Last week’s launch of a Civilization 6 battle royale mode was widely reported as a gaming oddity, or a piece of bandwagon-jumping by developer Firaxis. After all, there is something weird about a turn-based strategy game taking on a mode more readily associated with shooting and action-combat games.
Having spent some time playing the last-player-standing mode, called Red Death, I’m inclined to think of it as a nicely designed piece of multiplayer fun. Firaxis has thoughtfully grafted the principles of battle royale onto its overhead-view, hex-based world, abandoning the core game’s strategic elements such as building, research, and resource harvesting.
Red Death, for up to 12 players, is set on a post-apocalyptic map of toxic dumps, poisoned seas, and abandoned cities. I spawn with two modern military units and a civilian. If my civilian dies or is captured, I’m dead.
As in shooter battle royales like Fortnite and PUBG, I begin by searching for loot, which comes in the form of extra military units and powerful upgrades. Loot is mainly hidden in those cities and dumps I just mentioned.
Strategically, I can choose to keep my military units together, making them a less tempting target for other players I encounter. Or I can split my units up, in order to cover as much ground as possible and harvest more loot. Also, the best loot is guarded by AI units which can put up stiff resistance, especially against single-unit attacks. Once defeated, they yield serious hardware, such as attack helicopters and tanks. As in the core Civ 6, I can merge military units to create corps and armies.
All the while, a storm is diminishing the operational zone. The best loot is often located at the edges of the map. This presents an interesting problem of risk and reward, while also tempting opponents toward the edges, instead of the safer, duller center.
Enemies are sometimes encountered early in the game, when I am weak, and so are they. If I take their civilian, I’m effectively giving myself an extra life, but the damage and loss-of-loot opportunity offers pause for thought. An unspoken mutual withdrawal often takes place, with each player angling for the best approach to potentially rich loot lands.
The late game is its own kind of madness. In my most recent game, I found an enemy whose armies were not as advanced, nor as large as mine. I proceeded to carve them up, while enjoying the usual badinage in chat.
It was only when they unveiled their fully armed nuclear weapon that I realized I was well and truly cooked. They gleefully nuked my units, leaving my forces in ruins. Chortling in chat, my nemesis mopped me up. It was an impressive tactical feint.
Red Death may be a bit of an oddity, but it’s also a smart, fun, and relatively fast (10-20 mins) multiplayer strategy game.