Conquering the world with golf courses in Civilization VI: Rise and Fall

I’ve been playing the Civilization series since my biggest concerns were learning cursive and earning the next upgrade for my throne room, which was sometime back in the mid nineties. I’ve endured the Test of Time, gone toe to toe against Gods & Kings, and even been Beyond Earth, all at the behest of one Mr. Sid Meier. Still, I don’t think any of it prepared me for the sheer enormity of scale featured in Civilization VI: Rise and Fall.

Rise & Fall is the first full-fledged expansion pack for Civilization VI. Previous downloadable content packs have been for single new playable civilizations, each usually accompanied by a handful of unique scenarios. Rise and Fall features eight brand new civilizations, as well as one alternate leader for an existing civilization. There are also a number of new gameplay systems introduced, and refinements to existing systems that enhance the overall experience.

Playing as Scotland

To review Rise & Fall, I opted to use the same settings I prefer for pretty much every game of Civ: the largest “continent” mode map size, randomly-selected leaders, normalized resources, and a very early starting point. I also turn off turn limits, and thusly, the high score victory condition. Finally, I find that I get the most enjoyment out of Civilization on the Marathon length setting, which the game described as being “200% slower.” I feel like these settings give me the greatest sense of satisfaction savoring my empire slowly expand over centuries of planning. Civilization is a series concerned with ages and eras; as such I don’t particularly mind if a playthrough takes a good long time to complete.

It’s also worth mentioning that I played on one of the easier difficulties. I wanted to be sure I could get far enough into the game to actually see and appreciate the new features, and I wouldn’t be able to do that if Sumeria rode me down with chariots before the end of the Classical Era yet again.

I chose one of the new leaders to play as: Robert the Bruce, also known as Robert I, King of Scots. The real-life Robert I ruled Scotland in the early 1300s and is to this day regarded as a national hero for his efforts to achieve Scottish independence from Britain. In-game, he offers a number of bonuses I found attractive.

Robert’s first ability is called “Scottish Enlightenment” which gives modest bonuses to the amount of industrial production and scientific research your cities will generate when the citizens of a city reach a certain threshold of happiness. Campuses and Industrial Zones attached to those cities will also generate addition points that you can use to recruit Great Engineers and Great Scientists to your empire, each of which offer massive bonuses themselves.

His second ability is “Bannockburn” which takes its name from the historical Battle of Bannockburn, in which Robert’s forces ambushed an English formation en route to relieve the besieged Castle Stirling. In-game, Bannockburn allows Robert to launch a War of Liberation. This type of war allows Robert to reclaim captured cities that formerly belonged to friends and allies without incurring any political consequences.

Each leader gets a special unit, and Robert the Bruce is no exception. Upon unlocking the secrets of rifling, Robert gains access to his legendary Highlanders, as opposed to the traditional upgrade from Scouts to Rangers. Highlanders have a combat bonus when fighting in rough terrain, specifically on hill and wood tiles.

Finally, and most importantly, is Robert I’s unique improvement, and our key to victory. Scottish Builders can construct the Golf Course, which produces gold and provide happiness. If they’re placed directly adjacent to a city or entertainment district, they’ll also give a culture bonus, and later in the game they can even be improved to provide additional housing for citizens. The golf course is a powerful tile improvement, and was ultimately why i chose Robert the Bruce for this playthrough.

I set out to cover the globe in sand traps and putting greens.

Advancing through the eras

After a short loading screen I started my journey as Scotland the same way as one starts any game of Civilization VI, with a single warrior, a single settler, and a whole lot of the unknown on every side. My two units spawned right next a river, but instead of settling my first city right away, I opted to follow the river. A couple turns later I was rewarded by an ideal spot for a first city, a coastal tile right next to a river delta, two sources of wheat, and some fish right offshore. I decided that this was the perfect place to plop down my first city, so I had my Settlers unit found Stirling on the spot.

Around turn 35, I got my first glimpse of one of the most exciting new features of Rise and Fall, the Timeline. The Timeline records all of your empire’s notable achievements and happenings, showing each one as either a full frame sketch, or a short line about a more minor event. The most important events come with the accompanying artwork, and are typically awarded for ”firsts.” Even after this playthrough I don’t feel like I’ve discovered what all of the triggers are, but I’ve noticed a few. Triggered events seems to include an empire’s first settlement on a new continent, settling within range of a natural wonder of the world, and the discovery of some technologies the game considers to be of particular importance. Also, these major events tend to award some number of Era Score points, which are important for different reasons.

Around turn 117 the Ancient Era came to an end, and I was rated on how many Era Score points I had earned, amongst other accomplishments. The goal of the Era score is to achieve above a certain number. This time around the threshold was 19, with a stretch goal of 24. Below 19 points, I would be thrust into a Dark Age for the next era, during which my populace would feel less loyal. At 24 or more points, I would enter a golden age, which would cause my citizens to be even more loyal. The number of points required at the end of each era increases, but points do not reset. For example, going into the Modern Era, I already had about 130 Era Score points. To earn a normal age I’d need a minimum of 154, and to earn a Golden Age for the Information Era I’d need to end the Modern Era with at least 166 points.

I ended the Ancient Age with 21 points, which meant no Dark Age or Golden age, but I was still allowed to make one “dedication” to commemorate the end of end of an era. Making a dedication always involves picking from one (or more) of four choices, each of which is a powerful buff for your empire. Dark Ages and normal ages seem to provide one dedication, whereas a Golden Age provides 2. Once I even earned a Heroic Age (which involves earning a Golden Age after falling into a Dark Age) which let me make three dedications.

The dedications are some of the most impactful buffs a player can earn, depending on playstyle. I personally like playing hyper-expansive colonial powers, founding cities on every continent and every suitable island I can find. Going into the Renaissance era, I picked a dedication that would give my cities three additional citizens if they were founded on a different landmass than my starting continent. This allowed me to very rapidly expand my empire beyond the reaches of my geographic homeland.

When I did fall into a Dark Age going into the Industrial Era, I was able to pick a buff that I thought would get me out: Heartbeat of Steam, which provided 1 Era Score for each Industrial Era building I constructed. This buff, combined with a new wave of overseas expansion, eventually netted me enough Era Score points to enter the Modern Era with a Golden Age, triggering a super powerful Heroic Age.

Loyalty and Governors

The relationship between different types of ages and citizen loyalty was mentioned before, but allow me to spell it out. One of the new metrics to track in Rise and Fall is a city’s loyalty, which in simple terms, is how much pressure citizens from nearby cities are exerting on each other, every vying to ensure fellow subjects remain loyal, or to entice them to switch allegiances. The system is mostly set-it and forget-it. As long as you build your cities close together, loyalty to the motherland should stay high. The loyalty score become far more important for my fellow colonizers, who might be attempting to snatch up scraps of land closer to the borders of other empires.

In my game, my neighbor-state of Egypt lost two cities to disloyal subjects. Both Thebes and Shedet, who shared a border with my city of Haddington, seceded from Egypt, becoming free, but very aggressive city-state neighbors. The units from these rogue states proved a nuisance, but they also afforded me an opportunity to bring the two unaffiliated cities into the fold. A brief military campaign saw the end of Thebes. The city was too small and barren to be of use, so I put the whole tile to the sword. Shedet, likely fearing the same fate, petitioned to join my empire, which I accepted.

Ages are important to loyalty because they define how much pressure your citizens exert on a city to stay loyal, or consider rebelling and converting to your governance. During a normal age, each citizen exerts one level of loyalty on nearby cities. A Golden age this raises this to a level and a half, and plummets to a half during a Dark Age. This illustrates the importance of working to stay in at least a normal age.  During my Dark Age, I had to use some tricks in order to keep my far-away colonies from going rogue.

Those tricks largely involved the governors, one of the other new game systems in Rise & Fall. Over the course of the game, unlocking different technologies and civic policies will award Governor titles, which can be spent in unlock (and later upgrade) any of seven governors, each with a different specialty. For example, Magnus specializes in production, and can grant bonuses to the industrial capabilities of the city in which he is established. Likewise, Penga specializes in science and culture, and can help a city cultivate these resources.

Each governor also nets an additional gain to a city’s loyalty each turn, which makes them handy for maintaining control in situations where a city is at risk of rebelling. A governor has to be established in a city in order to exert their influence, which can take several turns after being assigned. So like most things in Civilization, planning ahead is critical.

The beauty of all these systems is how they play off of each other, their designed level of interconnectivity.  Cities produce citizens which produce loyalty. Loyalty makes for happy, productive cities which can further the quest for Era Score points. A good era score results in powerful buffs, which help to expand an empire with more cities. The end result is almost cyclic in nature, with governors being useful ways to plug holes or to buff already productive cities even further.

Hole in One

I never did get my golf course-based victory. Truthfully, playing on Marathon settings came back to bite me. This article had to make it live at some point, and my playthrough was just dragging on and on, as Marathon length games tend to. That’s not so say that I wasn’t having a blast playing, however. I ran out of time with what I felt was a fairly expansive, affluent empire. I just needed some more time to bring home the win.

Existing Civilization fans should find little to complain about here. It’s a common trend that Firaxis expansion packs make their base games feel more complete, and Rise and Fall is no exception to the rule.