13th Aug2020

‘Civilization VI: Frontier Pack 1 – Maya and Gran Colombia’ Review (PC)

by Matthew Smail

Even though I’ve played every single Civilization game, owned every expansion and even religiously explored every spin-off and related title, it wasn’t until Civilization VI came along that I realised just how fundamental the differences between the civilizations are to the gameplay experience. These days it seems obvious – and indeed the very existence of the Frontier Pass expansion (which is almost entirely made up of new races) seems to prove it, but Civilization VI is really all about min-maxing the strengths of your chosen nation to achieve victory.

I’ll be splitting my review of the Frontier Pass across several smallish pieces as each DLC pack is released, and this first one will focus on Lady Six Sky of the Maya and Simon Bolivar of Gran Colombia. I’ll also mention the new “Secret Societies” feature and “Apocalypse” mode throughout this and the other reviews, since I’ll be using them on and off during my campaigns. I should also mention that I’m already close to halfway through a play with the latest DLC (Ethiopia) and that review will follow soon enough.

First of all then, let’s talk about Lady Six Sky’s Maya. As an occasional visitor to South America and a devoted acolyte of Mayan, Incan and Aztec history, South American native civilizations in Civilization VI are of great interest to me. In this case, the Maya are also completely unique among civilizations in the game, because their ability, Ix Mutal Ajaw basically lends itself to building a small cluster of cities in close proximity to the capitol, rather than by spreading far and wide which is the generally accepted approach to play.

The Maya actually gain a 10% bonus to all yields where a city is founded within six tiles of the Capital, whilst all cities founded (or captured) outside this range will receive a 15% penalty to the same. The Maya also gain no housing from fresh water, which at least helps with the decisions about where to build your next city (it simply needs to be within six tiles of the capital.) Instead, the Maya gain housing from farms and amenities from luxury resources, whilst farms and plantations also add a bonus to their unique district – the Observatory (which replaces the Campus.)

With an insular nature that benefits from their early unique unit (the Hul-Che), The Maya are well set up to turtle up and use their bonus science, culture and faith production drive them onwards. In particular, because Maya expansion tends to focus on a small part of the map, I found that Religion and Culture victories seemed less attainable than Science, and the Observatory bonus to science from the farms that you’ll build anyway means that reaching for the stars is the obvious answer. Indeed, when my victory came, it was based on Science, and I was ahead of my rivals by light years.

Gran Colombia, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. With an additional point of movement for all units (from Settlers and Builders to Warriors and Advanced Armour) Gran Colombia fields a very fast army. It doesn’t stop there however, because they also gain a unique unit known as a Commandante Generale with the dawn of each new age. These guys bestow similar benefits to Great General’s, albeir with a lesser, seemingly random retire ability, and they also stack with the same +5 strength and +1 movement of a Great General.

If Gran Colombia can build a few units and an encampment early, then claim a Great General, they can field an army that covers huge distances and has a massive (in relative terms during the first few eras) strength boost. By the Industrial Era, when Gran Colombia’s unique Llanero unit comes online, you should be waging wars on a minimum of two fronts with your combined Generals and your huge army. By the way, I should mention that the Llanero gains a stackable strength bonus for each adjacent Llanero, which again results in a “mid-game” boost to Simon Bolivar’s offensive capability.

Personally, I would have thought all this would make Gran Colombia tough enough (and indeed, I won a domination victory earlier than I ever have before with them) to beat, but wait, there’s more! Yes, in addition to all of these other bonuses, Gran Colombia can promote a unit (healing it and gaining the benefit) without ending its turn. This, with everything else, makes overwhelming cities (especially with siege units, which can usually move and shoot due to the extra Comandante General movement) easy. Probably, if I’m honest, too easy.

The only problem I found with Simon Bolivar and his crew was that his focus on domination means that his only non-combat focussed ability is a bit underwhelming, and I found most of my cities lacking in amenities in particular. Gran Colombia’s builders can construct haciendas from around the mid-point in the game (I forget exactly which tech unlocks them) and they are a decent alternative to farms based on the housing, gold, food and production that they provide. The problem here is that by the time they show up, you’ll probably have conquered 4-5 other civilizations and you’ll have a lesser focus on optimising individual conquered cities for a few extra coins.

Now, I did mention that I’d talk about the new Secret Societies mode, but I’ve only been through the game with two of them, so I’ll mention them briefly here and add more in a later review. Simply put, the new Secret Societies (of which there are four) add a dark twist to the usual selection of Governors. Each Secret Society is “found” through one of four actions that you’ll unlock during the course of a normal game (though I won’t spoil them here) and you can only pledge your allegiance to one per game.

Each secret society offers four upgrades (unlocked in the same way as Governor titles) that come online with each era. I’ve used the Cult of Minerva and the Voidsingers, both of which are admittedly very different. The Cult felt relatively understated, with no new units to unlock, and a focus on subterfuge and the generation of gold. The Voidsingers, on the other hand, allow the creation of a special alternative to the Monument (very handy) and early access to a unique Cultist unit that can reduce enemy city loyalty by 10.

In some ways, I preferred the understated nature of The Cult of Minerva since it added less “weirdness” to a game that I love because it is rooted in historic realism and relevance, rather than fantasy, but there’s no doubt that The Voidsingers (who I’ve used on a Culture-focussed play with Eleanor of Aquitaine) are both more fun and, arguably, more directly powerful. Combined with Eleanor, for example, you can use the improved Obelisk to gain more fulture than usual, then focus an assault of Cultists on a single city to rapidly flip it before it can rebuild – a strategy I’ve used to great effect.

I’ve also begun a game with the Apocalypse mode switched on since this last playthrough, but so far I haven’t reached the point where the game’s promised “meteors raining from the sky” event has occurred so I can’t comment on that. I will say that the way the Disaster Intensity bar flips to a locked number 4 position is a bit disconcerting, but so far it hasn’t really impacted me as badly as i had expected. We’ll see how that goes in future plays and I’ll no doubt have something to say about it by the time I write up my Ethiopia pack review.

In honesty, I don’t know how well the whole of the Frontier Pack will pan out or whether to recommend it yet, but I can say that Maya and Gran Colombia give it a very strong start. Both these nations feel unique to play with and they offer an exceptionally focussed, but extremely different way to play. The Maya are completely unique among all civilizations in the game, whilst Gran Colombia, whilst similar to some other domination nations, are incredibly dynamic and fast paced to play with.

****½  4.5/5


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