Design Analysis: The role of Specialists in Civilization

In this article I will do a deep dive into the strategic trade offs created by Specialists in Civilization 4, 5, Beyond Earth and the Rising Tide mod Echoes of Earth.  While Specialists themselves may appear to be relatively similar across the games, other mechanics shifting around them have a decisive impact on the role of Specialists.  Understanding the evolution of Specialists underlines how game design requires a holistic perspective.

What are Specialists?

If you aren’t familiar with the terminology, Specialists are one of the possible uses for city population.  Each citizen can be assigned to a tile or Specialist slot, which provides yields like Food, Production, Gold, etc.  In the base game Specialist slots are provided by Buildings (and Wonders).

Specialists in Civilization 5

The biggest division between the Specialists are those that provide Production and Gold (the Engineer and Merchant) and those that provide Science and Culture (Scientist and Artist).  The yields provided by the Engineer and Merchant are usually outclassed by Mines and Trading Posts.  The result is that it is often only running those Specialists for the Great Person.

Science and Culture are very rare on tiles which means Scientists and Artists are usually the only way you can use a city’s population to generate more of those yields.  This is where yield balance becomes critical.  One Science is not worth the same as one Gold.  Often Science is more valuable than any of the other yields, resulting in players running every Scientist Specialist slot they have.

Another reason players often run every Scientist Specialist slot is because Great Engineers, Great Merchant and Great Scientists share costs.  Each one of those great people that a player generates increases the number of points required to generate the next one.  This means that generating a Great Engineer makes it harder to generate a Great Scientist.  This interconnection of Great People drives much of the trade offs when considering what Specialists to run.

Specialists in Civilization 4

The differences in how yields work in Civilization 4 changes much of the calculus for how specialists work even if superficially they appear similar.  Tile don’t generate Science or Gold directly.  Instead tiles generate Commerce which is divided between Science and Gold (through an empire wide slider).  Since it is possible to generate Commerce (and therefore Science) from tiles Scientist Specialists are not an exclusive source of Science like in Civilization 5.

Just as in Civilization 5, Scientists, Merchants, Engineers and Priests all generally provide less yield than tiles.  Their main advantage is that Great People they can generate.  Scientists and Merchants provide a way for a city to generate Science and Gold independent of the empire wide slider.  This is often used to have a Gold focused city pay the maintenance bills for the rest of your empire while maximizing Science.

Engineers provide a source of production, that can be useful if a city lacks hills nearby.  In Civilization 4 cities max out at 20 tiles in their “fat cross” while in Civilization 5 cities max out at 36 tiles within 3 spaces.  The smaller tile counts of cities in Civilization 4 makes it more plausible that cities will actually lack access to hills.

Artist Specialists are the odd one out.  Without Social Policies or Virtues Culture isn’t a very important yield.  Each city only needs a very small amount to upgrade its boarders and after that Culture is usually only relevant when going for Cultural Victory.

Specialists in Beyond Earth

Both Civilization 4 & 5 entwine Specialists with Great People.  But in Beyond Earth Great People don’t exist, which leaves Specialists without a core purpose.  Often Specialists are no better than just working tiles.  While Scientists and Artists may still have some merit due to Science and Culture being rare to find on tiles the Academy improvement undercuts that.  This superfluous nature to Specialists in Beyond Earth was a problem I wanted to fix in my mod Echoes of Earth.

Specialists in the Echoes of Earth mod

Without Great People what would make Specialists worthwhile?  But to solve that problem I had to avoid making certain mistakes.  I didn’t want to simply give Specialists more yield.  If Specialists were stronger than tiles, such as if an Engineer provided more production than a Mine, it would homogenize cities.  A city without access to hills wouldn’t be different from a city with hills because both can run Engineers.

The solution I came up with involved two parts: Diplomatic Capital and differentiated improvements.  By making every Specialist provide Diplomatic Capital, which was unavailable from tiles or improvements, gave Specialists a unique purpose.  Specialists would become one of the three main sources of Diplomatic Capital (the other two sources being Wonders and selling Agreements).  This connected Specialists to the larger Traits and Agreements systems and gave them strategic implications beyond their immediate city.

The second part of the solution involved giving each improvement a drawback that the Specialist wouldn’t have.  Farms would be limited to rivers and coastal water, making Growers useful for cities that lacked those terrain features.  In the mid game other food generating improvements would become accessible (depending on a player’s Affinity choices) which would let Growers fade in importance.  Mines would cost unhealth, making Engineers better when Health was tight but Mines better when there was a surplus of Health.  Generators didn’t provide as much Energy as a Specialist but they allowed the citizen to collect some Food or Production at the same time.

Scientists and Artists were a bit different.  As in Civilization 5 Science and Culture are rare (but not impossible) to acquire from tiles.  Culture sources are limited in the early game which make Artist Specialists a useful way to expand a city’s borders.  And only some Affinities get access to mid game improvements that provide Culture.

Scientists provide a way to speed up acquiring Technology but are generally outclassed by Academies once they become available.  Academies, like Mines, cost unhealth, which makes Scientists better when Health is tight.

All together these changes to improvements and Diplomatic Capital work together to give Specialists a role again.  Even without Great People to consider the choice to run a Specialist or not requires some consideration of the circumstances of the city and the colony as a whole.

A Holistic Perspective

From Civilization 4 to Beyond Earth a Merchant Specialist provides Gold but even as the Specialist’s yield remained the same the Specialists role and purpose changed.  From Civilization 4’s Commerce slider, to Civilization 5’s Social Policies to Beyond Earth’s absence of Great People, changes in other systems have had profound impact on how Specialists are used.  A good game is interconnected and interdependent.  As one part changes it can impact others for good or ill.  A skilled designer must always keep their eye on the holistic impact of each system they construct so that each piece is working together in harmony.


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