Even all these years after release, a Civilization VI strategy guide is always handy as new players are always discovering this seminal 4X game for the first time. Even if you’re a Civilization veteran, it might be time to dust off your internal Civilopedia and reacquaint yourself with the basics of world domination.
To help facilitate this, we’ve put together a beginner’s guide explaining many of the basic concepts of the strategy game, from where to found your first city, to diplomacy, warfare, and the game’s victory conditions. Use this primer as a way to get acquainted with the game, before tackling more complex strategies and elements.
Please note that certain aspects of Civilization VI change dramatically depending on what Civ 6 DLC you own. For example, Gathering Storm introduced environmental hazards and pollution, as well as the Diplomatic victory. Barring a few cases, we’re sticking to universal concepts that can apply no matter what version of the game you’re running, although to be honest vanilla Civ VI pales in comparison to how the game plays with both of the primary expansions. We’ve also not mentioned content from the recent New Frontier Pass either, although you should read our thoughts, as well as this overview of the most recent balance patch, to get an idea as to what state the game is in currently.
CIVILIZATION VI TUTORIAL
FIRST CITY PLACEMENT – WHERE AND WHEN
When you start a game of Civilization VI, your first Settler will already be in a good spot for your capital city. This is largely influenced by the map type you choose, but also which Civ 6 civilisation you pick as various civs have affinities with different types of terrain, even resources.
Generally speaking, the location your Settler starts on will be one of the most, if not the most optimum places to start a city. You generally want to be close to some kind of water source (doesn’t have to be the sea), along with a good mix of farmland and hills for production-generating mines. Different civs will require slightly different things in terms of their unique buffs and abilities, but generally speaking you’ll want a balanced start for your capital.
If you know what you’re doing and are able to read the terrain properly, it can behoove you to move to a different location and found a city elsewhere instead. You only really want to be moving one or two turns’ distance away though. The longer it takes you to found your capital the bigger your disadvantage will be compared to other civs who planted roots on turn one.
There are several types of resources in the game – food, production, science, gold, and culture are your basic resources. Food is important for city growth, production determines how quickly you can build things, gold is for upkeep and for rushing projects, and culture is how you earn civics and project your civilisations soft-power on the rest of the world.
There is also faith, which can be safely ignored but if you want to engage in the religious game then you’ll need to generate it.
On top of that, there are also ‘luxury’ and ‘strategic’ resources. Strategic resources are typically needed as an additional cost to build certain units, but they can also have effects on basic resource yields as well if exploited properly.
Luxury resources are more about placating your citizens. They often generate gold or modify gold yields, but they can affect other basic resources as well depending on which one you’re exploiting.
A citizen can ‘work’ a tile to generate resources, and there’s a special map mode you can toggle to see what a tile’s yield is. Using a Builder unit, you can build improvements on a tile to enhance its basic yield, as well exploiting any luxury or strategic resources found there.
The map biome can determine the types of resources you’ll find and even inhospitable areas, however, can be worth expanding into. The desert, for instance, provides little in the way of production or food, but you’ll need at least one desert tile if you want to build wonders like the Pyramids or Petra. Certain civilisations can specifically exploit the inhospitable tiles.
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Similarly, a mountain can’t be farmed or built on, but it can often combo with other nearby buildings to generate things like science, or faith, depending on what districts you have.
In Civilization VI, cities can expand out from the central tile by building districts. Some buildings can be built in the ‘city centre’ tile as in past games, but the more specialised buildings require specific districts to be built on.
You’ll need military districts for things like Barracks, science districts for universities, commercial districts for markets, and so on. The further you get into a game, the more options you have in terms of what to build on a district, but each district can only contain one building. These buildings can be upgraded as more advanced versions get unlocked.
More advanced tips when it comes to districts can involve careful pre-planning in terms of where you place them, as adjacency bonuses can become important. Terrain and adjacency requirements can also be important for things like wonders, certain buildings etc., so if you have your heart set on a specific set-up, make sure you try to learn all the potential requirements ahead of time.
Another thing to note is that districts will often overwrite the natural yields of the terrain, or at least suppress some yields in favour of another. Make sure you’re not accidentally placing distracts on tiles you’ve invested a lot of time into developing for their resource yields.
Some buildings you’ll erect in districts also generate points toward great people. These special units can be activated once a simple prerequisite is fulfilled, providing a powerful boost or a special action that’s not achievable with normal units.
Civ 6 guide – research
Each turn, your civ will be generating science – hopefully quite a lot if you’ve got a campus district and a few buildings in it – which will affect the rate at which you research technologies.
Civ VI’s tech tree spans from the basics of wheels and animal husbandry, all the way through to space flight and giant death robots. Some civilizations and Civ 6 leaders are specifically geared towards science, and there’s plenty of terrain-based shenanigans you can deploy to generate outrageous science yields, but otherwise it’s just a case of expanding your science output when you can to stay competitive.
Trade routes are also a way of generating science, especially if you’re trading with someone who is more advanced than you are. A lot of techs also have something called a ‘Eureka’ moment – essentially a mini-task or challenge that you can do which will speed up the time it takes to research that specific technology.
Civ 6 guide – civics
New civics can be researched alongside technology, though they are unlocked through culture, not science. Civics are equally as important, however, and in turn unlock new buildings, wonders and units, just like technology. What sets civics apart are the two other things they unlock: new forms of government and policies.
The first form of government, chiefdom, is useless and should be escaped as quickly as possible. You only need to unlock four other civics to begin working on political philosophy, which unlocks the first three proper governments: autocracy, oligarchy and classical republic.
All of them have an inherent bonus and a legacy bonus that can be enhanced. Along with these bonuses, governments also have different configurations of policy slots, limiting them to a specific number and type of policies. Merchant republic, for example, has one military slot, two economic slots, one diplomatic slot and two wildcard slots, so it can hold six cards in total.
The list of policy cards starts off small, but each new civic researched unlocks multiple cards, so they pile up quickly. They allow you to fine-tune your empire with a broad variety of bonuses, from reducing the maintenance cost of units to getting more resources from trade routes. You can spend gold to set up new policies, or wait until you’ve researched a new civic. In the early game, it’s best to try to time the unlocking of new civics with when you would want to switch them around.
Civ 6 guide – barbarians
Once a mere pest, in Civilization VI barbarians have become an intelligent threat. They roam the map, spawning from camps, and explore the world with Scouts just like a regular civ. However, unlike other civs, they’re not looking for resources, new lands or potential allies – they just want to burn and kill and enslave. So when a Scout spots a city or a vulnerable unit – a Builder, say – it will report back to its camp and a more aggressive unit will spawn and attack or, in the case of a Builder, capture.
Barbarians aren’t just mindlessly aggressive, however. They choose their battles. A single unit won’t just start attacking a city, and is more likely to pick a fight it can win. What inspires their choice of target isn’t always entirely clear, however. We’ve witnessed them killing a trader and thus halting a trade route in one instance, and ignoring an unprotected trader standing on a tile right next to them in another.
Civ 6 guide – city states
City states are neutral, single-city nations played exclusively by the AI. Like other civs, they can be traded with and fought, but they aren’t competing or working their way down a victory path. Instead, they exist to provide a source of tension between the larger powers, as well as potential boons if you play your cards right. When you discover a city-state – if you were the first person to discover them you get a free envoy – otherwise you have to earn envoys to send to a city-state.
Envoys are earned over time, increased by policies, and for the first, third and sixth envoy sent to a city state, a new bonus is received. City states also like to throw quests your way, which on completion immediately add a new envoy to the city. When you send three envoys and have more than any other civ, you become that city state’s suzerain, its sovereign.
Envoy’s can be considered the measure of your influence within that city-state, and if you become that city’s suzerain, you share their resources, can get them to join you in wars, and finally you’ll get a unique city state bonus like Geneva’s +15 to the science of every city when the civ isn’t at war. You can steal city states from other civs just by sending more envoys, but competing over them will sour your relationship with that civ, potentially becoming a catalyst for war.
Civ 6 guide – diplomacy
Interacting with the other major Civs around the world is an important aspect of Civilization VI no matter which victory condition you’re going for. Dealing with human opponents is always a wildcard, so we’re going to predominantly be talking about AI opponents here.
Civ 6 leaders will have a personality trait and several leader agendas that will both govern their basic predisposition to people and what kind of goals they strive towards. A leader’s opinion of you will also depend on what actions you take as well, and these passive and reactive factors will merge in some chaotic mess to determine whether they like you or not. At this stage of the game’s life, nearly everything you do will trigger some sort of response from another AI.
You can straight up trade things with the AI, such as gold, territory, technologies, but also access to luxury and strategic resources if either you or the AI has a spare not being used. You can also form pacts, from full-blown alliances to simple technology sharing deals, and you can conspire with leaders to beat-up on other leaders.
Civ 6 strategy – war
Kicking off a war is not as simple as just attacking a foreign unit or city; you’ve got to declare war first, and even then there are choices to make. The first type of declaration is for a surprise war, i.e. a war that you’ve not got a formal reason to start beyond your own lust for conquest. Surprise wars have a massive warmonger penalty, potentially making other civs more than a little upset with you.
Wait long enough, and you’re sure to be given a good reason to go to war. The diplomacy menu has a casus belli option, which reveals all the formal war declarations. The simplest, ‘declare formal war’, can be used if you’ve denounced the civ in the last five turns, which essentially means you’ve already warned them that you’re pissed off with them. Since that’s easy to do, the penalties are still quite steep.
More specialised, reactive war declarations aren’t as severe. If your respective religions are competing, you can start up a holy war with all penalties halved. Declaring a war of liberation, where you’re taking back a city that’s been conquered, doesn’t have any penalties at all.
To be honest, depending on the difficulty, if you wait long enough and act edgy towards your neighbours, they’ll probably declare war on you eventually anyway, giving you a legitimate reason to defend yourself by wiping them from existence.
A quick note on combat: units occupy a single hex, much like Civilization V, although later techs allow you to combine units together into small ‘armies’ that allow you to pack a lot more firepower into a small space. You’ll still want to occupy the terrain around you though, with hills especially being very potent in combat.
Keep an eye on the combat prediction that hovers up whenever you hover your cursor above an enemy unit you want to attack, and know that sieging and capturing cities can be quite difficult in the early game – make sure you come prepared.
Civilization 6 victory conditions
There are several victory conditions each with their own unique objectives. In cases where none of the civs achieve any of the five main conditions, the winner is instead chosen based on their score, itself based on an amalgam of achievements from the number of civics and techs researched to how many wonders have been built and great people recruited.
The Civilization VI victory conditions are:
- Culture victory – attract more tourists from every civ than those civs have domestically
- Science victory – reach the end of the tech tree and complete certain endgame techs, depending on which expansions you down
- Domination victory – conquer every other civilizations original capital
- Religious victory – become the predominant religion in every civilization
- Diplomatic victory – introduced in Gathering Storm, this requires you to get a certain number of diplomatic points
We hope you found this guide useful – there are more things we could expand on and talk about, but hopefully this will be enough to get you started in the wonderful world of Civilization VI!
Contributions from Fraser Brown and Joe Robinson