Thursday, November 10, 2016 02:08 AM

Civilization VI nags and nitpicks

in Video Gaming by MegaBearsFan
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Civilization VI review

I already gave a pretty glowing review of Civilization VI. I did neglect talking about some of the problems and annoynaces that I have with the game. This is because most of these problems feel like relatively minor, nagging issues, rather than game-breakers, and the review was long enough as is without diving into nitpicks. So I decided to dedicate an entire post to these little nagging issues, nitpicks, and annoyances. Remember that I love the game! So the items listed here are not deal-breakers by any stretch. They are just small blemishes on an excellent game, and problems that I would like to see fixed in post-release patches.

Useability issues

While the game's UI is generally very minimal and clean, there are a number of frustrating issues with the user experience design.

Stop jumping around to different units!

Civ V had this same problem as well. The one-unit-per-tile rule means that after one unit moves, the game can't just skip to the next unit in the stack. Instead, it has to pick a unit somewhere else on the map. The logic for this doesn't seem to even bother trying to find a nearby unit or a relevant unit, and so the camera is constantly whipping around from one end of the map to the other. When trying to manage a large army during a war, this can get very annoying very fast.

Civilization VI - unit needs orders
There's already a "Unit needs orders" prompt, so there's no need to jump around the map selecting units.

If suitable logic can't be implemented to make this unit-cycling work a bit smarter, then players should be given the option (via the options screen) to disable it entirely. This is especially true for multiplayer. There is already a "Unit needs orders" prompt, so it's easy enough to just use that to jump to another unit. Otherwise, the game should just wait and let the player actively click on the next unit that I want to move. Heck, even if smarter unit-cycling logic is written, the game should probably still provide the option to turn it off.

Allow us to disable tutorial tips that we've already seen

Each tutorial tooltip dialogue should come with an option to "don't show this tip again". Civ games are long, and they often aren't played through to completion. So when learning the game, I end up restarting often. And since the game is still new, I still have the tutorial tooltips turned ON. I do this so that I can be reminded of how the newer features work (particularly the late-game features that I haven't seen as much).

In order to see the late-game tutorials [RIGHT] for mechanics that I don't understand yet,
I have to sit through the tutorial messages for early-game mechanics [LEFT] that I fully understand.

Leaving the tutorials on, however, means that I have to sit through all the early-game pop-ups as well. I already know how a district works and what a city state is; I don't need to see these tutorial messages again! But it is nice to see the messages for late-game stuff like national parks, archaeology, and corps, since I still don't have much experience with those features yet.

As such, I should be able to turn off the tips that I've already seen and know, while leaving on the tips that I haven't seen, or don't yet know.

When will I annex a new tile? And which tile will it be?

Civilization V - borders grow in X turns
Civ V clearly indicated
which tile would be annexed, and when.

This falls into the category of "I can't believe they took this out!" In Civ V, the city screen clearly indicated which tile was next going to be annexed by a city's culture, as well as how many turns it would be until the city has enough culture to annex that tile. Well this seems to be absent from Civ VI's interface - or, if it does exist, I haven't found it yet.

This is something that should definitely be in Civ VI - either appearing when you select a city, or when you go into the tile-purchase mode. Heck, maybe even just draw a faint, dotted border extension on the main game map so that we don't even need to open up the city screen to see it! Either way, the city screen should definitely tell us how long it will be before the next tile is annexed. There are many situations in which I'd like to know whether I need to buy a tile, or if I should just wait a few turns.

No production queue?

Am I just missing it? Is there really not any sort of production queue for cities anymore? We can queue up techs and civics, but we can't queue up build projects. I assume that complications with the placements of districts probably lead to the removal of city build queues. This forces cities to have to nag the player every few turns to chose what you want to build next. It also means that you have to remember what you were trying to do in every city, since you can't queue up a city to produce a line of military units, or to tell your newly-founded colony to queue up its Water Mill, Monument, Granary, and Wall in order to get it productive enough to start working on districts.

Civilization VI - no production queue
Having to place districts on the map probably resulted in the removal of a build queue for cities.

This can end up feeling like tedious overhead sometimes, especially when building the mundane stuff like city center buildings and units. It can also make loading into a save game a bit jarring, since it might be a while before I remember what I wanted to do with a given city.

Can't easily restart a game

Civilization VI - random seeds
The advanced options will show random seeds.

Another common mainstay of my Civ play is restarting games until I get a map or starting configuration that seems strong or - at the very least - interesting. Unfortunately, Civ VI does not (yet) have a "Restart Game" or "Regenerate Map" option that allows you to mulligan a game, while keeping the same basic game settings. To further compound this problem, the game also doesn't remember any game settings if you exit back out to the main menu. So if I am really unhappy with my starting condition or early-game experience, and I want to restart, I have to exit to the main menu, select a new game, and re-input my civ preference, map settings, and difficulty level. God forbid that I made any tweaks to the advanced options...

The advanced options does show you the map seed and random number seed for the game you're about to play, but you can't look these up once in-game. So if you do decide to restart on the same map, you can only do so if you had the foresight to write those seed numbers down in advance of entering the game.

Missing some notifications

The game is also lacking in some useful notifications. Some missing notifications that I'd like to see:

  • When a new barbarian camp spawns (so I can click the notification and jump to the location).
  • A diplomatic trade deal has expired.
  • Denouncement has expired.
  • A Casus Beli is available (e.g. five turns after you denounce somebody).
  • Missionaries of a rival religion are approaching your cities.

And I'm sure there are others as well; just can't think of them right now.

There's still unit clutter, but now its religious units

Civ VI took steps to reduce unit clutter by replacing permanent workers with expendable builders, and by introducing support units, corps, and fleets. But Firaxis failed to address the other big cause of unit clutter: the fact that civilian units from one civ or faction can't stack with military units of another civ or faction. To make matters worse, the way that religion and theological combat works means that way more missionaries and apostles have to be built and sent out into the world. That's good because it makes the religious game much more active. But it's also bad because these units can't stack with other players' units, and they quickly clutter up the board. The A.I.s are uncannily good at spamming religious units. I still haven't quite figured out how they manage to possess so many. I thought my +200 faith per turn was a lot. Maybe it isn't, because it's only enough to buy an apostle every other turn, and the A.I. keeps marching dozens of its own missionaries and apostles across the map.

Civilization VI - religious unit clutter
Religious units are the primary source of unit clutter now.

My scouts can't explore that new continent because they're constantly being blocked by other players' apostles. My builders can't get to certain tiles because rival apostles are standing there trying to convert my cities or spending a hundred years debating my inquisitor. My own armies get bottlenecked by the blankets of apostles and missionaries and inquisitors that every A.I. is so proficient at producing. My Great Writer can't get to the amphitheater to publish his latest novel because my ally is marching her army through my territory towards the front line with our common enemy. And so on. Thank goodness the barbs don't spawn religious units!

A lot of this could be resolved by opening up and spreading out the map a little bit so that there's more room to navigate these units. But even so, if another player's unit is standing on the tile where you want your unit to go, then you are screwed.

Civilization VI - blocking A.I. settler
The A.I. can be completely foiled by blocking its units from moving.

On the other end of the coin, the player can also take advantage of these rules to completely foil certain A.I. behaviors. By stationing my own units near choke points, I can completely block an A.I. from moving its settlers or religious units to certain areas of the map - even if I have open borders or friendly relations with them. If you try this with a human player, that player could ask you to move your units. Refusal to do so could be grounds for war. But the A.I. doesn't recognize this tactic. Sure, they'll call you out when one of your scouts happens to walk past their territory, but they won't detect that you're actively blocking their settler from moving to its intended destination. And so they won't do anything about it. To make matters worse, the A.I. often is incapable of resolving this situation and spends many turns walking that settler over the same couple tiles because it doesn't know where else to send it. It's a very cheap, very exploitative tactic that would also be resolved if different players' friendly units were allowed to share a tile.

Maybe ease up the barbarians a bit...

I like that barbarians actually feel like a credible threat now. That being said, I do think that they can stand to be toned down a bit. They have an annoying habit of spawning at the worst times, and in the worst places. I've literally seen barbarian camps spawn two or three tiles outside of my borders. That puts their scout just one or two moves from my city, which means that I'm potentially just a few turns away from having a barbarian horde randomly attacking my city. The problem ironically seems to get worse at lower and intermediate difficulties, since the A.I. civs don't start with the extra units that allow them to go out and start hunting barbs, and since the A.I. civs are slower about expanding and pushing back the fog of war in which new encampments spawn.

The barbarians can also sometimes feel like they are disrupting early exploration. The stricter movement rules already slow down Scout exploration enough. I was tolerant of the aliens slowing down exploration in Beyond Earth, but that was because they weren't hostile by default and didn't surround and murder your explorers, forcing you to invest in rebuilding them.

Civilization VI - Barb scout on turn 4
Seriously? Turn 4, and I already have barbarians at the gates! On King difficulty?

To resolve these annoyances, I propose that there should be a buffer of turns before barbarians are allowed to start spawning. Maybe 5 or 10 turns from the start of the game? More or less depending on difficulty level? That way, there aren't barbarian scouts finding my cities on turn 4 and spawning a horde to lay waste to my fledgling empire before I can even train a warrior to fight them off!

Barbarian horse units also should probably not spawn so early in the game. I'm not sure what the exact requirements are for barbs to spawn horse units, but I've seen them show up as early as turn 10 (on Prince difficulty). That means they definitely don't seem to be tied to the tech level of the civs, since there's no way that any civ has researched Horseback Riding by turn 10. The barb horse units aren't very strong, but they can be devastating in large numbers. Their speed allows for hit-and-run attacks that prevent the player from being able to chase them down and finish them off. They can also come out of nowhere and surround and kill your scouts, putting a premature end to your exploration efforts. It's a bit ridiculous. The horse units definitely shouldn't start turning up until a little later in the game.

Later on, the distance from a city that barbarians are allowed to spawn might need to be increased. It would also be handy to provide an actual notification for when a new one pops up, so that we can click on it and jump to its location (instead of having to manually scan the entire map looking for it).

Nerf the insta-heal a bit

While I like how promotions have been implemented, in general, I do think that the insta-heal might need a bit of a nerf. Instead of 50 HP, it should maybe be reduced to 33 or 25 HP. This also applies to the automatic healing for Scythian units that kill another unit. 50 HP just seems like too much.

This may be controversial, but I like having to chose between taking a promotion and pressing an attack. From what I've seen, units don't continue to accumulate experience when a promotion is available, and taking a promotion ends the unit's turn. So you can't promote and attack on the same turn (though you can get away with moving and then taking a promotion assuming you don't spend all your movement points), and attacking with a promotion pending causes your unit to lose out on some experience. So for a wounded unit, this should also introduce a decision of whether to retreat the unit in order to take the promotion as well. But that choice is made almost moot by the 50 HP heal. You're almost always better off just taking the promotion on the front lines, healing 50 HP, and then tanking any hits that the opponent may throw at you. I rarely - it ever - have had to retreat a promotable unit and then cover its escape with other units or zone of control because taking that promo just allows you to tank through another round of hits.

A.I.s can't get their heads together

As mentioned in the review, A.I. leaders and diplomacy have always been weak spots of the Civ games. VI is no exception. So there are many aspects of dealing with other leaders that frustrate me.

Can't call out other leaders on their aggressive unit movement

In virtually every game that I've started up so far, I've ended up with an A.I. leader marching a large army towards my border. Sometimes, they even camp them inside my borders if I have given them open borders, or if I haven't researched Early Empire yet. This is frustrating because there is virtually nothing that the human player can do against this annoying A.I. habit.

Civilization VI - Move your troops from our border
A.I.s can request that players move troops from the A.I.'s borders, but player can't make the same request of the A.I.

If a human player attempts this against an A.I., the A.I. leader can request that the player move their units or declare war. This forces the player to either declare the war before you have all your units in position (or are otherwise ready for war), or to have to take diplomatic penalties for breaking a promise. In Civ VI, you also have the option to ignore the other leader's request, which mitigates the risks quite a lot. But either way, the A.I. is allowed to force you to play your hand when they see this sort of aggressive behavior from you, but the human player can't do this to the A.I..

Every game I see a massive A.I. army amass around or within my borders, and I can't tell them to leave.

I'm a firm believer that anything that the A.I. can do to the player, the player should be able to do back to the A.I., and this is probably the single most flagrant example. Every time the A.I. does this (which has been in every game that I've played so far), it annoys the heck out of me. Look, I'm OK with the A.I.s being opportunistic and punishing players for not building a competitive military (and believe me, they will punish you for not building a military), and I'm fine with them sneak attacking the player. I just want the ability to diplomatically call them out on their aggression and force them to play their hand, rather than me having to declare a preemptive war and take the brunt of all the warmonger hate.

A.I.s seem way too hostile

Civilization VI - A.I. declares war
All the A.I.s seem trigger-happy.

I have found it virtually impossible to make the A.I.s happy in Civ VI. I had one game in which Rome loved me because I founded a second city very early, and Trajan respects civs with large empires and lots of territory. In every other game, every A.I. seems to start out with an automatic -3 diplomatic modifier as soon as I meet them, and the relationships tend to go downhill from there. I send them delegations and trade routes, and I try to keep any promises made to them, but they still almost invariable declare repeated wars against me. Even A.I.s that I have all green modifiers with will still declare war on me repeatedly.

I thought that maybe that automatic -3 from "first impressions" was maybe from the difficulty level. But I lowered the difficulty from King to Prince (which is supposed to be the "normal" difficulty level with no arbitrary handicaps for player or A.I.s), and I still got that automatic -3.

Why would you do that?!

And if that aggressive behavior weren't bad enough on its own, the A.I. leaders compound the problem by being unable to even figure out what the heck they are doing to begin with! Often times, the A.I. that tries to sneak attack me in the fashion outlined above is one that I am semi-friendly with. In some cases, it's even been an A.I. with whom I have all green relationship modifiers, who sent me a trade delegation, and who is currently sending me a trade route. But then they roll up an army and declare war on me anyway. Why?!

Is this a symptom of the multiple agenda mechanic that is attached to each A.I.? Are their two agendas literally in conflict with one another? Is this causing the A.I. to want to be friends with me because of one agenda, but then suddenly triggering an urge for aggression because of their other agenda? I have no idea, as the second agenda is always hidden when this happens to me.

Civilization VI - Norwegian trader among invasion force
Oh come on Norway, make up your mind! Do you want to trade with me or conquer me?

Whatever the case, this sort of self-destructive behavior from the A.I.s should stop. I'm even distrustful of leaders who I'm friends or allies with because I don't know if they're suddenly going to turn on me like this as well. Having the occasional un-trustworthy ally or duplicitous trade partner that requires you to look over your back is fine, but it shouldn't be the A.I.'s modus opperandi.

Other annoying diplomacy UI issues

The A.I. behavior isn't the only problems with diplomacy. The interface could also use some work. For one thing, it's annoying that whenever the A.I.s pop up to talk to you (whether its a trade deal, delegation, threat, or random gibberish), you can't respond with anything other than the "goodbye" prompt that exits the screen. Well, if an A.I. just popped up to praise me for something, I'd like to be able to view my diplomatic status with that A.I. in order to see what my standing is with him or her now. Instead, I have to click "Goodbye", wait till all the turn processing is over, and then hope that I remember to open up the diplo screen again to view my new relationship status.

To solve this problem, I suggest that the actual diplomacy menu remain open when the A.I. leaders talk to the player. That way, you can view intel and relationship status while they ramble on with their praise, threats, or trade deals. Alternatively, A.I. threats could just be notifications (e.g. "A messenger from Kongo seeks an audience"), and the player could optionally click on the notification (during your turn) to see what the A.I. actually has to say. This could be more in-line with Beyond Earth: Rising Tide's Twitter-esque message feed and would prevent the leader screens from feeling like an intrusive annoyance.

Civilization VI - threat from an A.I.
The "Goodbye" screen should be ditched in favor of showing relationship status (as in this composite image).

There's other nagging issues as well. Like how the new "joint war" and alliance mechanics make it so that you can't attempt to bribe another civilization into declaring war on somebody who you are currently at war with. The joint war mechanic only allows for two civilizations to simultaneously declare war on the same civ. Not very helpful if you need some backup when someone else declares war on you.

Comments (1) -

11/10/2016 20:54:48 #

The game seems to be challenging, and I do like that. The map size seems to have shrunk.  I could usually settle 5 or 6 cities before running into a problem with other civilizations. ALso, you can't modify the number of city states, and the AI model is stupid. Other than that, I love the changes.

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