Civ games are all about building a great empire that can survive aggressive neighbors, technological revolutions and the expectations of citizens. In Civilization 6’s second major expansion, Gathering Storm, players also have to cope with droughts, floods, storms and rising seas.
The severity of these events is directly tied to the behavior of players and AIs. If everyone builds coal-fed power plants, environmental disasters intensify. If players move rapidly towards eco-friendly power options, catastrophe can be averted.
Civ campaigns last from the Bronze Age to the 21st century, and storms can happen at any time during a game. But Gathering Storm is developer Firaxis’ latest attempt to add vivacity to its game’s notoriously troublesome late game, when players are often stuck in a rut of tedious city management, having bested all rivals. It’s basically an extra challenge, one that can get more difficult as the game progresses.
I’ve played a couple of games of Gathering Storm, and I’m yet to be particularly impressed by these new conditions. I’ve dealt with volcanic eruptions, floods, a rising sea and droughts. I’ve cleaned up in the aftermath of their destruction. In some cases, I’ve benefited from a subsequent boost in land fertility (volcanoes are especially fecund ). But it all feels more like a diversion than a meaty strategic challenge.
To be fair, I’ve played cautiously and sensibly. For the upcoming review, I’m going to see what happens when I provoke rival nations by ignoring global warming. Or if it’s possible to build a military coalition against a serious polluter. But apart from some pretty animations and a few extra city improvements, like a dam and a sea barrier, it’s all a bit underwhelming so far.
Much more compelling is developer Firaxis’ introduction of a Diplomatic Victory, which has been added to the current winning conditions of military conquest, religious, cultural and scientific domination. I won my first game by diplomacy, playing as one of eight newly added leaders, Christina, Queen of Sweden.
Basically, there’s a new currency in the game, called Favors. These are accrued through city state suzerainty, as well as via alliances with other empires. I can earn more by throwing money at my neighbors, when they find themselves in occasional emergencies. Favors can also be traded, just like gold or luxuries.
By the end of my game as Sweden, I had collected a couple of thousand Favors, which turned out to be enough to win the game, if spent wisely.
I spend Favors during regularly scheduled World Congress meetings, which take place every few decades. They’re a chance for all players to cast votes on matters of mutual interest.
World Congress meetings offer opportunities to place votes that marginally enhance my position, by, say, voting to increase the value of a resource that I own in abundance. But towards the end of the game, members also vote to grant Diplomatic Victory points to a player. I need ten points to win the game outright, and can pick up two points at each World Congress.
To win, I place my thumb on the scales by spending all those Favors and voting for myself. I have so many Favors (i.e. votes), that dissent is crushed.
As Christine, I won pretty easily. My rivals were too willing to trade away Favors, especially early in the game. I enjoyed playing the game as a pacifist, earning Favors by helping out my neighbors and being nice. But it wasn’t too much of a challenge. I played at Prince level. At a harder level, I expect it will be difficult to win under these conditions, especially if another player is making a determined pitch for a Diplomatic Victory. It also takes a good deal of patience, and cannot be rushed.
In my second game, I was militarily aggressive. But I also took care to collect Favors. When I was naughty, and invaded a city state, the World Congress held a vote to declare war on me. I’d earned enough Favors to outvote and defeat the motion. That felt great, and showed how the new currency can be used outside a Diplomatic Victory
The Madness of Kings
There’s another big addition, one that I haven’t got my head around yet. Once again, it’s based on Diplomacy.
Civilization games have always suffered from an unpredictable diplomacy system, in which AI leaders declare irrational wars for no good reason, or players are denounced merely for defending themselves.
In an attempt to make Diplomacy more transparent, there’s a new system called Grievances. When I do something bad, my rivals display a certain number of Grievances against me. When these mount up, the leaders will declare war. So, if I pay attention, I can manage my relationships more closely. That’s the theory, anyway.
I haven’t played enough to really test this system. Right now, I feel like the leaders are slightly more rational than before. But I can’t tell if that’s tied to Grievances, or if it’s a separate AI improvement.
I also wonder if this system is little more than a window into Firaxis’ underlying AI systems. Again, I’ll try to get a better fix on this before my review, which comes out prior to the update’s release on Feb. 14
Gathering Storm has a lot going on, and is a clear attempt to address long-standing problems with the series, and with turn-based strategy games in general.
I enjoy many of its neat new elements. New leaders are just as gorgeously drawn and animated as ever. Maps and certain management screens have been prettified, with rivers now carrying names to reflect their enhanced status as potential flood sites. Then there are nice little touches, like being able to develop mountains into ski resorts or being able to repeat deploy spies with a single click (finally!).
For Civ fans, half the fun of expansions is just playing with new stuff. Keep an eye out for Polygon’s review.