The early game is the most important part of Civilization V. Every action begins a snowball effect that changes the course of the game. Each advantage you gain will develop into further advantages. Each disadvantage you are burdened with puts you farther and farther behind and you find yourself playing catch-up with the other civilizations the entire game.
This guide looks at the early game in-depth but is focused on providing advice to novice players. The guide focuses on just one solid strategy but it is by no means the only way to play! The diversity of options and opinions is what makes this game so fun to play, so after you’ve mastered this simple guide you can try for other strategies and novelties that are more advanced.
This guide was made for the God & Kings expansion of the game.
Often times your settler has started at a good enough spot that you can build your first city right away. This is usually the right choice but consider:
- Are you close to but not beside a hill?
- Are you four spaces away from a luxury resource?
- Are you close to but not beside a river?
- Are you close to but not beside the sea?
- Are you close to but not beside a mountain?
- Are you close to but not beside a large field of desert?
Early access to luxury resources is important for your happiness. Yes you can still gain access to that luxury resource if its four tiles away and within your cultural boundaries, but it will take you a lot more turns to gain access to it and you don’t get to work that tile.
Rivers are fantastic, as the tiles beside a river give more and there are buildings that benefit from your city being near a river like the Water Mill from the Wheel technology. Any enemy attacking across a river to your city will suffer a massive penalty.
If your city is beside a sea, it can build ships and many wonders like The Colossus or The Great Lighthouse.
If you are beside a mountain, you can build an Observatory after you unlock the Astronomy technology, which will improve the science in that city by 50%!
Desert is tricky. If there are many desert tiles it can be worth it to build your city next to that desert so that you can build the wonder Petra which will drastically improve all your desert tiles. Investing in a Petra is not worthwhile if there is little desert (flood plains don’t count).
If this applies, you might want to consider settling beside these tiles. Only do so if you can move the settler to that spot in 1 or 2 turns. You don’t want to delay your start too much even if it means you’re in a suboptimal location.
Here, I’m playing as Babylon, a science-focused civilization. I see that I’m already on a hill and beside a river. Excellent. The sea and desert tiles are too far away and I can’t see any sea resources yet. I won’t spend time moving there to find out. I notice there is a mountain two tiles away however. I realize that if I move my settler one tile to the right, I will be able to build an observatory in my city much later in the game but will probably be beneficial as I am predisposed to focusing on science. Also, if I do do that, I am still within three tiles of all those silk and dye luxury resources in the west and I will still be on a hill. Not being next to a river is not optimal but it is a good tradeoff as the observatory is a very powerful building.
- Search for city states and ancient ruins. If you are the first civilization that a city state meets, you gain an extra bonus for your gift. Ancient ruins can give you substantial bonuses.
- Scout out possible locations for your second city.
- Don’t fight barbarians for the sake of fighting them. Even fighting a surefire fight means you need to rest your warrior for a few turns to heal which means less time scouting and finding ruins. Fighting barbarians in a city state will give you influence but influence degrades. It’s usually not worth it with your initial warrior.
- Have your warrior back at your city by the time you get your first worker. That worker needs to be protected from barbarians!
- In rare instances where there are no barbarians near you, and you don’t feel threatened, disband your warrior. It requires 1 gold per turn to maintain and if you disband it early, that gold can add up over the course of a game.
Researching Pottery unlocks the Shrine which will provide but much more important is that you can research Writing after. Going for Writing is not the only choice in the early game but is the most all-around, solid choice. Focusing on science means you can research all the other technologies faster so it’s the natural, safe choice. Most importantly, this line of science does not rely on a worker.
Mining unlocks the ability to chop down forests, so having fast mining with a fast worker means you’ll be constructing buildings and wonders at an accelerated rate. There is a delay between researching this first and getting your first worker which means it is not as optimal as Writing.
What should you build first?
If you think that buildings lots of farms this early or if you take mining to chop down some forests, then the worker might be the right pick. Remember that your second social policy can give you a free worker and a worker is almost twice as slow to produce compared to a monument.
Build a Monument and research Pottery then Writing.
Adopting Liberty: +1 in each city.
Republic: +1 and +10% when constructing buildings in each city.
Citizenship: Free worker. Tile improvement +25% speed.
Collective Rule: Free settler. Settlers +50% speed in capital.
Representation: Golden Age. Number of cities increases culture cost decreased by 33%.
Meritocracy: Each trade route +1 .
Liberty Brance: Free Great Person of choice
Choosing and maxing out liberty is almost always the correct choice. You should choose Citizenship as your second social policy even if you have yet to research a technology like Animal Husbandry or Mining, as your worker can always be tasked to build farms until you get those techs. Choosing Republic might be better if your production in your capital is low and/or you are racing others to build an important wonder (Great Library).
Liberty gives a free settler, a free worker, a Golden Age and a free Great Person of choice. This is by and far the best early social tree (and probably the best, period.)
The bonuses of Tradition are much less. Even if you don’t plan on using the settler from the Liberty tree early or at all, the Great Person is a fantastic bonus. On the other hand, if you are planning from the very start to win culturally, adopting tradition gives +3 and Legalism can provide a free cultural building. Saving that policy until you have higher technology can mean free and instant Amphitheatres or Opera Houses.
The rewards of Honor require a lot work and are very situational. Liberty will always be good while Honor requires very specific situations to be good.
If you have “Allow Social Policy Saving” activated for your game, you can opt out of using your first policy choice until you unlock things like Piety, Commerce, Rationalism or Freedom. However, Liberty provides such substantial bonuses that will snowball into even greater advantages further on in the game. Neglecting social policies early means less snowball effect and more playing catch-up even if you do end up with a “better” social tree.
Adopt Liberty and choose Citizenship first, then Republic and Collective Rule.
- Produce a Shrine, choose Citizenship (free worker)
Ten turns after you build your shrine, you will be able to choose a pantheon. There are far too many pantheons for them to be outlined here but I recommend or based pantheons for most civilizations. The downside is that you have dedicate your city to building workers later on when it could be making a Water Mill or a Settler.
- Produce a Worker, choose Republic (+1 )
This is a good choice if you want an early settler and you are planning on building the Great Library. Only do this if you have enough happiness to expand profitably. You don’t end up with an early pantheon and your tile development will be weaker but you will have a second city very quickly.
- Produce a Worker, choose Citizenship (free worker)
Although you don’t get an early pantheon and your city is also delayed, your tiles will be improved as quickly as their technologies are researched, your second city can be developed and connected by road quickly, and Mining becomes very useful as your workers can multitask to improve tiles and cut down forests at the same time.
Produce a Worker and choose Citizenship first.
The Great Library is much better and should be your first choice. Cut forests around your city to speed up its production and change your working tiles to maximize production.
However, you must outweigh your production versus the likelihood of your opponents building it before you do. At higher difficulties (Emperor +), the AI receives tech advantages to start and will often build the Great Library much faster than you ever can. Unless you find Pottery or population among ruins early and you have efficient production tiles, you should opt for the lesser Library in this situation.
The free technology boost should be spent on an expensive technology. At lower difficulties, you can wait until you research both Philosophy and Drama and Poetry before researching Theology for free. At other difficulties, Philosophy, Iron Working and Mathematics are all good choices that you can reasonably research as soon as your Great Library is completed.
Embassies are not very useful so early in the game. Declarations of Friendships are quite pointless in a world filled with backstabbing, schizophrenic AIs. However, you can trade each AI their embassy in your city in exchange for 25 gold which could be and probably is useful at this point in the game.
Research at this point should be towards technologies that will help you improve your tiles because your city will be busy building a Great Library while your workers will be waiting for something to improve. Remember that you should still take Mining first in many cases to clear forests with your workers.
Techs like Calendar, Masonry and Animal Husbandry should be prioritized depending on your local resources. Calendar resources are usually in forests and you’ll need Mining first to clear them.
If you’ve opted for a Library, consider techs such as the Wheel, Masonry, or Philosophy which will unlock Water Mill, the Pyramids, and the National College. The Pyramids is a low priority wonder and you can often build them while the AI is building the Great Library. The National College is an underrated wonder but don’t start building it now if you chose Republic first.
Build the Great Library, research a tile improving technology, clear forests with workers until you have the technology researched, and trade embassies for gold.
Consider when you will have a settler built. If you have taken Liberty, check your culture and anticipate in how many turns you will have Collective Rule. Move your warrior back and finish your improvements with your worker(s) by the time the settler is finished. Move your warrior with your settler. You don’t want to lose that settler to barbarians! Move your worker with your settler too, onto a forest tile or resource near that city so that you can clear forest or begin improvements immediately after you found your city.
Placement is very important and you should fulfill as many of the following with your second city as possible:
- Connect at least one additional luxury resource so that you can sustain and growth effortlessly.
- Be within four tiles of many (4+) resources.
- Minimize the amount of low and/or dead tiles (plains, desert, resourceless water tiles when your city is not on the coast).
- Can be improved immediately or soon. These locations can be expanded to with your next settlers instead.
- Is in a defendable position. Hills, river side, choke points with mountains are all prime locations.
- Not too far away from your capital. You want to be able to reinforce and return units from that city quickly.
- Not so close to your capital. You want to minimize overlap of working tiles. However, being too far away is a bigger and more common problem than being too close.
- A good mixture of production and food tiles.
You won’t be able to fulfill all of these conditions but you should keep all of them in mind when expanding.
In addition, consider expanding towards other civilizations with your second city. This increases your borders against them and prevents them from taking land away from you. Locations far away from them that are technically better can be taken with your additional settlers.
However, consider that AIs like Genghis Khan, Alexander and Montezuma are especially aggressive and you may have a tough time expanding towards them. Consider only doing so if you think you can build defensive units in time, or choose a location that is very defendable.
Once you’ve built your second city, you should begin production on something that will increase its overall capabilities quickly.
Assuming you have lots of additional happiness and don’t mind the growth, population will let you work additional tiles and is always a solid choice.
An additional worker is a good choice if you have only one worker now (Collective Rule first), and need additional ones to develop your tiles and prepare your third city.
This is a solid choice as well but does not improve your city’s capabilities directly and instead improves how quickly you can improve your empire.
Consider this choice if your improved tiles are being harassed by barbarians and your capital is focused on something else.
Expand and build a Granary.
- Settle in a good location, build a Monument, research Pottery
- Explore with your warrior for ancient ruins and city states and scout a good location for your second city
- When Pottery finishes, research Writing
- When Monument finishes, build a Worker
- When you have enough Culture, Adopt Liberty
- When Writing finishes, research Mining
- Trade embassies for 25 gold
- When Worker finishes, clear forests around your capital, build a Great Library
- When Mining finishes, research Calendar
- When you have enough culture, adopt Citizenship and clear forests/build improvements
- When Calendary finishes, research tile improving technologies
- When Great Library finishes, access a free Philosophy
- Adopt Republic then Collective Rule and expand
- Build a National College, Water Mill, or a Settler in your capital
Every game is different and this guide isn’t necessarily the best for every game but is great for beginners and a solid opening that fits any civilization