My first experience with the Civilization series was in my college dorm. One of my best friends introduced me to the franchise, with a game he had been methodically playing for most of the semester. He regaled me with tales of treaties made and broken, wars won and lost, and his people on the march toward the future.
Twenty years later, I'm still hooked. And that sweet addiction is only going to deepen later this year with Civilization VI.
I had a chance to play about an hour at Gamescom, experiencing first-hand some of the major changes that will force longtime fans to rethink tried and true tactics. Those same adjustments to the series open up big new strategic options that make battles more than just a binary win or loss.
The biggest change in this installment is that cities are no longer confined to one tile. Urban sprawl, by way of tile-based "districts" means that all of your improvements that used to be buried in your city management menu are right on the map.
This has immense military implications. You'll know what you're getting into long before you reach a city center. The size of the footprint will give you an indication of what you can expect as you get closer.
Offensively, this also opens up options about how to deal with a well-fortified metropolis. You can opt to burn everything except wonders to the ground. Want to choke a civilization's scientific progress or a city's production? Pillage districts that contribute to those things. However, you might want to be a bit more lenient, as taking over a city that has been eviscerated means having to rebuild from scratch if you take it over.
Defensively, you're going to want to rethink how you deal with border protection. Keeping additional units back to distract enemy troops. You might win the long battle for the city, but it might leave you crippled with no district improvements to support it.
The district system can also help you make smart decisions about wonder research. If you see a rival civilization is racing you to build a wonder, you'll know to redirect your efforts toward production to maximize your chances of finishing first.
Another major change to the franchise in this installment is the concept that your actions have direct benefits. For instance, if you establish a city next to a body of water, you'll get a bonus to researching sailing. Clear a barbarian camp and you'll make progress on military culture. Every single technology has a related action that triggers what Firaxis is calling "active research."
In an hour of Civilization VI, I helped Montezuma's Aztecs begin to dominate our home continent. The Eagle Warriors, which replace basic soldiers in the early game, are extremely powerful.
Despite that, it took considerable effort to take down a city-state. Using the pillage and siege technique, I was able to finally soften it up to make it mine.
Along the way, I got a chance to play with the new civics system. You'll be able to mix and match different policies to tune your civilization to your current goal. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to check out the new religion system, which allows you to found a pantheon, choose your holy symbol, and name your religion. And, if half the world converts and worships your gods, you'll win via the new religious victory.
There's a lot to take in with Civilization VI, but as a returning fan, I didn't feel overwhelmed. Instead, I was enthralled and excited by the changes, making the wait for the October 21 release that much harder.