By all rights, Civilization shouldn’t work after 25 years and six main editions. Fitting all human history into a single, epic game, while also satisfying the needs of longtime fans without becoming too complex for newcomers … is a tall order. Former lead designers Soren Johnson (IV) and Jon Shafer (V) went so far as to suggest that no strategy game designer in their right mind should attempt anything nearing its scope (just look at what happened to Spore when it tried to be everything to everyone).
Yet here we are, decades after the launch of the original Civilization, and Civ VI is arguably the best entry in the esteemed franchise yet. That’s a testament to developer Firaxis and the steady-handed stewardship of series creator Sid Meier, who has lent his name and counsel to every subsequent entry as other lead designers added their stamp. One clue to the special sauce that has kept Civ thriving while countless other franchises have risen and fallen within its lifespan is the “rule of 33 percent” to which Meier and other Firaxis designers have alluded over the years.
Civ’s rule of 33 percent: The basic principle, which emerged organically after the first few games and has been more deliberately applied since, is that in any new entry roughly 33 percent of the previous game will carry over unscathed, 33 percent will be adapted, and 33 percent will be brand new. This rubric elegantly describes Civ VI, which directly lifts a lot of what worked best in V, makes a bevy of clever tweaks and introduces a few exceptional ideas of its own. This is evolution, not revolution, but that’s where the series thrives.
If it ain’t broke…
At first blush, Civilization VI will look familiar to anyone that has played V. It is still an epic, turn-based strategy game that remixes the world’s great nations, leaders and wonders into a fresh, alternative history. It’s an impossibly elaborate digital board game mixing exploration, culture, economics and warfare into the ultimate historical 4X experience (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate).
Players found cities that sprawl across a hexagonal map, enhancing them with buildings and exploiting the terrain to generate food, science, production, gold, faith, and culture. These disparate resources all feed into the interlocking systems, allowing civilizations to compete over the sweep of history in military conquest, religion, trade, diplomacy, espionage, and great works of culture. The game’s overall contours and many of its core systems carry over from V intact. Even the general positioning of the UI is largely unchanged.