Civilization Part 5: Making Cities Less Special

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jul 9, 2020

Filed under: Retrospectives 76 comments

Like I said last time, I really missed being able to play tall in Civilization VI. The other thing I miss is min-maxing by building “specialty” cities. And the other, other thing I miss is building wonders.

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and Despair!

The Space Race counts as a wonder, but also as one of the steps towards scientific victory.
The Space Race counts as a wonder, but also as one of the steps towards scientific victory.

I LOVE building wonders. Lots of them.

When managing a tall empire, it’s immensely useful to have cities cooperate. If I’ve got 4 well-established cities and one new one, then I like to use my booming economy to bootstrap the new addition. My big cities bank up money, and then my little town can plow through the first five or six critical items. A new city needs a lot before it’s useful: Some basic defenses, a building to boost growth / food output, a builder to tend the land, an economic building so the place doesn’t drain my coffers, and a factory-type building to get production up. The exact build order depends on the terrain and what stage of the game you’re in, but if you’re building tall then cities need to be robust.

Productivity tends to compound. The stronger a city is, the faster it can grow, which means a little boost at the start can have a massive impact on the city over the long term.  I actually think this is part of the strategy. I think that “What build order will maximize my growth in this city?” is a more interesting question than, “How many cookie-cutter cities can I cram into this peninsula?” So I want my big cities to help the little ones, until the younger city is large enough that it can begin to specialize.

My problem is that in Civ VI, this type of cooperation just isn’t possible under normal circumstances. That dinky city needs to grow on its own. Even if you’ve got a complex civilization with a booming economy, there’s very little your government can do to help the city along. You can’t just use your enormous GDP to prop up your new / recently conquered cities.

(Actually, there are a few special abilities that slightly get around this. But they’re all very situational and none of them are available until the mid / late game. By that time, the tall player has fallen far behind.)

Even when dealing with the stuff you CAN buy, the game is designed to make this process as unhelpful as possible. Let’s say my new city just spent an agonizing 10 turns trying to make a spearman. I’m 2 turns from finishing it, but then some barbarians come knockingWith the spearman they produced for free in their primitive camp with no population, no tools, and no economy, but don’t get me started on the outrageous bullshit that is “barbarians” in this series. and I suddenly need that spearman RIGHT NOW. In the old games, I could spend a little bit of coin to knock out that last 16% and get the unit done this turn. In Civ VI, I can only buy an entire NEW unit for full price. That means I’ll be spending 100% of the money to make this unit instead of the little bit needed to finish the one I’ve been working on. Then in 2 turns the second spearman will pop out, and now I’ve wasted a ton of money on an additional unit I don’t wantUnits can cost upkeep per turn, so you don’t want more than you need.. That is SUPER annoying. I suppose I could cancel production, but either way it means that I’ve just wasted an agonizing 10 turns of production.

I think the claim that, 'The worth of a culture is not measured by its accomplishments, but in how those accomplishments last.' is true in the real world, but is decidedly NOT true in a game where you can instantly be declared the winner of history because you crossed an arbitrary numeric threshold. But whatever. When simulating history in a competitive game, you kinda have to accept this sort of weirdness.
I think the claim that, 'The worth of a culture is not measured by its accomplishments, but in how those accomplishments last.' is true in the real world, but is decidedly NOT true in a game where you can instantly be declared the winner of history because you crossed an arbitrary numeric threshold. But whatever. When simulating history in a competitive game, you kinda have to accept this sort of weirdness.

This gets really bad when it comes to wonders. In the old games it was possible to make some sort of helper unit – a trade wagon, or some other non-combat thing – and sacrifice it to complete a wonder. So I can have city A begin building the Great Pyramids, while cities B, C, and D pump out helper units to hurry the process along. There’s a bit of loss in the process – spending 100 productivity on helpers won’t translate into 100 units of progress on the wonder – but it’s worth it. Hurrying a wonder like this also cuts down on the risk that another player will finish off a particular wonder juuuust before you, which is a brutal setbackOnly one of each wonder can exist at a time. So if someone else ninjas the Hanging Gardens from you, then you won’t be able to finish it. On lower difficulties you get some of your costs back, but the greater loss is the sheer TIME you invested in building the dang thing, and the opportunity loss from NOT building a bunch of other stuff that could be benefiting you right now..

Consider the situation where City A has a massive productivity output, but no use for a particular wonder. Meanwhile, City B is the PERFECT place for this wonder, but it has such a low production output that it would literally take half the game to construct it. If cities can help each other, then I can use this to strategically place wonders exactly where I want them.

But Civ VI doesn’t let you do this. Not only does this make the game less interesting for me, it also further punishes the player for building tall. If I have 30 cities and one of them spends 30 turns on a doomed wonder project that gets ninja’d in the end, then that’s a loss of 3% of my total economic output for that time period. If I’ve only got 5 cities, then I just wasted 20% of my output. Ouch.

Also, the wonders in this game are far more numerous and their bonuses are smaller. They just aren’t the game-changers that they used to be. You can argue that this makes sense from a simulation / balance perspective, and that’s fine. But this was one of my favorite things to do, and it’s now a lot harder, riskier, less rewarding, and offers the player less flexibility in terms of clever tricks to optimize progress.

What I Learned From Cheats

That's the cheat interface in the upper left. You can clone units, complete research, insta-build, grant units additional moves, and tons of other stuff. It's very interesting to experiment with these systems like this.
That's the cheat interface in the upper left. You can clone units, complete research, insta-build, grant units additional moves, and tons of other stuff. It's very interesting to experiment with these systems like this.

At the start of this series I mentioned that I played around with some cheats. I’ve never done that with a Civ game before, and I found it to be both amusing and informative. So here are a couple of things I observed while using a cheat mod.

1. The Game is less prone to rubber-banding than I assumed.

The most recent update to the game is the Gathering Storm ruleset, which introduces the idea of catastrophic weather: Volcanos, droughts, floods, dust storms, climate change.

Surprisingly, the Gathering Storm rules DIDN’T act as a rubber-band system as I expected. I thought the game would punish success with flood and droughts, and reward failure with good harvests. But when I used cheats I was able to see the entire board, and I could tell this was not the case. I was WAY ahead, and yet the storms were always pretty randomly distributed among the players.

2. The Exploration AI is atrocious. 

I feel betrayed. For years I’ve been happy to put my civ scouts on auto-explore and ignore them while they filled in the map. Sometimes I’d see it do something questionable. Perhaps it would head east, then several turns later it would cross to the west side of my territory while there was still lots of unexplored terrain to the east. I always assumed there was some logic to the system that eluded me. Maybe it was avoiding danger, or it was prioritizing revealing areas close to my cities. It’s kind of hard to get a sense of what they’re doing when they only move a couple of tiles at a time and you’re preoccupied with running your cities.

Then I used the cheat to give my scout a few dozen moves per turn, just to see it cover a lot of territory at once. The result was so atrocious that it’s only a tiny bit better than moving at random.

I wish I’d saved a video / gif of the result, but we’re going to have to settle for my terrible drawing to illustrate:

I was on a Florida-shaped peninsula. It moved in a series of arcs where the farthest point extended slightly with each pass. This resulted in a massive waste of potential. It would go down the already-explored east coast, reveal a small slice of territory to the south, and then travel all the way up the fully-explored west coast, then down the coast again for another pass to the south. Even at the far southern tip of these arcs, it was doing a lot of overlap so that it was only revealing a few tiles of new material.

My guess is that the AI is designed to attempt an outward spiral. If it gets stuck against a barrierImpassable terrain, a coast, or a foreign border. it simply reverses direction and attempts to spiral out the other way.

My scouts are all in the far north on the other side of this continent, while I've got unexplored territory very close to my cities.
My scouts are all in the far north on the other side of this continent, while I've got unexplored territory very close to my cities.

This might be a useful means of navigation if all games took place on an infinite flat plane, but when this logic runs into a complex mountain range or coastline it fails completely. It seems to value maintaining the spiral pattern more than revealing terrain. There doesn’t seem to be any logic that drives it to consider the question, “Does my projected path ever reveal any terrain?”

Maybe I’m wrong about how it was written, but after observing the exploration AI for a long time I can say with confidence that it’s complete garbage. It wastes a majority of its moves. Given how expensive these units are in the early game and how vital it is to reveal terrain as soon as possible, relying on the automated exploration is a huge liability. It might be tedious, but manually nudging that little bastard around the map is massively better than trusting the AI.

3. The climate change model is a facade. 

Using cheats, I created projects to absorb all human CO2, and then some. And yet despite this, the polar ice caps were still melting.
Using cheats, I created projects to absorb all human CO2, and then some. And yet despite this, the polar ice caps were still melting.

The Rising Storm expansion purports to simulate climate change. As the factions industrialize, atmospheric CO2 goes up and the ice caps melt, which will flood coastal areas. The game lets you create projects to re-absorb CO2. That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it works in this context. Despite the game prodding you to “Build a civilization to stand the test of time”, your actual goal is to do no such thing. Your people don’t need to live in this world permanently. As soon as a player reaches a win state, all other concerns vanish. The problems of nuclear proliferation, overpopulation, energy, fossil fuel supplies, biodiversity, climate, giant asteroids, and the rising popularity of loot boxes stop being a worry, because Player 2 just completed their religious conquest of the planet and the game is over.

Sustainability problems just don’t make a lot of sense in a competitive game with a visible finish line. Why would I spend my precious production to very slightly reduce climate problems for everyone when I could just use that same production to reach my win condition and render the problem moot?

Worse, the climate simulation is silly. With cheats, I was able to soak up all modern CO2, and then soak up even more. I took CO2 levels to pre-industrial levels and yet the polar ice caps were still melting. You could argue that this makes sense from a climate change standpointI have no idea. I’ve never really cared to study the finer details., but that doesn’t change the fact that this entire game mechanic is doubly useless: Players have no incentive to take care of the planet, and even if they do it anyway it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

I guess this problem is only noticeable if you’re cheating, but that doesn’t seem like a good justification for such  a dumb mechanic. Maybe it’s more useful in epic-length games against human players or something? Whatever.

I’ve got one post left in this series where I gripe about something that’s been bugging the crap out of me since I discovered this franchise.

 

Footnotes:

[1] With the spearman they produced for free in their primitive camp with no population, no tools, and no economy, but don’t get me started on the outrageous bullshit that is “barbarians” in this series.

[2] Units can cost upkeep per turn, so you don’t want more than you need.

[3] Only one of each wonder can exist at a time. So if someone else ninjas the Hanging Gardens from you, then you won’t be able to finish it. On lower difficulties you get some of your costs back, but the greater loss is the sheer TIME you invested in building the dang thing, and the opportunity loss from NOT building a bunch of other stuff that could be benefiting you right now.

[4] Impassable terrain, a coast, or a foreign border.

[5] I have no idea. I’ve never really cared to study the finer details.



From The Archives:
 

76 thoughts on “Civilization Part 5: Making Cities Less Special

  1. Eigil says:

    I remember Alpha Centauri had global warming too. It was potentially severe enough that you could do some real damage by building the Pressure Dome in all your cities, then letting the rising sea levels flood your opponents (Pressure Dome is the upgrade that lets a city exist in the water – not normally super useful for land-based cities)

    1. Kai Durbin says:

      You know how Terraria or some Minecraft mods give you water bombs? I can just imagine a city using a water nuke to drown their opponents. Oh, what’s that? You’re gonna be declaring war on us? Well, fuck you too, because in a little bit all of your citizens will be fucking drowning to death LMFAO. Hope your citizens closed their windows!

      1. EmmEnnEff says:

        In Alpha Centauri, nuclear weapons were hideously overpowered, in the sense that they could blast craters hundreds of square miles in area. Nuking a city would leave behind… One or more water tiles.

    2. tmtvl says:

      In Civ 2 playing around too much with nuclear weapons could cause a nuclear winter (patrolling the Mojave) to break out. If you made sure to build all your cities at the coast they would be less affected, so it was a valid way of handicapping your opponents late game.

      1. J Greely says:

        In Civ 3, I once detonated 270 ICBMs in one turn, blasting every city that wasn’t mine back to size 3 or below. Processing the resulting global warming took 15 minutes per turn for the rest of the game. Fortunately there were only 3-4 turns left before I won.

        -j

    3. John, says:

      Who needs global warming? Take a sea former unit, drive it near some city you don’t like, and lower the sea floor. This will also lower surrounding tiles, including the coastal tile that the city is on. If that city doesn’t have a pressure dome, goodbye city. It probably won’t work on someone you’re in open war–they’ll just kill the former–but it’s a perfectly viable thing to do to someone who isn’t shooting at you. You normally have to discover a fair few techs before lowering the sea floor is possible, but if you have the Terraforming Project secret project, you can do it from nearly the beginning of the game.

      By way of disclaimer, I think this may only be possible in the base game. You can’t lower the sea floor in tiles owned by a non-hostile faction. In the base game, coastal cities don’t grant a faction ownership over any adjacent ocean tiles. In the Alien Crossfire expansion, however, coastal cities grant a faction ownership over any ocean tiles immediately adjacent to the city.

      1. Inwoods says:

        The original Alpha C also had a hilarious bug with mindworms that I found. If you set your own mindworms on a particular patrol path, they instantly hit maximum level.

        Yes it worked in the early early game.

        Yes it worked in multiplayer.

      2. guy says:

        I’ve done it during a war against a heavily-garrisioned city on occasion. You can always stack a bunch of super formers on the tile to cut the time down.

        My favorite former trick was what I called the assault bridge, where I used formers to raise a path from one continent to another, and laid down a road/maglev, so I didn’t have to assemble a transport fleet and guard it against enemy air and isles of the deep.

    4. Narkis says:

      Not only did it have global warning, but it was possible through the UN-equivalent to either combat it (launch solar shade satellite) or accelerate it (deliberately melt polar ice caps)

      I miss these kind of meaningful votes. Civ 6’s world congress has many, many more votes over the course of the game but what you’re voting on is almost meaningless 90% of the time.

      1. Ultrapotassium says:

        I enjoy the less meaningful world congress votes. it provides a temporary advantage or disadvantage, but no longer can you end up in situations where one player gets shafted for the rest of the game.

    5. Mersadeon says:

      Civ: Call to Power (the red-headed stepchild of the series) was actually the only Civ I had as a kid and thus the one I take basically all my feelings about the series from.

      It has global warming mechanics that are… alright. As always, they aren’t really harsh enough to be a problem, but they do have some cool features, like an eco-terrorist wonder that *annihilates the three most polluting cities* or something like that.

      It was majorly unbalanced, but man since then I really never warmed up to Civ games that don’t go beyond the modern age.

      1. John says:

        Calling Civilization: Call to Power the “red-headed stepchild of the series” may be being generous. Call to Power is a Civilization-like, not a Civilization game. The only reason it has “Civilization” in the title is that Activision was able to license the Civilization name from Hasbro, who owned the IP at the time. (Hasbro, I assume, acquired it from Microprose or Spectrum Holobyte. I’m not entirely clear on the sequence of events there.) Call to Power II notably doesn’t have “Civilization” in the title because Activision was only able to license the IP for one game.

        1. Boobah says:

          Hasbro had Civilization because they’d bought Avalon Hill, who’d published a board game of the same name back in 1981 and squabbled with MicroProse over the name back when the original Sid Meier’s Civ came out.

    6. Chris says:

      One of the earlier more difficult games i played of SMAC i got bombed constantly (because i razed a city without knowing thats an atrocity), so i built planet busters (the game’s nukes) and destroyed all cities in bombing range. This caused everyone else to declare war on me so i had to nuke them as well. Fastforward a bit and my endless nuking caused the water to rise so fast i got a “base got flooded” message every few turns (AI doesnt build pressure domes), we had enacted a solar shield (didnt help much) and the whole world became a water map except for the peaks of the tallest mountains. So i then just build a few ships to conquer the small water bases my rivals had left.

      Also really cool was that planet busters would create a crater. The higher level ones creating a massive crater that could level multiple cities in one go.

  2. WarlockOfOz says:

    Agree with most points, though for the sake of completeness there are still a couple of ways in Civ 6 for other cities to help a new one get started:
    – build units to defend the new city and improve its terrain.
    – produce gold for purchases.
    – produce a trader, then change it’s home city to the new one before choosing the destination of the route (thereby giving the benefits of the trade route to the new city).

    1. Narkis says:

      The biggest problem is districts. For some godforsaken reason they decided both that you can’t buy them with gold, and that they get more expensive to build as the game progresses. This means it becomes HARDER to settle new cities later on instead of easier.

      1. Retsam says:

        Isn’t that actually a point in favor of the tall play-style Shamus is going for?

        1. Narkis says:

          You’d think so, and the games designer probably thought so as well. But it doesn’t. That mechanic strongly incentivizes rushing to found new cities asap. Each turn you spend developing your core instead of expanding makes it that much harder for new cities to become productive.

        2. WarlockOfOz says:

          It’s less tall vs wide and more fast vs slow, since it scales with tech/civics (I think!), not number of existing cities.

          Civ 6 does have a couple of tall-favouring mechanics (eg. spies and governors) and the minimum spacing is four tiles, so twice what it was in the first games (though I have vague memories of building adjacent cities to act as a canal). It lacks the corruption/waste mechanic of those games so extra cities are always advantageous, the cost of each extra settler increases. Agree with you that district costs are odd. Still fairly fast, provided i can dedicate and protect ara bunch of traders boosting the new city, but it’s not always possible or desirable to do that

        3. Mersadeon says:

          Not really – it doesn’t encourage founding *few* cities, it just encourages founding a lot of cities as early as possible.

        4. trevalyan says:

          Plus there’s little chance to actually get the proposals you want to Congress unless the RNG strikes just right. And you’re actually moving backwards in functionality from Civ5, because diplomatic favor trades are almost never something the AI considers at a non-trivial level, and you can’t barter for their votes any other way.

  3. Armstrong says:

    Can cities help other cities complete wonders in Civ 5? How?
    I have 200+ hours in that game and never saw such an option (besides just trade units transporting production).

    1. The Puzzler says:

      You can send a Great Person to the city where you want to build the Wonder…

      1. Joshua says:

        That’s about the only way, apart from the trade units above.

    2. GoStu says:

      Transporting Food into a city is also valuable and viable, just to beef the newly-founded city up to something self-sustaining faster. This is another major advantage Tall has over Wide in Civ 5 as Wide empires tend to be gold-starved and need whatever trade units they can get to earn gold to avoid crippling science penalties.

      For example, if I spot Mt. Sinai or Mt. Kailash early in the game I’ll probably rush a Settler over to secure it. Having a 1-population city only working the faith-mountain though isn’t going to be very productive on its own, so I’ll run a food caravan to force the city to grow.

      Yeah, you can also send Production but sending Food earlier leads to more production through more citizens, and the citizens also generate things like science and so on. It’s usually better to use food caravans just to develop in general rather than production caravans – and heck, even just sending food lets citizens working farms go work hills/mines instead. Direct production is really only useful for cities that are in flat land/ocean with few production tiles of any kind.

  4. Kathryn says:

    Thanks for the posts. This whole genre of game has always sounded incredibly boring and like way too much work to me, and it’s always nice to get insight into different points of view.

    (TBH, it still sounds like too much work for a leisure activity. If I want to make difficult decisions about resource management and whether we can afford short-term pain for long-term gain, I have my job for that.)

    1. Sydney says:

      You have an engaging, responsibility-filled job. I think the Civ games appeal more to people who feel under-challenged day to day.

  5. Joshua says:

    Some of the memories of earlier games seem questionable? As Armstrong said above, how were you getting worker units from other cities to help build wonders? Were you making caravans and shipping production (this has an economic opportunity cost of not getting money since you’re using up trade routes to do this)? You can get Great Engineers from other cities, but that’s harder to predict.

    In earlier games, I believe you could indeed spend a fraction of money to rush production of stuff that was nearly done, but at least in Civ V, it’s still full cost. I *think* you get the benefit of carrying over your production towards your next project if you do this buyout.

    As far as needing the Wonder in a city that has crappy production, Petra so much. You could also include Machu Picchu and Neuschwenstein, but the AI isn’t as quick to rush for them like it is wonders like Petra. This also brings up another strategy of Wonder building: What does the AI prioritize? Sometimes I have to adjust my build order just so the AI won’t get something first.

    1. John, says:

      As Armstrong said above, how were you getting worker units from other cities to help build wonders?

      He might be referring to Alpha Centauri here. In Alpha Centauri there’s a specific unit–whose name I unfortunately cannot remember at the moment, but you unlock it with the same tech that lets you build hab complexes–for just this kind of thing. You build it in City A and drive it to City B, at which point you can choose to (a) arrange a flow of food from City A to City B, (b) arrange a flow of production from City A to City B, or (c) deconstruct the unit and get a substantial one-off boost to whatever City B is building. I generally build them for the purpose of option (c), usually for wonders but sometimes for other things like expensive prototype military units. I never spent a lot of time with Civilization III and I don’t remember Civilization IV all that well, but I don’t think that either of them had anything similar. I still play Civilization V and I can attest that the there’s nothing like it in the base game.

      Actually, now that I think about it, it’s funny that Shamus likes Alpha Centauri so much. (Shamus likes Alpha Centauri, right?) In my experience, going tall is usually a bad idea in Alpha Centauri. There are maps where it can work–i.e., maps where there isn’t enough land mass to do much but go tall–but much of the time I find that it doesn’t. If you mind your own business and leave the AI alone for too long the AI will make you regret it, at least on the middling difficulty levels and above.

      1. Silfir says:

        It’s called a Supply Crawler. In addition to forming convoys and cashing them in for wonders directly, you could use them to work unworked squares without population. You could only get one of the square’s resource types that way, but it was still free resources. Prime candidates were squares with Bonus resources, since those would have the caps on the bonus resource lifted. You could get a lot of Minerals or Energy per turn that way. Supply Crawlers were actually pretty broken.

        Shamus is probably referencing Civilization II though, where you could cash in Caravans (a 50 shield unit) for worker building progress at 1:1, just like with Supply Crawlers.

        I suspect Shamus liked it because it was just an excellent game, and while Tall gameplay wasn’t optimal you were given so many options for it that you’d hardly notice. Not everyone plays on the high difficulties; Civ games can often be more fun on the lower difficulties where all playstyles can work.

        1. Joshua says:

          I personally prefer play in the middle difficulties (Noble for IV, Prince for V, I think). On the easiest difficulties, some core aspects of the game just don’t even become relevant because there’s no need for them, on the hardest, it’s more about exploiting the AI and hoping to get lucky then playing the game as is meant to be played, IMHO.

          1. guy says:

            I shy away from the higher difficulties because in the early game I tend to throw everything into expanding and upgrading cities until the classical era, and I don’t want the AI to have bonus start troops and be even more able to exploit my weakness.

        2. Chris says:

          Another cool method you could do with supply crawlers is just make a city of pure specialists that get their food from supply crawlers. Because they are all specialist you have zero drones, which means even more scientists. If you set it up well you could tech up every turn.

    2. Silfir says:

      Could be he’s thinking back to Civilization II, where you could build caravans anywhere and cash them in for shields (hammers) at 1:1 rate in the wonder-building city. It made Trade an early research priority, along with the prerequisites for the Great Library and the Pyramids. You could spend money to rush-build as well. If you were beaten to a wonder, you even had the option of switching the production to another wonder and keep all the progress, though that was potentially small comfort for missing a key wonder.

      I’m still convinced Civ 2 is the best Civ game that takes place on Earth. Alpha Centauri is the pinnacle.

    3. CountAccountant says:

      Civilization I and II allowed you to use caravan units to apply the full cost of production to a wonder. You could even build the caravan units beforehand and just “cash them in” as soon as the you were ready to start the wonder. They were literally piggy banks of production that could be cashed in for their full value.

      Needless to say, the opportunities for abuse were rampant and this was not retained in the most recent versions. But Shamus’s memory is 100% accurate here.

      1. Joshua says:

        But that’s an odd point to bring up to criticize VI if it hasn’t been available since II. I only played Civ II a few times (my roommate had it on the Playstation), and that was 20 years ago.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          III also had gold + chopping wood (a worker chopping down a forest gives immediate production to the nearest city), and possibly some other things I’m forgetting.

          In IV you could sacrifice population (with Slavery), pay gold (with Universal Suffrage), or use a Great Engineer (not directly buildable but could be generated in a predictable way)

          1. Joshua says:

            While those are all true, that’s not exactly one city helping another city out, apart from the Great Engineer already discussed. Paying gold (that’s implied to be provided by other richer cities) has always or at least mostly been available in one incarnation or another throughout the series IIRC, but I don’t think you’ve ever been able to buy Wonders with gold.

            That brings me back to my memories of Civ IV, and it’s questionable mechanic of Slavery. “Give me extra production boosts and reduce the chances of my civilization becoming unhappy during the rougher earlier years, and all I’ve got to do is commit atrocities against humanity?”. No wonder that was not kept in V.

            1. John, says:

              I don’t think you’ve ever been able to buy Wonders with gold.

              You can do it in Alpha Centauri and probably also in Civilization II, given the many similarities between the two games (and the fact that they have the same lead designer). In fact, Alpha Centauri will helpfully notify you whenever someone else is just about to complete a Secret Project, just so you can snipe it at the last second.

          2. Retsam says:

            You can still chop forests and purchase with gold in Civ VI. (You can’t sacrifice pops, but that’s not very helpful for trying to accelerate a new city anyway)

          3. Randint says:

            Technically, III did have a method to transfer shields from one city to another: disbanding a unit in a city would add 1/4 of the unit’s production cost towards what the city was building. However, this was too inefficient to really be used for this purpose and it wouldn’t work with wonders anyway.

  6. Lino says:

    Typolice:

    outrageous bullshit that is “barbarians” is this series.

    Should be “in”.

    Other than that, another great entry!

  7. Karma The Alligator says:

    and the rising popularity of loot boxes

    Didn’t expect to see this in this list of potential disasters.

    About the scouts, do you think it’s possible that you giving them a lot of movement might have broken their AI?

  8. Hector says:

    In a more general sense, I agree with Shamus here. One really irritating aspect of the series (not specific to Civ6) is the lack of, well, a civilization. Cities are so important that I end feeling that is essentially what I’m dealing with – a collection of cities, not a people or a nation.

    As a way of getting around the Wide Vs. Tall debate, imagine if the gameplay forced you to populate a *region* from the early game. You would have possible conflicts from day one, as your tribe tried to unify the area under their rule. Barbarbians would just be people from the outside in this stage. Yet either could be useful as well as opposition. You take over settlements b diplomacy, force, bribery, and just showing your power and culture, expand your influence. Your initial city center grows, and eventually you have other city centers. You might have been drawing resources from one small section of the map at first, but soon you’re getting food from the entire river valley and even trading at the mouth of the river. Next you’re eyeing that next river valley over, with a somewhat similar culture. That will take more military might to overcome, but then you’ll have doubled your land.

    Or, to turn the whole thing around. Civ has always been about land and resources, all of which mattered locally far more than regionally, nationally, or globally. People are just a measure of your success or obstacles to be ruthlessly exploited and destroyed.

    1. David says:

      I’m fine with the Civ series being centered around a (relatively) small number of cities. It works great for this game and there is no reason for them to gamble on changing this.
      What is strange to me, is that all the other competitor games copy this aspect wholesale. I can’t think of one that actually does what you suggest. Even Mankind (in development) is only changing the formula so that you have pre-set provinces of a few dozen tiles, each of which is only allowed to contain one city. That deals with the city spamming, but it’s still all centered around a few hubs.

      1. Hector says:

        I may not have been that clear with the concept I threw out.

        Cities being important isn’t the issue that much. It’s that the cities as they are present are too weirdly mechanistic. Cities in Civ are nothing more or less than the land they sit on, plus any improvements. In history, though, the city has always been a product of human ingenuity, trade, and development. Rome wasn’t Rome because it’s situated on incredibly rich agricultural ground with one square of Stone, Marble, and Iron, but because it was the creation of an Empire that used global trade to create wealth. Farms a hundred miles from New York City aren’t limited to selling to New York City.

        1. Kathryn says:

          This is something I occasionally like to think about: to what degree are city locations culture-independent? Like, if humans were just now discovering and settling North America, to what extent would there be overlap between the existing cities and whatever cities the alternate universe people built?

          For an obvious example, any civilization with water traffic would have a major city where St. Louis is. But I’m not sure there’s anything driving a major city where Phoenix is.

          1. tmtvl says:

            Eh, good places to find a city have at least one, preferably more of an easy-to-remember list:
            – Water access
            – Arable land
            – Forestry
            – Mining
            – A rich local lord
            – Access to multiple places having one or more of the above

          2. Gaius Maximus says:

            I read something once a long time ago, (I can no longer remember where specifically), that, in such an alternate universe, if you showed pretty much any educated person a physical map of North America and asked where the largest/most important city would be, pretty much everyone would choose a site at or near New Orleans. As far as I can tell, the reason this didn’t happen was that a) New York sniped a lot of its natural trade by building the Erie Canal, and b) New Orleans had major health problems with malaria and yellow fever until the era of modern medicine.

          3. Thomas says:

            The US might be quite unique in how its cities are settled. Elsewhere in the world I imagine a lot of the cities are justified – it’s not surprising that the largest city in the UK is on the closest major river flowing towards mainland Europe. Similarly Paris on the Seine.

            You could imagine a world perhaps where Antwerp was the capital of Belgium, instead of Brussels, but Antwerp is actually the bigger city so geography is still bearing that out.

            Similarly, all of India’s major cities are natural ports or on big rivers. Perhaps with the exception of Delhi? There’s some historical context to why Delhi was considered important for rulers. Looking the other way round, perhaps it’s surprising why a place like Patna isn’t bigger, being in the confluence of several major rivers?

            1. Retsam says:

              Even US isn’t that much of an exception: most of the major cities are in the sort of places you’d expect major cities to be – they’re mostly on major waterways, disproportionately on the coasts.

              Chicago, the largest “inland” city is strongly geographically determined – it’s on the Chicago Portage which connects the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, (it’s right on the St. Lawrence River Divide) so it’s a critical waterway juncture, and as centrally located as a city on a major body of water can be.

              It seems to be a more recent development that in recent decades we’ve seen a surge in “land-locked” cities: places like Phoenix and Houston are fairly recent additions into the “top 10 cities” list. Also Los Angeles, while on the coast, doesn’t seem to be on a particularly strategic location…

              1. Boobah says:

                Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but Houston isn’t a land-locked city; it’s on Galveston Bay. It’s relatively recent rise is the result of two things: Galveston’s destruction by hurricane in 1900; Houston’s more sheltered location encouraged rebuilding there instead of the more exposed Galveston. Secondly, like much of the American south, air conditioning makes the region much more habitable.

                Los Angeles has a coastline protected from the ocean proper by islands… and is otherwise strategic because it’s been producing oil since the 1890s.

                1. Retsam says:

                  Ah, no, I just flubbed my Texas geography, thanks for the correction.

            2. Hector says:

              Some cities are important less for economic reasons than political ones. Delhi was a center of power for centuries, and has been a city since the Classical period at least. In Medieval India, water power wasn’t nearly as important as for some great nations/regions/empires.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      This doesn’t sound like a CIV game (at least not without a couple iterations in that direction) but it does sound like a fun game.

      When I was toying with some total overhaul mods for, I believe, V I’ve found one that basically semi-automated your civilization with the player only making general decisions or using people like great generals to determine the area that the military should try to conquer. Mind you, it was totally ignoring most of the mechanics and for example just sprouting multipop cities out of thin air when it determined the civilization controlled the area but it was still kind of interesting and there’s only so much you could do within the confines of the engine I imagine.

  9. Narkis says:

    When you started this series, I said that Civ 6 is terribly designed. And you’ve touched on many of the reasons I think so. The game has a lot of separate mechanics that seem good on their own but just don’t work the way you’d think they should to make a coherent whole. It makes me think this is the first game in the series that had no grand vision, no one examining how mechanics fit together and how each separate one impacts the core gameplay.

    1. Liessa says:

      From my limited experience playing the game I have to agree with this. It has a lot of nice ideas, but they just don’t fit together very well.

    2. AncientSpark says:

      I actually kind of think it goes the opposite. Civ VI feels like the first Civ game in a while where the directors said “I really want the series to go in this direction”. Namely, the district system and how city planning should work. A lot of the design changes really went into supporting that. It’s just that that particular system ends up crowding out playstyles and is a matter of taste as to whether people like it or not. (I’m personally not a huuuuge fan of it, but I can sort of see why they made particular design decisions to support it)

      By comparison, Civ V was the most aimless piece of garbage on release possible, with many changes to the game making no sense (I remember distinctly interviews about how they wanted diplomacy to feel “mysterious”, which is why they made everyone’s motives hidden on release, which was like…what?). It took a ton of iterations and patches and really the first expansion before Civ V for it to really get on track. And even then, I argue that Civ V really didn’t hit its stride as a good Civ entry until the second expansion when it finally realized that they should just stop trying to dance around the ICS issue and just hard nerf it, while having an interesting vision for how late game should pan out.

  10. Tohron says:

    This After-Action-Report of a multiplayer match goes into some detail about how to play a good economic game in Civ 6:
    http://www.sullla.com/Civ6/PBEM17-1.html

    Seems that trade routes do provide a way to boost new cities, and you can also spend gold to rush production.

  11. GoStu says:

    Oooh, those auto-explorers.

    I learned my lesson about automating anything from Civ 5: namely, don’t. I found my scout units in 5 would get stuck endlessly searching the frigid ice-locked waters at the north or south extremes of maps rather than doing anything useful, and automated workers would just coat the map in worthless trading posts.

    The “auto”-anything is more or less a trap.

    1. Joshua says:

      I don’t mind the Scouts so much since you’re using them so early in the game they usually won’t go wandering around in the water, but it is ridiculous how much effort ships will spend exploring empty spots of water and/or the arctic poles. There’s already a priority for them to go straight for any ruins that are spotted, why not place a low priority on certain low-value terrain types?

      1. GoStu says:

        Well, with Scouts it’s early enough in the game that I don’t have a ton of other things to prioritize, so I never automate them then either.

        With ships it depends: caravels seem to love pointless arctic expeditions, but the ocean’s so big and unclaimed that I’ll automate anyway, and keep an eye on the minimap to rein any would-be North Pole expeditions.

  12. Jason says:

    Man, your experiences are just the total opposite of mine. Admittedly I never bought Gathering Storm, but I only play single-player, always go tall, and one of my favorite tricks is using domestic trade routes to 1) get new cities up and running faster and 2) boost wonder production! Any time I have a city building a wonder I transfer all my traders to it and have them do domestic trade routes, which gives the origin city food and (more importantly) production instead of gold. If the city has forests around it I’ll chop one or two of them too, although generally I prefer to play the long game and leave forests in place for lumbermills when Machinery comes online.

    Another thing I love to do is specialize cities! I always have my eye out for tiles with lots of adjacent mountains for a campus, or tiles with lots of adjacent hills for an industrial zone. The way adjacency bonuses snowball with technology, culture techs, and policy cards can be breathtaking when you get it all to line up.

    Another thing I enjoy about Civ 6 is I feel like the wonders are better and more worthwhile to pursue than they were in older games! In Civ 4 and Civ 5 I pretty much ignored wonders as I felt the risk/reward tradeoff wasn’t worth it, but in Civ 6 there’s stuff like Big Ben and Ruhr Valley that just seem super overpowered and incredibly satisfying to win.

    I do agree that barbarians are awful, but otherwise your experience of Civ 6 has been completely different from mine.

    1. ZekeCool says:

      Yeah this whole series of articles feels like someone very confidently explaining that the sky is usually green to me. It’s very odd. Wonders in Civ VI are deliberately harder to build but they’re also much better in general (though more specific and require more planning). It honestly seems to me that Shamus just really dislikes planning his cities, which is a big part of VI.

      1. Retsam says:

        Yeah, I really like wonders in Civ VI because they’re “harder” to build. In previous games, basically every city can build every Wonder (with some exceptions, like Petra), so it always just came down to a science/production race: and if you were playing at a competitive difficulty, you’d get a ton of half-finished wonders where some other civ beats you to the punch.

        In Civ VI, there are stricter requirements on where wonders can be placed: every single wonder has requirements on where they can be placed, some of them fairly vague (“next to a river”) but a lot of them quite strict: (“next to a cattle and a commercial district with a market”).

        This has a few good results: it makes city placement more interesting, as the potential wonder build sites are another factor to consider, not just raw resources. And you can no longer just have your capital or otherwise highest production city just crank out all of the wonders of the world, which I also like.

        And paradoxically wonders being “harder” to build actually makes them safer and easier to build (especially against AI). Like, if I start building the Pyramids, in Civ V, I’m potentially competing against every city that has the required technology social policy. But in Civ VI, I’m only potentially competing against people with the right technology who happened to put an early city near a desert: a much smaller number. So I’m more willing to “gamble” on wonders because it’s less of a gamble.

        1. Boobah says:

          ..in Civ VI, I’m only potentially competing against people with the right technology who happened to put an early city near a desert…

          So that’s what the Maya did wrong…

      2. Ashen says:

        Yeah. Having hundreds of hours in both Civ5 and Civ6 (and pretty much every other Civ game too) I feel like I’ve been playing different games than Shamus. Civ6 is literally the first game in the series that actually forces you to specialize your cities.

        Given how districts work, adjacency bonuses, workers being a more limited resource, how wonders work etc. it’s really important to pre-plan everything for specific purposes. In all the previous games (except maybe Civ4) you can sort of build anything anywhere, put a ton of workers on auto and things will work themselves out okay. This time around geography is so much more important which means not all of your cities can be perfect and some might even suck, but to me that’s just so much more interesting and adds a ton of replayability to the mix.

        Obviously it’s all down to personal preference, but for me it at least tackles the routine of previous games where past a certain point you just start plopping every building in every city and the whole economic aspect of the game starts feeling a boring waste of time.

  13. Gresman says:

    SuperBunnyHop made a long video essay about the climate change mechanics in strategy games.
    That video is a really interesting watch/ listen.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n78WYo-SQQ

    He said as well that the mechanics get more watered down the more modern the games get.

  14. ElementalAlchemist says:

    You could argue that this makes sense from a climate change standpoint [I have no idea. I’ve never really cared to study the finer details].

    Yes, that is basically the gist of how it works. Impacts we see right now are the result of changes made at an earlier point in time, not what we are doing right now. So even if we replicated your feat in the real world, entirely reversing our current outputs, we wouldn’t see an instant change. What would happen would be a gradual reversal of warming trends over time, but that would likely take decades, possibly even centuries, to occur.

    If you want a very simplistic analogy of this, take a glass of water and stir it rapidly with a spoon. When you remove the spoon, what happens? The water doesn’t just cease moving instantly, it continues to revolve inside the glass, gradually slowing down. How long it takes to return to its original state depends on how much energy you put into it (i.e. how fast you were stirring it).

  15. Mephane says:

    I think the claim that, ‘The worth of a culture is not measured by its accomplishments, but in how those accomplishments last.’ is true in the real world, but is decidedly NOT true in a game where you can instantly be declared the winner of history because you crossed an arbitrary numeric threshold. But whatever. When simulating history in a competitive game, you kinda have to accept this sort of weirdness.

    When I play 4X games, I make sure to set victory condictions such that it is unlikely to expect anyone to ever win, and play it more as an open-ended sim. I always found the concept of winning extremely weird in 4X games. I don’t just mean the particular means of the game deciding that someone has won (like with the culture victory you mention), but the idea of winning in and of itself.

    Like, what is the point to begin with? To determine which culture is “the best”? Why does it matter, what do we compete for, why do we compete to begin with?

    And then any honest evaluation of which culture is “the best” is extremely subjective. For example, an autocratic dictatorship that enslaves the whole world and manages to send a ship to alpha centauri, thus laying the foundations for a ruthless galactic empire – in my book that is not “the best” civilization, it is the one of the worst thinkable outcomes of human history (yes, frankly, worse than outright extinction).

    But even putting that aside and ignoring how some cultures could essentially be considered villains (I am German, we have a history of being just that), I still consider it a ridiculous concept, not helped by the fact that the game is over just because some arbitrary trigger was met.

    And as you show, if directly undermines other concepts and features of the game:

    The Rising Storm expansion purports to simulate climate change. As the factions industrialize, atmospheric CO2 goes up and the ice caps melt, which will flood coastal areas. The game lets you create projects to re-absorb CO2. That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it works in this context. Despite the game prodding you to “Build a civilization to stand the test of time”, your actual goal is to do no such thing. Your people don’t need to live in this world permanently. As soon as a player reaches a win state, all other concerns vanish. The problems of nuclear proliferation, overpopulation, energy, fossil fuel supplies, biodiversity, climate, giant asteroids, and the rising popularity of loot boxes stop being a worry, because Player 2 just completed their religious conquest of the planet and the game is over.

    /headdesk

    Sustainability problems just don’t make a lot of sense in a competitive game with a visible finish line. Why would I spend my precious production to very slightly reduce climate problems for everyone when I could just use that same production to reach my win condition and render the problem moot?

    At the risk of scraping political territory – you just described what is wrong with many of our so-called leaders’ behaviour.

    ———————–

    Speaking if ridiculous and arbitrary concepts in 4X games…

    Only one of each wonder can exist at a time. So if someone else ninjas the Hanging Gardens from you, then you won’t be able to finish it.

    I totally forgot about that aspect of the Civiliation series. Such an infuriating and unfuriatingly gamey anti-feature.

  16. Philadelphus says:

    Y’know, in the Civ games I’ve played (3, 4 [a little], and 5), and it sounds like in 6 (and I’m assuming in the first two but feel free to correct me), the wonder-building model seems to have remained exactly the same across all iterations, namely, that everyone can be working on the same wonder at the same time, but as soon as one player completes it, all the production invested in it by everyone else instantly evaporates (with possibly some recompense, I believe in 3 you’d get all the production you’d invested banked to be used on other things in the same city, and in 5 I think you get gold at some exchange rate). Obviously this is nothing like real life. (“What? The Romans just finished the Great Wall? Well, better just tear down the 95% of it we completed, can’t have two of those, nosirree!”) And yes, it’s a game, obviously there will be differences from real life, but I wonder (heh) if there isn’t a more interesting model for handling it.

    Maybe make it something less deterministic and instead more like the Great People system, where instead of saying “I’m going to build the Pyramids here” you instead invest in…I dunno, Great Wonder points though some system, and when you get enough, you randomly get some wonder based on…maybe characteristics of the city, the surrounding terrain, and your civilization in general?

    Ooh, or what if, instead of having fixed bonuses, wonders were more like religions in Civ 5: Gods and Kings, where you get to pick the bonus it gives you upon building it? Maybe you could have different tiers of bonuses that unlock as you advance through the ages, so that any “Ancient” wonders could pick from a certain pool, then “Classical” wonders would have their own pool, allowing you to have age-appropriate bonuses throughout history. This would still incentivize building wonders quickly as you’d get access to stronger bonuses (it’s a self-balancing system, so you don’t need to worry about making every single bonus exactly worth all the others), but you could pick wonders for how they look and not because they happen to have a bonus you want (or don’t want).

    Maybe with this system you could add some sort of upkeep to them (to represent how most of the things the game considers wonders have been destroyed or fallen into decay over time), and they could get additional (weaker) bonuses for every millennium they surivie, or otherwise have some system to render them a bit more dynamic rather than build-once-and-forget. (I remember Civ 3 had a feature where the culture a wonder produced increased over time.)

    1. Chad Miller says:

      III gave you a one-turn window to switch production to something else and have the shields still “count.” Any overflow would still be discarded. One strategy was to make sure to never build a wonder unless more than one is available, then if you got sniped you would switch to a different wonder to make use of the shields. More advanced strategies would do this without the sniping concern just to powerbuild a wonder early; start on wonder X, research technology Y, then switch to wonder Z which had Y as a prerequisite.

      IV switch to refunding gold if you couldn’t finish a wonder partly to make the above strategy unnecessary.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        That’s it, I remember how it worked in 3 now. Thanks. I remember “wonder cascades” when there were a number of wonders available: Civilization A would finish expensive wonder X, next turn Civilization B would finish slightly-less-expensive-wonder Y (which they’d obviously just switched to along with everyone else), next turn Civilization C would finish even-less-expensive-wonder Z, etc.

  17. General Karthos says:

    This really isn’t something I thought about until you brought it up, and I realized “hm, you’re right!”

    I won several culture victories in Civilization V at various difficulty levels, each time with just three cities. My usual upper limit was four if I was going for a non-military victory.

    In Civ VI on the other hand, I usually have at least 8 cities by the end of the classical era/beginning of the medieval era, and I’m still founding cities into the middle of the game.

    Civilization IV had similar things. On average, by the end of the game I’d have 40 cities under my control, even if I wasn’t a militaristic civilization. Basically Civ IV’s model was found a city, build a military unit to protect it, build a settler. Then proceed to upgrade the city as needed.

  18. AncientSpark says:

    When managing a tall empire, it’s immensely useful to have cities cooperate. If I’ve got 4 well-established cities and one new one, then I like to use my booming economy to bootstrap the new addition.

    The funny thing is that this type of cooperation really screwed building tall in the Civ V, pre-BNW days. ICS was so enormously powerful because of the ability to just cooperate a central city into helping all these itty, bitty tiny cities into being able to build anything, to the point where it was very rarely correct to attempt building tall unless you specifically were trying out weird civs.

    Post-BNW really nerfed ICS into the ground and made building tall viable (and meta even), but yeah, it’s kind of funny how resource distribution worked in previous Civs.

  19. guy says:

    Worse, the climate simulation is silly. With cheats, I was able to soak up all modern CO2, and then soak up even more. I took CO2 levels to pre-industrial levels and yet the polar ice caps were still melting. You could argue that this makes sense from a climate change standpoint[5], but that doesn’t change the fact that this entire game mechanic is doubly useless: Players have no incentive to take care of the planet, and even if they do it anyway it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

    It’s also ludicrously sensitive. I had it go into ice cap melt territory from four infantry and a couple nuke reactors.

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