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Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
Pros: Beautiful presentation and well-thought-out iterations on past game mechanics make for a highly engaging experience.
Cons: Slower computers may struggle while processing AI moves, and its cost is likely prohibitive.
Bottom Line: As with all games in this series, Civilization VI is a great learning experience with the right support, but older, cheaper versions may be more practical for classrooms.
Teachers could easily design lessons to help students make connections between Civilization VI and many topics, such as world history, geography, economics, scientific and civic progress, and war. This is precisely what some educational researchers have done with previous versions of the series, often highlighting the collaborative and reflective nature of a classroom playing and learning together. Since the game takes a lot of time to play, it would only make sense for a classroom that could devote a unit or even a whole semester to lessons around the game. Furthermore, given the hard-to-predict nature of its gameplay, teachers would need to have lessons prepared for when topics emerge for students. For example, some students may start warring immediately, while others might play a whole game without once attacking another civilization.
As of this review, however, there's a game-stopping bug that randomly crops up, and, coupled with the cost of the game, it's difficult to recommend Civilization VI for classrooms over a previous version. In fact, there's even a free, web-based version called FreeCiv. Sid Meier announced at the Games for Change Festival Summer 2016 that an educational version is forthcoming, and perhaps when that is released sometime in 2017, the game-crashing bugs will also be gone.
Civilization VI is the latest game in the genre-defining turn-based strategy series, Civilization (also available as an iOS app). You pick a world leader to play and found a new civilization as that leader by settling cities on a hex map featuring randomly generated landmasses. You can then build districts and buildings and set citizens to work the land on hexes within city borders. Each hex offers different kinds of resources, depending on its terrain and proximity to other types of terrain. Civilization VI features many ways to win the game, including making scientific discoveries, dominating other players, or attracting the most tourists to resorts and parks. Each of these possible win conditions is tied to a main interlocking game system. For example, you have complete control over setting technology and civics research goals, founding and spreading a religion, creating military units and warring, or peacefully trading with neighboring civilizations.
The early part of the game is the most exciting, as you slowly reveal the surrounding map through exploration and meet other players and AI. This part of the game sort of feels like survival mode in the early parts of other games such as Minecraft or Terraria because you must build up critical defenses to protect fledgling cities from barbarian tribes that roam the map, harassing any hapless player. Beating the barbarians can be costly, as resources are devoted to your army instead of that much needed granary, but, often, the rewards for razing a barbarian camp can make it worth it. This early phase also feels like a race to grab the most precious land before other players and AI claim their resources. In fact, the early part of the game is so compelling that the middle and late game can bog down -- as you hit "end turn" repeatedly to try to advance your success meters.
Make no mistake, however, this is the best Civilization game so far, and the changes to the series -- such as zoning adjacent hexes to be specific types of districts (academic, theological, industrial) -- are so revelatory that it's hard to remember the game ever not having these features. Yet the same problems from previous versions, for the most part, still exist here: Diplomacy with AI civilizations is still inflexible and dumb. Game difficulty still only determines how much of a handicap or advantage AI opponents get in terms of build efficiency and military strength; it doesn't actually improve AI algorithms to feature better strategic decisions. The game might actually be best when played with other people. But this is relatively hard to coordinate given how long a single game can take.
While it's the best grand strategy game ever with tons of learning potential, Civilization VI is also tough to recommend for classrooms due to the inherent difficulties of weaving a game such as this into the classroom and random bugs (at the time of this review). If you do take the plunge, students will enjoy discovering how Civilization VI's systems and mechanics work, but they'll probably need to stop games and start new ones a few times until they get a basic understanding of how things work. Which is to say that this game takes time and is an example of why some games can be frustrating for classroom use: The learning is deep and meaningful, but a class period will only scratch the surface. After 200 hours into the game, this reviewer still doesn't have a full understanding of all the systems and mechanics in place. Time isn't completely to blame, though. There's simply a lack of documentation. While the built-in Civilopedia, a mainstay of the series, does a good job of giving historical context, it does a very poor job of explaining game mechanics, and online help is equally difficult -- although that should change over time.
Civilization VI runs surprisingly well on lower-end computers, except when it's between player turns as you wair for the AI civilizations to calculate and make their moves. This wait can take minutes on lower-end computers, so it's best to find another activity to engage in during the wait. One note of caution, however: As of November 2016, the game can sometimes crash for no apparent reason in the middle-to-late game. This is extremely frustrating since it can take several dozen hours to get to that point.