That’s a trend that follows through to the rest of the game’s visuals. There’s a toy-like joy to Civ VI, from the colour palette to the cute little unit designs, and despite all the hours I’ve ploughed into the game so far, I cannot stop looking at all the adorable little touches and flourishes scattered throughout its world.

Speaking of joy, the game’s new happiness system knows how to make me,well, happy. I hated the way it was implemented in Civ V, with its global factors and its restrictive influence on your empire’s growth. Those are both gone now, replaced with a city-by-city system that weighs each settlement’s size, facilities and needs and determines whether their citizens are happy or not. It’s a lot more chilled, so anyone frustrated by their constant happiness handicaps in Civ V will be thrilled with this.

Also cool are the game’s new workers. They no longer build roads, sparing you from that tedium, as that important work is left to trade routes (and later, Military Engineers, a new unit). Instead, you use them to construct improvements like farms, only now there’s a catch: each Builder can only be used a small number of times before they’re gone. So plan and use them wisely.

Civilization V was a good game at launch which then became something special through its two big expansions. That’s a big legacy to live up to and a solid foundation to build off, but at times in Civ VI it feels like Firaxis worked too hard at improving Civilization V, and lost sight of some of the finer points of the game’s hidden fundamentals.

There are systems in Civ VI that seem fantastic (and which are integral parts of the overall experience), like trade and religion, but which go woefully under-explained by both prompts and tutorials, and thus go under-utilised until you bury yourself in FAQs and tips, which is very unlike Civ.

There are menu screens—like diplomatic actions—which are important to the game and which you have to get through a lot over the course of 50-5000 hours, but which take 2-3 too many clicks to skip and dismiss.

There are important milestones that you reach as a player, like moving into a whole new technological era, which are just kinda glossed over by the game, briefly flashing up a message before moving on. If you’d got up to get a cup of tea, you’d have missed it, then struggled to find the information somewhere else.

These might seem like minor little problems, but they speak to a larger concern I have with the game, and it’s that for all its focus on its visuals and new systems, some of Civ’s trademark polish has been left out. An attention to detail that makes every aspect of the game feel important and worthwhile, which permeated every corner of Civ V and helped make it a classic, and which isn’t quite there in Civ VI.

I also found diplomacy itself to be a step backwards, with leaders contacting me less often and with both more simplistic and more manic reactions to my decisions (not helped by the fact it’s now harder to keep tabs on which political ideology each Civ is adhering to). Example: Trajan’s repeated insistence (across games!) that I’m losing money, to the point where he once declared war on me, even though my bank balance was never in the red. Or China’s Qin Shi Huang spending thousands of years being upset that he had less wonders than me, regardless of countless other political and ideological factors.

I guess what I’m getting at with all this is that, having been spoiled by Civ V’s polish and near-perfection for years, it’s a timely reminder that this game too will need some work, and these are the areas—along with bizarre AI behaviour like stockpiling early-era units—it will need it the most.

Like I said up top, though, the foundations here are good, and none of those annoyances I just mentioned can derail what it still a terrific strategy experience.

Most of the game’s new ideas are all geared towards the same objective: Civ VI wants you to be able to run your Civ however you like, whenever you like. Policies and governments can be swapped out depending on which perks will benefit what you want to do, and the District system allows for a form of superficial urban planning that increases the degree to which individual cities can specialise. Conversely, this also allows you to adapt your style of play to suit whatever the game throws at you in terms of map generation.

It’s a much greater degree of freedom than you’ve had in previous games, and it takes a while to get used to, but once you get your civics and policies and districts down, you’ll see that you’re free here to really twist the whole game to suit the way you want to approach it. And it’s a lot of fun, as it easily lets you experiment with playstyles and approaches to scenarios that you might not otherwise have dabbled in.

Civ VI’s new stuff is also trying to solve what has long been the series’ biggest problem: there’s not much to actually do. With automated exploring and building you can go years in previous Civilization games without ordering or moving anything, and as involving as the overall experience is, that’s always been a lull.

Now your Builders need your constant attention. Your policies have been designed to be constantly tinkered with and swapped out. Barbarians seem more active, requiring more hands-on efforts to contain them. Your Districts don’t just need to be built, they need to be planned. None of these new responsibilities entirely solves the problem, but they at least make a dent in it, and I found my time with Civ VI to be far more interactive than any previous game.

Which fits with an underlying itch you feel throughout the whole game: that it’s a bit more board gamey than usual. This makes sense! Before working on Civ V’s expansions, lead designer Ed Beach was a board game designer, and there are times where you feel this seeping through into Civilization VI.

It wants you to be more direct with it, more literal, taking things that used to live in menus and putting them on the map itself, making you move things around that used to be automated. This makes Civ VI feel more tangible, like you’re more grounded in the land you’re lording over. As someone who is very into board games, I love it.

Civilization VI has issues in unexpected places, but only a catastrophe was going to stop this being a real good time. And this is no catastrophe. What we’ve got here is a strategy game that, while preserving most of the series’ longtime fundamentals, has also found new and surprising ways—through an investment in player choice and more hands-on time with your people—to keep things interesting.

Because every Civ VI game you start now is different. Your map will be different, your policies will be different, the way you need to build your districts will be different. I played Civ V for way too long, and that was a game in which I spent years entrenched in my established strategies, doing the same things over and over, and even then I was still having fun with it. Civ VI, which is already building upon what made Civ V so great anyway, forces you to adapt and play differently each time depending on your map and policies, so...yeah, we could be in for a long, fun ride with this one.