax revenue, etc

    3. Joe says:

      Shamus tried Stellaris, way back when. He didn’t like it. Something to do with the mid-game, IIRC. Though I heard somewhere that it’s been revamped since then.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        It’s been heavily, heavily, revamped (for the better, in my opinion), though they still haven’t gotten around to adding proper notification filtering options like in other Paradox games. (No, I really don’t need 20 separate notifications that the defense platforms in each of my border stations have been upgraded, thanks.) Luckily you can just ignore the superfluous ones.

    4. Lasius says:

      It is true that playing tall in Stellaris is a viable playstyle that can easily beat the AI. But when playing against an equally skilled human opponent, wide will always beat tall. Just conquer planets from the AI first, more planets more productivity, which allows you to conquer more panets. What if the tall player has better tech? You can drown them in numbers due to your ever-growing resource production. Most of the time you can do that before their tech advantage becomes noticeable in any way.

      The reason for this is that productivity is less reliant on quality of planets, but instead on the number of pop workers in your empire. And population growth is based on the number of planets since it is trivial to max pop growth on any given planet.

      So having as many planets as possibe to maximize pop growth as well as conquering pops from other empires is the way to win in Stellaris.

      1. Asdasd says:

        I think you’ve described, in broad terms at least, why wide beats tall in most strategy games (and indeed in real life).

        1. Chris says:

          In real life playing wide (empires) tend to start falling apart over time because of unrest. In videogames its pretty easy to keep everyone happy in a large nation.

      2. Vinsomer says:

        I’m fine with wide beating tall. After all, in a 4 x game, expand is one of the x’s. The problem with Civ is it’s more important than all the other x’s combined.

        At the very least players who overextend in Stellaris are more likely to be punished. But in Civ, a player who plays tall is punished harder than a player who overextends. It’s the opposite risk-reward. You risk more playing tall for fewer rewards.

  8. Decius says:

    Bad news: Having only 13 cities is considered “Tall” in some Civ VI strategy discussions.

  9. Joshua says:

    As much as I love Civ V, one point of annoyance is how it punishes building new cities at around the same period of time when building them would be most optimal, which is the High Middle Ages to the Industrial Era. By that time, you probably already have your 4-6 cities in your natural territory, you can cross the ocean to explore the world, but unless there’s an essential resource like coal, it just often doesn’t seem worth it to take the penalties on building a new civilization. Maybe it’s for political reasons, but I really wish there was an option to build colonies in Civ V, something that would act like puppeted cities and allow you access to far off resources without hampering your empire too much.

    1. Higher_Peanut says:

      If my memory serves there was someone who felt the same way and made a colonies mod (Probably JFD) for Civ 5 that tries to simulate later colonising. They didn’t have massive penalties associated but you had less control over them.

  10. Joshua says:

    “In fact, I think that’s the central appeal of the series for me. I obsess over making sure my cities are placed far apart so they have lots of breathing room and don’t crowd each other in the late game.”

    Well, one other thing that can be annoying in Civ V is that this spacing actually isn’t as necessary as you think it is. You can have a city with 30 population, and you’ll still probably be using less than half of the tiles around your city, as the rest of the populace will be specialists instead, especially if you choose Ideological tenets that reward specialists like making them consume half the food or produce half the unhappiness of an ordinary citizen.

    Does that mean that all of those tile improvements like farms, lumber mills, and mines might be useless busywork for your workers? Well, it’s actually worse than that. Not only did you spend worker rounds building that improvement (which might be negligible because there is plenty of worker idleness later on) and your time/attention, you’ve ALSO just produced a bunch of spare medkits and treasure chests for any enemies that want to attack you.

  11. Breadbeard says:

    My understanding of the new district system (at least the original intent) is that that *is* how you specialize your cities (want a science victory? build a science district; otherwise don’t bother with it, since not every city can build every district, nor is it worth it to do so), but as you mentioned, in practice this ends up being more limiting, and just encourages building more cities since you can’t build multiple districts in a city, so your # of cities is now the biggest determining factor in how many districts you can make. I think letting a city build multiple same-type districts would help, as would adding something to help you build more in limited real estate – like at least not also having Wonders take up their own tile too.

    Mostly the district system annoyed me because they take forever to build and often by themselves do very little, so my city is stuck for 20-30 turns building a Theater District, and THEN after it’s finished, I still get nothing (except some adjacency bonuses) until I actually build buildings there (which you usually can’t afford to do because your city probably has developed other pressing concerns in the 30 turns it took you to make the district). Also the fact that the game still usually forces you to build all buildings in the order they were unlocked on the tech tree, so even if you build a religious district in 1900 AD, for some reason you still have to build a shrine to Apollo before you can start building cathedrals.

    1. Michael says:

      Also the fact that the game still usually forces you to build all buildings in the order they were unlocked on the tech tree, so even if you build a religious district in 1900 AD, for some reason you still have to build a shrine to Apollo before you can start building cathedrals.

      I mean, there’s nothing historically or thematically inaccurate about that. If you’re setting up religious buildings in 1900 AD in historical europe, you’re going to start with local shrines to various saints, and eventually put up a church. You’ll never put up a cathedral at all; if you wanted one of those, you needed to build it hundreds of years ago.

      Exactly how much of a difference do you think there is between an ancient Greek mountaintop shrine to Helios and a modern Greek mountaintop shrine to St. Elias? Hey, why is it that the saint honored in mountaintop shrines is called “Elias”, anyway?

      1. tmtvl says:

        Isn’t a cathedral simply a church that’s used as the seat of a bishop? The clergy kind, I mean, not the wanker from NWN2.

        1. Hector says:

          Right. It’s whichever church that Bishop uses as his “seat”. For a wide variety of practical reasons, this is usually the coolest church in the biggest city of town in the bishopric, but in theory could be any church the Bishop so chooses.

          1. Thomas says:

            Shout out to St Asaph’s cathedral, an unremarkably sized church in a ‘city’ of 3,000 people.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aerial_View_of_St_Asaph_Cathedral.jpg

      2. Philadelphus says:

        Hey, why is it that the saint honored in mountaintop shrines is called “Elias”, anyway?

        Isn’t Elias simply the Hellenized form of the Hebrew name traditionally translated into English as “Elijah”? No linguistic relation to Helios. Or was your point simply that they sound broadly similar?

    2. Decius says:

      The science districts are required for every victory type, because otherwise you get conquered by someone two eras ahead of you.

  12. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    You would have a blast playing the Kuriotates faction in Fall From Heaven 2. Their whole deal is that they’re limited to very few cities (3, 5 and 7 depending on map size IIRC) but those cities are super powerful. After that they can only build small outposts just to grab resources.
    Also in time you get airships and a goddamned gold dragon. It’s pretty cool.

  13. WarlockOfOz says:

    My feeling is that civ 6 is a flawed diamond. Some of it’s innovations are huge improvements – the new civics tree, the way district adjacency bonuses make the layout of every new city a minigame. Many other things don’t work so well (though better now than they were at release). I do like having the first three X’s in my 4X game, so strongly prefer it to Civ V, which punished expansion so heavily.

    1. Ebalosus says:

      I also feel that Civ V overemphasised science and wonders at the expense of culture, civics, and military. Like if you got both the Great Library and the Oracle early in the game, you had a nigh-unbeatable science lead on all other civs. That happened to me on one playthrough as Venice, where because I got both aforementioned wonders, I was out front scientifically, despite Venice not usually being good at science.

      Civ VI seems to have thankfully brought that back a bit, where science and wonders aren’t the be-all and end-all like they were in Civ V

  14. Chris says:

    Your play style maps uncomfortably close to my own Shamus. I own Civ 4 and 5, both are games that I play infrequently, but will pull out for 5-10 hours before I grow bored.
    When Epic recently put Civ 6 up for free, I spent the entire week debating whether or not to claim a copy. Ultimately I decided not to grab one. Part of it is just a large backlog, and the fact that I play these types of games infrequently. But I just had a nagging feeling from looking at the reviews and trailers that the changes in the game would annoy me in a particularly frustrating way. After reading this I’m glad I gave it a pass, as it likely saved me about a dozen hours of frustration and anxiety.

  15. Nimrandir says:

    Yes, I used CamelCase here just to annoy the mathematicians.

    I’m more annoyed at the mixture of italic and non-italic fonts, because it almost guarantees you didn’t use LaTeX to create the expression.

    1. John, says:

      As a math major, I’m appalled not by the use of camel case but by the use of words and phrases in the first place. Camel case or no, there’s a chance that a non-specialist reader might know what “JustAGame” means, and that won’t do. If this were a proper formula, “JustAGame”, for example, would replaced by, say, an italicized lower-case p. No, not j, and not g either. Those letters are too suggestive of “JustAGame”. We need p, or maybe w, just to make sure that the layperson can’t guess. Better still would be a Greek letter. I’m thinking, oh, epsilon or nu. The important thing is that the formula must be unintelligible even to another specialist unless that specialist has read the entire text containing the formula up to the point where the formula appears. There are standards that must be upheld!

      1. Sir, I like your style.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          Personally, I would have gone with multi-index subscripts. That lets us link to another article where we explain the subscripts. Publish or perish, and whatnot.

      2. Douglas Sundseth says:

        I prefer to use Tsolyani for my variables. It’s pretty, you have three ‘cases’ instead of just two, and it’s entirely incomprehensible to significantly more than 99% of the population even of scientists and mathematicians. There just isn’t a real drawback.

    2. The Puzzler says:

      I’m more annoyed by the official capitalisation of LaTeX.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        Consider yourself lucky I can’t use the official LaTeX command for printing the name LaTeX.

  16. Panzeh says:

    I’ve always found civ to have a problem with width but it’s more in how cities are managed than what playstyles are supported. I think Civ really isn’t built for Tall play in its basic mechanics and it makes the game worse to try to reward it. It’s more built for wide, but wide has its own problems- the city management screen really isn’t something you want to do in a bunch of cities, for example. Rather than change city mechanics on a fundamental level to make managing 20 cities viable without the unsatisfying ‘solution’ of automation, they just oscillate on what style they want to reward.

    1. I agree. Civ seems to be generally designed as a large-scope game about forming an empire, and the basic mechanics for cities are simple because of that. It’s no city builder.

      I wonder if it’s a case of designers coming to believe their own series’s advertising. Even though the game is about empires trying to dominate their neighbours, a lot of the advertising and things in the games seem to be designed to evoke a tone of celebration of civilization and Mankind in general, especially since Civ IV. Maybe that’s making people expect more detailed city mechanics than the series has ever had, including the later designers. (Or maybe my view is skewed by playing Civ III first and comparing the games’ tone to that one: the vanilla game’s intro / menu music left an big impression on me, and playing Civ IV many years later was jarring.)

      1. The Puzzler says:

        The city mechanics of Civ 6 aren’t simple enough for my taste. (As the “build a city so you can build a theater district so you can build a museum so you can store a book so you can gain various cultural benefits” example above illustrates.)

      2. Panzeh says:

        I’ve always thought Imperialism 1 and 2 had a really good way of squaring that circle- while you gathered resources on the map, converting them to useful things was done in your capital city on one central screen, so no matter how much you expanded, you didn’t have to go to a different screen to manage your newly found provinces. It’s a cinch to run a big empire in Imperialism for it. The games have a lot of problems, but I think they did a lot better at solving the problem of big empires being tedious to run as you have to optimize a bunch of cities.

        1. Definitely. I’ve ended up playing more of the Imperialism games than the Civ games mostly for this reason. I also appreciate the complete absence of a research mechanic in Imperialism I, since those usually end up dominating the game they’re in, but that’s not to everyone’s taste.

  17. Steve C says:

    That codebox of arguing with the game is my biggest pet peeve of my favorite genre. I feel anxiety and rage just reading about it. Unintuitive and arbitrary restrictions always end up destroying all the fun I was otherwise having. That’s on top of the needlessly fussiness of Civ too.

  18. Douglas Sundseth says:

    My preferred style of play in all versions of Civ is wide and tall multi-factor domination. Which is to say that towards the end of the game I get to choose which victory conditions I want to fulfill. But then I mostly like to play in the low-mid difficulty range. Given that, I’ve enjoyed every version of the game.

    My biggest victory (relative to some standard metric) was in Civ 1, playing ‘Short’ (four cities of very limited size) and crushing all of my enemies with unending waves of chariots. The biggest problem there was new civilizations spawning behind the gust front of my armies. IIRC, my best score using that strategy (max difficulty level) was something like 1750%, which was higher than anything I had heard of.

    With Civ VI, if you want to do city planning, you can use pins to mark where you want to put things. There was a simple add-on called Map Tacks that (IIRC) has been added to the official codebase. Massively simplifies exactly the thing that Shamus seemed to mostly be complaining about.

    Tall definitely works in VI, but it requires fairly deep understanding of the engine and precise play, so it’s unlikely to work well for a casual player. And if you’re not already committed to the style of game that is Civ, it’s unlikely that you would be even slightly interested in moving beyond casual.

  19. evileeyore says:

    “Actually, I should probably just play Master of Orion II again.”

    I never stopped… of course I also still play MoM. So your mileage and variances.

    1. Veylon says:

      Speaking of Master of Magic, it’s a shame it never really had a worthy successor. So many great things put in together, and yet it’s almost unplayable. The AI is garbage, there’s no multiplayer, and you can easily throw away a whole army with multiple heroes to some random monster cave.

      But I still play it. The game has no idea what it wants to be, tries everything, and it somehow works.

      1. evileeyore says:

        Speaking of spiritual successors…

        Age of Wonder Shadow Magic came close for me, though there were things that kept me from ever playing again, the magic and abilities setup is almost identical to how they worked in MoM (and it’s the one thing I really, really liked), I think it inability to found your towns and have to conquer that turned me from AoW. [EDIT] Oh yeah, and it’s Real Time With Pause. [/EDIT]

        Elemental: Fallen Enchantress is damn close, but the gameplay and Unit Construction are too fiddly for my taste. Though of all the “spiritual successors” it’s the one I’ve played the most.

        Endless Legend also comes close, but there was just (several) something(s) that it fell short on and if I remember correctly I hated the combat.

        Then there is the early access game, Worlds of Nagic, that I hear good and bad things about. The good? The designers had “be THE spiritual successor to MoM” in mind as they made it, the bad “uses D&D combat mechanics”.

        1. Decius says:

          There have been so many attempts at successors to Age of Wonders, and all of them have just been weak, and I attribute many of them being bad to a design philosophy of “allow lots of customization of units” without providing enough *meaningful* choices to make when customizing a unit for the number of choices available.

      2. Steve C says:

        Successors to Masters of Magic include the Sorcerer King games. A set of games that may or may not include Fallen Enchantress which evileeyore mentioned along with Endless Legend. I really liked Endless Legend.

      3. Vince says:

        There’s Dominions 5. Admittedly it’s light on the city building side, but the rest of the game is just so insanely deep. Also, angel-killing turkey death squads.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Although endgame still devolves into mass Communions for meteorite bombings + Tartarian supercombatants. However by the time you reach that point someone will have already won. If not outright, at least in name (by everyone else going AI).

      4. Are you aware of the Caster of Magic mod? It adds/changes a lot of things, and better AI is supposed to be one of them. It also has a pretty comprehensive set of designer notes.

    2. The Puzzler says:

      My preferred startup for MoO2 is smallest galaxy, advanced start, maximum number of AI enemies. That way there’s really no room to expand, so you have to play tall (up to the point where you start conquering other empires).

  20. Hector says:

    I may be too late to contribute, but I feel Shamus partly identifies the issue but doesn’t quite get to the heart of it. Starting with Civ4, the series took a turn into more competitive but varied design. That is, in Civ1&2 all the civs were equal and the only difference was cosmetic. Civ3 had some differences, but they were generic attributes that were just combined and applied. Civ4 took this and started giving each civ more unique elements.

    By the time you get to Civ5, this interacted with another of the game’s somewhat outdated mechanics: Win Conditions. These sort of made sense when the series stuck a bit closer to the boardgame roots, but actually turned into a hindrance once you had so many more fun things to do. In essence, you really needed to think about your Civ abilities affected your pursuit of a win condition, and you needed to go after that condition strongly.

    BY the time you get to Civ6, something felt… off. The way ther game was balanced and the huge impact your special civ improvements, units, buildings, districts & etc meant that you realistically needed to plan on your win condition from turn 1. Now, I don’t mean to be contrary, but I don’t think that Culture is just that powerful – but ti was designed in as a factor equal to most others and so you need to plan on how to use it in pursuit of your own win condition. If this means destroying another civ you may have preferred to keep on the board, well… the game doesn’t care. The elements in play are more-or-less-balanced*, but they are balanced for power and not fun.

    The reason this feels so darn irritating is that quite frequently, people are playing for self-expression. It’s fun to build a cool civ empire, and that can mean playing wide, or tall, or having happy citizens, or trying to having fun with the tech tree, trying to get lots of friendly allies, or even making a graceful and artistically pleasing city. But the game rules aren’t about that; it’s entirely around WINNING! It’s all winning, all the time. And it really doesn’t care at all about what the player thinks or feels about that.

    *Per given expansion. While there are some which are stronger or weaker, the base game Civilizations are reasonable well-balanced against each other. However, this game doesn’t just have Power Creep, it has Power Striding Boldly Forth O’er the Plains. There are exceptions, but in general the newer the release, the stronger the Civilization.

    1. Decius says:

      You don’t have to have the goal of the civ you control meeting the win conditions first.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I think I’ve mentioned it before but in recent years the CIV series met with some criticism about how its victory conditions frame the measure of a civilization in how much it dominates others.

  21. CrushU says:

    Yeah, this.
    Districts *are* how you specialize your cities, and how you keep track of which city is doing what. This one has an Encampment? It makes land units. This one has a Harbor? It makes ships. This one has a Holy Site? It makes missionaries.

    The issue is that it’s hard to specialize your *civilization*, as district costs to build goes up based on how many existing districts of that type you have, and you can’t just buy a district, it *has* to be built with just Production.

    With Wonders and Districts both taking up space on the world map, it makes my cities feel more cramped than in past versions. It’s a trend they’ve gone for a while, making world map space actually important, starting with preventing unit stacks.

    1. Ebalosus says:

      I honestly don’t know why they can’t just make the maps bigger. This isn’t a game where everything is tracked in real-time, so I think it would be fair to say that larger maps are overdue.

  22. Retsam says:

    Interestingly enough, a month or two ago, they released the Maya Civilization, which is specifically designed for playing tall. From what I hear, it works pretty well, even if the game is largely slanted towards “wide”.

    I’m really not a fan of their new “battle pass” approach to DLC (basically the same price as a traditional expansion, without the big gameplay additions, and without knowing what you’re paying up front), but I’ll probably fork over the few dollars to give the Maya civ a try.

  23. Agammamon says:

    I think with Civ6 the idea is that each city isn’t *a metro-area* like it was in the earlier games. Its one small city bundled up with several others and the sum total is the metro area. Like Phoenix Arizona isn’t just Phoenix Arizona – there’s a dozen (or more) cities surrounding and filling up the area around it.

    So, in that way it makes a sort of sense that each individual ‘district’ specializes and you’re putting down clusters of smaller cities – in total those clusters are the equivalent of the previous game’s cities.

  24. MaxEd says:

    I began to think about how a “tall-only” game would look like, and I think I came up with Heroes of Might and Magic :) There are only a few cities per map, you can’t build more, but there is still exploration and expansion via resource extraction network. It can be adjusted from HoMM model, of course, but in general “having a plan for every city” is a very HoMM thing to do. On large maps with many cities, HoMM also becomes somewhat unmanageable (including questions about “how did I even got this town, and what I’m going to do with it?!”), but in far easier to keep it at enjoyable level.

    1. In a similar vein would be the Disciples series. You can conquer towns and expand them, but expanding them only increases the number of units that can sit inside it on defence, and their only function otherwise is basic unit recruitment and faster healing. Anything you build, usually to unlock units further down the levelling trees, is built at the capitol.

      Closer to the 4X genre, this is also roughly how the Imperialism series works: you build defences and resource extraction sites on the map, but everything is transported back to your capitol and worked with there, so even in late game most of your turn is spent on the same few screens. Not what a city builder player would want, since most of the improvements you can build are just numeric improvements, but it makes the late game a lot more manageable.

    2. Decius says:

      HoMM city decisions aren’t very interesting, though. “Can I afford to upgrade today?” is the only real choice to make, because build order is mostly hardcoded and which creature type you don’t use is an emergent feature of one of them being inferior.

  25. civfan says:

    For reference, the population formula for the civ games that showed actual population was City population = 1000*city size^2.8

  26. ngthagg says:

    I think you missed an aspect of civ 6 that might have made your experience more enjoyable. In previous civs, tall cities were the way to go if you wanted to optimize everything. But because of districts, in civ 6 it’s the tall cities that are generic, and the small ones are interesting. I can only build one campus in a city, so after that I’m not getting much science growth from more population. But with multiple cities not only can I get more campuses, but I can work on maximizing adjacencies. How many campuses can I get to touch this mountain range? Which rainforest tiles should I preserve? If this city is never going to have a great campus, what can I have it focus on instead? And so on and so forth.

    That still leaves the problem of how to manage a ton of cities, but the answer is pins. Pin everything. Write notes if you need to. I’ll take breaks from actual playing to go and pin multiple cities, from where I settle to districts to improvements.

    This way of playing satisfies the same desires that I had when I built tall in civ v, The difference is that instead of planning cities as stand alone objects, I’m planning my empire as a whole.

    1. The Puzzler says:

      Pin your cities?

      I’ve been trying to figure out what this means. Going by all the definitions of ‘pin’ I can find, you’re sticking metal pins into your monitor, you’re preventing them from moving (through wrestling moves, or by trapping them between your rook and their king) or you’re bookmarking them on Pinterest.

      Whichever it is, I’m not seeing how it helps.

      1. Douglas Sundseth says:

        Map pins were originally a mod that was so useful that it was picked up for the mainline game code. They allow you to place markers for your future intentions in hexes so you don’t forget what you had planned. Given complex webs of bonuses, this is extremely useful.

        Or you could stick push pins into your monitor. You do you. 8-)

  27. Liessa says:

    I got Civ 6 as part of a Humble Bundle and played it for a few hours, but quickly got irritated by many aspects of the gameplay. Here are just a few of the most annoying:

    – The ‘agenda’ system. For those who haven’t played Civ VI: Instead of giving leaders actual personalities as in previous games (militaristic, etc.), the game gives them an ‘agenda’ which informs pretty much all their interactions with other leaders. Unfortunately the diplomatic effects of these agendas are incredibly poorly designed and implemented. One leader had a ‘kill barbarians’ agenda, and so our interactions would go like this:

    Me: *kills some barbarians*
    Him: “OMG, you killed some barbarians! I LOVE you!!!”
    Me: *eliminates barbarian camp*
    Him, a few turns later: “What, you haven’t killed any barbarians lately? DIE, SCUM!!!”
    Me, a few turns later: *kills some freshly-spawned barbarians*
    Him: “YAY! I LOVE YOU AGAIN!!!*

    Rinse and repeat every 10 turns or so. It was a similar story with a leader who had a ‘strong navy’ agenda, which was defined as “you have more ships than me” regardless of absolute numbers. So I’d build a ship and he’d love me, then he’d build a ship (making our numbers equal) and he’d suddenly hate me, then I’d build another one and he’d love me again. And so on.

    – On a related note, barbarians are WAY too numerous and too strong in the early game – apparently this is due to them automatically getting access to the strongest units buildable by ANY civ on the map, without any of the constraints on production. However, the spawn rate is also ridiculously high. I swear I cleared out an encampment on one turn, only for it to respawn in exactly the same spot just a couple of turns later.

    – Diplomacy in general. I had one civ from another continent declare war on me for no obvious reason, then spend the next several dozen turns doing absolutely nothing about it. All my attempts to make a ‘white peace’ failed, and I couldn’t attack their units because – even though I’d easily have won – it just wasn’t worth the effort of sending an army over there. Eventually I sued for peace in return for a ridiculously tiny sum of gold – something like 5g – and they promptly accepted, signed an alliance and became my best friends forevermore.

    – Map placement issues. In my first game I had 6 or 7 city-states within a few tiles of each other, and there were only about 10 on the whole map.

    What finally prompted me to quit was when I started a new game and became ‘suzerain’ of a city-state, only for them to get attacked by the first neighbour civ I met, and I couldn’t do anything about this without being branded a warmonger. I think you do get a ‘casus belli’ for defending an allied city-state, but not until ridiculously late in the game, and even then it doesn’t remove all of the warmonger penalty. This really should be available from the beginning of the game, and it should happen automatically – i.e. an attack on one of your protected city-states should automatically count as an attack on your civ. It’s not like the ancient Greeks (for example) were unfamiliar with the concept of a defensive alliance.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Diplomacy generally suffers in 4X games because it’s very difficult to make it both an interesting system and for the AI to use it effectively AND not to leave too many superexploits for human players to abuse.

      I think agendas are an interesting idea on paper (leaving aside the slightly divisive idea of further differentiating the civs). Because agendas should, in theory at least, synergize with a given civilization’s playstyle this leads them to pursue their natural competition and may inform the player’s decisions. The execution leaves something to be desired as you’ve pointed out.

      1. Xeorm says:

        Imo, I think the agenda system would have been a lot better if they had refined some of the agendas and gave each AI more of them. As it was you got a silly agenda that liked you if you built ships, and that would define 40% of their judgement of you. That’s far, far too much for what feels like an arbitrary number to the player.

    2. John, says:

      Alpha Centauri had Agendas. Each faction had some choice that it really liked and you’d get a bonus to diplomacy with them if you made that same choice. Morgan likes Free Market economics, Miriam Godwinson likes Theocratic government, Zakharov likes Knowledge, and so on. The problem with the Alien Crossfire expansion is that the original game used up most of the really obvious Agendas so that some of the expansion factions have Agendas that aren’t even achievable until the endgame. I mean, it’s great that Foreman Whatsisface likes Eudaimonea, but it’s also irrelevant until very, very late in the game, at which point Foreman Whatsisface probably already hates you for a bunch of other reasons.

      1. Liessa says:

        That’s true, and they worked well in Alpha Centauri, but that was because the entire faction system was based around political philosophies rather than nation-states. (They also gave the leaders other personality traits separate from their ‘agendas’, e.g. Deirdre was a pacifist while Miriam was agressive.) I think that to make the Civ VI agendas work properly, you’d have to make some major changes:

        – Give them less of an influence on overall diplomacy score (someone above mentioned 40%, which is ridiculous).
        – Agendas should only come into play when you do something that majorly annoys or pleases the AI; otherwise their effect should be neutral.
        – Increase the time it takes for AI leaders to ‘reassess’ their agenda judgements, from roughly every 10 turns to roughly every 50 turns.
        – Just generally make them less stupid and unreasonable. At one point I think there was a ‘secondary’ agenda where the leader in question would automatically hate anyone of the opposite sex. That one was removed, thank goodness, but many of the others are almost as absurd.

  28. MadTinkerer says:

    So a single large city can’t pump out more culture than a dozen small towns? That is literally the opposite of historical accuracy. The entire reason why large cities are considered historically significant, despite being horrible cesspits for thousands of years before bacteria was discovered and proper sewage treatment was invented, is because they dominate the local culture and force the small towns (even, and especially, the small towns of the next country over) to slowly become extensions of them. Is Chicago, for example, less culturally influential than the entire rest of Illinois in this game? Is New York The City less culturally influential than the entire rest of New York The State? Because I guarantee that’s not how it is in real life. New York is so influential that you know I mean the city and not the state unless I specifically say “New York State”.

    Regarding only being able to have a single district of each type per city: I guess this game wasn’t developed in California? At all? Because clearly the developers have never heard of Silicon Valley!?!? :( ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    The last Civ game I own is Civ V, and I was wondering if it was worth getting Civ VI. But it doesn’t sound like it to me.

  29. RandomInternetGuy says:

    At some point in my Civ-gaming career I noticed that I seem to be in a minority of gamers that roleplays almost every game, including strategy games like Civ. I like to play a ruler, make treaties, wage wars, and watch my civilization grow and flourish, in a fun and natural way. Minmaxing or carefully and strategically planning every build queue and worker action is the opposite of how I want to play. That is not to say that I play completely “by the feels” without any tactical considerations, but the roleplaying and playing to “feel good” comes first, strategic thinking second. Otherwise the game starts feeling too much like work.

    This is also why I don’t mind large empires with dozens of cities (all Civs before IV greatly favored this wide-approach. Civ IV was the first in the series to penalize too fast expansion). I only spend a small time thinking about every individual city and focus more on the big picture and roleplaying.

    I was pretty awestruck the first time I watched some YouTube videos about other guys playing Civ-games and they were making considerations and tactical decisions that wouldn’t have occurred to me in my life. Really squeezing every drop of output out of every city on every single turn.
    I guess there’s a large percentage of people who play to “beat” the game. These people like to play games on the highest difficulty levels and develop strategies to overcome the challenges. For me, that is too stressful. I almost always play games on the normal difficulty with level playing field, and play the game not primary to beat it, but to “experience” it.

  30. TLN says:

    While I think it’s perfectly reasonable to prefer tall to wide (and I kind of do as well), I’ve had this discussion with some Civ guru friends of mine before and I generally agree with them that going tall instead of wide is antithetical to what Civ is about. You are in a sense leaving out one of the X’es since you’re not really doing a lot expanding by comparison. I was never all that good at Civ4 but i LOVE reading about pitboss games at like http://www.sullla.com/civ4.html, and key for all interesting games is I think the natural progression into conflict that comes from expansion. Slamming down more cities until you are touching borders with other nations is what leads to conflict which is pretty core to the Civ experience. I played a TON of Civ5 which initially promoted ICS but eventually with patches and expansions going tall became the better option for a long time (I’m not sure where it’s at now). And again, I liked that! But it never really felt like “playing” civ, because when you are not having constant border skirmishes with the AI it becomes trivially easy to manage diplomacy with them for the most part (and in the few cases where you end up fighting anyway, the AI is just awful at waging war at long distance that it hardly matters anyway).

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