It’s been over a year since the release of Civilization 6 and Firaxis has finally revealed the first expansion, Rise and Fall. The theme, as you might have guessed, is the tendency of civilizations to have some good days and some not so good ones. “Instead of just a march through history, straight progress all game, maybe with a few speed bumps, but always forward,” producer Andrew Frederiksen told me, “[what] we’re trying to capture here is the ups and downs, sort of riding the waves through history that is so paramount when you look back at our own world.”
This excites me. I’ve written more than once about how constant good fortune carrying you to the head of the most powerful and unassailable empire imaginable is… actually pretty boring compared to the stories we latch onto in real history. From the rise and fall of Rome to the ascension and collapse of various imperial dynasties in China, we are compelled by narratives that have dramatic pacing. And to have that, your moments of peril are arguably just as important, if not more so, than your moments of triumph.
The designers at Firaxis have put together a hefty set of new features to explore these themes, which Fredericksen assured have been integrated with Civ 6’s existing systems “as much as possible,” rather than sitting on top of them as optional extras. We’ll take them one-by-one, because it’s a lot to absorb.
In previous Civ games, which Era you were in (Classical, Medieval, Modern, etc.) was defined by how far you progressed down the tech tree. While that will still exist on a per-civ basis, the game itself will now progress through global Eras, triggered by any civ fulfilling their start conditions. At the dawn of each new Era, every civ is evaluated on how well they did in the previous one and can qualify for a Golden Age, a Dark Age, or neither.
Which type of Age you get is partly based on where you are, relative to the Era, in the tech and civics trees. These contribute to your Era Score, which can also be influenced by Historic Moments. The latter, Frederiksen referred to as “mini-achievements,” not unlike the smaller objectives you can pursue in vanilla Civ 6 to gain enlightenment bonuses on certain civics and technologies. Some examples given were being the first civ to circumnavigate the globe, the first to discover a natural wonder, or the first to found a religion.
Civs in a Golden Age are living the good life. For the entirety of that global Era, they get bonuses to Loyalty (more on that later) in all of their cities. In a Dark Age, things are not so rosy. You’ll instead get penalties to Loyalty across the board. But it’s not purely punitive. Civs that can endure a Dark Age will be rewarded. For one, Dark Ages unlock Dark Policies that can be slotted into your government, which offer a trade-off of some kind. Most will come with a powerful buff to help some aspect of your civilization carry on through the hard times, paired with a debuff that will make things even worse for a different aspect. “We might be deciding to tighten up our borders,” Frederiksen gave as an example. “[We’re] not going do as much with trade or diplomacy or something, but in turn, our internal production—our food, or whatever the case may be—is going to be stronger.”
The grand prize for overcoming a Dark Age, however, is a Heroic Age. These trigger when you emerge from a Dark Age with enough Era Score to qualify for a Golden Age, in spite of everyone and everything. They’re basically a Golden Age on steroids, with even more powerful buffs to spur your civ on to victory. The whole system is based around these risk/reward trade-offs. Frederiksen was clear that Dark Ages aren’t meant to just suck. The gloomier chapters of the story of your civilization need to be as fun to play as the shining ones, and pursuing a strategy of timing a Dark into Heroic transition for a key moment will be viable. They didn’t want to create a system where you “never want a Dark Age.”
At the dawn of each new Era, your civilization will get to make a Dedication. Frederiksen described this a player-selected goal of, “This is what we are going to be about as a civilization for the next Era.” If you’re going into a Dark Age or a Normal Age, your Dedication will give you a new way to earn Era Score—which should help prevent a Dark Age spiral where you’re stumbling from one disaster to the next. In a Golden or a Heroic Age, your Dedication grants you an extra buff on top of the Loyalty bonus you’re already getting, such as increased movement or combat ability for units. While these buffs are nice, they don’t contribute to Era Score, making it difficult to chain together Golden Ages.
Loyalty and Free Cities
All cities now have Loyalty ratings. As Frederiksen put it, these measure “how people feel about you and your leadership.” It’s affected by things like amenities and what type of Age you are in. It can also be bolstered by your own actions and eroded by actions of neighboring civs. It’s almost like a new health bar. When Loyalty reaches zero, the city will secede from your civ and become an independent Free City.
Free cities have militaries and will defend themselves, but will not expand or engage in diplomacy like a full civ. They also don’t have the special interactions available for the city-states in vanilla Civ 6 like missions and suzerainty. The essentially exist as an “up for grabs” morsel to be taken. The most straightforward way to take control of one is military conquest, but nearby civs can also exert Loyalty pressure on them. If your opponents build up a Free City’s Loyalty high enough, it will be peacefully annexed into their civ. This makes 'flipping' cities like in Civ games past possible again, with the caveat that they will exist in a neutral Free City state during the process, giving their original owner a chance to reconquer them or peacefully restore Loyalty.
Loyal cities will reinforce the Loyalty of other cities close to them, meaning Loyalty will be less of a problem near the core of your empire and shakier on the far-flung frontiers. Sprawling empires will thus have to focus more on good governance, or else have armies ready to go on their fringes to retake cities that try to break away. Frederiksen said they will be looking at balancing with civs like England that are encouraged to settle far away to make sure they aren’t disproportionately screwed by this. He also pointed out that a civ in a Golden Age bordering one that is in a Dark Age creates an interesting and potentially explosive dynamic, where the Dark Age civ’s cities will be ready to defect to the Golden Age civ with only a slight nudge.
You’ll also be able to annex vanilla city-states using Loyalty, though you will lose their suzerain bonus as if you had conquered them militarily.
Governors are new characters that exist somewhere between Great People and Leaders. They aren’t physically present on the map, but are assigned to a city somewhat like spies. One of their main jobs is bolstering Loyalty, but each of the seven types of governor (you can only have one of each) also has a theme like military, economy, or religion, and an entire promotion tree that will allow them to grant powerful bonuses to that area of focus in the city where they are assigned.
The resources to level up and recruit governors all come from a common pool, so there will always be a trade-off between having a wider stable of less powerful governors or focusing on a couple to make them as potent as they can be. “One of my favorites is we have this governor that if you get her to the top tier,” Frederiksen says, “and if you have her in a city, you can just straight up buy a district with gold.” Another he called out allowed building units that normally require a strategic resource without that resource, a potential balm to those extremely frustrating games where you put all your eggs in the military basket and somehow never get access to iron.
Alliances will now be available in a variety of different flavors. A scientific alliance is similar to the old research agreements, where the shared knowledge of two civs can benefit both. An economic alliance is more focused on mutually-beneficial trade. And of course, the old school military alliance, which has you stand back-to-back with another world leader to fight off the forces of everyone who doesn’t like everything being your map color, isn’t going anywhere. They can also level up and give stronger benefits if they remain stable for a long time. Frederiksen confirmed that AI civs will be less likely to break an alliance that has been around a long time and accumulated lots of benefits than one that was just started a few turns ago.
From The Crusades to World War 2, history is full of moments when several great powers unified to take action. Emergencies will bring a taste of this to Civ 6, with certain actions being taken by an aggressor civ triggering a sort of common mission to be pursued by their adversaries. One prominent trigger is the first time any civ uses nuclear weapons, which will serve as a wake-up call to the rest of the world that maybe they need to be paying more attention to this whole “physics” thing. Another example Frederiksen gave was a holy city for an established religion being conquered or converted by a follower of a different religion, in which case any civs following the holy city’s original religion might be invited to take it back.
“It can sound like they’re something to stop the person who’s ahead,” Frederiksen noted. “And it can do that, but it’s not a kind of thing where you hamstring the winner just to make the game longer. It’s very much a flavorful thing that can shift the power dynamic—cause something that’s great to fall, or something that’s not so great to rise.”
Each emergency will have a winner, whether that be the alliance of volunteers fulfilling the victory condition or the civ that triggered the emergency holding them off and making sure that objective stays un-ticked. In either case, the winning side receives a buff for the rest of the game. So while every emergency will have a sort of 'bad guy' that’s getting ganged up on, there will be a reward for choosing to be that guy and standing firm in spite of the odds.
The team at Firaxis is keeping the new civs and leaders close to their chest at the moment, but they were able to talk about four non-unique units coming to the tech tree for anyone to unlock. Pike and Shot is a new anti-cavalry unit bridging the long, awkward gap between Pikemen and Anti-Tank. Three more units have been added to the late game to cap off lines that previously ended too soon: The Supply Convoy (an upgraded version of the Medic that can increase the movement speed of units it shares a tile with in addition to restoring HP), Spec Ops (a “Navy SEAL-inspired” unit that caps off the line for the humble Scout, gaining the ability to para-drop forward without the use of aircraft), and the Drone (an upgraded version of the Observation Balloon).
The most prominent of the new districts being added (and the one we were allowed to hear about) is the Government District. There can be only one of these in your entire civ, and it interacts directly with the updated government system. Based on your current government type, you will be able to build a number of new buildings in your government district, each of which unlocks policy cards.
We asked Frederiksen if he could hint at all what part of the world any of the new civs might be coming for, to which he responded: “The Land.” So sorry to disappoint everyone who had their fingers crossed for Atlantis. Still, all of the above is plenty to chew on for now. Civilization VI: Rise and Fall will be out on February 8, 2018.