Beginner’s Guide to Civilization 6

The Civilization series has provided me with countless hours of turn-based strategy pleasure. With every new edition to the series, though, the game changes in fundamental ways that can take time to adapt to. If you’re just getting started and having trouble figuring out a strategy, this guide to Civilization 6 should be a good starting point. I’ll cover the major new ideas in this installment, and provide you with the basic strategy that will allow you to dominate!

Civilization VI does a decent job of explaining the absolute basics – how to navigate the map, how to found cities, produce stuff, and so forth. If you’re brand new to the series, this is probably new territory for you. However, I won’t be covering this sort of very basic stuff here; just play the tutorial and a couple of games on the lowest difficulty with the adviser turned on and you’ll probably get the hang of it quickly. The goal of this guide is more to fill in the gaps in the Civilopedia and the advisers – stuff they should explain but for some reason they just don’t.

There’s also a lot of overlap between Civilization 5 and Civilization 6, so if you’ve got a lot of experience with the latter you’ll have a leg up in this new installment. I’ll try to point out things that have changed significantly since Civilization 5 for those of you who are veterans of the series.

Cities, Districts, and the Placement Thereof

Civilization has traditionally focused on founding a city in a single tile, and working the surrounding land to produce resources that build and grow the city. In Civilization 5 and also 6, these tiles are represented as hexes. Each city can work hexes that are within 3 hexes of the city center.

Pro Tip Not sure if a city will be able to work a tile? Starting from the city center, work your way towards the tile. Every time you cross a tile border, increase the count by one. If you can find a route to get to the target tile before you count to 3, the city can work that tile.

However, in Civilization 6 the city actually uses these surrounding tiles to build structures that would have previously been built in the city center. Cities can designate a particular hex as a “district” that can build certain buildings – like the “Theater Square” where cultural buildings can be built. The maximum number of districts a city can build is determined by the city’s population.

Wonders are also built on their own tiles, and most wonders have specific requirements about what tiles they can be built on. On the whole, I feel like many of the wonders in Civilization 6 are underpowered, and I don’t find myself rushing to build many of them like I might have wanted to in previous games. They provide useful bonuses, sure, but the wrinkle in placement plus the long build times and lackluster rewards limit their utility somewhat.

The Civilization series has often struggled with how to deal with the fact that managing a large empire often becomes micromanagement hell late in the game. Both Civilization 4 and Civilization 5 had mechanics that tried to impose limits on the amount of cities you could build before your whole empire started to grind to a halt.

Civilization 6 largely ditches these systems in favor of trying to make each individual city become self limiting. Global happiness has been ditched in favor of local “amenities” – the larger the city, the more amenities are required in order to keep it growing. If your amenities count goes into the negative, there’s a chance that the city will rebel and spawn enemy military units nearby that you’ll have to deal with.

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Pro Tip If a city has outgrown its amenities and is at risk for rebellion, you can slow growth by ignoring food – when you have the city selected in the lower right corner of the screen, there are a series of tiny buttons above the city’s name. Find the “food” one and click it until it is red. You can also build settler units, which reduce the population by one, or remove improvements like farms.

Another easy way to get some extra amenities is through trade. If the AI has luxury resources you don’t, you can offer them a deal for their excess. They will often propose these deals without you having to do anything, but it’s still something to check into if you’re having serious happiness issues. (Thanks soontobeabandoned for the suggestion)

The other limiting factor for a city’s size in Civilization 6 is housing. A lack of housing in a city will slow the city’s growth. In the early game, farms and tiles next to fresh water can provide a small amount of housing. In the mid-game, building an aqueduct and/or specialty buildings in districts will generate additional housing. Finally, as you enter the late game, any tile can be converted into a “neighborhood” that provides a large amount of bonus housing.

Pro Tip Neighborhood tiles are the primary use of a tile’s “appeal” stat. The higher the appeal of a tile, the more housing a neighborhood on that tile will generate.

When trying to found and expand a city, the questions you’re likely going to ask yourself are:

What kind of area is desirable for founding a new city?

Unlike most previous Civilization games, terrain seems to matter a lot less in Civilization 6. Tiles that would normally be useless (ie, desert, mountain, or tundra) can be used much more readily than before. That said, there are some things to consider:

  • A tile surrounded by several hills can be good to settle near, as mines on a hill tile provide production bonuses, plus a +1 production bonus to an adjacent industrial district.
  • Building a city on a tile that has fresh water (most commonly, tiles adjacent to rivers) gives a +3 bonus to housing, which can be significant in the early- to mid- game.
  • Luxury resources you don’t already own provide amenities to your most needy cities, so settling near these and getting them improved can save you from a lot of amenity-related disasters. Past the first copy, luxury resources only give you something to trade with and provide no other benefits. The AI will often want to trade your excess luxury goods for theirs, which is a win-win.
  • Similarly, strategic resources can give you a military edge and should be prioritized. That said, it’s important to note that it only takes 2 copies of a strategic resource to build any unit that requires it, regardless of the number of units you wish to build. For instance, 2 iron will let you build 50 swordsmen. If a city has an encampment district (or the right late-game policies), it can build any number of units with just one copy of the strategic resource.

“How far apart should I build my cities?” is another common question when it comes to city placement in Civilization 6. In previous Civilization games, you’d want to make sure that there wasn’t much overlap between the tiles available to each city – that way, you could make use of the maximum amount of land area. However, in Civilization 6 there are a couple of districts and wonders that benefit from being close to multiple city centers. For instance, an industrial district with a factory improvement gives its bonus production to any city center within 6 tiles. For this reason, I often consider having a small overlap between my cities so that I can max out these benefits.

How should I best utilize my tiles and position my districts?

Civilization 6 makes changes to the way tile improvements are handled and balanced as well. In previous games, you’d pretty much decide how to utilize each tile once, and then you’d improve it and leave it alone for the rest of the game. However, in Civilization 6 you’re going to have to improve tiles more slowly, and plan to evolve tiles over time.

For instance, you might start with a forest on a tile near your city. Forests in previous Civ games were often worth preserving, but in Civilization 6, I’ve found that I often will chop them down almost immediately. The small production bonus on a tile is often outweighed by the immediate production bonus for removing them.

You might then put a farm on that tile for the early game. It will provide a small amount of food, and a bit of housing as well. Farm tiles arranged so that they touch two other farm tiles eventually produce bonus food, so try to make triangular patterns of adjacent farm tiles when you can.

As the city’s population increases, you’re going to want to create more districts. Since farm output increases as the game progresses, you might need less of them to feed your city. Now that farm tile might become the city’s commercial district, or late in the game it might become a neighborhood for bonus housing.

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Pro Tip Many resources can actually be removed from tiles so that you can repurpose the tile after the resource bonus is no longer beneficial. Sending builders to remove forests/rainforests/marshes, or to harvest obsolete resources will provide an immediate benefit to the city, whereas simply building over the tile from the city production menu will erase the resource without giving you the bonus.

Each district has “adjacency bonuses” that are worth considering, especially in the early game. The important ones are:

  • Industrial zone districts benefit most from adjacent mines on hill tiles. Try to put industrial districts next to multiple hill tiles when you can.
  • Commercial hub districts benefit most from having a river running along at least one edge. Usually you’ll have a lot of tile options to get this bonus if you found your city near a river, so don’t miss out!
  • Campus districts benefit most from adjacent mountain tiles (+1 science per turn), although they also benefit from adjacent rainforests (+0.5 science per turn). In the early game, it’s probably worth it to keep rainforests around for these bonuses, but late in the game they’re dwarfed by the bonuses from buildings within the district.

This is by no means a comprehensive list – there are bonuses for most districts that can also come into play. However, I’ve found these bonuses to apply the most often. Thus, they are the ones I will take into account when trying to found a city nearby and when trying to plan out my district layouts for new cities.

There is one other wrinkle to consider for industrial zones and entertainment complexes. These two districts enable buildings that benefit multiple cities, provided the city centers are within a 6-tile range of the district. This means that if you put your cities close enough together, you can build your districts between them and stack the benefits.

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So how should you lay out your industrial zone districts? Is it better to build an industrial zone near a bunch of mined hills, or in a space where two or more cities could take advantage of the factory and power plant bonuses?

In my opinion, in the early game it’s worth it to maximize the mine adjacency bonuses. As you found cities later in the game, the benefit of being able to extend the factory/power plant bonuses outweighs the benefit of having mines nearby, especially when the difference is only +1 or +2.

When it comes to entertainment complexes, however, there aren’t any adjacency bonuses. My suggestion here is to place them far away from your city centers, and as close to as many other city centers as you can.

Strategies and Victories

Some of the victory conditions in Civilization 6 are directly carried over from previous games. However, there are some really powerful ways to win games very quickly, which we’ll cover in this section as well.

General Advice

Found cities often. There’s very little reason not to go nuts with founding cities. Portions of the map that used to be useless in previous Civ games (ie, deserts, tundra, lots of mountains) are now perfectly viable city locations. Building a settler costs a city one population unit, so in the very early game you might slow down the growth of your core cities by overproducing settlers. However, once your city growth starts to slow due to a lack of housing or amenities, building settlers and making new cities is a no-brainer.

Don’t delay establishing districts. Districts provide all sorts of benefits for your cities and your civilizations as a whole. Yes, there are optimal ways to lay them out, and yes, it does specialize a city in the short term to pick one district over the others. However, don’t let this paralyze you. The benefits of having an additional district are almost always outweighed by putting it on a slightly-less-than-optimal tile.

Invest in tiles. You’re going to need more tiles than ever before to grow cities – tiles to found districts, tiles to build wonders, and tiles to improve farm, mine, etc. Don’t be afraid to buy that “perfect tile” to put your district on. Likewise, even though builders get used up and tile improvements are often temporary, invest in builders. Farms, mines, and similar improvements are still worth the time and effort required to create them!

Leverage your existing cities to grow new ones. Trade routes from new cities to established cities can provide a huge production and food boost to the new city. You can move your trade units instantly between cities, so as you’re moving to settle, build (or idle) a trade unit in an established city to get ready. Similarly, you can queue up builders in established cities where they’re faster to build, and send them as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Focus on religion in the early game. We’ll see shortly that religion is an easy way to win, but it’s also a super easy way to lose. Don’t skimp on Holy Sites in your first few cities – having extra faith and a strong religious base early on can save your game!

Industrial Zones and Entertainment Complexes go well with almost every city. Regardless of what you’re going to do with a city, having extra production and extra amenities makes a huge difference. After the early game, they’re usually my first two districts in a new city. Beyond these two, I will typically build a Commercial Hub so that I can get extra trade routes (to pump up new cities), and then consider carefully what I want this new city to specialize in before building more.

Pay attention to tech/civic boosts, but they won’t always be worth it. Some of these are easy to boost, especially in the early game. However, if you let what you have boosted determine what you will study next, you’ll probably end up taking a very strange path through the tech and civics trees. The “key techs/civics” vary depending on your play style, your nation, and the current game situation, but generally improvements to siege weaponry, industrial production, and district or other city growth are my priorities.

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Look out for the little guys. (Suggested by /u/soontobeabandoned) City states can be powerful allies. Sending a single envoy to a city state usually unlocks a small bonus for your capital. At three and six envoys, you’ll unlock bonuses for all your districts of a given type. If you have more than 3 envoys at a city state, AND more than any other player, you’re the “Suzerain” (think “ally”). Suzerain status grants all sorts of benefits, including a bonus that is completely unique for that city state. Envoy points vary by government and policy, and you get one free envoy if you’re the first to meet a city state. You probably won’t be able to be Suzerain for all city states in the game, so try to figure out who you want to prioritize based on the bonuses. Getting to the 1/3/6 milestones is also often worth it if you can work it in.

Domination Victory

Military victories (and the strategies you use) are pretty much the same as they were in Civilization 5. The AI is still really terrible at waging an effective war, and often ends up giving up any advantages it has by employing a total lack of strategy.

The easiest thing to do is to turtle heavily at the start of a war. Place your ranged or siege units in your border cities, and fortify melee units in the hexes next to them, oriented towards your shared borders. Let the AI troops rush in and get slaughtered by your ranged units and wail impotently on your heavy defenders. Rank up your troops with free experience and prepare for the counterattack.

Once the AI stops sending troops, heal up and roll out. Support units in formation with your front line troops will make sieging AI cities faster and less painful. Keep a few spare units in reserve to cycle out as your front line troops get damaged. By this point, the AI is probably begging for mercy, but how much of their land you claim before accepting their surrender is up to you.

At the highest difficulties, you’ll have to change strategies somewhat. The AI will likely be able to crank out units so fast that you’ll have to deal with more resistance as you approach the enemy’s cities, and their tech level is going to be somewhat higher. You can’t just turtle to win, and domination is a much slower process.

Diplomacy and war declarations have changed somewhat, but not so significantly that it makes a huge difference. To avoid warmonger penalties, you might want to denounce a few turns before you start a war, but honestly the AI still gets angry and declares war so often that they’re the ones who have to worry about the penalties and not you. Don’t let the terminology fool you – casus belli is just the fancy term for “justification for kicking butt.”

Cultural Victory

The cultural victory in Civilization 6 is very similar to Civilization 5 with the Brave New World DLC. In short, you have to generate tourism that overwhelms your opponents’ culture production. Defensively, you need to be generating enough culture so that others don’t overwhelm you.

One new aspect is that culture is considered its own tech tree, separate from science. You basically “research” with culture as well as science now. Governments and social policies are also unlocked through this tree.

Tourism is generated most easily through great works, which primarily require great artists, musicians, and writers. Build Theater Squares (and their improvements) to improve your cultural output and generate the required great people points.

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Pro Tip Great works can be arranged between your various cities/buildings, and certain combinations can increase your overall tourism output. If you’ve got great people to spare, consider selling or trading away some of your great works to make room for more.

Science Victory

The science victory requires a combination of both high science output and (in the very late game) high production output. You’ve got to research the required technologies so that you can build the various space programs, and then launch them in order to win.

Really, this one hasn’t changed much over the years, although in Civilization 6 there aren’t that many parts to build compared to some iterations. Keep your campuses and industrial zones at peak performance and you’ll be able to knock this out in no time, although it does require you to be later in the game and further in the tech tree than virtually any other victory condition.

Religion Victory

Religious victories are brand new for Civilization 6, and they’re easily the fastest way to win. You can start almost right from the beginning of the game, and if your opponents aren’t on the ball, you can end things very quickly.

The requirement for a religious victory in Civilization 6 is just that your religion must be the primary religion in more than half of all other civs’ cities. So if an opponent has 3 cities, you’ve got to make your religion account for more than half the population in at least 2 of those cities.

Apostle and missionary units can easily enter other civs’ territory so long as you’re not at war, so this is an easy, bloodless way to win. Even if the AI asks you not to convert their cities, they typically won’t declare war on you over breaking this promise or ignoring their request completely.

There are a few new mechanics to consider. Missionaries are cheap religious units that can’t fight other religious units, although they can defend. They are good for spreading religion relatively cheaply, although they lack the special abilities of apostles.

Apostles can spread religion, but they can also help your religion in other ways. As long as they still have 2 spread religion charges remaining, they can evangelize a belief, which adds a new perk to your religion (the max is 2 additional perks). Alternatively, they can be used to launch an inquisition, which allows you to build inquisitor units that purge rival religions from your cities. They also also start out with a free upgrade that you can use to select from two randomized abilities.

Pro Tip Some of the apostle upgrades are crazy powerful, like they can both spread their religion and purge other religions at the same time. This can make eradicating an opponent’s religion that much easier!

Possible Glitch /u/soontobeabandoned points out that in their game, using an extra apostle charge and then trying to evangelize doesn’t work. This goes against the in-game tooltips, so this is likely a bug. I’ve had good luck with this so far, but just be warned…

This ease of winning via religion cuts both ways, though. It really pays to establish your religion early and to spread it throughout your own cities. That way, it’s harder for the enemy to come in and take over. It’s also doubly important to found your religion at a city with a holy site deep within your territory. If you lose all your cities to another religion and have no religious units, getting your religion back is almost impossible. This leaves you in a very, very bad position. Declaring war is about the only way to recover in this situation.

If you catch an enemy sending religious units your way early enough, you can attempt to fend them off. Apostles can smack rival missionary and apostle units around, preventing them from converting your cities. Inquisitors can purge enemy religious influence as well, so it might be worthwhile to keep a few in reserve and let your enemy use up their religious units converting a city, then swoop in and undo all their work.

Pro Tip Parking a damaged religious unit near or on a holy site of a city following their religion will allow them to heal. Don’t let damaged enemy units run away – finishing them off keeps them from healing and returning, plus it reduces their religion’s influence on nearby cities.

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