Civ 5, or Civilization V, is a massive game with a plethora of features and mechanics. It’s a complex game where the player’s ability to think ahead and come up with novel solutions to problems is rewarded.
There are a lot of things that go into having success in Civ 5, but we’re just going to focus on the most fundamental one: the civilization the player picks. Over 35 distinct cultures are at your disposal in this game. Each has its own special qualities and peculiarities.
Each civilization’s ability to triumph in any given match is ranked on this scale. Since there are numerous strategies to employ in Civ 5, this ranking takes into account the relative strength of each civilization based on how well it adapts to those strategies.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get into the order of the Civ 5 civilizations.
These cultures are currently the best ones to play as.
They have so many potential winning strategies that you won’t need to change your approach midway through the match. There’s not much point in narrowing your focus on your enemies, so you can relax your focus on your own strategy.
Beginner Civilization players can use their dominance to their advantage and win some games when they have these.
|Civilization||Leader||Separate Item||Special Structure||Rare Talent|
|Poland||King Casimir the Third of Poland||Hussar with Wings||Castle Stables||Solidarity|
|Austria||To wit: Maria Theresa||Hussar||Café/Tea Shop||Political Wedding|
|Babylonia||Emperor Nebuchadnezzar||Bowman||Babylon’s Walls||Ingenuity|
There are some generalist cultures among these specialists.
Although they are not as powerful as those in S-Tier, they will still be able to win early on thanks to their proficiency in a variety of areas.
|Civilization||Leader||Separate Item||Special Structure||Rare Talent|
|Shoshone||Pocatello||Lead the way, Comanche Rangers||Massive Area|
|Egypt||Kings of Egypt: Ramesses II||Combat Vehicle||Cemetery Tomb||Masters of Construction|
|Aztec||Montezuma||Jaguar||Garden Islands||Victims of Sacrifice|
|Arabia||Al-Rashid, Harun||Archer Using a Cameo||Bazaar||Desert Ships, or Commercial Caravans|
|Siam||Ramkhamhaeng||The Elephant of Naresuan||Wat||Kids Are Ruled By Dad|
|Brazil||Pedro II||Pracinha||Camp Brazilwood||Carnival|
|China||Wu Zetian||Chu-Ko-Nu||Produces Paper||The Tao of War|
|Japan||Nobunaga Oda||The Zeroth Samurai||Bushido|
|Greece||Alexander||Cavalry Companion, or Hoplite||Greek Association|
These cultures can’t even compare to S and A-Tiers on paper. However, when handled by a competent player, the gap begins to shrink.
These civilizations, regardless of their tier, can dominate the battlefield if given the proper conditions.
|Civilization||Leader||Separate Item||Special Structure||Special Capacity|
|Rome||Caesar Augustus||Ballista, Legion||Rome’s Shining Moments|
|Iroquois||Hiawatha||Combatant Mohawk||Longhouse||The Major Offensive|
|France||Napoleon||Musketeer, Foreign Legion||Chateau||City of Light, Ruled by the Ancients|
|Turkish Empire||Suleiman||Sipahi, Janissary||Pirates from Barbary|
|Inca||Pachacuti||Slinger||Terraced Farming||Route of the Andes|
|Indonesia||Mount Madai, or Gajah||Swordsman Kris||Candi||The Spice Islands|
|Sweden||Emperor Gustaf Adolf||Hakkapeliitta, Carolingian||Recognized with the Nobel Prize|
|Portugal||Maria I||Nau||Feitora||Arctic Ocean|
|Assyria||Ashurbanipal||Battle Tower||Palace Bookstore||The Nineveh Treasures|
|Russia||Catherine||Cossack||Krepost||The Wealth of Siberia|
When it comes to game strategies, these cultures don’t have much room to maneuver. Typically, they are only successful when following the specific path that is best for their culture.
|Civilization||Leader||Separate Item||Special Structure||Unique Abilities|
|America||Washington||B-17 Minuteman||The Concept of Manifest Destiny|
|Venice||Dandolo, Enrico||Mercato di Venezia, Grande Galleass||Serenissima|
|Spain||Isabella||Conquistador Tercio||Gold in Seven Places|
|Korea||Sejong||Hello, Turtle Ship Hwach’a||Students from the Jade Library|
|Mongolia||Khan Genghis||Khan Keshik||Mongol Shock|
|Morocco||Al-Mansur Ahmad||Berber Horsemen||Kasbah||African Gateway|
|Denmark||Bluetooth, Harald||Norwegian Ski Infantry Berserker||Angry Vikings||Angry Vikings|
Underdeveloped societies that can’t seem to succeed on any path to victory.
These civilizations excel on easier difficulties but falter on normal.
|Civilization||Leader||Special Case||Special Structure||Special Capacity|
|Germany||Bismarck, Otto||Panzer, Landsknecht||Hanse||Teutonic Uproar|
|Persia||Darius I||Immortal||Court of the Satrap||The Lasting Influence of the Achaemenids|
|India||Gandhi||Battle Elephant||Mughal Citadel||Rising Number of People|
|Netherlands||William I||beggar at sea||Polder||The Company of East India|
|Songhai||Askia||Cavalry of Mandekalu||The Mosque of the Mud-Pyramid||River’s Top Gun|
|Huns||Attila||Ramming Horse and Archery||God-hating scourge|
These are the worst cultures in the game. When there are more than two civilizations in a match, these are the ones that typically go down first.
|Civilization||Leader||Separate Item||Special Structure||Distinct Capability|
|Celts||Boudicca||Celtic Soldier||Ceremony Hall||Pagan Doctrine|
|Byzantine||Theodora||Dromon’s Cataphract||Constantinople Patriarchate|
|Carthage||Dido||Quinquereme Elephant of the African Forests||History of the Phoenicians||History of the Phoenicians|
|Ethiopia||Hezekiah Selassie||I. Mehal Sefari||Stele||Adwa’s Soul|
Civilization V: The 13 Best Civ 5 Leaders, Ranked
Songhai – Askia
The Mud Pyramid Mosque in Askia provides the same advantages as a temple, plus two culture points and zero maintenance costs. He can gain a significant policy advantage over rival civilizations in social matters by getting started on this early.
Since the release of Gods and Kings, Songhai’s rise to prominence has been meteoric. After conquering a city or encampment, his troops had three times as much gold as before, and they could even defend themselves at sea. All of his units were also automatically upgraded to Amphibious and War Canoes.
Greece – Alexander
Many players have grown weary of always seeing Alexander’s name at the top of the rankings. Although he no longer holds the number one spot, those with only the base game have the best option available, and with the help of the Hoplite and Companion Cavalry upgrades, they can easily achieve military victory.
Alexander’s bonus from the Hellenistic League doubles the normal bonus for gaining influence with City-States and halves the degradation rate. If you go to war with Alexander, you must also go to war with every other “neutral” state in the world.
Zulu – Shaka
Getting the first strike in during battle is always a plus. Shaka’s Impi take the place of the Pikemen, and they not only get the first strike but also an additional strike when fighting melee units.
Pre-gunpowder units can get a 15% experience boost from the Ikanda instead of the Barracks. This works well in tandem with the Impi and makes fighting Shaka in the middle game futile. Shaka’s special ability, Iklwa, cuts the required level of experience for promotions by a quarter. The Zulus are outranked, so even if they lose a battle, they still win the war.
Maya – Pacal
Many things work in favor of the Mayans. The Atlatist is a significant improvement over the Archer, and the best early semi-siege unit in the game. Players who win early wars have a much higher chance of winning the game than those who win late wars.
Not only that, but the shrines have been replaced by Pyramids, which have greatly boosted the cities. A free Great Person every 394 years ensures that Pacal remains a formidable foe no matter how many of its enemies survive to the end of the first era.
Huns – Attila
The Huns would likely become a top-five power if they had animals at their initial location. It’s probably best for their opponents to just give up if they have horses. Finished with it now.
Attila is a one-trick (pardon the pun) pony because he only uses his boosts to create his two special units and destroy cities with them. However, if you manage to maintain this lead through the middle of the game, it may be impossible for your opponent to catch up.
Poland – Casimir III
Similar to other cultures, this one got its start with the horse. The Winged Hussar special unit is a significant improvement over the Lancer that most countries are forced to use, and the Ducal Stable raises the standard stable to a higher level.
However, perhaps the most significant change is the universal availability of free social policy. There is a statistical advantage to having more social policies, and those players tend to win the game.
Persia – Darius I
Darius I can count on making lots of Immortals, giving him an advantage that lasts for more than just the era in which they are created, because this is one of the largest disparities in the game compared to the Spearman.
The Satrap’s Court and the Golden Ages of Persia increase raw currency, making them a terrifying opponent. If you have enough currency, you can buy your way out of any difficulty and even pull off a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
Korea – Sejong
Positional players will find a lot to like in Sejong. Both the Hwach’aa and the Turtle Ship are excellent for cutting down on enemy cities and forces by hitting and running.
The Great Person upgrades and the early science upgrades snowball out of control by the end of the game, making war Sejong’s secondary objective. A common Sejong citizen could fire off a victory rocket well before the turn of the century.
Inca – Pachacuti
Pachacuti chooses to reside in areas other leaders should avoid. The Incans incur no upkeep cost from the mountains and hills, and they even turn this potential drawback into an advantage by providing their workers with a special tile upgrade.
They are protected from invasion because most players will not want Pachacuti’s cities, and they can quickly crush any neutral city or enemy civilization that happens to be near an Incan mountain range by switching to the Slinger instead of the Archer.
Ethiopia – Haile Selassie
Until he actually pulls off the upset, Haile Selassie is considered an outsider. The best way for Selassie to succeed is to have only a small number of cities under his control, and then to destroy the cities of any civilizations that have more than him.
The Stele encourages him to put his energies into building, but after acquiring the Mehal Safari, you can also achieve military success. Because of this, Selassie has been a bit of a late bloomer, but he has everything he needs to thrive in the long run.
England – Elizabeth
It’s not a big deal that Elizabeth’s strengths don’t complement each other well. You can win her over by downplaying the strengths of other countries.
As long as Queen Elizabeth II maintains a fleet of battleships, no other nation will be able to defeat her in naval battle. With Longbowmen manning the fortifications, no foreign power can take her cities. Therefore, once the English navy appears in the middle to late game, they can do whatever they want and build wherever they want.
Egypt – Ramesses II
While some civilizations may have more impressive landmarks than others, the overall quality of these structures is fairly consistent across cultures. That means the only real benefit is the potential for miracles. Moreover, Ramesses II’s constructions are unparalleled.
The money you can make from the Burial Tomb will greatly increase your already impressive adaptability. With this advantage, you can win the game in any way you like by unlocking the wonders that lead to the ending you want.
Babylon – Nebuchadnezzar II
Nebuchadnezzar II seems to set his sights on scientific victory, but he typically crushes his opponents long before he gets there. There’s a Bowman for turtling, but his goal isn’t to acquire unique units as quickly as possible from the next era.
Because of Nebuchadnezzar II’s Great Scientist bonuses, no other civilization has a chance to catch up or even get a Great Scientist. Although sending a victory mission into space is possible, it would be more effective to simply stop playing with your prey and instead send machine gunners into their towns in the 12th century.
START SMALL & EASY
You should avoid the temptation to start your first games on a huge map by starting on a “small” or “tiny” map instead. These sizes have the benefit of reducing the amount of “grinding” involved in expanding and building, and they can also make for more interesting games, especially if you pack in as many as six to eight civilizations. In a similar vein, challenge. The fundamental Civ formula has been altered sufficiently in this game that even seasoned players will benefit from taking things slowly at first while they learn the ropes.
Expansion should be your primary goal right now. Real estate is the most valuable resource on a Civilization map. Your chances of possessing crucial strategic resources improve in proportion to the size of your territory and the number of cities under your control. Therefore, establish settlers early (with the occasional worker to construct roads between your cities) and, when instituting a social policy, begin with Tradition, as it provides extensive bonuses. Never stop growing until you’re making people unhappy and/or losing money.
That final bit about joy could stand on its own as an entire essay. Maintaining a content populace is crucial. Having dissatisfied citizens wasn’t a big deal in previous games, but in Civ V, it can be disastrous. Reduced production and income are the first signs of trouble, but if you let things get out of hand, rebels will appear and trash the place. Although it’s tempting to prioritize gold and production, especially for series veterans, I’ve found that happiness should come first because it’s the most difficult to maintain (trade routes simplify income).
Despite its superficial appearance, religion can be a potent diplomatic and cultural weapon, as well as a good source of happiness for one’s own people. To found a religion and begin its propagation as soon as possible after finishing your expansion, you should prioritize the construction of shrines and temples. You will be at a significant disadvantage if another religion conquers your Civ before you have a chance to establish your own.
Being the first to obtain navigation is, in my experience, the most beneficial to your long-term success, though it is difficult to identify a single dominant research path because it really depends on your play style. A huge advantage awaits the civilization that can set sail first, as they may discover uncharted continents (or at least strategically advantageous islands) where they can expand their empire by a factor of two.
FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED
It can be tempting to take a la carte measures when it comes to social policies. Don’t. Don’t leave a trail of unfinished branches. Picking up a single policy from each category may provide a slight boost on occasion, but completing an entire social policy subset is required for the best rewards.
Don’t discount the significance of the brave new world’s trading network. Construct four caravans or cargo ships if you have access to four trade routes. Make twelve if you have ’em. You can use this to advance your religion and your scientific knowledge (while making a ton of money, of course). You can amass thousands of gold in the game’s industrial and modern eras if you can keep the flow of trade gold going throughout most of the game.
GREASE THE PALMS
In the past, city-states were treated with a degree of tolerance at best. Certainly not any longer. Whether one is actively pursuing a diplomatic victory or just wants to screw other players over, the player who can ally themselves with the most city-states has a massive advantage now that they count as voters in the World Congress. Ignoring their requests and quests and hoarding your trade gold is the simplest method. Later in the game, when the World Congress becomes crucial, you can easily buy their votes.
Don’t merely construct roadways between your cities. Construct them closely to the areas where your troops will be assembled. Construct them along the shores of the ocean between continents from which an invasion might be launched. Connect the city-states in the area. Build them to your neighbors’ city limits if you have open-borders agreements with them. Why? Having roads in the midst of a war (and everywhere your units are kept, allowing them to deploy faster) is a huge help. Eventually you will go to war with them and conquer them.
The R.E.D. (Regiment & Ethnic Diversity) pack is one of the few essential additions I’ve made to an otherwise patchy game. Not only does it alter the size of many units (more, smaller troops, etc.), but it also, as its name suggests, makes them more varied depending on the civilization you play as or against. A Sherman tank will represent the United States, a T-34 tank will represent Russia, and so on.
The vast array of military units available in Civilization V is largely unnecessary. A mobile “turtle” combination of infantry (warriors, swordsmen, riflemen, etc.) and siege weapons (catapaults, cannons, etc.) provides the best mix whenever and wherever combat is taking place. Same goes for battles at sea. You can dominate the seas and gain a significant advantage in coastal battles by simply amassing a large fleet of frigates and battleships, which will serve you well for the majority of the game. Only in the modern era do you need to diversify significantly (with air support, anti-air weapons, and fancy airdrop infantry).
DON’T SPY (MUCH)
The temptation to use your espionage units to spy on other Civs is ever-present, but their job description need not necessitate that they actually do so. Unless there is one Civ that is far ahead of you, stealing technologies is a slow and dangerous process with limited utility. Buying votes for the World Congress is much more important than the occasional free technology, so it is usually better to divide your spies between rigging the elections of nearby city-states, helping to cement your hold over them, and employing them as diplomats.
BE COOL, MAN
The urge to be a conqueror and constantly invade your neighbors is always present. It makes sense, since doing so is enjoyable. However, it is not worthwhile if you are playing on a larger map with many Civs. You won’t want to be thought of as a monster by other civilizations if and when the modern eras arrive and you need their votes on a regular basis.
The game’s Civilizations offer so much variety and customization options to suit any player’s preferences that comparing them would be a waste of time. However, the English are my favorite. An additional spy can make a huge difference, and the Ships of the Line unit is simply a beast, while the 1 naval movement bonus is a huge help when exploring (especially when combined with other 1 movement perks like the Great Lighthouse).
Seriously. He is the worst there is.
The preliminary work is now complete. Despite the game’s complexity—especially after the expansions added spies, religion, and the World Congress—there is still enjoyment to be had in exploring and learning its intricacies.
Until then, though, I hope these high-level considerations prove useful.