Civilization 6 is a turn-based strategy game letting the player pick a historical leader and lead their cities and people to world domination. From a randomised map the player must micromanage their empire and manage their random AI neighbours and frenemies wisely. Are these mechanics enough to call Civilization 6 an emergent game?


Eiffel Tower in London? That’s what game mechanics freedom looks like.

Emergent games can be identified by  “rules that combine and yield large numbers of game variations, which the players then design strategies for dealing with” (Juul, 2002). Their design also allow for “compelling game experiences that offer great freedom to the player at the same time” (Dormans, 2011).


At first glance, Civilization displays strong emergent streaks:

Strategy: Brexit. It backfired.
  • The player starts each new game at a random location, random resources, and, potentially, a random leader. This almost infinite game variation allows the player to freely develop a new strategy each time.
  • AI players all have distinct personalities with randomised traits, meaning that each game will yield very different relationships, bonuses and maluses, making each game unique.
  • Finally, AI moves, builds units, and builds wonders independently and secretly, sometimes directly clashing with the player. This forces the player to design and revise winning strategies while considering a large number of potential options.
Annexing Brazil first, a tried and tested strategy.

However, for a veteran Civilization 6 player, the emergence can be dampened by too good a knowledge of these systems and rules. Indeed, players familiar with the winning patterns may start following set strategies that drastically reduce outcomes characterised by variety, novelty, and surprise which are key to emergence (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004, p.160); for example, players can systematically choose foolproof bonuses allowed by key buildings or locations, leaders that offer better overall bonuses, or even modify world settings to suit their favourite winning style, making the game more restricted but also easier to predict.

By beating the game at its own rules, players can make Civilization 6 less emergent – however, for most players, Civilization 6 will remain a game full of surprises! Except for Ghandi. Ghandi never changes.


Dormans, J. (2011) ‘Integrating Emergence and Progression’

Juul, J (2002) ‘The Open and the Closed: Game of Emergence and Games of Progression’, Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings, 323-329. Available at: (Accessed: 11 October 2017)

Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E (2004) Rules of Play. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Civilization 6 (2016), Firaxis. All images my own.