Civilization V Combat: Strategy and Tactics

Civilization V Combat: Strategy and Tactics
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The Complete Civilization V Guide: Combat

Warfare has always been an important part of the Civilization franchise, yet in the combat mechanics used by past Civilization games have always been overly simplistic.

This resulted in the infamous “death stack” – a single stack of numerous military units that would be rushed across the map to crush enemies. Because there was no such thing as flanking bonuses and units could stack easily there was no reason not to merge your army into one big ball of doom.

Civilization V, however, is much different. Now only one unit can occupy a tile at any time. You can obtain things such as a flanking bonuses and terrain is even more important. Hammer production (used to build units) is more heavily restricted compared to past Civilization games, as well, which means you’ll have a harder time massing huge armies.

Let’s take a look at the mechanics of combat in Civilization V so that you can lay waste to all who stand before you.

One Unit Per Tile

Civilization V has converted to a hex-based tile system and now only allows one unit to stack on a tile per turn. Actually, there are some exceptions to this – you can stack a settler with a warrior, for example – but two military units, allied or not, can’t occupy the same space.

This means that territory control is important in Civilization V. Let’s say, for example, that you civilization and an opposing civilization are separated by a mountain chokepoint that offers only three tiles through which units can move. If you place a unit on each tile you’ll be able to hold off the enemy until they bust through. At the same time, however, you can’t easily move your army towards the enemy without re-arranging your defenses.

Many units in Civilization V, as with all the Civilization games, are melee units (this includes units like modern Infantry). These units can only attack an opponent by moving into the opposing unit’s tile. As a result there is sometimes limited utility in having overwhelming force. In Civ 4 the death stack was overpowering because you could stack ten units and attack with each unit in one round. You can’t do that now. If you have ten units moving along together in an army some of the units will have to wait to enter combat. This means it is often preferable to limit the size of your forces into three or four units. If you have more units you can use them to invade a different location.

Keep Your Guys Alive!

Civilization V War

Because units are more valuable in Civilization V is more important than ever before to keep them alive. A veteran unit can be upgraded multiple times and become far more effective than one that has not seen combat before.

Keeping your units alive requires careful planning when you make an attack. Let’s say a city that you’d like to attack is surrounded by three tiles of plains on the near side and three tiles of hills on the far side. You could attack the near side, but your units will be more vulnerable. You’d often be better off if you maneuver to the far side and attack from the hills. This will give you defensive bonuses if the opponent makes a counter attack, which in turn makes it more likely that your units will survive.

Remember – dead units are wasted experience. Your veteran units are very powerful but also can’t be lost lightly.


Learning the combat system in Civilization V may take some time, and is will likely be the biggest speedbump for players who are familiar with previous Civilization titles. With this said, however, combat is more important than ever before. You’ll have to learn to outwit your opponents because the AI will almost always outnumber you when you play on the higher difficulty levels.

This post is part of the series: The Complete Civilization 5 Guide

Are you a new player to Civilization 5 looking to learn the game? Or a veteran of Civilization 4 looking for some tips about what is new and different? This guide will help you become familiar with the mechanics of Civilization 5.

  1. The Complete Civilization 5 Strategy Guide: An Intro for New Players
  2. The Complete Civilization 5 Guide: Advanced City Building
  3. The Complete Civilization 5 Strategy Guide: Combat Basics
  4. The Complete Civilization 5 Strategy Guide: Culture
  5. Complete Civilization 5 Strategy Guide: Research