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How to Win Civilization 5

by: Simon Hill ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 3/13/2013
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How do you guide your chosen civilization to ultimate victory? Find out how to win in Civilization 5 with this guide which will provide you with a winning strategy to suit each of the victory conditions.

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    Editor's Note: This article was originally written in 2010 and has not been updated since its original publication.

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    Civilization 5 Victories

    Civ 5 Box   Guiding your chosen people from basic beginnings as a small group of settlers through to world domination is a major challenge. Civilization V is rich in possible strategies and there are many viable paths to success. In this Civilization V victory guide we take a look at all of the victory conditions and explain how to achieve them. Every game plays out differently, and you have the option to pursue various paths to glory, and this is part of what gives Civ 5 such amazing replay value. For an overview of the game check out our Civ 5 Review.

    There are basically five different victory conditions which can lead you to a win in Civilization V.

    • High Score
    • Diplomatic
    • Scientific
    • Domination
    • Cultural
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    Winning on Points

    We are going to kick off with the high score victory which comes about when the game reaches the year 2050 AD and no one has managed to achieve any of the other Civ 5 victory conditions. The civilization with the biggest score wins the game. You’ll find Civilization 5 tips and tricks to help you win on points and in the next four articles we’ll focus on the other specific victory conditions. This is probably the most general guide of the bunch and as such these Civilization 5 tactics should serve you well whatever you intend to do.

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    Early Expansion and Exploration

    Civ 5 Ruins   In the early part of the game you need to expand as fast as possible and it also pays to explore and reveal as much of the map as you can. You’ll need to wait for your first city to grow before you can get a settler out so build a scout and send your military unit off for a look. It’s a calculated risk to leave your capital undefended in the first few turns and it’s actually a lot less of a risk in Civilization 5 because your city can defend itself by default and enemies can’t just walk straight in and claim it.

    In terms of exploration you’re looking for good city spots with plenty of resources and also trying to find ruins which can give you things like cash rewards, military upgrades, and map information. Watch out for barbarian villages and steer clear of them unless they are empty.

    You can take different approaches to expansion but quite a nice Civ 5 strategy that seems to work well is to build a settler in each new city. Once you have a settler out of your capital it should focus on growing because it will be the powerhouse of your civilization. The settler should build a new city, spend the few turns while it is growing building a scout or military unit and then get a new settler as soon as possible. If you continue to do this your civilization will grow at a fairly decent rate.

    In order to avoid disaster make sure you escort settlers with a military unit because if you leave them defenceless you run the risk of losing them. Any major loss in the early part of the game can be enough to destroy your chances of victory, for example if you lost the first settler you built you might as well start the game again.

    Try to make sure you explore all around your capital because shooting off to the south and then later discovering there was an awesome spot just north of your capital can be disastrous. You also want to suss out where your opponents are. You can be sure they will expand so if there is a valuable resource you want between your civilizations then snatch it as quickly as you can.

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    How to Avoid Getting Attacked

    One of the keys to winning Civilization V is to avoid getting attacked. You will likely fight wars no matter what victory condition you are chasing but you want to fight them on your terms when you are prepared. There are certain things which will encourage opponents to attack you and it is worth being aware of them.

    If you don’t build a reasonably strong military they’ll perceive you as weak and take it as an invite to steamroller you. You don’t need loads of units but make sure the force you do have is up to date. When you develop new military advances upgrade your existing units as soon as you can. Concentrate your forces near the border and if you see enemy troops building up it is safe to assume they are thinking about attacking so get prepared.

    Civ 5 Battle   If you are completely isolated and don’t trade with other civilizations then they are more likely to attack you. Make deals to exchange resources. Even if they don’t have anything you want it can still be worthwhile trading your excess resources for cash or even just goodwill. If that civilization goes to war with you they will lose the resource you are trading so it can be a powerful deterrent.

    Sadly if you become too successful, build too many Wonders or get too far advanced in terms of scientific knowledge the others are liable to view you as a threat that has to be ganged up on. This is tough to avoid when the game goes well and you’ll need a mixture of trade and a strong military to prevent invasion.

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    Offense is the best Defense

    If war is unavoidable then immediately switch to military production. Fighting a defensive war is costly and it will hamper your development. You don’t want to fight a war on your own territory. The best thing to do is to launch an attack on one of their cities as quickly as possible. The fastest way to end a war is to take one of their cities. If you sit back and defend then they will have little incentive to stop attacking you.

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    Securing Resources

    Civ 5 Thebes   In order to thrive in Civ 5 you need access to a wide range of resources. Luxuries will massively boost your population’s happiness (which we’ll discuss in more detail in the next section). You’ll also need basic resources like horses, iron and later on oil. Unfortunately many of these vital resources only appear on the map when you develop the right technology. Make sure you secure as many resources as you can when you build your first few cities and when later resources appear grab them quick.

    It is worth remembering that just because you build a city in the vicinity of a resource that doesn’t mean you will get it. Civ 5 features a system whereby outlying tiles can be bought by the city. If you have a resource you want on the border then buy that tile as soon as you can afford it. If you don’t then you run the risk of an opponent building really close in order to steal it from you.

    There will inevitably be resources that you can’t secure directly by city building and so you’ll have to trade for them. For that reason it is worth securing as much as you can of each resource, remember to retain one for yourself and only trade your excess. Becoming allies with city states will result in them supplying you with any resources they have and it’s easier than maintaining good relations with some of the other civilizations, although you will need to attempt this as well.

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    Staying Happy

    The importance of having a happy population is not to be underestimated. If your people become unhappy in Civ 5 then you’re going to end up with low production, dwindling cash and you’ll be unable to expand your empire. Make sure you construct buildings which increase happiness in all your cities, secure as many luxuries as you can and if your happiness rating is low target social policies and wonders that contribute to happiness in order to boost it.

    Another major factor that can damage happiness is conquest. If you take a city from another civilization it will have a big impact and you’ll need to construct several buildings to settle the population down. It is often better to use the puppet option to reduce the impact on happiness when you take a city (you can always annex it later when your happiness is higher).

    Maintaining a high level of happiness will trigger more Golden Ages for your civilization and you’ll get bonuses (these vary depending on the civilization you choose).

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    Cash Flow

    Civ 5 Academy   A good supply of money is vital to grease the wheels as your civilization rolls onward. If your cash flow dwindles then so will your progress. Be careful about how many units, improvements and buildings you are constructing – they all have an associated cost. A large military, huge rail network and theatres in every city have to be counterbalanced by trading your excess resources, constructing economic buildings like markets and banks, and improving the right tiles with your workers.

    On that note be careful that you improve tiles that are actually occupied (you can check this in the city screen). It is a waste of time and money to improve unused tiles. You should also avoid building road or rail on every tile, just link cities directly. You’ll want plenty of workers to start with but as the land is increasingly improved you can afford to disband some of them. There’s no point having a big gang of workers if there isn’t enough for them to do.

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    Just because you aren’t aiming to get a scientific victory doesn’t mean you can scrimp on research. It is dangerous to fall behind in terms of technological advancement. Make sure you build some libraries and universities and take advantage of the research pact agreements you can sign with other civilizations. If a bordering nation gets military tech you don’t have then you better make sure you catch up quick!

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    City States

    It is well worth gaining City States as allies for pretty much any victory condition. They offer all sorts of bonuses and for some civilizations these can be massive. You can get food, troops, cultural bonuses and resources from City States. You can also boost this strategy by pursuing the Patronage line in Social Policies.

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    High Score

    Civ 5 Points Victory   Be careful when the year 2050 AD is approaching and make sure that no other civilization has a higher score than you. You can check the scores on your diplomacy screen. If they do then you better launch an attack to try and overtake them. You’ll also have to watch out for anyone hitting the target for one of the other victory conditions and snatching a win before the deadline. Do what you can to hamper the win and gain a high score victory.

    Now we’ll move on to the other Civilization 5 victory conditions and offer up more Civ 5 tips and tricks to get that all important win.

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Civilization V: Guide to Victory

This guide will show you how to win Civilization 5. We explain the best approach for each victory condition and suggest strategies that will pay off. You'll find the best civilizations, wonders, buildings, policies and general strategies for any kind of Civ 5 victory here.
  1. How to Win Civilization 5
  2. Civilization V Cultural Victory Guide
  3. Civilization V Diplomatic Victory Guide
  4. Civilization V Scientific Victory Guide
  5. Civilization V Domination Victory Guide