Take-Two Interactive‘s 2K label and Firaxis Games are pulling out a nice surprise for gamers today. They’re announcing that Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is going to ship on the PC on October 21.

The new turn-based strategy game is the next entry in the award-winning Civilization franchise that Sid Meier created 25 years ago. It debuts on the same day as Electronic Arts’ shooter game Battlefield 1, but Civilization has such a following that it may very well hold its own against the Battlefield 1 marketing machine. The Civilization franchise has sold more than 33 million copies, including 8 million for Civilization V, which debuted on the PC in 2010.

Dennis Shirk, an 11-year veteran at Firaxis and lead producer for Civilization VI, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the same team from Civ V is working on the new game. Those who enjoyed Civilization V will notice that many of the changes from that game will carry over like a “warm blanket” to Civilization VI, he said. One of those big changes was to spread the military units out from a giant stack in a single hexagon to a bunch of units spread out across the map.

“We loved how the last product turned out, and we’re moving forward with the same team,” Shirk said. “And everything that Civ fans like about Civ V is going to be in there too. We’ve put some new systems on top.”

Cities spread out across the map

Civilization VI will force you to decide what a particular city will specialize in.

Above: Civilization VI will force you to decide what a particular city will specialize in.

Image Credit: 2K/Firaxis Games

The big difference that fans will notice this time is that the player is being encouraged to “play the land.” This means that the tiles for cities will be spread out across multiple hexagons, in contrast to past games where cities were all concentrated in a single place. You’ll have different districts of your city spread out across different tiles. You might drop a harbor into a tile on the water. If you do, you can’t build something else in that tile, like a Wonder. This reflects the influence of Ed Beach, lead designer on Civilization VI.

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It doesn’t necessarily mean that the maps will be huge, with armies and cities spread out. You may wind up with a few cities or lots of cities. The happiness level will be focused on a city level, rather than on a global basis across your civilization.

“One city can only go out three tiles in all directions,” Shirk said. “One city with maximum land can’t build every Wonder. If you build every district in one city, you will not have enough farmland to support your population. You have to make these decisions city by city. We are unstacking the cities and taking that to the nth degree.”

That means you have to spread the different districts across multiple cities. That means you have to be able to defend multiple cities. The idea is to take full advantage of the terrain. Each hex that is near another can modify how your tile grows. You may get a bonus based on what is adjacent to the tile. Before, you could put down a building in a city and be done with it. Your districts can be containers for additional buildings. You can create a holy site that will eventually house religious buildings such as churches or temples. If you have a mountain pass, you may want to put a military encampment there to create an easily defended zone.

You can’t build every single type of district in each city because it causes the city to spread out and bump into its area and population limits, Shirk said. If you are invaded, you may be able to hang on to part of your city while sacrificing another part.

Terrain can also affect your research. If you do research in technology and culture, you’ll unlock new potential, such as boosts that speed your civilization’s progress through history. If you build a city on the coast, sailing technology will come a lot easier. If you build a quarry, you may get masonry much more easily.

A new approach for A.I.

Civilization VI

Above: Civilization VI

Image Credit: 2K/Firaxis Games

The artificial intelligence of the computer-controlled players will be different as well. This time, the non-player A.I. will always have some kind of agenda that drives their behavior. You can’t really change someone’s agenda, such as Manifest Destiny. But you can change their attitude toward you very quickly if you invade them.

This means that diplomacy will be dynamic, changing as the ages evolve and as the leaders show their character, said Andrew Garrett, an A.I. expert, in an interview with GamesBeat.

“We have a system that has a historical agenda linked to a leader, but they also have random leaders, chosen game by game, that are hidden from the player,” Garrett said.

You can find out what the agenda of a particular leader is by spying or just understanding their behavior. If a leader is obsessed with Wonders, he or she will strive to out-build the other societies when it comes to creating wonders. If you challenge that leader in the Wonder race, you’ll likely come into conflict. You may even be able to set leaders against each other through careful observation. Civilization VI will have a new espionage system, but Firaxis isn’t describing it yet.

“That’s part of the overall puzzle of the game, making each game unique,” Shirk said.

The art style matches the map changes

Civilization VI has a "color language" for distinguishing buildings and terrain.

Above: Civilization VI has a “color language” for distinguishing buildings and terrain.

Image Credit: 2K/Firaxis Games

The visual style is distinct from past games. Things are spread out more on the map. Every building in the game is modeled. You’ll see birds flying around the buildings. You’ll be able to zoom in and see the fruits of your labor now. The world is more vivid and alive. The leaders will be more expressive and realistic, all with the aim of making you believe the world is real.

“Things have to be a lot more readable, and you need a color language,” Shirk said. “You have campus districts with blue roofs that correspond to the color of science. It’s more expressive, colorful, and alive.” In Civilization IV, you could count individual trees. In Civilization V, the art style was much more realistic. This new game’s art style is geared toward enabling you to zoom all the way on your units and districts.

You can still become ruler of the world, starting out from a humble tribe in the Stone Age and growing your city to the Information Age. You can wage war, conduct diplomacy, advance your culture, and go head-to-head with history’s greatest leaders. You will still have multiple ways to win the game.

The game will have enhanced multiplayer modes, where you can cooperate or compete against your friends in scenarios that can be completed in a single session.