A common sentiment is that the Wonders in Beyond Earth aren’t very interesting. While Wonders have improved in Rising Tide many still feel lackluster. Why? I believe it is because of Virtues.
Wonders verse Virtues
In Civilization if you create a unique and interesting effect are you going to put it on a Wonder or are you going to put it on a Virtue (or Social Policy in Civilization 5)? The Wonder will impact one player for a portion of the game while the Virtue is something every player will need to engage with. The best ideas, the most interesting decisions, will form a greater bulk of the player’s experience if they are part of the Virtue system rather than hidden away on Wonders.
It is tempting to say “just come up with two great ideas and put one on the Virtue and the other on the Wonder”. But there is not an endless supply of great ideas because design space is finite. A skilled designer must use the design space in a game as efficiently as possible. That means finding as many great ideas as possible but it also means allocating those ideas to the places they will have the most impact.
What is Design Space
Some games have lots of design space, there are tons of factors that can be tweaked, knobs that can be adjusted and lots of subtle interconnections that create second-order effects that allow minor variations to ripple through the game. Other games are simpler or more straightforward. There is a limit to what a designer can do without fundamentally repeating themselves.
It isn’t correct to say that more design space equals a better game any more than it is to say that novels are better than short stories. Rather it is important to right-size your design. A game that tries to cover more ground that its design space allows can end up spreading itself to thin.
Using Design Space Efficiently
Design space is not uniformly distributed within a game. Some aspects may be richer in possibilities than others. One way to use design space efficiently is to use ideas that couldn’t be done anywhere else in the game. This focuses on qualities that are unique to that part of the game and can’t feel repetitive with other parts.
For example, one thing Wonders can do that Virtues can’t is be local to a city. Virtues are across the empire but Wonders can make one city in an empire distinct from others. This forces the player to ask “which city should I build this wonder in” and “what qualities would make a potential city a good fit for this wonder”.
Benthic Auger (+2 Science from every Coastal tile) and Promethean (City no longer produces unhealth) are two examples of Wonders that focus on their ability to boost a single city.
Quantum Computer (free maintenance for Orbital Units) and Panopticon (Military Units get +1 Sight) are two examples of Wonders that easily could have been Virtues.
Wonders in New Horizons
Wonders in New Horizons are going to require Geothermal and provide Diplomatic Capital. The Geothermal cost is part of what will make that resource distinct from Titanium and Oil. Wonders will also be one of the main ways to get Diplomatic Capital in the early game, meaning player will want to set themselves up for at least one Wonder early on. Beyond those baseline effects Wonders will focus more on having local effects and less on providing empire wide boosts.
But I don’t expect to have changed Wonders in the first release. Getting the buildings and tech web complete is my highest priority. After that, Virtues and Victory quests. Then Wonders and Military Units.