Civ 6 strategy guide: beginner tips and early game walkthrough

Civilization 6 guide

With Civilization VI now available, it might be time to dust off your internal Civilopedia, reacquainting yourself with the old and swotting up on the new. To help freshen up your brain, we’ve put together a beginner’s guide and a walkthrough of your first turns as the leader of a new empire.

Still not sure who to start your first game with? Try our Civilization 6 leaders guide.

Below you’ll find all you need to know about founding a city, using districts, dealing with the competition and just burning it all down in a bloody war of conquest.  

Cities

First city placement - where and when

Civ 6 guide building a city

When you start a game of Civilization VI, your first Settler will already be in a good spot for your capital city, but eventually you’ll be inspired to get a new Settler and spread your empire beyond its paltry beginnings. What you’re looking for is a place close to water with farmable land and a mix of resources nearby. You can see a tile’s properties, like how much food (for growth) or production (for building) it offers just by hovering over it. There is also a toggle to show all the resource yields for all tiles on the world map, letting you see at a glance the best city sites without spamming up the screen all of the time.

The farmable land will give you the food necessary to grow your city when a citizen works it. Once you construct a Builder unit and make it set up a farm, it will generate even more food, as well as houses, increasing growth again. It’s worth remembering that Builders have a specific number of uses before they disappear - initially just three, but this can be increased by new government policies.

Resources are split into three types. Bonus resources increase the yield of a tile, strategic resources are required for certain units, and luxury resources placate rabble-rousers, keeping your citizens nice and content. Specifically, wheat increases the amount of food on a tile, horses are required for cavalry units, and when people have access to silver, they are a bit more relaxed. Luxury and strategic resources may also be traded through the diplomacy screen. 

The map biome determines the types of resources you’ll find, as well as how suitable the area is for a city. 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. Similarly, a mountain can’t be farmed or built on, but can provide an extra line of defence against enemies, while also giving bonuses to holy sites and buildings. 

Districts explained

Civ 6 guide districts

A city is split up into districts, but starts with just a city centre. There, the granary, mill, monument and an assortment of buildings that provide anything from food to culture can be constructed. They’re largely buildings that serve to get your city started. Eventually, you’ll be able to expand your city with specialised districts that not only generate more science, culture, faith, production and amenities that make everyone more content, they can be further improved when you add new buildings to them. 

Let’s take a look at the holy site. It generates faith (more on that in the Religion section of this guide) when constructed, but the amount is based on the adjacent tiles. It generates +1 faith per turn from each adjacent mountain tile, +2 for each adjacent natural wonder and +1 for every two adjacent wood tiles. The wood tile bonus isn’t great and natural wonders are rare, so unless there’s one close by, you’ll want to build your holy site on a tile surrounded by mountains. These adjacency bonuses are vital, so have a look at our Civ 6 district guide for more.

With the district created, it’s ready to be built in. Religious buildings like shrines and temples generate more faith and unlock the use of different types of missionaries, who can then spread your custom religion to other cities, both domestically and internationally. While the holy site is the faith-based district, certain buildings can also confer bonuses that will help in other areas of the game. The meeting house, for example, generates +2 production and an extra citizen slot on top of the +3 faith. 

Some buildings you’ll erect in these districts also generate points toward great people. These special units can be activated once a simple prerequisite is fulfilled, creating a special work of art that provides a culture bonus, immediately generating lots of production, founding a new religion – it depends on the great person in question. If they’re an artist, their project has to be stored in specific buildings, like an art museum, which can only be constructed in certain districts.

Research

Technology tree

Civ 6 guide active 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 can be invested in research that in turn unlocks new technologies, starting from the basics like animal husbandry, all the way to space flight. The more science you’re generating, the faster you progress through the tech tree. That means you’ll want that campus to be, just like the holy site, surrounded by mountains, and you’ll probably want to build the Great Library wonder early.

Getting fat on science isn’t the only way to speed up research in Civilization VI, however. The vast majority of techs (and civics, more on those in a moment) can be unlocked in half the time by fulfilling a special condition, which you can see in the tech tree. Say you’re keen to start shooting out some industrial-era cavalry, but military science is an agonising 16 turns away from unlocking: you can cut that in half that by killing a unit with a knight. 

Everything from hunting Barbarians to setting up trade routes can contribute to boosting a tech, these 'Eureka' moments can also be found in other ways, like stealing boosts from other civs by using spies, or expending Great Scientists.

Civics tree

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. Merchant republic (from a little further down the tree) for instance, has an inherent bonus of +2 trade routes and a legacy bonus of 15% off gold purchases. This means that when purchasing buildings or units rather than constructing them over time, it’s cheaper than normal. That 15% bonus can be increased, too. Every 15 turns on the standard speed, it increases by 1%. However much you increase it by, that bonus is retained and carried over when you switch governments.

Along with these bonuses, governments also have different configurations of policy slots, limiting them to a specific number and type of policies. Merchant republic 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 - so, for example, finishing a settler with the Colonization civic active, and the next turn unlocking a new civic and switching to Ilkum for free, boosting Builder production.

Trade and diplomacy

Trading with leaders

Civ 6 guide dealing with leaders

There are two types of trading in Civilization VI. The first and most simple is direct trade between leaders. In the diplomacy screen, you can trade with other empires for resources, treaties, cities, great works or cold, hard cash. Whether they agree or not depends on the game difficulty, how fair the deal is, and what they think about you.

How a leader feels about you depends on obvious factors. Whether you’re a warmonger, for example, threatening their borders or seducing city states that they’re also after. Basically, they don’t like it if you’re overtly flexing your muscles. But they do like fair deals, presents, seeing Barbarians getting killed off, and having their enemies embarrassed. They also have historical and less obvious randomly generated traits and ambitions which can also influence how they feel about you. Getting to the root of any relationship issues, just like in real life, relies on gossip and spying.  

Traders, spies and diplomats that are in foreign lands as part of a trade route, espionage operation or embassy keep their eyes and ears open and pass information back to you, revealing not just key information on foreign movements and deals, but how they feel about you as well. The amount of information you have is readily apparently on the leader screen, and being more embedded in their empire will reveal exact relationship statistics as well as their Hidden Agenda - a randomised personality trait that you can exploit to make them like you (or hate you).

Establishing trade routes

Civ 6 guide trade

Trade routes are the meat of Civilization VI’s trading system. You can construct a trader in any city, and then very simply make its target any other discovered city. In return, the route will generate a flow of resources that can be anything from pure gold to a mix of gold, science, faith, culture, food and production. 

As the trader makes its way to its destination, it also creates a road. This is the only way roads can be constructed until you unlock the medieval-era military engineer, so gone are the days where you’d send out an army of workers to cover the continent in a complex transport network. It pays to set up routes between your own cities, as well. The roads will allow you to move troops across your empire faster, and more importantly these domestic routes can provide new cities with more food to help them grow. Trade routes are temporary, but when they end the road remains, and is even upgraded whenever the civilization makes it to the next era. It also leaves behind a trading post. 

A trading post is established in cities that have had a trade route going to them and is designed to increase the gold yield of any active trade routes that go through that city. So if you create a route between Rome and Moscow, and then later establish another route from Rome to a city just east of Moscow, the value of the route will increase by one gold. Every trading post passed through adds another gold. It’s worth planning trade routes not solely based on the resources you can gain, then, but rather how profitable future routes will be.

Trading purely between your own cities is useful in different ways, allowing you to funnel new cities with food and production. Have a cart ready to go when you set up your latest outpost, and you can build it a road and give a not-insignificant growth boost right away.

Exploiting city states

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 be seduced into providing a broad array of buffs depending on the number of envoys sent to them. 

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. 

As a city state’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.  

War

Declaring war and warmonger penalties explained

Civ 6 guide declaring 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, potential 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 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 as all. Aspiring conquerors, however, will likely have to use formal wars more, particularly in the early game. 

Dealing with Barbarians

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. I’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. 

When you spot a Barbarian, you should attempt to kill it, even if it’s not threatening any cities or units. It might return later, possibly with several friends. The same goes for their camps, which constantly spawn more of them and hide big chests of gold. Getting rid of camps can sometimes impress other civs or city states.

Combat strategy

Civilization 6 guide combat

Battles in Civilization VI combine the combat of its predecessor with a dash of the stacked armies that came before it. Most units can only occupy empty tiles, so there are no stacks of doom, but military units can be linked to a support unit like a Builder or Settler where it shares the same tile and acts as an escort. Similarly, infantry can be linked to units like siege towers and anti-air guns, which give them benefits like ignoring a city’s wall during a siege and defending against air units.

You can see a unit’s health and attack rating, and combat largely follows a rock, paper, scissors formula, but success also depends on the terrain. Hills, for instance, have a defence modifier of +3, making them great places to make a stand, but tricky tiles to attack. Conversely, marshes have a modifier of -2, so you really don’t want to get caught by your enemy while walking through them.

If you want to conquer a city, you need to get to its juicy centre, but that’s also the best defended part of the city, usually protected by walls and a garrison. If you’re not confident you can take the city, you can still destroy its farms, mines and other districts, costing the enemy civ gold and resources. When taking on the city centre, you’ll do damage against its defences first, then the city’s health bar. Some units, starting with the siege tower, can bypass or help other units bypass these defences, however.

Victory conditions

Civilization 6 guide victory conditions

Civilization VI’s victory conditions are split up into five sections, each with their own unique objectives. In cases where none of the civs achieve any of the five victory 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.

Culture victory conditions

A culture victory is attained when a civilization contains more visiting tourists than any other civ has domestic ones. These visitors are seduced by civilizations that generate a lot of culture and tourism points. While culture is important during all parts of the game, as it unlocks new civics and expands city borders, tourism doesn’t really take off until the modern era when archaeology allows civs to unearth ancient artifacts and buildings like the seaside resort or national park can be constructed. 

Science victory conditions

Being ahead of the curve in terms of research affects all aspects of the game, increasing military might, unlocking powerful buildings and districts before everyone else, introducing new methods of travel that make speeding across the globe that bit easier – winning through science isn’t a simple matter of being the biggest egg-head however. Three milestones have to be hit first: launching a satellite, putting a human on the moon, establishing a Martian colony. And you can’t even start doing that until you build a spaceport. Lots of campuses, research agreements and tech boosts will get you there a bit sooner though.

Domination victory conditions

Good old domination – nice and simple. For this victory, you must conquer the capital of every civilization. While straightforward, defeating every other civ takes a lot of work on all but small, pangaea maps. For others, we’re talking long treks across continents, naval warfare, invading other continents by air and sea, and of course finding all the gold and production to maintain a huge army. The real trick is starting wars without drawing every other civ into a global crusade against you. Even if your goal is to annihilate everyone, you’ll be spending a long time working on strategic alliances and keeping future enemies placated.

Religion victory conditions

The religious victory goal tasks you with creating a religion and making it the dominant belief system in the planet. That means 50% of the cities of every civ have to be converted. To go down this victory path, you’ve gotta have faith. No, really, loads and loads of the faith resource. It’s generated by holy sites and the buildings within them and trade routes. It can be used to found a religion as well as purchase different types of missionaries. Basic missionaries can spread your religion to other cities, while apostles can do the same while also fighting other religious units. The final unit, the inquisitor, can weaken opposing religions. 

Early game guide - your first turns

Civilization 6 strategy guide first turns

So you’ve picked your civ and find yourself on a new world. Most civs start with a Settler and a warrior. First order of business: build a city. The game will start you in a good area for a city, and exploration can waste turns and risk roving Barbarians kidnapping your Settler and ending the game. If there’s an exceptional area right next to you, maybe it will be worth wasting a turn, but settling straight away is recommended. 

Opening up the world through exploration should be next on the agenda. If there are no immediate Barbarian threats, use your warrior to start exploring. He’s not great at it, but don’t worry, you’ll have something better very soon. Get your city building a Scout straight away. It’ll take a few turns to build, so keep an eye on that warrior. He won’t be killed in one go by a Barbarian, but you don’t want to have to waste time healing him unless you’re attacking camps and getting gold out of it. 

Your first research choices depend a lot on the resources around you. Pottery is good to start with as it unlocks the granary, a building that encourages early growth by generating +1 food and +2 housing, as well as leading to Irrigation which unlocks various resources. Next, animal husbandry is worthwhile if you’ve got animals nearby. It allows Builders to construct pastures and camps, generating +1 production and +1 gold respectively while also unlocking the resources they’re built on, like horses, fur or truffles. Alternatively, if you’re noticing a lot of stone and metal deposits nearby, mining will be a useful tech, opening up mines and quarries for construction. They provide production bonuses, while also unlocking iron, stone, copper etc. Whichever one you choose, you should research the other sooner rather than later, as you’ll soon be encountering a wider variety of resources as you establish new cities. 

Civilization 6 tactics first turns walkthrough

When your Scout’s ready, set him to auto-explore or just send him off wherever you want. Now you need to decide what to do with that warrior. You’ve likely noticed Barbarians at this point. If you don’t deal with them, they’ll only come back and harass you. Warriors can handle themselves in a fight, but a lone one taking on multiple Barbarians or a defended camp isn’t going to get very far. He needs a hand. A slinger is helpful at this point. He can finish off the Barbarians before they can retaliate against the warrior. 

At this point your capital is probably at or near level two, the number that represents its size and how many citizens it contains. When you start establishing new cities, particularly in less hospitable locations, you’ll want to start reassigning citizens early on to either boost food or production, growth or manufacturing. A balance between the two is recommended in these early turns when you’ve only got one city, however. 

That extra citizen isn’t going to be hanging around for a long time, anyway. Start working on a Settler as soon as you can. It will take enough time so that your Scout and your other units should have explored the surrounding area and revealed potential settlement sites. It’s tempting to get a Builder around this time, when you’re surrounded by untapped resources, but cities with low populations of one or two can’t really exploit the bonus yields provided by tile improvements.

The astrology tech is a good choice for your next research project. It unlocks your first district, the holy site, a shrine, and your first wonder: Stonehenge. You’ll need this tech to start a religion and accumulate faith points. The holy site generates faith based on where it’s built (remember, you want to place it near mountains), and the shrine can be built inside it, making missionaries available. 

At first, you can only create a simple pantheon, but with a great prophet you can transform it into a religion with multiple bonuses that you can pick from a large list. The simplest way to get a great prophet is by embarking on the Stonehenge wonder. This is where you might consider reassigning your citizens. Stonehenge will be your longest construction project at this point, and making your capital specialise in production can speed it up by a few turns.

Of course, this is all adaptable. Got a civ with a great early combat unit? Pump a few out and go for some ancient warfare, which doesn't carry warmonger penalties. Science focused? Head for writing before astrology and start researching, get an early great scientist and pull ahead. Alternatively, there might be a lot of barbarians nearby, particularly on higher difficulties, or other aggressive civs looking to sort you out early, meaning defense will be your highest priority.

With that you're ready to be a world-renown leader of geniuses / warriors / priests / super-intelligent warrior-priests. As the game grows, so will our understanding, so check back for more regularly or leave your own tips in the comments.

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mftuchman(125 days 21 hours played)
1 Year ago

I'd love to see some discussion about great works of writing. They seem harder to store in Civ 6 than in Civ 5.

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