Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is an absolute cracker of a game with many ways to emerge the victor – seek and destroy, reach the stars, or be the sole provider of blue jeans on the planet. Any way you go about it, Civilization VI is a game to get lost in, so who wouldn’t want the best chance to win?
This time I’m going to dive in to my top 3 civilizations – in no particular order – for conquering the world by land, and what makes them so adept at doing so.
Cyrus the Great of Persia
Unique Unit: Immortal (Replaces the Swordsman)
Unique Tile Improvement: Pairidaeza
Good at: Surprise Wars
The list starts off strong with Cyrus the Great of the Persian Empire, who relishes in the chance to strike decisively at nearby civilizations and to claim their cities as his own. Under AI control he is easily one of the most concerning neighbors you can have and, fortunately, you can be just as much of a pain when you control him.
First and foremost, Cyrus has a great unique unit in the form of his Immortal. Replacing the Swordsman unit (unlocked at Iron Working in the Technology Tree), the Immortal has higher base defense and a ranged attack to boot. Having an early special unit – especially one so powerful – means you can strike at neighboring cities which have forward settled you, or have taken up space that would be better suited to have your lovely purple borders. This Immortal rush can occur during a really vital part of the early game economy for your AI enemies, crushing them before they have a chance to mount any kind of defense and allowing you to organize the city as you see fit before the AI start planting frivolous Entertainment Complex districts everywhere.
But the warmongering perks don’t end there. Flavored on Cyrus’ Achaemenid Empire and the infrastructure that made it such a powerhouse back in the day, Cyrus gets access to an additional trade route when you advance to Political Philosophy in the Civic Tree. This means that when you unlock your first proper government – around the time you consider mounting your first offensive – you can dip into Oligarchy for the extra +4 combat strength for your melee and anti-cavalry units (such as those friendly Immortals), fire some trade routes strategically through your target empire with the traders, and wreak havoc when the roads are built.
Cyrus’ Satrapies ability means that all roads built in your territory are more advanced than usual, speeding you along to your target even quicker. Couple that with his major ability Fall of Babylon – +2 movement speed for all units and a reduced grievance tax after declaring a Surprise War on a major civilization – and you are laughing all the way to the enemy capital. With one of your garrisoned units inside the City Center, you’ll earn an additional +5 loyalty per turn – perfect for holding riotous cities under your sway as you absorb them into Mother Persia.
Despite being a sensational early game domination civilization, Persia scales well into the later game too. Additional gold and culture from internal trade routes thanks to Satrapies – alongside the aforementioned road improvements – means that you can really start speeding through the Civic Tree early, especially when Culture is a rare commodity unless your empire has coffee or amber in its borders, or the plantation pantheon Goddess of Festivals. Cyrus’ Pairidaeza improvements are also a fantastic tile to have, giving a base yield of +1 culture and +2 gold, as well as +2 appeal to the tile it’s on. Each adjacent Commercial Hub and City Center nets you another +1 gold, and each adjacent Holy Site or Theater Square adds another +1 culture to the mix.
The benefits of additional culture are obvious in that it allows you to advance faster through the Civic Tree, but also because it speeds you along to Nationalism even quicker, allowing the formation of corps and strengthening your units as the wars head into the Medieval and Industrial eras. The Pairidaeza improvement even starts generating tourism when you reach Flight in the Technology Tree, in case you feel like pivoting to a gentler victory condition in the late game.
Cyrus is versatile and economic, with a real focus on destroying his neighbors with speed and brutality. I would even highlight Cyrus as being perhaps the best civilization in the game under most circumstances, but that’s a discussion for another post.
Matthias Corvinus of Hungary
Unique Unit: Black Army (Replaces the Courser), Huszár (Replaces Cavalry)
Unique Building: Thermal Bath
Good at: Levying troops
Matthias Corvinus, leader of the Hungarians in Civilization VI, is a phenomenal mid-late game conqueror. Uniquely equipped to leverage the power of city states against the major civilizations, Matthias can turn a map into the Zerg homeworld with troops from all areas of the globe, more mobile and deadly than any he could produce himself.
Hungary are gifted two unique units which, rather unfortunately, are not amazing in their usefulness. The Black Army unit replaces the Courser when you reach Castles in the Technology Tree, and gains +3 combat strengthfor every adjacent levied unit. Throwing one of these into the mix on your conquests means that you’ll have a more powerful horse unit to snipe cities which have taken a beating, but it’s still rather clunky to keep the levied units in range. The Huszár is even more finnicky, arriving in the Industrial era to replace Cavalry and gaining +3 combat strength for every active alliance with other major civilizations. If you’ve been warring since the Medieval era, it is extremely unlikely that any other empires will want to be your friend, let alone an ally. If you’re in a rare circumstance where your declared wars are through the Protectorate War option in the Casus Belli then you’ll keep your grievances at a minimum and might have a chance, but that’s still a bit of a long shot.
As much as I avoid the Entertainment Complex district, I do appreciate its value in long domination games when it comes to keeping your empire smiling through all the bloodshed. Matthias’ unique Thermal Bath improvement can be constructed in an Entertainment Complex to give +2 amenities and production, extending to other cities within 6 tiles (but not stacking). Matthias will also get an extra +3 tourism and +2 amenities if there’s a Geothermal Fissure within the city’s borders, further helping to curb any unhappiness within the ever-growing empire, and keeping production high due to Civilization VI’s amenity mechanic – happier cities gain bonus production.
The analysis of Hungary so far might leave you wondering why I recommend him so highly, and that would be fair – Matthias’ strength is not necessarily in his units or buildings, but rather his main ability, Raven King. When Hungary levies units, the units themselves gain +2 movement and +5 combat strength for the entire duration that they are levied. What’s more, they can be upgraded for only 25% of the gold and resource cost, further reduced to 12.5% when employing the power of Policy Cards like Professional Army and Retinues to reduce the gold and resource cost further. You can upgrade an entire city state’s militia into the current era’s tech with a fraction of the usual cost – an enormous benefit, as long as you keep a hold of them.
And so introduces the one potential folly of Matthias’ grand plan for world domination – if you lose the suzerain status of the city state whose militia you have levied, the city state takes them back immediately, even if you’re one turn away from taking that enemy city that you’ve been clubbing away at for the last 10 turns. Luckily, to combat this, Matthias’ Raven King ability also adds 2 envoys to any city state which you levy from, giving you a head start in keeping ahead of any major civilizations who would seek to usurp your popularity.
So how does this all come together then?
Primarily, you’re going to need a solid early scouting mission to find these city states. When I play as Matthias, I always crank the city state number up to max and open with a scout or two – whenever you are the first major civilization to meet a city state you plant an envoy there, netting you some bonuses and starting you on the path to becoming their suzerain (when you hit 3 envoys, provided nobody else has beaten you there). A good shout if you’re contemplating which governor to employ first is to go with Amani and put her in a city state that you think would be strategically beneficial to levy from, like the one on the border of your neighbor’s capital.
Secondly, you’ll need gold. Assloads of it. Levying troops costs money, and you’ll definitely want to find a city state with a sizable standing army, which costs more money. Matthias has a propensity to spawn on land rife with rivers, which means you’ll have no end of places to plant your Commercial Hub districts and get the cash rolling. Even better, Matthias’ ability Pearl of the Danube means that any district you try to construct across a river from the City Center will gain +50% production towards both the district itself and the buildings within, letting you get your Markets ready, bulking out your trade route limit and having an economy that would make Mansa Musa smile.
Lastly, though still importantly, you’ll need a good science economy. The beauty of Matthias’ Raven King ability is that you can time your unit rushes to perfection. Unlike Cyrus, Matthias tends to really come to life in the mid-late game, when you can convert a swathe of swordsmen into muskets and catapults into bombards for a fraction of its usual price, and use the increased unit movement speed and combat strength to overwhelm your opponent’s walls before they have a chance to tech towards an upgrade. My favorite part of all this is that when bombards gain Matthias’ movement speed increase, it allows you to move and shoot in the same turn, making their use a lot more fluid and less clunky.
Gaining science means you’ll need solid Campus districts to build your empire with. Luckily, Matthias usually spawns near Geothermal Fissures, granting a +2 adjacency for any Campus district.
As you unlock your second tier government in the Civic Tree, you’ll also be able to construct the Foreign Ministry in your Government Plaza district. This is fantastic for Matthias since it halves the cost of levying troops from city states, and also grants them a further +4 combat strength, totaling a whopping +9 overall. Whereas the first tier government is often the turning point of war for Persia, speeding towards Exploration and unlocking the Merchant Republic government for access to the Foreign Ministry and some warring Policy Card slots (and +10% gold in a city with a governor) is the way to go for Hungary.
More complex than Persia but still incredibly rewarding when successful, Matthias Corvinus is my absolute favorite leader for almost any victory type. Every victory type needs security, and nothing feels better than summoning the armies of your friends around you in a heartbeat when Shaka Zulu starts sharpening his knives in plain view. If you want to conquer the world and have a bit more time to explore and build cities on the way, Matthias is the one for you.
Tomyris of the Scythians
Unique Unit: Saka Horse Archer
Unique Tile Improvement: Kurgan
Good at: Horses
In at third but by no means last, Tomyris is a frightening leader to face off against, and not somebody you want to make an enemy of. Her disposition when under control of the AI is to make friends and eradicate anyone who backstabs their former allies – something I do a lot – by throwing her armies of horses at you until there’s nothing left but rubble and ash.
Tomyris is a brilliant early game combatant, mostly down to her unique unit – the Saka Horse Archer. Being that the Scythian empire was based in the steppes of the Central Asian region that we know today, she’s all about cultivating horses and incorporating them into her army. Saka Horse Archers have 4 movement and fire at range – powerful, for certain. What makes them absurd, however, is that Tomyris also has her leader ability, People of the Steppe, which means that any time she builds one of her horse archers or any light cavalry unit, she gets another one for free. This then turns her into an equine gatling gun, firing out legions of melee and ranged horse units at a time when many civilizations have yet to discover what a wall even is.
Her other ability, Killer of Cyrus – so named because she allegedly kicked his ass and ended his rule for killing her son – means that all her units gain +5 combat strength when attacking a wounded unit, and recover up to 30 hit points when killing an enemy unit. Absolute madness.
There isn’t too much more to say after that. Get an early builder, farm your horses, and go to town early. An early Encampment district is always a boon if you have the time, and the fact that her early rush units are horses means that your lack of early road infrastructure isn’t as painful, because everyone’s on horseback. You can economize well with her Kurgan ability, allowing you to build a faith economy to put towards picking Monumentality when you get your Golden Age. This allows you to purchase Builders and Settlers with faith to economize while your horsemen terrorize the surrounding area.
Although Scythia doesn’t have anything special to do with her science or culture economy, it’s hard to argue with the ability to heal whenever you kill something. With the right planning and movement in the borders of the enemy empire, you can pick off low health/outdated units and recover your health in large quantities, allowing the Scythian war machine to keep turning.