Sid Meier’s Civilization VI Review

Played on Windows
Also available on macOS, linux, and iOS.
Coming to the Switch.

Ahh Sid, you are still putting your name at the front of the game, no wonder everyone calls this just Civ 6. Well, let’s talk about Sid Meier’s new opus. Civilization has a lot that it owes to board games, and in fact, each new number brings new mechanics for better or worse but a big piece is better AI, more to do, and a bigger world. They’re similar games, but they each have good and bad qualities so where does Civ 6 end up?

I’m going to review this game hoping you understand the Civilization games at some level. If you don’t I’d recommend picking up Civ 5’s complete edition, it’s cheaper than Civ 6, and definitely a better starting point in my opinion. I will be talking about features more than just the general gameplay here, and I realize that’s not for everyone but I think the person who looks at Civ 6 seriously should already be familiar with the Civilization franchise. You can start here, but I don’t know if I would recommend it as a blind purchase.

The fact is I haven’t played Civ 6 as much as I expected. After putting in close to 80 hours into Civ 5, I’m a bit surprised how quickly I decided to put down Civ 6. I’ve only put in about 24 hours into it. While I did play the tutorial and a game, I only finished my first game after about 15-20 hours which is a long time. I even set the game up to be “online” speed meaning double speed, and it still took a long time. I’ve played a couple more times but neither time would I say I got truly hooked.

There definitely are a few differences in these games for me. First, I own all the DLC for Civ 5. I only own the base game for Civ 6, and that’s what I’m reviewing, and it seems to be a common saying that Civs launch weak and get better with the DLC. I’ll admit that’s true of Civ 5. While I appreciate the patches that have been released, including those around the DLC, I still think it’s appropriate to review the base game for what it is. The good news is a lot of bugs are fixed in the patches, but it’s more of a question if the game gets balanced well.

Let’s start with the major changes of Civ 6. The biggest one and the most noticeable is the addition of “Districts”. Each city now can place “Districts” on their hex grids and replace the current hex’s improvements with a part of the city. There’s a limit to the number of Districts you can place based on the size so as your city grows (and will eventually claim more land) you can place more Districts.

This means you can develop your cities in different ways. If you want a science-based city, you will want a campus. Production districts are always good, Holy Sites are great for religion and so on. In fact, the district/hex system is one of the biggest reasons I like Civ 6. It changes the game and makes cities feel more unique. However, it’s not without problems.

You see, it’s hard to really plan out a city without a lot of foreknowledge. If I want to settle in a specific grid, is it good for Science? Is it good for a wonder I might want to build? Is it good for any number of things? There’s not a good answer. You can heavily research what you want to do for the city, learn a lot about the game, or build randomly. There are Steam Workshop addons to fix that, but even there it’s limited to what it can do, and I don’t believe it should be fixed by the fans. The fact is it’s hard to really plan out a city or know where to settle, and if you do it wrong, you can miss out on a wonder you want later in the game, as those are limited. Some need to be placed next to a Science District (campus) and on a hill or such. If your science district doesn’t have a hill next to it or all of those spaces are already used, you can’t build that wonder in that city, and since you already placed the district, you can’t move that either, as far as I know.

I also have to say you need to figure out which victory you’re going for early. I tried to go for Religion and made a number of religious cities, then when I found I didn’t like the religious game, I found it hard to turn towards science. Instead, you need to identify your eventual goal as soon as possible due to the fact you’re designing your cities for it.

Still, I think Districts is a great addition to the game, and it’s the one big feature that will probably make me return no matter what I think of the rest.

Sadly Districts don’t show up in pictures well. You can mouse over them to find out what they have, but unless you memorize the look, I can’t tell which district/wonder is which.

Another major change for me is there’s more than just “Food” to contribute to growth. This is an odd change. Instead of just having to deal with consumption of food for your city, you now have to meter how much housing you have. If you don’t have enough housing, your city won’t grow (as fast). You can grow beyond your housing by 5 but it’s a slower process. The problem for me though is it’s a major change to the mechanics of growth, but it doesn’t change much of the game, other than worrying more about Housing instead of Food as the valuable resource. There are somewhat easy ways to expand housing as well, so you can grow a city reasonably well if you try.

However both districts and the change to growth of the city changes a fundamental part of Civilization. In Civ 5, having too many cities harms the happiness of your country quickly. It’s an important question of how many cities is too much and the penalties will grow. In Civ 6, this is completely removed, so no longer do you have megacities which does everything, but rather you grow multiple cities, and can customize each one. This is good, but it does add more micromanagement.

Still, it’s a major change and honestly “Build wide not tall” as it’s called, isn’t a bad change. It’s different but it also means you can have sprawling cities, and you’re not limited to some arbitrary limit.

Looking at the game mechanics, there are two big mechanics that got overhauled. In Civ 5, Gods and Kings added Religion and it was an interesting addition but it never felt fully realized. It was something they seemed to be toying with. In addition, you could always have a diplomatic victory and use the UN to win the game or even communicate with everyone at the same time (and impose rules). Granted the Diplomatic victory tended to be more military than true diplomacy (who’s going to vote for someone else win the game), it still was a different way to do it.

Well, in Civ 6, Religion is now a victory condition, and you can actually spread your religion around the world and if you do so, you win. It feels a bit like the culture/tourism victory though the process is more apparent to the player as cities turn to one religion. It also creates a second battlefield to fight on. You use religious units like apostles and inquisitors to spread your religion. However, at least in the base game, I don’t understand it. I’m sure I can read a guide on how to spread religion and how good it is, but it just seems like a secondary combat system with a bit of a builder and settler style to it. It’s all faith (Currency) based, and it’s an interesting move, but I don’t think I’m going to be playing the religious game, and now it’s more important to be involved as if only one country is in that battlefield, they can get a quick win.

On the other hand, the lack of a UN feels like a major loss to me. I love diplomacy in these games, and I love playing a pacifist run. I don’t want to get into wars, I just want to build my country and prove my superiority in my city buildings. Give me a competitive Simcity and I’d be happy. The problem though is Civ 6 has diplomacy between countries and how much they hate you (Note this is not used in a multiplayer game, of course). There’s no getting along, and the end game doesn’t have a UN. Eventually it’ll come down to “Might Makes Right” but ultimately, it’s a shame because I miss the diplomatic victory, even if it had some issues (usually “Might Makes Right”). The addition of city-states started to make diplomacy more interesting but it’s gone now and there’s a hole there.

However, the UN never looked as good as talking to leaders, and that’s is a major improvement.

I did mention that diplomacy is still around. In Civ 6, the enemy AI has had a major overhaul. Instead of having AI trying to act like a real person, now the enemy AI will have “Agendas”. Each country gets two. They all get one national one, which is the same each time you see the same character, such as Gandhi being a pacifist. The interesting addition is the hidden agenda as well. This is randomly assigned, and eventually, it’ll become clear through interactions. You can either get this information through gathering intel on people, but it’s easier to just wait because the game will eventually flat out tell you what you’re doing wrong.

One country liked me because we had a lot of the same luxuries, another country hated my weak navy and wouldn’t shut up about it. I had no boats, but they were on another continent. I would get praised for friendliness and denounced for any number of reasons.

I will go further into the enemy AI in a bit, but the fact is Agendas are an interesting addition to the game, but it heavily will get on your nerves over the course of the game. If you run a science civilization with a low count for your army, someone might get mad about that. If you run a very religious society, that could annoy someone. I believe in one game two countries were mad that I kept making friends with different City-States, even though they gave HUGE bonuses. The other side though is if those agendas aren’t there, you can make friends with any City-States as you like which I did in the previous game and get no penalty.

A smaller change is roads and builders are completely revamped. Roads are now a function of traders, and it’s an interesting change. You can now build a road between two cities when you trade with that city. However, the downside is you can’t build a road yourself so you have to set up a trade route to make movement faster. If you haven’t traded between your capital and first city, you’ll never have a road there, and it’s a shame.

On the other hand, Builders got a big revamp. They are now units with a certain number of charges. They can build 3 improvements (more with certain wonders, or government policies, which are coming next) and no longer can be automated to constantly improve your cities. This is an interesting change but I’m never sure when I need a builder. Every city needs one to start out, but over time when you add more hex grids, you’ll need to bring out new ones. I like the older style of builder personally, but this doesn’t annoy me as much as I thought it might. Again it goes to designing your city and districts. You now can make improvements and need to consider which improvements to make.

As mentioned, there are now government policies. The government system in Civ 5 was probably my least favorite part of it, and I’m glad to say they made some major strides to improve governments. Unfortunately, those strives brought them back to technology.

Now I’m a science fan in Civilization. I love building civilizations that specialize in science and the tech tree is critical for that. However, there’s now a “Civics” tech tree in addition to the normal tech tree, and you have to build it the same way. It grows off of Culture, instead of Science, but it’s the same in a lot of ways.

Is this a Tech tree or a Civics tree? It’s Civics, but it’s build very similarly to tech.

I’m not fully sold on this, but if you do like the Tech Tree system, there’s now the Civic tree where you learn new policies. On the other hand, they also have the governments to select. You start out with a single government (Autocracy), and it’s built so you can have a military and a production policy in place. Every Civic knowledge will unlock a couple of policies as well as potentially other features and buildings for your cities. You can then slot these policies into your government as necessary. You’ll eventually get three other governments to start, and they will have a trade slot as well as wildcard slots, and it allows you to shape your government better.

Overall the Government system works really well, it just emulates a system that we already have, in science and technology. Though compared to Civ 5, I much prefer Civ 6’s Governments by far, but they still feel more like a rehash of a good idea, instead of a unique and polished system.

Now there are other changes too, and I am sure I didn’t go over them all but that’s four pages of major changes. I think that’s a good amount at least to start the discussion. Obviously some of them I don’t like and some of them I do.

There are other pieces to the game that I feel that I have to go over. Science is still relatively good, though the game has made it harder to be a science only civilization, and there are no pure science leaders that are perfect, you can build technology relatively fast and outpace the enemy there.

However, the game then lags with productions. You no longer can build the super city, but everything takes a long time to build in this game. The divided up city never get obscene production even if you build the production district (which you should) and as the game goes on, you’ll set a order for 20-30 turns often.

With more cities, this probably sounds better, but overall, it’s just a very slow process and the end game becomes a production race if you go for the science victory. It’s a shame because I like science a lot, but the speed of the production is one of the big features that has made it hard to play the game.

You see, with a slow production system, there’s a lot of downtime to wait through. I don’t play militarily often so I can’t just play with my units, and I like to just build my cities and watch them grow, but waiting for 10-20 turns (even when the time is twice as fast) is a very long and drawn out process. Worse, the game slowly has longer turns, so at the beginning of the game, the production and speed of the early game is significantly faster than the middle and end game.

It’s actually one of the reasons a lot of people don’t play Civ 6 to completion. They prefer to play the early game and once the mid-game or end game is started they start over, because it slows down to a crawl, and it becomes a “Wait for the AI’s turn to be up”. On my system on an 8 person game, this started reaching half a minute to a minute between turns and it’s long. But it’s only made longer when you are waiting on a 10-15 turn project and nothing else is coming up soon.

The early game though is simplistic but fun. I understand why people keep going back to it.

The other side of this is the first 50-100 turns are the exciting parts where you’re claiming land, making initial contacts and developing your cities, the next 50-150 (or 400 truthfully) is all about seeing how your plans went. There’s a lot that can happen there, but not a lot happens quickly so you’ll wait around multiple hours to get a win screen. Not the most interesting way to play.

Enemy countries and leaders are a major part of Civ 6 obviously, however they make themselves known and heard here. As mentioned above the Agendas really come into play. On multiple turns, other leaders just like to show up and talk about you. If they like you (due to the agenda) they’ll be pleasant when talking to you, but if they dislike you, they might call your army weak, or your navy weak. Sometimes they’ll say something that’s not clear but the game will clarify it, usually, it’s something such as “(You have a different government)” It seems ALL governments are incompatible, not just “Socialist/Capitalists”.

Now the game will keep throwing your issues in your face, and the problem is that you can either live with them and ignore them, or you’ll have to run in every direction to make everyone happy. You can also build up a military and at least avoid an attack, but that means your spending production (and/or money) on military units.

However the AI is dumb, many fans say there’s little challenge at higher difficulties, but I played one full game on Settler (second easiest) and I found that the AI there was very dumb but more annoying than anything.

The biggest problem was I was on the border of Japan, and they seemed to hate me over time, especially when I sided with their enemies from England, so they went to war with me, multiple times. Again I’m playing on Settler mind you. The problem though is, I was so technologically advanced, and had enough money and resources, that I beat them… in every single battle, they threw at me. They killed a single unit of mine, and never touched my cities, I slaughter their army and easily captured cities (easier than in Civ5, a major improvement). They asked for peace and gave me a city Osaka, which I named “Japan’s shame” to remind the AI of their loss.

20-50 turns later, they did it again. This time I took 3 cities, more names reminding them of their failure… They attacked again. This time I RUINED them, I took their capital and demanded every city they had. They gave it without question as I could have just taken it as necessary.

THEY attacked me. Anti Tank units versus Samurai, where I did about 80 percent damage to the Samurai. What were they thinking?

The problem here is not that they attacked me, it’s that they were beaten so bad, they probably shouldn’t have attacked me a second, or a third time. They did anyway, and so I beat them bloody. That’s bad AI in my opinion, but there’s more.

Something else happened. I never was an aggressor, but after my third war (the bloody one) every country got mad at me. It turns out that by capturing cities of my opponents, I became a “Warmonger”. There’s a warmonger value in the game, and the style of the war and the type will affect it.

But I didn’t start the war. I only captured cities, because I wanted them, and I wanted Japan to stop attacking me. Yet winning battles and winning the cities made me the warmonger, not the Japanese who attacked me so rudely and multiple times.

I tell this story because it shows two important parts of the game. Diplomacy is important, and there are ways to make countries happy, but a lot of the time it’s by giving gifts/trades to them and it’s not a good system. However, the AI is dumb enough to get into wars they can’t possibly win with a country that has devastated them twice before. The problem though is you have to defend yourself and waste your time and resources in a war you don’t want to be in. Then by winning the war decisively, you get marked as a warmonger. People have said to not capture cities, but … what’s the point? I can smash a city fully, destroy the districts, pillage, and plunder, but if I capture it, I’m the bad guy?

They never learned their lesson.

Ultimately after my first full game, I really didn’t feel like playing a second game. I find Civ 6 to be entirely too slow, and having to play 250-500 turns for a game, when you really can only win near the end unless you’re following a guide (which then I ask if you’re really playing it) made me sad. I loved Civ 5, but Civ 6 didn’t click with me.

I started a couple more games but didn’t get far. However I did play a second game, before writing this review, and the fact is the amount of information I got does make the game better. Rather than looking for the powerhouse, if you build more cities and develop them, you’ll end up with a better game. The problem though, is production is still awful, the mid-game to end game is dull, and just clicking next turn every 15-30 seconds isn’t compelling.

At it’s best, I can say Civilization 6 is a heavily flawed entry in the franchise. While the districts are a nice addition, and the government is a good move, most of the rest of the game is a bit average, and stuff we’ve seen before.

However, at its worst, the big problems are annoyances. The speed of the game feels slow, and I found myself not as interested in the next turn due to waiting. The enemy AI and diplomacy is a pain, and more frustrating than anything.

I’ve flip-flopped a few times on this review. I was ready to give this game a 2 because I don’t know if I can recommend it. However I have to admit if I was a Civ fan, and I am, I would like playing that early game which is what a lot of Civ fans are enjoying. So maybe it’s a good game. I could wuss out and call it a 2.5, and avoid the question. But I spent a lot of time thinking about this, and honestly, it’s a Civ game. It shouldn’t be this hard to grade it.

However, I am giving it a final score that I can stand by….


That means it gets a slight recommendation. I’m not going to defend this game and its flaws, but at the end of the day you will get hours and hours out of this, it’s just not the best. I’d probably say grab Civ 5 over Civ 6, due to the price and the fact that it’s complete (with all the DLC). Still, I have to admit, playing Civ 5, would mean having to deal with the weak government system, the pointless religion, and missing out on the Districts and thus only making powerhouse civilizations. There’s stuff here I like, there’s just not enough to make me more excited to play another turn.

Final Thoughts: While a flawed entry, it does have some bright moments. Districts are a great addition and the government system has been overhauled. However, there’s a lot missing and it’s a bit slow.

Stats: 26.3 hours played, 19/191 achievements earned (about half are DLC)