App review by Mark Chen, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2021
Humankind

Humankind

Refinement of strategy game formula supports historical exploration

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Grades
6–12
Subjects & Skills
Social Studies, Character & SEL, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Tons of new things to explore/discover in every play session.

Cons: A single playthrough can take dozens and dozens of hours.

Bottom Line: Like any consumer-oriented game, this experience will absorb and delight students far more than "educational" games, but it'll require open-minded and creative teaching.

Social studies teachers could use Humankind the same way they'd use Civilization: to have students discover how differing access to resources and land types affects how civilizations thrive (or not) as they progress through history. While this might serve as the overarching learning objective, there could be lessons focused on any number of the game's systems as well. For example, students could zero in on Humankind's treatment of diplomacy vs. military intervention, compare to contemporary and historical issues, and consider the ethics of each method. Students could also note the technologies and civic improvements they achieve and then explore their real-world examples, including their histories and effects. There are also a number of in-game events -- like climate change -- that offer points of comparison to past and present geopolitical issues. 

The game is fairly bug free at the time of this review, though you'll need relatively fast computers. For classrooms with slower computers, you might look to older Civilization games (Civilization IV is particularly good) or FreeCiv. Also, take note that while Humankind supports multiplayer games (two to eight players), they'd be challenging to implement since students would need to sync up over an extended period (probably months). But this might be an option as an independent study activity for a pair or small group of students who want to really dig in.

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Humankind is a turn-based strategy game inspired by the legendary Civilization series. While it follows the formula faithfully, it deviates in some useful ways. In Humankind, you control a civilization as it progresses from the Stone Age to now and beyond, going from a nomadic tribe to sprawling cities. This is done on a hex-based map of the world on which you move your tribe and, later on, various military units that you recruit during the course of the game. You can use your units to build cities in strategic locations and expand your civilization's borders. Once you've got a city, you can then improve it to support growth, money-making, science research, or civic and public works. The longer the game lasts, the more cities you can create (until the whole world has been claimed by either you or rival civilizations). Each new city can be managed individually, which increases complexity over time. This means turns take longer at the end of the game vs. at the beginning. 

When you first start a game of Humankind, you get to choose a specific cultural group from Earth's history to play. Each group has advantages. For example, the Babylonians boost scientific progress, whereas the Mycenaeans are well-suited to military conquest. To progress through an era, you must reach a specific number of milestones based on the culture you've selected. After an era, Humankind does something really different: Players can choose to change their culture (or keep it the same) based on their focus in the next era.

Humankind is essentially a race between you and the other civilizations that are in your game's world, but speedy progress through the eras isn't all that matters. While a certain number of milestones are needed to progress to the next era, you could elect to stay in the current era to achieve additional milestones for bonus points. Thus, receiving a high score at the end of the game involves strategically outperforming your opponents and achieving historical greatness with your civilization.

This is a dense but rewarding game with lots of lessons on history and cultural understanding -- for teachers and students willing to dig deep and uncover them. Of course, like other games in this genre, it'll take dozens or even hundreds of hours to master. It also requires fairly nimble control of a computer, and the accessibility options aren't stellar. This makes it exceptionally challenging to work into a classroom, but in the right situation, with students who are served well by the game, it could be a learning experience they remember forever. 

The fact that you can mix and match cultures through the ages makes for an intriguing long-term strategic mashup game, and allows students to explore a variety of cultures while also considering the way culture itself is mutable. Some might balk at the historical inaccuracy of one civilization rotating through different cultures at times and in places when and where those cultures didn't exist. Others, however, will see infinite learning opportunities in it: from launching research projects into each group students choose to discussing the impacts of colonialism on cultures and civilizations. As with any strategy game, there's also a lot of cognitive skills-building involved in the second-to-second play. Students will need to think tactically and strategically and manage time and resources. They'll also need to learn the game itself, which is often best done by testing things and seeing how they pan out. Thankfully, if things get frustrating, there's a lot of online support in forums and wikis, along with well-done video tutorials for the main mechanics. 

Overall Rating

Engagement

Like Civilization, Humankind is deeply engrossing, and the differences make for a satisfying new -- and ongoing -- experience.

Pedagogy

There are tons of learning opportunities that emerge from free play, but they'll require inventive teaching to connect well to curriculum. 

Support

As a big-name game, there's ready support in online forums if the official technical support channels lack answers. Lacks robust accessibility options. Good video tutorials.


Common Sense reviewer
Mark Chen Researcher

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