Seven Civilisations That Should be in Civilization VI

Now that Take Two have introduced four factions as DLC, the pattern of their releases is starting to become clear. It might be too early to assess any pattern to Firaxis’ ongoing release plans, but so far they’ve proved consistent with the base game by maintaining a balance between returning civilisations like Poland and Persia and introducing new ones like Australia and Macedonia (Admittedly, the latter is led by Alexander the Great, so it’s not that new). Similarly,  when Civilization VI launched last year, it included some familiar faces like Teddy Roosevelt’s America, Gandhi’s India and Montezuma’s Aztecs. On the other hand, we’ve also seen some left-field choices like Scythia and the Kongo, and new leaders for the returning classics, with the Romans led by Trajan for the first time, and Catherine Medici now rules the French, (even though she was Italian). It’s like Firaxis are making a special effort to dig deeper into history and look for cultures and play styles that they haven’t included before. That’s great: I’m glad to see the developer working on ways to encourage diversity, both in representation and in the playstyles available. But why stop there?

Here, I’ve collated seven cultures that have never appeared in a Civilization game before. Some of them might be familiar as city states or as off-shoots of other civs, but all of them have something to contribute, whether it’s an interesting play mechanic or a unique feel. Please feel free to mention any other civs you’d like to see in the comments.

1. Switzerland

Ah, Switzerland. Home of fondue, cuckoo clocks and an uncomfortably large stockpile of Nazi gold. It’s a little surprising that the Swiss have never made it into Civilization so far. Maybe it’s because unlike the rest of Europe they’ve spent the last four centuries studiously avoiding war, living at peace with their neighbours and eating chocolate instead of conquering the southern hemisphere. Whatever the reason, no other country in Western Europe has been so overlooked by the developers of Civ as Switzerland (except for Belgium. Poor Belgium).

Whatever the reason, Switzerland should be a tough nut to crack in the game. In Switzerland, every adult receives training in the army and is expected to keep their guns at home, just in case any of their neighbours gets any ideas about sending tanks up the Alps.  How does this work in-game? What it the Swiss received a bonus whenever they’re not at war— like the ability to cross mountains, a great advantage that gives Switzerland an edge while encouraging them to play nice with everyone else? Other bonuses could benefit their civics tree— Switzerland is famous for its tradition of direct democracy, where the people decide on everything from voting reforms to the price of books to whether it should be illegal to drive on Sundays. An advantage when choosing social policies would make the Swiss very flexible— a lot like those knives they give their soldiers.

2. The Timurids

Every Civ game has to have that one civ that no one wants to have as their neighbours. Names like Montezuma, Attila and even Gandhi are enough to send a lot of players into a cold sweat. These are the guys that will never be happy until they’ve declared war on you six times, nuked your cities and carted your last worker unit back to their capital, all the while laughing as you flail pathetically against them.

Tamerlane would make all these guys look like amateurs.

Timur the Lame was a warlord from Central Asia who took one look at his forebear Genghis Khan— the man who conquered everywhere from the Pacific to the Black Sea— and said: “yeah, I can beat that.” He very nearly did. His Wikipedia article reads like a police report on a serial killer: take for example the way he treated the people of Isfahan when they didn’t want to pay their taxes: Timur responded by massacring the populace and built towers out of their skulls outside their walls. And when he sacked Baghdad he issued standing orders to his men to bring back two severed enemy heads. Each. When he invaded India, his opponents decided to rattle his soldiers by using elephants against them. So Timur decided to scare the elephants by charging his camels at them.

Doesn’t sound like much? Did I mention that the camels were on fire?

The estimated casualties ofTimur’s wars might reach as high as many as seventeen million people. That might have been as much as five percent of the population of the Earth at the time. He was so scary that his tomb is said to be cursed: when the Soviets unearthed his remains, they found themselves at war with Nazi Germany three days later, and the Russians only started to win again once they had the sense to but his haunted bones back where they found him.

In the game, the Timurids would be a natural successor to the Mongols and the Huns: an all-out, death-or-glory rushing civ with bonuses when attacking cities (and elephants). But Timur had another side to him: he was a great patron of the arts and intellectuals who oversaw the beginning of a golden age in Persian art. Well, there’s nothing like burning stack of skulls outside your window to inspire you, is there?

3. Israel

This one’s likely to be difficult, since I doubt Firaxis want to leap into the acid bath that is the commentary on Israel. But let’s pretend for the sake of a list on the internet that we live in a better world because there’s a real opportunity here.

Israel doesn’t lack for potential leaders: the chances are you’ve probably heard of a few, like the guy with the sling and his famously smart son. If Firaxis are feeling brave, they could even go with a certain king who may or may not have ordered the murder of a whole load of babies.

In gameplay terms, Israel would be best suited towards a defensive strategy: this is a nation that survived for hundred years against the best the world had to throw at it. Israel survived invasion, occupation and assimilation from the Assyrians to the Persians to the Greeks, before the almighty Borg cube that was the Rome Empire finally absorbed it. Even then, the Israelites put up a hell of a fight: at the siege of Masada, nine hundred Jewish rebels held out for months against nine thousand Roman soldiers, before choosing to kill each other rather than surrender. But Israel’s also famous as a centre for religious devotion, with a long, long list of religious figures and prophets calling it home: maybe the in-game civ has a bonus towards generating great prophets, or a stubborn refusal to be converted to another civ’s religion. These bonuses would synergise well in a civilisation that gains strength and produces culture from protective structures: this is the home of the Walls of Jericho, after all.

4. The Normans

This one’s up for debate since throughout its history Normandy has been part of the France, which is already in Civ VI.  And the Normans were certainly very French: they spoke French, swore loyalty to the French king, built castles and cathedrals and did the sort of stuff you expect in an average episode of Game of Thrones. But hey: if Civ VI can have three civs that all speak English, it can manage to squeeze in another one that speaks French.

It would be a shame to exclude the Normans on a technicality since they were among history’s all-time greatest badasses. The Game of Thrones comparison is not much of an exaggeration: George RR Martin has admitted that he based the Targaryens in part on the House of Normandy (though presumably, he made up the bit about the dragons). The Normans were originally Vikings who settled in northern France and promised the French king that they’d help to keep the other Vikings out, in one of history’s greatest protection rackets. After that they were causing trouble just about everywhere in the medieval world: whether conquering southern Italy, leading the Crusades or fighting as mercenaries for the Byzantine emperor, the Normans were the Middle Age equivalent of an out-of-control stag party, drinking and fighting everywhere they went.

Then there was that time that a bunch of them shot the English king in the eye and took his country. You might have heard about it.

In the game, the Normans would be natural raiders, leading knightly charges or peppering their foes with longbow fire: bonuses to pillaging tiles and resources would make sense. But the Normans were also renowned as builders, so they’d be well suited to bonuses when creating castles and churches.

There’s only one choice for who could lead this boisterous band of brigands: after all, how many leaders in history can you honestly say was a real bastard without getting into trouble from a history teacher?

5. The Phoenicians

Carthage has been featured in every Civ game since the second, whether in the base game or expansions. But if Firaxis feel like making a change (or they’re running out of Carthaginian city names), they may want to widen the scope to include Phoenicia as a whole Carthage was the most successful colony founded by the Phoenicians— merchants, traders and sailors from the city-states of the Levant (modern Lebanon). From their home cities of Tyre, Sidon and Beirut, their trading network spanned the whole Mediterranean Sea, reaching as far as Spain and Somalia. They made their name as the middlemen of the ancient world by buying silver from Spain, gold from Egypt wine from Greece and selling their monopoly on Tyrian dye.

Besides making themselves very rich, the Phoenicians have many accomplishments to their name. They were one of the first civilisations to use a recognisable alphabet, which they introduced to Europe. Their cities were run by oligarchies and the rule of law at a time when the rest of the world was still under the sway of god-kings and pharaohs. They were the first people to sail around Africa. They practised sacred prostitution. They sacrificed their children to gods that they didn’t so much worship as cower in terror from in the hope they’d go away. And then there are the things that Carthage got up to, like Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants to scare the heck out of the Romans (some of the elephants even survived!).

In Civ VI, The Phoenicians should be a terror on the ancient seas, with advantages when building (and sinking) ships.   They should benefit from a robust trade network and bonuses based on collecting and selling luxury resources. Stay home, build your ships, get rich, and if anyone argues you can send in the elephants.

6. Florence

Strangely enough, the Civilization series is that it has never featured Italy as a united nation. That’s probably a quirk of history since there was no united Italy for some fourteen hundred years between the fall of Rome and the nineteenth century. Two of the most prominent Italian cities— Rome and Venice— have been featured in past instalments, and there are a dozen others that they could feature in the future, but surely there is no other Italian city crying out for attention like Florence.

Anyone who’s played Assassin’s Creed II knows why Florence should be in Civ. Think of the people who made Florence their home over the centuries: Botticelli; Machiavelli; Dante (not that one!]); Leonardo; Michelangelo. The list of artists and thinkers that lived in worked in Florence reads like a Who’s Who of genius (and potential names for Ninja Turtles). Under the leadership of the Medici banking clan/crime syndicate, Florence became the epicentre of the Renaissance that dragged Europe out of the Middle Ages and into the greatest cultural flourishing the West had seen since Rome. The Medici banking network stretched across Europe and beyond, and the richer the Medici became, the more money they had to pimp out their city, and the more time Leonardo had to spend in his workshop painting women with strange smiles and inventing helicopters and death rays in his spare time.

But Florence was never a massive world power, and in Civ VI Florence could take a cue from the way Venice played in Civ V and be limited to one city. A one-city Florence would challenge the player to plan ahead, to build an unassailable artistic legacy with only one city to fall back on. Financial bonuses would be a necessity, but Florence should be in a position to thrive as a cultural powerhouse, with extra points towards great artists and no limit on the number of artworks they can put in their museums. And if anyone feels like bullying them or carrying off the treasures of Florence for themselves, well, the Medici can always afford to pay them off…

7. The Nazca

The Nazca culture flourished in Peru in the first millennium AD. They didn’t build cities— they closest they had was a cult centre at Cahuachi that was mostly a temple complex/marketplace, and not a place where people lived or worked— it was certainly a lot smaller than the great pre-Columbian cities of Mesoamerica and the Andes. But the Nazca still managed to leave behind some of the finest artwork in the Americas: beautiful pottery and textiles, finely crafted and inlaid with images of animals and their gods.

None of which are as interesting as the Nazca lines.

The Nazca desert is home to hundreds of gigantic images etched in the sand— most are quite small, but the largest stretch for about a third of a kilometre and the only way to see them is from an elevated vantage point. Some of them are simple lines or shapes, but the most famous depict monkeys, birds, whales and people. It’s like finding a lost Banksy piece on a humongous scale. What’s fascinating about them is that no one is exactly sure what the Nazca people made them for. Were they used to calculate the movement of the heavens and the time of year, like Stonehenge? Were they meant to communicate with the gods, looking down on humanity from an unimaginable height? Were they designed to provide a landing strip for alien spacecraft (probably not)? We may never know.

It would be great to see the Nazca lines in Civ as a tile improvement for otherwise useless desert tiles, generating extra faith, culture and tourism. As for other benefits: the Nazca had a reputation for collecting heads. It’s not clear if this had a ritual purpose or they just wanted to keep the heads of their enemies as trophies, but it could provide the basis for a unique unit that would scare the heck out of their enemies.


Why we still need guides in video games

Why do games still need guides?

We live in a time when games are becoming harder to learn. Developers rely on end-users having at least some familiarity with the tropes of modern games. But every game released is also someone’s first game, and something as simple and taken for granted as twin-stick controls— “left stick=motion, right stick=camera”— can be bewildering to the user who has never played a game before. And if a user cannot get over the relatively straightforward hurdle of two analogue sticks working independently, they are unlikely to stick around for a hundred-hour open-world action-adventure.

So tutorials are necessary, but they are also unpopular: for those who are familiar with games, they are a speed-bump to the action, a hoop-jumping exercise that gates off the rest of the experience, a sign reading “You Must Be This Leet to Proceed.” Thus, among games marketed towards the more “hardcore” end of the market, there has been a been a backlash against excessive tutorialising. The popularity of Dark Souls— along with its imitators and successors— has shown there is a market for games that don’t hold the player’s hand. Indeed, some games have begun to go out of their way to obfuscate the critical path and even invite actual dishonesty: think of Dark Souls and it’s in-game community feedback that ranges from the helpful to the trollish with all the unpredictability of the modern internet. In the vernacular of the day, games are moving (Linked Comment)into a “post-truth” world: Simon’s Quest, with its duplicitous NPCs, begins to seem eerily prophetic. There is perhaps no clearer bellwether for this trend than Nintendo, whose reputation for providing a helping hand reached a peak with Donkey Kong Country Returns, which offered struggling players the option to have stages literally play themselves. Even Nintendo has changed with the times, as shown in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Whereas previous Zelda games suffered ridicule for a series of expository mascots designed to dictate Link’s every move, Breath of the Wild throws the player right into the deep end of a broken world with minimal instruction and expects the player to swim or sink on their own

In this environment, guides have paradoxically become more important. As the trend towards understated and unforgiving experiences grows, it becomes a barrier to entry to many consumers, which is a shame given how much artistic prowess, world-building and atmosphere is crammed into games like Breath of the Wild and Bloodborne. But doubling down on tutorials or lowering the difficulty risks alienating the core audience for such titles. How do game makers square this circle: appealing to a large yet niche audience while still inviting in new players?

It is neither realistic nor fair to expect every player to “git gud”— that is, to put in the time and the sweat to the skills they need to engage on a game’s terms. The time constraints placed upon the modern audience for games are extensive— from jobs to study to family and social obligations. Not everyone has the time or the ability to dedicate to mastering every game they may want to play. Guides serve to ameliorate a lot of the frustration of gaming’s learning curve, acting as both safety net and roadmap for anyone who would otherwise be put off by a title’s reputation for putting up a challenge.

Guides have a  great advantage that they have over tutorials and difficulty sliders since they are opt-in: the agency lies with the player, not the developer, as it is the user’s choice to consult a guide. Likewise, those looking for a challenge can simply choose not to look at a walkthrough, or only seek one out for a particular section or problem when their experience turns to frustration. Guides let the player set the terms for their experience, without suffering undue frustration, learning things they already know, or suffering the humiliation of losing an achievement when they adjust the difficulty.

Guides, then, are here to stay. But why is it that traditional outlets still feel the need to publish them? One might well wonder what the point of posting a guide is when the answer to any question is as simple as typing “Sonic 3 Carnival Night Zone help” into Google to find a dozen answers from the community.

At a time when the truth has become a valued commodity on the internet, the quality of guides is more important than it has ever been. Outlets have to compete not only with the glossy artbook/guide hybrids released by Prima but also with dozens of user-submitted FAQs that are available online for free. It is critical to strike the right balance when producing guides that are informative and accurate (especially when any mistake risks going viral) while also recognising that guides are content, that they must be engaging, entertaining and drive clicks on the outlet’s website. The guide writer must be subject both to the peer review expected of an academic and to the approval of an audience looking for entertainment. It is not easy work, but it is important, and it will remain vital for as long as video games have to compete for time with the uncertainties of modern life.