Which are the best Civ 5 civs and leaders? A classic 4X game by any measure, Civilization V allows you to guide your nation from inception to world domination in any way you see fit. Providing one of the broadest list of victory conditions in any strategy game, Civ 5 can be slightly challenging when trying out new things.
Civ 5 civilisations are slightly more niche than in the newer Civ 6, creating a clear focus that allows specific nations and specific Civ 5 leaders to achieve their chosen victory condition more easily. There are also more strategies not tied to specific win conditions as well.
In order to help our readers get better at the game and figure out the best way to achieve their goals and desired play styles, we built this guide to single out the best Civ 5 civs for a range of play styles. Below each entry, you’ll also find a summary of what they do best. Alongside this, we’ve also included their unique faction ability, and how it affects the game. That will hopefully make your game a better experience, and allow you to have much more fun with it.
THE BEST CIV 5 Leaders
These are the best civilizations in Civilization 5:
BEST CIV 5 Leaders – DOMINATION VICTORY
The classic victory type, Domination sees you conquering the world by strength of arms over your less fortunate civilizations. In Civ 5, you luckily don’t need to conquer an entire civilisation; you just need to control all of the original capitals to score the victory.
Summary: Active, Free Social Policies, Mounted Combat Bias
Faction Ability: Solidarity: Receive a free Social Policy when you advance to the next era.
Poland is a highly flexible Civilization given its unique ability to gain free Social Policies. As a result, Domination is not their only victory path, but you’ll seriously want to consider it given their mounted combat bonuses. Winged Hussars have increased damage and movement speed in comparison to Cavalry and can force enemy units back a tile (or otherwise deal even more damage) if the Hussar came out on top in the fight.
Related: Which is better? Civ 5 or Civ 6?
Fun fact, the Hussar is almost assuredly going to come out on top if you are fighting same-era opponents. Combined with the Ducal Stable, which provides additional gold income, no maintenance cost, and 15 XP for produced mounted units and Poland becomes monstrous once they reach the Renaissance, just make sure to bring some siege units to help out on city attacks. If for some reason you didn’t trample the entire planet under your horde of hooves, Poland is well suited to veering towards a different win condition, so make sure to plan ahead with your free policies for a potential Plan B if needed.
Summary: Active, Unit Promotion Focus, Unique Warfare Synergies
Faction Ability: Iklwa: Melee units cost 50% less in maintenance costs. All units require 25% less experience to earn their next promotion.
The Zulu are entirely built around the concept of absolutely wrecking everything in their path with Impi warriors. Their unique building, the Ikanda, exists solely to provide melee units with unique promotions that give increased movement, flanking bonus damage, strength, ranged defense, etc. The Impi themselves are allowed a separate ranged attack immediately before engaging in melee combat.
Early game should be focused on generating a large number of Spearman to farm Barbarians for promotions, potentially building the Statue of Zeus or Terrocata Army, and transitioning towards Civil Service to unlock Impi. From there, no alternative exists for the Zulu, only conquest. If the Impi are used properly you can steamroll any nearby opponents and carry your Civilization to victory on the back of your conquests.
BEST CIV 5 LEaders – DIPLOMACY VICTORY
Why make war when you can make friends? A diplomatic victory is achieved by winning the ‘World Leader’ vote in the United Nations. This means that you actually have to survive long enough for the UN to be formed, and then get everyone else to like you enough to vote for you – but this includes City State. Votes can be bribed as well, so economic prowess is also needed. Here are the best Civ 5 civs for achieving this type of victory.
Summary: Passive, City-State Relations, Strong Early Unique Units
Faction Ability: Hellenic League: City State Influence degrades at half, and recovers at twice, the normal rate. Greece will not lose Influence with City States for having Greek units end their turn within City State borders, and the units will heal as if on friendly territory.
Greece is arguably one of the most straight-forward Civilizations to play. Your end goal is always going to be using the various City States in the world to win a Diplomatic victory vote. However, there is some nuance to how you get there. In the very early game, you should use your Hoplites and Companion Cavalries to attack Barbarian Camps that are near City States for Influence rewards. From there, you blitz the Patronage tree as soon as possible. One thing to consider however, is that you can even intentionally demand tributes, or even steal Workers, from City States early on to get your economy going a bit faster and then watch as your relationship quickly rebuilds itself.
Past that, you should consider founding a religion and spreading it to City States to further improve your influence gains (and remove decay). In the late game, make sure to pick up the Treaty Organization or Gunboat Diplomacy tenets, as either of these will increase your influence gained per turn, further cementing your Diplomatic win. Greece lacks the late-game staying power of most other Civilizations outside of Influence gain, so form alliances fast and keep them steady!
Summary: Passive, City-State Relations, Output
Faction Ability: Father Governs Children – Food, Culture, and Faith bonuses from friendly City-States is increased by 50%. Units gifted from Militaristic City-States get +10 experience
Simply put, Siam is the best civilization to attempt a Diplomatic victory. As you make friends, your cities will be growing faster, founding a religion earlier, and enacting policies quicker. Combined with the Patronage tree, you’re generating increased wealth, science, and Great People via gifts. Additionally, you’re stronger than average religion can allow you to instantly buy Great People or defensive units, as you see fit. No one else will be able to compete with you on maintaining friendly relationships, you just have to worry about them being bought outright from under you.
BEST CIV 5 LEaders – SCIENCE VICTORY
Science victories are a staple of the Civ series, always leading to the space race that will expand civilisation to the stars… although not via Beyond Earth. Less said about that, the better. This game has a myriad of ways of accruing science progress, and the best Civ 5 leaders are:
Summary: Active, Capital Buildings & Wonders, Output
Faction Ability: Scholars of the Jade Hall – +2 Science for all specialists and Great Person tile improvements. Receive a tech boost each time a scientific building/Wonder is built in the Korean capital.
Korea can output nearly twice as much science as rival civilisations, making it the first choice when pursuing a science victory or quick technological advancements. It’s extra bonus when constructing Wonders in the Korean capital means that those already extremely important buildings have an extra attractiveness to Korea, and if properly pursued, can turn this nation into a major powerhouse.
Summary: Passive, Great Scientist Generation
Faction Ability: Ingenuity – Receive free Great Scientist when you discover Writing. Earn Great Scientists 50% faster.
Babylon’s first Great Scientist allows players to build an academy quite earlier than normal, quickly jump starting the civilisation’s science output. The passive bonus to generation of new Great Scientists means Babylon can easily put up distance between themselves and less advanced civilisations, utterly dominating the technological tree. Likewise, their unique building gives double the health and stronger defense than a standard Wall, making early wars against Babylon very difficult to pursue.
BEST CIV 5 LEaders – CULTURE VICTORY
Cultural victories can be challenging, as you won’t win until the number of tourists visiting your country is equal to the number of domestic tourists from all other civilizations combined. In order to achieve that, you need loads of great people — especially artists — along with buildings, districts, and wonders that can house their works (sculpture, relics, and artifacts being the most valuable). Make sure to trade with other civs to spread your culture, pick culture-boosting policies, and always keep an eye on your opponents’ progress when you are pursuing a Culture victory.
Speciality: Golden Ages
Summary: Passive, Jungle Bias, Culture Output, Happiness Dependent
Faction Ability: Carnival – Tourism output is increased by 100% during Golden Ages. Earn Great Artists, Musicians, and Writers 50% faster during Golden Ages.
Brazil has a rough start because of their initial jungle bias. However, once they reach the Medieval Era and can exploit jungles their Culture, Gold, and Science output explodes tremendously. From there, focusing on Happiness to trigger Golden Ages more often allows Brazil to kick back and watch the Great People multiply and Tourism number increase each turn. The upside to starting in the middle of the jungle means that warfare against you can be difficult and defending yourself with Pracinhas in the later game can further increase your rate of triggering Golden Ages.
Brazil’s main goal should be to secure as much room as possible for Great Works while keeping themselves safe from foreign conquest. Specifically, players should be considerate of having a city in a location suitable for the Hanging Gardens (or a normal Garden if beaten to the punch). This is due to the importance of quickly generating Great Persons to increase your Tourism. Likewise, prioritising research towards Guilds to unlock the Writer/Artist/Musician guilds is imperative to your win condition as you need to be constantly creating Great Works. Once you’re solidly into Archaeology, you can always buy defensive units via the income you’ll receive from your Brazilwood Camps. Focus on being tall while generating Tourism to peacefully lead the world to victory.
Summary: Passive, Wonder Building, Museums, Capital Focus
Faction Ability: City of Light – Museum and World Wonder theme bonuses are doubled in their Capital.
Bagels and mimes are examples of French culture, just like wine and cheese. However, another important part of French culture is its art, represented by the Louvre and other art galleries strewed across Paris. As such, France’s bonus in Civilization 5 gives it double the culture from Museums and World Wonders than other civs, giving it a permanent and sizable lead over rivals. If properly maintained and developed, France can easily achieve a cultural victory… as long as it doesn’t surrender before that.
BEST CIV 5 CIVS – ECONOMY & MONEY
Civilization was never a very capitalist franchise. In-game, money has a lot less uses than one would expect, what with it being the bloodflow of every major culture in a way or another since humans started gathering in groups. In Civ 5, gold likewise has less impact than production or culture. Money itself is not a victory condition, either, but all of them can benefit from a steady income of gold so big that dwarfs that of rivals’; a prosperous money civilisation like Veneza can completely dominate other civs in the mid-to-late game if properly set-up.
Summary: Active, Trade Route Management, Difficult
Faction Ability: Gateway to Africa – Receives +3 Gold and +1 Culture for each Trade Route with a different civ or City-State. The Trade Route owners receive +2 Gold for each Trade Route sent to Morocco.
For those willing to constantly adjust their strategy and routes to the ever changing political geography of a Civ game, Morocco is one of the best nations to quickly accrue money.
The extra gold and culture for trades with City-States means Morocco must mantain their trade partners around, preventing them from being destroyed or captured, while the extra bonus for civs engaging in commerce with your faction gives them a reason to favour you over any other nation. These characteristics combined make Morocco a prosperous but demanding civilisation to play.
Summary: Passive Trading, Centralised, Unique Mechanics
Faction Ability: Serenissima – Cannot gain settlers nor annex cities. Double the normal number of trade routes available. A Merchant of Venice appears after researching Optics. May purchase in puppeted cities.
Ah, Veneza; La Serenissima. One of the most glorious and beautiful cities in the world, Venice was a powerhouse during the Renaissance, where it almost controlled the globe through fleets and commerce. In Civilization 5, Venice is undoubtedly the best trade nation in the whole game.
Unable to found or annex cities, Veneza can only expand by purchasing other cities with gold. This creates a truly unique playstyle within Civ 5, focused solely on one city and centralising all the power in the game. This capital focus and concentrated output means Venice can be much more advanced and prosperous than other civilisations with a rather low expenditure, and the double amount of trade routes available makes it economically unmatched. Buying influence directly via your massive economic output can lead to Diplomatic victories, but you’ll need to be very careful of not being overrun by enemies, especially in multiplayer games where your single city will be a high profile target.
BEST CIV 5 CIVS – RELIGION
Religion is not a bonafide victory condition in Civ 5; instead, it factors in as a means of spreading influence to reach a culture victory. Still, religion is quite darn powerful, and here are some ways to make that gameplay attractive.
Summary: Active, Early Boost, Pantheon Founding, Targeted Investment in Religion
Faction Ability: Patriarchate of Constantinople – Choose one more Belief than normal when you found a Religion.
Byzantine gets an extra belief when founding a religion, making it extremely important that Byzantines choose a pantheon, and choose it fast. Once that’s done, they must start investing in inquisitors and prophets in order to spread their religion to all corners of the world, while reaping the benefits of their faith. Don’t let up, and Byzantine’s choice of religion can take over the world.
Summary: Passive, Trade Routes & Caravans, Enhanced Religion Spread
Faction Ability: Ships of the Desert – Caravans gain 50% extended range. Your trade routes spread the home city’s religion twice as effectively. Oil resources are doubled.
Arabia has a more sneaky approach, continuously spreading its religion via trade routes twice as effectively than normal. This harassing method of religious expansion can quickly convert whole cities into Arabia’s choice of religion, making it a good choice for players who want a simple, passive method of conquering the world with faith.
BEST CIV 5 CIVILIZATIONS – Specialists
The above game-styles aren’t the be-all and end-all – there are plenty of other niches to be found in the game. Whether you want to be a power-hose of production, or whether you want win every Golden Age, the following civ 5 leaders and civs are the best at what they do, and should be played accordingly.
Summary: Active, Naval Domination, Map Control (Sea)
Faction Ability: Sun Never Sets – +2 Movement for all naval units. Receives 1 extra Spy.
England’s special ability allows its naval units to move faster and further than all other civilisations in the game, granting a significant advantage to naval dominance and map control. Its unique unit, the Ship of the Line, is a tremendously powerful frigate capable of single-handedly destroying any contemporary unit it is faced against, on water or land, and even holds it’s own well into the Industrial era.
Through careful positioning and active engagement of your forces, England’s navy is more suited to dominate the seven seas than any other.
Speciality: City-State Domination
Summary: Active, City-State Removal, Ranged Attacks and Retreat, Constant Warfare
Faction Ability: Mongol Terror – 30% Combat Strength increase when fighting City-State units or attacking a City-State itself. All mounted units have +1 movement.
If Mongolia exists in your game, you can kiss goodbye making friends with any nearby City-States. Their Faction Ability, the additional healing received from Khans, and the Keshik’s ability to hit-and-run with unmitigated ranged attack damage against cities results in pure carnage for anything standing in Genghis Khan’s way.
This can transition into potential Domination Victory options, but it’s important to remember that Keshiks’ promote into Cavalry, making any Ranged promotion choices useless! Mongolia needs to ride its early dominations into continued warfare success, or they may find themselves falling behind in other areas like Science and Culture output.
Summary: Movement Bonus, Hilly Terrain, Tactical Superiority
Faction Ability: Great Andean Road – Units ignore terrain costs when moving into any tile with Hills. No maintenance costs for improvements in Hills; half cost elsewhere.
Given the overall proclivity for hills, Incan’s passive bonus of not being hindered by them when moving is a major help. Since their whole civilisation is historically built in the hills and plateaus of Peru and Chile, the game’s version of the Incas rightfully reflects that boost by allowing all of their units to move across hills as if they were normal terrain, greatly expanding movement and tactical options that enable them to both attack effectively and defend efficiently while other civs struggles with the literal ups and downs.
More like this: The best Civ 6 civ for each victory type
Another candidate for this speciality is Carthage, who are the only civilization in the game who can cross mountain tiles after they gain their first Great General. It’s highly situational on the map having mountains worth crossing though, so they don’t quite warrant their own entry.
Summary: Active, Capital Focus, Production Boost via Buildings
Faction Ability: The Glory of Rome – +25% Production towards any buildings that already exist in the Capital.
Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and that includes everything in the world, ever. If you want to expand into an ungodly amount of cities and have them all add something meaningful to your Empire, Rome’s your go-to civilisation. As long as the City of Rome has a specific building, all other cities can build it in a fraction of the original time. This creates a lot of self-sufficient respectable cities in a game where anything but the capital is usually crappy, and it can quickly snowball into a massive advantage.
Summary: Defensive, Map Control, City Expansion
Faction Ability: Great Expanse – Founded cities start with additional territory. Units receive a combat bonus when fighting within own territory.
Passive expansion focused on territory and defense, the Shoshone get an extra tile area around their founded cities and get a bonus for the defending them. Extra territory means quicker expansion, which means more resources and geographical control, which means all the land is now yours. Yey. Just watch out for the white man.
Summary: Wonders, Production Boost
Faction Ability: Monument Builders – +20% Production towards Wonder construction.
Self explanatory, really. The Egyptians were master builders, being good to the point that people still think their work is magic and not science. Aside from the Pyramids and the Sphinx, they are responsible for the invention of obelisks, huge stone statues, tombs, and many other nice feats of engineering. As a reflection of that, Egyptians in Civ 5 are 20% faster when building wonders, making for a very competitive civilisation capable of snatching almost every wonder in the game if they so choose.
Summary: Production Boost, Strategic Resources, Specialised Units
Faction Ability: Siberian Riches – Strategic Resources provide +1 Production, and Horse, Iron and Uranium Resources provide double.
The best units in Civ 5 require strategic resources; cavalry needs horses, knights need iron, and nuclear stuff needs Uranium. Russia, as a huge country the size of a continent, has that (and crazy communism) by the ton, making it a very resourceful nation. In Civ 5, their bonus gives you an increased production for every resource, while doubling the amount of said strategic items, creating a very good civilisation for those wishing to have loads of specialised units — or less realistically, engaging in trade.
Buy now: Now’s a great time to get into Civ 6
If you’re a long time fan of the series, don’t miss this excerpt from Sid Meier’s Memoir! on the making of Civilization.