Might the problem be how these civs are communicated and broadly labeled?

So, I I’ve watched the expansion news and information over the past week or two, and I’ve seen the discussion on the “variant civs” and for the most part, I had mixed feelings about it all, but also hope because quite honestly we didn’t know what these civs looked like yet.

I want to say a couple of things about myself. I love history. Age of Empires inspired me in school to pursue a college degree in history. I love Beastyqt’s streams, but I am firmly one of those who plays this franchise for its history more than I play for the gameplay. In fact, I don’t play video games at all really, other than Age of Empires, and that is in part due to my love of history. Yet, despite all this drama I was thinking about how these two views might reconcile with each other? How can the history-purists and the gameplay enjoyers get along and move the game forward for everyone because for better or worse, this franchise has attracted both and others as well.

I read the Joan of Arc reveal today and I realized I didn’t know quite how to feel. On one hand, I hate the mechanics, won’t pretend otherwise, but I also recognize that her faction gameplay could be quite fun for some. I kept thinking about AoE3, and how despite the fact that the campaigns were rather poor historically, I still had fun with them. It was then that I realized where I think the “upset” part of my brain was.

To put it concisely, I think it is a mistake to call these civs “variant civs”…and I think that might be the only issue. I know, seems funny, but I think a simple fix is all I need personally to be totally happy with the expansion.

See, when I, a history lover, read “variant civilization” I think about cultural offshoots of differing time periods like Burgundians for French or Seljuks for Turks. In my mind, I read “variant” and I think, “oh they’ll add the Seljuks and that’s how Ottoman get horse archery”. But I don’t think that’s what you had in mind for these civilizations, and that’s fine. Reddit user “u60cf28” in this thread: The Sultans Ascend: Variant Civilizations Deep Dive - Age of Empires : aoe4 (reddit.com)
had the following to say: "IMO the details they’ve given here have changed my perspective on the variant civs.
In Magic: The Gathering design, there’s the concept of “top-down” and “bottom-up” design. To simplfy, top-down is when the creative elements of a set are hammered out first, and then cards and mechanics are designed to fit the flavor of those creative elements. Bottom-up is when the mechanical elements are designed first and then creative flavor is written to fit those mechanics.

It seems to me that these variant civs are primarily going to be bottom-up designed. The devs took RTS gameplay elements that they thought were cool (like a hero unit), designed/modified a civ around it, and then tried to fit that civ to history. It does stand in contrast to both the main civs and how many fan-made civs are designed; usually top-down design is featured there. That’s probably where a lot of the disconnect is for players. Bottom-up appeals more to RTS gamers, while Top-down appeals to history aficionados.
Well, as long as the variant civs are well-designed (which I have faith the devs will do), everything is fine."

I think this explanation tracks with your own on what/why variant civs were introduced: "First and foremost, all civilizations in Age of Empires (be they classics or variants) are there to deliver excellent and engaging experiences to our players. The classic civilizations are there to capture the history of civilizations over several centuries, capturing the evolution of whole cultures and expressing them as broad gameplay themes supported by art, music, speech, and much more. Variant civilizations take an element of that broad historical sweep and build a fresh game experience around it.

The variant civilizations are also a great opportunity for us to explore gameplay mechanics that push the envelope. The Jeanne d’Arc Variant Civilization, for example, is entirely focused on a hero unit who gains levels and transforms throughout the match. This is not something we have seen in Age of Empires IV before, and variants allow us to really lean into these mechanics."

I think it is this so-called “bottom-up” approach that has confused me, and I think there is a simple fix. Instead of calling these civs “variant civs”…call them something more akin to “Legends of History” (You could put an asterisk next to their name in game with a little menu footnote *=Legend Civilization or something). We are getting two normal civs in the Japanese and Byzantines, and I am quite excited for them. I also enjoyed the Aoe3 campaign despite it being historical fiction, but that was because I KNEW that going in. I think you simply need to emphasize that these “variant civs” are much more of a “historical drama” theme (i.e. The Tudors or Vikings) over the documentary theme. I don’t think it has ironically helped that campaigns you have in the game right now are pretty documentary focused. I think the problem for myself and perhaps other historian focused people is that in our mind when we read or hear “variant civilization” it pushes our minds towards realism. It might be a left brain/right brain thing or something. I can’t help think that way, so when these civs are a bit…fantastical…I’m instantly disappointed. If you tell me these are historical fiction civs that offer simply a different way to play the game I…I am honestly much more fine with everything. I hope this helps…these were honestly just shower thoughts as I thought about the whole ruckus of the last two weeks.

I think as long as we continue to get for a few years (as I honestly don’t see the traditional civ roster going above 20) a traditional civ in expansions, I have no issue with “dramatist” civs also being added for flavor, mechanic experimentation and more.


I like the analogue you use from MTG, I think it’s a very helpful way of conceptualizing the variant civs. I’ve started noting my opinion that I see them as a way for the devs to create more experimental civ designs, with very unique structures and systems not found in the more standard civs. The info revealed today about Jeanne d’Arc and the Order of the Dragon led me to think that way. Maybe being more explicit in the idea that these variant civs are more experimental in design would help with some of the dissonance, as you say.

I see a lot of potential for variant civs, and for drastic changes to the classic formula. The announcement released today did a lot to help me understand more of what they’re trying to do, but there is obviously still an issue with trying to convey the intent and ambition here. Even then, some in the community will hate change no matter what, but I’m on board with trying new things from the bottom-up perspective.

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I agree with your take, they should heavily emphasize the experimental aspect and visually distinguish these special factions in the civ selection!

That was something I was thinking about too, if distinguishing them on the civ select menu would be useful or not. Honestly, it might be worth it to denote them as being more experimental, and possibly even making them filterable for random-civ select options, or when setting up rules for a MP game. I’m sure many would appreciate the ability to exclude variant civs from certain games. Separating them a bit more clearly could also work in the devs’ favor and free them up to continue pushing the boundaries in that space. Things to consider

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Excellent. I couldn’t have expressed this better. Still feels that it’s a missed opportunity not to bring the variant civs into top-down approach (e.g. Burgundy as French variant etc).

So, not being a history buff myself, I would ask: what would make the most sense for something like the Burgundians? A variant civ, or a new standard civ? Are the Burgundians distinct enough from the French to warrant a new standard civ with all the bells and whistles? Is it different enough to be a variant civ with a significantly different playstyle to the French, including potentially different landmarks, units, techs, and/or civ mechanics? Is it just a reskinned French civ with a few changes? That last option isn’t a format that exists right now, so I don’t know what would be most appropriate.

Your thoughts have helped me gain some more perspective thank you for sharing :blush:

A variant civ, or a new standard civ?

A variant in my opinion. While the Dukes of Burgundy had dreams of empire of their own and plenty of land in the Holy Roman Empire in the later days of the so called ‘‘Burgundian state’’, a term we use for the various holdings of the Dukes, it was still nominally duchy within France, which played a major part in french history and politics, and for most of its history, the goal of the dukes was to become Kings of France, or at least have a puppet in the throne.

Are the Burgundians distinct enough from the French to warrant a new standard civ with all the bells and whistles?

Well, there were differences as Burgundy was pretty much running its own buisness while also trying to snag the crown of france; but they had mostly similar armies, except the Dukes of Burgundy had acess to troops from Germany and Flandres, and generally more cash to spare. This means their roster would be very similar to France’s, except with a few unique techs, and not having Royal Knights, replacing them with something else entirely. AoE2 uses the Coustillier and Flemish Spearmen as a unique units, for example.

Is it different enough to be a variant civ with a significantly different playstyle to the French, including potentially different landmarks, units, techs, and/or civ mechanics?

In terms of playstyle, it’d probably be similar to a degree; a big emphasis on strong cav and gunpowder. Different landmarks, units and techs could be possible; but i personally think it’d work better as a variant so with a few changes, it plays different. For example, their agressive expansionism and ambitious goals could be modelled by gamelay mechanics encouraging a more agressive playstyle than france. Fun fact: The english mechanic of generating gold via farms is used by Burgundy in AoE2 to represent vineyard wealth.