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Civilization VI Beginner’s Guide

Sid Meier's Civilization series is one of the most respected gaming series of all time with a loyal following spanning thousands of players, It's also one of the most difficult games to get into if you don't know what you're doing. Recent iterations have made things easier for newcomers but we thought we'd do our part to get more beginners addicted to Civilization VI. Better late than never, hey?

Civilization VI Beginners Guide

With the soon to be released expansion Civilization VI: Rise and Fall on the horizon, we thought it a good idea to get back to our favorite 4x strategy game. Some of you still don’t know what this “just one more turn” nonsense is all about and we suspect that’s because Sid Meier’s Civilization series might seem a little too intimidating for newcomers. This guide will ensure that even beginners will enjoy Civilization VI.

If you are one of those, then we’re here to help you ease into this truly fantastic game series with some basic tips on how to build a civilization to stand the test of time. Keep in mind that the game already provides a decent tutorial that explains the basic gameplay fundamentals so we won’t be covering those here, instead, this guide will help you progress from settler to emperor and beyond.

Choosing a leader

Even the base game comes bundled with a good number of leaders to play with, all with their own unique buildings, units, and traits. Each one of them is different and can be played in different ways.

My suggestion to picking a leader is to first think of what type of end goal you want to pursue, i.e. cultural victory, science victory, religious victory, domination victory. I would recommend not attempting world domination just yet as that can be more daunting than the rest but this is just my personal opinion. Once a selection has been made, find a civilization and leader who is better suited to play in this type of game.

Here are my suggestions of leaders for the various victory conditions:
Cultural Victory: Catherine – France, Gorgo – Greece, Pericles – Greece
 Science Victory: Peter – Russia, Teddy – America
 Religious Victory: Gandhi – India, Phillip – Spain, Saladin – Arabia
 Conquest Victory: Tomyris – Scythia, Montezuma – Aztec, Barbarossa – Germany, Hojo – Japan

Civilization VI Beginner's Guide - Choosing a leader

Starting location

When you’re new to Civilization, I recommend settling on the spot where your settler spawns. While I have at times moved my settler a square or two before founding my initial city, I can’t remember ever starting a game on a bad location, and with limited experience, finding a more suitable starting location can be difficult. 

However, if you have trust issues with AI decision making then here’s what you need to keep in mind to find the perfect starting location.

Survey the surrounding area for resources and ensure you have as many of them within reach as possible. Obviously having a resource within 1 tile of your city is preferable but as your borders expand you’ll be able to utilize resources up to 3 tiles away.

Another thing to consider is the terrain. Settling next to a river or lake gives you access to fresh water which provides additional housing from the start, meaning your city can grow larger without the need to construct additional buildings. Rivers are also useful in the mid to late game when constructing certain buildings and wonders. Mountains are useful in providing additional science and faith to the campus and holy site districts of those types when built adjacent to said mountain. Mountains further make it more difficult for enemies to maneuver their troops when attacking your city. The final terrain to keep in mind are ocean tiles. With the introduction of districts, it’s no longer necessary to found a city next to an ocean tile since a harbor district will also make it possible to construct ships.

My general rule when looking for an alternative starting location is to spend no more than 1 turn moving my settler. If it’ll take more turns to reach your ideal spot, then I’d rather just settle in the spawning location since the wasted turns put you at an immediate disadvantage, especially on higher difficulties where the AI players start with more units and free technologies.

Civilization VI Beginners Guide - Starting location

initial production

I’ve come across some mixed opinions regarding what to build first but my general rule is to always put my first resources towards recruiting a scout as that is what I find most helpful in the early game. Here are my reasons for scouting as soon as possible.

  • Finding all favorable settlement locations nearby. You’ll want to claim the good ones before your competitors do.
  • Meeting city-states provides you with passive bonuses that last the entire game. Obviously, it’s better to start earning these bonuses early.
  • Finding any threats in the form of other civilizations or barbarians.
  • Discovering who your closest neighbors are, could determine your next research route. Trade would be favorable but if you’re faced with known warmongers like Rome then you might want to work on your defenses to fend off the inevitable invasion.

While recruiting a worker first could be highly beneficial to your capital, most important resources require a certain technology to be researched first, making a worker less valuable this early. The other alternative would be to get started on a monument if you need your borders to expand sooner but once again I feel this is only beneficial a bit later.

Whatever you decide to produce first, don’t forget to add some military units soon after since the lack of warmongering penalties in the ancient era means AI players are much more aggressive early on and your cities can no longer bombard enemy units until you add ancient walls.

Research direction

The tech trees can be very intimidating for new players and will take a number of games to get to know well. My advice here is to research towards your end goal. If you’re chasing a science victory, then go after the techs that will give you advancements in science like writing, which allows you to build a campus and library.

Just remember to keep things relatively balanced. While science is crucial for any civilization, neglecting other aspects of the game like culture or economy will come back to bite you in the late game. You also need to ensure that your combat units can hold their own against the opposition or your greatest cities will soon be part of your rival’s empire.

Finally, check out the inspirations and eurekas and work towards triggering those whenever possible. Some of these require very little effort to trigger and will reward you with a 50% boost to researching that technology or civic.

Civilization VI Beginners Guide - Technology tree

Expansion

The first rule of settling a new city: Don’t send your settler out unprotected!

Unlike previous Civilization titles, Civilization VI encourages you to build large empires, so you will be expanding quite a bit, especially in the early eras. Always spend some time considering various locations, even a single hex further can make a difference in a city’s importance. There’s no point in having a city that can’t contribute to your game plan.

So what do you need to consider when searching for another city location?

  • Resources. Make sure your new city has access to as many resources as possible with the most important close by.
  • Landscape. Depending on your special abilities, tiles like jungle could be beneficial. See the “STARTING LOCATION” section of this article for more info on landscapes.
  • Proximity to neighbors. Settling to close to your neighbors will anger them and damage your relationship.
  • Distance from your own cities. While it may seem alluring to settle far off to claim a certain resource, a lone city is less productive when not connected to the rest of your empire via road and is also much more difficult to defend.

Barbarians

Barbarians are more menacing than ever, they are more aggressive and have spent some time studying Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Gone are the days when barbarians just wander the map aimlessly, fighting hopeless battles that only result in their inevitable demise. Now they send out scouts to locate enemy cities who then report back to their encampment and send in the cavalry. And trust me when I tell you, they are no pushovers, in fact, I’ve often come across barbarians in the mid and late game that had more advanced units than myself.

Leaving a barbarian encampment too long will definitely become a thorn in your side. While I haven’t been eliminated by barbarians just yet, they have set my progress back considerably when I didn’t kill them in time.

Diplomacy

Even if you’re aiming for a domination victory, being a constant warmonger is not going to be good for your civilization. If at all possible, try and declare friendships with at least one other player. At best, they’ll remain a good trading partner and at worst you won’t need to worry about their forces knocking on your back door, demanding to be let in.

When declaring war, keep an eye on the warmongering penalty you will incur and make use of the cassus belli where possible. If you declare war at the wrong time, that reputation will haunt you for hundreds of years and make other players less likely to trade with you. It’s all good having countless luxury resources but if you’re not able to sell the excess to your neighbors then they’re just wasted. 

Try and consider other civilizations with all major decisions you make. If it will affect one of them then first think if what you’re doing is worth the repercussions. This is more difficult now with the new AI traits system and will take some time to master. As they say, practice makes perfect.

Civilization VI Beginners Guide - Diplomacy

City Planning

Always try and plan ahead what you want to do with a city, maybe even place pins on certain tiles to remind you what you want to do there. Knowing how districts work and where they need to be placed can save you a lot of grief later on. The same can be said for wonders, the last thing you want is to have to break down a farm you sacrificed a builder for because you didn’t plan ahead, or worse, not being able to build a certain district because you placed another in the only valid spot when it could have been built elsewhere.

Keep in mind that districts also earn you points toward attracting great people which are more useful than ever. Placing districts early on, while tricky, could help you get that one great person you had your eye on, before your competitors.

District adjacency bonuses, while not vital, can be very useful. Here is a well known “cheat sheet” you can refer to get the most out of your districts.

Finally, remember that some district buildings can extend its effects to other cities within 6 tiles so placing them within range of several other cities can be a great help.

City Planning

Trading

When sending a trader to another city, you construct a trading post in that city. This not only increases the benefits of trading with that city but also means your trade route can be extended if it passes through that trading post.

Don’t forget that traders now build roads wherever they go, which by itself could be a reason for sending a trader to a certain city, even if there are more profitable trades available elsewhere.

For example, trading with your local cities connects them with roads so you can more easily travel between them. It can also make access to an enemy city easier for invasion but will also make travel from them to you quicker when they’re the ones declaring war.

Final word

This may all seem a bit overwhelming but when playing on lower difficulties, you can screw up quite often and still win a game. So, if you’re new to Civilization you merely need to play on an easy difficulty and you’ll have ample opportunity to learn the game.

However, when playing on King or higher, the AI has an advantage from the start of the game which ranges from additional military units and settlers to free technologies. It is thus imperative to get a good start when playing on these levels.

Final advice. Watch gameplay videos of players who know what they’re doing. Ones I can recommend are Quill18 and Marbozir. Personally, I rather enjoy Quill18, I’ve included a link to his Civilization VI video guide below. And if you come across anything that does not make sense, use the Civilopedia for clarity. That’s what it’s there for.

Good luck fellow emperors, and happy conquering.

For what we thought of Civilization VI, be sure to check out our review.

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