Five reasons why Civilization 6 is so enduringly popular

By Colin Campbell, Contributor
Despite being more than seven years old, Civilization VI is one of the most played games on the Epic Games Store. I'm one of its biggest fans, clocking up thousands of hours over the years, and still playing a few times a week—often for many hours at a time. But why is this vast strategy game so enduringly popular?

It's epic and intense

First and most obviously, it's a seriously good game, presenting a coherent view of world history through complex and interlocking gameplay systems that simulate the fantasy of building an empire. No two play sessions are ever the same. Developer Firaxis Games' carefully calibrated gameplay loops are designed to hook players and to keep them engaged without resorting to tiresome chores.

As a player, you begin as a real historical empire-builder—ranging from the likes of Gilgamesh to Queen Victoria—looking down on a mostly unexplored map, with just a tiny village at its center.

Over the course of many turns, the player explores their hinterland and unlocks benefits by expanding territory and building farms, mines, timber mills, and trade routes. As the village grows into a city, you build amenities and necessities like city walls, religious monuments, barracks, trading hubs, and entertainment centers, enhancing your power, your territory, and your reputation in the process.

You research new technologies that feed into your military endeavors and recruit armies that can defend against nearby rivals. Those who fall behind are doomed to extinction. Your empire grows through a variety of strategies, including invasion, diplomacy, religious expansion, trading, and cultural might. You can choose whether to be a raging warmonger or, rather, a leader whose preference is peaceful co-existence (although the latter is a harder road).

After many hours of play, you can gaze upon your great empire and force all others to bow to your status as world leader.

Civ 6 satisfies a powerful emotional need

Real life is chaotic and confusing, but Civilization 6 presents a playpen that delivers a clear and obvious link between your decisions and your achievements. You learn from your mistakes, and the game gradually and satisfyingly rewards you when you play towards an intended goal of your own choosing.

You are playing with systems that are designed to engage your intellect and your personality. Filling out virgin territories with cities and outposts feels like an act of creation. Interactions with neighboring empires simulate real political engagements in which the consequences of your actions can lead to glory, or to disaster.
Five Reasons Why Civilization 6 Is So Enduringly Popular Map
There's also an educational kick. Playing Civilization 6 is probably not going to get you a degree in history, but I'm a history buff, and I've learned loads of satisfying tidbits about ancient and medieval empires from playing the game. Until I played Civ 6, I had no idea about the existence of Lady Six Sky, but now I'm fascinated by this 7th century Mayan warrior-queen.

Longevity counts

The Civilization series goes way back to the early '90s (I've been playing since 1996) and has always been designed with the slogan "just one more turn." It's a fine principle that keeps us addicts up into the wee small hours, plotting our paths to world domination.

Each new edition is greeted with joy as Firaxis tweaks its many systems, introducing new ideas and reacting to cultural changes. Civilization 6 is a game about the history of human life and power, but it also makes me think about the issues of the day, like our relationship with colonialism, military expansion, and cultural appropriation.

It's grown over the years

Since its launch in 2016, Firaxis has implemented major and minor updates that expand the game's scope. One expansion (Rise and Fall) introduced the tricky challenge of population loyalty—if the people are unhappy with your rule, they will rebel, triggering all sorts of problems. The Gathering Storm expansion forces players to reckon with climate change, and Red Death includes a frantic post-apocalyptic battle royale.
Five Reasons Why Civilization 6 Is So Enduringly Popular Volcano
Exciting new civilizations have been introduced, including Mayans, Ethiopians, Byzantines, and Gauls. Those leaders are drawn beautifully and offer fulsome personalities with their own quirks and strategies. Each civilization has its own buffs and advantages, as well as its own limitations.

If you enjoy building powerful land armies, an empire like Germany is a good way to go. However, players who like to spread their power through religion, technology, or culture can choose civilizations that favor proselytization, research, or the production of art.

Play as you please

Civ 6's range of playable options is extensive. I prefer to play alone, with a random leader, on an enormous map, and on the longest possible timescale. But I know plenty of players who always use the same map, the same leader, and so on. Multiplayer is always an option—it's an entirely different game, demanding ruthless efficiency and a clinical militaristic approach.

Various individual scenarios are available, like the high Roman Empire. But in the regular single-player game, there are always new challenges based on differing maps, or even the random allocation of enemies you're required to face.

Ultimately, Civilization 6 is a game that demands time, concentration, and commitment. It has so many paths to both victory and defeat, and it also requires imagination, creativity, and flexibility. There is a comfort in following your own favored path to glory, but also a thrill in being forced to yield to unfolding political realities.

I have loved this game for many years, and I'm sure I'll be seduced and entranced by the next entry, which is rumored to be arriving sometime in the next 12 months. So long as there are Civilization games, I'll be playing them.

Civilization 6 is available on the Epic Games Store.