A Very Early Game...
Adapting elements of early human history initially appealed to me as a solution to generated cultural/religious identity. Looking back on earlier notes, and taking into account the limited Neolithic component of Humankind, I am curious how the early game can be reimagined.
Hold on… We’re going all the way back to Africa? Sure are! All playable factions start as tribes on one continent structurally akin to Africa. Through a combination of competition over food and environmental factors, population growth is initially limited, encouraging players to choose between sticking around or venturing onward. Land bridges connect major landmasses. No cities may be settled until ~5,000 BC.
As players scout the map, they pass through a seasonal cycle alternating between survival and festivities. This seasonal cycle is directly inspired from Chapter 3 of The Dawn of Everything. It would represent low population density and the likely types of contact among humans at this stage.
In the survival phase, tribes hunt, forage, or in some way engage their local environments for food, resources, and knowledge. Tribes stay small and may lose population if they cannot find or keep adequate stores of food. At the same time, tribes may acquire other resources like shells on the beach, or pelts from animals they hunt. They may even learn to identify cultivars and ores, knowledge that may aid them later. If different tribes come into contact during this phase, they may have to make tough choices whether deferring, fighting, sharing, or trading.
In the festive phase, tribes with adequate food may arrive at a large gathering of other tribes, possibly for ritual purpose. These festive gatherings feature cultural expression in the form of painting, ceramics, building, probably song and dance as well; but they also display different political arrangements that inform the player’s own political knowledge. At the end of the festivities, the player leaves, most likely taking with them non-food resources or other knowledge.
The goal in this phase would be to either stake out a claim to the core of the map by outlasting or driving out the other tribes, or venturing beyond the core in search of other opportunities. Both would feature the seasonal cycle to generate resources for settling a city later. They may also generate the seeds of identity traits pertaining to religion, culture, and heritage.
This is a more flexible date that could either develop from the previous era or be a starting point on its own. If continuing from the previous era, the players would be able to go even further from the starting point and begin to stake out regions adjacent to the core, where they may still be close to other factions yet retain a significant area for food. If starting in this era, the factions would be spread rather evenly over half of the map, still centered on the core, leaving peripheral regions to explore. The most inaccessible continents would be available to reach during this era.
Either way, the era would continue the seasonal cycle, with potentially larger material achievements during these gatherings. The significant mechanical change would be from climate, with glaciation putting pressure on the forward parties to converge on narrower strips of fertile land.
10k is the new 4k! If used as a start date, it would probably look a lot like Civilization VI does now, except with more map knowledge and more time dedicated to settling your first city. Whether starting here or continuing from the previous era, this would be the time to crystallize those questions of culture, religion, and heritage. Probably few of the initial bonuses from the previous 50k years would remain at this point, but the player would have picked up elements of identity along the way as well as be able to recognize most of the resources in their region.
During this phase, the player would be prompted to select from a choice of pantheons based on the resources, terrain, or even wonders they have encountered. I especially like the idea of pantheons reflecting the seasonal cycle, with survival beliefs focused on terrain yields and festivities concerned instead with material culture, e.g. exploiting resources, building structures.
Map changes would continue and wrap up in this phase. The land bridges would flood, isolating far off continents from the core, or possibly cutting off all landmasses from one another. Oddly enough, the reason why I think land bridges could work is because of how Civ VI implements coastal flooding. Anything on the scale of the African Humid Period could happen and be done with.
The seasonal cycle would continue but begin to shift to the periphery, as communities and early cities begin to rise and sailing takes people into coastal waters. Interactions with these early city-states and communities could be the source of starting technologies like fishing and agriculture.
By the time the player settles their first city (and chooses their civilization, I suppose…), they would have acquired map knowledge, political resources, religious/cultural heritage, and starting technologies—all as part of a contextualized journey!