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Humankind - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Cultures change over time
  • Emphasis on story-telling
  • Nomadic neolithic era
  • Variety of terrain features and elevations
  • Organic empire growth and victory conditions
  • Mutual destruction as a loss condition
  • Border skirmishes without formal declaration of war
  • Ransack rules encourage battles in open field
  • Less tedious unit micro-management
  • Create A.I. avatars and share them with friends

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Neolithic era doesn't last long enough
  • Combat feels claustrophobic
  • Tactical A.I. is weak
  • Eras progress too rapidly
  • Climate change feels toothless
  • Religions feel under-utilized
  • No mini-map?
  • No warning before a city loses population

Overall Impression : B-
A refreshing approach to the Civilization formula

Humankind - cover

Developer:
Amplitude Studios

Publisher:
Sega

Platforms:
PC (via Steam, Epic, Microsoft Store, or Stadia),

MSRP: $50 USD (standard) | $60 USD (deluxe)

Original release date:
17 August 2021

Genre:
Turn-based historic grand strategy

Player(s):
single player, or online multiplayer

Play time:
indefinite hours

ESRB Rating: E (for Everyone 10+) for:
Alchohol references, Mild language, Mild violence,
includes online user interaction and content sharing.

Official site:
https://humankind.game/

It's going to be virtually impossible to review Humankind without frequently comparing it to iterations of Sid Meier's Civilization. Civ has absolutely dominated (and almost completely monopolized) the historical turn-based strategy genre. There have been plenty of space and sci-fi-themed 4x strategy games, ranging from Master of Orion, to Galactic Civilizations, to Stellaris, and even Amplitude's own Endless Space; but not a whole lot in the more Earth-bound sub-genre. I've also been a huge Civ fan (as the readers of my blog can no doubt tell), so it's hard for me to look at any game in this genre and not partially judge it through the lense of comparing it to Civ.

So I'm not even going to pretend to judge Humankind strictly on its own merits, in a vacuum. I simply can't. I'm not sure if anyone can. Amplitude, as a company, clearly looked to Civ for inspiration, took lessons from the successes and failures of its previous strategy games, and said "hey, we want a piece of that pie too." But despite the surface-level comparisons to Civ, Amplitude takes a very different approach to game design. While Civ has always been very firmly rooted as a "digital board game", Humankind takes a much more story-driven and "simulationist" approach, akin to the sort of thing that you might see in a game like Crusader Kings. I think this approach works, and it does a good job of separating Humankind from Civilization.

Culture wars

Perhaps the biggest deviation that Humankind makes from Sid Meier's Civilization is the way that it handles the game's civilizations themselves. In Humankind, you don't play as a single civilization throughout an entire campaign. Instead, each era you have the opportunity to select a new culture from a list of era-specific cultures. I like this concept a lot in principle, but also have some misgivings about the way it works out in practice.

Empires transition into a new culture at the start of each era.

On the one hand, it's great to see a game like this recognize the fact that civilizations aren't singular, monolithic cultures that exist forever, unless they are conquered or die off completely. That gaming paradigm (which Civ has always embraced) ignores the reality that cultures change and evolve over time. They change with the times, and blend elements from other neighboring cultures. And even if a nation or empire falls or collapses, it doesn't just disappear off the face of the planet overnight. It's people get absorbed into whatever nation or empire replaces it, and those people continue to influence the development of that new culture.

But this isn't exactly how Humankind works. The cultures of the game don't gradually transition or evolve due to social, economic, political, or geographic pressures and influences. Instead, at arbitrary points throughout the game, each empire completely changes its culture in a single game turn. And you aren't locked into choosing a related or similar culture either. You can pick any culture that is still available from the given era, no matter how separated that new culture might be from your old culture -- whether that be geographic separation, ideological separation, or even racial separation. I can be Greek one turn, and then suddenly be Aztec the next, and be Khmer the following era.

I was hoping for a system in which players would have to select from a list of related cultures when transitioning into a new era. For example, I was imagining that being Classical Romans means that, when the medieval era hits, I would have to chose between a related culture like Byzantine, Holy Roman, Ostrogothic, Franks, or Papal States. Then, depending on which I picked, my culture would continue to shift to another related culture in the following era. For example, if I picked Byzantine as my medieval successor to Rome, then my early modern culture choices would be things along the lines of the Ottomans or Orthodox Rus; whereas, if I had gone with the Papal States or Holy Roman Empire, then my choices would be things like Venetian, German, or French.

Changing cultures each era is no more silly than ancient
Abraham Lincoln leading ancient America in a bear-skin hat.

Instead, these transitions from one culture to another over the span of a single turn can be very jarring in Humankind. But I guess it's no less jarring than seeing an ancient era Abraham Lincoln leading America in 4000 B.C.E. while wearing his silly bearskin tophat.

I hope that if Humankind gets expansions, that those expansions will modify this culture-changing mechanic so that there are more cultures available each era, but your choices are limited to cultures that are related to the one you were playing in the previous era. Maybe it costs influence (or maybe even fame) to change cultures, and changing to an un-related culture costs more than changing to a closely related one. I know it can be difficult to find such examples of related offshoots for every possible culture, especially for cultures that were conquered or died off in real life, but I think it's a solvable problem.

It's easy to come up with possible successors to the Roman Empire, because every culture in Europe and Asia Minor seemed to claim succession from Rome. It's a lot harder to come up with related successors to culture like the Aztecs or Maya, and it would seem insensitive or outright offensive to limit the choice of succession to the colonial European cultures that had conquered or massacred them in real history. But there are options. In the case of the Maya or Aztecs, successor options could include cultures like the various Pueblo or Navajo cultures, but I admit that's kind of a stretch.

It's definitely possible in some cases to stick with related cultures as you transition through the eras. For example, in my first game, I picked the Pheonecians for the ancient era, and then went to the Carthagenians for the classical era, and built up a maritime trade empire. But this sort of thing is far from universal, and I was forced to deviate in the medieval era.

Changing cultures ensures that players will have access to unique districts and units throughout the game.

Awkward historical contexts aside, changing cultures each era does have some interesting gameplay applications. First and foremost, it means that every empire gets to have unique cultural abilities, infrastructure, and units every single era. A common complaint with Civilization is that most civs in the game have a specific time period of the game in which they shine. Their unique units tend to only have a narrow window of usefulness, and if you happen to be in a period of peace during that window, then you just don't get to use your unique unit. But in Humankind, you get a different unique unit every era, so if you happen to miss one unique unit's window of opportunity in one era, you'll still have multiple other shots with your other unique units in the other eras.

At a higher strategic level, the ability to switch cultures mid-game also opens up a lot of interesting and thoughtful decisions on how you guide your empire. You can chose to keep specializing in a specific field, such as trade, science, or military by selecting a new civilization for the next era that also specializes in that particular field. But you can also pivot your specialization by selecting a different culture that has a completely different specialization.

Say, for instance, you focused on martial abilities in the early eras, spent all your production on military units and garrisons, and conquered your neighbors to build a legit empire. But then you find yourself at a mid-game disadvantage because your new rivals have outpaced you in technology, and your pitiful swords and spears are no match against their guns and cannons. Well, you can give your own empire a little bit of a renaissance by selecting a civilization that has a science-oriented ability or unique scientific district or building in order to try to catch up to your technologically-superior rivals.

Steeper learning curve

Having the flexibility to pivot your entire economy or play-style mid-game also plays well with Humankind's more relaxed victory condition. This is another area where Humankind really separates itself from Civilization. Instead of having discreet victory conditions based on military conquest, technological advancement, cultural influence, or religious conversions, Humankind resorts to a simpler victory point paradigm. Each era has a number of tiered objectives which earn fame when completed. Fame can also be earned by building wonders or completing certain milestones. Whoever has the most fame at the end of the game wins. Simple as that.

Fame acts as victory points, and can be earned in a variety of ways.

This more abstract victory condition frees up the player to build your civilization more organically, in the way that you like, without feeling like you have to beeline down a particular technology path and specialize in only a single type of infrastructure. Achievements in every era count towards fame, so you are free to play to your culture's strengths in each era, even if those strengths don't exactly mesh with your previous specializations -- and even if your current abilities actively conflict with your earlier specializations.

This also rewards experimental play, since I don't necessarily feel like I'm knee-capping myself if I decide to pivot my focus mid-game (or if I'm stuck having to pivot because I was late into a new era and all the good cultures were already chosen). I get to engage with more of Humankind's systems in each playthrough, which is both a good thing, and also a bit overwhelming at times, because Humankind is a very big, very complicated game.

One of the things that I think makes Civilization so successful as a game series is how gentle its learning curve is. A game of Civilization always starts out very simple, with the player having a single Settler and single Warrior. On the first turn, you found a city and explore a few tiles, and that's about it. Then you pick your first technology to research, and explore a few more tiles. Maybe you meet another civilization or city state, or maybe you encounter some barbarians. Eventually you get governments and civics, you start trading, you fight wars, and so forth. Game concepts are introduced gradually over the course of play, which makes it very easy to learn as you go.

Every empire starts out as a tribe of neolithic nomads before settling down.

Humankind is a bit more obtuse. The Neolithic era at the start of the game is fairly simple, since you're just exploring the map, looking for food and hunting wild animals. It has the added bonus of giving the player a lay of the land before you're expected to plant your first permanent city. However, unlike the early turns ofCiv, this neolithic era in Humankind poses goals and objectives to the player right away. The distinction between outposts and cities is also a bit fuzzy early in the game, and took me a few eras before I really understood how they were supposed to work.

Humankind does start off simple and grows in complexity as the game progresses (just like Civ), but I didn't feel like those early hours were as intuitive as the early hours of Civ. Maybe that's just a bias on my part because I have so much experience with Civ that it maybe seems more intuitive than it actually is. But I expected that my experience with Civ would allow me to hit the ground running with Humankind, and that simply was not the case.

The emergent story of Humankind

Unlike Civ, Humankind is built more around events and a sort of emergent story. Little random events will pop up from time to time asking you to make some decision. Usually you have the option to pay some cost (such as gold) to get a good outcome, or neglect the problem and get a bad outcome. Your choice will also move your empire in one direction or the other along ideology axes, will which provide certain benefits depending on which side of the axis you fall on, and how extreme.

Random events will pop up from time to time.

The player is constrained more by game rules in terms of what you can and cannot do at any given time. For example, you cannot just adopt any government or civic policy that you want at any time. Civic options are unlocked periodically as you perform certain in-game actions or complete certain milestones. Which civics are available to your empire in any given game will vary from game to game based on how you play and how the events of that game unfold. If you never build a sizeable army or engage in a lengthy war, you may never have the opportunity to enact civics involving military organization or the treatment of conquered nationals.

The ability to go to war (and to maintain the war) is also constrained by a concept called "war support". If you don't have enough support for the war, then you cannot declare it, and if your support drops too low during the war, your citizens will pressure you to end the war, whether you want to or not. War support is gained through grievances and demands, which are created when one empire takes some kind of belligerent action against another. This could be from outright hostility, such as attacking another empire's units in a border skirmish. Or it could be more incidental, such as declining a particular treaty proposal.

Civic policies only become available if they are relevant.

Military units themselves even consume a point of population as a requirement for building them, which makes frivolous conflict feel more costly. Even unresolved border tensions that force you to maintain a standing defensive army as a deterrent can feel heavily penalizing. Not only are those units burdening your economy with their gold upkeep costs, but they also represent points of population that are not working in your cities contributing to your economy.

All these complicated mechanical interactions between systems give a lot more weight to decisions, compared to Civ, which often lets the player do whatever you want with very few constraints or serious consequences.

Third parties can force the end of a war
without the player having any say in the matter.

I also like how much more organic the diplomatic repercussions of military aggression are. Instead of some arbitrary "warmonger" penalties, conflict usually has the unintended consequence of disrupting trade between empires, which creates grievances with those third parties who have their economies damaged by someone else's war. I'm so far liking this system more than Civ's warmonger penalties, since it just makes more sense and feels less arbitrary.

I do wish that grievances from friendly or allied empires would have a chilling effect on war support, so that pressure from those friends and allies might force a belligerent empire to prematurely end an un-just war. Instead, third parties are sometimes able to force a white peace by calling in a demand to stop the fighting. This can be frustrating if I'm about to win a war or conquer my target territory, but suddenly my ally who also happens to have treaties with my enemy steps in and ends the war without me having any say in the matter.

I also had one instance in which war was declared because my opponent refused to give in to my demand, but before the turn had ended, I was forced to surrender that same war. I was not able to move on to the next turn without accepting the surrender terms, despite the fact that both of us had plenty of war support left (both of us having support in the 70's and 80's). I don't know if this was a bug, or if there was some hidden system that ended the war, which I wasn't aware of. Either way, this war was my last-ditch effort to try to prevent the other empire from winning the game, and the fact that I simply was not able to fight the war (despite having enough support to do it) cost me the entire game that I had spent like 10 hours playing.

I was forced to surrender on the same turn a war was declared, despite having plenty of war support.
Is this a bug?

Waging war

The actual fighting itself will also play out differently than in Civilization. Multiple units can be stacked into a single army and moved around as a single unit. When an army meets an enemy army in the field, a battle breaks out, and the units are deployed for a one-unit-per-tile tactical battle. This solves Civ V and Civ VI's problems with tedious unit micro-management and dramatically speeds up the pace of war-time play.

However, it doesn't solve Civ's problems with the scale of tactical combat on a map intended for global empire management. Dividing the map up into discreet territories and only allowing a single city in each territory does help to keep more space between cities, and provides extra buffer space for battles and skirmishes in the open field. But that open field isn't quite as open as it maybe should be, and can still feel claustrophobic.

Battles between competing armies happen entirely within a single campaign turn.

Since these battles kind of stop the game, Amplitude wisely enforces a limit of three rounds of combat before the battle ends for the turn. If the battle hasn't been decided within those 3 rounds, then it can be continued in the next campaign turn. This prevents a single battle from going on for decades or centuries on the in-game calendar, but also ensures that warfare doesn't drag the game to a dead stop for non-participants in multiplayer. The player can even chose to autoresolve battles entirely, if you're not that good at tactical decision-making.

But I wouldn't worry too much about having to make tough tactical decisions. The tactical A.I. for Humankind is one of it's biggest weaknesses. A.I.s will routinely engage in hopeless battles against superior armies, and then just throw their units away.

For example, I've had the A.I. attack my walled cities with only mounted units, despite the fact that mounted units cannot climb walls. So all I have to do is camp behind the walls and win the battle by default, or pick off all the enemy units if I have some ranged units inside the city. And I've seen the inverse, in which I have only mounted units, but the A.I. will leave the safety of the walls and expose their units to attack from my cavalry. In general, A.I. armies and units can easily be baited out of defensible terrain. So unless the A.I. has me completely outnumbered, or if they have vastly superior units, I rarely lose a battle -- or even a single unit.

I also repeatedly see the CPU leaders send a single scout on suicide missions to attack an army of 3 or 4 units. Throwing away units like this doesn't only cost the production of building the new unit, but it also effectively represents a loss of population. If that unit weren't valuable to keep, then it could be disbanded into a city to increase that city's population (and therefor its productivity). Sometimes, even if the enemy has multiple units wandering around that could be grouped into a larger, more competitive army, they don't bother, and just send all their units on suicide runs one by one.

The CPU will attack cities with mounted units that can't penetrate walls,
and will send single units on suicide attacks against far superior armies.

This problem is most common during border skirmishes, in which we don't have a non-aggression pact that prevents attacking each other, but we also aren't technically at war. If a formal war is declared, the A.I. seems to be much better at mustering their troops into formidable armies and hitting me where it hurts. But that is assuming that they haven't already killed all their troops by throwing them one at a time at my armies protecting my outposts or exploring for curiosities.

Patches will be necessary

A big game like this is also always going to have nagging issues with balance, U.I., and pacing that will likely get ironed out over months or years of post-release patches and support. So I'm going to try not to hold too many of those sorts of things against the game, unless they do become endemic problems. But I am going to point them out just so that they are out there.

Eras progress too rapidly.

The eras seem paced a bit too fast. Just like in Civ V and Civ IV, it's not uncommon to see cultures hitting the medieval era before 600 BCE, reaching the early modern era (renaissance) before 0 AD, and fighting wars with tanks and airplanes in the 16th or 17th centuries. Maybe Amplitude needs to increase the number of stars required for era advancement? Or maybe they should make some of the stars for population, districts, cumulative gold, or cumulative influence be a little harder to earn?

The button to build wonders could probably also be moved so that it isn't hidden behind a widget that I rarely (if ever) use. Maybe available wonders should be displayed in city build lists, just as a reminder that they are there.

Um, would appreciate a warning before my population starves to death, thank you very much.

I'm also consistently frustrated with how there is no warning that my cities are losing food or that they are about to lose population. Instead, I get a warning telling me that a city has already lost population due to starvation -- after it's too late for me to do anything about it. This leads to a lot of unnecessary save-scumming. The game should really be warning me that population will be lost next turn if I don't do something about it now. It would also be nice to have a notification that a city doesn't have enough food, so that I can address the problem before it becomes critical. We get a notification that city stability is low and the population may revolt prior several turns before stability bottoms out, so we should be able to get a similar pre-emptive notification for starvation.

I also feel like the religion mechanics are very under-developed (especially coming off of Civ VI). There aren't any religious units, or any active mechanics for spreading your religion (aside from starting an inquisition in one of your cities, if you have the appropriate civic). Basically, you just build districts that generate faith, and that automatically spreads your religion in the background. Occasionally, the religion levels up and you pick a tenet, which is basically just an extra civic policy. I don't even think there's any era stars associated with religion or faith-generation, which I think is a really strange omission, especially considering that quite a few cultures in the early and mid eras have faith-generating emblematic districts. So that's an area of the game that could definitely use some extra work.

Similarly, pollution and global warming have been pretty toothless in the games I've played. When the "Inconvenient Truth" event pops up, it's a measly cost to resolve it.

It's hard to give any kind of definitive score or recommendation for Humanking at this point. Even though I've spent dozens of hours with the game and completed multiple playthroughs, I'm still learning and discovering new things about it. I'm sure it will also receive lots of balance and content updates from Amplitude over the coming months, which could skew the game better or worse than it is at launch. Approaching it as a fan of the Civilization series, Humankind certainly scratches that same itch, while still being different enough to not feel stale and boring. If you're burnt out with Civ VI, then Humankind should keep you occupied till the announcement and release of Civ VII in the next year or two. And maybe Firaxis will even learn a thing or two from Humankind and apply it towards Civ VII.

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With EA Sports College Football in the mix, we'll have a full slate of football video games in 2022/2023!With EA Sports College Football in the mix, we'll have a full slate of football video games in 2022/2023!02/03/2021 Last year (around this same time, in fact), we football video game fans were given the bombshell news that EA's exclusive contract with the NFL wasn't quite as exclusive as we thought. That contract apparently only covered "simulation" football games (which makes me wonder how or why EA has the license to begin with, since they...

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Gilgamesh is the first to civilize in Civilization VIGilgamesh is the first to civilize in Civilization VI02/19/2017 Sumer is one of the oldest civilizations known to have existed. The first permanent cities may have been settled along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) as early as 5500 B.C., and written records date back as far as 3300 B.C.. The Sumerians were among the first adopters of agriculture, as the fertile...

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