Say goodbye to one-tile cities. The newest Civilization game is totally overhauling the city system from previous games, transforming cities into sprawling horizontal territories that take up multiple hexes on the map. It's a totally new approach that should drastically change how Civ is played.
The developers at Firaxis are calling this new mechanic the "district" system. In older games, you'd open up a city's production screen and build everything within a single space, but now you'll have to expand your city by constructing districts on neighbouring tiles. These districts come in various flavours — market districts, religious districts, theatre districts, and so on — and they're the bricks of how you'll specialize your nation in Civilization VI.
Your production buildings will also appear in those districts — libraries and universities, for example, will pop up in the scientific "campus" district. If an enemy army were to come by and raze that campus to the ground, you'd lose those buildings.
For a walkthrough of how this works, check out this neat Sean Bean-narrated demo, which I saw at E3 last week but was posted online today. (Don't worry — Sean Bean doesn't die at the end.)
"We wanted every map, every location to be a puzzle," Civilization VI senior producer Dennis Shirk told me during an interview at E3 last week. "So as you're scouting, you're gonna see mountains nearby, you're gonna see jungles, and after you've played a couple of times you'll actually learn the intricacies of what gives you bonuses in terms of adjacency for these districts. Your mind is thinking in a completely different way now."
For example, Shirk said, a mountain range will give you an immediate boost to science. Place a campus district near those mountains and your city will reap the benefits.
Wonders of the World will also take up city tiles, and they will be restricted based on how your city is laid out. For example, you can only build the Great Library next to a campus. You can't build the Pyramid on grass; you need to be near a desert to make it happen. Gone are the days of one gigantic city containing every single Wonder on the planet.
"You can't just have that powerhouse city with lots of production," Shirk said. "And on top of that, you can try to build as many districts as possible and all the Wonders, but you still have to keep your people fed, you still have to have farms, you still have to have mines."
It's a totally new way of thinking for Civilization, and Shirk says it was the first thing they prototyped when they were developing Civ VI. "This was the cornerstone of the entire game," he said. This district will change how people play the series — not just in how you construct cities, but in how you defend them as well. If an enemy is at your doorstep, you'll have to consider the fact that they can now destroy your districts and disable some of your high-priority production buildings. You'll want to lay out your districts accordingly.
Shirk said he thinks even longtime Civ fans will need to play a few times before they have mastered the idea of horizontal cities.
"The first time you play you're gonna make a lot of wrong decisions," he said. "Like 'I should have really put that over here' — that will happen. The best equivalency for that is when you first played Civilization V, you clicked on the 'assign individual citizens' button and then you backed out because you're like 'I don't know what that is, I'm gonna let the governor do it.' It's kinda like that. You can let it be on autoplay, but once you discover what these things can do, you can really amp up the power of these things."