Civilization V is a great game and I have been trying to get to a Utopia based victory, which involves filling out completely a number of the trees from the Culture tab, which function in a way like the social policies of old, but with an added splash of dynamism.
And, while trying again and again to get this elusive victory I realized that the entire Culture element of Civilization V
is a meta game, somehow separated from the original mechanics of the series but the only way the developers now have of introducing all new mechanics to a long running series.
The main elements of the Civilization games are building and managing cities, using units to improve them and other units to conquer enemy settlements until the number of turns runs out.
One could argue that science is intrinsically linked to the above activities while the managing the happiness mini game and the culture choices are a met game, another layer on top of the main activities that are used to add complexity and a sense of customization and progression while not central to the experience.
And, as developer focus more and more on developing series and franchises, the meta game is becoming ever more important to a lot of titles.Dawn of War II
had the core of tactical squad combat mixed up with the equipment load up for the squads and with the development of their skills and abilities.
Other real time strategy titles have long had similar mechanics, with research and special powers mixed in to spice up the basic mechanics of detecting enemy units and buildings and destroying them.
And now shooters and action titles or hybrids like Fallout 3
are moving into the meta game territory, with stripped down level up mechanics offering a diversion from the shooting and dying.
The problem with meta mechanics put up on top of well known actions is that in time developers might become more concerned with the layers of the experience than with redesgining the basic mechanics from a new perspective.