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Civilization 6: Best Early Game Strategies

Highlights

  • An early advantage in Civilization 6 can make or break your endgame strategy. Choose your starting location wisely.
  • Building cities quickly is key to creating a strong civilization. Aim to have three cities by turn 50 for optimal expansion.
  • Plan your district layout early based on your victory condition to avoid running out of space later in the game. Utilize Map Tacks for long-term planning.

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Many victories in Civilization 6 happen because you find an amazing advantage early in the game. Whether you start next to the optimal Natural Wonder for your victory condition or a horde of barbarians, you have to make the best of the situation. For leaders with narrow paths to a win, this can make or break the endgame by the time the Ancient Era passes.

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If you’re tired of feeling like you messed up from the start in Civilization 6, we have helpful strategies that will solve your problems. If you want to claim bragging rights over friends or an absurdly aggressive AI, these proven strategies can make that happen for you. Before you get lost in another long series of “one more turn,” check out these tips to improve your next run at worldwide domination.

Any mention of a specific number of turns regards the Standard game speed. If you’re playing something swifter, or – don’t worry, we love it too – something slower – you will want to adjust accordingly.

Updated on March 31, 2024 by Matt Arnold: We’ve added tips for planning your expansion and an entry for an all-important early-game milestone; starting a Religion. A great start leads to a great campaign!

17 Build Cities Quickly

civilization 6 cities

Building cities increases your civilization’s overall production output and is the foundation for creating a long-lasting civilization. From the beginning, it might seem difficult or possibly unnecessary to have multiple cities during the Ancient Era, but this tends to be a mistake for many players.

The general rule of thumb is to have three cities built by turn 50; having three cities will allow you to create an early stranglehold on the surrounding area to further expand your empire later on and provide a solid process for creating units or structures.

Depending on where each city is located, you can designate one city for the mass production of army units to protect your borders and seek out barbarian camps, while the other cities focus on constructing World Wonders and basic buildings to grow the city.

16 Live Down By The River

civilization 6 river

Despite the negative association with living “down by the river,” it’s undeniably a winning strategy in Civilization 6. Settling cities along these streams provides freshwater for continuous growth and the option to build a Water Mill.

Production for your earliest cities is a precious commodity, so you have to take advantage of anything you can from the start. Most buildings can’t provide this in the early game, which makes this even more crucial.

If you’re worried about flooding, which can be particularly upsetting in the early game, consider aiming for the Great Bath World Wonder. If that seems out of reach, there’s always the decision to play as Egypt, which offers strong protection against flooding as a rule. Of course, dealing with floods isn’t a huge deal, so don’t feel compelled to alter your preferred play style so drastically if you don’t want to do so.

15 Plan Your District Layout Early

A coastal city with districts in Civilization 6

After you’ve had enough experience with the game, your favorite World Wonders and paths to victory start to come into focus. If you find yourself wanting to build The Pyramids, you know that you’re going to need a free desert tile eventually.

There’s nothing worse than wanting to build a critical district or World Wonder, only to realize that you don’t have space. Plan early, often, and always with your chosen winning condition in mind.

We want to further emphasize here, this is something that will feel daunting during your first several games. That’s totally OK. In these instances, should you find yourself running out of space due to unseasoned planning skill, don’t fret. You might be able to construct a new city, for instance, which will be slower-going, and you’ll miss early opportunities, but it can set you on a better track.

The best way to plan your expansion is to use Map Tacks, which can be accessed by clicking the third button from the left over the minimap. This lets you leave icons on specific squares, reminding you what you plan to build there. You can even write down notes on each Map Tack! This strategy is especially useful for long-term planning of later improvements like Dams, Seasteads, and Solar Farms.

14 Build Farms

building farms in civilization 6

Expanding your civilization isn’t enough to be successful; you must also keep your civilians happy. Basic necessities must be maintained, like proper housing, enough food, and later, extravagant amenities.

Building farms not only helps maintain happiness in the civilians but also helps expand land tiles. Your civilization naturally expands after a certain number of turns, but having more farms can speed that time up. Farms also provide housing that can help boost the city’s overall growth, making them an important tile improvement at the beginning of the game.

Try to construct farms adjacent to each other in groups of at least three. This will boost the adjacency bonus provided by the Feudalism civic during the Medieval Era.

13 Identify Your Winning Strategy

close-up of the map in Civilisation 6, showing soldiers and a nearby town

While some leaders have obvious victory paths, you might surprise yourself with the victories you can achieve even with a less-than-ideal starting position. Sometimes you have to create your synergy by taking advantage of Natural Wonders or a wealth of resources and luxuries.

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If an obvious, albeit difficult, path presents itself, you ignore it at the risk of missing your victory condition. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in the same routines, or you may lose the ability to see the proverbial forest from the trees.

12 Utilize Special Abilities

civilization 6 gilgamesh

Each leader possesses special abilities to assist them in building their civilization. Failing to utilize these abilities can lead to a frustrating experience, so be sure to research what exactly each leader specializes in and lean into it. When choosing a leader, always analyze what abilities they have at their disposal to secure an early advantage.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play as leaders whose talents come into play later into the game. But if you’re still fairly new to Civilization 6, it’s arguably wiser to center yourself on every early-game advantage that you can get. In the case of our upcoming example leaders, neither really loses all their luster as the game continues.

A Couple Of Real Winners

Two leaders that have overpowered attributes are Gilgamesh of Sumeria and Peter of Russia. The Sumerians thrive in battle, and because of their Epic Quest ability, you’ll receive a Tribal Village reward for every captured barbarian camp. If you choose the Russians, their Mother Russia ability rewards newly created cities with an extra territory tile. The extra territory tile might not sound like much, but you’ll quickly realize how vast your empire will grow because of it. ​​​​​​

11 Expand, Expand, Expand

Cyrus scolds the player for building a settlement too close to his civilization

It’s natural to become obsessed with maximizing the yield of every tile, but you might do so at your peril. Even if you don’t play a leader that encourages aggressive expansion, you may ruin your chance at victory without enough cities to generate an advantage over your opponents.

Find a way to juggle creating World Wonders, protecting your borders, and expanding up to your neighbor’s doorstep. They’ll complain at first, but if you play your diplomacy cards the right way, you can avoid war in most scenarios. If you don’t maximize your real estate early, you may find yourself overrun anyway by a massive army or a surprisingly fast science victory by an opponent.

Veterans of Civilization 5 may have the hardest time adjusting to Civ 6’s emphasis on building wide empires. Doing so in Civ 5 isn’t necessarly a bad idea, but there are some compelling reasons to build ‘tall’ instead.

10 Develop Trade Routes

establishing trade routes in civilization 6

Establishing trade routes early on is a great way to expand your resources and build positive relations with other civilizations. Once you research the civic Foreign Trade, you’ll be able to start purchasing Traders who will establish Trade Routes.

Mind you, Trade Routes can be hijacked by Barbarians, as well as civilizations whom you’re at war with, so be sure you clear out any camps nearby. Cultivating resources around your civilization is key to receiving more valuable trade offers. You can purchase more land tiles instead of waiting for your civilization to naturally expand, allowing you to focus on certain tiles that contain resources. The more diverse your resources are, the more possible trade routes you can develop from other nations based on where they’re situated on the map.

You won’t always be able to completely secure a route, but one thing that can help matters considerably is to leave a military unit around the midway point, capable of utilizing the road your Trader has built to reach looming threats swiftly.

9 Pursue Barbarians

civilization 6 barbarians

It’s tempting to get lost in your early game plans and ignore the bands of barbarians near your civilization. The problem, however, is that those occasional scouts sometimes turn into waves of military units ahead of your current technology.

No matter what difficulty you prefer, it’s worth your time to seek out the Barbarian camps and destroy them. Not only do you eliminate local threats, but you get points for your Era Score as well.

You get an additional Era Score if the Barbarian Camp is close to one of your cities. After the first few eras, you’ll no longer acquire Era Score for getting rid of Camps, but it’s still a good idea for experience and general safety.

8 Take Advantage Of City-States

Pericles points to the distance in Civilization 6

City-states aren’t just good for trolling Pericles, or conquering a one-city pseudo-civilization. They’re also a potential source of early-game advantages. In Civilization 5, you could throw money at them to gain their loyalty. In Civilization 6, you’ll need to throw legions of envoys and/or complete quests for them.

If you’re the first to meet a city-state, you automatically gain one envoy to send their way. The boosts to your victory condition, leveraging militaries, and trade benefits can give you an edge over the leaders nipping at your heels.

Rival civs will compete with you for control over city-states. A frequent AI strategy is to establish Amani, their Diplomat Governor, who counts as two envoys (and promotions can give those enemies of yours some spectacular benefits). If there’s a particular city-state whose value to you is immense enough, consider fighting fire with fire, recruiting and deploying your own Amani.

7 Scout Surrounding Area

exploring map as scouts in civilization 6

One of the first units you’ll need to recruit is a Scout. These fast units move around the map finding all kinds of things that can help your civilization. While Warriors and Archers defend your capital, sending Scouts either manually or automatically around the surrounding area will not only unlock those portions of your map, but also discover new civilizations, tribal villages, Barbarian Camps, and natural wonders.

Finding Natural Wonders can give you extra bonuses towards Food, Production, Science, Culture, and Faith on adjacent tiles. Scouts have a 30 Production cost or 120 Gold cost, making them fairly low-budget. They aren’t combat efficient, but Scouts can also be a great help fighting with Warriors.

When we mention the Production and Gold costs, note that, as with turn length references, we’re speaking to the Standard speed setting!

6 Build A Standing Army

Seven giant death robots line up next to a city in Civilization 6

Civilization 6 players often dream about a legion of Giant Death Robots, but you have to start somewhere before you get to units only available in the late game. Building a standing army early not only protects you from aggressive neighbors, but you can earn Era Score points with them also.

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As you chase down barbarians or take advantage of certain policies, your army can support more than securing the homeland. If you neglect to dedicate resources to military units early, you may find yourself imperiled in more ways than one (or overwhelmed by a nasty zombie apocalypse).

5 Send Delegations

Saladin in Civilization 6 accepts delegations from a player

With an empire to build and enemies to thwart, it’s easy to forget about the delegation system, especially during your first few runs. Even if you’ve turned off the Diplomatic Victory condition, you can handicap your ability to reach a successful endgame by ignoring this part of the game.

These early diplomatic efforts will help you understand what your rivals are doing and get you a jump start toward a Science Victory. You’ll have to wait for better intelligence through spies, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept mystery during the early turns.

4 Build Mines And Lumber Mills

Ambiorix holds a spear and shield while facing the player in Civilization 6

Nothing kills a game faster than cities that don’t hold their end of the production bargain. Anemic growth and productivity mean you may have a frustrating time building districts and World Wonders fast enough, not to mention crucial Settlers and Workers.

It’s frustrating to see these low numbers, but it can also tank any win condition in a hurry. Make researching this tech a top priority, or you’ll suffer the indignity of waiting for 30+ turns for a Granary.

If your civilization has serious advantages toward other early-game technologies (like Sailing, for example), or you’ve found yourself starting out near an abundance of resources requiring Animal Husbandry and/or Irrigation, it’s not a bad idea to hold off on learning Mining a handful of times. Just don’t wait too long!

3 Reset The Map

civilization 6 starting position

No matter what anyone tells you, the starting position can make or break a civilization. Whether you’re positioned in a corner of a continent near the ocean or smack dab in the center surrounded by farmland, utilizing the surrounding area is imperative for ultimate success. But what if you start in a less desirable location? Simply reset the map.

There’s no shame in resetting the map for a better starting position. While some positions can be worked with, others can be detrimental to your experience. Building cities and expanding your civilization is of huge importance but would prove nearly impossible if your starting position is on the coast. Instead of wasting turns walking to a more lucrative location, just reset the map and try again.

2 Avoid Surprise Wars

Gandhi faces the player in Civilization 6

You don’t have to worry about this so much until the Ancient Era ends, but starting surprise wars afterward may cost you dearly. Warmonger penalties can result in severe diplomatic ramifications for ages (literally) that make most win conditions difficult to achieve.

Put some patience in your pocket before you unleash that fancy new standing army of crossbowmen. You’ll be thankful later for avoiding conflict altogether because it’s one of the top ways to become the richest empire. Denounce your targets and wait for five turns, so you can pick the Casus Belli with the lowest penalty.

You won’t have access to any Cassius Belli options in the diplomacy screen until you’ve unlocked them, so don’t worry if they’re all greyed-out early on.

1 Start A Religion

a tundra-based holy site in the persian city of tushpa in civilization 6

Civ 6 is designed so that not every empire on the map will be able to start their own Religion. Even if you don’t plan to pursue a Religious Victory, it’s always worth trying to make sure you’re one of the lucky nations that spawns a Great Prophet.

Starting a Religion lets you choose bonuses that will stay with you for the rest of the game, provided your faith continues to thrive in your lands. It also incentivizes you to continuously produce Faith, which you’ll need in the late game for units like Rock Bands. The earlier you can get a Religion started, the better.

Look for Mountains and Woods to place your Holy Sites near, or Natural Wonders if you can manage it. If you’re in a starting area with lots of Desert or Tundra, try to rush a Pantheon to make sure that you get Desert Folklore or Dance of the Aurora, both of which pair very well with the Work Ethic Belief.

Don’t try to force a Great Prophet by building Stonehenge. The AI players will usually prioritize this Wonder; it’s likely that they’ll beat you to it, especially on high difficulties. Holy Sites with Shrines in your first two cities should do the trick… or you can just play as Saladin and not have to worry about it.

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