The Red Death, Civilization VI's new Battle Royale mode, is a fun twist on the classic Civ formula. Yet while the initial novelty of playing Civilization in a brand new way is fun, the mode strips away most of what makes a game of Civ unique.
How Red Death Works
To recap on the rules for those not familiar, Civ VI's new battle royale mode pits up to 12 players (though the default seems to be six) against each other in a post-apocalyptic scenario. Every few turns the playing field gets smaller as a deadly radioactive cloud encroaches the map, and players lose if all their Civilian units die. To win, a player must be the last civ with a surviving Civilian. Besides worrying about other players, players must also fight AI-controlled raiders.
Joining my first game and electing to play as a random Civ, I was assigned the Mutant Civilization. Mutants take half damage and gain extra movement from the Red Death, which allowed me to venture into dangerous territory my opponents feared to enter.
At the start of the game, players are given three units. A Civilian, an infantry unit, and a machine gunner. Immediately, I had to make a tough choice. I could keep my units together to ensure their survival or spread them out to cover more ground and earn more resources. I opted for the latter, which turned out to be a good choice. I quickly found numerous destroyed cities and looted them, one of the few ways to earn new units. As I explored more and fought raiders, claiming their units for my own, I amassed a sizable army before I even ran into any human players. That would all change once the Red Death started approaching. Soon, I would come into conflict with the Goths.
Factions And Abilities
To reward risky play, loot crates with goodies such as tanks and helicopters spawn near the edge of the Red Death as it approaches. Supposedly you can also get nukes from these crates too, although in my roughly two hours of play not a single players ever got one. Playing as the Mutants gave me an unfair advantage, I felt, as I was able to approach the Red Death without fear due to my Civ's ability. Three other players had already been eliminated by the time I ran into the Goths, who had a sizable army themselves. However, my ability to zip in and out of the Red Death and collect loot crates to resupply my army proved too mighty for the Goths. Soon, they had fallen. Shortly after I eliminated the last remaining player, the Mad Scientists, by eliminating their sole surviving Civilian. I imagine they were weakened by the conflict that laid waste to half the players before my arrival.
The next game I played as the Mutants once again and elected to go for a similar strategy. However, this time I wasn't nearly as lucky with my spawn. I was able to find resources and pick up supply drops quickly like the first game, but I ran into other players almost immediately. My greed was too great, and I spread out my forces too thin. The Jocks harassed the units I had sent south, while to the west I was fighting Raiders and Pirates. While my army was strong, fighting a war on three fronts proved too great a challenge, and my Civilian was swiftly captured. I was the second player eliminated.
Unlike Star Wars Prequels, It Needs More Politics
While I had lots of fun, the mode felt more like a novelty than something I'd want to experience all the time. Without diplomacy or city management Civ doesn't really feel like Civ. While the shorter game time was nice, Civ VI online already has plenty of multiplayer scenarios that only last 50 turns and give players a bite-sized game already. The mode also seems a bit luck dependent. To be fair I had a relatively small sample size, but I felt like the commanding lead I established in one game was due to the fact I spawned far away from other players, while in game two I had run into conflict after only a few turns. I didn't get the chance to see a nuke go off, but I'd imagine getting your hands on a nuke would lead to an incredibly advantageous position.
The game mode is certainly worth trying, but I suspect diehard Civ fans will prefer the classic formula.