'Civilization VI Gathering Storm' Civs and Leaders, Ranked by Power and Fun

They're all ridiculously fun — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re equally strong.

By Anthony Smith
on
Filed Under Video Games

Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is here, and much like the climate of our planet, everything is about to change. The new expansion pack’s launch brings with it new mechanics involving natural disasters and rising CO2 levels, the return of the World Congress and the Diplomatic Victory, and, as always, a bevy of new civilizations and leaders to help you conquer an ever-changing world.

Civilization VI: Gathering Storm’s new civs and leaders are all really, really, ridiculously fun — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all equally strong. If you’re looking to spend your weekend getting that first Deity Victory, or just watch your friends’ Civs crumble into the sea, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s Inverse’s ranking of the most powerful new civs in Civilization VI: Gathering Storm.

Ninth Place in Power (Seventh Place in Fun) — Laurier’s Canada

I’m so biased here. I’ve been wanting more Civs that get bonuses for being in Tundra tiles, the most visually appealing and distinct tiles in the game. It’s why Russia has always been one of my favorite Civs in this game. But in comes Laurier with the unprecedented ability to build farms in the Tundra. That rules. These are regions that other Civs avoid, and that you’ll incentivize. And short of spawning next to Russia, you’ll likely be able to forward settle with ease.

The fact that nobody can declare a Surprise War against you rules for a culture-minded Civ like Canada. It means that they’ll have to denounce first, which gives you a few turns warning to get things in order (and stop building amphitheaters) in order to get some military units going. But with no direct boosts to production and a Unique Unit that comes a little too late in the game, you’re a sitting duck for an early Civ. Russia, whose start bias will have them spawning near you often enough, and whose faith and production bonuses will have them pumping out armies fast, will make quick work of you, even with the few turns heads up. Same with any Civ whose Unique Unit unlocks prior to Conservation (too many to name!)

Still, this is one of three new Civs we’re likely going to be seeing the most yield porn from on Reddit. And when you can flex like that, does it really matter that you lost your capital in the Medieval Era?

Eighth Place in Power (Fifth Place in Fun) — Eleanor of Aquitane, France/England

There’s so much to love here for more casual players. Eleanor applies loyalty pressure through her Great Works, and that pressure makes enemy cities join your civilization without first becoming a Free City. Keep a laser focus on buildings with Great Works slots and you’ll be conquering your neighbors’ cities without ever having to build military units (but, you know, you still should.) Move all your Great Works to your civilizations’ expanded borders, and you’ll theoretically be able to keep going, and going, and going. There is maybe nothing more satisfying in this game than watching yourself become the leader in the Domination Victory type — all because you put some artwork in your capital.

On any difficulty King or below, she owns, and that rules. And France’s bonus to Wonder production should allow you to be very competitive on Wonders with the most Great Works slots. But on higher difficulties, Eleanor is going to have issues. As France, she’ll have to wait until the Garde Imperiale to have a powerful Unique Unit. As England, she’ll have access to the Sea Dog, and it’s still unclear whether the long-awaited addition of canals to the game will make naval battle more relevant than it’s been since Civilization VI’s launch. A leader like Gilgamesh or Montezuma could take advantage of those early military weaknesses and punish you. And on higher difficulties, it’s going to be really tough to lock down Wonders for Great Work slots, so you’ll be using military to conquer until you hit museums anyway.

Lastly, there are a few new Civs that feel like Eleanor counters. The Ottomans can use their Unique Governor to remove her loyalty pressure entirely. Phoenician coastal cities on the same continent as their capital are 100% loyal. If either of those cities spawns next to Eleanor, she’s going to have to wait fairly patiently to become competitive. On top of that, Victor the Castellan’s new ability opens all Civs up to some quick protection from her loyalty pressure.

Nevertheless, once she gets going, she doesn’t stop. What we’ll likely see is her power being used defensively, meaning that more militaristic Civs will have to think twice before conquering your cities, lest they immediately switch back to you. That means Pyrrhic victories, where warring Civs lose a lot of units but end up taking your city, are going to look a little more like abject failures.

She’s clearly made to pursue a Cultural Victory, especially as France, but England’s versatile new ability means she should be able to turtle quite nicely and pursue Science or Domination Victories as well.

Seventh Place in Power (Sixth Place in Fun) — Dido’s Phoenecia

I’m torn here. The Bireme, Phoenecia’s Unique Unit, is so much stronger and faster than the Galley. Her ability to move her capital city at will is an incredible defensive maneuver (especially against the Ottomans’ Unique Governor, who must be in a capital city to use his bonuses against your empire). And her 100% loyalty towards coastal cities on her capital’s continent means forward-settling is back, and the exclusive property of Dido!

But while the Bireme is more powerful than the Galley, it’s still a naval unit, which won’t do much for you unless you’re on a water map, or someone else is settling coastal cities that early for some reason.

Still, being able to spam cities everywhere and generate gold fairly quickly is going to allow you to pursue any victory type, and be able to quickly purchase an army to defend yourself against early aggressors with land units.

Sixth Place in Power (First Place in Fun) — Kupe’s Maori

This Civ is so freaking fun, and extremely high risk, high reward. Start in the water with some boosts to sustain the fact that it’ll be a few turns till you found your first city. Sail the world, trying to find a spot for your capital. Pick one, watch it grow, keep exploring.

There’s the potential for huge rewards there — Maori’s boosts to unimproved features will allow your cities — especially your capital — to grow reasonably quickly pretty much anywhere. If you happen to find an island without anyone on it, you’re set, and you can snowball your way to victory. But if you happen to find a land mass with a lot of competition (which seems likely on higher difficulties and a Pangaea map), good luck defending that capital!

This isn’t a perfect comparison, but Maori are to “Gathering Storm” what Spain was to Civ 5. With a little luck, you’ll get a straight shot to a turtled-up Cultural Victory. Without that luck, you’re fairly screwed. This puts them squarely in the middle of the pack for me in terms of strength, because their unique ability can (and, on higher difficulties and pangaea maps, will) also become their greatest weakness. But I can’t think of another Civ in any of the games that’s nearly as fun. You genuinely feel like you’re playing as Kupe. What more could you ask for?

Fifth Place in Power (Ninth Place in Fun) — Mansa Musa’s Mali

There are going to be people who adore Mansa Musa’s Mali. As of right now, I’m not one of them. Still, it’s tough to deny their potential. They’ll be gold (and to a lesser extent, faith) powerhouses, which means they can pursue any victory type. It also means you’ll mostly be buying, rather than building, your buildings and — once you get Reyna and Moksha promoted — your districts, too.

There’s really exciting potential there. Get those Trade Routes going, and watch your coffers fill with gold. Buy armies. Buy settlers. Pop off.

Still. I don’t love the weird nerfs to production, especially when it comes down to Wonders. If I’m in a desert, I want — I deserve — to build Petra. So when I see a Civ who loses one gear of production on each mine, I’m a little miffed.

In “Gathering Storm,” some Unique Units will now require Strategic Resources — and Mali’s Mandekalu Cavalry are among those units. But horses don’t typically spawn in deserts, which means you’ll have a little exploring — and a little trading — to do before you hit that power spike.

But though horses may not spawn in the desert, two other things do: Nubia and Egypt. The former, especially, is a terrifying threat. Amanitore can get districts up very quickly, gets a powerful Unique Unit very early, and that means her military will pose a huge threat to you before you can get your gold network going. Pray you don’t get her as a neighbor, even though your start biases make it a little more likely, because your weird (but, you know, understandable) nerf to production on military units means you’re going to be slow to defend yourself in the Ancient Era.

Fourth Place in Power (Eighth Place in Fun) — Matthias Corvinus’s Hungary

Though just one spot apart in these power rankings, I think there’s a fairly big gap in power between Hungary and Mali. Like many of the new Civs in Gathering Storm, Hungary relies on a little bit of luck — in this case, meeting City States that are spawning a lot of Military Units that you can levy on the cheap, and promote, with your unique ability. That’s likely going to be the case, but other times, it might not be, or your City-State ally gets taken out by an aggressor, or there’s a weird struggle for Suzerain of your next-door neighbor because its unique bonus is just too important to pass up.

Still, when Hungary’s good, it’s very, very good. A few units from some different City-States here and there, and next thing you know, you have the biggest militaristic force in the world seemingly in an instant. That, along with the amenities from its Thermal Bath improvement, lends itself nicely to a Domination Victory, but really a strong mercenary army allows you to pursue any victory type you like. Couple that with a production boost to building districts across rivers from your City Center, and production boosts from Thermal Baths, and this is a Civ that can really do whatever it wants, whenever it wants.

It’s a simple Civ, maybe the most simple Civ of all the new Gathering Storm additions, but it’s so very good at getting the job done. It maybe loses a few fun points in my book, just because it doesn’t seem as integrated into the game’s new mechanics as some of the other Civs, but there’s something to be said about an addition so good, it kind of feels like it’s been here the whole time.

Third Place in Power (Third Place in Fun) — Kristina’s Sweden

Kristina’s Sweden is the Civ that Laurier’s Canada thinks it is. You get a ton of Diplomatic Favor every time you generate a Great Person, which means all those Great Writers that tend to chill around your capital while you wait to build more Amphitheaters will have already served a greater purpose — handing you control of the World Congress. An increase in Great Engineer and Scientist points from Factories and Universities, respectively, means you’ll also get innate boosts to some of the most coveted Great People in the game without having to expend policy slots for it. Those boosts enough would be fairly noteworthy, but the fact that they also make you plow ahead towards a Diplomatic Victory make her just a wee bit overpowered

On top of snowballing her way towards a Diplomatic Victory, she for some reason gets huge help on the way to a Cultural Victory as well. Automatic theming bonuses for Wonders with two or more Great Work spots, or buildings with three or more Great Work spots, means she has two ways to eke out a victory, just in case the World Congress is weirdly competitive.

As a defensive unit, the Carolean rules. The less they move in a single turn, the harder they hit. That means they’re just as good protecting your cities from aggressors as they are pummeling enemy city centers.

The Open-Air Museum Unique Improvement makes for a fun little mini-game for Sweden that’ll see you settling cities on different types of terrains in order to get huge boosts to culture and tourism. The sooner you can build them in the game, the better. But at a certain point, you’re going to have to make the call whether other pursuits are as important as terrain collection. Still, if you can somehow collect all five City Center terrains very quickly, you’ll have tiles in cities with +10 Culture and +10 Tourism. That’s quite a yield.

It’s the Nobel Prize ceremonies that kept this Civ out of the Top 2 for me, as they’re the double-edged sword to end all double-edged swords. It’s great to have them in the game, but if you don’t generate as many Great People as your rivals, you could end up giving them a huge boost to victory. And since so many of the new Civs have Cultural leanings and want Great People (all of them, but especially Canada, Eleanor’s France and England, and Kupe’s Maori), the Oracle wonder is going to be more competitive than it’s ever been. The chance that you’re not going to be the biggest Great Person generator in the world is a very real one. Tread with caution.

Second Place in Power (Fourth Place in Fun) — Pachacuti’s Inca

This Civ is mindblowing. Its abilities to work mountain tiles, pass through mountain tiles early, get huge boosts to food and production through Terrace Farms, and build ranged units that can attack twice a turn make this a genuinely God-Tier Civilization. I’ve never gotten a city to 10-Pop as quickly as I did with the Incas, and while that was also their big strength in Civ 5, here it’s even more important to have high population cities thanks to the fact that District capacity is tied to how many people are living there.

You’ll likely be pursuing Science victories with the Inca, but you can really go in any direction here. Once you find mountains, you’ll have the chance for ridiculously powerful holy sites and campuses. Even if you don’t pursue a Religious Victory, Faith is still a killer currency for infrastructure and military with the right Governors and Government. And with the changes to Moksha, you’ll be able to buy Districts with your religious power as well.

All of this bodes well for the Inca, whose only real weaknesses are a dependency on mountains (which tend to be abundant), the lack of a truly spectacular military unit, and the fact that cities may grow faster than you have the Amenities to support them. That last one is a very issue problem to have.

The second problem is, at least defensively, complemented by the fact that most of your cities are going to be surrounded by mountains anyway, making them tough to conquer. Have fun in space.

First Place in Power (Second Place in Fun) — Suleiman’s Ottoman Empire

My jaw dropped at their bonuses of 50% production towards Siege Units and extra strength to Siege Units, and I don’t think it ever came back up. When they conquer a city (and that’s what you’ll be doing), you don’t lose Population. Cities you conquer have extra Loyalty and Amenities. They can train Janissaries, your strong and cheap Unique Unit that benefits from Oligarchy Stacking, without any fears of losing population.

This is… an unfairly powerful Civ, one that becomes a huge threat to its neighbors at least as early as Mathematics. But that’s not the only trick up Suleiman’s sleeve. He’s the only Civ leader with a Unique Governor, Ibrahim, and that Unique Governor can wreak absolute havoc on the world. Ibrahim’s ability to nullify loyalty pressure completely mollifies Eleanor of Aquitaine’s ability, to say nothing of the fact that he makes any other Civ that much easier to conquer, giving you strength against their military units and districts.

Ibrahim does have his weaknesses, and this is, I suppose, the Achilles Heel of the Ottoman Empire. When you place him in enemy cities, you reap the combat benefits against units and districts there, but you also grant bonuses to production and promotion for military units in that city. When you place him in your own cities, you gain those production and promotion bonuses, but depending on Ibrahim’s promotions, it’s possible that other Civs will have an easier time conquering you.

This is something you’ll have to manage, but it should be easy enough to manage. You could always not play so much with Ibrahim and just use your bonuses to Siege Units, and you’ll still have no trouble conquering the world.

Civ 6’s team likes to say that Civs with no bonuses to any one Victory Type are the most versatile Civs in the game. I think that’s sort of true. But what’s more accurate is that they’re the second-most versatile Civs in the game. Civs with huge boosts to military units — especially military units that can take out cities — are actually the most versatile in the game. Once you’re done conquering, you can either keep conquering some more, or stop with war and start pursuing other victory types. And nobody burns the world down better than Suleiman.

Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is available now.

Media via Firaxis Games