The new expansion for Civilization VI is out, and while it’s still early, I think it’s one of my favorites in the series so far. This is the first expansion to really encourage the player to make strategic moves on the landscape outside of resource considerations, and the game is much better off for it. If you’re a seasoned fan and need a shake-up to the formula, Civilization expansions are almost always just the thing. This time around, the randomness of certain destructive weather events, like tornados or droughts, act as a wild card that add an additional layer of challenge that defies the stat-memorization and careful planning the game usually demands.
This is also among the many Civilization expansions that attempts to shed more light on the Diplomacy systems, and experiment with new features ahead of the next game. This time, the World Congress, which operates as a loose affiliation of all the world leaders (which has shown up in a few different forms before), offers Resolutions that can be declared every 30 turns, not only allowing you to propose certain terms and limitations on aspects like border growth and military upgrade costs, but also target specific leaders and impose those rules on them.
The result is explosive. I’ve written before about how Civilization games bring out a unique pettiness in my strategy that turn me into a downright war criminal, and this is no different. Whereas before my rage could be irked by, say, a certain world leader encroaching on my perceived territory and starting a new settlement, now I can go check the records on a passed Resolution and see how everyone voted—and more importantly, who targeted me and how much of their accumulated Favor they used to support it. I have never known a betrayal so deep as finding out Amanitore of Nubia, who I thought was my closest ally and friend, proposed a Resolution to reduce Loyalty in all my cities, and that it was backed by my second bestie Philip II of Spain. In retaliation, I waged a settlement campaign across three continents and levied the militaries of four city-states, wiping them both off the map. Then I finished off the last leader, innocent and blameless but giving me a lot of lip, just because I could.
This kind of specificity, in adding a points system for Grievances and Favor, gets the Civilization series a little closer to its goal of quantifying the international diplomacy process, and I wonder how much of it might show up in the next game. Spite is an amazing motivator, and the dynamic of emotion and how it interacts with the mechanics and affects the game’s trajectory is fascinating. Whereas in previous games I only had a vague sense that an AI civilization was taking steps to strategize against me, this offered a concrete proof that has also freed me to stop holding back and treating the game like an empire sim instead of a war game. It’s a smart addition, one that I can appreciate despite its unpredictable sway on the course of each game.
Despite all the gains made over the past two games, the diplomacy system in Civilization still has a long way to go. Until then, though, I am loving the drama.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.