Hands on with Civilization 6 ... as the Emperor of China

Watch the first gameplay footage, with your old pal Emperor Qin

Cleopatra is pissed with me and frankly I'm a bit upset about the whole thing.

She and I have only known each other five minutes. Me being the Emperor of China and her being the Pharaoh of that one other notable civilization, Egypt, I just assumed we'd get on famously. I was wrong.

When we first met, about 10 Civilization 6 turns ago, I was quite taken with her. She's beautiful and, well, I'm a passionate man who appreciates beauty, even in the form of cartoonish artificial intelligences.

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During a recent short media demo of Civ 6, I was very much hoping that Cleopatra and I could cozy up and perhaps be of mutual assistance.

She has soulful, come-hither eyes that make me feel all squiffy in my nethers. I know it's not becoming for the Emperor Qin Shi Huang to have these feelings for fellow world leaders, but here we are.

No doubt the PC crowd will accuse me of being an incorrigible old sexist, and they might be right. But I come from an age of concubines. At least I've evolved sufficiently to be respectful of powerful women. Especially pretty ones.

Cleopatra and I share a fairly small continent with an American oaf by the name of Teddy Roosevelt, a canting, absurd little man, the kind of hypocrite who could only be produced by the ghastly post-Industrial West.

Given that Cleopatra and I both hail from what Roosevelt would doubtless describe as "the Orient" and that we are natives of Before Common Era — the very best of times — I felt we'd enjoy a spark.

When she turned around and told me that, actually, she saw me as something of a worm, I was downright hurt.


At first, I thought, 'Ah, I see ... Civilization and its notoriously crazed AIs are still acting out, even at this early stage of a limited-turn Civ 6 press demo.' I've been playing Civ for a long time and I've seen every kind of crazy imaginable ("I only have four cities and you have 40, but I'm going to declare war on you anyway, just because."). But this did seem rather out there.

It took me a moment to realize the problem. Dear Cleopatra was quite right in her dismay. I was, indeed, a worm.

Let me explain.

This being my first time playing Civ 6, and me being, as I say, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang of China, I saw no reason to do anything rash with my early turns. The PR people at 2K Games told me I was only to be permitted 60 turns, so I wanted each of them to count.

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I built my first city and set to work with a sensibly conservative strategy of exploring the surrounding countryside, shoring up my defences and taking advantage of the game's big new thing: housing buildings outside the city and exploiting terrain to its full potential. One does not succeed in the empire-building game without exploring the possibilities of innovation.

I sent a warrior into the wilderness who duly encountered a barbarian village. So I did my usual Civ 5 thing and parked the fellow on a hill, attacked the barbarian village, healed and repeated.

Alas, it didn't work, a reminder that Civ 6 is a different game than Civ 5; otherwise, what would be the point of its existence (thinking deeply about the big issues is one of my major strengths as a philosopher-king)? Anyway, my warrior was driven back, and so I explored in a different direction, looking to build a few cities.

Barbarians are tough in early Civ 6. For one thing, cities have no natural defensive capabilities until a wall is constructed. That said, the barbarians aren't as manic about pillaging developed lands, so I didn't need to worry too much about them. I just kept them at a distance, with the general idea that I'd wipe them out at a later date.

There's something else I need to explain. And this is a really big deal. Normally, barbarians will make a beeline for workers. They'll whisk them away as captives: an expensive loss and a great inconvenience to those of us who live in actual palaces, as opposed to mud huts. But in Civ 6, workers are different than before. Please allow me the terribly modern indulgence of bullet points.

  • When workers develop a piece of land, it takes them just one turn, not multiple turns.
  • You can't direct them to automatically develop the land as they wish.
  • They only last for a certain number of tasks. Then they die.

I realize this will cause significant consternation among the more hotly reactionary corners of the Civilization community, but my brief demo was not long enough to fully judge the wisdom of these changes. I will leave that to posterity, or at least to the reviewers.


Let's get back to Cleopatra and my burgeoning empire. So, with the barbarians not really threatening either my workers or my developments, I just decided to live and let live, at least for a while. And this is what Cleopatra found so infuriating.

I recalled something I'd been told by those chaps at Firaxis, about the new enemy AI design in Civ 6. Each leader has an overt strategic perception of the world that reveals itself early on, with other priorities that emerge later in the game. If you build wonders, a leader who sees himself as the big boss of wonder building will lose his temper.

These barbarians were becoming a nuisance, so I murdered them all.

One thing I do know about Cleopatra is that she loves military might. All those marching men and glittering cuirasses set her quite a-quiver. You'll recall that in real life, she prostrated herself — prettily, no doubt — at the feet of that bore-in-a-toga Julius Caesar. The thought of my lovely Cleopatra sucking up to a pompous, genocidal Italian makes me feel queasy. But the path of love is never without its bumps.

I resolved to win back the admiration of my darling neighbor by creating quite a few early military units. Generally when I play Civ, the last thing I want to do is waste resources on squaddies, at least not until I'm in full "expand-and-annihilate" mode, which tends to come in fits and bursts between the Early Medieval and Late Renaissance.

But these barbarians were becoming a nuisance, so in an orgy of state-terrorism, I basically murdered them all. Sure enough, a delighted Cleopatra came skipping back into my life, all charm and smiles.

Swooning slightly, I dreamed of future days in which we might conjoin our forces, so to speak.

civ 6


In the meantime, I created a few cities and expanded outwards, toward the general vicinity of both Cleopatra's and Roosevelt's fast-encroaching neighborhoods. This tends to engender conflict.

I decided to ensure that my civilization stay ahead in the technological stakes. It occurred to me that a man like Roosevelt, whose life-span encompassed the invention of the ironing board (1858) and teabags (1909), was sure to be all agog at what the boffins might come up with.

In my humble era, we Chinese merely furnished the world with a substance called "paper."

So I did the necessary research of writing and built a campus, which is the Civ 6 equivalent of a library. Now, at this point, the number of surrounding hexes my city had captured by natural growth was very low. And since the campus is one of those buildings that is placed outside the city walls, I was in a fix. Also, geographic locations offer up important bonuses to particularly important buildings.

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On the outskirts of my city, there was a jungle. Placing a campus next to a jungle would mean my clever-clog scientists could study local wildlife and mushrooms and stuff, yielding an education bonus and allowing me, at some far-flung point in the future, to snag a nuke before bloody Roosevelt.

So I had to actually buy a hex. I don't know about you, but buying hexes is just something I won't do in Civ 5, unless I'm actually trying to annoy a neighbor or deprive a rival of a specific slice of land. Spending all my early money on a hex was a tough thing to do. But I did it and it worked out. I get the sense that money is not so tightly controlled in early Civ 6 as in early Civ 5, and my coffers were soon in the pink once more.

History is directed by geography. This tying of buildings to the landscape also means that I might one day be in situations where I can't construct desired buildings, because I don't have the space or handily situated resources. Civ fans will have opinions on this too.

At the time, my workers were sitting around doing nothing which for any Civ 5 player is deeply weird. I suspect the acquisition of very specific pieces of land, and their development, is going to be a bigger part of this game than in previous versions.


Around this time, that sputtering churl Roosevelt was getting all high and mighty about how we all ought to just get along together. I wasn't fooled for a moment. This from a fellow who was spawning military units in every corner of the land. I mean, who seriously believes that building lots of military units and splashing them all over creation is the path to peace?

Not I, dear friends. I'm more about building lots of military units and having them sit nice and quiet until they all rush out together to slaughter my enemies in their beds. What follows is truly peaceful. The dead make few quarrels.

As a famous Chinese scholar once said: "speak softly and carry a big stick." I fully intended to teach Roosevelt this valuable lesson. I also thought about cooing the line to the fragrant Cleopatra. I sense we share a taste for naughtily amusing double entendres.

civ 6


Where was I? Ah yes. The map. As has been observed before, the map in Civ 6, and the aesthetic in general, seems much less serious and grown up than in Civ 5. An ungenerous soul might accuse it of being childish, cartoonish and even (perish the thought) suggestive of horrid mobile games.

I summoned a representative from Firaxis to explain this regrettable lapse in good taste. He explained that this Civ is "deeper" than previous Civs and therefore, visual simplicity is in order to carry the game's complexity. It remains to be seen if this is a piece of barefaced sophistry or an elegant explanation.

But I do think even the gorgeous Cleopatra carries a Disney-esque lack of gravitas about her. We have only seen a few leaders, so far. Perhaps they just take a bit of getting used to.


Back to Civ 6. Having built my campus, the great Chinese nation began to uncover more and more scientific discoveries, making up for ground that I had lost spending my resources on squishing barbarians and impressing Cleopatra

Civ 6's tech tree is nothing that you haven't seen before. If Firaxis considered adopting the more complex and goofy tech-web used in Beyond Earth, the idea was wisely shelved.

Having said all that, there is a difference in terms of which techs one picks to research. As I go about the map discovering stuff, or building things or even enjoying the odd military victory over a barbarian village, I pick up research bonuses that are added toward future technical advances. This encourages me to stray away from my own prefered formula.

So, for example, I stumble across a bunch of marble, and suddenly I'm halfway towards Masonry. I might as well learn it now, right? This makes research a more opportunistic matter, double so because of those geographic bonuses. Horses for courses, as we say in Beijing.

civ 6


This leads me to the matter of culture. In Civ 5, you earn culture and then you spend it in one huge wad on an empire-wide boost. Say, plus one happiness for every resource. The boost stays with you forever. Very nice.

Civ 6 does not work this way. Instead, you collect cards which offer boosts, and you place them in a limited number of slots. These are distributed among various interests, like the economy or the military.

As in Civ 4, you can change the nature of your government. I am, at heart, a democrat. So I chose democracy and I got extra slots for culture and the economy, but fewer for the military. I know that if I am in a fix, I can always declare an autocracy and we can take things from there.

Toward the end of my limited-turn demo, I finally found myself at war with a rival. In Civ 6, some units can inhabit the same hex, supporting one another. I wanted to see how this might work. But it was too early in the game to get a sense of the complexities of military maneuvers or, really, of any of this game's deeper systems. This was a taster.



It is enough to say that this is a Civilization game that is at once entirely familiar, but in particular ways I've highlighted, significantly different from what has come before. Such is the success of Civ 5 that I believe it will have its work cut out, trying to persuade players to make the jump. But the team at Firaxis have been doing it for 25 years, so who is willing to bet against it?

You'll be surprised to hear that it was Cleopatra and I who were at war and that she and Roosevelt appeared to have formed some sort of a detestable understanding. It was a terrible blow to me, after all the devotion I'd showered on that Memphis Minx.

I hoped that we would come to an understanding, that I might raze a city or two to the ground in order to impress her of my ardor. But it was not to be. The demo came to an end. I was ushered out of the room, to be replaced by other would-be Emperors of China. I think someone from Mashable took my station.

And so, my love Cleopatra, we'll meet again, when Civ 6 arrives on October 21. Babykayak

Colin Campbell assisted in the creation of this article.