For a game (and a series) that gets a ton of fanfare, the announcement and subsequent release of Civilization VI on the iPad (CSiP) has been relatively quiet. No months-long PR campaign full of developer diaries and pre-launch marketing blitzes. No hype train full of YouTube personalities panting breathlessly about the title’s amazing features. One day it was simply announced that the game, one, existed and, two, was available.
That kind of hype is usually reserved for a game that studio is embarrassed of – a check-the-box, barebones release they’re hoping everyone will forget. That is not CSiP. Nor is this yet another rehash of Civilization: Revolutions, the Civ-lite game that has graced the portable platforms previously to mixed response.
Instead, CSiP (from developer Aspyr) is a full featured, robust recreation of Civ VI on the iPad. It is a fantastic port that, while not without its problems, is one of the best surprises of the year, so far. The key word in that previous sentence is “port.” I’ve played nearly 160 hours of Civ VI (and 224 hours of Civ V, and uncountable hours of Civs I-IV). The hardest thing to get my head around with CSiP was how faithful it is to the full game on PC. Even reading that the game was the same did not prepare me for the actual experience on the iPad.
In many ways, then, this is less a review of a new, full game, and more of a check-in to see if the experience survived the transfer to the smaller screen. Therefore, the most important thing for you to do if you’re at all interested in CSiP is read our original review of the game. Everything there still applies. Almost to a remarkable degree.
That’s the short version: if you like what you got with Civ VI on your PC, you’ll like this. The longer version is only slightly more complicated.
CSiP starts exactly the same as regular old Civ VI. Same starting movie and all. You pick your civ/leader, map size, victory conditions, etc. Any option that was available on your PC is available here. Get used to this because I’m going to be writing it a lot: this is not some crippled “Civ-like” experience, it’s full Civ. Full stop.
However, because we’re on the iPad, a few caveats apply. The game allows you to choose the same map sizes as on the PC, but it warns against selecting the large and huge sizes due to excessive load times. Those warnings are warranted. Even on a standard map, the waiting can be unbearable right from the beginning.
Similarly, the game defaults to no unit animations. Players can absolutely turn those QoL features on if they so desire. But the game knows what it’s doing – the best experience is to tone down these options.
CSiP comes with the base set of civilization choices, plus the Aztec (who were included for people who pre-ordered the PC game and were later added to the full game with a DLC). This is a larger issue (we’ll get there), but it’s disappointing at the outset. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed such adversaries as Alexander and John Curtin. I really did feel their absence.
You make your selections, the loading screen appears and… It’s Civ! Really and truly. Buttons are placed in almost exactly the same spots and reveal the same information. Units move and act as expected. It’s uncanny.
Instead of using your mouse, you use your finger. That’s the big difference. How well do the touch controls work? They range from acceptable to frustrating to downright maddening. This isn’t really the developer’s fault. Unlike certain other mobile 4X games I’ve reviewed in the past who shall remain nameless, I think the developers did a good job with the touch controls and making them viable for this kind of game.
However, there are limits to manual dexterity – a fingertip will always be thicker than a mouse pointer – and there are going to be problems. Any time you have clickable objects close together (like when a unit is standing on a city square), it’s a miserable experience trying to select the one you want. Dragging units out at distance is also a pain, since the game struggles to decipher when you need it to scroll.
The joy of CSiP is that everything works exactly as you’d expect it to. All the features you would expect from a game of Civ VI on the PC, you’ll get them here and in the same ways. Building districts, engaging with city states, the role of special resources – same, same, same.
Except… This is clearly an earlier version of Civ VI without a lot of the improvements brought by later DLCs. This is not an issue with the iPad, because the game could easily have included these changes, as needed. Rather, it has to do with the fact that we get an earlier version of Civ VI than we’re now currently used to.
Nowhere is this more evident than with the research and civics trees. Both have seen a lot of improvement over the last year – new icons making improvements and benefits clear. Several adjustments to streamline the progression of technology over time. There was a reason these features were added, the game could be a little opaque at launch. Losing them doesn’t leave the game unplayable – someone new to the franchise wouldn’t realize they were missing something. But it’s a constant reminder that what you have on the PC is a better version of what is on the iPad.
Again, most of the changes here have more to do with the version of Civ that was ported over, rather than with the port, itself. The AI really has been improved on the PC, and you can tell just by playing the iPad version. Barbarians in particular have been toned down significantly in the PC version of the game. I’d forgotten how evil they were initially, and CSiP is a rough reminder.
One nice addition just for the iPad, however, is that the game will always ask you to confirm an attack before engaging. This is obviously a concession to the less-than-reliable touch controls, but it’s an appreciated one. If the pop-ups are annoying, you can turn them off. But I found them to be quite helpful. Moving a unit to an unintended space is annoying. Accidentally starting wars would render the game almost unplayable.
Graphics are remarkably clean for an iPad game. Screenshots from my iPad are going to look almost exactly the same as those from the PC. Yes, you’re better served turning off the unit animations. And yes, all the leader portraits are static, taking a lot of personality out of the game. Wonder animations are also cut short. But for what this is, the graphical fidelity is nothing short of remarkable.
Almost as impressively, the fantastic soundtrack comes over without any concessions. This is the full musical score playing the whole time throughout the game. Voice over (seriously, voice over!) is also copied whole cloth. Sean Bean will read those Dave Barry quotes to you with the same aplomb as he does over on your desktop.
So that’s it. Civ VI on the iPad is, with minor adjustments made for the iPad screen and controls, exactly the same as Civ VI on the PC and is, thus, an easy purchasing decision.
Except that it isn’t.
I try to avoid discussing price in my reviews because it is a very subjective subject. $60 on the iPad is not subjective. It’s ridiculous. The developers have responded that, since this is the full Civ VI experience on the iPad, it’s easily worth full price.
That completely ignores the context. On a platform where a $10 game is considered overpriced, charging $60 is just insulting. Yes, that apartment is worth $10 million in Manhattan. Try charging the same in Birmingham. The environment of the iPad just doesn’t allow for this kind of pricing. This cost takes an already iffy proposition (do I really need another version of the same game?) and makes it almost impossible.
This is exacerbated by the up-in-the-air status of the DLCs. Civ VI DLC has been underwhelming thus far. We didn’t even bother considering Civ VI for Most Improved Game this year and justifiably so.
However, it still hurts not to have it. Some of the added Civs are just cosmetic, admittedly. But some had very important gameplay reasons for being added. Cyrus and Alexander, for example, have helped soften some of the restrictive aspects of the warmonger system. And all of the new leaders have helped to make the game today far richer than the one we got at release.
Losing the QoL additions, though less heralded, hurts far worse. Overall, Civ VI now is better than what it was one year ago. But iPad players don’t have access to that improved version of the game. And I’m not sure what would be worse, that the game will never be updated or it will, and Aspyr will charge insane prices for each addition.
Tellingly, the menu screen for Civ VI on iPad teases the new Rise and Fall expansion. This seems to imply pretty strongly that players will be able to pay for that addition on the iPad. But how much will that cost? How will it reconcile the version differences with all the missing DLC from the past year?
I do not know. No one knows (except maybe Aspyr, and they’re not saying). It is very hard for me to recommend CSiP with this information still undefined.
In truth, I’m not sure who CSiP is supposed to be for. For the Civ VI fan who wants to play on the go, it seems kind of cruel to recommend they buy everything, at full price, twice. I’m really struggling with the Rise and Fall DLC, in particular. I’m absolutely getting it for PC, but do I then have to purchase it again to use on my iPad? Does CSiP become essentially unplayable once I get used to the upgraded version of Civ VI? Will the iPad version feel like a retro game mere months after it was released?
For the person who never would have considered Civ VI on PC but is looking for a full-fledged 4X experience on mobile, are they really going to spend $60 on that platform? There are plenty other (less well made, admittedly) 4X options that won’t cost full premium price.
Full disclosure, I would not own CSiP if it had not been provided to me for free for the purposes of this review. In some ways that’s a shame because Aspyr has created something really special here. One-more-turn is especially insidious when you can get that fix at the office or on an airplane or in bed.
I’ll turn the game on, expecting just to play for fifteen minutes, and suddenly four hours will pass unnoticed. It doesn’t get much better than that. I’m not sure I’d feel the same way if I had to pay full price, knowing that I’ll be on the hook to do so for a long, long while.
TL;DR: Civi VI on the iPad is Civ VI. On the iPad.The controls do suffer from the transfer, but everything else plays, shockingly, exactly the same. The DLC is missing (along with any associated QOL updates) and the price is ludicrous, but if you want 4X gaming on the go (or just tiny) there’s nothing better.
You might like this game if:
- You like Civ VI and you want it on the go
- You have thin, nimble fingers
- You’re looking to end your career or your marriage, because this will eat your attention and, unlike the PC version, can follow you everywhere
You might NOT like this game if:
- You think the mobile space is better suited for shorter, less involved versions of games
- You have financial responsibilities such as food or heat
- You want the most recent version of Civ VI, or at least a plan for how you can get that version going forward
Joshua has played for 20+ hours on an iPad Air 2 with a 64 GB hard drive.
Disclosure: Joshua was given a product key at no cost by the developer for the purposes of review.