Civilization VI was released for PC in 2016, and was subsequently ported to home consoles. The game quickly became one of my favourite strategy titles, despite not having played many turn-based strategy games beforehand. There have been new games in the Civilization series every five or six years on average, so with the current title approaching its fifth anniversary, now seems like as good a time as any to consider a few historical factions (and their leaders) that the next game in the series could include.
In the 1990s, when the first couple of Civilization games were around, I was more of a fan of real-time strategy offered by the likes of Command and Conquer, Red Alert, and Age of Empires. It wasn’t until 2016 that I gave the series a fair shake and came to realise just what I’d been missing! Civilization VI became my most-played game of the late 2010s, and at this point I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into playing it.
Civilization VI has a roster of almost 50 factions, some of whom have two leaders to choose from. These factions come from all over the world and represent a huge span of history, from the distant past to contemporary times. I’ve tried to pick a similar range for my list, including factions from different continents and who flourished at different points in history.
Some strategy games can feel European-centric, partly because of the unconscious bias of their developers, perhaps, but also because European history is generally subject to more detailed study and has more archaeological and documentary evidence preserved. Civilization VI – and the whole franchise, really – has done well to avoid this particular pitfall, and I hope to do the same!
For the sake of clarity: I don’t have any “insider information.” I’m not claiming any of these factions will appear in Civilization VII or any future entry in the series. I don’t even know for sure that such a game is in development! So please keep in mind that this is a wishlist from a fan of the series. Nothing more. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the list!
Leader: Llywelyn the Great (13th Century)
Starting close to home, the Civilization series has previously featured the English and Scottish, but never the Welsh! Though England and/or the British Empire are mainstays of this series – and of strategy games in general – it would be great to see an independent Wales featured for a change.
Wales still exists today as a constituent country of the United Kingdom, and recent decades have seen a degree of self-government, with powers delegated from the British parliament in London to the Welsh Assembly. But Wales existed as an independent realm for centuries before falling to English conquest in the 13th Century.
There are many historical and legendary figures from Welsh history to choose from, but few are as successful as Llywelyn the Great. He came to dominate Wales in the early 13th Century through a series of conflicts, annexations, and wars. He successfully defended Wales against the English, sided with the Barons against King John in 1215, and after starting his reign as a minor noble, came to be recognised as the ruler of practically the entire country.
In terms of a unique tech, unit or building, Wales could have the Millennium Stadium – home to the Welsh football and rugby teams. Wales is a strong sporting nation, with a rugby team that punches above their weight, frequently appearing at the pinnacle of the game despite the country’s small population.
Leader: Nerkingoak (18th Century)
The Inuit peoples (also known historically as Eskimo) inhabit the northernmost reaches of North America. Related populations also exist in northern Russia, Greenland, and Europe. Though Civilization VI introduced several Native American factions – and Canada – the Inuit were not amongst them, and it would be great to see them included in future.
Bringing indigenous peoples into works of fiction like this can be controversial, but developers Firaxis have managed to work with representatives of different groups during the development of past games and expansions to ensure their perspectives are listened to. In short, the controversy boils down to two things: these games involve war and conquest, something native groups argue their ancestors did not participate in, and the fact that indigenous peoples have to be “westernised” in order to be competitive factions, developing technologies they didn’t historically use. Those are understandable objections.
Little is known about the life of Nerkingoak, who was a tribal leader in the mid-18th Century. His daugther, Mikak, visited England in 1768 as part of a plan by the English to broker better trading agreements with Inuit leaders. Because of the harsh environment of the Arctic Circle, many Inuit peoples lived traditional lives with little interference from European powers well into the 19th Century.
The natural fit for the Inuit in a Civilization game would be to give them the ability to live and settle in the coldest parts of the map! Perhaps by ensuring Inuit settlements could thrive on snow and ice tiles they’d get a unique gameplay advantage, being able to settle areas of the map that most other factions would consider to be out-of-bounds.
Leader: Queen Ranavalona I (19th Century)
Though Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo, appears in Civilization VI as an independent AI-controlled city-state, Madagascar itself – or its Malagasy people – have not been a playable faction. Madagascar’s location as an island off the African coast has led to its society being a blend of African, Asian, Arabic, and European, and while still considered “off the beaten track” in the 21st Century, tourism has become a big part of the Madagascan economy.
Madagascar was one of the last parts of Africa to be colonised by Europeans, spending 63 years as a French colony. The island was invaded during World War II by the Allies to take control away from Vichy France, and would be important later in the war for Allied shipping around Africa.
In the early 19th Century, with European powers intent on colonising all of Africa, Queen Ranavalona I stood in opposition, successfully maintaining Madagascar’s independence for her entire reign. At a time when women were not generally in positions of power anywhere in the world, her powerful and successful policy of isolation – while marred by other domestic problems – can certainly be considered a success.
In terms of unique technologies, perhaps Madagascar could take advantage of its incredibly diverse wildlife, with some kind of animal park or national park. Alternatively, Queen Ranavalona I’s policy of strict isolationism could see opponents’ units or religions deteriorate inside Madagascan borders.
Faction: Xia China
Leader: Yu the Great (2nd millennium BC)
Chinese history falls into many distinct dynastic periods, the earliest of which is the Xia dynasty. Though the Xia did not govern all of modern-day China, their influence on successive Chinese rulers was significant, as the Xia established the concept of dynastic rule by Emperors.
As we head this far back in time, history, legend, and myth all blend together, and although there are extant relics and artefacts from the Xia period, little can be reliably known about the Xia period or its leaders; practically everything we know comes from later sources.
Yu the Great was the legendary emperor who was said to have “controlled the waters,” reducing flooding in the Xia heartlands. Rather than damming rivers directly, or building dykes and levees, Yu dug canals and irrigation channels to mitigate the worst floods, keeping Xia farms safe from unpredictable flooding.
Surely one of the unique properties of Xia China would have to be connected to that! Perhaps Yu would be able to build farms further away from water sources due to his irrigation prowess, or if natural disasters are part of the game, Xia China could be immune to flooding.
Faction: The Confederate States of America
Leader: Jefferson Davis (19th Century)
A controversial choice, perhaps, but the Confederate States of America (a.k.a. the Confederacy) is seldom depicted outside of titles specifically about the American Civil War, and could be an interesting inclusion in the next Civilization game. The CSA was founded by political leaders from the American Southeast in 1860-61, and it was their intention to break away from the United States of America following the election of Abraham Lincoln, a known abolitionist. On a personal note, the American Civil War has long fascinated me, and is a subject I studied at length while at university.
To this day some neo-Confederates defend the CSA as pushing for “states’ rights,” but there can be no separating the attempted creation of the country from the issue of slavery. The Confederacy would formally exist for a mere four years before defeat in the American Civil War in 1865 saw the USA re-occupy all of its territory. The breakaway states were slowly given full readmission to the Union in the second half of the 1860s, and the country tried to move on – not always successfully.
Jefferson Davis was the Confederacy’s first and only president, and by his own account didn’t want the job when it was first offered to him. Regardless, he accepted, and though unsuccessful during the war, in the 1870s and 1880s he wrote a significant work detailing the events from his point of view, becoming a leading proponent of the “lost cause” mythology that defined southern thinking for decades.
Perhaps the Confederacy could be given a unique unit – General Robert E. Lee. Historical analysis generally ranks Lee as one of the finest military tacticians of his generation, and his leadership of Confederate forces in the latter part of the war arguably postponed the Confederacy’s defeat.
Faction: Knights Hospitaller (a.k.a. Order of St. John)
Leader: Jean Parisot de la Valette (16th Century)
The Knights Hospitaller were a Catholic religious order, created during the crusades. They were initially headquartered in Jerusalem, following the city’s conquest by crusaders, but subsequently lived on Rhodes and finally Malta. The Knights’ defence of Malta is legendary, defeating a massively superior Ottoman force at the height of the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into Christian Europe.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta still exists today, albeit in a very different form. Finally driven from Malta by Napoleon in 1798, the Order is now headquartered in the Vatican along with other Catholic religious orders. They have recently returned to Malta in a limited capacity, however, leasing Fort St. Angelo – an important fortification during the defence of Malta – from the Maltese government.
Jean Parisot de la Valette was a French nobleman who was Grand Master of the Order during the 1550s and 1560s. He commanded the defence of Malta against Ottoman forces led by Dragut on behalf of Suleiman the Magnificent. The Knights’ victory after a brutal siege was the first reversal the Ottomans suffered, and marked the beginning of the end of Ottoman expansion into Europe. The Maltese capital Valetta is named in his honour. I cannot recommend the book The Great Siege by Ernle Bradford highly enough if you want to learn more about this fascinating event!
The Knights could draw on either their defensive strategy at Malta or their inhabitation of islands for unique techs and bonuses in Civilization VII, perhaps with a unique defensive fortification that could restore a portion of its strength at the end of each round, mimicking how the Knights resupplied Fort St. Elmo during the siege of Malta.
Faction: South Sudan
South Sudan has been a country for less than a decade, officially becoming independent from Sudan in July 2011. It’s the world’s newest country! Despite the joy many South Sudanese felt at independence, however, economic issues combined with a bloody civil war have made the country a difficult and dangerous place to live.
African nations and civilisations tend to be under-represented in strategy games – and in western media in general – so South Sudan would be an interesting inclusion in any future game. With other independence movements around the world, South Sudan won’t remain the world’s newest country forever, but the fact that it’s in that position now would make it a first for a game like this!
Because of the South Sudanese civil war and ongoing problems within the country, it’s difficult to choose a real-life figure for the game. It would feel wrong to encourage players to take on the role of one of South Sudan’s real-life political or military figures given things like restrictions on freedom of the press and accusations of criminal acts during the civil war. Perhaps that rules out a country like South Sudan for a game like this – but there are positives too, including the mere act of representation.
As a new nation born in the 21st Century, South Sudan could have a unique characteristic based on that. Its status as a nation on the upper reaches of the River Nile could also be the source of a unique technology or ability.
Leader: Prithvi Narayan Shah (18th Century)
Despite being sandwiched between China to the north and British-controlled India to the south, Nepal managed to remain independent. That’s no mean feat considering much of the region came under the control of European powers in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and perhaps Nepal – which was for a long time the world’s only Hindu monarchy – was helped by its location in the Himalayas.
Nepal coalesced in the mid-1700s following a series of annexations and conflicts, and has remained unified ever since. Its terrain helped keep it relatively isolated, and though there were contacts and trading going on with India and China, Nepali society and culture developed separately from its larger neighbours.
Prithvi Narayan Shah is considered the “Father of the Nation.” He was the first King of Nepal, and he was the leader who first unified (and conquered) the smaller kingdoms present in the region, coalescing them into a single nation. The Shah dynasty he founded would rule Nepal until 2008 when the country became a republic.
In a game like Civilization VII, Nepal’s bonuses would surely be derived from mountains. Nepali units could be able to traverse mountains, they could found cities and build other improvements on mountain tiles too. In the late game, perhaps Nepal could see a tourism boost, reflecting the increase in the number of tourists in the 21st Century who flock to the country to visit and climb Mount Everest.
Faction: Khoisan Peoples
Leader: ǂKá̦gára (mythological)
The Khoisan peoples are not one single homogenous group. They are, in fact, a collection of related peoples who inhabit southern Africa. The Khoisan peoples were South Africa’s first inhabitants, arriving millennia before the Bantu-speaking peoples and white colonists.
Anthropologists consider Khoisan peoples to be the descendants of the first humans to leave the “cradle of humanity” in Africa, and thus they may very well be the longest-established groups of people anywhere on Earth, having inhabited southern Africa for more than 150,000 years. Though they suffered greatly under South Africa’s apartheid regime, many Khoisan peoples retained their traditional hunter-gather nomadic lifestyle well into the 20th Century.
Khoisan languages were never written down, and are still being studied by linguists and anthropologists. There is a mixture of history, legend, and myth in their oral traditions, making it hard to choose a distinct historical figure. ǂKá̦gára, the one I’ve proposed here, is almost certainly mythological, perhaps closer to a demi-god than a human!
The Khoisan peoples in Civilization VII could benefit from staying in their starting region, reflecting the Khoisan peoples’ real-world history of continuous inhabitation of southern Africa. Additional bonuses could be added for each era the Khoisan stay put, granting defensive bonuses or economic ones.
Leader: Alfred the Great (9th Century AD)
We come full-circle and end where we began: the British Isles! As mentioned, England and Scotland have been included in past Civilization games, but none of their predecessors have been. Wessex was an independent kingdom from the end of Roman rule in Britain until the formation of England itself – which was done under the rule of the royal house of Wessex.
Wessex was initially one of many smaller Anglo-Saxon kingdoms during England’s dark ages. The end of Roman rule left a power vacuum, and sub-Roman Britain collapsed into a number of independent realms, one of which was Wessex in the south-east. After fighting against other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and against the Vikings, Wessex would eventually succeed at unifying England into a single country.
Alfred the Great is an historical figure with legendary status in England. His rule saw conflict at first, but eventually he was able to make peace with the Vikings, leading to a period of stability for his kingdom. Alfred also paid great attention to education, insisting that schools switch from using scholarly Latin to vernacular English as their language of instruction.
Any bonuses previously assigned to England could in theory be assigned to Wessex in a future Civilization game, but there could also be bonuses based on Alfred’s reputation as a learned man with a passion for education. For example, schools and universities could generate additional science and/or tech points.
So that’s it. Ten factions and leaders who could potentially be part of the next game in the Civilization series… whenever that may come!
I’ve tried very hard to be respectful to the diverse peoples and nations on the list above, and I hope that comes across. There’s always a debate about how to include different civilisations and peoples in games like this. I’m a big advocate of representation in all forms of media, especially for peoples who have been historically under-represented, but I understand the argument that has been made by different peoples and their representatives in the past about their inclusion in games about warfare and conquest, as well as the “westernising” of their cultures. Developers have to walk a delicate line between making a game that’s fun to play and in which factions are balanced while avoiding “whitewashing” or excessive historical revisionism. I hope developers Firaxis and publisher 2K Games can manage to get the balance right.
This could be an entire essay in itself, and perhaps one day I will write on this subject in more detail. For now, suffice to say I’ve tried to pick some different factions and leaders that I haven’t seen depicted in many games or in the Civilization series. Whether any of those above will be included in future is anyone’s guess, but I think it would be neat if they could be.
Though I don’t know for sure whether a new Civilization game is in development, it feels like an inevitability that a new game will eventually be made. The popularity of Civilization VI shows that there is a market for this kind of turn-based strategy or digital board game, and while there are other titles in the genre on the horizon – such as the upcoming Humankind – I’ll be really interested to give Civilization VII a try whenever it’s ready!
Civilization VI is out now for PC, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. The Civilization series – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Firaxis and 2K Games. Some images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.