I recently wrote a post describing some unique abilities that I'd like to see for some of the common civilizations that are likely to appear in the eventual Sid Meier's Civilization VI. Most of the concepts were very vague, or they were based on the mechanics and features of Civ V, since we don't have any idea what the eventual feature set of Civ VI will be. So in this post, I'd like to expand upon that previous post by talking about some of the features and mechanics that I would like to see implemented in Civilization VI.
Most of these features age going to involve more complicated and advanced political and empire management mechanics. Civ V made a fundamental change to the structure of the series by introducing tactical combat on a hex-based grid. So it makes sense that unit movement and combat was the focus of that game, and the vanilla game played more like a tactical war board game played out over a larger scale. Empire management and simulation features were mostly absent or simplified. The expansions, then, focused more on the empire management mechanics that were absent from the vanilla game. Gods & Kings brought back a full religion mechanic and enhanced city state mechanics. And Brave New World added trade routes, ideologies, and completely rewrote the cultural victory condition.
So since Civ V already went down the "warfare first, empire-management second" design philosophy, I hope that Civ VI goes in the opposite direction. I hope that it puts more of its focus on being an "Empire Building Game" rather than a "Tactical War Game".
This post was featured in PolyCast episode 244: "Not just a lame clip show XVII". I encourage readers to listen in on the great feedback that was provided, and to contribute to the discussion.
Help a player out
Before I get into ideas for actual game mechanics, I want to start with a few accessibility meta-features.
Game setting filters
Sometimes, when I start a new game, I don't really know which civ I want to play as. Maybe I want to try a new civ that I've never played before, but I can't decide which one. So I pick a random civ and - guess what? - the game gives me a civ that I've played a dozen times over!
Wouldn't it be nice if, in addition to being able to pick the game settings that you want, the set up screen gave you the ability to filter out the game settings that you don't want? To that end, I hope that Civ VI comes with some filters for ruling out certain game options from being selected when you chose randomized settings. As part of the "Advanced Game Settings", the player should be able to check off which civs, map types, map sizes, game speeds, and maybe even difficulty levels that they want to be available when those settings are randomized.
Played the same few civs or maps too often and want to try something new?
That way, if you want to try out a map type other than continents, you can simply uncheck it from the list of available map types. If you've played as Rome or Egypt one too many times, or you absolutely hate playing as England, then you can uncheck them as available randomized civs.
The game could also include an option that automatically unchecks civs with whom you've already beaten the game. In fact, this feature could maybe even be designed to check your Steam achievements and filter out any civs for whom you have the "Beat the game with [leader x]" achievement. That way, the filter can even be applied across multiple computers as long as you play on the same Steam account.
Multiplayer on the go
Let's face it, it's hard to find reliable players who will sit through an entire game of Civ. Even though I have three or four close friends who are fans of the series, I still have trouble organizing and maintaining multiplayer games.
Often times, when we're physically in the same place, we talk about how we'd like to start up a game, but nobody brought their gaming laptops or desktops over, so LAN isn't an option. We could start a Hot Seat game on the single machine that's physically present. But if we can't finish internet multiplayer games with simultaneous turns, we'll surely never finish a Hot Seat game! We'll just have to stick to the board game.
...Unless the PC game included the ability to convert multiplayer games from Hot Seat to LAN to Internet games and vice versa.
Chichian and I meet up fairly regularly and play hot seat games, but we are never able to finish those game (or, in fact, progress very far at all) because we usually only have a couple hours to play, and Hot Seat is very time-consuming. Many more of these games would be likely to get finished if we simply had the ability to convert that Hot Seat game to a network game and continue it remotely.
And if we want to get really ambitious, maybe the devs can try to create hybrid Hot Seat / Network games, in which more than one player can play on a single machine (in Hot Seat mode), while yet other players are playing over the network.
Previous turn budget overview
Have you ever clicked "End Turn", with a small budget surplus (or happiness surplus), then you start the next turn, and suddenly, you're in the red? What changed? Did a diplomatic deal end? Was a luxury tile pillaged? Did you hit a higher unit or building maintenance bracket? Did a golden age end? Gold is a particularly volatile value in the Civ games, and with Civ V's trade route mechanics, changes in income can sometimes be hard to track down. Did another civ stop sending a trade route to you? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to compare your current budget with the last turn or with multiple preceding turns?
Having an easy way to compare my current budget against previous turns
would be helpful for figuring out why my gold income is suddenly in the red.
Sure, most of these events would trigger some kind of notification, but not all. Trade routes are one of the most volatile sources of income in Civ V, and there are no notifications for trade route cancellations. Previous turn breakdowns for the economy, happiness, and health (if applicable) would be a circumstantial - but very helpful - addition to future games. If future games include any kind of complicated taxation, market economics (in which resource values change based on supply and demand), or government options, then such a feature might become even more valuable, since such features could also add a great deal of volatility.
Such a widget might also be worthwhile for other economic indicators, like science and production output. These values aren't as volatile as gold or happiness, and they usually only grow unless something catastrophic happens, so such a widget isn't as important for these values (assuming that the mechanics by which they are provided don't change dramatically).
Ideas for expanding and revising existing Civ V features
Now, moving onto actual game mechanics, I'll start with features from Civ V that I definitely want to see return with only minor revisions. In the cases in which I provide specific examples of how a feature should work, I'll use the mechanics of Civ V as a reference. Remember, that Civ VI will be an entirely different game on an entirely different engine, and so I can't give precise examples that would be representative of Civ VI's mechanics.
Autonomous city states (Civ V)
City states is one of my favorite new features in Civilization V, and I hope that they return in some fashion in future iterations of the series. I also want them to be at least as complex as they are in Civ V. The Trade Outposts of Beyond Earth just don't cut it for me!
I actually want to see city states become more autonomous, active agents in the game. In Civ V, they are very passive and inconsequential. I'd like to see city states that have more fully featured diplomacy mechanics, such that they can declare war on civs that they dislike, seek allies among other city states and civs, and fight wars with their rival city states. I'd like to see features like being able to mediate disputes between city states, rather than just being given quests to threaten a city state's rival. I'd like to see city states be a more active part of the game's trade networks, maybe even having their own trade units. And maybe, successful city states could even evolve into full civilizations as the game progresses!
More natural wonders (Civ V)
Perhaps the most wondrous natural phenomenon on earth is the auroras.
Another of my favorite features that was introduced in Civ V is the Natural Wonders. I would like to see more of these wonders in future versions of the game, and I'd like to see fewer holy mountains, which sadly make up too large of a proportion of the natural wonders available.
I think that the mechanics surrounding natural wonders could also be expanded to encourage exploration at different periods of the game. For example, wonders could appear in the middle of the ocean and provide strong benefits to the first player to research Astronomy and discover them. Some wonders could maybe require some prerequisite in order to encounter them (such as requiring advancement to a particular era or a tech prerequisite).
Some natural wonders that I would like to see represented in future Civ games:
- The Grand Canyon could provide a large science bonus and occupy multiple tiles (being a land equivalent of Civ V's Great Barrier Reef).
- Galapagos Islands could be an island chain in the middle of the ocean that provides a free Great Scientist to the first player who enters it or moves adjacent to it.
- Mariana Trench appears at the bottom of the middle of the ocean and can only be discovered late in the game after Submarines, Sonar, or Radar have been developed. It could also provide a free Great Scientist to the first player to discover it.
- Aurora could appear intermittently in different tundra and snow locations near the poles. Since it doesn't stay in one location, it could provide a very large yield of faith (early game) and science (late game) while it is present.
- La Brea Tar Pits provides a free natural artifact (see below) to the first player to discover it, and could be a source of oil if within a player's territory.
- Mt. Everest impassable to all units, but provides a culture and tourism boost when within a civ's cultural borders
I also don't see any reason why non-mountain natural wonders would need to remain impassable (I don't know why this was done in Civ V to begin with). I wouldn't mind seeing some kind of national park or nature preserve improvement that can be built on natural wonders. And there's no reason why an enemy army shouldn't be able to stand on the wonder tile to deny its yield to the owner.
Great Works and archaeology (Civ V: BNW)
The great work and archaeology system in Brave New World is another of my favorite new features. It added a great deal of flavor to the game, as well as an "exploration" and "discovery" mechanic that has always been missing from the later phases of Civilization games. I also love the educational aspects of Civilization. I enjoy learning about the different civilizations, their cultures, histories, military strategies, and so on, and the great works added more elements of the humanities to the list of things that I learned about. It exposed me to new literature, art, and music.
Natural artifacts, such as dinosaur fossils should be included in future Civ games.
I feel that the great work system could have even further expansion and options. First and foremost, I'd like to see artifacts be able to appear in the ocean: shipwrecks, underwater cities, and so on. Since we can place works of art and ancient artifacts in museums, why not have features in which we can place exotic animals in our zoos and circuses to entertain our citizens and educate our scientists? Why not be able to set what sporting events we want to be played in our coliseums, arenas, and stadiums?
Or why not have a Paleontology sub-feature that allows the discovery of natural artifacts such as dinosaur fossils? Paleontology could be a new technology that branches off of Archaeology. These natural artifacts could provide science rather than culture and tourism. In Civ V terms, a natural artifact could provide something like +2 science, +1 culture, +1 tourism, and museums could have a "Museum of Natural History" theme bonus that would boost its tourism.
Some features from previous games that I would like to see return
Next, I want to throw out some ideas for features that I'd like to see return from older iterations of Civ.
In Civ III bombardments could kill a city's population or damage infrastructure.
Destructive city sieges (Civ III)
In Civ V, bombarding enemy cities has very little consequence for the conqueror. The siege itself doesn't actually hurt the city in any way (other than removing abstract hit points), but the actual capture kills population and destroys random buildings. In previous versions of the game, this was not the case. In Civ III, attacking a city with a siege weapon would destroy its walls, but also had the risk of killing population, damaging units garrisoned inside the city, or destroying buildings - including, potentially, wonders! I actually liked this feature of Civ III, and I would like to see it return in some form in future iterations.
Doing damage to the population and infrastructure of the city creates genuine consequence to a prolonged siege. It encourages the defender to try to break the siege as quickly as possible, since the siege itself is actually doing damage. But it also creates additional dilemmas and choices for the attacker. Should I march into the city now and take greater losses? Or should I continue to weaken the city with siege and risk destroying the very population and infrastructure that makes the city a valuable target for capture?
Bombardment from catapults, ships, bombers, and so on should cause infrastructure and population damage, whereas direct attacks with infantry would not. This makes it more important to protect your border cities from enemy incursions and even from barbarians, since enemy forces that aren't big enough to actually take the city can still do damage. It also adds more realism to the game, since wonders of the world were often destroyed prematurely by invading armies.
The tech tree of Civ IV had optional paths, alternative requirements, and dead ends.
More flexible tech tree (Civ IV)
One of my favorite features of Civ IV is the tech tree. That tree included optional paths, alternative requirements, and even some dead end techs. It allowed players more flexibility in how they progressed through the tree, and they could follow routes that better represented their needs. Navy and religious techs could be completely ignored by some civilizations without blocking access to important science and culture buildings and wonders.
I want to see this flexibility return in Civ VI, so that civs aren't railroaded down specific paths or forced to waste time on techs that they'll never use. It's nice that Civ V's tech tree includes useful items and abilities in every tech, but this is a design necessity since every tech must be researched. Civ IV was allowed to have some dead techs because individual civs weren't required to research every tech. If given the choice, I'd rather have the freedome to chose only the techs I want (and risk having some dead techs), than to be forced to take techs that I'll never need (like having to research Sailing on a pangea map).
The drawing layer (Civ IV)
Another less-well-known feature of Civ IV that I want to return is the drawing mode of the Strategy Layer. That game allowed the player to draw free-hand lines and place labels on the map.
This feature allowed players to outline their military and expansion plans, highlight must-get resources, and even give their own names to map landmarks. It may seem superficial, but this feature allowed players to record their plans so that you could remember what you were planning on doing when you reload the game. This was especially useful if you're continuing a game that you haven't played for weeks or months.
The drawing layer of Civ IV allowed players to record their plans on the map for their own reference.
If I recall correctly, these drawings could even be shared with other players, so that you could coordinate battle plans with your allies.
It really surprised me that Civ V didn't have such a feature, especially since it focused on tactical combat and formation maneuvers. You'd think that drawing features would have been even more important given the more tactical nature of Civ V's mechanics. Ideally, such a feature should include multiple layers that could be made private or shared with different players, all allies, or all civilizations. I hope this feature returns in Civ VI.
Now, let's move on to some more interesting feature ideas...
Multiple leaders (with differing uniques) for every civilization
The big challenge here would be coming up with unique abilities for all of the various leaders. But I don't see any reason why every civ in the game could not include two leaders, each with different personalities and uniques.
One of the reasons that I would like such a feature is for game variety. It gets annoying seeing specific civilizations always behaving the same and either being very successful (Hiawatha in Civ V), or always failing misearbly (Gandhi, Montezuma in Civ V) due to their combination of A.I., start bias, and uniques. Of course, I could always disable start biases and enable random personalities, but this can hurt game balance and removes a lot of the historical flavor that makes the game enjoyable. Interacting with recognizable characters like Hiawatha, Gandhi, Montezuma, and so on is part of what makes the game fun. Enabling random personalities takes away their defining characteristics and takes away their historical iconism.
Civ IV had multiple leaders for most civs, each with different personalities and abilities.
Having at least two leaders for any given civilization means that specific civilizations can all have different personalities, religious preferences, and playstyles (and therefore success rates) without having to randomize their personalities and take away their historical flavorings. For example, a more militaristic, Islamic, imperial Mughal warlord, such as Akbar, could be an alternate to the peaceful, wonder-spamming, Hindu Gandhi as a leader of India. That way, if you encounter India in a given game, it would be equally likely that it would be lead by the peaceful Gandhi or the aggressive Akbar.
In addition, the civilization could have some special ability that is representative of the culture as a whole, while each leader could have his own sub-ability that is more unique to that specific leaders and the time period that he or she ruled. Individual leaders could maybe even have their own single unique unit, building, improvement, etc as well. This sort of feature could also allow some civilizations to be combined into one, since different leaders could represent various incarnations of a civilization throughout history. For example, Rome and Byzantium could be combined into a single civilization with one Roman leader (such as Augustus) and one Byzantine leader (such as Constantine or Justinian) with their respective unique units. Similarly, a single German civ could represent both the Holy Roman Empire and the modern nation-state of Germany, or maybe even the "barbarian" Visigoths. And so on.
Having so many leaders with so many uniques could lead to a lot of overlap between individual leaders in different civilizations. But hopefully, the combinations of civilization and leader would create more unique playstyles and help to differentiate them from each other.
The civs themselves could also still follow a rule similar to Civ V, in which they all have one unique unit and one other unit, building, or improvement. And then each leader could have a third unique that could be either another building, unit, or improvement. Thus, each civ in a given game would have three uniques to play around with, in addition to two functional powers (one for the civ, and another for the leader). This would allow for a much greater degree of specialization for individual civs, as well as providing more variety and replayability.
Finally, for an even more radical concept, civs could have different leaders over the course of the game. One per era, perhaps. Alternatively, some other events could force a leadership change, such as losing the capital, peasant revolt, democratic processes (if applicable), and so on. Thus, the civ's uniques and powers could actually change within the course of a single game based on events that unfold organically over the course of the game! This would also give the other civs an opportunity to engage with the new leader in different ways. Former enemies could suddenly become close friends (or vice versa) due to the change in leadership. This is a very difficult feature to implement, and probably a huge longshot. So I don't see something like this happening any time soon.
I hope that Civ VI is played on a genuine sphere.
Civ IV allowed the player to zoom the map out to a degree that the map would be drawn onto a spherical globe that could be rotated. In this mode, the game was not actually playable because the game's map isn't actually mapped to a sphere. In all Civ games, the map has always been a cylinder. It wraps east and west, but never north and south. Instead, the north and south borders of the map are usually lined with impassable ice caps.
I would really like to see Civ VI actually play out on a genuinely spherical map. While it may not seem like much of a difference, it can have significant effects on how the game is played for those civs that are near the north and south extremes of the map. For one thing, these civs won't have as much room to expand east or west, and will have to expand north or south as well.
But more importantly, imagine a flat real-Earth map in Civ that has the U.S.A. and Soviet Union in their actual locations. In a conical, flat map, an airplane or missile would have to cross half the globe in order to reach the U.S. from Russia (or vice versa). But on a spherical map, a sufficiently long-range plane or missile could hypothetically travel from a launch site in central Russia, over the north pole, and hit a target in Canada or the lower 48 states of the U.S.
It would also be nice if the game didn't have to use tiles at all, but rather a coordinate-based terrain map, but that might be a bit too difficult to achieve with current technology. Games like Total War can do that, but they use pre-made maps with cities and landmarks placed in pre-determined locations with well defined perimiters. Generating a random, free-form map would be significantly more difficult. It's not impossible, since some game dev tools like Unity come packaged with terrain generators.
Civ VI having a spherical map without the constraints of a tile grid would be very immersive, but seems technically unlikely.
Storms, volcanoes, earthquakes, and so on were possible in Civ IV via random events. This feature proved unpopular for several reasons:
- People didn't like having bad things happen to their civ,
- The events were random and unpredictable, so you can't take precautions against them.
These complaints are valid. Which is why instead of having random weather events, I would like to see some kind of climate simulation. This feature could include ocean currents that could affect trade routes and naval unit movement. It could cause droughts or extended wet seasons or mini ice ages that could affect tile yields or maybe even temporarily change underlying terrain. These changes in terrain or yield could also lead to crop resources disappearing if overworked, animals dying out if over-hunted, or the animals resources migrating to more favorable weather conditions. Ice bridges could allow temporary movement between continents. And rising or lowering ocean levels could pose issues for coastal cities.
Nomadic civilizations like the Mongolians, Huns, and various Native American tribes
followed migrating animals that may have been influenced by changes in climate.
Now, before you go on a tirade about how the scope of Civilization doesn't allow for seasonal weather changes (see the season implementation of Total War: Rome II for an example of why that doesn't work), let me remind you that Civ is all about abstractions.
Don't make me bring up how a single warrior can spend thousands of years crossing a continent without dying of old age. It's an abstraction!
A desert in real life does have wet monsoon seasons within the course of a year. I live in Las Vegas. It's hot and sunny about 300 days a year. But In July or August, we almost always get "monsoon" rains for days or weeks at a time that can flood streets and cause significant property damage and even casualties. But overall, a desert is more dry than other areas.
The concept of a mini ice age (or drought) doesn't mean that the whole year/turn has to be freezing weather (or rainless). It just means that the year/turn was colder (or drier) than usual, or colder (or drier) than the year(s) / turn(s) preceeding it. This can be modeled in-game by changing the underlying tile, or by simply adjusting yields in the affected areas for a duration.
If multiple winters are longer and colder than usual, then an agricultural society is going to see more crops die, lower harvest yields, fewer animals to hunt, and higher rates of hunger, disease, and death in its population during that time. This can absolutely fit within the scope and context of a Civ game. In fact, changing climate conditions may have contributed to the fall of some civilizations:
Climate change has been associated with the historical collapse of civilizations, cities and dynasties. Notable examples of this include the Anasazi, Classic Maya, the Harappa, the Hittites, and Ancient Egypt. Other, smaller communities such as the Viking settlement of Greenland have also suffered collapse with climate change being a suggested contributory factor.
Other examples would include:
- Humans taking advantage of the ice bridges of a mini-ice age to migrate from Asia to North America.
- There was a "little ice age" that lasted hundreds of years during the European medieval ages.
- Melting ice opening up new avenues for shipping (which is currently happening in the Arctic ocean and could profoundly affect Russia's future).
- Increasingly cold climate conditions forced the Danes to search for more fertile farmland, and may have turned the Vikings into sea-faring raiders and explorers that probably reached as far as Nova Scotia.
- Favorable ocean currents allowing Polynesians to explore and colonize Pacific Ocean islands and maybe even reach South America.
- Animal migrations are the reason why cultures like the Huns, Mongolians, Lakota, and other Great Plain Native Americans developed nomadic lifestyles.
- And extended droughts can last for decades or longer, such as this one in Australia.
Viking colonization may have been caused by climate change that forced them to find
new farmable lands, and they may have been helped by changing ocean currents.
So the idea definitely isn't unprecedented in global history. Climate can definitely play a significant formative (or even defining) role in the development or fall of a culture; thus, it is definitely viable as a mechanic in a Civilization game. But you might be asking: what, exactly, does this do for gameplay? Well, one of the core challenges of developing strategy games (and Civ in particular) is that the A.I.s tend to be pretty dumb. Consumer technology simply hasn't advanced to the point that developers like Firaxis can include truly smart, learning, adaptive A.I.s in their games. The A.I. cannot be taught the game's rules, and so it has to be programmed based on scripts (or in the case of Civ, flavors) that they perform regardless of game circumstances. As such, a human player can almost always out-strategize and out-maneuver any A.I. players, and the A.I.s only become competitive if given overwhelming handicaps by the game's difficulty setting.
But what if the human player wasn't competing only against A.I. competitors? What if the player also had to compete against the map itself? This sort of game design works well for cooperative (and semi-cooperative) board games like Battlestar Galactica or Arkham Horror, and it was even a core design element of the spin-off Beyond Earth game. To a much greater extent than the barbarians of standard Civ games, the aliens of Beyond Earth (along with miasma and other map conditions) create a sense of a hostile world that must be tamed, and adds a great deal of challenge to the early half of the game. Forcing the player to react to changing board conditions can create an organically-evolving challenge as the game progresses that has the potential to keep the player interested and engaged through the lulls that often come about in the later half of a Civ game. Leveraging map advantages while they are present, and taking precautions against disadvantages posed by unfavorable map conditions, could definitely be a part of the strategy of Civ. Some civs (like Egypt) could even have abilities that help mitigate and normalize these effects to that they remain stable for longer.
Ancient Egypt was so prosperous for so long, in part, because it had an unusually stable climate for that region during that time period, and the Nile flooded with exceptional predictability. This is one of the reasons that I proposed that Egypt in Civ VI should have a Nile-based ability rather than a wonder-building one. Such a feature would also work well with genuinely nomadic civilization concepts. I proposed such an ability for the Huns and / or Mongolians in an earlier post.
Shared victory to promote inter-civ cooperation
I guess you could say that shared victories was present in Civ IV with its "Permanent Alliance" mechanic that allowed two civilizations to join into one. But that wasn't a particularly popular feature, and had all kinds of balance issues, and it only allowed two civilizations to be joined.
I'd like to see future games allow multiple civilizations to remain independent of one another, but still be able to win in unison. Such a feature would alleviate one of the greatest criticisms of Civ V's diplomacy system: its nature as a zero-sum game in which you were competing with everyone. In order for diplomacy to really work, civs need to be able to have friendships and alliances that actually mean something. You shouldn't be secretly plotting against your allies and trading partners of four thousand years. You should be able to play with their best interests at heart; and they, yours.
Having features in place that allow multiple civilizations to cooperate and contribute to the pursuit of joint victory conditions would not only be realistic, but it would open up a whole new plethora of possible win-states. The idea of creating a genuine utopia in which every civilization is working together could be realized. New achievements such as eliminating hunger, disease, illiteracy, and / or poverty on a global level could become new shared win-states, as well as the idea of opening up the space race to more than one civilization.
Beyond Earth included victories tied to each affinity.
What if every civ with that affinity contributed and won as a group?
Civ V's Ideology system (and, by extension, Beyond Earth's Affinity system) could have been a feature that catalyzed a joint victory. In addition to contributing to the normal Civ V win states, there could have been additional (shared) win states for each ideology that would require all civs in the game to share the same ideology (or affinity) and be friendly and / or allied with one another. So converting other civs to your ideology, or eliminating the proponents of rival ideologies, would allow the civs in the remaining ideology to declare a victory in which they all share. Further conditions could also be implemented so that every civ has to have positive happiness, positive income, and so on, and having passed World Ideology in the Congress could also be a prerequisite for the victory. So if future Civ games utilize political features similar to ideologies and affinities, then they could similarly be developed into a shared victory condition.
Now, obviously, there would have to be significant limitations to such a mechanic in order to avoid every game being an automatic win because everybody co-operates. We don't want to be handing out trophies for participation. But the rigid formula for Civ IV's Permanent Alliances was not the answer. Mechanics such as public opinion, resource distribution, money and tech sharing, and so forth could all be used to deter cooperative victories. In addition, any costs that are associated with such endeavors should scale up with the number of civs participating, so that it can become prohibitively difficult to include all civilizations in a given game, and such a victory could be the single, hardest victory in the game to achieve. Finally, significant penalties (including losing the game) could be imposed on civilizations that overspend on propping up other civilizations. It would be tricky to implement, but I'm sure it's possible.
One of the areas in which Civilization has traditionally been weak is in the second half of the game. Generally, most (or all) of a civilization's expansion is already done, and it's easy to settle into a comfortable routine of queuing up buildings and hitting "End Turn" to coast through the remaining hours of the game. It's not fun. Brave New World attempted to address this with Ideologies and Archaeology, giving the player new choices to make and a second period of exploration. These features are modestly effective in accomplishing these tasks.
Having to protect overseas colonies
would give more value to navies.
One way to add some excitement and engagement in the second half of the game would be to include a more fully-feature colonization mechanic that would encourage civs to compete with each other over the remaining resources on the planet. Resource distribution would have to change fairly significantly though, and there would probably need to be incentive to obtain additional copies of luxuries that you already have. Otherwise, there wouldn't be much incentive to go out and found colonies if you already have all the resources you need, or if you can easily trade for the ones you don't have. Having colonies spread around the map would also add more value to navies, since overseas colonies would be vulnerable and would need to be protected.
Probably the biggest hurdle to such a feature is the game's own civilization parity and balance. The game is designed so that all civilizations have roughly equal chances of being successful, and so most of the map's empty land and resources has been claimed by powers that are of roughly the same size and strength. In order for a mid-game colonization phase to work properly, this issue would have to be addressed, but (sadly) I don't currently have a proposal to address the situation without basically deliberately imbalancing the game.
But, that doesn't mean that I can't talk about how colonial mechanics might work, assuming that the issue of civ parity is addressed. And some of my mechanical proposals may even alleviate the issues caused by parity.
A proposed mechanic for colonies
Founding overseas cities (or maybe even cities that are sufficiently far away from your capital and other cities), or subjugating other civs, could create "colonies" that can be managed differently than regular cities. Your civ could have policy options to allow you to manage these cities separately from your main cities. Being able to do things like setting colonial tax rates, tariffs, and other social policies (such as slavery / indentured servitude) could affect the profitability of these colonies and the quantity of resources that they produce.
These cities could become unhappy based on your policies towards them, and may even declare independence or revolt. So managing these cities or suppressing a revolt could provide some opportunities for more active gameplay in the mid-to-late game.
Whether a city is considered a colony could be based on whether their is an unbroken line of your cultural borders linking the city to your capital. Any city that is "culturally connected" to your capital is considered part of your empire proper - a "core" city. This would include cities separated by water if the cultural borders spreads over the water. It would also mean that cities founded on the same land mass can still be considered "colonies" if they are far enough away from the rest of your empire that the borders are not linked. If your cultural borders spreads to the point that a former colony becomes culturally connected to your capital, then it is absorbed into your empire as a core city.
For example: any city whose cultural borders do not connect with the cultural borders radiating from the capital
could be considered a "colony" and have special rules, perks, or drawbacks.
In the example above (created in World Builder), Indonesia has several "colonies" and several "core cities". Batam and Surabaya are both core cities that are part of Indonesia's empire proper. Makassar and Medan are colonies. Batam is on the same continent, but Surabaya is located on an island. Whether the city is on the same land mass as the capital or not is irrelevant in my proposal. Both of these cities are part of the core empire because their cultural borders are all connected. If the ocean tile between Jakarta and Surabaya were not claimed, then Surabaya would be a colony. Similarly, Batam could also be a colony if the grassland and forest between Batam and Jakarta were not claimed. When they were founded, both of these cities likely would have been colonies, but once their borders met up with Jakarta's borders, they became full cities.
Makassar is on an island, far away from Jakarta's borders, so it is a colony. However, if the island and coast between Surabaya and Makassar becomes claimed by Indonesia, then Makassar would be absorbed into the empire and become a normal core city. Medan, on the other hand is actually on the same land mass as Jakarta (see the mini-map in the bottom right). But since it's borders do not join with Jakarta, it is still considered a colony. If, however, Indonesia were to found a city on one of the islands between Surabaya and Medan, then the borders could become connected, and Medan could be upgraded to a full city.
For a real-world example, imagine the English Empire. The American and Australian colonies would be overseas colonies with these mechanics. England's conquests in India would also be considered colonies, even though India is technically on the same land mass. Unfortunately, this model doesn't correctly model the status of modern-day Alaska and Hawai'i, since (in this model) both would be considered "colonies" since they are not connected to the American capital via an unbroken link of cultural borders. But no system is going to be perfect...
These mechanics would apply throughout the entire game, so even ancient empires could have colonies; although, most of these would probably end up being absorbed as a core city fairly quickly.
Resource market values
Something that would probably supplement a colony mechanic very well would be a resource market system in which the value of resources change based on their availability. This would require that luxuries be treated more like strategic resources, in that you can stockpile a supply of them, and having more of any given luxury would enable more benefits. Instead of resource value being determined by how much the A.I. likes or dislikes you, it would be determined by the resources market value. In Civ V, cities could request that the player gain access to certain luxuries in order to trigger "We Love the King Day". When such a resource is demanded, it's market value to that civilization should go up, since demand goes up. I think A.I.s in Civ V actually do pay higher prices for "We Love the King" luxuries.
Luxuries that are spread out across the map would have relatively low market value, since most civs would be able to access and sell it. More localized luxuries would sell at premiums. If a particular civ acquires all sources of a particular luxury and corners the market, they could hypothetically fix the price however they want. If any civs get unique luxuries (like Indonesian spices, Dutch tulips, Mayan chocolate, Korean jade, Aztec obsidian, and so on), then they would be able to dictate the availability of those resources, and paint huge targets on their heads if they are unwilling to sell at reasonable prices!
Founding cities (or colonies) overseas to acquire rare resources
might be worthwhile if those resources also had more trade value.
A couple core gameplay concepts would likely have to change for something like this to work. For one thing, the happiness provided by locally-produced luxuries might need to scale down as the game goes on in order to force civs to have to look to trade for valuable import resources. City states (if they exist) would probably need to be in the business of buying and selling luxuries, possibly having unique luxuries of their own. There would also have to be mechanics in place that consume luxuries. Just like units in Civ V consume a supply of strategic resources, buildings or citizens in Civ VI might consume luxuries. Domestic resources might get consumed first by citizens in the city that is harvesting them, then possibly be distributed to other cities via trade routes, city connections, or diplomatic deals. There could also be an interface put in place to allow the player to set which resources (and how much) go to which cities, and certain government or social policies could influence the effectiveness of different distributions. Socialist or communist-like policies might reward (or require) distributing resources equally among cities. More free market-oriented policies might automatically distribute them based on the wealth level of the cities without the player having any control. More tyranical and monarchical policies might reward ensuring that the capital always has access to every resource available to your empire. And so on.
Such features could benefit the game in numerous ways. Jungles, for instance, could allow the harvesting of rare resources (bananas, cocoa, silk, etc) that sell at a premium. This could offset the lack of production that typically plagues civs with jungle starts. Deserts could have similarly high-value resources like incense and ivory that would generate a strong economy to offset the general lack of water and food that usually causes slow growth. The need to provide new luxuries to citizens as the game goes on would also encourage (and possibly mandate) that civs make efforts in the mid and late game to expand to acquire new resources or additional copies of the resources they already have. This would fuel more organic conflict, make the second half of a non-domination game more active, and also encourage civs to use the colony feature that I oultined above!
Immigration, ethnicity, socio-economic classes, and city flipping
Another feature from Civ IV that I miss is its "demographic" subsystem. A city's population could be made up of percentages of different civs, and proximity to another civ would lead to immigration that would lead to mixed populations at border cities. Your diplomatic actions towards a demographic group's parent civ could then result in them becoming unhappy or outright resisting, and (if I remember correctly), cities could even flip to another civ if a majority of the population belonged to that foreign civ and preferred its culture.
I'd like to see a variation of this mechanic return. It added some further complexity to the game's empire management and politics, and opens up possibilities for new game mechanics. One idea could be to have each citizen in a city have an ethnicity (i.e. a "parent" civ). For natively-founded cities, the ethnicity of every citizen would be the civ that founded the city. But cities close to borders or that have open trade routes with foreign powers could experience immigration that could possibly increase growth rates based on the relative culture or economic success of the cities, and result in newly-born citizens having foreign ancestry.
Hamburg was captured by Aztecs, but still has a majority German population that wishes to rejoin Germany.
The game can then include various diplomatic or government options that could customize how your empire treats immigrants and minorities. Perhaps you can tax them at higher rates, put them to work as slaves or lower-caste workers to increase productivity, or promote them to artists and intellectuals if their home civilization has superior culture or science.
Or maybe working specific tiles could affect the happiness of a citizen. Particularly strenuous jobs like working a mine or plantation or fishing boat tile could cause that particular citizen to contribute more unhappiness. And working in special tiles like great person improvements could have better working conditions that make the citizen happier. Government policies such as labor policies (slavery, serfdom, caste system, etc), tax policies, and healthcare policies could then modify these happiness values. How you treat the various ethnic groups could then affect their respective public opinions towards you, and have diplomatic repercussions with their parent nation, and vice versa. And having a majority of unhappy repressed minorities could result in uprisings or city-flipping.
Many of these effects would be especially influential in conquered cities that still have a majority of the population that is a subjugated foreign people.
Thus, having a diverse population could provide various benefits or banes depending on how you manage your policies towards those minority groups. Civilizations like America, Rome, Egypt, or Venice could then have bonus powers that encourage immigration and / or mitigate some of the negative effects of poor treatment of immigrants (or enhance positive effects of good treatment).
This feature could also integrate into the Colony mechanic that I outlined above. Colonies could have different ethnic groups in the city, but they could also have a special group called "Independents" who seek to leave the parent civ and become an independent state. The Independents could grow naturally over time, and be slowed or sped up depending on your colonial policies. If Independents make up a majority of the city (of of the colonies as a whole), then they could start demanding independence. If you refuse, and the Independence movement grows, they could start a revolution.
Colonization's cities had growing Liberty Sentiment that culminated in a demand for independence.
A similar mechanic could be used for Civ VI colonies or even to represent Secessionists.
A Civil War mechanic could also borrow this feature. If you persist with policies that are unpopular with your own native population, you could experience a demographic group called "Separatists" or "Secessionists". If the Secessionists become too powerful in a city (or in a group of cities in close proximity), they could possibly rebel and form a new civilization.
Conscription, standing forces, and mercenaries
In earlier posts, I've complained about snowballing in the Civ franchise (and in Civ V in particular). One of the biggest problems that emerges from snowballing is military power. With very few checks on the size of a standing army, there is never any real reason to deliberately reduce the number of units that you posses. This leads to civilizations maintaining massive standing armies, even if they aren't in a state of war. Without any reason to ever disband these units, these civs with larger armies always have an advantage over smaller rivals.
Total War Rome II allows the player to hire mercenaries that have very high upkeep.
Having mechanics in place that require units to be conscripted from your population could impose negative side effects for civs that maintain a standing army that they aren't actively using, and would encourage such civs to disband their excess units or convert them to civilian duty. Again, Colonization had a mechanic in which every unit must be recruited from a citizen within the city. So militarizing this citizen reduced the productivity of the city, and it was generally a bad idea to camp such a unit somewhere without using him in active combat, since every turn of the unit not fighting was a turn that the citizen also wasn't producing.
I don't necessarily want military units to be drawn directly from population (though I'm open to the idea), but I would like to see strong mechanics in place that encourage players to disband unnecessary military units, or to conscript temporary units like mercenaries or draftees. This would help smaller, more peaceful civs to be able to mobilize a defensive force on short notice, and could help reduce the ability of larger civs to steamroll over smaller foes.
Railroads as hub-based supplement to road, instead of replacement
Railroads should not replace roads. This has been a pet peeve of mine in Civilization since my early days of playing Civ III. I really feel like railroads should be their own transportation network separate from regular roads, such that the two serve different functions, but can be built in parallel.
I would like for railroads to act more like a hub structure, similar to how airlifts currently function. Units should enter and exit the railroad only at designated hubs (cities), and movement along the railroad should be uniform among all units. Either the railroad could allow a unit to expend its turn to instantaneously transport to any connected node, or it could expend movement points to move instantly between "adjacent" nodes. The specific implementation would be dependent on game balance needs and exploit elimination.
Coal has very little utility in Civ V, and I sometimes don't even bother mining all of it.
In addition, the use of railroads should expend coal. For example, each use of a railroad on a given turn could expend 1 unit of coal for that turn. If you run out of coal, then you cannot transport additional units. On the next turn, all the expended coal is returned to the player's stockpile. Coal is currently one of the most undervalued resources in the game, so it would be nice for it to have some significant utility. In the interests of fairness, such a mechanic would likely need to be employed for using oil to perform airlifts.
Instead of roads being upgraded to railroads, they could instead be upgraded to highways once combustion (or similar tech) is unlocked.
Putting rivers between tiles has been a minor pet peeve of mine with the Civ games. I feel that it really weakens their strategic value, since they can't be used for many of the things that they have been historically used for. The value of rivers has been heavily abstracted in both Civ IV and Civ V. I liked how rivers and coasts in Civ IV automatically connected cities to trade networks. They also extend the range of trade routes in Civ V. But other than that, they haven't been nearly as valuable to trade and military strategy as they should be.
In Civ VI, I would really like to see rivers be navigable. The best way to do this would be to put the rivers in a tile, instead of along the edges between tiles. This would allow cargo ships to navigate rivers and connect to the larger ocean. It would also allow some naval units to travel through rivers. Galleys, Triremes, Ironclads, and maybe Submarines or Destroyers could traverse rivers and attack cities or units upstream. This would make rivers more tactically meaningful, and protecting the access points to rivers would become more important. Landlocked empires would be vulnerable to sea-faring civs that can reach inland cities via rivers. And landlocked empires might even have an opportunity to build a navy if they control rivers that have access to the oceans.
The Civil War scenario included in Brave New World featured large, navigable rivers and bridge improvements.
In this case, bridges could perhaps be tile improvements that are actually built on the river tile, rather than just automatically appearing once you research Engineering. This would require more of an investment in the infrastructure, and maintenance costs for bridges could maybe be increased.
Smaller rivers and non-navigable tributaries could perhaps be drawn along the edges of tiles.