Sid Meier's Civilization V: How to Build a Wide Empire

Introduction: Sid Meier's Civilization V: How to Build a Wide Empire

Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate.

These four things are the four "X"s of a 4X strategy game, which Civilization V is considered to be. If your only choice was to play either a wide, sprawling empire, or a tall, small, highly populous one, which would make these four "X"s easier? Although occasionally tall has its necessity and merit, the answer is, far more often than not, wide. This is backwards compared to the view of many players, who see tall as the-name-of-the-game.

Settling an additional city increases your science costs by 5% per city, and increases your social policy costs as well. However, these increases are more than overcome when you can grow those settlements to yield more than 5% of your science yield, and more. In turn you also increase your production, yielding more hammers to produce units with, and in turn an impossibly large army. Should the land be numerous and bountiful, there is no reason not to play wide.

The following is a simple instruction set on how to set up a prosperous wide empire, with the following notes:

  • It is assumed the reader is familiar with Civilization 5 and both expansions (Gods and Kings + Brave New World).
  • The only mod used in screenshots is the Enhanced User Interface (EUI) mod (strongly recommended, installed as DLC).

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Step 1: Establishing Your Capital

While it does not need to be quite the super-city of a tall empire, the importance of the capital is just as great. Imagine instead of a city, you are building a city factory. The capital is no longer a city, but instead a settler factory.

1. Settling Down

Choosing where to settle is the biggest decision made the entire game. When settling, prioritize the following:

On top of: hill, luxury resources, high yield resources, river, coast, mountain

Nearby: resources, resources, resources

When settling a city, the city tile yields 2 food and 1 production (0 gold, 0 culture, etc.). If the base yield of that tile is higher in any category, the city tile's yield is replaced with that. For example, a hill gem tile yields 2 production and 1 gold as a base. Settling on top of it then turns the city tile into 2 food, 2 production, and 3 gold. Additionally, luxury and strategic resources are automatically improved in this way, making for quick acquisition, and an impossibility to pillage them.

2. Choose Research/Production

Caution: The following paths are designed to rush "The Pyramids" world wonder. Though a fairly safe rush, success is not guaranteed, especially with low experience without a strong capital, or anyone with a pitiful capital.

Research: Pottery -> Animal Husbandry -> Mining -> Masonry -> [Luxury Resource Techs.] -> ...-> Construction

The only reason Pottery should be skipped is if your civilization has a way of producing faith without it, else a Shrine is necessary. Similarly, Animal Husbandry can be skipped if you assume your capital will not have horses, else this is taken to find horses for settling later and in capital to increase production asap.

Production: (Scout) -> Monument -> Shrine -> (Granary) -> Worker -> Pyramids -> Settler -> Settler -> Settler....

"Scout vs. Monument: The Eternal Debate", is a lovely novel that many community members could right. In my opinion, there is no definite right answer, only situation ones. In a start with extremely rough terrain, a Scout is pivotal immediately. If this is not the case, Monument every time. "...but what about all the ruins!" While ruins are a strong part of the early game, they are random in placement and reward, and thus should not be relied upon. Instead, you can guarantee fast early culture policies, which are essential for getting the first Settler out.

After Monument is built, as soon as pottery is finished, build a shrine. The only reason to delay is if what you were currently producing is done in a turn or two.

Granary is potentially phenomenal. With 1 copy of its buffed resources, this is a maybe at 3 food, but with at least 2 it is a very potent 4 food. Building this before Pyramids means that during their production your capital will grow an additional population or two, speeding up the Settler spam that follows.

If at any point you produce faster than you can research, try to pump out a Scout to enhance exploration.

3. Culture - Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of "One More Turn"

Culture path: Liberty -> Republic -> Collective Rule -> Citizenship -> Meritocracy -> Representation -> ?

There really is no doubt here. Collective Rule yields a free Settler and 50% increase in their production in the capital, and thus this is the most important immediate policy. The rest of the tree order is fairly obvious.

Upon completion of the tree you receive a free Great Person. There are only 3 real options here:

  • Great Prophet: If you don't have a religion yet and can still found one, or need immediate enhancement (see Step 2)
  • Great Engineer: If your capitals production is still absolutely atrocious, plant a manufactory.
  • Great Scientist: Otherwise, plant an academy in the capital or nearby city who can conveniently work it.

After finishing liberty, your next tree choice is very situational. If your religion needs help, look into piety. If your cities are almost exclusively coastal, exploration is beautiful. If instead you are exclusively land-based, commerce is a fair option. Patronage is also well suited if you find yourself allying with many City-States. Of course Rationalism takes priority when available.

Step 2: Establish Your Religion

Religions are what let wide empires thrive. There are happiness bonuses everywhere, and many of all the bonuses are per-city buffs, thus giving a wide empire more benefit. The screenshot above shows example beliefs of, in my opinion, a near-perfect religion.

1. Founding a Pantheon

Why the shrine so fast? Religion is a race to be first, and a shine is the quickest form of faith available to you, so its best to get a head start as fast as possible.

The first pantheon (on regular speed) costs 10 faith, with each pantheon founded increasing the cost of the next by 5. This is the first race: the faster you get a pantheon, the sooner you get its abilities, and the further away from them your opponents are.

When it comes time to choose, the best pantheon is typically that which will give you the most faith. A full list of choices can be found here. A faith-yielding pantheon is the easiest, and in the right land fastest, way to getting a Religion. That being said, much of the time your surrounding land won't benefit much or at all from a faith-generating pantheon. In such a scenario, I recommend Messenger of the Gods (+2 Science in cities with a city connection), as it fits extremely well in wide play, providing a strong per-city science bonus.

2. Founding a Religion

As stated above, the easiest way to found a Religion is by generating faith. On standard speed, 200 faith is required to produce your first great prophet, which is then used to found a Religion.

Without a strong faith-generating pantheon, it is more difficult to quickly generate this faith or produce a great prophet otherwise, but here are the best ways:

  • Natural Wonders: There are four natural wonders which yield faith naturally, and they are your best friend. The only reason not to immediately settle these wonders and work them is if doing so will provoke multiple neighbors to attack you. Otherwise, settle and work these immediately, as they are typically the fastest path to religion.
  • Liberty: As stated in Step 1.3, finishing the liberty tree provides a free great person. This allows you then to select a great prophet (you need a pantheon to do so, however). Since finishing liberty always happens, this means this option is always available to you, provided you founded a pantheon. Be wary on relying on this however, as without strong faith generation it will be difficult to maintain or improve this religion.
  • Buildings: This is generally not recommended. Shrines can be built in settlements as well, so rushing them in these cities can see strong faith output. However this is eating production that could be spent elsewhere, and thus is weaker than the above options (Step 3 discusses build path for settlements). Doing so after opening piety and supplementing a liberty-founded religion is typically better.

3. Beliefs

There is a simple ordering for the best beliefs in each category, and all can be seen here:

Founder: Church Property > Tithe > Ceremonial Burial

Follower: Pagodas > Mosques > Asceticism/Religious Center

Enhancer: Religious Texts/Itinerant Preachers > Just War/Defender of the Faith

These founders prioritize gold generation, followers happiness, and enhancers religious pressure. If some of these are not available, you may weigh the choices of whats left, keeping in mind their effects on an empire wide scale.

Step 3: Establish Your Empire

"So I have all these settlers...where do they go?" Everywhere. Eve-ry-where.

Any location which can support a city of around 6 population (after buildings) is absolutely fit to settle. Think of the goal as to claim and work every useful tile on the map.

As you explore, keep a general tally of where you'd like to settle (see Step 1.1 for settling location tips). Cities must be a minimum of 4 tiles from each other, or have 3 tiles between them. Using this you can almost tessellate cities across the map.

1. The First Settlements

The first settlements should be on the most contestable land, i.e. directly on enemy borders, locations with bountiful resources, strong defensive positions, etc. You should not settle on land you think no one else has access too unless it is extremely profitable.

The empire shown in the screenshots above provides example of this:

  • Helsinki and Uppsala were the 2nd and 4th settlements, respectively. The river made for strong land to work, and placing directly on Russia's doorstop prevented her further expansion.
  • Linkoping, the 6th settlement, is placed on the same river to the east. While not directly next to The Netherlands, it claims the only immensely strong land in the region. This gives time to settle the less powerful surrounding cities whenever we'd like, as they wont be as essential defensively or productively.

2. What to do with Settlements

Production path: Monument -> (Shrine) -> Essential Buildings -> Ranged Units

The above is a general build path for your settlements. Unless you are desperate for units, important buildings take precedents over them. Monuments provide culture for border growth and are therefore the most important building. If you are using buildings for faith, Shrine is just as or even more important. Following these are things like Granary, Market, Coliseum, Library, etc. Each of these are situationally important: Granary in cities which will need more food in order to work higher production tiles, Market in cities yielding notable gold, Coliseum if happiness becomes an issue, Library when cities reach (or will soon reach) at least 6 population). When such buildings are not available or necessary, spam units. This is the most notable skill curve in this method: determining when a building is lucrative or should be disregarded. For example if you bother with barracks before you can build them in 1-2 turns: don't. Practice and experience will improve this challenge.

Build roads to settlements as soon as possible: city connections yield 1 gold per citizen of the city, and 1 happiness per city, so be sure to capitalize on these as soon as possible.

3. Happiness?

The above is all great so long as you can settle cities, which is determined in turn by how much happiness you have. On most maps, cities cost 3 unhappiness per city, and citizens 1 unhappiness each, which means settling a new city is immediately an additional 4 unhappiness. This is offset quickly by Meritocracy and happiness buildings, but until that point you are limited by luxuries. Some tips to managing:

  • Luxuries and Natural Wonders are your best friends.
  • Don't be afraid to go into unhappiness: hovering between 1-5 unhappiness is perfectly fine, just know your cities cannot grow while down here.
  • Don't grow useless citizens: If city A will get more from an additional citizen than city B, let city A grow, not B.

Step 4: Now What? (+Tips)

1. What to do...what to do...

So now you've got your empire established, good job!

I bet now you're wondering what to do with it. Good news is you've got a lot of options:

  • War: By far the biggest advantage to going wide is having an empire with staggering production. This then makes it easier for you to produce an infinitely massive army. The only problem, besides the disapproval of your neighbors, is the gold per turn cost of this army, so you must be cautious of this
  • "Turtle"-ing: If its not time to invade, you can sure make sure no one invades you. Again, with your massive production you can hold onto quite a large empire with little focus needed to army. This essentially is about putting more focus into infrastructure than above, yielding an empire that can stand up cultural and scientifically to all others, while still having such high production
  • Victory Conditions: Domination aside, wide plays on par with tall with most victory conditions, if not better.
    • Cultural/Tourism: A standing disbelief is that wide plays worse culturally than tall, at that is simply not true. This is made quite easy with the religious reformation belief Sacred Sites, but doable nonetheless without. The only requirement here is a large cultural fresh water city in which to place your guilds.
    • Science: It is even less obvious why a science victory benefits from wide empire, but as explained in the introduction, when played right wide is better for science, thus resulting in a faster science victory. Not to mention, the higher production will yield stronger gains at world projects, and more military to pressure other civilizations.
    • Diplomatic: This is that which benefits least, or even not at all, from wide. Your increased economy will be spent on drastically increased building maintenance and maintaining an army, leaving little guaranteed to be leftover otherwise for allying with city states. That's not to say it can't be done, it simply is the most situational of these three, and depends vastly on the gold intake of your land. Tall however can do this victory consistently well, and therefore would see a stronger place here.

2. Tips+Tricks

  • For the Order! - Come ideology time, order is by far the saving grace of wide. The bonuses to happiness and science are boundless, and will push what was a strong empire into an unstoppable one.
  • F9 is invaluable - This menu lets you know your place in the world in several stats, letting you know where you're strong and weak.
  • Micromanage Citizens - Nobody knows how to better work your subjects than you. Always tell them which tiles to work in a city, prioritizing production or growth. The game mistakenly prioritizes 2 gold over 1 production for example.
  • Do not automate Workers (that soon) - Similarly with citizens, workers are stupid on their own. They build roads inefficiently, choose trading posts a little too often, etc. Don't attempt to automate them until you are well into the game and your main cities are established. Even then, keep several un-automated to fix big things the automated do wrong.
  • Do not Hoard Wonders - Most of them are not worth it. Let someone else build it and take it from them. If confident, the following are always worth it if you have a strong enough city: Pyramids, Machu Pichu, Forbidden Palace.
  • Experience is everything - No matter how many times you read things like this, nothing will help you more than playing and learning whats good and not good.

May the gods be with you, my emperor.

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    2 Discussions


    5 years ago on Step 2

    Missing links for Step 2 "here":


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the thorough tutorial. I hope we see more from you on Instructables in the future!