What if: Strategy games like Civilization 6 had good co-op?

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Strategy games were once at the forefront of multiplayer PC games. In 1995, CivNet laid the foundation for multiplayer in Civilization, which remains virtually unchanged even to this day, while the original Command & Conquer came with two copies of the game to facilitate LAN play. These streaks have always allowed you to form alliances, but if they allowed you to control multiple players exactly the same team.

Imagine it: a married couple arguing over children’s rights in Crusader Kings 3; players controlling different states or regions within the same empire in Civilization; or divide players into farming, construction and military tasks in Age of Empires. This type of unguided, unguided co-op play would force players to communicate and self-manage all the time – much like Overcooked, but instead of juggling tomatoes and dirty dishes, you’re dealing with entire empires.

The game that recently introduced me to the joys – and even the frustrations – of team multiplayer is Rimworld, or more specifically Zetrith’s multiplayer mod for that. The principle is simple: each player has equal control over the colony, and you only see the faded mouse cursors of other players moving around the screen. Importantly, there is nothing in the UI to indicate what other players are doing, which means you will have to talk constantly to stay in sync and not step on each other’s toes.

Things got off to a good start. Each player controls a specific character with their own specializations, so distinct roles naturally evolve. I quickly become responsible for electricity and military management, the pacifist among us takes care of the breeding and taming of animals, while a third takes care of construction and research . In a game as complex as Rimworld, sharing tasks like this can actually be a bit of a relief, leading to a more relaxed playstyle than single-player.

So far, so good.

But the pressure is mounting quickly with raids from rival tribes, power shortages and oppressive weather conditions forcing communication into the background. Instinct takes over. Players begin to break loosely defined rules or find loopholes to shirk their responsibilities.

Maybe things could escalate into a civil war, resulting in dominant factions or breakaways

This is how I end up taking control of another player’s farmer and enlisting them in my army to defend myself against the looters. Maybe I could think of this one as a forgivable communication glitch, but I find myself with a lot to answer when the conscript returns missing a leg. We argue as the farmer plows the fields, limping on a shaking ankle.

On the bright side, at least my co-player can rest assured that I won’t be recruiting that particular farmer again in combat, and they can always pressure our research manager to focus on finding prosthetics to replace their. burst stump.

An erupting volcano in Civ 6

Now let’s apply this to Civilization. An age-old problem with multiplayer in 4X games is that after several hours, they can really sink into a lull – the dizzying wanderings at the start of the game give way to hours of silence as each one makes do with their own thing. Things drag on even more late in the game as players who are clearly out of the race make their way to a finish line that is still several hours away.

kinda like Overcooked, but instead of juggling tomatoes and dirty dishes you’re dealing with whole empires

Multiplayer with the same team might fix these pacing issues, but how would that actually work? Here is my version. At the start of a game, each player controls a settler from the same civilization. Once a city is founded, it is fully controlled by that player, as are subsequent units, settlers, and cities founded on the back of that very first unit. You will share the same resources and the same production pool, thus communicating about who is in charge of what still matters.

Now you could have separate actors assigned to different key policy areas – one deals with new laws and civics, another deals with commerce and diplomacy. Or you can integrate a simple voting system, in which each player is involved in major decisions such as war, law making, and government changes to vote. What if it’s a blocked vote? Well you better talk about it and make a hell of a decision, otherwise the empire is lagging behind. Desperate to start a war? You may need to sweeten the pot to convince a fellow counselor that your revenge tour is a good idea.

Coop in CK3

Or, to foment these sweet internal tensions, how about a system in which the more a player contributes to civilization – through factors such as military might, wonders, and culture – the more worth their vote? when voting major decisions is great. It would add all kinds of disharmony and wickedness… think of Khrushchev, Beria and Malenkov in turn clashing at the head of the Central Committee. Perhaps things could even escalate into a civil war, allowing players to expand their intra-imperial power to become the dominant faction, or even let one or more players go their separate ways to form new empires.

Looking at other 4X games, Old World already lends itself well to this kind of game. Its house system, where each city is ruled by one of the three internal factions of your empire, recognizes the internal complications of running it. ‘a nation and could translate seamlessly into multiplayer with the same team.

In the broader strategy genre, you can already have different players controlling different members of the same dynasty in Crusader Kings. You might even be a husband-wife pair, but that sort of thing crumbles in the next generation when a player may very well quit the game due to their children being assigned to the other’s lineage.

Cooperation with the same team in AoE 2

More appropriately, there is a sneaky workaround in Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition to have multiple players control the same team, and it would be great to see this expanded in the upcoming Age of Empires IV.

Even in a simple form, like with the Rimworld mod, this type of multiplayer offers an engaging and communication-oriented way of playing. With a little more structure and developer input, this could open up a whole new layer of cooperative play in strategy games, solving some of their long-standing pacing issues. Age of Empire IV? Civilization 7? It’s your turn…

What if?’ is PCGamesN’s regular feature film series. Check back every Saturday for more guesswork, from thoughtful speculation about genuinely plausible industry developments, to dreamy crossovers, to nonsense like Half-Life 3 is happening. If you haven’t tested some of the games above yet, you can check out Age of Empires through Game Pass for PC or purchase Civilization VI here.

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