Whenever a developer decides to throw Australia into the pool of cultural insensitivity that videogames can sometimes be, I get a little scared. The trepidation is caused as much by patriotism as it is by the opposite of that: I don’t want my glorious nation to be represented by a slouch-hatted cattle drover whose key trait is ‘mateship’, but on the other hand, leave us alone we’re boring!
The latest Premium DLC for Civilization 6 brings the great southern land into the fray for the first time in the series’ quarter-century history. At the helm is our 14th Prime Minister, John Curtin, who’s perhaps best known for leading the country in its defense against the Japanese during World War II, and having been the only PM to go to jail. He was no doubt chosen due to the former of these two facts, as Curtin’s unique ability triggers a production boom whenever war is declared on Australia, or when it liberates another civ’s city.
The Aussie portrayal in this game preys on both my fears: it is at once dripping with stereotypes, and grossly incongruent with the history books. There is something unnerving about sending your ‘Diggers’, fresh from bumming around an ‘Outback Station’, to storm the beaches of a distant land at the request of an overly-powerful ally. On the other hand, it’s even more peculiar to play as some Anglo-looking brutes romping around Canberra in the year 4000 BC, eventually researching mass production, signing off on extensive foreign trade agreements, and rising to the height of modernity well before Australia was even due to be colonised in 1788. However, this goofy dissonance is a cornerstone of the Civilization series and shouldn’t be taken personally.
The joy of this game doesn’t have to come from some attempt at a realistic play-by-play of historical events—atomically-aggressive Gandhi should have made this clear by now. Instead, it can be found in the forging of your own civilization from a melting pot of randomised events and bad decisions, and the specialities that come with your chosen civ can just as easily be exploited as ignored. In fact, it’s fair to say that the region in which your first settler is randomly plopped is probably going to be a more significant factor in your complete annihilation at the hands of Montezuma (that leafy bastard) than your civ’s strengths and weaknesses will be.
The perks and uniquities of any particular civ is more akin to the playable races found in Skyrim, where there are obvious advantages to choosing a sneaky Khajiit if you want to pickpocket your way across the province, but with a tiny bit more effort you can become a cat with a battleaxe. See what you miss out on when you play by the rules?
As dry as a dead dingo's donger
Now that we’ve dealt with historical purists who only play videogames to get off on the gritty realism, let’s talk details. Australia’s unique unit is the Digger, a burly alternative to the standard infantry of the modern era, who excels at fighting on foreign soil and coastal tiles. This makes for some supreme Gallipoli-style shore assaults (except more successful), as well as a pretty handy boon when defending your own coastal cities—which you will have a lot of due to the extra housing Australia’s unique ability provides.
While there are rich rewards for founding a city on the coast, especially if it happens to be surrounded by sheep, cattle, and horses, Australia is also able to make use of its vast sunburnt plains thanks to the Outback Station tile improvement. This dusty domicile is at its dinkum-est when within range of a cluster of pastures (which themselves set off a ‘culture bomb’ when improved—much better than it sounds) or more outback stations. So when you see some precious resource in the middle of the desert surrounded by shit-all else, it may still be a viable settling location.
Alongside conquering the globe with your regime of mateship, there’s a new scenario to play that goes by the name ‘Outback Tycoon’ (okay guys, we get it). This is a purely peaceful scenario and is surprisingly fun in spite of this. It was a pleasant change to be forced to focus on economics and expansion and not even be given the option of conflict, considering my generally bloodthirsty approach to the game.
You can choose to play as the premier of Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, or Western Australia, and each have their own leadership bonuses like any other civilization, although they are a little less powerful. You set off from New South Wales in the year 1814 AD and immediately begin the process of exploring and settling the vast continent—and it truly is massive, complete with aptly located natural wonders and resources. You then have 60 turns to blossom into a booming business state, with the dollars that you rake in every turn counting as your score.
Generally I find that you’re either a scenario person or you’re not, and even though I’m in the latter camp, this was by far one of the better and more involved scenarios I’ve played in strategy games over the years. It felt genuinely specialised and non-tokenistic, with relevant civic policy, research, worker units, and even these adorable messages that would pop up and tell me that my explorer has permanently lost a movement point because he was “harassed by dingoes”.
The pleasure you get out of this DLC will boil down to how seriously you take it, and how seriously you already take the Civilization franchise. For some of us, it may be a little ‘too real’ having to decide if 2017-Australia should support and expand its mining industry in order to satisfy international trading partners, even if it means sacrificing some of the globe's last remaining national parks and all hope at conservationism—all while a fiddle and a didgeridoo slowly drone through a somber rendition of . But for others, they’ll just nuke France then go to bed.
Oh, and the flag is a kangaroo.