A game of Civilization 5 takes a long time; you will spend hours looking at an empire that grows as slow as moss. After a few playthrough’s things will start to look familiar. Rather than to rebalance the core game these following mods aim to make each game a bit more unique. I’d recommend these mods in single player or hot seat because I have not tested them online.
Note: You can play hot seat with mods if you install the Custom Advanced Setup Screen mod
This mod adds a lot of visual quality and really helps keep the screen interesting though your long playthrough. It adds a multitude of new skins and models for units to make them look much more specific to their chosen nation. This makes everything a bit less Eurocentric, knights aren’t always in shining armour, for example, from skin tone to their tunics most units will now look authentic. This gives the armies you build lot more character and makes wars with other nations feel much more like a clash of cultures and less like a game of checkers. The work on models and textures is exceptional and fits seamlessly with the official artwork, nothing I’ve seen clashes because everything has the professional polish of paid DLC. The eye candy it provides means games will look a lot more varied, discovering Civilization’s and keeping an eye on their progress much more visually rewarding. These icons on the map that tell your brain ‘enemy soldier’ are now the embodiment and the mascot of that civilization in a way only the unique units used to be.
In vanilla units can be renamed when they receive enough veterancy for an upgrade. This is a useful feature for keeping an eye on a favoured unit or adding to the fluff of your civilizations history if you want to role-play, but it takes a bit too much time and effort to rename every unit. This mod simply makes every unit you acquire come automatically named with their unit type and their city of origin, for example a rifleman might become ‘9th Infantry of York’. It’s a very small change that provides a bit of background for your units after they’ve been mixed up and moved all over the battlefield. Like with Ethnic Units this makes things a bit more character. It also gives feedback on a few other things you wouldn’t normally get in vanilla, during a sustained war of attrition you can tell roughly how many of a certain unit you have on the field and how many you’ve lost by your most recent unit’s number. You may find a unit built in a frontier town that now has more vet than those produced in your industrial towns, telling you this unit has been through a baptism of fire and earned every upgrade. This information won’t help you win a war but it does give your brain a few extra things to think about while waiting for the next turn. As of this review you have the option of naming a unit like the above Yorkish Regiment or in a Roman style which I imagine gives names like Aquilla VII. It would be nice if there were more civilization-specific names for unit types, especially in the early eras, but it does seem possible to add extra text files in the options if you want to put that extra effort in.
Event generators are difficult to balance and can add an uncontrollable random element to the game, but when well implemented they add a depth, role-play and a smidge of chaos to what would otherwise be predictable game play. I like the events thrown at players in Crusader Kings (and anything Civ modders can jerry rig from CKII is welcome) but unfortunately that really is too high a bar for this modder, the content provided here unfortunately does not yet have the polish to make it fit neatly into the vanilla game, but it does a lot right and this is a good foundation for better content. Its hard to gauge how much this mod unbalances the game (which suggests it isn’t by much) and it does seem as though the AI takes advantage of its features.
Most events are simple, either someone did something good and you get a free boost of something or someone did something bad and you lose some stuff. Most are ‘pick your free bonus’. What’s lacking are the frequency of multiple choice events where your job is damage control and making the best of a bad situation, the kind of decisions someone in power would typically have to confront. Right now most of the events aren’t challenging or interesting enough for me to fully recommend the mod. Some feel quite juvenile and badly thought up. In a few games now I’ve had an event where citizens think a werewolf is attacking their town, if I ignore this I get a heap of extra production (+70) in my capital. The mod author’s logic is that if a city’s leader ignores silly rumours the population works harder, but wouldn’t a town with no werewolf rumour at all produce just as much or maybe more? There is no percentage chance the werewolf rumours were about a serial killer who’s now reduced production either. It’s head scratching moments like this that pull you out of the game. Some of the problem is bad writing and I think the other is each option is clearly labelled with what will happen so you cannot play the odds or role-play like you can in Crusader Kings 2.
Quite a few events are Civilization specific and so repeat if you play as the same Civ. These also suffer from poor execution and have no bearing on the era you’re playing in. For example in one play through in 2400 BC Denmark invented Lego, the next turn Korea invented a time bomb (I don’t even know). The writing with these often tries to be funny and fails completely. I don’t want a modder’s sense of humour in my Civilization game because even good jokes run dry with repetition and it simply isn’t Civilization’s style. There were enough good ideas the author could have stolen from Beyond the Sword (there’s a list of these events here) or similar features in other games.
The ‘Decisions’ side of this mod is actually a separate thing. There’s now an ‘enact decisions’ button to press. Whenever your Civilization has enough resources for a decision you’ll get a pop-up on the right (but unfortunately you can’t click this pop-up to go the decisions screen). Like with the events these decisions are dependent on the writing and balance the modder has given them and in a game as complicated as Civilization that can be very difficult. The decisions I have seen typically cost money or culture and maybe it’s my play style but it never seemed worth giving up culture. They also use a new resource added by the modder called ‘Magistrates’ that limit how many of these decisions you can enact, but I was never short of these even though I didn’t entirely understand how you earned them. Although I crave a good way to manage the internal running of your country and I enjoyed a similar feature in the Tropico games what’s offered here simply isn’t good enough and if there was a choice of getting the events without the decisions I wouldn’t give this idea a second look.
I enjoyed Civilization IV’s random events added in BLANK EXPANSION. These were often focused on tiles around your cities (floods in this farm affect output).
This mod brings back an old feature which simply should not have been dropped. In the basic game you can only expand over another Civilization’s borders by expending a great general. This means borders could not change peacefully and if another Civilization aggressively settles close by the only recourse is war burning everything to the ground to take a few good plots. With this mod every tile within a Civilization’s borders can be affected by culture from its neighbours, and if another countries culture takes majority the borders may switch sides. This allows for border conflicts fought with culture not soldiers and gives players new options to defend and expand their territory.
I enjoy fighting wars for eminent objectives rather than the total conquest of another civilization. I enjoy this mod because although it sounds like an alternative to war it really acts as a catalyst for more limited battles for territory.
This mod does affect the balance of the game, effectively giving a buff to culture, and to help players tailor their game the mod comes with three options which can be changed in the lobby. ‘Tile Flip’ is the basic mod I have described above and works well. The other options I wouldn’t recommend but can provide some interesting gameplay. ‘Acquire Tile’ simply gives you extra border expansion which is fine but spam’s the alerts on the right with pink hexagons and harp chords. ‘Use Policy’ adjusts the policy trees so tiles spread and receive culture to/from other Civilization’s differently depending on your choices. It wasn’t very clear which methods would work for what strategy and how it would affect the game’s balance so if you use this feature I’d recommend rereading the policy trees before committing to anything.
‘Tile Conquest’ allows units to flip tiles to their culture during a war. In theory this is a good idea but I don’t think it has been implemented well, simply because it’s too strong and makes things a lot easier for the attacker. Because you can flip countries borders all the way up to their city walls you can heal faster and upgrade your units during a siege, removing any element of attrition when invading enemy territory. It could be a neat idea but it needs nerfing, the feature should be limited to neighbouring borders that share a good amount of your culture (allowing smaller conflicts for territory you might have a reasonable claim to). Perhaps if territory is blockaded by a unit for so long it might become neutral instead of flipping instantly. Regardless, I’d think carefully about what changes this feature brings to a game before trying it.
This mod, like Contextual Unit Names, gives a bit more variation and provides you with a bit more information, this time letting you know what policies rival Civilization’s are pursuing while giving your own Nation a bit more personalisation. This should be a fairly small addition to your game that gives you something to read during the duller moments of the game but unfortunately the author has decided to message spam the user with updates every time a Civilization or city state decides to change its name. This can be really pointless with alerts like ‘Korean Republic now called the Republic of Korea’. Because the names are tied to policies the best options for the current meta or your own play style become quickly familiar while some interesting descriptions are left unseen because they’re connected to something underpowered. That’s a small quibble, and without the spam this mod would be really easy to recommend, it’s satisfying to watch an enemy fall from an Empire to a City State (by name, not game mechanics) under the force of your army, then try to reinvent themselves after you agree to peace.
There are a few mods providing extra icons for Religions and this is my personal favourite. As the name suggests everything provided is tied to the real religions of the Civilization’s represented in game. Like Ethnic Units this makes things a bit less Eurocentric because AI Civilization’s will go for their representative option. Because some of these new icons are obscure it also provides more options for making your own custom deity.
Combined, these mods work in broad strokes to add personality to various features in the core game. For customising the finer points of a game I recommend using WHowards Pick ‘n’ Mix mods. There are a wealth of tweaks and changes here for fine tuning gameplay. Here are a few I use and would recommend:
Shuffles the list of names for your cities (except your capital). Games have more variation. Can rename cities without getting a duplicate.
City States Raze Rarely
In the rare event a city state unit takes another players city they will keep it.
Workers can build Airbases to station aircraft on non-city tiles (like in Civ2).
City State Airbases
Players can now station aircraft in allied City States. This adds a Cold war feel to the late game.
Generals spawn on the frontline.
Settlers take a religion from their created city with them to their new settlement.