AI, Civilization VI Edition: An eXposition


Civilization VI  has been out for about eight months now and, while everyone has their own opinions of what works and what doesn’t, the one thing that has been almost universally decried is the AI.

The list of complaints is almost as epic as the game itself:

  • The other leaders are unreliable, flitting from friend to enemy like high school girls hopped up on pixie stix
  • The AI doesn’t upgrade its units, sending out catapults to fling rocks at bombers
  • The Civs don’t take advantage of obvious paths to win the game, instead sitting idly by while you go for the easy victory
  • Advancing armies do a poor job of working around the one unit per tile (1upt) rules, leaving scattered, easily disposed-of troops
  • The AI doesn’t seem to have a plan for victory – or that plan seems to be a religious victory for everyone all the time
  • And it goes on like this

So, is the AI in Civ VI the Worst. Thing. Evar? Or is it merely misunderstood? I’d say a little of both. There are aspects of the AI in Civ VI that are deserving of our scorn. But I also think there are things that aren’t really issues, but rather confusion around  the role the AI is intended to play.

I’ve got over 150 hours in Civ VI so far (and spent nearly a lifetime on the entire series), and I’d like to take a closer look at these issues – not to bash one of the best editions of what is one of my all time favorite series – but rather to use Civ VI as a platform to investigate game AI, in general.

The three responsibilities of AI in 4X

I’d say that the job of any AI in a 4X game can be split into 3 categories:

  • How does it manage its units?
  • How does it manage relationships with the human player (aka, diplomacy)?
  • How does it go about winning the game, itself?

For a good AI, we ought to be able to answer each of those questions with a positive response. If the AI does a poor job in any of those categories, we need to understand why that the case. And if that is the case, if the AI is, in fact deficient in some ways, does that cripple the game, or just make it a little less than perfect?

“Would you like to play a game?”

In a game like, say, Stellaris – where win conditions are extant but mostly ancillary – I can forgive the AI if it doesn’t always make the optimal decision to move toward the win condition. On the other hand, I consider it paramount that the AI is clear and consistent in diplomacy – its relationships with me and the other AIs. That’s because I see Stellaris as being more about the situations it creates than the challenge to defeat the game itself.

If a Militarist empire doesn’t upgrade its ships perfectly, that’s annoying. If those same Militarists start a pacifist Federation, that’s unacceptable. Stellaris is trying to tell a story and so the characters need to be consistent, even if they don’t always make the best decisions to reach their goals.

For Civ, this is a larger problem because I’m not certain we can all agree on what the goal of the game is in the first place. There are win conditions, many of them, and while Civilization wasn’t exactly based on the board game, it certainly has a board game-style mentality about why you’re playing.

Vikings for peace. That’s like Gandhi for war. Oh wait…

At the same time, however, with all the different leaders and their personalities (along with their “secret” agendas), the game’s focus on eras and (somewhat) historical accuracy, there are times when Civ feels more like it wants to be a simulation game rather than a competitive strategy game. This dichotomy makes it hard to really judge Civ’s AI or even to set our expectations of what it should be.

But I’m going to try anyway. So let’s look at each aspect of an AI’s responsibilities and try to suss out whether the Civ VI AI is up to snuff.

Does the Civ VI AI manage its units well?

Simply put – no. No, it does not. Of all the issues around Civ VI, to me this is the most egregious. The 1UPT rules have remained (mostly) unchanged since Civ V. The interconnected uses for each unit type (simplified to melee, ranged, and siege) have arguably been in place since the original Civ. Yet somehow the stupid AI still doesn’t know what to do with its stupid units.

What is the AI good at? When it has overwhelming numbers in the field (aka, not sieging/defending a city) the game will grind your people to paste. It seems to have a fairly good idea of what to do with cavalry, using speed to pull vulnerable horse units back before you can crush them. This is why the barbarians in Civ VI, especially the horse-y ones, have become so feared. They allow the AI to work to its strengths.

What is the AI not good at? That would be everything else. When defending a city, the AI rarely put its units to good use, instead it just sits there and takes a pounding. When assaulting a city – oy! The game does not take advantage of mixed forces, instead sending out unprotected siege units in single file like it’s asking you to slaughter them. Ranged units such as archers are also sent out without melee support, taking the most OP units in the game and rendering them useless. Admittedly, the army units do help with this, somewhat, but it only blunts the issue rather than resolve it. These are just the basic complaints. We could spend hours on this (and clearly, I have).

Even a moderately competent commander (and being honest, I’m barely competent) can easily take advantage of the AI, even at the higher difficulty levels, and win wars that should have put them on their backs. I’m not asking for the system to play high level chess here, just to understand the basic underpinnings of the game and use that to its advantage. And that’s just to beat a lowly peon like me. Imagine the challenge required for a hardcore strategy gamer.

Why upgrade to new units when the old ones work just fine?

This is further exacerbated by the fact that the game continues to spam older units rather than upgrade to newer ones. This has been improved by patches since launch – the AI now upgrades occasionally instead of never – but it is still far too common to march your riflemen into enemy territory and find them sharpening their spears.

How does the Civ VI AI manage diplomacy?

I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the behavior of the AI opponents, yet I actually think diplomacy works fairly well. The greatest grievances actually seem to be counter to each other. Either the opposing Civs are far too friendly – not going for the win when it’s presented to them – or not nearly nice enough, constantly finding nitpicky reasons to declare war.

Some of this is more of an issue with how the AI goes about trying to win the game. But in terms of diplomacy – of communicating wants and desires to the human player – I actually think the game does a very good job. What it does poorly, however, is teaching the player to understand those communications. Like the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Darmok,” both sides are saying things very clearly and concisely, but since no one understands the context of the language, the meaning is lost.

This lack of clarity is, unfortunately, a hallmark of Civ VI. The game has a ton of interesting underlying mechanics – some of which it is even kind enough to show you if you click the right menu button – but never explains any of them. So it’s easy to miss that the game is telling you pretty much everything you need to know about your enemies/allies. Some Steam workshop mods address this issue, but why do we need to rely on the Mod community instead of the developers?

You’ve made a grave insult to my people. But you have a lot of triremes, so we cool…

In earlier versions of Civ, understanding why another nation hated you was a combination of intuition and flat out guesswork. Civ VI fixes this by telling you, at all times, what the AI leaders think of you and why. Even if you aren’t constantly checking the relationship button on the diplomacy screen (and, full disclosure, I am), the AI will connect with you, regularly, to let you know what it thinks about what you’re doing. Does this happen a little too often? Yeah, probably, but I’ll take too much information over too little.

I also like the fact that I can’t please every opponent because that’s life. I shouldn’t be able to make nice with everyone, and so being forced to please some but not others gives the diplomacy a nice feel of negotiation. Even if the actual negotiations with each leader is dry as dust.

Once you know what each leader is looking for, the AI acts reliably most of the time, though not always. The “hidden agendas” add a little bit of mystery to understanding your enemies, but in truth, you can suss out what the big secret is well before it’s revealed in the mid-game. Sophocles keeps praising the size of your army? There’s a good chance that his hidden agenda is that he likes large armies this time around. In this way, I actually really like the way the game communicates this information – everything is on the table, once you learn where to look.

It’s not perfect though. The warmonger penalty is definitely an unresolved issue for me, but that is a far larger problem that’s outside the scope of this article. The alliance/loyalty civs like Scythia and Sumeria can be hard to pin down. And even ol’ reliable Gandhi declared a surprise war on me once. But overall, if Jadwiga is calling me godless, she’s not just saying it – she really believes that and will deal with me accordingly. Overall, I’ve found you can please or upset the leaders as you choose and get pretty predictable results.

What now?

As I said above, it’s really how the game chooses to try to win (or not) that makes the leader behavior seem counter to their stated goals.

How does the Civ VI AI go about winning the game itself?

Before we go into this, I want to quickly note that nothing I’m saying below is an incontrovertible fact. Firaxis isn’t in the practice of giving me exclusive access to their design documents (yet). However, I feel strongly that this information is correct based on my experience with the game as well as conversations I’ve had with high-level players, modders, other developers, past Civ developers and anecdotes I’ve read and/or heard from people far smarter than me.

Now then, there is a running complaint in the Civ VI reviews on Steam that runs something like this: “The AI is stupid, it doesn’t play to win!”

To which I say, yup. That’s about right. Only, the AI isn’t stupid, it’s doing exactly what it’s programmed to do.

But first, let’s talk about an important thing I’m fairly sure the Civ VI AI is not doing: it’s not playing Civ VI. Let me explain. What are you doing when you play a Civ game? Collecting resources, expanding cities (both within and without), building wonders and using those resources to build your military, do research, collect culture, etc.

I believe that the Civ VI AI is doing none of those things. Rather, it is acting in ways that allow it to simulate the appearance of those actions. The AI doesn’t do research. It’s not collecting science points to work towards techs on the tree. Instead, the AI is gifted those techs at regular intervals in order to make it seem like it is moving along the track the same way you are.

Similarly with units, the AI isn’t picking a unit to build, collecting production, and then putting it into the field. Rather, a unit will just appear at regular time points that should appear to a human player as if the game is actually doing those actions. Ever go to war and see a unit “magically” appear in your enemy’s territory? Yeah, that’s not the AI getting lucky with a build queue, that’s the AI making a unit for itself in order to make the game seem “real.”

Space is not a friendly place.

Teaching an AI to actually play Civ is hard. Heck, teaching a human is a rough go. Setting the AI up this way acts as a shortcut for the developers, a way to create the appearance of playing a game against someone rather than actually having to play the game. Higher difficulties don’t allow the AI to play better, they just let it cheat harder – accelerating its ability to grab at things it hasn’t earned (because it doesn’t know how).

And this brings us back to the original dichotomy I brought up in the beginning: Is Civ a game or is it a simulation? And the answer (and thus the frustration for many players) is that it’s both.

For the human player, Civ is presented as a game to be won. There are optimal builds and strategies and win conditions and the human player is set up to strive to defeat his/her opponents. But for the AI, I’d argue that the game is a simulation and the developers specifically designed it to work that way. The AI isn’t trying to win (religion and Wonder obsessions, aside) because it wasn’t designed to try to win, but rather to provide what developers see as a “Civ experience.”

Put another way, the Civ AI isn’t made to be your opponent, it’s your Dungeon Master (known by all the hip hobbits as a DM). For those of you who’ve never played pen-and-paper role playing games… Stop pretending, we all know you’ve played them before. But for those of you who still want to act like you’re not nerdy, the DM’s job is to be the storyteller in a role playing game.

To be fair, this is more of a Dungeon Hamster.

You create a character and the DM provides the adventure for that character (or group of characters) to experience. As part of that role, the DM also fills in as all the villains you encounter. That doesn’t mean the DM is trying to beat you, in fact it’s the opposite. The ideal DM creates and plays the villains as hard as he/she can, but still lets the heroes win. It’s a tough balance, one that most DMs (including myself) struggle with: make things too easy and the encounter is boring, but make it too hard and you’re cruel. In both cases, creating a credible villain who could kill the characters but in the end is somehow defeated by their superior… Well, whatever. That’s tough.

This is in direct contrast to a competitively played game like, say, poker. I’ve played a ton of that game in person and online and never once have I thought “well, I’ve got an unbeatable hand, but I’m gonna lay it down to help complete this dude’s narrative.” But as a DM it happens all the time. In fact, it’s the defining characteristic of a great DM.

Civ VI isn’t playing poker and it’s not fair to criticize it for not doing so. The Civ VI AI is a DM. It’s trying to provide a somewhat Civ-like experience. Your opponents are there to challenge you, yes – to be greedy and cunning, wild and crazed, memorable – but they’re not there to win. Not really. Just to give you the feeling of going up against the historical greats and handing them their heads.

So, how does the AI do at trying to win the game? Not all that well. But then, if it’s working the way the developers intended, that’s exactly the point.

What does this say about Civ VI AI going forward?

If Ed Beach and I were friends, we would get ice cream together every Wednesday.

Again, I don’t work for Firaxis, Ed Beach and I are not BFFs, and I have no idea what their intentions are. But I can make an educated guess.

I don’t think it’s too much to expect the AI’s unit management to improve. To go back to the DM analogy, the game’s inability to do even the most basic strategies makes the enemy far too defeatable to be fun. And I do think that the diplomacy aspect could be better explained, or at least somewhat more consistent.

But to expect the AI to suddenly switch to being a win-driven, cutthroat opponent (like, say, Pandoras does), I think, goes beyond what the developers are trying to accomplish. I don’t expect to see a game-changing, AI plays-to-win now patch, nor do I think it’s fair to denigrate the game because it’s unlikely to get one.

Whether or not this is a dealbreaker for you as a player is going to depend on what you’re trying to get out of the game. As a Civ fan who loves the experience of marching through history, I understand what the AI is intended to do and it doesn’t bother me that it isn’t so much playing to win as it is playing just to play. But for those who are looking for the true, strategic experience of playing against another, experienced, human being, I think it’s unfair to expect Civ VI to provide that.

To the moon and beyond!

What do you think? Is the Civ VI AI playing to win, poorly, or is it creating a simulation experience? Should the devs make a more competitive AI, or should people looking for a tough opponent look for a multiplayer game? What could the developers do to make the AI better, overall? Let us know in the comments below.

42 thoughts on “AI, Civilization VI Edition: An eXposition

  1. Nice review Josh! Now I know what to expect from the AI. Too bad Sid is so busy counting his royalties from other peoples work these days he can’t work on it/

    Loved the reference to ST: TNG Darmock – one of my favorite episodes as the AI in that was extremely well written – though as I recall it took 5 writers to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m unable to answer all that questions about CIV 6 as I do not own it yet. And the article points out the main expectations.
    But in a general manner I think the master piece of a good AI is when I (the player) forget I’m playing against an AI. It means, the AI do not give me the feeling that it is cheating, or have a huge intelligence superiority but in the same time, it have too make errors for I can feel I can chip it away !
    It’s not only the AI must not be too hard but that it is sly or even sneaky and always fair. I, the player, have to feel as I am playing against another human. A good AI have to make mistakes, even incredible beginnner errors and in the same time have to choose sharp and cunning actions.
    That’s for me a smart AI.
    Some example of AI I liked : Battle Isle 3 = Hard but smart. – Jagged Alliance 2 : hard but kind – Xcom (UFO) = Quite hard but Intractable – Xcom2 = Quite easy but balanced predictibility.
    For the diplopmatics I never met any really good AI. There is never enough freedom of choice for the player. I think it’s really complex to predict the huge varability of the human kind :-)


  3. Thank you for this. Despite being a Civ fanatic – and one of the few people who LOVED Civ V even before the expansions – I have been hesitant to get VI because of all the negative reviews. This analysis has put my mind at ease.


  4. I completely agree with the Dungeon Master analogy. Embracing this as a design philosophy is the key to solving the AI problem in 4X games. 4X fans really need to accept that an AI capable of actually playing a 4X game competitively is far beyond the scope of what is achievable right now. AI has had success in games such as chess and go, but these are incredibly simple compared with any 4X game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read a bunch of articles that suggest that, ironically, once an AI ‘figures out’ a game, it essentially takes the fun out of it. Backgammon, for example. Apparently AIs figured out the ideal way to play the game and so a lot of the fun is taken out of it. You’re either doing it right or not at all.

      In other words, I’m not sure we’d even want to create a 4X-capable AI, even if we could have one.


      1. I’m afraid I have to disagree with you this time. In my opinion, the reason that AI solving games such as Backgammon ruins them for some, is that the AIs capable of playing these games clearly lack any genuine intelligence, so we conclude that the game itself must not require intelligence. 4X game AI belongs to the “AI Complete” category of problems. In other words, an AI capable of playing a 4X game would require human qualities of flexibility and understanding in reasoning. It would not be some fixed inflexible and clearly non-intelligent algorithm.


  5. “Is Civ a game or is it a simulation? And the answer (and thus the frustration for many players) is that it’s both. ”

    I’m going to disagree and say neither: it doesn’t play the game well and does a bad job at pretending to know how it works too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s certainly a valid argument, Paulo. That’s the saying, right? If you try to be many things you’re none of them. I’d definitely like to see the Civ franchise choose to be a game or a simulation. I think it would make for a better experience overall.


  6. I don’t want a strategy game like Civ to act exactly like another human player because that leads to wonky diplomacy. I want the AI to behave as a believable actor in the world I’m playing in. I want the AI to pursue victory conditions, but not at the expense of acting in a sane manner.

    Civ IV walked the line much better than Civ V and VI. Diplomacy was mostly clear due to the relationship factors being available. The AI seemed to try and win without acting crazy – well, we never knew when Montezuma would get all aggressive but we knew he would. The AI could also handle the unit stacks to make for interesting wars. War pacing also better matched the pace for a game on such a large scale.

    I wish Soren Johnson would make another Civ game, or at least one like it. He’s shown he can think outside the box with Offworld Trading Company – a game a can appreciate even if I’m not much of a RTS player anymore.


    1. I don’t know this for a fact. But I have a THEORY that the devs want the AI to act “crazy.” I think they believe that’s part of the fun. Part of the Civ experience.

      That said, my personal experience is that the opponents in Civ VI act rationally, for the most part. Their stated goals may be irrational (I like large navies because… I like large navies!) but their actions based on that goals are (mostly) predictable.


      1. I can probably agree with your wording on that. Many of their actual agendas are not reasonable, or are implemented in a way that sometimes causes them to act in a way that I don’t find reasonable. I get attacked on my home continent that I share with Teddy and he gets mad at me for being at war. Another Civ gets mad that I don’t have a spy network early in the game. Your navy example above falls into this category.

        So, they may be predictable, but not in a way that I find enjoyable.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. I will be 37 in a few short months and i’ve played Civ since Civilization II. I feel that to have arrived at Civ 6 after all these years and to have a game with all of these issues is simply unacceptable and borders on willful incompetence. It’s almost as though the developers forgot the fact that they have created 5 previous versions and many expansions. This is not new and Sid Meier knows better even if Ed Beach doesn’t. I simply can’t completely put into words how let down i feel with the way the game currently functions and part of that is because i feel that there is indeed a foundation with Civ 6 that is solid.


  8. I don’t have the game yet. But there are different skills levels in the game and have you played all the levels to see if the AI act different and also Is there a pvp and if so how is that game play


  9. The discussion about Civ VI’s AI not “playing to win” was very interesting to read.

    Because in Civilization: Beyond Earth (a sadly underrated game, IMO, but that is a subject for another day), it seemed that to at least some extent, the AI *did* play to win. I’ve had games where I pulled off a victory only a few turns ahead of the AI, leaving it as one of the few 4X games to ever present an endgame where I felt endangered.

    On the other hand, in each of my Beyond Earth games, whenever it became clear I was approaching a win, the AIs still never felt threatened enough to gang up on me and wipe me out before they all lost (an issue, I might add, that was also present in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri).

    Maybe it’s because most of the victory conditions are so similar (build a super-wonder, keep hitting “next turn” and/or building more stuff to add to the wonder until you’ve won), and unit upgrades happen automatically as you raise your Affinity, and Affinities are scattered all over the tech web, and the expansion made even hybrid Affinities viable… so maybe having at least one civ end up with a threatening “build” isn’t quite as herculean a labor for Beyond Earth’s AI as other Civ games.

    What do you think, Explorminate staff? Any thoughts as to how Beyond Earth’s AI might be evaluated by this article’s interesting criteria?


    1. Hmm, good question. It was different enough game too. I wish it had another major expansion. It could have greatly improved the game because the design team was on the right track for sure.


  10. Great behavior analysis, it put into words what I was beginning to suspect with the AI acting more as DM than as a competitive player, especially with how their economy and production seems to behave completely disconnected with their sustainable troop counts.

    My assumption before was that the devs couldn’t create an AI that could actually manage the systems they built, so they just faked it, but I like your idea better, that the faking it is just to provide an experience for the player, rather than to compete against the player.

    This is most apparent as you crank the difficulty up, the AI still makes terrible decisions, with everything from city placement to troop usage, but the rapidity with which they get more units, and gold, despite their poor decisions, is greatly increased. So they are more difficult, but only from a logistical point of view, not really a strategic one.


  11. Great article, but I don’t think it holds for Civ III or IV. Those AIs were definitely playing for the win. After years of being bored outplaying Civ AIs, I recently fired up a game of Civ IV for kicks, and promptly got my ass kicked by Gilgamesh. Say what you will about the ease of programming a Stack of Doom vs 1upt, that AI wasn’t going for a “Civ experience”. It wanted my head on a pike, and that’s the way I like it.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Considering that the “AI” is just a bunch of algorithms, it’s clear that when a game is sufficiently complex every try to build an AI that emulates a human player is a lost cause. However, the flip side here is, that in every sufficiently complex game the human player is so busy grasping the game optimizing their play and avoiding errors, that it doesn’t matter much as long as there is some background chatter that sounds like real voices. Keep the complexity down, though, and that changes.
    For example, the original Master of Orion game is fairly simple (in the sense that you have only a couple of sliders to move on your planets and you can only have 6 different ship models at any given time) – but at the same time the AI is really giving you a hard time, and it’s quite possible to lose both peacefully (someone gets the majority in the council) and in a war. There is actually a lot of diplomacy involved, espionage as well and you can get “framed” (you may get a message that someone is mad at you because someone else actually managed to frame you for some terror act).

    Kind of between a rock and a hard place: make a game like MOO, and everyone will come up with a ton of ideas how to EXPAND the game with additional mechanisms and systems and additions, but each one of them will make it that much more difficult to have a competitive AI, until the point comes when the AI is actually only emulating background chatter to keep you on alert or throw a stone between your feet once in a while.


      1. This!

        Majority of people have no idea on how we actually make AI but they berate game devs for it.

        Civ 6 is like the perfect game to demonstrate our inability to create AI, just look at your first turns and your first 2 cities, what and how many decisions you made for those first 15 turns in the game? Also how and why do you even do what you did?

        I’m not even afraid to say that huge majority of human being that ever lived on this planet would even unable to properly explain those first 15 turns in such a way that it can be a valid scientific data to build an AI that we want to be able to compete with players… And we haven’t even talked about translating those to computer language that our computers can understand.

        In short, ironically it’s stupid people complaining about stupid AI in games, lol.


  13. I totally agree with the DM part, but that doesn’t mean Civ6 is good at it and doesn’t have to do it better. For me the overall experience for playing against it’s AI is a bit of a letdown but on the other hand I find most the particular complaints against specific aspects of it nonsense (couldn’t find a better word, I’m not a native English speaker)
    Let me just show you a few examples:
    – “a good AI must feel like playing against another human” + “why Gandhi attacks me with no reason?” + “AI must try to win” To everyone saying both those things, excuse me but what if I’d play Ghandi against you? What I’d be allowed to do and what not and still feel that I’m a human player. Make up your mind, those things are pretty mutual exclusive (like fast + good + cheap).
    – Is not realistic that I have muskets and AI still uses sticks. From my experience that doesn’t happen for the AIs you are constantly interacting with from the beginning. But yes, I got to a new continent and it was like that and I was wtf at first, but then was thinking: what did the Europeans found on other continents when they got there, well this looks pretty realistic. So stop using “realistic” as a reference to some utopia in your head. Of course you can complain about that but not for being “unrealistic”. I bet the devs can give you the opposed experience pretty easy but noone would like that.
    I could still go on but I’d get noone reading.
    Bottom line, I don’t have a solution/suggestion but the only thing I can pinpoint about this game is that it definitely doesn’t work well towards end game and that needs to be fixed somehow. I did have a pretty solid experience for the first half of it but then it was pointless (and not because I found natives with sticks and rocks on the other continent but it would have been the same regardless)


  14. Great article and it makes a lot of the head-scratching actions of the AI make a bit more sense. It gave me a different perspective of how the game was designed and what it was designed to be, which makes it a bit less frustrating to play. I’m still a disappointed customer because I expect block-buster games to live up to the hype. But I’ve been disappointed in the major film studios and their block-buster movies too. Calling this a “strategy game” is a complete misnomer.

    With all this said, if the game is not making decisions, can it be called an AI? I don’t think so. DM doesn’t quite work for me – DM is too emotively connected to paper DnD. But it is like a director in a theater company, someone who stages the actors and directs the behavior of the players, with the exception of the human player, who is the audience Based on my understanding of this article, the game is setting a stage with the intention of giving players stimulus that keeps them entertained and clicking that Next Turn button.


  15. For competitive play you have to be against another human. The AI doesn’t even have to deal with keyboard and mouse controls or menus the way humans do.


  16. I like the helpful information you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I’m quite sure I will learn a lot of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!


  17. Very interesting article! While I agree with a lot you said, I think your wrong on your dungeon master theory, and I think I can prove it:
    Try running the Firaxis Live Tuner from the official development tools alongside Civ 6 and start a new game. Once your game is running enable the autoplay function in the Live Tuner.
    You can now watch the AI play the game for you, with, I’m assuming, the same algorithm which is used for your opponents. Sadly while the autoplay is running the player’s not able to access some parts of the UI, such as the city screen or the research screen, etc.
    But I’ve found a little trick to circumvent that: after activating autoplay let the game run for at least a complete turn in order for an autosave to occur. Then quit to main menue and resume the game from there. Once the game is loaded, the autoplay will still be running and the AI will still be playing for you, but now you’ll have access to all screens.
    You can now clearly see that the Ai is producing units and buildings in its cities and choosing research and civics just like a human player would do. Nothing is spawned or randomly generated. I’m sure the AI is getting some crazy bonuses to be competitive, but it’s definitely playing the game and not only pretending to do so!


  18. Yeah, good article, but Maltvater is right. You’re DM theory is wrong. By watching autoplay via Firetuner one can clearly see that the AI is actually playing the game. The tuner even allows you to take control of an AI opponent’s civ. After doing that you’ll be able to see which tech and civic it is currently researching, its pop allocation, etc.
    The devs even held a tournament on launch day where only AIs played against each other.
    You might want to edit your article, since you’re clearly providing some false information here.
    @maltvater: thanks for the info with the game reload, very nice!


  19. Maltvater (and Erniegiggle)- I think there are actually two separate points here.

    1. Is Civ VI playing the game or just pretending to play the game? It sounds like, based on what you’re seeing using the autoplay with the Live Tuner, that the Civ VI AI is actually playing. That doesn’t square with things I’ve heard from other sources, but those were always a bit dodgy in any case. I’m looking forward to checking it out myself, but it sounds like the Civ VI AI is actually playing and not just pretending to.

    However, I’d have to disagree that this disproves point 2, that the intention of the Civ VI AI is to be more of a dungeon master than an opponent. Even if the AI is playing the game correctly, that doesn’t mean that the intention of the AI is to play for an experience vs playing to win. By definition, an all-AI game has no human player, so we can’t really use it to judge what the AI is doing when interacting with the human.

    The first theory, that the Civ VI AI doesn’t actually play the game by the rules is a disprovable theory and I think you’ve shown how we can do that.

    The second theory — that the Civ VI AI is intended as a dungeon master and not as an opponent — is more of a feel thing. I don’t think it can be disproved unless the devs themselves come out and say “no, that’s not what the AI is doing at all.” In which case, they’d be conceding that their AI can’t play it’s own game? I dunno, it’s unlikely we’re getting that confirmation.

    Still, very cool find. Thanks for sharing it!


    1. Hi Joshua! You’re right, these are actually two separate points.

      There’s no doubt in my mind that the AI is actually playing the game. Give the autoplay a try, it’s actually quite interesting to watch! :D

      Regarding your second point: (and I hope I’m able to express my thoughts in a more or less coherent manner, my english is a bit rusty…)
      I’d actually very much prefer it if the AI was built to deliver an exciting experience instead of just some opponents to beat.
      I’ve been playing Civ games since Civilization 2, and up to and including Civ 4 the games felt to me more like simulations, much more ‘organic’ than the two newest iterations. To me Civ 5 and 6 have more of a board game-like feeling. I think this can mainly be traced back to how the AI plays the game. In Civ 4 for example the diplomacy was much more predictable. You always knew why the AI was mad at you, no backstabbing, no war declarations out of the blue. This made it feel alot more realistic, the AI acted more or less like a real life leader would.

      After Civ 5 was bashed for its crazy AI shortly after release(and rightfully so), the lead game designer Jon Shafer said smth. along the lines of the AI being designed to win and to emulate human players, which lead to the erratic, backstabbing behaviour. I think they took the same approach with the AI in Civ 6. They tweaked it quite a bit, made its diplomatic reactions a bit more predictable and tried to make it feel more organic by adding the hidden agendas, but I believe at its core it’s still the same.

      As I said, I’d prefer a dungeon master approach, but imho the AI isn’t designed this way.

      I just watched the AI play against itself for 20 minutes and to me it looked like it’s playing to win. It’s just really, really shitty at it! :D

      But maybe you’re right and I’m totally wrong. We’ll never know, I guess. ;)


      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yeah, civ AI’s play the game by rules since civ3, at least, albeit with huge bonuses on harder levels and some cheats (in civ3 the AI could see resources even if it didn’t have the tech to see them, in civ4, AI units had an extended sight range in the fog of war; dunno about civ6). Frankly, the theory that the AI doesn’t play the game by the rules is a good example of player paranoia.


    3. > Is Civ VI playing the game or just pretending to play the game? It sounds like, based on what you’re
      > seeing using the autoplay with the Live Tuner, that the Civ VI AI is actually playing. That doesn’t
      > square with things I’ve heard from other sources, but those were always a bit dodgy in any case.

      I have to say this: If it were to be proven that the Civ VI AI was just pretending to play the game, not only would I never buy a Civ game again (and I’ve been playing Civ since the very first version, when I was in college), I’d never buy another game from either the developer or publisher. And I’d make a point of remembering the lead developer’s name, and refuse to buy anything he or she was associated with.

      My late wife would have thought I was being too forgiving.

      There’s an implicit contract in computer strategy games — the AI gets various bonuses to make up for the fact that it’s not actually AI but AS (Artificial Stupidity), and we agree to ignore that fact as long as it’s not too egregious.

      ‘Playing by completely different rules that mean it doesn’t matter how it’s actually doing’ violates that contract to the point that it should be considered _fraud_. Because it’s not providing what is advertised.

      (I should note that Civ V and VI, at release, were so bad that in my opinion they _did_ border on fraud, but I think that’s because of incompetence on the part of the executives involved in the decision around release dates, and there’s a strong argument to be made that all executives involved in such decisions in the software industry (much less the games industry) are incompetent, and thus there’s no degree of incompetence which qualifies for even vague criticism, much less accusations of fraud… but my wife and I didn’t buy Civ VI for (IIRC) a month after release, and I probably won’t bother with VII until the first expansion comes out, just to avoid the worst bugs.)


  20. Nice thought provoking article. It is always good to read things that make us question our assumptions.

    I am a long time player of the Civ series, and I’ve gotten progressively disappointed with each build of the game since Civ IV. It seems each build is dumbed down over the one before it. The graphics get better and the core game gets worse. I am not sure if the designers think this will make the game more accessible to the masses, but it just makes it less fun to play.

    I understand it takes a while to to get AI right, and that is one of the reasons I haven’t bought Civ VI yet. I wonder if I ever will, since there is so much more variety in the 4x genre now.

    My two cents:
    – If you are right about the AI players magically getting tech and units, I am sooo disappointed. I would at least like to believe that the AI is playing by the same rules, even if they get say, production bonuses on higher levels. To me, having the AI operating in a completely different manner crashes the fourth wall. I sure hope it is not true

    – Getting the AI to be right is really hard. Too easy and the game is boring. Too hard and you get frustrated. If the AI is actually working properly, it will beat a human player every time. I don’t have time to sit around and count my resources all day, but the AI does it in a millisecond. A correctly tuned AI should be challenging but beatable, so it has to be programmed to make some mistakes, or not take all the information it has into consideration. I also like an AI that is capable of surprises. Unlike what you said, I feel that I don’t always want to know exactly how the AI feels about me. An occasional backstab keeps things interesting. In my opinion Distant Worlds has the best AI I have played in terms of creating the illusion of a living world.

    I really enjoyed the work, thanks for taking the time to write it!


  21. “Civ 6 is like the perfect game to demonstrate our inability to create AI, just look at your first turns and your first 2 cities, what and how many decisions you made for those first 15 turns in the game? Also how and why do you even do what you did? ”

    I may be naive in thinking this but surely an opportunity presents itself by using Human players for this, and analysing what players typically do in those first few turns, then coding your AI to do the same thing or variants, building up a logic chain.

    I believe Blizzard do this with starcraft 2, recording data from matches played on Battlenet and tuning the AI accordingly.

    The process can start in house with a dozen dedicated beta testers looking to break the game strategically, and the developers either fixing those exploits or programming the AI to do so.


  22. Hi Joshua, first of all: plz apologize my probably bad english, I am from Germany. Your article above is very well-grounded, balanced,fair as well to fireaxis as to gamers like me. (not really hardcore with 1200 Hours in one game but even not a newbie in this genre). Til today I read all the negative comments to Civilization 6 at steam or any magazines derisive, but after reading your article, I feel more understanding for the behavior of the Civ AI and whats about there function in the game. I wouldnt buy Civ 6 til today, but now I will do.- because of another perception of what AI will do and what AI won`t. Relating to your question at the end of your article : I guess, that the Civilization AI is made for people who loves hiking through the ages, turn by turn, and another turn (though its a quarter to three at night…) and not for hardcore gamers. This presumed I see the critics and issues with other eyes…Thanks for your work ! Greetings from Lower-Saxony.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Joshua,
      you asked me a time ago to write again, when I`d played Civ 6.

      Currently I invested about 130 hours in that game.

      Let me judge it in a few words, as far as my english will allow this ;-)

      I think, many people do misunderstand the function of the AI
      (as you wrote in your article…)

      The job of the AI is not to simulate players of “flesh and blood”.

      The AI is just a framework for the actions, the strategic and tactic decisions, the player makes in the course of a game.
      So I know at the start of each game, that there is no human player, rather there is an algorithm, there are landmark on which Civ 6 builds a
      surrounding for different player-strategies.

      A sandbox in which I can act and sometimes it goes wrong cause the AI acts illogical.
      But that’s good to me, because I am aware of this and I relate this in my strategies and tactics.

      The system of city states is a great element and by far offers a couple of possibilities,
      much more as in Civ 5 (boni, the opportunity to challenge the AI-Leaders in different ways)
      I am able to integrate every city state in my individual kind of strategy,
      if an AI-opponent declares unexpectedly war, in the meantime I know the reason (it seems plausible, when my religion is another than his,
      it is plausible, if he recognizes, that he never wont get my precious works of art and so on…

      The system of research-tree even allows me to drive different strategies, tailored to the behavior and (suspected) reactions of the AI.

      All in all a pretty good price performance for 25 Euros (i.e. Dollar) on sale.

      I wonder, if rise and fall will fit into the existing basic-framework of Civ 6,
      and I am very excited , if the AI behaves just like the current game.

      So far,
      Greetings from Germany

      Liked by 1 person


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