A game of Civilization is a lot like rolling a snowball down hill. At first, it’s a small, harmless thing, but as time goes on, it grows in size until it’s capable of mowing down everything in its path. In Civ VI, your early game decisions represent building the snowball and gently tossing it in the hopes that, come the late game, it’s an unstoppable force that has gained too much momentum to be slowed.
Truly, the early game—say, the first 100 turns or so—is the foundation upon which your empire will flourish or flounder. To steer you in the right direction, we’ve put together this list of early game tips. Some are universal and are useful in nearly every game, while others are more situational and depend on your starting conditions. Whatever the case, there’s bound to be something here for veterans and newcomers alike!
So, let’s get that snowball rolling, shall we?
Understand Your Civilization’s Strengths
Part of the replayability of Civilization comes from the many available leaders you can play as. Each one comes with unique bonuses, units, and buildings that make them better suited to perusing one of the five victory conditions (domination, religion, culture, science, and diplomacy). For example, France’s Catherine de Medici is strong in the culture game thanks to the unique Chateau tile improvement, and Alexander of Macedonia’s invulnerability to war weariness makes him a formidable foe when it comes to military victories.
While it’s certainly important to take note of your civilization’s strengths, keep in mind that they’re mostly just guidelines that can provide you with some direction early on; skilled players can guide any civ to any type of victory. Still, it makes sense to take the path of least resistance, doesn’t it? You might as well make things easier on yourself and play to your leader’s strengths.
Explore Your Surroundings
A game of Civ VI begins with only a Settler and a Warrior, a modest start that you’re expected to turn into a sprawling, thriving empire. Your starting location plays an enormous role in dictating your early decisions, so it’s absolutely vital that you get the lay of the land. Use your warrior to do some light scouting for you. If there’s a hill nearby, get them up there and reveal more of the map. Once your first city is founded, it’s recommended that you prioritize building a Scout: not only can see what resources are nearby, it can also alert you to barbarian encampments lurking in the fog of war, and help you find good potential locations for your next cities.
Research the Right Technologies
Your immediate surroundings will also determine your early game technology research priorities. If you have wine tiles near your city, you’re going to need irrigation to work them. By that same token, you’ll want to rush mining for the nice production bonuses of quarries and mines. If you’re struggling to decide on what techs to research, let the land do it for you.
Turn on Yield Icons
Civ experts can recognize the value of a tile just by looking at it, but for the rest of us it may not be immediately apparent. Turning on the tile yield icons in the map options will show how much food, production, culture, science, and faith a particular tile is worth while being worked. Use this feature to make smart decisions, and to make your future cities as productive as possible.
Your Early Building Priorities
The early game building priorities that are generally agreed upon in Civ circles are as follows: Scout, Slinger, Monument. As stated above, having a Scout is important for learning about your surroundings. The Slinger will help you to defend against barbarian attacks, or from early aggression on the part of your AI opponents. These two are simply must-haves.
What the Monument does is provide you with an early source of culture, allowing you to unlock a government faster. Because governments bestow several bonuses upon your civilization, it’s smart to unlock them as soon as possible.
You may be tempted to make a Builder early on in order to improve all those resource tiles in your city, but it’s actually better to hold off until you’ve grown a bit. A new city only has one citizen, meaning it can only work a single tile, so it doesn’t make sense to pump precious production into a builder when the three improvements it will create can’t be worked until later. For that reason, you’ll want to heed this next tip.
Focus on Growth
Food is hugely important in the early game. Working food tiles means your cities will grow faster, providing you with more citizens you can use for working other tiles. It’s tempting to focus on production, and there are definitely many strategies that focus on this, but food might be the safest way to get your empire up and running.
Don’t Ignore City-States
Another reason to prioritize exploration is the prospect of meeting nearby city-states. If you’re the first civ to meet a city-state, you’ll automatically send an envoy there, which nets you a bonus depending on the type of city-state it is. Each one also offers quests, like sending a trade route or training a specific type of unit. Completing a city-state’s quest can reward you with a variety of useful bonuses, like gold or another envoy. Don’t discount their usefulness!
Train Military Units
Even if you don’t plan on perusing a domination victory, you’re going to need at least a couple of military units. There are two main reason for this: firstly, barbarians are almost always a problem for burgeoning empires. They will come quickly and in large numbers, so you’ll need to defend against them. The second reason you want a least a handful of combat units is that you just never know what civilizations will be nearby your starting location. Imagine thinking you’re going after a peaceful, passive game as Canada only to discover your closest neighbor is Hungary or Persia!
Diplomacy with other civilizations is key to staying alive in Civ VI. When you first meet other leaders, there are a couple important steps to take. First, you always want to send a delegation for 25 gold on the turn after you meet them. Wait any longer and their opinion of you may change, thus locking you out of the option until you’re able get into positive standings once more. Second, take a look at their agendas and see if you’re in violation of them. If you are, it’s probably best to bolster your military defenses just in case they mount a surprise offensive.
And that’s it for our early game Civilization VI tips! What’s your go-to strategy for establishing an empire? Let us know in the comments section!