The launch of Civilization 6 is finally here, and if you're like me, you're probably trying to figure out how to cheese your way to victory at your weekend Civ 6 launch LAN party.
After playing my pre-release copy of Civ 6 for exactly 10 billion hours, I'm pretty confident that this ranking of the best Civs in the game is as unimpeachable as any great despot.
Here are the Civs you should be picking first — and the one Civ you need to avoid.
The most powerful Civs in Civ 6, ranked by their ability to win you the game
Before I played the game, I thought the Harbor was going to be game-changing for players who aspired to do battle on the open water. Giving non-coastal cities the ability to build a fleet seemed incredible, allowing players to stay versatile in choosing where to settle a city.
And then I actually played Civ 6, and I realized that versatility comes at much too high a price: If you don't have to build coastal cities to create a navy, there's little-to-no incentive to build coastal cities at all. This means navies will have a hard time finding any cities to siege.
In other words, while it's easier to build ships than ever before, those ships will have just about nothing to do on most maps.
And a Civ like Norway, whose entire focus is on maritime domination, just can't cut it — especially with a unique land unit as terrible as the Berserker.
If you were confused by the idea of a Domination-focused Civ that gets its unique unit immediately when you first saw Gilgamesh's unveiling, you're not alone.
The other piece of that puzzle? Founded cities can't attack until they build walls. They also all have open borders until you research a Civic that closes your borders to everyone.
In other words, in early game, every single city is a huge target for immediate annihilation. And nobody does the job better than Gilgamesh.
If you choose to switch to a more peaceful path later in the game, your Ziggurat will help out with any science you may have lost while building war units instead of augmenting your Campus districts. Your discount to levying City-States' military units also gives you a mercenary army on the cheap.
But this Civ will really shine as an ally in single-player mode or as an NPC. Think of them less like a Civ to choose for yourself and more like the most sophisticated City-State in the game.
And even though I'm ranking them one right after the other, the quality gap between Norway and Sumeria is immense. While ultimately unspectacular, Sumeria is much, much better than Norway. I cannot state that enough.
In a lot of ways, Kongo is sort of the Venice of Civilization 6. What boosts Venice got to its gold-generation, Kongo gets to its ability to generate production and food from specific great works.
That means that Kongo wants to pursue a Cultural Victory over its enemies. It also means that Kongo is locked into pursuing a Cultural Victory over its enemies. And by the end of the game, especially if other cultural Civs are in play, it just doesn't have the means to wage the necessary wars to snatch wonders and great works. Kongo's unique district, the Mbanza, will help you house all the wonderful citizens to aid with science victories as well.
That said, Kongo's inability to found a religion means that an entire victory type is completely precluded for Mvemba a Nzinga. In a game where just about every other Civ stays versatile, an inherent penalty like this is pretty unacceptable.
Rome is the most boring Civilization in the game by a mile, but bonuses like free roads and columns are nothing to sneeze at. Still, Rome's versatility comes from its abject flavorlessness. Trajan is a true master-of-none, no matter how many columns he builds.
The Aztecs having advantages toward how their amenities are distributed means you'll be able to build cities in places where nobody can build anything. The ability to speed up production of districts with your Builders (which, by the way, you'll have in large supply thanks to your Eagle Warrior!) means you can get infrastructure going faster than practically every other Civ in the game. However, in my humble and good opinion, its advantages come far too early in the game. When you're scrambling to figure out your victory type by mid-to-late game, you won't have any sexy advantages.
Still, the ability to build a city just about anywhere thanks to your luxury efficiency makes the Aztecs a rock-solid choice.
Whereas Trajan was a master-of-none, Hojo Tokimune is a true jack-of-all-trades. The extra district adjacency bonuses force you to think very, very strategically about how you're planning the layout of your city. That'll give you a crash course in the most groundbreaking change between Civ 5 and Civ 6: the unpacked city, where every district and world wonder requires you to devote a tile to its production.
That said, those bonuses won't amount to much for the more casual player. Combat bonuses for coastal battle are unspectacular, but the Electronics Factory, which distributes its production bonus to nearby cities and eventually yields a huge cultural advantage, is nothing to write off for a Civ that wants to build compact cities as close to one another as possible.
In short, Japan has a lot to offer — but almost nothing to excite.
They're not as powerful as America when it comes to the dual focus on culture and war, but they're a lot more fun. The extra slots for archaeology mean that bee-lining Terracotta Army is as imperative to your success as Chichen Itza was for Brazil and Persia in Civ 5. Still, the Royal Navy Dockyard and Sea Dog are something of a waste for a city that, frankly, wants to defend its capital. The Redcoat is an awesome unit for helping you seize cities that control wonders you want — as long as they're on another continent.
Gold isn't the resource it used to be (especially if you have strong faith generation and you dip into Theocracy), but Cleopatra's Egypt holds its own all thanks to its unique unit and its ability to streamline wonders it builds on rivers.
However, because rivers are so overpowered in this game due to the new Housing mechanic, finding the means to build cities along those banks are going to be few and far between — especially if people start Settler-spamming.
Egypt's unique unit, the Maryanu Chariot Archer, is as overpowered as it's ever been.
Conquistadors are tremendous. Link them with Missionaries for a huge power spike and conquer cities with different religions from yours for even more combat power. The ability to convert your conquest immediately means that both Religious and Domination Victories are at your fingertips.
That said, the Mission is a truly unspectacular tile improvement.
While I don't love narrow Civilizations for Civ 6, India's ability to generate more Faith than practically any other Civ in the game means that they're also in a good spot to pursue war come Theocracy, the government type that allows you to purchase military units with all that extra faith.
Just remember that any wars you may siege will hamper your bonus Faith production, which only comes at peace time.
The Top 10 Civilizations in Civ VI
There is no Civ in Civ 6 more fun than France. Full stop.
Catherine de Medici's ladies-in-waiting give you crucial information on every Civ you meet at the end of just about every turn. Want to know if Scythia founded a new city? Is China working on yet another wonder? You'll know before anybody else.
This gives you a vital opportunity to trade in information during multiplayer. You'll know everything before anybody else, and you can give that information to your strategic allies — for a price.
While the Tourism bonus is immense, boosts to production for every mid-game wonder means that just about every victory type is open to you — not just Cultural. The Garde Impériale's combat bonus at home and extra Great General generation points will all but ensure that everybody who comes to visit Paris is there for all the sights along the Seine.
Brazil is as good as Kongo at building high-population cities in the rainforest. However, he's far more versatile than Kongo thanks to his ability to spam Great People, which can be used to bring Brazil toward any victory type.
Its only drawback is an unspectacular naval unit that won't help you defend your Street Carnivals from those who came to Brazil for more unsavory pursuits.
Gorgo big or Gorgo home, am I right?
(I'm wrong — sorry.)
That extra Wildcard policy spot is to die for. Too bad that warmongering is punished harder than ever, and that leaving a barbarian camp up to spam the cultural bonus from killing units is riskier than ever.
Still, the ability to have an extra law in her nation means that Gorgo can pursue just about any victory type. Unfortunately, those Hoplites obsolesce far too quickly, and if you haven't accomplished what you need to in the Ancient and Classical Eras, claiming victory may be tricky.
Pericles — you perfect, peaceful orator, you. Again, that extra Wildcard policy spot Greece gets is to die for. And once this Civ gets going, it's pretty unstoppable.
Its Achilles heel? Kill its City-State allies in the late game and they've got nothing special. Ask for Germany's assistance in that department if need be.
The Rough Rider is one of the best unique units in the game, and its culture-on-kills means Roosevelt does Gorgo after Gorgo can't really do Gorgo anymore.
Huge boosts to your tourism thanks to Film Studios and national park bonuses mean that America is a terrific late game Civ — as long as you and Teddy make it that far.
The Top 5 Civilizations in Civ 6
This didn't really come through in the Arabia preview, but this Civ's ability to churn out Science is remarkable. The fact that it's guaranteed a Religion means you can either use those bonuses to ramp your way up towards a Science victory, or you're guaranteed the ability to be able to pursue a Religious Victory.
The extra charge for the Builder. The boost to early game wonder production (that pretty much guarantees you can build the Pyramids and supercharge that Builder). A unique defensive tile improvement in the Great Wall that gives you gold and culture. This is the absolute best Civ in the game for turtling.
Scythia's ability to produce two light cavalry units every time it builds one — including its unique unit, a mounted archer that doesn't require horses to build — is utterly outrageous for any Civ that wants to pursue domination victories. If you see Scythia spawn next to you, bolster your defenses or say your prayers. Losing your capital is all but assured.
Keep on pushing toward a Domination Victory, or conquer key cities and build towards a more peaceful Victory type; the choice is yours.
That extra district regardless of population size may not seem like much, but it affords you a versatility to pursue any Victory type that no other Civ in the game can boast. Thinking about science? Have all your cities build a free campus. A mind for the arts? Build Theater Districts till your heart's content. If zealotry's more your speed, construct a Holy Site and spam Apostles like there's no tomorrow.
An extra military policy slot adds insult to injury for all who dare oppose you — use it to play a strong offense if you're pursuing a Domination Victory, or fortify your capital with defensive civics that shore up your defenses.
The Best Civilization in Civ 6, without further ado...
Words cannot describe how good this Civ is, but I'll try anyway: In a game where cities are unpacked from their center, a Civ that gets all those extra tiles when it founds a city is seriously overpowered. Getting huge bonuses from all those tundra tiles means there's nowhere Russia won't want to settle — and it means miles and miles of open snow to pursue without angering anyone.
But it's the Cossack that makes an excellent Civ even better. Not only are they stronger than the Cavalry unites they replace, their ability to move after they attack means that nobody can mess with you in the mid-to-late game.
Don't be fooled: This Civ can pursue any victory type. The fact that they get so many tiles to work with means you have ample space to place whatever wonders and tile improvements you like.
It also means you'll want to bee-line Hanging Gardens for the boosts to citizen growth. Being able to work every single tile you own — and thanks to your unique ability and the Lavra, you'll own too many to count — means you'll have the most powerful cities in the game after you get access to Neighborhoods.
We hope this helped you build a civilization that can stand the test of time. Go forth and conquer — or just get everyone wearing your blue jeans. The choice is yours.