The Best Civilizations in Civilization V

By Marcello Perricone 09 Apr 2018 4

A classic by any measure, Civilization V allows you to guide your nation from inception to world domination in any way you see fit. Providing one of the broadest list of victory conditions in any strategy game, Civ V can be slightly challenging when trying new things.

Civilizations in Civ V are slightly more niche than its sequel's, creating a clear focus that allows specific nations to achieve victory more easily. As such, this guide is slightly different than the one we did on Civ VI. Here, our focus is less on victory conditions and more on specific types of gameplay.

In order to help our readers get better at the game and figure out the best way to achieve their goals and desired play styles, we built this neat little guide that singles out the best nations for each type of gameplay. That will hopefully make your game better and allow you to have much more fun with it. Check it out!

Best Money Civilzations

Civilization was never a very capitalist franchise. In-game, money has a lot less uses than one would expect, what with it being the bloodflow of every major culture in a way or another since humans started gathering in groups. In Civ V, gold likewise has less impact than production or culture. Money itself is not a victory condition, either, but all of them can benefit from a steady income of gold so big that dwarfs that of rivals'; a prosperous money civilisation like Veneza can completely dominate other civs in the mid-to-late game if properly set-up. 

Ahmad al Mansur Civ5
Summary: Active, Trade Route Management, Difficult
Faction Ability: Gateway to Africa: Receives +3 Gold and +1 Culture for each Trade Route with a different civ or City-State. The Trade Route owners receive +2 Gold for each Trade Route sent to Morocco.

For those willing to constantly adjust their strategy and routes to the ever changing political geography of a Civ game, Morocco is one of the best nations to quickly accrue money.

The extra gold and culture for trades with City-States means Morocco must mantain their trade partners around, preventing them from being destroyed or captured, while the extra bonus for civs engaging in commerce with your faction gives them a reason to favour you over any other nation. These characteristics combined make Morocco a prosperous but demanding civilisation to play. 

Enrico Dandolo Civ5
 Passive Trading, Centralised, Unique Mechanics 
Faction Ability: 
Serenissima: Cannot gain settlers nor annex cities. Double the normal number of trade routes available. A Merchant of Venice appears after researching Optics. May purchase in puppeted cities.

Ah, Veneza; La Serenissima. One of the most glorious and beautiful cities in the world, Venice was a powerhouse during the Renaissance, where it almost controlled the globe through it's fleet and commerce. In Civilization V, Venice is undoubtedly the best trade nation in the whole game.

Unable to found or annex cities, Veneza can only expand by purchasing other cities with gold. This creates a truly unique playstyle within Civ V, focused solely on one city and centralising all the power in the game. This capital focus and concentrated output means Venice can be much more advanced and prosperous than other civilisations with a rather low expenditure, and the double amount of trade routes available makes it economically unmatched.

Best Naval Civilizations

The sea is a harsh mistress, but damn, do I love it. Naval warfare is always a nice way to change the pace of a Civ game, and some factions are of course better suited to it than others. Obviously, only attempt the following in a map full of water -- you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of a desert with Queen Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth Civ5
Active, Naval Domination, Map Control (Sea)
Faction Ability:
 Sun Never Sets: +2 Movement for all naval units. Receives 1 extra Spy.

England’s special ability allows its naval units to move faster and further than all other civilisations in the game, granting a significant advantage to naval dominance and map control. Its unique unit, the Ship of the Line, is a tremendously powerful frigate capable of single-handedly destroying any contemporary unit it is faced against, on water or land, and even holds it’s own well into the Industrial era. Through careful positioning and active engagement of your forces, England’s navy is more suited to dominate the seven seas than any other faction. 

Suleiman Civ5
Summary: Passive, Large Cheap Fleets, Capturing
Faction Ability:  Barbary Corsairs: All melee naval units have the Prize Ships promotion, allowing them to capture defeated ships. Pay only one-third the usual cost for naval unit maintenance.

Ottomans are capable of maintaining large fleet sizes while keeping their economy afloat, and the Prize Ships promotion literally turns every enemy’s loss into an Ottoman gain. With low maintenance costs and the ability to capture defeated ships, the Ottomans can assemble a frightening large force is a frightening short time.

Best Science Civilizations

Science victories are a staple of the Civ series, always leading to the space race meant to expand civilisation to the stars. Civ V has a myriad of ways of accruing science progress, and the best civs for that are:

Sejong Civ 5

Civilization: Korea
Active, Capital Buildings & Wonders, Output
Faction Ability: 
Scholars of the Jade Hall: +2 Science for all specialists and Great Person tile improvements. Receive a tech boost each time a scientific building/Wonder is built in the Korean capital.

Korea can output nearly twice as much science as rival civilisations, making it the first choice when pursuing a science victory or quick technological advancements. It's extra bonus when constructing Wonders in the Korean capital means that those already extremely important buildings have an extra attractiveness to Korea, and if properly pursued, can turn this nation into a major powerhouse.

Nebuchadanezzar II Civ5

Civilization: Babylon
Passive, Great Scientist Generation
Faction Ability:  Ingenuity: Receive free Great Scientist when you discover Writing. Earn Great Scientists 50% faster.

Babylon’s first Great Scientist allows players to build an academy quite earlier than normal, quickly jump starting the civilisation’s science output. The passive bonus to generation of new Great Scientists means Babylon can easily put up distance between themselves and less advanced civilisations, utterly dominating the technological tree.

Best Military Civilizations

The classic bellic victory, Domination sees you conquering the world by strength of arms over your less fortunate civilizations. In Civ V, you luckily don’t need to conquer an entire civilisation; you just need to control all of the original capitals to score the victory. As military might walks alongside a healthy economy and scientific progress, you must also pay attention to those instead of just spamming military units, and these are best civilisations to achieve a domination victory.

Washington Civ5

Civilization: America
Summary: Active, Line of Sight, Siege Warfare (Late Game), Rapid Expansion (Tiles)
Faction Ability: 
Manifest Destiny: All land military units have +1 Sight. 50% discount when purchasing tiles.

Walking softly and carrying a big stick, the ol' US of A is primed for rapid expansion and powerful military strikes. The extra range of sight allows America to gather intel faster than its enemies and see attacks coming from a greater distance, while it's B17 bomber deals 33% extra damage to cities, guaranteeing America's superiority in sieges and swiftly dealing with something that is usually a pretty protracted and risky affair.

Oda Nobunaga Civ 5

Civilization: Japan
Damage Mitigation, Tactical Superiority, Passive Ability
Faction Ability: Bushido: Units fight as though they were at full strength even when damaged. +1 Culture from each Fishing Boat and +2 Culture from atolls.

Ironically and weirdly metaphorical, Japan is the opposite of America in the military tree. It's main ability makes sure units that are damaged still pack the punch of a fully cohesive squad, making Japan a worthy opponent even in defeat. Honoring the ancient honour code of Bushido, Japanese military units can turn a defeat into a victory, making it a great option for military-inclined players.

Best Culture Civilizations

Cultural victories can be challenging, as you won’t win until the number of tourists visiting your country is equal to the number of domestic tourists from all other civilizations combined. In order to achieve that, you need loads of great people -- especially artists -- along with buildings, districts, and wonders that can house their works (sculpture, relics, and artifacts being the most valuable). Make sure to trade with other civs to spread your culture, pick culture-boosting policies, and always keep an eye on your opponents’ progress when you are pursuing a Culture victory.

Montezuma Civ5

Civilization: Aztec
Summary: Active, Killing Units, Aggressive,   
Faction Ability: Sacrificial Captives: Gains Culture for the empire from each enemy unit killed.

Spreading culture through murder, Montezuma and his ilk can accrue a huge amount of culture if they constantly wage war against everything that comes across their path. Given the prevalence of barbarians and humanity's penchant for war, the Aztecs can quickly gather huge amounts of culture for policies and even cultural victories, making it a non-obvious but highly qualified option for cultural playthroughs.

Napoleon Civ5

Civilization: France
Passive, Wonder Building, Museums, Capital Focus
Faction Ability: 
City of Light: Museum and World Wonder theme bonuses are doubled in their Capital.

Bagels and mimes are examples of French culture, just like wine and cheese. However, another important part of French culture is its art, represented by the Louvre and other art galleries strewed across Paris. As such, France's bonus in Civilization V gives it double the culture from Museums and World Wonders than other civs, giving it a permanent and sizable lead over its rivals. If properly maintained and developed, France can easily achieve a cultural victory... as long as it doesn't surrender before that.

Best Religion Civilizations

Religion is not a bonafide victory condition in Civ V; instead, it factors in as a means of spreading influence to reach a culture victory. Still, religion is quite darn powerful, and here are some ways to make that gameplay attractive.

Theodora Civ5

Civilization: Byzantine
Active, Early Boost, Pantheon Founding, Targeted Investment in Religion
Faction Ability:  Patriarchate of Constantinople: Choose one more Belief than normal when you found a Religion.

Byzantine gets an extra belief when founding a religion, making it extremely important that Byzantines choose a pantheon, and choose it fast. Once that's done, they must start investing in inquisitors and prophets in order to spread their religion to all corners of the world, while reaping the benefits of their faith. Don't let up, and Byzantine's choice of religion can take over the world.

Harun al Rashid Civ6

Civilization: Arabia
Passive, Trade Routes & Caravans, Enhanced Religion Spread
Faction Ability: Ships of the Desert: Caravans gain 50% extended range. Your trade routes spread the home city's religion twice as effectively. Oil resources are doubled.

Arabia has a more sneaky approach, continuously spreading its religion via trade routes twice as effectively than normal. This harassing method of religious expansion can quickly convert whole cities into Arabia's choice of religion, making it a good choice for players who want a simple, passive method of conquering the world with faith.

Best Speciality Civilizations

Dido Civ5
Active, Mountain Tiles, Situational
Faction Ability: 
Phoenician Heritage: All coastal Cities get a free Harbor. Units may cross mountains after the first Great General is earned, taking 50 HP damage if they end a turn on a mountain.

Hannibal ad portas, said the Romans, and they were right. Hannibal Barca, one of the greatest military commanders in History, led his Carthaginian Army across the Pyrenees and Alps during the Second Punic War in order to invade Italia, a feat previously unaccomplished. In Civ V, that special ability translates to military units after the first Great General is earned, and Carthage is the only nation in the whole game capable of crossing mountain tiles. While highly useful, it is also situationa: it only becomes relevant in maps full of mountain tiles.

Pachacuti Civ5
Speciality: Movement
Movement Bonus, Hilly Terrain, Tactical Superiority
Faction Ability:  Great Andean Road: Units ignore terrain costs when moving into any tile with Hills. No maintenance costs for improvements in Hills; half cost elsewhere.

Given the overall proclivity for hills, Incan's passive bonus of not being hindered by them when moving is a major help. Since their whole civilisation is historically built in the hills and plateaus of Peru and Chile, the game's version of the Incas rightfully reflects that boost by allowing all of their units to move across hills as if they were normal terrain, greatly expanding movement and tactical options that enable them to both attack effectively and defend efficiently while other civs struggles with the literal ups and downs.

Augustus Caesar Civ5
Expansion (Production)
Active, Capital Focus, Production Boost via Buildings
Faction Ability: 
The Glory of Rome: +25% Production towards any buildings that already exist in the Capital.

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and that includes everything in the world, ever. If you want to expand into an ungodly amount of cities and have them all add something meaningful to your Empire, Rome's your go-to civilisation. As long as the City of Rome has a specific building, all other cities can built it in a fraction of the original time. This creates a lot of self-sufficient respectable cities in a game where anything but the capital is usually crappy, and it can quickly snowball into a massive advantage.

Pocatello Civ5

Civilization: Shoshone
Defensive, Map Control, City Expansion
Faction Ability: Great Expanse: Founded cities start with additional territory. Units receive a combat bonus when fighting within their own territory.

Passive expansion focused on territory and defense, the Shoshone get an extra tile area around their founded cities and get a bonus for the defending them. Extra territory means quicker expansion, which means more resources and geographical control, which means all the land is now yours. Yey. Just watch out for the Americans when revolvers start being invented.

Ramesses II Civ5

Civilization: Egypt
Speciality: Wonders
Summary: Wonders, Production Boost
Faction Ability: Monument Builders: +20% Production towards Wonder construction

Self explanatory, really. The Egyptians were master builders, being good to the point that people still think their work is magic and not science. Aside from the Pyramids and the Sphinx, they are responsible for the invention of obelisks, huge stone statues, tombs, and many other nice feats of engineering -- even the fabled Pharos of Alexandria was built in Egypt (in a harbour city called Alexandria). As a reflection of that, Egyptians in Civ V are 20% faster when building wonders, making for a very competitive civilisation capable of snatching almost every wonder in the game if they so choose.

Catherine Civ5

Civilization: Russia
Production Boost, Strategic Resources, Specialised Units
Faction Ability: 
Siberian Riches: Strategic Resources provide +1 Production, and Horse, Iron and Uranium Resources provide double quantity

The best units in Civ V require strategic resources; cavalry needs horses, knights need iron, and nuclear stuff need Uranium. Russia, as a huge country the size of a continent, has that (and crazy communism) by the ton, making it a very resourceful nation. In the game, their bonus gives you an increased production for every resource, while doubling the amount of said strategic items, creating a very good civilisation for those wishing to have loads of specialised units -- or less realistically, engaging in trade.

What do you think? Did this help you find the civ you were looking for? Do you have any suggestion of nations we did not list here? Let us know in the comments below!



Log in to join the discussion.

Related Posts from Strategy Gamer