In strategy games like Civilization, placing your next city is always about the numbers. Where can I get the best yields? Which placement will offer the most potential? What’s the optimal choice here? These decisions often don’t take into account the visual aspect of terrain and instead focus on the underlying coding – if the developer says there’s +2 food in them hills, then there is.
Humankind – the recent Civilization challenger from Endless Legend creator Amplitude – subscribes to this, but it also manages to put forward another path: settling somewhere just for the feels.
Humankind is one of the best-looking 4X games you’ll ever play. Its verticality and representation of hills and mountains can produce truly striking vistas. We often see it inspire posts like this one, in which players are simply revelling in the beauty of what they’ve created rather than taking the more clinical route of chasing synergies. While you could do this in any strategy game, it feels more viable in Humankind, and purposefully so.
First and foremost, the footprint of a city can be considerably larger than in comparable games. Humankind maps are divided into regions, so no matter where in a region you place your city, you can control the entire region. Additional regions can be bolted on as you expand, although you can also found brand-new cities depending on your needs.
District placement is also more flexible. While you will often expand outwards from the city centre, you can also build next to any outposts you’ve attached to its territory. Similarly, you can build directly on any luxury or strategic resources wherever the deposits are found within your borders, and then expand from those sites too.
Overall this means that, no matter where you place your city, there are tools available to exploit what you need to one way or another. Your initial city placement is mainly going to affect your city’s starting resources, but these can be modified or expanded easily once you get going.
Last but not least, there can be a strategic benefit in placing your city somewhere, say, on a hilltop, or on the edge of a cliff, even if the more lucrative position is down in the valley. Combat in Humankind is dealt with on a tactical layer that gets super-imposed on the campaign map. Armies, which would normally rove around in a small stack, are split into their individual units, and you manoeuvre them around the battlespace as you would in Civ 6.
This makes terrain especially important, and cities on hills or surrounded by cliffs are far more defensible than ones that aren’t, especially in the early game before the advent of true siege-focused weapons. Check out this player’s city placement for an example:
Even though the ground around it isn’t the best in terms of basic resources and development, it’s a great defensive position, and this will be important should the AI ever get close enough to your city to lay siege.
I honestly don’t remember the last time a strategy game like in this style not only encouraged sub-optimal city placement, but also managed to design such decisions in a way that wouldn’t detriment you in the long run against your opponents.
Humankind has a ways to go yet before it can become one of the best strategy games of all time, but it’s certainly among the prettiest, and I for one appreciate how it broadens the factors involved in city placement beyond simply min-maxing the initial tile yields.
Related: Read our Humankind review
Its greatest gift is that it empowers you to make major strategic decisions based on little more than a nice view and a south-facing city centre.