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Sid Meier's Civilization

Civilization VI's first expansion, Rise and Fall just launched this past weekend. The expansion does make some welcome enhancements to alliances that makes peaceful relations with other civs much more appealing. However, these enhancements do not address two of my most fundamental complaints with Civilization's diplomacy system in general: that it does not allow for truly cooperative victories, and that it does not really provide the player with any way to influence an A.I. civ's behavior. I've already written about ideas for cooperative victories for both Beyond Earth and for the core Civilization games, so I won't go into that again here. Instead, today's blog will focus on the second of my major hang-ups with diplomacy: that you simply cannot provide A.I. civs with any indication of what you consider friendly or hostile behavior.

Diplomacy has always been one of the major stumbling blocks of the Civilization games. Each game has certain mechanics or features that are good ideas on paper, but none of the games have ever really had a diplomacy system that really seems to work the way that it is intended, and which provides consistent behavior from the A.I.s. A.I.s are often erratic in their behavior -- both between games, and within a single game.

Civilization VI - Cleopatra agenda
A single unit can be the difference between Cleopatra's abject disgust and her goo-goo-eyed adoration.

Civ VI introduces the agendas, which sound like a good idea on paper. It gives each leader an element of personality. They have things that they like, and things that they don't like. The problem is that these agendas lead to wild swings in an A.I.'s attitude, often based on rather trivial (and sometimes counter-intuitive) actions from the player. Often times the thresholds for activating these agendas are not entirely clear. Cleopatra tells me that my army is too weak and pathetic, and so she has a heavy negative modifier with me. Then I build a single Swordsman a couple turns later, and now suddenly my army is powerful enough to warrant her admiration, and she's looking me up and down with those goo goo eyes.

There's other legacy issues with diplomacy. The biggest one is the inability to ever warn another civ that their actions might lead to war. The denouncement mechanic of Civ V was a decent start, but since you could never provide a specific reason for your denouncements, they never seemed to have much weight in changing another civ's behavior. In a multiplayer game, you could always use the chat to inform other players' of your diplomatic desires, but there has never been any method for accomplishing this with A.I. civs in single-player.

Since the A.I. has no real clue why it is being denounced, there's no way for it to change its behavior. There's also no way for other A.I.s to understand if your denouncement or declaration of war is actually justified or not.

Civilization V - denouncement
You can denounce a civ, but the A.I. won't really have any clue why they're being denounced.

Civilization VI tried to rectify this with the Casus Belli system, but that system also stumbles. For one thing, most Casus Belli options need to be unlocked in the civics tree, and many of the useful ones (such as Protectorate and Liberation wars) aren't available until midway through the game. In addition, the conditions for triggering a Casus Belli don't always feel right. If an A.I. civilization happens to declare war on a city state who had just flipped to another suzerain, I cannot declare a Protectorate or Liberation war, even if I flip that city state back to being my suzerain in a turn or two. Lastly, without defining any sort of true goal for the war, the game has no way of accurately measuring your "success" in the war, even if you use a Casus Belli.

The bigger, more fundamental problem [from my perspective] is that both the denouncement and the Casus Belli are reactive diplomatic tools. Civilization VI still has no proactive methods for influencing A.I. behavior. I'd much rather be able to warn another civilization in advance that a certain action may lead to conflict, rather than have to denounce or declare on them after the fact. This is especially true if I actually want friendly relations with that civ. Nothing frustrates me more than having a friend or ally forward-settle me or plop a city down in the middle of a gap in my own territory (I'm looking at you, Kamehamaha!), or for them to declare war on my city state allies.

Civilization V - Polynesia forward settling
Kamehameha of Civ V's Polynesia had a frustrating habit of putting cities where they were least wanted.

Civ V had mechanics that allow you to preemptively warn another civ not to settle near you or convert your city. In Civ VI, these options still exist, but they aren't made available until after the civ has committed the offending act. This is a change that I really do not like in Civ VI. In Civ V, if you saw an A.I. settler walking towards your cities, you could open up dialogue and say "Hey! Don't you dare do it!". In Civ VI, your only recourse is to declare war and capture the settler -- which is something I always feel guilty about doing because the A.I. is so bad about escorting and defending settlers that I feel like capturing it is borderline cheating. In any case, the A.I.s often ignored your warnings anyway, especially on higher difficulties. Human players have frustratingly never had the ability to warn an A.I. to move their troops away from your borders.

Again, this feature in Civ V was a good start. The problem is still that, even though you could denounce the A.I., the A.I. doesn't really know what it did to warrant that denouncement. It doesn't know that your denouncement was necessarily for violating you warning. Furthermore, other A.I.s don't know that you had even warned the offending A.I., and so they don't understand the reason for the denouncement either.

In Civ V, you could preemptively warn a civ not to commit certain actions,
but in Civ VI you can't warn them until after they've committed the action.

In effect, the player has no way of proactively influencing the A.I.'s decisions and behavior via the game's diplomatic systems. This may, in fact, be Firaxis' intent. The game needs some ways of destabilizing relations and creating conflict between civilizations, otherwise, every game can become a boring slog because everybody always works together. While I understand and respect that design consideration, I do feel that the current design is a bit too limiting. This (along with the rigid, winner-take-all victory conditions) significantly undercuts diplomacy and trade as a meaningful feature within the game. It also (along with other elements of the games' difficulty settings) often shoe-horns the player into excessive militancy.

Acts of War

I would like to propose a feature that I think might be able to address this gaping omission in the game's diplomatic systems by giving players (including the A.I.s) ways of publicly expressing actions that they consider to be acts of aggression (or outright acts of war) against their sovereignty. I propose that each civ in the game should have a set of diplomatic (or Foreign Policy) slots (similar to social policies in vanilla Civ VI) that they can fill with in-game actions that they deem to be an "act of aggression".

In either the government screen or the diplomacy screen (not sure which would work better), each civ should be able to define a set of "Acts of War" or "Acts of Agression" from a list of available in-game actions. Most of these actions would be actions that the A.I.s already recognize and will chastize the player for doing, so it's not something that should be outside the realm of feasibility. Violating another civilization's Act of Aggression would give that civ a reason to denounce you, which should be weighted more by other AI leaders. After five turns, that denouncement could be followed-up with a declaration of war using an advanced Casus Belli that further reduces warmonger and war weariness penalties.

Violating an Act of War would give a civ a special Casus Belli that can be immediately used to declare war -- no five-turn denouncement buffer necessary. This war could maybe waive most (if notall) warmonger penalties and significantly reduce any war weariness penalties.

Each of these Acts would be publicly visible to all other civilizations that you've met, and you'd be able to see all their Acts (for both human players and A.I.s). Attempting to perform an action that would violate such an act (such as forward-settling a civilization that has declared forward-settling as an Act of Aggression) should result in a pop-up warning that the action will have diplomatic repercussions with the offended civ. A.I.s that actually wish for peaceful relations (or who don't want a war) should be programmed to avoid violating other civs' Acts whenever feasible. On the other hand, players and A.I.s that actively want to antagonize you or bait you into war may explicitly execute those actions.

Civilization VI - MOCK Act of Aggression screen
Here is a MOCK government screen for assigning Acts of Aggression and War.

Example of how this would work

Perhaps, at the beginning of the game, none of the civs have access to these Act of Aggression / Act of War slots. Then, when you enter the Classical era, you gain your first set. Maybe you start with two Acts of Aggression and one Act of War. As you progress through the eras, new slots will be unlocked, and maybe new types of acts could become available (as attitudes and ideologies change).

Here are some examples of early-game Acts of Aggression / War:

  • Fortifying units near my borders
  • Entering my borders
  • Settling too close
  • Trading with a civ that I've denounced
  • Attacking any city state under my protection
  • Attacking a specific city state
  • Attacking any civilization that is my declared friend or ally
  • Attacking a specific civilization
  • Denouncing any civilization that is my declared friend or ally
  • Constructing a wonder that I'm building
  • Actively converting my cities to your religion
  • Adopt a certain government

Examples of Acts of Aggression / War that may need to be unlocked:

  • Building Encampments near my borders (available after Bronze Working)
  • Building Forts near my borders (available after Siege Tactics)
  • Declaring a Holy War (available after Enlightenment civic)
  • Declaring any war without a Casus Belli (available after Diplomatic Service civic)
  • Spying on me (available after anyone has unlocked Spies)
  • Constructing city, district, or non-National-Park improvement adjacent to a natural wonder (available after Conservationism)
  • Excavated an artifact from within my borders (available after Cultural Heritage)
  • Developing nuclear weapons (available after anyone has researched Nuclear Fission)
  • Using a nuclear weapon (available after anyone has completed Manhattan Project)

I'm sure there are also other Acts that the community and devs could think of.

Some of these are maybe too powerful to be an automatic Act of War, and may have to be relegated to only being an Act of Aggression. For example, maybe "Denouncing any civilization that is my declared friend or ally" is too benign an action to warrant an immediate declaration of war. That Act could be limited to only being an Act of Aggression, which allows you to denounce that civ if the Act is committed, but you don't get an immediate Casus Belli like you would from an Act of War.

Beyond Earth: Rising Tide - notifications
A.I. taunts and messages should be notifications

The game would probably also need a more robust and streamlined notification system so that players can be efficiently informed whenever one of these conditions is breached by another civ. Clicking on such a notification should take the player to the diplomacy screen where they could immediately denounce the offending player for their specific offense, or declare war (if applicable).

While Firaxis is at it, maybe they could also move the A.I. taunts to be notifications as well, so that they aren't constantly popping up and dragging the game to a screeching halt simply to tell me that my military is weak, even if my military is adequately strong; or that my economy is weak because I just unloaded my treasury on unit upgrades, even though I'm earning 50+ gold per turn. This was actually something that Beyond Earth's Rising Tide expansion did exceptionally well, and I'm baffled as to why Firaxis regressed this design for Civ VI.

Potential impacts on other systems: borders

Such a change to the diplomacy mechanics would have ripple effects on other systems as well. The A.I. agenda system, for example, may have to be revamped. Though I don't think that the system I am proposing is necessarily exclusive with agendas. In fact, individual A.I. agendas could even be added to that civ's list of available Acts (for both human and A.I. civs). Or A.I. agendas could still just affect their diplomatic modifiers with other civs.

This new system could maybe even allow for a change to how borders work. If a civ assigns "Entering our borders" as an Act of War, then they would effectively have closed borders to anyone who does not specifically have an Open Borders agreement. Entering that civ's borders without explicit permission (via an Open Borders agreement) would give them justification for a war. But a civ could maybe also assign "Entering our borders" as an Act of Aggression, rather than as an Act of War. In this case, the borders would be "soft closed". Other civs could cross into those borders without necessarily starting a war, but doing so would be likely to lead to denouncement and possible war.

Civilization VI - open borders
Perhaps borders could be left open unless the civ explicitly declares that their borders are closed.

One problem with this border idea is that if "Entering our borders" is not assigned as either an Act of Aggression or an Act of War, then that civ's borders may effectively be open to everyone by default. That would be an issue that would have to be dealt with. Quite frankly, maybe that's actually perfectly fine. If you don't specifically announce that you don't want people entering your borders, maybe they should be considered to be open by default -- kind of like how your borders are loosely-enforced in Civ VI prior to researching the Early Empire civic. You would have to explicitly close your borders, rather than it automatically happening whether you wanted it to or not. This is a change that could potentially make early exploration a bit easier, since everybody's borders would not automatically be closing a mere 30 or 40 turns into the game.

Maybe this could also allow for new policy cards like "Border Checkpoints", which could provide you with small amounts of income (via a toll) whenever another civ's unit passes through your borders.

Acts of Good Will and Friendship

On the friendlier side of things, we could maybe also add "Act of Friendship" or "Act of Good Will", which is something that another civ could do to earn your favor. Maybe you can even assign a reward to the first player who completes the act. It would be kind of like a way for the player to offer "quests" that other players and A.I.s could attempt to accomplish in order to gain your favor and receive benefits.

Civilization VI - Indian religion
Some civs, like India, actually benefit from having other civs' religions in their cities,
and should be able to ask for civs to spread religion into their cities.

Examples of Acts of Friendship / Good Will:

  • Defeat a nearby barbarian outpost
  • Spread religion into my cities
  • Trade a Great Work, relic, etc. with us
  • Trade a specific strategic resource to us
  • Trade any unique luxury resource to us
  • Gift a civilian unit to me
  • Declare war on a specific city state
  • Declare war on a specific civilization
  • Denounce a specific civilization
  • Liberate a specific city
  • Liberate one of my cities
  • Defeat enemy units within my borders

Examples of Acts of Friendship / Good Will that must be unlocked:

  • Send a trade rout to one of my cities (available after any civ has unlocked trade routes)
  • Construct a Harbor (available after researching Celestial Navigation)
  • Adopt a specific government (available after researching Political Philosophy)

As you can probably see, some of these Acts of Friendship are mutually exclusive with some Acts of Aggression. Firaxis may need to include some code to make sure that such mutually-exclusive Acts are not active at the same time. For example, you shouldn't be able to declare "Converting my cities" as an Act of War, if you're also publicly requesting that somebody "Spread religion into my cities". Assigning one should disable the other.

Civilization VI - MOCK Acts of Aggression and Acts of Friendship
Here is a MOCK diplomacy screen for assigning both Acts of Aggression and Acts of Friendship

Potential impacts on other systems: cooperative wars and victory

The ability to request that other civilizations perform certain acts could also change other elements of diplomacy. For example, this could replace the ability to bribe a civ into declaring on another civ, which is a mechanic that is absent from Civ VI. I like that you can't simply bribe A.I.'s into self-destructive wars, but I really hate that you can't pull in allies if a rival civ surprise attacks you. Being able to declare "Declare war on [Civilization X]" as an Act of Good-will could encourage other friendly civs to join you in a war against a foe, without you having to bribe them through a trade deal. Each civ that joins you in such a war could maybe be rewarded with a combat bonus against your common foe.

This system could also play well into potential cooperative victories -- something that I've pitched several times before. The Space Race victory, for example, could be modified to be something that is best accomplished by multiple civilizations (similar to the World Projects in Civ V). A civ attempting to go for a Space Race victory, could maybe offer "Build Space Ship parts" as an Act of Friendship. If another civ completes that act, the two could trigger the ability for them to both cooperate towards that victory by splitting the responsibility of constructing the space ship parts.

Civilization V - Space Station project
Civs attempting the Space Race could ask for help from other civs and trigger a cooperative victory.

Could be part of a larger diplomatic overhaul

The system outlined above could also be part of a larger diplomatic overhaul. Perhaps a whole new set of "Foreign Policies" could extend (or replace) the Diplomatic Social Policies. Foreign Policy cards could include the Acts of War and Acts of Friendship outlined above, and could also include cards for borders enforcement, trade policy, tariffs, foreign aid, alliances, city state / barbarian treatment, or other policies that affect how your civilization interacts with other civilizations and foreign entities. This could be a stepping stone to a whole new diplomatic paradigm that could make the civilizations of the game feel more like robust empires or nations. We'll see what future expansion packs have in store for us...

Civilization VI - MOCK: government screen: Foreign Policy
A MOCK government screen showing a more generalized foreign policy screen.

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