It’s 6am, I’m 400 turns in and I’m trying to stay awake with a combination of coffee and sheer willpower. Sean Bean’s dulcet tones are guiding me to victory as my Spartan warriors tear across the land, escorting some settlers so we can set up a new city.
As if Civilization VI wasn’t addictive enough, Aspyr has simultaneously provided us with handheld greatness and sealed our fates by porting Civ VI to the Nintendo Switch. I for one couldn’t be happier as I sign away my life.
The Civ series is the daddy of all strategy games – the originator and the trend setter that has only grown over its six mainline iterations. It’s built around a deep system which will see you raising an empire and trying to achieve victory through either establishing military dominance, becoming the ultimate culture, converting everyone to your religion, or launching yourself into space.
You have 500 turns to achieve one of these victory conditions, taking you all the way from 4000BC through to 2050AD, and there are 24 civilisations to choose from, including the likes of the Romans, the Japanese, the Sumerians and my personal favourites, the Spartans. Each race puts you in the shoes of their respective leader, a famous face from the history books that can help you really get into the role, even if you’ll struggle to explain their seeming immortality. Jokes aside, having those leaders in place with each civilizations’ quirks and unique abilities, really gives you a reason to do multiple runs, despite each one lasting a literal lifetime.
When you start out, you will have nothing but cavemen looking for a home. With just a tribe of warriors and a settler under your control, it’s up to you to find a lush verdant ground to establish a home on, before setting in motion the makings of a great empire. I’m making this sound fairly heroic, but it won’t be an easy task. Civ VI is not the kind game you can just drop into and hope for immediate success. Sid Meyer’s series has always had a steep learning curve to truly master them, I feel, with a lot of deep mechanics that run through the veins of the game. There’s a bevy of in game tutorials to help you with this, and once you’ve run through those a handy advisor will stick around to offer you tips as you go through your initial run. It can seem overwhelming, but once you get used to the system, there’s a lot of scope for reward.
The world of Civ VI takes place on a hex-based grid system – unlike the games prior to V which had squares – with your first city starting on one tile and expanding out from there. Over time, more and more people will be born in your cities, meaning you have find a way to provide new homes, mainly by building features and expanding your city outwards. Citizens can be assigned to tiles automatically or manually, taking advantage of each one’s features to either provide more production or more food. The more production you have, the quicker you can build units, buildings and even Great Wonders.
In order to advance to a new age, you must do your research, with some tiles and buildings providing a science value. As with food and production, the more science you have, the faster you will gain knowledge, advancing your race (hopefully) quicker than the others. The same works for culture as certain buildings provide buffs to your culture rating. Again, the higher that value is, the quicker you will advance down the civic path, opening up newer government regimes and exploration into things like Drama and Philosophy, which used to be part of the tech tree in previous games.
As your world expands, Great People will start to appear, hearing of your great deeds as a leader and looking to apply themselves to your advancement. For instance, in one game I played, Mozart turned up and gave us the gift of his Symphony 40 Mvt. 1, which was proudly played in our amphitheatre. Albert Einstein had also heard of our scientific advances, so decided to turn up and lend a hand.
When you feel you are ready, you can brave the new world by sending out another settler to find new lands and maybe even new neighbours. As you traverse the game world, you will discover new races and meet with their respective leaders, opening up more opportunities. Different races will generally be friendly at first, before making demands later on, whether through opening up trades routes or simply asking for money. The difficulty level affects this too, with the leaders becoming more aggressive as you make your way up the difficulty ladder. Although Teddy Roosevelt of the Americans always seems particularly aggressive. Maybe he just doesn’t like me?
So yeah, Civ VI is pretty deep and you’d be forgiven for thinking that it might be a bit much for a console game. Well I can tell you that Civ VI is a marvel on the Switch. The user interface has been lovingly crafted so there is no diminishment at all, whether docked or in your hands. The controls are also fairly intuitive, with trays on each side of the screen that give you access to the essential controls and menus. When handheld you can use touch controls, but there’s always the sticks and D-pad with which you can navigate everything, just as when playing docked. Either way, it feels great.
Online multiplayer is surprisingly absent from the Switch version, but I don’t think this port suffers as a result. Civ VI works far better as a single player experience, with games lasting in some cases, four hours plus. In fact the local multiplayer, where each person has a Switch and copy of the game, works better because at least you can save your game if you want and come back to it, though surely something similar to the old play by email system would have been possible? In a nice touch, cloud saves are also available if you sign up for a 2K account, meaning you don’t need Switch Online to ensure you don’t lose your latest campaign.
Civ VI released two years ago for PC and has grown through updates, tweaked gameplay and DLC since then. The Switch version is just the base game, but that’s more than OK. There’s plenty to sink your teeth into, providing hours upon hours of unique experiences, accompanied by a divine soundtrack to really get you in the mood for building nations. Civ VI is a titan of a game and well worth your time, even if you’ve already spent hours on the PC version, because, now it’s portable, which is potentially dangerous to those who have jobs. Now the threat of taking “just one more turn” can haunt you wherever you go.