iPad, PC/Mac/Linux •
My kids had nearly two weeks off school for the holiday break, which usually translates to some of my worst headaches of the year. Not only are the kids home, but they’re hopped up on gingerbread and peppermint not to mention the entitlement that comes along with being told they’re “good” based solely on presents received from a mystical fat guy. This year was a little different. First of all, two of my kids have seen the light in regards to Santa, so they know those Xbox games came directly from their already meager inheritance rather than an elvish sweat shop. Secondly, I managed to be good enough that Santa brought me a new iPad Pro [speaking of entitlement -ed.], so I spent these last two weeks breaking it in with marathon sessions of Civilization VI.
Civilization VI came to PC and Mac back in 2016 and I loved it enough on my Mac that it nabbed the top spot of my Best Games of 2016 list. Thus, you won’t be surprised to know I went into this review expecting to love the game. As such, I want to focus less on the game itself (did I mention that it’s pretty great?) and more on how the port–that, honestly, I never thought we’d see–holds up.
The gameplay is pure Civilization, the king of the 4X genre, with a few wrinkles that make Civ VI stand out. Cities are no longer one-tile affairs in which you can fit all seven wonders and a cup of cheese. No, instead your one-tile city now only holds certain upgrades while others now fit into districts which take up hexes of their own. Wonders, too, take up entire hexes and can only be built if you have the terrain types available. Unlike previous Civ games where, by the Information Age, each city was a carbon copy of the other, Civ VI forces you to think about what you’re building in each city and to diversify based on what terrain and resources each city have. It also hinders those of us who love to build every Wonder, even if they mechanically don’t help us, by forcing us to cover up a useful hex that could add to that city’s production or food stores.
The other major update are the Social Policies. Instead of a Government type automatically granting you new benefits, in Civ VI they open up new card slots. You earn cards by researching on the Civics tree, using culture the same way old Civ games had you unlocking techs with Science (that still happens in Civ VI, too). When a new Civics advance is researched, you can shuffle and play whatever cards you’ve earned that you have slots for with the more advanced Governments, and some Wonders, opening up more slots. By the end of the game, you’ll have several screens worth of cards to play, which becomes a game in and of itself.
Apart from those two major additions, Civ VI takes what we’ve come to know and love about Civ and polish it to a fine sheen. There’s war and science, religion and trade. There’s also 20 different civs to lead, and random map creation so there’s a good chance you’ll never tire of your adventures in Civ-land.
We already knew all that, however, from the brilliant PC/Mac version. How much of that translates to the iPad? All of it. This is the full game, and Aspyr did a great job making sure that the only differences between the iPad and its big brother are cosmetic. The graphics are definitely lower than what you’d expect on a high-end machine, but they’re not much different from what I see when I play on my Mac. They also removed leader animations and voices, meaning your interactions with the other leaders will be a static experience rather than the somewhat manic visits from the PC/Mac’s overacting oligarchs.
While the lack of leader personality is a bit of a downer, I’m actually more surprised by what Aspyr left in. All the map animations you’d expect are there. Wheat blows in the wind, waves crash into rocks or roll softly onto beaches, and your units charge into battle with a very desktop-like gusto. You even get the birds flying over your districts as you scroll about your domain.
The UI has been altered to accommodate the smaller screen, but all the filters, buttons, and overlays are still there for your perusal. The only truly important omission is the Strategy View which offered a zoomed-out look at the world in glorious 2D, making fighting wars feel more like something from Shenandoah than Firaxis. Instead, you’re left with the standard 3D view for the entire game.
Control of units works rather well on the touchscreen by simply touching and dragging. You can also use the “move to” command for a unit if you are looking to move them farther than a screen width’s distance. Each menu has a large and easy to press button to close it down, and they’ve also included gestures to do stuff on screen as well. Need to close a menu? Tap with three fingers. They also have keyboard support but I haven’t given it a try and don’t see myself doing so any time soon. Part of the fun is playing Civ VI while laying on the couch. If I wanted to use a keyboard, I’d go sit at my desk.
The game runs incredibly smoothly on the iPad Pro, with a maximum of 20-30 seconds between turns even on large maps in the late game. Somehow, Aspyr managed to make a graphics-heavy port that doesn’t drain the iPad battery like a hole in a bucket. I’ve played the game for hours and still have plenty of battery left over which I can’t recall happening with any other major PC port.
If there is a downside to Civ VI, it lags far behind its PC/Mac cousin in terms of updates. The iPad version is nearly a year behind where the PC version is and eight months behind the Mac version. Aspyr are the devs behind the Mac port of Civ VI and you’ll notice that it lags behind the Windows version. As such, I’m not sure the iPad version will ever catch up to Windows. I’m not even sure if it will catch up to Mac or if Aspyr is planning on just keeping it in its current state. As it plays now, it’s still the best 4X game to ever grace a tablet and not having the latest civs or updates to balance and whatnot haven’t bothered me. That said, I’m hoping that the iPad version does get some love and can at least be on par with the Mac version. As a long time Mac guy, I’m used to having games released later or not updated in tandem with the Windows version, but it would be really cool to have the same version on both my devices.
The other downside isn’t really a downside at all. That would be the price. We normally don’t talk about price in reviews, but the fact that they’re asking $60 for an iPad game is the cause of endless pearl clutching from gamers used to spending next to nothing for their fix. Here’s the deal, Civ VI is a full-blown, massive PC game on your iPad and is worth $60 on any platform. I gladly bought it on my iPad even though I already own two copies of it on Steam so my kids can play head-to-head. When developers make good games, they deserve to get paid. Your first game of Civ VI will easily take you about 10 hours or more to play. Considering that the game generates new maps with every game and gives you 20 different civs to play with, you can easily get 100+ hours out of Civ VI before it becomes old hat. $60 for that kind of entertainment is a bargain, and those on the App Store who are saying they’d pay no more than $5 for an iPad game are not only depriving themselves of a fantastic game experience, but possibly depriving the rest of us–those who recognize that developers, even those who make AAA titles, aren’t sitting around lighting cigars with $100 bills–of AAA titles on our iPads in the future. I kind of hate those people. Santa brought my youngest a Nintendo Switch for Christmas and the store for games there is incredible. High quality games like Skyrim are going for $60 and other gems like Stardew Valley are priced equal to their Steam versions. Looking at the Nintendo store made me long for a world where the App Store wasn’t a cesspool of free junk, but one where developers felt they could create amazing, deep experiences and get paid back for their troubles. /soapbox
Sorry, I got a little distracted. As you can probably tell, I love having Civ VI on my iPad. Sure, there’s no online multiplayer, but I don’t want to play Civ online anyway. Give me long, thoughtful stretches of quiet time where I can build a world the way I want to build it, watching Wonders and cities rise from deserts and rain forests. Give me a game that, when finished, I feel as though I’ve taken a long journey and woven an epic tale whether I was the victor or not. Civ VI does all those things and it does it on an iPad. 2018 is going to be a good year.
Civilization VI requires an iPad Air 2 or better to run and was played on an iPad Pro (10.5″) for this review. We mentioned the price and the game is currently 50% off, meaning you can grab it for only $30, which is a steal. Don’t dawdle if you want Civ on your iPad, as tomorrow it goes to its full price of $60.