Upon seeing Firaxis Games announce that one of the new civilizations joining Civilization VI: Gathering Storm would be Canada, I had one question on my mind:
While I can’t speak for my fellow Canadians, but it feels weird to me to see a video game feature my country so prominently. That feeling is heightened by the fact that this is Civilization we’re talking about, a series that typically features the greatest civilizations in human history, ranging from Babylon to America. As much as I love my country, considering the fact that it has existed as a nation for just shy of 150 years and whose achievements pale in comparison to many of the other civilizations already in Civilization VI, Canada is an odd choice to feature in its newest expansion.
Talking to Ed Beach, the Franchise Lead Designer for Civilization VI, he says Canada is one that has been long requested by fans, even though it is outside the norm for a traditional Civ, to put it mildly.
“Canada definitely isn’t the traditional Civ inclusion where you take a civilization that has existed for a good chunk of time,” Beach, lead designer of Gathering Storm, admits. “[But] they are actually one of the most natural nations fitting in with where we’re going with this particular expansion.”
In a first for the core Civilization series, Gathering Storm’s main focusis on the environment. Specifically, how humanity contends with weather and natural disasters, and later on, the impact that human action has on the environment as the world progresses to the industrial and modern era’s. By building too many coal power plants or by destroying large swatches of rainforest, natural disasters will increase in scope and power. Focus on eco-friendly technologies, and the rising tides can hopefully be averted.
As a result, Firaxis wanted to include civilizations in the new expansion that had wrestled with environmental changes or who were currently contending with global climate change. And as one of the northernmost nations on Earth, and one that has seen it’s fair share of climate related issues in recent decades, Canada certainly fit the bill.
“Canada is definitely feeling some significant impact from climate change,” Beach said. “The changes to the polar ice sheets are doing some interesting things. I saw that they had some cruises through the Northwest Passage these past few years because shipping up their is freer than it’s ever been. There’s also a lot of low-lying areas in Canada that are at risk. It’s definitely a good time in terms of looking for nations that are going to be important players and are affected by the types of new content that we’re putting in this expansion.”
To that end, Canada is portrayed in Gathering Storm as a Civ focused on diplomacy and culture. It’s Civilization Ability, Four Faces of Peace, means that Surprise Wars cannot be declared by or against Canada. Led by Wilfrid Laurier, whose leadership ability allows Canada to build farms on Tundra tiles and extract more resources from them, it’s AI Agenda rewards those who contribute resources to helping emergencies. Its iconic unit is the Mountie. And could its unique improvement be anything but an Ice Hockey Rink?
If this all seems a bit stereotypical, that’s because it is. Distilling an entire civilization or country down to a single leader, a few core tenets and abilities, a unit, and an improvement means that subtlety is inevitably going to be lost in translation. This is a challenge for Civs whose histories span centuries or millennia, such as China, as Firaxis must decide a single unit, improvement, and represent it. But it’s similarly difficult for younger Civs like Canada, whose shorter histories means that there aren’t a lot of options to choose from in what to highlight. And if nothing else, when one thinks of Canada, Mounties and hockey is certainly one of the first to come to mind.
“What you have to keep in mind is often for a lot of these civilizations we’re not just speaking to the locals, we’re speaking to many other people across the globe,” Dennis Shirk, Lead Producer for Civilization VI, said. “And oftentimes we serve the interests in learning more about a civilization, including something that people know about, but not a lot about. For example, with Canada, including the Mountie and including the Ice Rink, these are all things people associate with Canada. And it’s something that they can easily grasp onto to learn more about what makes Canada special.”
Stereotypical it may be, but Canada’s traits and unique unit and improvement make for an interesting Civ that fulfills a niche that no other Civ has in Civilization VI yet. Canada has a start bias towards tundra tiles, which few Civs are able to actively exploit. With the addition of the World Congress to Gathering Storm, Canada is one of two new Civs who receive bonuses and rewards for interacting with it. Beach describes Canada as one of the best Civs positioned to win a diplomatic victory, and when you play against Laurier, you’ll find that he greatly approves of playstyles that involve helping and assisting others on the World Congress through the updated emergencies system.
Laurier himself is an interesting choice to represent Canada due to his role in history. As Prime Minister at the turn of the 19th century, Laurier’s tenure saw Canada expand westward with the addition of Saskatchewan and Alberta into Confederation. In game, this is reflected through his ability The Last Best West, which encourages expansion into Tundra tiles. Furthermore, Laurier was a proponent for English-French partnership, and he is actually the only bilingual leader who speaks two languages in his dialogue as a result.
“We looked at a bunch of lists of the top Prime Ministers of Canada, and we were looking for somebody who was a figure that was instrumental in creating Canada as a unified country,” Beach said. “Where despite the fact that it’s been settled partially by the French and partially by the English, Laurier was looked at as being a unifying figure to bring Canada together between English and French speaking people. He also was instrumental in getting the railroad across the continent to link it up as a nation. So we felt like he was definitely worthy on all those fronts. We also wanted somebody who’d be kind of an interesting person to you to interact with. We have each of our leaders depicted and we get a voice actor who speaks lines that are appropriate for the time period and in the language it’s appropriate for a leader. And so he was bilingual which sort of makes him a little bit more interesting on screen.”
Outside of its leader, Canada’s unique unit and improvement bring focus to the Civ’s other strength, Culture. The Mountie, far from being just a replace late-game cavalry unit, also has the ability to create national parks. Normally, creating a park requires building a Naturalist, a unit that requires a large number of resources to build. The Mountie is cheaper and allows Canada to generated tourism through grabbing large swathes of land easily, which is an advantage Firaxis wanted Canada to have.
“We wanted Canada to be able to get national parks more easily so they could have more parkland than anyone else,” Beach said. “Tying it to one of their units that they could create through regular production allows them to do that.”
By contrast, the Ice Hockey Rink creates Amenities, Culture, Food, and Production provided the requisite technologies are unlocked. Despite the fact that teams like the Arizona Coyotes exist in the NHL, the Ice Hockey Rink can only be built on Tundra or Snow tiles, and receives greater bonuses for being adjacent to similar tiles like it.
“I’ve been a fan of NHL long enough that I watched the NHL Winter Classic, where they play the games outside,” Beach said. “And I have seen a lot of you know the kind of vignettes where they sort of talk about how Canadians grow up and that’s the first game that they play and they’re outside on frozen ponds and makeshift rings. Yes, it might be stereotypical, but it was just such a important representation of what sort of makes Canada what it is that we wanted to absolutely embrace that and go with it.”
Combined, these individual aspects mould together to create a Civ that both plays up Canada’s stereotypes and makes it feel like a long lost missing piece to the puzzle that is Civilization VI. Having played a couple of games as Canada in Gathering Storm, it thrives on being the ultimate diplomat, using diplomacy to curry favour and overwhelm other nations with tourism and culture. The fact that Canada makes a home for itself in the areas of the world that few other Civs dare to tread means that it has plenty of room to grow without fear, and late in the game that translates to a very strong position should you be capable of defending it. Far from being an outlier, Canada is primed to be one of the Civs best equipped to handle the new challenges and elements that Gathering Storm throws into the mix.
There is, I feel, one major missed opportunity with Canada in Gathering Storm. Despite being a Civ that is built around peace, or at least playing nice with your neighbors, it is still possible to take Canada down the path of militarism and conquer the world to secure a Domination victory. However, there is no achievement or reward for doing so.
“Yeah, that probably is a misstep apart,” Beach laughs. “I don’t think we did put that in there, but I have seen online on the forums people are like ‘I’m only going to play [Canada] and the first thing I’m going to do is wipe the U.S. out’. Our fans are definitely going to embrace that challenge.”
My suggestion: If an achievement is later patched in requiring playing as Canada to secure a Domination victory, please name it ‘Sorry, Eh’. It’s the least Firaxis can do to play up a Canadian stereotype, one last time.