The best 4X game I’ve played in years is probably Three Kingdoms: Total War on account of its excellent diplomacy. Most 4X games simply dont have any features befitting that term. They’re just mini city builders where you obsess over minor details and fart out occasional armies. 3K you play and plan so much of the game in the Diplomacy screen.
Even better,it has a very broad and deep research tree, excellent settlement management and economy modelling which is simple but elegant. All of the above are based on a colour system which is reminiscent of Amplitude games in respect to accessibility and ease of use but the systems are cleverly asymmetric.
The Supplies Tree for Supply buildings is Green so you know in respect to Settlement management that if you want to turn a province into a Breadbasket that’s the route to go down. However on the research tree the Green Path while unlocking the supply tree also focuses on unlocking Heavy Infantry, which is great, except you really need a mix of all the different units due to the focus on combined arms.
If you want great archers you need to follow the Blue Path, but in turn that will mean you are focussing instead on Espionage and Trade buildings which is no good if your main provinces have Industrial assets (Purple) etc.
If you want powerful but expensive cavalry then the Red Tree will require your focus, but going deep here means unlocking primarily Garrison based buildings which are great for defence but they’re not going to pay for these new expensive super units you are explicitly pursuing.
What it means basically is that you benefit from a harmonious approach to all levels of your play whereas if you conquer without considering what your needs are beyond territorial ambition you can find yourself with an infrastructural or military dog leg.
It’s a brilliant way of conveying things from both a narrative sense and fixing one of the biggest issues with 4x and Grand Strategy Games, namely the tedious Inevitably of becoming or facing a monolith faction who can do anything without compromise.
With 3K’s system, small but well administered kingdoms can still be powerful. Massive, bloated conglomerates of hastily conquered or bolted on acquisitions are frequently inefficient and rotting internally, like the old Empire. In order to create a new Empire, you dont just have to paint the map, you have to be able to govern in the fringes as well as in the Centre. The Game requires you to be able to Rule at all levels, Court to Coast, Battlefoeld to Rice Paddy. It’s so fucking smart but it’s really simply avd elegantly implemented.
Obviously the battle engine is first in class too. But many people play 3K and auto resolve the battles and just play it as a grand strategy game at this point, it’s that good at the strategic level.
Civ 6 is constantly engaging in the one more turn, something to do mould but strangely static after about 100 turns, then it explodes in the “end game” which is late in respect to era but becomes about 3x as large without the means to manage it properly and takes forever. Just becomes a tedious sprawl and a click to End Game Condition. Diplomacy is non-existent sadly, just “We like you” or “We hate you”.