The notion of a massive, deep and complicated game like Civilization 6 on iPhone strikes me as vaguely futuristic, in the way of virtual pop stars and sex robots. Like, oh, we’re here, already?
Last year I expressed astonishment at how successfully the behemoth strategy game was recast from its original Windows PC home to the iPad. Now, we have an iPhone version, a testament to the power of today’s cellphones and to the ambition of developer Firaxis.
And yes, it’s basically the exact same game that runs on my PC gaming rig. The only changes are minor modifications to menus, which have been simplified for the smaller screen.
At 3.35 GB, Civilization 6 is a beast of a game, with a hefty price tag ($59.99, but currently on offer at a reasonable $23.99) but it shares a common feature to all those freebie mobile games out there; it’s seriously addictive.
Rule the world
I play as the leader of a nation. Being British, I usually pick Queen Victoria, but there’s a wide array of options spanning all continents and eras. I gaze down upon a hexagonal landscape of resources, and set about exploiting them through farms, mines, fishing boats, markets and trade routes.
I build cities, which grow, making use of more and more of their surrounding hexagons. My cities, and my civilization as a whole, benefit from special buildings and districts dedicated to learning, generating profits, religion and culture.
As I grow outwards, gobbling up land and turning it to my own uses, my borders run up against other civilizations, making conflict unavoidable. A significant share of my resource pile must be spent on military units, which are dragooned into the defense and/or expansion of the realm.
At this point, I’m fully invested in my empire, and am hooked into a feedback loop of building, growing, expanding and progressing. I learn new technologies that facilitate greater destructive power and more glorious cultural wonders. The game spans the agricultural revolution, right up to the space age.
I win by military domination, or through superior scientific, religious or cultural achievements. Or, I don’t bother playing to win, happy just to survive and craft a civilization to call my own.
So there’s a lot going on with Civilization 6, a whole bunch of stuff to squeeze into a handheld device. And although, yes, it really is the same game, which plays almost exactly the same way, there are caveats.
First, cramming a whole world into a small screen has its compromises. Some of the text is very difficult to read. If you’re able to read the ingredients on a packet of dried soup, you’re probably okay. Otherwise, you’ll need reading glasses.
Moving units across the screen can be fiddly. In the PC game, I can send them to the other side of the globe with a single swish of the mouse. But on iPhone, it’s better to shepherd them relatively short distances of six hexes at a time.
Battery life is a nightmare. I played for little more than an hour before running out of power. Firaxis recommends playing with the charging cable plugged in, which sorta negates the point of a mobile Civ 6. But if you’re on a flight or long journey with recharge points, you’re good to go.