‘Civilization VI’ for iPad brings the full sweep of history to your fingertips

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When Firaxis first revealed the bright, stylized visuals of Civilization VI, a vocal minority of fans balked at what they saw as a childish step backwards from the austere realism of Civ V, with some specifically invoking “mobile game graphics” — an insult in the vernacular of “elite” PC gamers. In a sense, they were right — the new aesthetic (which I think is fantastic, regardless) did make porting the venerable PC strategy series to tablet much more feasible. Sid Meier gave iPad gamers an early Christmas present when 2K simultaneously announced and launched Civ VI for iPad the other week.

Mobile gamers have long had access to a more lightweight version of the series with Civilization Revolutionbut this is the first time that the unadulterated main series is available on a handheld platform.

This is indeed the full Civ VI, so I will dispense with gameplay impressions entirely and direct you to my review of the game when it released, which applies equally here if you want to know the basics of this excellent strategy game. If anything, the game has only improved since then, with all of the subsequent balance tweaks and content additions, all of which are integrated into the iPad version.

For a game that can have a lot of information on the screen at the same time, Civ VI translates beautifully to the iPad. The text and interface have been scaled up and changed around slightly in places to fit the medium, but otherwise it looks and plays completely the same. I played on an iPad Mini 4, and even with that minimal screen real estate, it never felt cluttered. The graphics are obviously at a much lower resolution than typical PC settings, with noticeable aliasing at the highest zoom, but as mentioned above, the game’s crisp and contrasting visual style downscales very well.

The touch controls are smooth, intuitive and responsive, and pretty much directly translate the point-and-click interface of the original game. Pressing and holding on any element brings up an explanatory tooltip, with the option to adjust the delay before it appears to your taste. Moving around is just a matter of single-finger scrolling and pinching/zooming, which is intuitive to any iPad user at this point, and an easy three-finger tap backs out of menus. Selecting and dragging units to move them was the only time I found the controls to be at all fiddly, but an alternate option to use move and attack buttons by the unit portrait circumvents this if you find it to be a hassle.

Special considerations for the platform include settings like zoom sensitivity and movement inertia, a battery life indicator, and the option to have confirmation prompts when you take irreversible actions like attacking or consuming a resource. The only real compromises that I could find were that the leaders were limited to their static portraits rather than their full (and exceedingly charming) animations, and the wonder completion videos simply rotate around the final monument, rather than showing the time-lapse of its construction. Strategic mode is also absent. Multiplayer is limited to your local network, and there’s no cross-platform play, unfortunately.

The only hitch is the price tag of $60 (or $30 as a launch discount until January 4). As a feature-complete port of a contemporary major PC game, price parity between platforms makes sense. $60 is wildly out of step with the mobile game marketplace, however, and even ports of full PC games (like Firaxis’ own XCOM) generally come at discounts, though typically several years after the initial release. Casual mobile gamers may balk at the price, but all told this is great value. What you lose in minor presentation compromises, you more than make up for with the added portability. Anyone can try for themselves in a free trial, which lets you play 60 turns as China (a good choice, as Qin accelerates the early game and lets you build more ancient wonders) in a very favorable, predetermined map. Check out our beginner’s guide if you want a helping hand.

Part of the Nintendo Switch’s success has been breathing new life into established games by making previously console- or PC-locked titles handheld. Although the turn-based rhythm of Civ famously lulls people into all-night sessions, I can just as easily imagine now dropping in for a few turns on my subway commute. Anyone who still holds residual doubts about the iPad as a “serious” gaming platform has lost all ground to stand on.

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