Master Civilization VI with these starting tips for new players and veterans

Will Fulton

No matter if you’re a budding city builder or a battle-hardened Civ veteran, Civilization VI has something to offer you. In addition to the base game, Civ VI has two full expansions: Rise and Fall and Gathering Storm. 2K Games also recently announced a season pass that will extend into 2021, offering six new game modes, nine new leaders, and more. If you’re just getting in on the action or returning to an old favorite, our Civ VI tips will set you on the right path.

Winning the game

Before getting to any of our Civ VI tips, we have to talk about winning the game. If you’ve played a Civilization game before, this should all be familiar to you, so feel free to skip ahead. For newcomers, let us give you the rundown.

In a normal game, there are six ways to achieve victory: Science, Culture, Domination, Religion, Diplomacy, and Score. Diplomacy is the only victory condition not included in the base game (it comes from Gathering Storm). Although there are specific conditions for achieving each victory, you may have to take different steps during your play-through, depending on which expansions you have. Because of that, we recommend taking a look at the Civ VI wiki for specific steps if you want to obtain a certain victory.

Science

For a Science victory, you need to do three things: Launch a satellite, land a human on the moon, and establish a Martian colony. There are some additional steps if you have the Gathering Storm expansion, too. If you’re just starting and landing on the moon seems like a few dozen centuries off, don’t worry. The general goal here is to build up as much Science as possible so you can research the necessary tech.

Culture

To achieve a Culture victory, you need to establish your civilization as a tourism hub. It’s not simply a matter of raising your Culture, though. You must have more tourists from other civilizations than they have domestic tourists. That means more people from other civs are visiting yours than are vacationing within their own borders. The best way to achieve this victory is to focus on Great Works within your civilization, as well as any structures that generate Culture.

Domination

The most straightforward of the bunch, a Domination victory comes when you capture the Capital of every other civilization on the map. It’s a straightforward victory condition, but not an easy one. As you capture other regions, the remaining civilizations will become increasingly hostile toward you. Because of that, you need to have an overpowering military to make it over the finish line.

Religion

For a Religion victory, your religion must be the predominant one for every civilization in the game. By default, your cities will naturally spread your religion within a limited range. However, it’s best to train religious units that can spread it to farther regions. Also, be on the lookout for opposing religious units. Killing them will increase your religious pressure in regions you haven’t reached yet.

Score

This is the victory condition you’ll encounter most often. A game of Civ VI ends at 2050 A.D., so if no one has achieved victory by then, the player with the highest score will win. You earn points for doing just about anything, including owning cities, founding a religion, placing buildings, and discovering wonders.

Diplomacy

Specific to the Gathering Storm expansion, a Diplomacy victory occurs when you reach a certain number of Diplomatic Victory points (the exact number depends on your game speed). There are a lot of different ways to earn these, but the general idea is that you should be open to working with other civilizations as much as possible.

City planning and amenities

Plan your city

The addition of urban sprawl, which now makes buildings and wonders take up tiles on the map, has completely changed the puzzle of laying out your cities. Whereas before you would mostly be concerned with what improvable resources would fall within a new city’s borders, now it behooves you to really think through how you want to specialize each city since they are limited to one district for every three citizens (unless you’re Germany, which raises that cap by one). Unique district variants that certain leaders have also do not count against this limit and cost half as much to produce.

Civilization VI review

Familiarize yourself with the adjacency bonuses of each district type (we’ve been using this cheat sheet from Reddit user iotafox), such as mountains for Campuses and Holy Sites or rivers for Commercial Hubs. Before you found each city, take both your overall plan and the particulars of the surrounding geography into account to plan where you want to build particular districts and wonders in order to maximize their benefits.

Campuses, Holy Sites, Theater Squares, Commercial Hubs, and Industrial Zones all get bonuses for being next to other districts, so you generally want to pack them together as closely as possible. This is reinforced later in the game once Espionage is unlocked since your defending spies on counterintelligence duty are placed in a particular district and protect it and all of its surrounding tiles from sabotage.

Also of note: You no longer need to found cities on the coast in order to build naval units. Any city with a coast tile within its workable range (three tiles from the city center) can build a Harbor district to achieve the same effect. The Harbor unlocks with Classical Era technology (Celestial Navigation), and settling a coastal city activates the Boost for Sailing, so settling on the shore is still key if you want to take to the sea early (if you’re playing as Norway, for example).

Two new systems limit the growth of your cities. The Nationwide happiness rating has been replaced by a localized amenities score in each city, and a new stat, Housing, limits how large a population any given city can support. You will want to proactively take both into account when planning how to grow your cities to avoid inefficient periods of no or limited growth.

All about the Amenities

Amenities, the new city-by-city version of the series’ Happiness system, can boost or hamper your city’s productivity depending on how well you “pamper” its citizens. Every city needs to maintain a net Amenities score of zero or higher to function normally, requiring one amenity for every two citizens starting at three. Falling below zero, which may occur after factors like war-weariness and bankruptcy cause the score to drop, will slow growth and non-food yields. Eventually, failing to raise your amenities score will lead to Barbarians spawning in your borders.

Conversely, high amenities can boost growth and yields. Every improved luxury resource provides one amenity point to up to four cities. Additional copies of each resource are only good for trading. The amenities bonus from luxury goods is automatically distributed to where they are most needed. Great people, world wonders, policies, religion, national parks, and buildings in the entertainment complex can also boost your amenities score. The complex has no adjacency bonuses, and several of its buildings provide Amenities to all city centers within six tiles, so take that into account when placing them.

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Housing and strategic resources

Keep an eye on Housing

Another new system, Housing, limits the number of citizens that a given city can support. By default, new cities support two people, but that can be boosted up to six if the city center is adjacent to a source of freshwater (river, lake, or oasis). If you can’t settle on freshwater, then aim to be one tile away from a source of it or a mountain since the early Aqueduct district will add up to six Housing for cities without a native source of potable water.

Civilization VI review

Farms, plantations, and pastures all provide 0.5 Housing, which helps cover early growth, but eventually, you will need to supplement that with buildings (such as the Granary or Sewer), Policies, Religion, and Districts. The Industrial Era Neighborhood District adds up to six Housing, scaled to the Appeal of the tile, and you can build as many as you have the space to support. In a pinch, building a Settler will also drop a city’s population by one if it is nearing capacity and you want to keep growing unhindered.

Manage strategic resources

Strategic resources, such as Iron and Horses, work a little differently in Civilization VI. Unlike in Civ V, where you needed one resource to produce each corresponding unit, now you simply need to have access to two instances to produce as many units as you can otherwise sustain, and only one to do so if the city has a Harbor or Encampment. For instance, you need two sources of Iron to make swordsmen in a regular city, or one if it has an Encampment. Accordingly, strategic resources on the map also now only provide access to a single instance of the resource instead of a discrete amount, as found in Civ V.

Civilization VI review

Trading posts and protecting yourself

Establish trading posts

Trade routes generally work the same way they did in Civilization 5, though they now reward savvy players with a more diverse range of resources, corresponding in part to the districts built in the destination city. One new wrinkle, however, is the automatic construction of trading posts in the central tile of every city to which you send a trade route, foreign or domestic. Passing through a Trading Post extends the range of the route by 15 (over a base of 15), and also adds one gold to your net profit for each Post. There is no limit to how many civilizations’ Trading Posts can exist in a given city, but you can only take advantage of your own. Take this into account when selecting Trade Routes, in addition to just the immediate benefit, since a bit of planning will help extend the range and efficacy of your trade network over the long game.

Also note that you no longer build roads manually for the most part, since they are now automatically built by traders along their routes. Eventually, you can do so deliberately with the Military Engineer support unit, but at the cost of one charge per tile, it’s not nearly as efficient as relying on trade. Setting early domestic trade routes can be critical for establishing infrastructure.

Protect yourself early

In Civ 6, it’s more important than ever to invest in military early, no matter how you plan on winning. In Civ 5, any city could bombard nearby enemies from the start; in Civ 6, city centers (and encampments) can only attack after building Ancient Walls (unlocked with Masonry).

Barbarians generally have more powerful units throughout the game than before, starting with Spearmen instead of just Warriors. They also send out Scouts first. Killing Barbarian scouts should be a priority when they arrive: Catch a Scout before he returns home, and the Barbarians won’t find out about your city, buying you time to nip the problem in the bud. Should the Scout make it back home, however, get ready for a serious onslaught to follow if you don’t clear out their camp soon. Scouts have more movement than most early units, so it’s important to have many well-placed units to corner them.

Civilization VI review

The second reason to soldier up early is that neighboring A.I.-controlled civilizations seem to be much more aggressive in the early game, especially at higher difficulties. The addition of Cassus Belli, a system that penalizes civilizations for declaring war without proper justification, means that many civs will be more conflict-averse as the game goes on in order to avoid diplomatic penalties if they don’t have a justification for declaring war. However, there are no warmonger penalties in the Ancient Era, and the A.I. definitely knows it.

Be especially wary of neighboring civilizations with access to strong Ancient Era specialty units, such as Egypt, Sumeria, Greece, and the Aztecs, since they are most likely to catch you off guard. We’ve lost games within 50 turns on Emperor difficulty because the production bonuses that A.I.s get at difficulties above Prince, combined with their amped-up aggression, meant that Gilgamesh showed up at our border with a horde of war carts while we just had a handful of slingers. The community has definitely noted this trend, so it’s possible that it will become less of an issue after patches, but be careful for now.

Tips for Civilization VI: Rise and Fall

Civilization VI: Rise & Fall hands-on preview

Civilization VI‘s first full-fledged expansion, Rise and Fall, adds a ton of new additions that can have a major impact on your strategy and the game overall. Here are all the biggest changes, and how you might want to approach them.

Great Ages

Rise and Fall‘s signature mechanic is an expanded version of the series’ Golden Age mechanic. In the expansion, every civ goes through golden and dark ages, which enhance or diminish your influence over your subjects, respectively. These states have broad-ranging effects, and knowing how to use them can make or break your game.

We cover this in more detail in our guide to Rise and Fall’s Ages, but here’s the short version: As your civ advances — building wonders, conquering new land, discovering technologies, etc. — you’ll accrue era points. If you earn too few, you’ll fall into a dark age. If you earn just enough, you’ll have a normal era with no major changes. Crossing another threshold, though, unleashes a golden age.

While entering a dark age is generally bad, and a golden age is generally good, both can be used to your advantage. You are more likely to enter a dark age just after a golden age. More importantly, entering a golden age straight out of a dark age triggers a Heroic Age, which gives you almost triple the bonuses of a standard golden age. It’s tough to do, but triggering a heroic age can catapult a struggling player back into the lead.

The point is, there’s more to using them than simply playing your best. If you can, you should always be aware of what state you can (and want) to achieve in each age.

City Loyalty

The new loyalty system, which replaces happiness from past Civ games, allows players to make soft-power territory grabs and can cause major headaches for weaker empires. Loyalty generally declines as you build further away from your capital. For vulnerable cities, there are two things you can do to protect your borders: Avoid dark ages and install governors in distant outposts.

There are other ways to finagle the system in your favor. It’s nowhere near as effective as having a governor, but placing military units near a wavering city can mean the difference between quelling a rebellion or losing territory to a new rebel queen. If you can, move great generals onto your garrison as well. Winning bouts nearby, particularly with great generals, can also help galvanize support for your regime.

There are tons of different units, abilities, etc., that can affect loyalty. Whatever you choose, make sure you have the resources to keep your empire under control.

Governors

Civilization VI: Rise & Fall hands-on preview

Speaking of which, governors are also a new set of tools in Rise and Fall that you can assign to specific cities to enhance their loyalty and output. Once assigned and established in a new city, governors can be incredibly powerful and can potentially shift the outcome of wars or diplomatic disputes. We recommend carefully following each of your cities and potentially even building them with your governors in mind. During play, it’s always important to monitor your cities and keep track of their strengths and vulnerabilities, but digging deeper into how you’d like to use them in the long term can pay dividends.

While each of the seven governors has strengths and weaknesses, there are two that stand out as the go-to assets for when you need to bring in extra support:

Victor is a military-focused governor who you’ll want to keep near your most volatile border. You can (and should) assign him to a strategic point, such as the frontline of a war or a vital port. He can be shifted quickly, too, so if a new front opens and you need to deploy some defense fast, he’s your man.

Amani, the diplomat, is the best governor for securing unfriendly territory. She can count as two envoys, for instance, allowing you to quickly secure the loyalty of a city-state. Alternatively, she can help secure a freshly captured and rebellious city or keep citizens happy by supplying bonus amenities.

Enhanced alliances

The new, updated version of strategic alliances has opened the door for more complex relationships between nations. Players are no longer restricted to the classic defensive alliance. You can more deeply integrate certain elements of one civilization with another based on the alliance type, including scientific and mercantile alliances. This allows the less militaristic players to enjoy many of the same benefits without the risk of being dragged into potentially costly wars.

The biggest change, though, is how these relationships can evolve over time. Your relationships can level up, just like units or cities. While you may start with a modest boost to scientific output, some years down the line, you’ll have a powerful trade brain trust. In order to maximize these relationships, it behooves political players to start making friends. The earlier, the better.

Lasting bonds also act as a more organic means of spicing up the political stage in the midgame. The bonuses afforded by time-tested alliances are more frequently worth the effort of altering your own civ’s goals to keep them happy. That additional influence on play can make the game a lot more fun and a lot more interesting for those who are up to the task.

New leaders

Civilization VI: Rise & Fall hands-on preview

There are a total of nine new leaders from eight new civilizations. It pays to be at least somewhat familiar with each so that you have an idea of what sort of game you’d like to play. Each of these new leaders has unique skills and properties that tie into at least one of Rise and Fall‘s signature mechanics. So, if you want to really dive in and take advantage of these systems, you’ll want to play as one of the rookies.

If you really want to dig into the new playstyles, though, we’d recommend Poundmaker of the Cree, Lautaro of the Mapuche, or Seondeok of Korea.

Emergencies

Emergencies are late-game additions engineered to stop any single civilization from achieving hegemony and abusing that power. In the latter stages of the game, invading a city-state, deploying nuclear weapons, and other signs of hyper-aggression will trigger an event that forces a group of civs into an alliance against that player.

There isn’t too much to say here other than that you should be very aware of emergencies.  This will usually happen on a short time limit centered on a single map point, which means, in many cases, that the forces of several nations will be funneled into one region to duke it out with the local hegemon’s best defenses.

Know that if you’re dropping nukes, the rest of the world may mobilize against you. Then again, if you can fight them off, you’ll be richly compensated. Coming out on top, either as a member of an alliance or the aggressor state, can be ridiculous.

The best advice, in either case, is to address an impending emergency as soon as possible. If you are the target, you can expect a massive new burst of resistance to show up on your metaphorical doorstep in short order. Even if you are vastly more powerful, the combined forces of several civilizations funneled to (typically) one city evens the field a bit. Similarly, time isn’t on your side if you’re a member of the emergency-stopping alliance. Mobilization can take a lot of time, so you’ll want to move fast and maximize the amount of actionable time you have. Because they are emergencies, you won’t have a lot of time to prepare — and you shouldn’t try to make that time. Either you’re ready to roll and take care of the problem, or you might as well give up and focus resources elsewhere. For alliance members, there’s little in-between.

Of course, this does sometimes mean that the stronger side gets away with their (often) nefarious deeds. Even so, it’s almost always worth the expense to defend that point and err on the side of caution.

Tips for Civilization VI: Gathering Storm

Like Rise and Fall, Civilization VI’s second expansion adds a ton of content. Here are the new features in Gathering Storm and our tips for conquering them.

World Congress

The biggest addition in Gathering Storm is the Diplomatic Victory. Tying into that is the World Congress, which allows you to discuss and debate world issues with other leaders. In order to get a foothold in the crowded conversation, you’ll need Diplomatic Favor.

There are a handful of ways to achieve Diplomatic Favor, including influencing city-states and competing in World Games. However, the best way is to form alliances with other civilizations. Doing so will award you more Diplomatic Points, as well as grant you a larger say in the World Congress.

Environmental hazards

World Congress is the biggest change in Gather Storm, though environmental hazards take a close second. Certain tiles will house volcanoes, become overrun by the effects of climate change, or be the target of storms. There’s always a negative event associated with these tiles. However, you can also use them for your civilization’s benefit.

Volcanoes, for example, will ravage adjacent tiles when they blow. However, in the aftermath, that tile will yield greater resources thanks to the volcanic soil. You’re putting yourself at great risk when settling next to an environmental hazard. If you play your cards right, though, you’ll reap a huge benefit over the lifespan of your civilization.

Strategic resources and climate change

Keeping with the weather theme, Gathering Storm introduces climate change to the game. Late game buildings require a power source, and with Gathering Storm, you’ll use Coal, Uranium, or Oil. These resources produce a lot of CO2, though, raising the world temperature and increasing the chances of spawning a storm.

Along with these changes are new eras for the Technology and Civics trees. These new eras allow you to research new technologies that can mitigate the effects of climate change. If you’re planning on using a lot of power, it’s a good idea to invest in these trees early so you can combat climate change in the late game. It’s not a problem you can ignore, as storms will destroy the resources you have, and rival civilizations will form a negative opinion of you.

New leaders

There are nine new leaders in Gathering Storm, and like Rise and Fall, getting to know them is important. For example, Wilfried Laurier of Canada can build Farms on Tundra Tiles, while Kupe of Māori starts by an Ocean tile and receives bonuses for settling new cities.

The most interesting of the lot is Suleiman of Ottonman, though. A highly military-focused leader, Suleman significantly boosts production and can conquer cities without them losing any Population. Furthermore, he has access to a unique governor, as well as a unique military unit.

New scenarios

Gathering Storm introduces two new scenarios to each game: The Black Death and War Machine. There aren’t many tips for these events outside of being aware of them. The Black Death comes in the mid-14th century for European and western Asian nations and can destroy everything you’ve built. Make sure your population is large and your economy is sound before The Black Death comes.

War Machine happens much later in the game, at the beginning of World War I. This scenario involves Germany and France. If you’re French, your goal is to protect Paris at all costs. If you’re German, your goal is to capture Paris before the French can build proper defenses.