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I had another opportunity over the weekend of June 11th to participate as a guest host on the Civilization podcast PolyCast for their 257th episode. I joined regular hosts DanQ, TheMeInTeam, MadDjinn, and Makahlua as we discussed the latest news regarding Civilization - specifically, some new information regarding City States in Civilization VI. We discussed how the new envoy system works, what exactly Firaxis might mean by city states being "streamlined", took a jab at Beyond Earth by joking that stations are "streamlined" city states, and then teased Dan with the apparent lack of a "bully" option on the city state interface that is shown in the screenshots.

Civilization VI - City State Hattusa
City State "diplomacy" is now handled by sending envoys rather than by buying their alliances with gold.

The new city state system relies on sending diplomatic envoys to a city state. Once certain thresholds of envoys have been reached, the city state grants certain bonuses based on its type. The civ with the most envoys gets the privilege of being the suzerain of the city state (seems to be just a renaming of "ally" or "master"), which confers a unique bonus to the civ from that city state. Having unique bonuses from city states is a cool new feature that adds more variety and personality, and helps inform the player of the history of that city states in the same way that the civilizations' national powers were informed by some aspect of the respective civ's culture and history. Very nice addition.

The envoy system seems to be an attempt to make city states feel more diplomatic and less like bribery subjects. It sounds like it should work towards that goal, and city states alliances will require more long-term commitment and hopefully won't be subject to the same kinds of mass-gold buying to suddenly swing their alliances from one civ to another. I just wonder if city states will still play a major part in the diplomatic victory?

The PolyCast hosts also gave me a chance to discuss, live, my reaction to the announcement of Civ VI. The conversation basically turned into a back and forth about how the civics may or may not work, and whether there's going to be enough interesting decisions to keep the choices interesting, or if there might end up being too many "automatic" choices (e.g. Tradition and Rationalism in Civ V). I didn't really expect for the conversation to go so far down the rabbit hole, as I was only expressing a minor worry of mine regarding what we currently know about the system. It comes predominantly from my own reaction to how the customizable religions worked in Civ V. There were just certain choices that were too good to pass up, and many of the pantheon choices would end up feeling like they were based more upon the circumstances of your start on the map, rather than any strategy of yours. Did you start with a bunch of wine and/or incense? Better adopt Goddess of Festivals. Have a lot of stone and/or marble? Probably should go with Stone Circles. And if you have the opportunity to take one of the religious buildings (cathedrals, mosques, or pagodas), then you'd better do it! Is Jesuit Education available when you enhance your religion? That's probably your best bet there too. So I hope that the civics have much more variety and worthwhile options, so that every game doesn't end up feeling like the same process of civic-selection.

Civilization VI - civics
Will Civ VI's civics provide enough variety and utility to make for interesting decisions?
Or will the decisions feel more automatic and mechanical?

I'm not really worried about the civic system in Civ VI. At least, I won't be until more information about specific civic bonuses is released. I just wanted to point out a possible stumbling block, and it turned into a half-hour argument over what would qualify as "interesting decisions". My bad...

This episode of PolyCast was recorded on June 11th, and can be streamed in its entirety at civcomm.civfanatics.com/polycast.

As always, I enjoyed talking with these folks about one of our shared favorite game franchises, and I hope I get a chance to talk to them again soon.

UPDATE JUNE 16, 2016: E3 video alleviates some of my concerns

A new video for Civ VI was released at E3 that does alleviate some of my concerns regarding the Civ VI announcement. The video displayed shows a time-lapse of what looks to be an entire playthrough of a game as China, that seems to go all the way up through a Space Race victory (complete with a cinematic cutscene!). First of all, the video shows build queues that have actual icons for the units, districts, and buildings. So that [minor] concern has been addressed, and the game itself looks fairly complete and robust.

An E3 preview shows a time-lapse of a complete playthrough with the Chinese civ.

One of my concerns from the Polycast recording was whether or not the civic choices would feel very meaningful, or if they would feel too automatic and mechanical (similar to always choosing the Tradition and Rationalism policy trees in Civ V). At about 7 minutes into the video, there is a clip of the government screen that shows some of the civics that will be available to players. This looks to be still fairly early in the game (medeival period maybe), so there's some limited options for some government categories. However, I am pleased to see that there seems to be a good mix of short-term options and long-term options. In the Polycast episode, I used the example of choosing between a settler cost reduction and a unit cost reduction, and how choosing between those two would feel very situational and wouldn't require much deep thought. While those bonuses do both appear to be in the game (hooray for my powers of prognostication!), they are part of differing government categories. The unit boost is a military policy, and the settler boost is an economic policy, so both can be active simultaneously. So that settles that issue.

In addition, I do see what appears to be a good mix of long-term passive bonuses and short-term opportunistic bonuses. In the economic category, I imagine I'll have a hard time choosing between "+1 production in all cities" versus "+2 gold from all trade routes". Early in the game, both those civics offer very good options that make a lot of difference in your young cities, but they would likely peter-off by mid-game. Hopefully they get upgraded or replaced with higher-yield versions later on. Furthermore, it's probably going to be tough to decide to abandon either of those civics for the settler discount early in the game. That bonus culture from districts also looks particularly promising for culture-oriented civs, and the "God King" civic looks like a good contender for any religious-themed civ.

Civilization VI - early-game civics
There are some good-looking options for early-game civics.

In the military category, there's the choice between a boost to unit production and a combat bonus against barbarians. If barbarians are a particular threat, then that could be a tough decision to make: do I boost unit-production to spam out some more defensive units; or do I take the combat bonus and fight the barbs with what units I have? In addition, adopting either of those might come at the cost of losing out on the "+1 Amenity from garrisoned units". I'm not sure what an "amenity" is exactly, but it seems as though it might be related to city growth and/or happiness. Perhaps it represents the happiness that city infrastructure provides? That seems comparable to how the Total War games handle entertainment and sanitation. Anyway, if amenity represents some check or cap on city growth, then giving that up could be tough, especially if the checks on city growth and expansion are as strict as Civ V's happiness mechanics ended up being. It's doubly-true since there don't seem to be any other civics [yet] that grant amenities.

However, to illustrate my concern, look at the Diplomatic Civics. The "Charismatic Leader" civic speeds up the acquisition of envoys, while the "Diplomatic League" allows you to deploy double the envoys to city states. If this operates how I assume it does, it would seem to me that this would fall into the category of "mechanical" decisions. You'd activate Charismatic Leader up until you're close to earning a new envoy, then switch to Diplomatic League when you earn the envoy and it comes time to send it to a city state, then you'd switch back to Charismatic Leader as soon as you get the chance. So, depending on how often you're allowed to switch civics (and how quickly envoys are earned naturally), there could be very little cost associated with that strategy, and so it becomes optimal play and requires very little strategy or thought. If there's a long enough time between changing civics, then the loss of envoy accumulation might overwhelm the doubled effectiveness of the envoys that you do earn, in which case, it's better to stick with Charismatic Leader. In either case Diplomatic League seems a bit underwhelming as an option, since its usefulness is so narrow, and there's another civic that provides a similar bonus.

So I'm quite a bit relieved now that I have an idea of what kind of civics will be in the game. Aside from the diplomatic civics, the others look to have pretty good variety and tough decisions to make. There's still the chance that something might show up later that will be Civ VI's equivalent of Tradition-Rationalism, but at least the early-game civics look interesting.

E3 shows some diplomatic features

Another promising element of the E3 video is that we get a glimpse of the diplomacy and trade screens. The trade screen looks pretty standard fare so far. But there's an interesting-looking "Gossip" section of the diplomacy screen. The gossip is empty in this particular clip, so I have no idea what kind of information can be acquired from gossip. I wonder if this means that we'll be able to ask civs about their feelings towards other civs like we could do in Civ IV? That was a feature that I liked from Civ IV's diplomacy system, and it would be nice to see it return. I wonder if this could also mean that some variation of "Pacts of Secrecy" will be returning and that civs can team up to plot against other civs.

Civilization VI - diplomacy with Teddy
There's some interesting new diplomatic options on this screen. Looks like diplomacy did get some attention.

In any case, I'm definitely also glad to see some intel information and diplomatic relations appear in the diplo screen. It got really annoying having to exit the diplomacy screen to try to view other civs' relationships with one another. I hope we also get some kind of summary of trade deals so that we can see who we're buying / selling resources from / to and other potentially relevant information.

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