“Civilization VI” is hitting store shelves today, and — while still familiar — it looks much different than it used to. But have you wondered why?
Ed Beach, the game’s lead designer, has had a long career designing video games and board games. He took the time to talk by phone about the design decisions that went into “Civilization VI,” the way it changes the game and how board games have influenced the way players look at games like “Civilization.” The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Unstacking cities so that they sprawl across the board has, by far, been the biggest change made to this game. Can you walk me through that decision a bit more?
To me, that was the most fun change that we made, because it changed the nature of the gameplay dramatically. The root of that decision comes from a bunch of different places. We had considered moving wonders [major landmarks, such as the Great Wall of China that you can build in your civilization] out onto separate tiles before. We discussed whether we could do that for “Civ V” or not — there were several of us pushing for it. I liked the idea of having to give up tiles outside your city. When “Civ VI” came around, we knew that was an idea that we’d explored a bit and wanted to think it through.
I have a background working in city-planning games — I didn’t work on “SimCity” ever, but I did a whole bunch of historical city builders: “Caesar,” “Pharaoh,” “Zeus.” In those games, you could get bonuses for putting things in smart locations, setting aside portions for cities, docks and harbors.
The look of the game is quite different, and unstacking the cities makes it feel like each part of the city is a piece on a game board. You have a background in board games, too. Did that inform some of this game’s design, as well?
Yes. The board game I played that most feels like this is “Carcassonne” — it’s a tile-placement game in which you’re trying to match everything up just right and fit all the pieces together purposefully. It’s a game I love and a game that does spring to mind when I do my city-planning in “Civ VI.” You’re starting to get that feeling — that great feeling when you hit on just the right thing.
Do you think the rise in the popularity of board games affects the level of understanding players may have coming into a game like “Civ”?
I do think so. The past 10 or 15 years have been good for board games, and the level of quality in board game design has been going through the roof. There have been a lot of games introducing new mechanics in that area that have been adopted, reworked and repackaged in further board games. I see a lot of good game design coming out of that arena, and that means there are a lot of players who are used to looking at complexities.
What I like about what we’ve done in “Civ VI,” is that while we are introducing some of those board-game aesthetics, none of the rules are tricky or complex themselves. The complexity emerges because two or three of these systems are intersecting at the same time. So a player realizes, that, “Oh, my army wanted to move through there, but I’m allied with this player.”
It does seems as though having to think so much about placement can change playing style. I had to change the way that I normally play — I usually turtle up and try not to engage with other civilizations until I have to — but I had to fight while playing to get land and spread out more in “Civ VI.” Is that on purpose?
Absolutely. There are a bunch of subtle ways to break people out of their shell. We encourage people to engage with the rest of the world. With the introduction of Casus Belli [justified causes for war], it didn’t seem to be so bad to be attacking someone — that’s really breaking people out of their shells. We like some of these things that we’ve introduced to shake up their play styles.
You’re also introducing a lot of new leaders in this game, which I’d imagine also encourages people to try different things, or at least gives them more characters with which to identify.
You know, there is something interesting with those historical city-building games. I don’t have hard data on this, but even with those older games, there was a much higher percentage of women playing than a normal strategy game.
If you look at the board gaming that you’re talking about, as well, it’s not just a phenomenon where it’s male gamers. There’s a nice cross-section of people very, very interested in that. I think there are people who are attracted to builder-types of games, and I think having the opportunity to introduce elements like the city-building game encourage them to try what we’ve got here and is moving us in a good direction.