Research - On Being Stuck in Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Promise of Freedom in Historical Games

The AI do suddenly turn aggressive when you're close to winning, at least through Civ 5. I think it was Civ 4 where they might refuse a Tech swap by saying "no, because we want to win". Even an AI that is the first to build spaceships, like Korea in my current Emperor level Civ 5 can get "ganged up" against late in the game. So the increase in aggression is present.

As for tiles changing, I think it was Civ 4 (or maybe Civ 3) where mining a hill increased the probably that a resource like coal would appear there when you reached the appropriate tech to "find" it.
AFAIK in civ 5 AI turning aggressive is an opportunity to attack and take their capital if you're going for domination. If you're going for cultural I'm not sure but use that traditional oligarchy wall and archer strategy.
Generally in civ 5, and to some extent in earlier versions, if you weather an attack, they just give you a city to stop you from taking their capital. Your counter-attack meets very little resistance. So even if you're not going for domination, you still get extra population, etc. from the free city (with no infrastructure lost, but serious happiness penalty).
A key (and perhaps under-appreciated) difference between Civ5, Civ6, and the earlier games in the franchise was the re-defining of the military victory condition. "Conquest" meant taking *all* of the AI cities, not just the original capital. "Domination" was added in Civ3/Civ4 to control X% of the world's land, which may or may not include original capitals.

Getting back to the point of the authors of the research paper, where the actions of the player in a historical game are not as "free" or unrestricted as they could be, this constrained military victory is another barrier to freedom. If I choose to conquer every city on the map, omitting the original capitals, I may not win the game. At least, not using the "Domination" VC.

One might well win using the "Score" victory, or some form of the cultural victory. One would face few obstacles to a Science victory. As the authors write, in these games, not all choices are open or useful.
I actually like Civ 4s government system, where you have several social policy choices that construct your civlizations mode of rule, chosing things like your actual governmetn structure, economic policy, and more. It's more complex, so I'm not surprised they moved away from it, but it does have more of the freedom they talk about in the article.
How would one design a non Western style Tech Tree? I've always found that quite puzzling especially when you get late game starting with the Industrial Revolution.
I understand what you mean about things such as China having early gunpowder units, Polynesian wayfinding, but those also make it easy as uniques for those particular civs.
My suggestion would be to replace the tech tree altogether with something more akin to a quest list. As in, get rid of prerequisite techs as a concept, get rid of research-only-one-tech-at-a-time as a concept, and instead have each tech be locked behind fulfilling a list of various material conditions, followed by an optional passive research. It's basically the eureka/inspiration system taken to its logical extreme. Furthermore, one can elaborate on the history of science & technology, by having early game techs lean more towards the material quests (e.g. to unlock Sailing, you'd need to settle by the coast AND explore the coast AND explore inland waterways AND chop some wood et cetera) with little to no passive research costs, while the inverse becomes more and more the case towards the late game. And by allowing research to essentially be stacked, I think it would finally make sense to have the harder techs need Science, with the 'civics' (should really be called social constructs) requiring Culture.

All in all, this system should be able to more naturally simulate how various regions around the world basically leap-frogged in the way you described. Less need to research Bronze Working if you already have meteroite iron nearby, et cetera

Yeah, off the top of my head, most of what they point at, at least in the excerpts, seems to be commonly identified problems.

Having only three valid governments in each era because the governments are designed so newer governments completely obsolete older ones was just plain bad design, and something largely new to the CIV series - IV had fully custom governments where few or no civics ever became obsolete, V was essentially that as well (but imo less well done), and II and III were both notable in that while new government offered powerful abilities, all government had their own advantages and drawbacks and none of them had major power dealbreakers like additional policy cards.

Really in most way, Civ VI's government system may well be the worst the series has done to date, as if they started from a (very narrow) view of the twentieth century reduced to a democracy/fascism/communism contest and tried to back-trace that over the entire history of mankind as always pitting three different power systems against each other.

A better way to do it would be to separate policy cards growth (tied with government infrastructure, buildings, research, etc), from government types which can exist with their own bonuses. Later governments may have bonuses usually better suited to situations you're more likely to find later in the game, but without invalidating earlier governments.
I would honestly disagree with Civ 6 having the worst government system; that honour goes to Civ 5 with its depiction of political evolution as inherently progressive. Civ 6 did bring back some of Civ 4's DNA in this regard, in that the player once again has to consider the consequences of giving up one set of bonuses for another; it's no longer a linear march of everything only becoming better, at least not fully. On top of that, I've always felt the way the series had handled government choices up to and including Civ 4 to be overly primitive; too few choices, not enough nuance.

Although, I do understand your concerns about later governments being depicted as being simply better than older alternatives, and I do agree that government expansion should mainly be achieved through infrastructure instead. But this has arguably been an issue throughout the entire series. My go-to example for this would be Despotism, the government type you start off with; has Despotism ever been worthwhile enough to not switch from in any game of the series? I understand the answer is no because the player needs to actually be given a reason to explore the government mechanic in the first place, but that expectation, of political evolution as progress rather than adaptation, is nonetheless omnipresent and always has been. So has "[starting] from a (very narrow) view of the twentieth century reduced to a democracy/fascism/communism contest and [trying] to back-trace that over the entire history of mankind as always pitting three different power systems against each other;" those were literally the only choices the player could make in Civ 1-3. At least Civ 6 brought some well-needed nuance with the policy card system, though nowhere near enough.

The trend should IMO be going towards, not just even more different policy cards, but also more asymmetrical cards, mutually exclusive policy cards, more generic government types (i.e., e.g. instead of 'Classical Republic', 'Mercantile Republic' & 'Democracy', you simply have 'Republic', with the more minute difference being outsourced to the policy cards), the return of the SMAC/Civ4 combination system, and so on. Overall, we should be going towards more granularity, more graduality, more nuance and, probably most importantly, less the sense that government choices reflects which "side" you're on; that's a trope I feel only makes sense in a WW2- and/or Cold War-like context
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