Playing a new Civ game is like driving a new car in a foreign country. Lots of things feel familiar, you sort of know what you’re doing, and the end goals are broadly the same. But there are a lot of new buttons to learn, things aren’t necessarily where they are supposed to be, and sometimes you have to fight the natural urge to drive on the other side of the road.
Civ VI’s victory conditions are largely the same, but the paths to victory have changed. New features have been introduced, and its mechanics connect together in a more sophisticated way. Specialization is more crucial than ever, most vividly with the new city districts system, but also when it comes to research, unit promotions, and government and policies.
One of the first things to strike you when you open Civ VI is the new purple box underneath the traditional blue research box. In Civ VI, research has received a major overhaul and there are now two tech trees.
The new civics tree, which relies on your culture output to advance, unlocks some units, buildings and wonders, but its main function is unlocking new government types and policies to go along with them. Governments and policies are sort of a combination of Civics and Ideologies from Civ V, but with a lot more customization. Policies can be changed for free after any new civic advance, or for a gold cost at any other time.
The civics tree progresses much like the research tree we’re already familiar with.
Different governments have varying policy makeups, letting you choose a different number of policy cards from across the three categories (along with Wildcard policies, which can be from any category). The governments also have inherent bonuses, such as a Merchant Republic granting extra trade routes, as well as “Legacy bonuses” which accumulate over time, and encourage you not to change governments too frequently.
Governments and policies grant bonuses to let you fine-tune your playstyle.
Meanwhile, the more traditional technology tree isn’t too different to previous Civ games, but the “Eureka!” boosts (which are also available in the Civics tree) make the process of researching new technologies a lot more involved than simply choosing what to research next.
These boosts, granted for fulfilling specific conditions such as building mines, or researching a specific combination of civics or technology, will instantly get you halfway towards completing your piece of research.
This means with careful planning you can give yourself a serious research advantage. It also means you may research things in a different order, to take advantage of the boosts as they become available.
It shakes up the approach to technology and means that instead of following the same tech-tree path in each game, you’re more likely to adapt your choices on the fly, leading to much more varied outcomes.
Is a technology so crucial that you need to research it now at full cost? Or can you wait until the boost is completed.
As you dig further, the bigger mechanical changes become apparent. City building is now a much more in depth affair, as buildings are no longer crammed into the city centre but placed out onto the map in “districts”. These districts make city specialization more important than ever, as they replace the resources on the tile underneath them, meaning there isn’t room for more than a handful in any given city.
Placement of the districts is important too, as they gain adjacency bonuses from appropriate resources and tile improvements. For example, the “Campus” district which houses science buildings gains adjacency bonuses from being next to mountains or rainforests. Furthermore, some late game buildings affect not only the city the district is in, but all cities within a 6-tile radius.
This means that with some careful planning, late game cities can enjoy some of the bonuses of districts they don’t themselves have. Or, district bonuses can overlap creating powerhouses of production or culture.