Humankind Tutorial Game
Part Four

On the previous page of this report, I used the overpowered Khmer culture to race out to a massive lead in fame during the Medieval period. With nearly all of the starting continent under my control, the competitive portion of the gameplay had largely come to an end and it was time to start thinking about how to achieve a victory condition. We're going to look at some of the lategame aspects of Humankind's gameplay in this finishing part of the tutorial game and I have to warn ahead of time that it's pretty rough right now. The endgame balancing in Humankind is totally out of whack and needs some major retuning in patches. The best thing that can be said about the last couple of eras is that they allow the player to finish up games quickly instead of dragging things out.

I decided to take the Joseon Koreans as my culture for the Early Modern era. The Civilization series seems to have decided over the years that Korea is a "science" nation and Humankind follows suit. The Joseon passive ability is +3 science on all tiles that already produce science (this includes Research Quarters) and then a unique district in the Seowon which is a beefed up Research Quarter with additional science output. (Their unique unit is a ship which is just as bad in Humankind as unique unit ships are in Civilization.) The Joseon are a decent culture but nothing particularly game-breaking; this is more of what each culture should look like, good at doing one thing without breaking apart the game as the Khmer do. I had picked multiple production-oriented cultures in previous eras and decided on the Joseon because I wanted to emphasize research moving forward. I needed to reach the end of the tech tree in order to achieve a victory condition (that or conquer everyone else which wasn't going to happen) and science was what I needed most to polish off this game.

Here's a note on city-building that I wanted to include in the tutorial game. The basic rule in district placement is that districts must touch either the city center tile or a previously-built district. This causes cities to build outward from their original starting position; attached outposts in separate regions follow the identical rule when placing districts. Interestingly, resource tiles that have an Artisans Quarter built atop them do count as a district for this purpose and can help extend a city's reach for district placement. There's one district called the Hamlet that breaks this pattern which I've highlighted above. Hamlets exploit both food and industry and don't have to be located next to other districts on the map. In this case above, Nemossos had an unconnected jungle region off to the south which this Hamlet was able to build upon for the first time. There's a limit of one Hamlet per region and they don't unlock until halfway through the tech tree but these unique districts can be a big help to grab a portion of the map far away from the city center tile.

The other district that I wanted to mention was the one with the two theatre masks visible on the interface to the right. That was the Commons Quarter which is intended to be one of the core districts in Humankind's gameplay. Commons Quarters do not exploit any of the resources on the map, however they provide 5 stability and some minor influence for each other district located next to them. A perfectly placed Commons Quarter could be worth 30 stability from touching six other districts on all sides. The idea is to build cities with Commons Quarters mixed into the middle of the other districts, with the Commons Quarters not providing any food or production themselves but needed to grant stability for the cities in question. Unfortunately the balancing is badly off here; because there's far too much stability in the gameplay right now, Commons Quarters are essentially never needed and go completely unbuilt. I think I ended up with one of them over the course of the whole game. We'll see shortly how too much stability breaks apart city building in ways that the designers surely did not intend.

I was unsatisfied with the results of the last war against the Aztecs since I had fallen just short of enough war score to receive the city of Sippar on the surrender screen. This had felt a bit silly since I had captured the city during our war and the Aztecs had zero units available to recapture it. Since I still wanted control of that territory, I went ahead and declared another "Surprise War" as soon as my war support had climbed back up to the minimal level of 20. Once again, my units easily overran Sippar and this time crossed the narrow sea to assault the island region of Athenai as well. This picture does a good job of highlighting a place where Humankind's combat model falters: my units were forced to deploy on the tiny five-tile peninsula southeast of Athenai's districts. I actually had six units here and there was only room for five of them until I could fight my way inside the fortifications. Each combat in Humankind lasts for three rounds, with the attacker and defender each getting a turn on those three rounds, and the fighting can extend into the next turn if not resolved. That was the case here as the One Unit Per Tile traffic jam stretched out the combat into a second turn before I could finish off the levied units which had sprung up to defend Athenai.

The result was that I didn't capture Athenai until Turn 109 and this turned out to be after the Aztec war support had already hit zero, forcing their surrender:

I found to my disappointment that my war score had capped out at 75 for this conflict - not enough to gain any territories at all on the surrender screen! This was inordinately frustrating since I had captured both Aztec cities and killed every single one of their units. They were a defeated nation in every possible sense of the term - why should they get to continue living and even get handed both of their cities back in the forced treaty?! I've mentioned before that Humankind badly needs a way for a winning side to decline the option of a surrender and fight on if they choose to do so. The war support mechanic is not particularly intuitive and it winds up being far too important in determining the outcome of a conflict. Shouldn't capturing every enemy city and killing every enemy unit be sufficient to win a war? I can't be the only player who finds this system to be infuriating.

This was the first time that I looked at the war support mechanic in more detail and figured out what I had been doing wrong. The main determinant in the final war score comes from the player's war support when the conflict starts and then the war support at the time of the surrender. These were both low in this case because I'd initiated a Surprise War at the first possibile opportunity and then won very quickly before I could amass more war support from winning battles. Yes, winning quickly and overwhelmingly is actually *BAD* under this bizarre system! I also realized that the capture of Athenai hadn't even counted because apparently war score gets frozen at the start of the turn if the enemy hits zero between turns. Again, the whole thing is counterintuitive and doesn't make a lot of sense to newcomers. It's especially frustrating how the surrender mechanic seems to go out of its way to protect weak empires from being eliminated.

I was still learning how the war support mechanic worked and therefore I did something extremely rare for me: reload back a few turns to undo this second war with the Aztecs. I had completely and utterly smashed them in the actual fighting and I simply needed the surrender screen to reflect what had happened on the battlefield. I made two changes which I hoped would make a difference in terms of increasing my war support. The first was to adopt the Imperialists civic which adds an additional 10 war support for each victorious battle. The default value is 8 war support for a won fight and going from 8 to 18 per victorious battle makes a big difference, particularly in short wars that only have a handful of battles in total. The other change was building the Forbidden City wonder which the Aztecs had conveniently claimed in this territory but were unable to complete before I took it away from them. The Forbidden City granted 25 war support on the initial declaration of war, not the kind of thing which would normally be worth spending massive influence to claim and then thousands of production to complete. However, it was exactly what I needed at the moment and I had three or four cities pool their production together to knock out the wonder quickly.

We repeated the exact same war a few turns later; once again, I captured both Aztec cities and easily killed all of their units. But this time the new civic and the new wonder made a huge difference on the surrender screen:

Despite the actual battlefield combat proceeding in identical fashion, this time I had 170 war score which was enough to take both cities and eliminate the Aztecs. I pasted in the war support from the initial turn of the war to demonstrate what had happened: I started at 29 war support and then gained 18 from winning an initial battle (taking the city of Sippar) plus another 25 war support from having the Forbidden City wonder. Even though I was losing 3 war support each turn due to the surprise nature of the war, I was able to reach 81 war support by the time that the surrender treaty took place. Now I finally understood where my war score of 170 was coming from: 29 war support at the start of the conflict, 81 war support on the current turn, and then 30 + 30 war support for capturing two cities. I'm confident that I can do a better job of working around this mechanic in the future thanks to having more practice with it. (I've since learned that razing captured cities is often a really good idea because then you don't have to spend war score to get the region ceded in the peace treaty.) Still, the whole system feels overly complicated and not friendly at all to newcomers. I'd like to see some more tinkering here in future patches to fix the situation where prostrate dead empires get to hang around for no reason.

With no cities and no units remaining, the Aztecs were now eliminated from the game. I found that Sippar and Athenai placed me well above the city cap limit, taking me up to 8 cities while the current cap was only 5 cities. This led to a penalty of -370 influence/turn for being three over the city cap - yikes! My whole empire was only making 282 influence which left me at a deficit of -88 influence/turn. I razed both cities and replaced Sippar with a new city that started with all of the infrastructure for the first three eras of the game (at a cool cost of 3910 influence). This left me at 7/5 cities and a penalty of -110 influence/turn which I was able to afford for the moment. There was another tech upcoming soon which would increase the city cap and get me to 7/6 cities where the penalty was a trivial -10 influence/turn, not even worth mentionining by this stage of the game.

The big upcoming tech was a different one though, the Patronage technology pictured here. I haven't been posting images of the Humankind tech tree because it's pretty similar to those in other turn-based strategy games; I do appreciate that the game has a lot of handy icons for quick reference and I like how researched techs have colorful splash art added to their display. I started out the Early Modern era by researching Moveable Typeface for the science bonuses located there (also unlocking the "cities start with all infrastructure from the first three eras" at prerequisite tech Three-Masted Ship), then headed straight for Patronage text next. This is the technology that unlocks the Luxury Manufactories, the upgraded version of each luxury resource. Readers may recall that each luxury resource has a "wondrous" effect that unlocks with these manufactories:

Let's take this sage luxury as an example. The default sage effect is 3 food per main plaza (city center tile) and 3 food per administrative center (outpost center tile) along with the 4 stability that every luxury provides. I had five sages which translated into 15 food for each main plaza and administrative center along with 20 stability. Patronage tech unlocked the ability to create a manufactory for sage which provided a further 25% food and 50 stability on all cities! That wasn't a replacement for the default benefit, that was in addition to what I'd been getting throughout the game thus far. Manufactories function the same way for all luxuries: 5% to their respective yield (either food or industry or money or science) along with 10 stability. That's PER luxury and PER city, mind you - I could build a manufactory for sage but also a manufactory for silks and for lead and for obsidian and so on. The player must have a majority of the world's supply of the luxury under their control in order to build the manufactory and I think the developers imagined that this would balance things. However, players can easily trade for all of the other luxuries held by AI empires and then build every manufactory anyway. I could have one source of coffee and the Harappans have the other five sources and I could still build the manufactory by trading for all of their stuff.

Needless to say, the manufactories completely shatter the game balance in Humankind. They literally remove stability from the gameplay altogether:

When I discovered Patronage tech, most of my cities were straining against the stability limit in the 30-50 percent range. I had been constructing a lot of infrastructure up to this point in time because too many districts would put me over the stability limit. However, just look at the absurd increase in stability that Memphis gained after I threw down half a dozen manufactories on all of my luxury resources. The capital city was getting 35 stability from infrastructure, 30 stability from ideology, 50 stability from being the capital... and then 376 stability from luxuries. It certainly put to shame the mediocre stability provided by things like aqueducts and Commons Quarters - they were now never worth building under any circumstances. Memphis already had 24 districts and it was nowhere remotely close to hitting the stability limit. I could build district after district without bound and never run afoul of stability for the remainder of the game.

This is obviously terrible for game balance purposes. With no stability to reign in cities, they can stack up districts without limit and it warps the intended tradeoffs in the gameplay. In particular, building Makers Quarters without end becomes the One Right Choice (TM) in the vast majority of circumstances. Why would I bother to build infrastructure when I could simply place another industrial district on the map for another 30 or 40 or 50 production per turn? Similarly, at Memphis I could build research infrastructure intended to increase the yields of each Research Quarter, but why bother when I could simply place another Research Quarter instead? Humankind's gameplay is not intended to have this much stability present in each city and it's removing the need to make tough choices in the city building. The luxury manufactories need a massive nerf to fix this problem; if they would merely double the benefits of the existing luxuries, they'd be far healthier for the rest of the game.

I spent only 16 turns in the Early Modern era before advancing on to the Industrial period. This brought the choice of another new culture and I was looking for something that brought additional production this time. The Siamese were the best fit that I could find, a culture with a production + gold hybrid approach. Their unique ability added +3 production per district which would be highly useful given the number of districts that every city was cranking out at the moment. The Floating Market unique district was less useful since it was a Harbor district that had to be placed out in the water; this prevented it from taking advantage of useful adjacency bonuses. Nevertheless, gaining an additional +1 money per population point would be pretty handy to keep from going bankrupt due to expensive unit costs. I'd been teetering on the edge of financial insolvency for a long time and Siam's Floating Markets finally brought me back into a healthy position on spending. As for the amusing "elephant-with-a-machine-gun" unique unit, unfortunately I wouldn't have the opportunity to test them out in this game. We were moving rapidly into the endgame at this point and there wasn't enough time to engage in much more combat.

The only place where I spotted a chance to pick up more territory was against this empire with black coloring off in the extreme west (or alternately east across the world's largest ocean). I didn't want to fight with the Harappans due to their size and they had taken the blue empire as a vassal state at some point in the early game before I met them. The Myceneans in black had two cities to their name and I figured that I might as well take them for myself. This nation was still stuck in the Classical era fielding spears and swords which stood no chance whatsoever against my forces. I was amused to see the Khmer Dhanvi-Gaja elephants one-shotting their hapless units (and still getting +1 strength from the Lighthouse of Alexandria, what the heck!) I crushed this weak defending force and immediately captured their capital city of Mykene on the first turn of the war. Now time for the other city to eliminate the Myceneans.

Or maybe not:

On the very next turn, I was suddenly at peace with the Myceneans and - incredibly - their capital city was back in their possession once again. The Myceneans had apparently surrendered and vassaled themselves to the Harappans and this was enough to force me into a peace treaty and give them back the city that I captured. I was never asked if this was something that I wanted to do, it simply happened completely outside of my control. Have I mentioned before that the whole forced surrender / war score mechanic doesn't work very well? This was a minor sideshow and I didn't care too much about what happened but it was still insane that a captured city magically left my control and went back to the defeated side. No warning, no chance to avoid that outcome, the city was simply gone. I'm still hoping that this mechanic will get some adjustment in patches and that there's a way to turn off vassal states entirely.

I wasn't taking pictures of my cities during these turns because not much of interest was taking place on the main continent. Every city was frantically building districts as quickly as possible, mostly adding endless Makers Quarters to ramp up their production as much as possible for the impending Contemporary era. I was in the Industrial era for a mere 14 turns before hitting the seventh era star and advancing to the next age:

Note that I did not stick around in the Industrial era because there was no longer any need to pile up more fame. I was far enough ahead that the Harappans would never be able to catch me and therefore I saw no need to drag things out by remaining in the same age. It also turned out to be significant that I had fought that brief war with the Myceneans since it provided enough kills on enemy units to earn the first Military star. Without that star, I would have needed to research six more techs or accumulate 24 more population and that would have forced a delay of half a dozen turns before pushing on to the next era. Instead, I was able to adopt the premier lategame culture for winning a rapid victory:

That being the Japanese who I've found myself taking as the Contemporary era choice in seemingly every game. The Japanese have an extraordinarily useful passive ability that reduces the cost of all technologies by 20%. The Contemporary era is unlike the previous periods in having a much larger tech tree, roughly 30 technologies in total as opposed to the 10-15 techs that most of the earlier eras contain. It's extremely useful having an innate discount on all of those expensive lategame techs that have to be researched. The Japanese unique district is the Robotics Lab which provides both industry and science, the two yields most needed in the ending stages of the game. This is what the Robotics Lab looked like in practice:

The Robotics Lab grants a flat 5 industry and 5 science although those are pretty minor by this stage of the game. (It also produces pollution which I did not have a chance to experience in any detail in this game - maybe something I'll write more about in a future report.) The Robotics Lab also adds 3 industry and 3 science per adjacent district, and more importantly, it adds 2 industry per Makers Quarter and 2 science per Research Quarter. For a city like Memphis which had oodles of both, this added up to a lot more industry and a lot more science (especially because Memphis could build a Robotics Lab in each of its three territories). This particular Robotics Lab was worth 45 industry and 51 science after being run through all those multipliers. I'll also call attention to the massive collection of Research Quarters to the northwest of Memphis. That area had been left undeveloped for most of the game and I was belatedly filling it out with endless science districts here in the lategame. Market Quarters and Research Quarters should always be clustered together to take advantage of their innate adjacency bonuses and this was a perfect example of that principle at work.

Anyway, now that I was in the Contemporary Age, what exactly did I have to do to achieve a victory condition? Humankind helpfully provided this popup at the start of the next turn:

Aside from providing a neat birds-eye view of the districts that I'd built across the continent, this screen listed the six different victory conditions available in Humankind. The first is the Time victory from Civilization: whoever has the most fame at the end of 300 turns is the winner. We were only on Turn 137 here so that obviously wasn't going to happen. The second victory condition is to earn every Contemporary era star - that's all 21 of them, the full three stars in each of the seven categories, which would take approximately forever to achieve. The third condition is the technology victory and that's the one that I'd be targeting. (It's incorrectly stated on this menu as "unlocking" all the endgame techs but actually requires completely researching the final techs in each category.) The fourth and fifth victories are two variations on the same thing, either conquering all of the other empires or vassaling them all. This would be easily doable given my enormous edge in industry and technology but would take substantially longer in real-world time. It wasn't what I wanted for this game. Finally, there's also a spaceship victory condition in the Mars mission which is a tech + production ending. I tried to achieve this in my Livestream game and it was apparently bugged in this patch and didn't work at all - whoops! I guess it was the technology victory that we'd be pursuing here. (There's also a "rocks fall / everyone dies" ending if pollution renders the world unfit for human habitation which I hope never to see in my games.)

The overall takeaway was that I needed to research the final techs at the end of the tree to trigger a victory due to my huge lead in fame. This meant that I needed as much science as possible and this was the other reason why Japan is so critical at speeding through the endgame. Japan is a culture with the Science archetype which grants them this ability:

Remember how the Celts had the Agricultural archetype which let them spend influence to steal population away from neighboring regions? The Science archetype cultures get this Collective Minds ability which is the other stupefyingly broken gameplay mechanic in Humankind. It costs absolutely nothing to use and allows the city in question to convert all industry and money into science. They don't convert at some fractional ratio either, it's a straight 1:1 conversion of everything into science. The developers of Humankind apparently didn't realize that industry is vastly easier to get than science and allowing them to convert at a 1:1 ratio is a terrible idea for game balance. It allows cities to ignore Research Quarters completely while building nothing but Makers Quarters and still wind up with amazing science in the lategame. This makes production into even more of a One Right Choice and removes much of the strategy from the district building. More production, always more production, and you never wind up suffering for it. The only tradeoff is that Collective Minds can't be canceled until 5 turns have passed which isn't much of a drawback at all. This ability should just be removed from the game entirely and replaced with something else because it's way, way, WAY too powerful. (Builder archetype cultures get the reverse ability, turning money/science into production, but this is rarely useful because science is so much rarer than production. These currencies are not equivalent - converting them at 1:1 is a bad idea!!!)

So the endgame for Humankind plays out pretty much the same every time. Make sure to pick a Science culture to have Collective Minds on hand (Japan is better than Sweden because of that -20% technology costs passive) and then flip every city into Collective Minds to trivialize the remaining tech tree. Here's the capital in action:

5100 beakers/turn from one city, whee! I think that my whole empire was making something like 6000 beakers/turn at the start of the Contemporary era to provide a basis of comparison. I built a Robotics Lab in every territory to take advantage of the additional industry/science yields, then flipped each city into Collective Minds to balloon my science rate. This sent me into negative gold territory but ahh, that was why I had picked Siam in the previous era, solving my money woes and allowing me to stockpile 5000 gold in the treasury. I would burn through all that gold over the next ten turns but I was confident that I could finish the tech tree before it ran out.

Humankind does a poor job of explaining to the player which technologies are needed to trigger the victory condition. It turns out that it's the five techs with the little fame icon attached: Exosuit, Space Orbital, Military Laser, Neural Implant, and Fusion Reactor. Highlighting these techs does not state that they are needed for the victory condition and the popup screen at the start of the era misleadingly states that the player must "unlock" the endgame techs, whatever that's supposed to mean! But these are the five techs needed: research all five and whoever has the most fame at that point will win the game. (You can actually research your way into a loss if another empire is leading in fame!) The mass usage of Collective Minds had exploded my science up to 26,700 beakers per turn which was enough to one-turn everything on the tree. I was targeting Fusion Reactor first because it also grants every city +50% industry which would then feedback through Collective Minds into more science. All of these finishing techs have some kind of crazy secondary ability, like Exosuit granting every unit +8 strength and +4 movement along with Neural Implant adding +100 stability and +50% influence on all cities. These are literally the final techs in the game so there's nothing wrong with having unbelievable benefits attached to them.

That was pretty much it for this game though, turnining on Collective Minds in every city and then waiting a few turns to burn through the entire Contemporary era. I've mentioned above that this era strangely is about double the size of every other period in the game, with about 30 techs instead of the 10-15 in earlier eras. However, huge numbers of these techs are completely optional and can be skipped at no penalty. I think that you only have to research about half of them even when going for the technology victory as I was here, and maybe a third of them if going for the spaceship victory. I think that this is supposed to suggest that technological development has become less linear in the current era, with more optional side branches that can be explored or ignored as the player desires. However, the tech tree still looks exactly the same in the Contemporary era with that classic left-to-right straight pattern and the huge number of additional (optional) techs are pretty confusing when learning the game.

I took this overview screenshot as the game drew to a close to capture where everything was located on the map. I had complete control of my starting continent along with the two islands to the west where the Aztecs had clung to life earlier. The Harappans controlled most of the other continent and had vassalized the other two empires over there which were both hopelessly far behind. There was a cluster of islands in the extreme north that weren't worth colonizing and a similar group in the far southwest that the blue Franks were in the process of claiming when time ran out on this game. I finished with 8 cities and 16 total territories under my control; the Harappans had the second-most cities with 3 to their name.

And that was pretty much it. I entered the Contemporary era at the start of Turn 137, turned on Collective Minds everywhere at the start of Turn 139, and the tech tree was finished researching ten turns later. This little popup message appeared on Turn 149 and I won the game at the end of the turn:

Needless to say, it wasn't particularly close in the fame tally. It was the Khmer period in the Medieval era which had accelerated me decisively past the Harappans, the only serious competitor in this game. Humankind is akin to other turn-based strategy games where time is on the player's side and the AI empires are at their strongest in the early portions of the game. Of course, this was only on the second-highest difficulty level and I was playing completely unhindered by any variants here, trying to take the best possible option for each culture in each era. I think there's room to do a lot of fun stuff with variants in this game, even if the designers never manage to improve the balancing. Amplitude Studios has a good track record in that regard and I'm hoping that they'll address stuff like the Khmer, luxury manufactories, Collective Minds, etc.

Humankind provides some handy endgame statistics and line graphs in a bunch of different categories. You can look at food, industry, influence, number of cities, and a dozen other categories over the course of the game. I found the city count to be the most interesting of the bunch showing how the Harappans had been ahead of me in the early stages of the game and then couldn't keep pace as they stalled out at three cities without being able to expand further. (They should have wiped out those other empires instead of vassaling them.) The most amusing of the graphs was the science chart which was completely shattered by Collective Minds in the endgame; I maxed out at 38,600 beakers/turn right before the victory arrived.

So what do we make of Humankind overall shortly after release? In terms of balance, the game is somewhere between a work in progress and a dumpster fire. Some of the cultures are wildly overpowered compared to others, there's far too much stability in the game undercutting the city building, it's too easy to trade for resources, luxury manufactories are far too strong, and Collective Minds turns the lategame into a complete joke. Emphasizing nothing but production in cities is too much of a One Right Choice and there's far too much bloat in the dozens and dozens of infrastructure options. Combat is a mixed bag at best and tear-your-hair-out-in-frustration at its worst. Gameplay mechanics like the deployment rules for combat and the war support system are poorly documented in-game and difficult to understand. Many of the gameplay mechanics like civics and religion are too often traps for newcomers that they do best by ignoring altogether rather than investing in.

And yet with all of that said, Humankind is still a pretty good game! I like the city building in general and I love the way that district building is portrayed on a large scale. It's so much better to have lots of Research Quarters rather than a single Campus district which allows for more specialization of city roles (if the balancing can be fixed up a bit). The expansion system in this game is outstanding and I love the tough choices of where to spend influence in the early stages of the game. Picking where to place cities, when to build outposts and attach them as opposed to developing new cities, these are difficult choices without easy answers. I also really enjoy the heavy skirmishing in the early potions of the game that can take place outside of formal war declarations. The AI is highly aggressive and quite happy to raze your outposts if you can't defend them with units, just as the player can do back to them in turn. The gameplay is a lot better in the Ancient through Medieval eras and then starts to collapse in the later periods of Humankind; my hope is that this is fixed over time with patches. But even if not, the game is solid enough that I would recommend it to those who like the Civilization series even in the state it is now.

Here's my final takeaway point: Humankind is far from a perfect game and it doesn't compare especially well to the finished version of all-time great strategy games like Civ4 or Master of Orion. However, it does compare well to your typical empire-building strategy game, something like Civ6 or Galactic Civ 3 for example. The city building is significantly better in Humankind than Civ6 and the AI is incomparably better; the Civ6 AI can't expand and can't tech and can't fight. If that's the basis of comparison, then Humankind comes out looking pretty solid even here in the release version. Let's hope for the best and see where things go from here. Thanks as always for reading!