0. PreludeBefore I talk about the topic of this article and offer my potential suggestions, some clarifications and added context may help. Keep in mind I had an older account in this forum, so I am familiar with general opinions around here, or the opinions that were present a few years ago anyway. I say that so you know I am not a complete newbie lol. I hope I put this topic of discussion in the right forum thread, because I couldn't find one dedicated to the Civ series as a whole or suggestions for the future.
I got into the Civ franchise around 2013, through Civ 5 specifically. I bought it right at the time when its two main expansions had already released and the only things that were still not out yet were a few map packs, so I have not experienced the game as it was in vanilla or before BNW, though I've read about how it was. I soon came to learn what a mixed reputation the 5th installment has among fans of the series, though that still doesn't prevent me from considering it the best Civ game, specifically in terms of atmosphere and aesthetic direction, without dismissing its flaws. This is not the only game of the series I own and have become familiar with, I have played both Civ 4 and Civ 6 to satisfactory degrees, though I don't know them as intimately, and can't play as well, as in 5. I've also read about and seen videos of Civs 2 and 3, though I know much less about them.
The main topic of discussion for this thread is: What should the Civ 7 government/policy system be like? Now, we cannot know of systems that have not already been revealed, so this analysis will also contain and be based on a detailed retrospective of the government/policy systems of every game released thus far, with the only limit being my knowledge of them.
1. Government in the Civ series - The Retrospective
1.1. Civilization I, II, III:In games 1 - 3, the political systems remain generally similar. The general gist is that of all civilizations starting with a "despotic" government, which hampers their growth, leading players to seek a way of reforming out of it as quickly and painlessly as possible, usually into a form of monarchy/feudalism or into a republic/democracy. To these sets of governments are included others in the late-game, like religious fundamentalism, communism and fascism. Switching governments causes a few turns of anarchy, in which the player is severely limited in their actions. This anarchy comes with its own government form, which is interpreted as pure undesirable chaos, much to the chagrin of real-life devoted anarchists I imagine.
Each government has different levels of corruption, different amounts of units it can support and even different levels of taxation/research spending, which affect the gold/science yields of one's civilization. Similarly, there are certain embryonic elements of internal politics, like the appearance of a senate in democratic/republican governments in Civ 2, which could force the player to make peace prematurely or could bring down the entire political system if the player went to war without its authorization or had prolonged periods of disorder in their cities. Other governments had their own unique elements, like how communism was the only government in Civ 3 which could have corruption in the capital, which was actually a boon because of its "communal" corruption, where it was equally spread among the communist civilization's cities, making it more manageable. For context, other governments had differing rates of corruption outside the capital, with peripheral cities being more susceptible to it. Fundamentalism, in Civ 2, traded 50% of its science output for making unhappiness fully irrelevant, this was a particularly good trade-off once someone reached the end of the tech tree.
Here, I will provide a personal list of criticisms I have toward the systems in these games. Firstly, Monarchy/Feudalism being explicitly interpreted as a mid-game government, to be discarded with time, is a significant slap in the face to all the functional and highly advanced monarchies of today, regardless of whatever one may think of the principle of monarchy, as a system of inherited elite, itself. Though it could be said that monarchies like Saudi Arabia would be interpreted in-game as either "fundamentalism" or as the edge case where a civilization has such a great start/land/resources they can continue having an otherwise "inferior" government instead of switching, I would like to direct your attention to the issue of constitutional monarchies.
While the modern countries we call by that name would be interpreted in the philosophy of these games as democracies, since the Civ games are concerned only with who holds de-facto power in governments, as opposed to de jure trappings, I would argue that this simply erases constitutional monarchies from existence. This was the government form that was considered most sensible and desirable by the vast majority of the globe throughout the 18th-19th and even early 20th centuries, I don't think it should be written off as easily. Similarly, had it been modelled in these games, it may have allowed players a sort of "mid-way" government that could have had the benefits of both a monarchy and a democracy, but to a lesser degree than either's specialty and maybe with its own unique flaw. Similarly, I think there is place for Anarchism to be developed in Civ games as something more than "brief period of chaos and disorder", again, regardless of what one may think of its merits or realistic chances of "success", but more on these later. It must also be said that some of these governments ended up being broken-good or "gimmicky", like how Civ 2's "fundamentalism" broke all balance through the sheer fact that technological progress essentially ends at some point, making science irrelevant afterward,thus turning it into a government with no flaws. Let's also speak of the fact that democracies in these games, though in different forms from game to game, are essentially immune to corruption. I understand the need for a benefit to balance out all the senatorial red-tape, but that bit always gave me a chuckle.
The other fundamental criticism to this system is how limited it is and how much it lacks interactivity. One simply switches governments according to their needs or goals and that's the end. There is nothing more to consider or to deal with in regards to them, the rates at which they deal with corruption, research/gold, unit supports etc are set in stone, even if they can be mitigated or enhanced by wonders/buildings. Essentially, the governments are rock solid and come as "packs' with no ability to customize or personalize them.
1.2. Civilization IV:The political system of Civilization 4 comes in the form of "Civics". There are 5 categories of these, in order: Government, Legal, Labor, Economy and Religion, each subdivided into 5 possible options. This is certainly a much more modular approach than the previous entries, one that could be called a step in the right direction, though still having certain balancing issues, creating clearly "superior" and "inferior" options, as opposed to having merely different choices based on the goals, contingent situations, and needs of the player at any given moment. That being said, it certainly allowed for a more modular and customizable approach to the political system of one's civilization, if one had a good imagination, they could try to imagine the combination of a state property economy with a representation government being like the post-Stalin politburo, or a police state with the same economic civic being a Stalinist dictatorship, the system is broad enough to allow all kinds of real-life government situations.
Though its modularity may be its strength, in a certain sense, it did not and could not go far enough in that direction. The 5 options of each category do not necessarily suffice and, in some cases, do not even make sense grouped together. The Legal category is the main culprit in this, combining Nationalism, Free Speech, Feudalism, Bureaucracy and Barbarism into one category. Now, one can imagine a sort of broad "societal" interpretration of these things that can group them together in some way, but, on the face of it, it is simply incomprehensible. Barbarism may imply arbitrary government and Vassalage may mean Feudal customary law and legally binding oaths of fealty, Nationalism may also fit in a certain sense as "Westphalian Sovereignty", but what of Bureaucracy or Free Speech? Does Feudalism or Nationalism disallow these? certainly not, historically they co-existed in some way for quite a long time. Similarly, what can be said of a civilization that has the Free Speech legal civic and the Police State government civic at the same time? I suppose such a thing may be possible under specific circumstances, but it still sounds utterly absurd. I see these limits as a result of the time in which this game was being developed and the limits that placed on the capabilities of such a system, as such I consider this a great idea, which has these flaws due to its age, rather than any inherent handicaps of the underlying philosophy behind it.
1.3. Civilization V:In Civilization 5, the same core, Civ 4, idea of a “policy system”, as opposed to direct and unchanging government categories was used, but taken in a much different direction. Here, the policies work more like an RPG skill tree, with direct bonuses, for whichever area the tree is helpful towards. The BNW expansion added an extra layer to this system, by introducing larger, more powerful, and more numerous late-game policy trees in the form of “ideologies”. The combination of these two parallel systems creates a form of complexity that was severely missing from the older games, potentially due to a combination of technical limitations and design philosophies.
The glaring problem with the Civ 5 system is that there is even less sense to the policy trees than in Civ 4. Tradition or Liberty may more concretely resemble forms of ancient monarchy and classical republic respectively, but trees like “honor”, “piety”, “exploration”, “commerce” and “rationalism”, represent nothing more than generalized attitudes, philosophical systems, or a sort of “civilizational emphasis”. It may have never been the intention of the Civ 5 developers to have them be anything else, but I’d say it cheapens the experience of the whole system, since it muddles governments, various philosophies, aspects of certain civilizations at certain points in time and specific socioeconomic systems into one undifferentiated mess. Ideologies are the “saving grace” of this system, being something concrete, and representing sets of actual practices and policies cultivated and applied by the three major ideological orders of the mid-20th century.
At this point, we will have to discuss a mod. This is the first time I am doing this because this is the only game in which I am intimately familiar with mods which specifically enhance the political system. If one feels it’s unfair for me not to mention similar mods in older games, I will say, in my defense, that I tried to seek them out for Civ 4, only to find a small number of them, which mostly increased the number of Civics available in each category, hardly worthy of inclusion here. As for the rest of the games, I’m afraid I completely lack knowledge of their modding scenes.
Anyway, the mod in question is JFD’s old “Rise to Power” mod, which was re-branded and re-released in a more lightweight manner as “Rise to Power – Sovereignty”, in 2020. This mod adds a completely separate “political reforms” system, including the same categories that were present in Civ 4 but with many other categories added in and each category having a large variety of reforms within, each one having 3 options to choose from, with concrete trade-offs for each choice. Though this mod is not the only Civ 5 mod that adds a political system, it is the one that I always went with whenever I came back to the game and the one I never deactivated or removed from my mod list. This mod presents an interesting way of showcasing political systems in a Civ game, from which the developers of Civ 7 may definitely take inspiration for their political system design.
1.4. Civilization VI:In Civ 6, we have an interesting synthesis of the two main approaches that dominated the previous games. Governments are existing entities, each one having different numbers of “slots” open in specific categories, which are filled by “cards”. These cards represent a form of ephemeral “policy system”, working together with the main “government system”, which provides the framework for the overall system. I consider this experiment of combining the two directions into one as a resounding success, though without its own set of flaws.
Though the system may have sought to provide certain incentives to keeping old governments around, or making them matter after the fact, like legacy bonuses, it still operates under the same assumption of certain governments being more “advanced” than others and clearly better, only now, it has gotten even worse than before.
Whereas in the first three entries of the franchise a republic could be a strong contender right up to the late game, here it is a classical government and you have no choice but to make it a Merchant republic and then a democracy, if you wish to follow the same thematic or role-playing path. The problem with this is that it erases the differences between these governments and forces them into a relationship of “one naturally leading to the other”, which quite simply did not exist. I do not wish to mislead people here, a player is free to pick whichever government of the next era they wish, they are not forced down some developmental path, but the same problem applies even for players who go from classical republic to monarchy and then onto communism. There is no good reason why a monarchy or theocracy cannot exist in the modern world, contemporary governments prove such an assumption blatantly wrong, even if many would call the remaining such governments “archaic”.
Having mentioned Communism, a secondary problem with this system is that it conflates ideology with government form, which is a significant step back from Civ 5. There have been more democratic and more authoritarian forms of Communism, even brief “Communist Monarchies”. similarly, there have been “democratic” (as in non-monarchical) forms of Fascism, like Nazi Germany, and “Fascist” monarchies, like Mussolini’s Italy. The “democracy” that is always present in this game most certainly means “modern liberal democracy”, at least in most contexts, but it could also be served better if it was allowed to be synthesized with a government structure, thus leading to “crowned republic/constitutional monarchy”, “presidential system” and “parliamentary democracy” as distinct forms, instead of existing as this ill-defined catch-all term.
Finally, the idea of “slots” and “cards”, in my view, is incredibly “game-y” and reduces my immersion. I may be alone in this, but I think there could have been a better way to represent this concepts and the terminology could have used a bit of subtlety.
We also have mods for governments in this game, done by the same person as the Civ 5 ones, though I will not expand on this much further other than to say that they iron out a few of the flaws I listed above, adding in some more government types and policy cards, much like the Civ 4 mods I previously mentioned in passing. They don’t introduce some unique, intricate, system, so I feel that they are less relevant to the conversation.
2. Suggestions for the system of the futureFinally we arrive at the original question I had set for this thread. So, what should be the political system of Civ 7? Should it follow the “policy” direction? The government direction? Or should it continue the attempt at synthesis?
I think the path should continue to be one of experimentation with a synthesis of the two approaches. It should follow the steps of Civ 5 and 6 in having a separation of the overall framework into two constituent parts.
I would argue that what should be done is an expanded, more detailed, and more comprehensive version of the Civ 4 civics, taking inspiration from both the policy cards of Civ 6 and JFD’s phenomenal work for Civ 5. This will only be the first pillar of the framework though, the second one should be an expanded and reworked version of ideologies. My reasoning for this is that including governments, policies and ideologies as three separate but connected systems under the same framework may be too confusing to the players, too demanding to the developers, and frankly unnecessarily complicated and differentiated. So what can be done, instead, is to have some basic government structure category, which sets which government you are under and then the rest of the categories allowing you to customize the form of it in a modular way. You can shift all categories, but shifts would cost you happiness, cause anarchy or bring another penalty in for a smaller or larger amount of turns, depending on how radical the change is. In the late game, you gain access to ideologies, which boost your civilization in multiple ways and allow specialized policy directives that you can activate, either in parallel with or replacing your existing reforms (I would propably argue for a separate system that works in parallel, like Civ 5).
This system could also include a revised revolt/revolution system. In it, revolutionaries or revolters would spawn if your empire or some of its cities became too unhappy/have too much disorder etc. This sounds like any other Civ game thus far, I know, but consider this: the revolutionaries now have a set of specific demands. They will demand that you change specific policies of yours to different ones and you’ll be locked from changing them back for a significant amount of turns if they succeed in forcing them through. This could also allow for counter-revolutions, which instead of seeking the return of whatever you had before the revolution appeared (since that could be too easily abused), are actually seeking previous policies you had switched out of in various categories. So you could have an interesting interplay where, you are trying to reform your classical republic into a parliamentary democracy, but you have revolutionaries demanding a state economy-democracy combo, on the one hand, and a counter-revolution of people who wish you would go back to autocracy and serfdom. This could provide further depth to internal politics which is still solely missing from Civ games.
3. EpilogueThis is my long wall of text, I apologize if this was too wordy, I simply wanted to be thorough. I would be glad to hear your thoughts or counter-suggestions below, this is still a work-in-progress after all! Thanks for reading and have a good day!