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Civ 6 versus Civ 5: what a difference 200 turns make

Hexual ceiling.

Editor's note: Final review code for Civilization 6 was only supplied to Eurogamer late yesterday afternoon, and we'll be working to get a full review up on the site early next week. In the meantime, here are impressions culled from a near-final build supplied earlier by 2K.

There's always been something magical to me about the first 200 turns of a game of Civilization 5. I've seen some people claim victory in that time, though I am no such power player. Instead, it's the unhurried, exploratory forays in to the unknown that provide a joy of discovery that has remained undiminished across several games and countless hours of play time. It's an excitement borne from potential and of grand plans; of making choices and standing at forks in the road.

Later, as the mid-game looms, that excitement of discovery returns once more with the unearthing of the Archaeology tech and the unveiling of sites of antiquity; more goodies to seek out and gambles to take. There's a lot that happens in between, of course, but those two points at opposite ends of that 200-turn scale bookend my most played period of the game and represent catalysts for much that I have loved about it over the past six years.

With a clear idea of how it scratches a very particular itch, it's been fascinating for me to compare the first 200 turns of Civilization 5 with those of Civilization 6. The joy of discovery is alive and well in Civ 6. Some of that joy is derived from the simple fact that it is a new game to get to grips with and some is delivered by the thematic grounding in the Age of Exploration. To illustrate the point, let's consider the opening few turns of my own, admittedly woefully unoptimised, play style in Civ 5 versus what's been happening in Civ 6.

I'm one for founding my first city wherever my settler starts the game but in Civ 6 it's not just a case of checking that there's a decent mix of food and production and making do with that. Access to fresh water is essential due to the growth of your population being dependent on housing. Starting next to a river provides a decent bonus to housing in your capital, but coastal waters will do in a pinch. Immediately, then, I'm having to decide whether to try to better my starting position or plump for where I am.

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The unstacking of cities makes district and wonder placement key decisions at every stage of the game.

The early game build-order is a subject of much debate, but scouts and basic troops are a safe bet in both Civ 5 and 6. These are the troops that make those exciting early discoveries, pushing out into the dark to uncover ruins, barbarian outposts and future city locations. That's still the case here in Civ 6 but upon stumbling across a barbarian scout with my warrior, I make what will later be revealed as a costly error and let him run free. The addition of scouts, it turns out, is indicative of the fact that barbarians now actively search the environment for fledgling civilizations before racing back to report their find to the nearest outpost only to bring reinforcements down on your undefended city.

Lesson learned I move on to my next build item, but where I would then usually create a worker to have them begin the laborious task of converting grassland into arable farmland, here that's unnecessary. The builders that have replaced workers complete improvements instantly but can only be used three times, which renders redundant the need to micromanage them (I've never been one to automate my workers in Civ 5). As both games progress past a score of turns I'm selecting my first social policy in Civ 5 and meanwhile over in 6, I have a functioning government with two bonuses selected from a pool of four.

This proliferation of choice continues as the turns tick by. By turn 50 I have three cities in the earlier game and only two in the latter, but one of them has a brand new Holy Site district built atop a hill next to two mountains. It looks quite lovely and, better yet, is enjoying adjacency bonuses for its canny placement, which is generating additional faith points. I'm alive with religious fervour and greedily eyeing up where my next district might be placed. Eschewing the science-generating Campus I head straight for the bright lights of the Entertainment Complex, bequeathed by the Games and Recreation civic. Enthralled, I accidentally place it in a foolish location, where its bonuses are squandered. Undeterred, I make a physical note on a piece of paper with an actual pencil regarding district placement and move on; 'I'll look out for that next time', I resolve.

As the turn ticker registers 125, I'm well and truly settled into the groove of my usual Civ 5 activities, the Tradition Social Policy tree has been completed to complement my humble island setting. I've slaughtered enough barbarians and chucked enough money at the local city-state that they're granting me a cultural bonus. Still, things are going a little flat and I'm looking toward how many turns might be left until Archaeology can be researched to reinvigorate my sense of discovery and exploration going forward. Meanwhile, back in Civ 6 the number of choices surrounding district buildings, wonders, government policies and city-state manipulation have grown once more and I feel like I'm keeping multiple plates spinning trying to keep track of it all.

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The barbarian scout that I failed to deal with early on has returned with reinforcements.

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By turn 200, I'm just starting to savour the creation of archaeologists to bring back the mystery and goodies to my game in Civ 5. Civ 6, in which I have already done so much, is only just getting started. It's a tad unfair, perhaps, to compare a game that has given me several hundred hours of fulfilling play over the last six years, with one that is hot off the press and has directly benefitted from the millions of hours players have poured into its predecessor. Still, that is the nature of these things, and it says much for how feature-rich Civ 6 is that its early game can stand up to such direct comparison to that of a game that has benefited from two weighty expansions.

The key, for my own personal games at least, is that first 200 turns of Civ 6 are filled with decisions that have knock-on effects on meaningfully interconnected systems. I'm engaged, perhaps even a little bewildered by all of the choices I've had to make and yet, despite making many mistakes along the way to turn 200, I am smiling to myself at the possibility of it all. I have a head full of ideas for the next time I play those same turns again, along with a page full of pencil scribbled notes that contains a personalised flowchart, for future reference. It's possible that there is no going back for me. Unlike Civilization: Beyond Earth, a game I flirted with but ultimately retreated from, Civilization 6 has its hooks into me and it's Civ 5 that must be given up for good. To test this theory, I decide to push on and have just one more turn.

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