Ask any avid Civilization 5 player; the most important decision they make in a game is the leader they choose. An overview of countries may just help you pave the way to a winning strategy.
In fact, finding the best Civ 5 leader and leading the ideal country has been a topic of many Reddit discussions. In one Reddit thread debating different Civ 5 leaders, someone who was new to Civ games wondered what leaders were most suited for different types of victories in Civ 5.
While there is not a clear consensus, everyone did agree in one area: different countries and world leaders have clear, unique advantages in Civ 5. Knowing the different countries, leaders, and unique attributes may just lead you to your next victory, whether that’s a cultural one, militaristic, or diplomatic.
In this guide, I’ll give you a brief overview of countries you can play as in Civ 5, including details about bonuses, world leaders, technology, and more– so you can conquer them in your next Civ 5 game.
How many ways can you win Civ 5?
In Civ 5, you have five different ways to achieve a victory. This allows you to pursue different strategies for victory.
A cultural victory requires you to focus on spreading your cultural influence. This is done by investing in building wonders, cultural center buildings, and bolstering artists, writers, and musicians. To win a cultural victory, you’ll have to outdo tourism for your civilization over your opponents. This is a long-term victory that takes patience, with a late-game or era victory.
As a side note, the Gods & War expansion pack also allows you to increase cultural influence via religion. This is accelerated through not only investing in religion but also trade routes.
In a diplomatic victory, you’ll also need to do a great deal of planning and strategizing. A diplomatic victory has a lot to do with how you run your government vs how you interact with other nations.
Another long-term victory strategy, a diplomatic victory in Civ 5, requires you to develop a World Congress (first enabled after inventing the Printing Press) and attain delegates over many eras. You must ultimately win the election for World Leader during the Atomic Era.
Looking for a Civ 5 Victory with more military involvement? The Domination Victory requires you to go on the offense, capturing capital cities. To obtain the victory, you must be in control of all capital cities. With the Brave New World expansion pack, you’ll have additional challenges and features.
A Scientific Victory in Civ 5 is more comparable to cultural victory. However, a scientific victory requires both speed and long-term strategy. With a scientific victory, you need to continuously focus on supporting scientific inquiries, building upon technological advancements. The goal is to ultimately build a spaceship to colonize Alpha Centauri before your opponents do.
Waiting it Out
Of course, the type of victory requires the most patience. A Time Victory requires you to survive until 2050, which is around 500 turns for a standard game.
This means you don’t need to be the greatest in terms of culture, science, or military– you just need to outlast others. Of course, this tends to be the least popular type of victory for a few reasons. For one, this victory requires patience. For another, a Time Victory does not feel as clear cut as other victories– and you may simply tire of the game. That said, if you enjoy continuously building your civilization and making improvements, it’s always an option.
Civ 5 Base Game Countries: Strategy Overview
For the main overview, I’ll cover all 18 base game countries and their corresponding leaders. I will also outline the main advantages and little details you need to know to decide which civilization is right for your Civ 5 gameplay strategy.
Symbolized with a blue shield with three stars and three stripes, the Americans have a preferred religion of Christianity or Protestantism and a preferred ideology of freedom. The Americans are led by George Washington.
The Americans possess extra scouting capabilities, with the ability to see further than other units. Americans also enjoy a reduced cost for purchasing tiles. These two abilities are useful for scouting out natural wonders and ruins and expanding cities or mining resources.
Unique units include Minutemen (Renaissance Era), which work as scouts and helps lookout for enemy armies. They can also cover rougher terrain quickly. The other special unit for the Americans is the B17, which unlocks in the Atomic Era. The B17 is more powerful than the bomber other civilizations can obtain and has several upgrades.
There is no clear advantage to one victory path for Americans. However, the extra resources you’ll acquire from scouting and the upgraded bomber units make a path for domination victories. Scout out as much as you can and settle in areas to your advantage. Invest your resources to build a military early on.
Depicted by a star and crescent, the Arabians are led by Harun al-Rashid, with a preference towards Islam as their religion. Arabians enjoy a starting bias for desert tile regions, which supplies both gold and oil bonuses.
Noted as one of the strongest trading countries in Civ 5, Arabians have the advantage of building a Bazaar early in-game. A Bazaar is a stronger replacement for the common Market and provides additional luxury resources to cities. Expansions further enhance advantages. The Gods & Kings expansion provides more trade routes, while the Brave New World expansion provides a wider range for caravans.
Arabians have the Camel Archer, which ranks as one of the stronger shooting units during the Medieval Era. They can also be upgraded to Horsemen and Chariot Archers.
In some ways, Arabians have a more clear path to victory than Americans. Noteworthy for their special advantages for trade routes and bargaining, they can spread their influence more quickly and effectively. This paves the way to a cultural victory. A secondary option is a domination victory. This is a great strategy if you use the trading routes and resource boosts to invest in an army.
Aztecs, led by Montezuma, are depicted by the aqua and red Aztec calendar stone. They have a preference for either Christianity or Catholicism for religion and autocracy for ideology. Aztecs receive bonuses for both universities and scientific buildings constructed on jungle terrain.
Aztecs also have an obvious cultural advantage. This stems from their unique ability to increase cultural influence from any adversaries they defeat. In addition, the Floating Gardens (replacing the default Water Mill) adds culture and boosts food production, and allows cities to expand more quickly.
The Jaguar is a unique unit for Aztecs. This unit moves quickly through jungle terrain and self-heals partway after killing an enemy. The Jaguar also is an early in-game unit, leading to a military advantage.
Aztecs have an edge on both scientific and cultural victories. Their boost for universities and scientific research and the initial starting bias makes them a less common contender for a scientific victory. An argument could be made for a cultural victory from their ability to capture culture from enemies.
As a third choice, you could focus on the food production advantage and the Jaguar for dominance. Dominance I’d only recommend as a strategy if you’re working with a small map and short game. Aztecs don’t have long-term militaristic advantages as much as a starting point advantage.
Distinguished by the symbol of the Chinese dragon on a green background, the Chinese in Civ 5 are led by Wu Zetian. Their religious preference is Taoism and their preferred ideology is Order. Seen as a strong country to play with if you want some flexibility in terms of a victory strategy, the Chinese boast several special abilities.
Great Generals can be recruited more quickly and enjoy a combat boost. The Paper Maker building supplies additional Gold and can be constructed in every city to boost revenue.
Units unique to the Chinese include the Chu-Ko-Nu in the Medieval Era. These special units can attack twice in a row. In addition, researching and establishing Honor allows you to build a signature war machine.
For the Chinese, I recommend two victory types: either via dominance or via science. For dominance, you can take advantage of the gold boost by building Paper Makers in every city as quickly as possible. Use this extra revenue to produce Great Generals early in the game. Conquer nearby countries; long-term, consider adopting Honor.
The scientific path to victory also would see you building Paper Maker buildings in every city possible. From there, build substantial buildings, such as the Great Library. If you pursue Liberty, invest in Great Scientists and a slew of scientific breakthroughs.
The Egyptians are symbolized by the purple Eye of Horus, on a yellow background and led by Ramses II. Their preference is Islam as their religion.
Egyptians are a popular country to play as in Civ 5, but this country has advantages largely stilted for one victory type. They are most well known for two things: their unique military unit and their Burial Tomb. The Burial Tomb replaces the default Temple. Its advantage is a Happiness bonus for every city in which it is installed. The Tomb also does not have any maintenance costs.
Egyptians enjoy a natural advantage for building wonders, especially when paired with Aristocracy.
The War Chariot is unique to Egyptians. These chariots don’t require horses and move more quickly (except on rough terrain). Since chariots can be made early, they pose a military advantage for short games.
While Egyptians have some minor military advantages, your best bet is a cultural or diplomatic victory. For a diplomatic victory, take advantage of the Happiness bonus and construct wonders. You could also use Happiness boosts to pursue greater diplomacy.
The English are symbolized by the Saint Edward’s Crown and led by Queen Elizabeth I. The English favor Christianity or Protestantism for their religion.
This country is distinguished for its sea navigation capabilities, making it an excellent choice for maps that have many islands. You’ll get a movement bonus on all ship units. You can bolster this bonus with their unique ship unit.
During the Renaissance Era, the English benefit from additional spies, which provides an obvious espionage advantage. If you have the Brave New World expansion pack, that advantage is enhanced.
Specialty units for the English include longbowmen and Ship of the Line. A longbowman is known for a greater attack range than the typical crossbowman it replaces. This is useful in early periods for securing forts and citadels from both adversaries and barbarians.
The Ship of the Line cannot perform a melee attack, but it does have advantages. This ship is best used for scouting. It possesses extra sight and strength.
Diplomacy is the best victory option for the English, though dominance is also a possibility. For both, take advantage of exploring the world quickly. Fortify your cities with longbowmen. As you explore, recruit more ship units and employ spies. Building police stations and eventually the National Intelligence Agency are good long-term strategies. Establishing diplomats is also an excellent idea.
The French, symbolized by the Fleur de Lis, are led by Napoleon. They have a preference for Christianity or Catholicism and Order as an ideology. The French are known for their cultural influence.
Much of that cultural influence is embodied in the special Chateau the French can construct. The Chateaux offers a boost in culture for the country while also providing defense for cities and additional gold.
The French have two unique units: Foreign Legions and Musketeers. Legions replace Great War Infantry with a special combat bonus on foreign lands. Musketeers, meanwhile, enjoy greater strength than the Musketman they replace.
The French are most suited for a cultural victory. For a cultural victory, research Chivalry early in order to build a Chateaux in each city. Investing in constructing cultural buildings early is also helpful. World Wonders will offer additional Great Works slots for capital cities. A special City of Light ability further boosts culture early on and encourages tourism. A military edge is also present, though it’ll be more of an uphill battle for dominance.
Germans are represented with an iron cross and are led by Bismarck. The Germans have a preference for Christianity and Protestantism, as well as an ideology for Order. Known for their military might, Germans are a popular choice of country for Civ 5 players looking for a domination victory.
Germans can sustain more military units than any other civilization and can even initiate barbarians into their army. This creates a clear military advantage. Researching Optics allows Germans to move barbarian camps, with them entering into German domain.
The Germans have Landsknecht, which replaces Pikemen, and Panzer, which replaces a Tank. Landsknecht takes no penalty movement from pillaging and enjoys a city plunder promotion, while Panzer has both extra strength and movement.
Germans are best suited for a victory of dominance. Their special military units and advantages with barbarians make a clear argument for military domination. Equally helpful is the ability to sustain a large standing army. Bolster that by building the special Hanse. This bank replacement supplies extra gold and can help you fund your army.
Depicted by the blue Omega symbol, the Greeks in Civ 5 are led by Alexander the Great. Greeks have a preferred religion or Christianity or Eastern Orthodoxy and a preferred ideology of Autocracy.
Known for their diplomatic influence on city-states, Greeks’ influence within city-states is longer lasting. It can also recover more quickly than other nations. Greeks can make more effective alliances, be more persuasive, and pose greater diplomatic clout. With the God & Kings expansion, this power is further enhanced when used with religion.
Both the Companion Cavalry (which replaces Horsemen) and Hoplites (which replaces Spearman) are unique to Greeks. The Companion Cavalry may inflict a penalty when attacking a city, but they are stronger, faster, and can move after attacking. Hoplites are stronger and get a mounted bonus of 50 percent.
Greeks are natural for a diplomatic victory. Establish as many policies as possible through the Patronage tree. Earn alliances with city-states as early as possible. If you have the Gods & Kings pack, also make an investment in studying religion.
Symbolized by the Ashoka Chakra, Indians are led by Gandhi. Indians have a preferred religion of Hinduism, as well as a propensity towards Freedom.
This country’s advantages are subtle. It’ll take time to notice them, meaning India may not be the best pick for a small map size. Expanding your empire takes longer than it may for some other countries. But once cities reach a size 6, you’ll notice a significant bonus for population growth.
You’ll enjoy fewer unhappiness penalties for large populations, furthering your ability to sustain large populations. The Mughal Fort provides cultural bonuses as well as defense.
War Elephants replace the Chariot Archers from other civilizations. While War Elephants cannot melee attack, they are far stronger and do well on rough terrain. Since they are slower, they may be most suited for defending cities in rough terrain.
Select your enemies wisely– you’re aiming for a long-term cultural victory, so countries that pose strong military challenges could defeat you early on. You may also want to select a larger map size to allow you time to develop your nation. Invest in defending your cities with the Mughal Fort. Adopt policies in the Tradition Tree, with an emphasis on boosting population size.
Symbolized by the Hiawatha Belt, the Iroquois are led by Hiawatha. This nation has a preference for Christianity or Protestantism, as well as Freedom for ideology.
The Iroquois have a starting bias for forest terrain and are known for their industrious construction and road building. They also have unique units that do well in such terrain.
The special LongHouse provides a bonus of additional resources and is more efficient in both jungle and forest tiles.
Mohawk Warriors, which replace Swordsman, don’t require iron. They also enjoy combat bonuses in jungle and forest terrain.
Select a map with plentiful jungle and terrain, settling as many cities as possible nearby. Construct the longhouse in such locations to boost yield and research technology for infrastructure.
Iroquois are a challenging country to play as. I’d argue there is not a clear path to victory. I recommend a domination victory with a long-term strategy. Do so by building roads and investing in a network of great infrastructure. As an alternative, you could seek a diplomatic victory by boosting population size.
The Japanese in Civ 5 are depicted by a red flower emblem from the Oda Clan and led by Oda Nobunaga. This country has a preference for Shinto as their religion and Autocracy as their ideology.
Known for their military might, the Japanese are a formidable country to oppose. Their unique units pose considerable advantages at different times of the game.
Less known to some players is that the Japanese also have a cultural advantage from atolls and fishing boats.
Units unique to the Japanese include the Samurai and the Zero. Samurai replace Longswordsman and are formidable in that promotions are more substantial, with Great General promotions more likely. They can also create fishing boats.
The Zero replaces Fighters in a late-era of the game. Zeroes have movement, sweeping, and bonus attack benefits, with the ability to intercept. Even better, they don’t require oil.
You’re best suited to angle for a domination victory with this country, but don’t try to do it too soon. Samurai are more of a mid-game unit, and the Zero is a late-game unit. In fact, you may be best suited to develop a long-term strategy for a later military invasion. Do so by gradually trimming away adversaries that are weaker with Samurai. Later, wage an air-based war for more daunting enemies.
The Ottoman are depicted by the symbol of three crescent moons and led by Suleiman I. The country has a preference for Islam for their religion and Order for their ideology.
Known as a nation that excels in sea warfare, advantages mostly pertain to naval units. For naval units, you’ll enjoy lower maintenance costs, as well as the ability to convert enemy naval units. This is a powerful skill for waging war at sea. At the same time, the Ottomans also have special units for land invasions.
Units unique to the Ottomans include Janissary (which replaced Musketmen) and Sipahi. Janissary partially heals upon killing an enemy and enjoys a 25 percent attack bonus.
Siphai, which replace the Lancer, are horse-mounted units that can move after attacking. These units have extra sight and extra movement–advantages that outweigh the penalty for attacking cities.
The clear path to victory for the Ottomans is one of domination. The greatest advantage this Civ 5 country has is its unique naval capabilities. Invest in ship production and Exploration technologies early on.
The Persians are depicted by Scimitars and led by Darius I. They have a preferred religion of Zoroastrianism.
Persians are a unique country in that their clearest advantages occur during Golden Ages. Golden Ages will last 50 percent longer than other countries, with bonuses that accumulate over time. Golden Ages also allow units to be more efficient.
Happiness is another plus. By constructing the unique Satrap’s Court, you boost what is already your starting advantage for happiness. You’ll also enjoy bonuses for gold, culture, and production.
Immortals replace Spearmen and enjoy a mounted bonus of 50 percent. They also have extra strength and the ability to heal more quickly.
Obviously, you’re going to need to trigger Golden Ages in order to reap the benefits of playing as Persia. Work on accumulating extra Happiness points to make ages more common. Focus on using cultural, production, and gold advantages. From this standpoint, you could opt for a victory of dominance by waging war during the Golden Ages or opt for diplomacy.
Romans, depicted by a Laurel Wreath, are led by Augustus Cesar. The Romans have a preference for Christianity or Catholicism for religion and a preferred ideology for Order.
While you may recall Romans from previous Civ games as being militaristic, the truth is that they don’t have many advantages in Civ 5, aside from production. With The Glory of Rome, your capital city will enjoy a boost in as much as 25 percent production.
Ballistas, which replace the Catapult, are stronger. They also have a bonus when attacking cities. The downside is that there are many disadvantages, including limited visibility.
Legions, the replacement for Swordsmen, are stronger and able to build roads and forts.
I recommend investing in city construction, as well as overall production. Don’t expand too quickly, but build up some of the cities you have. Research the Republic policy until you can achieve Liberty. From there, it’s up to you how to best go about a victory. I’d mostly look at adversaries and see what area they are weakest in.
Russians are symbolized with the double-headed eagle on a yellow background and led by Catherine the Great. The Russians have a preference for Christianity or Eastern Orthodoxy for religion and Order for their ideology.
As it has been in some other Civ games, Russia is known to be able to expand quickly and efficiently. In Civ 5, that is especially true on tundra terrain. They’ll have production bonuses that allow them to construct more quickly and also can be used to build a standing military. Specific production bonuses include 50 percent more production of iron, uranium, and horses.
IThe Krepost, which takes the place of the default Barracks, improves the happiness of military units under Autocracy (with some downsides).
The mounted Cossack is unique to the Russians and replaces Calvary. They do have a penalty when attacking cities, yet they can move after attacking and have an additional damaged enemy bonus.
Russians will do well aiming for a victory of domination due to their rapid expansionist capabilities. Invest in autocracy and take advantage of their increased happiness amongst military units. Expand quickly by gathering resources and constructing Kreposts.
Siamese are symbolized by the Red Thammachack on a yellow background and led by Ramkhamhaeng. The Siamese have a preference for Buddhism as their religion and are known for their strong influence on city-states.
Siamese are able to develop deeper relationships with city-states, with bonuses for culture, food, and faith (with religion) with allied cities. Any units that have been received will enjoy an experience bonus. This adds both diplomatic and cultural advantages.
The Wat replaces the traditional University and provides a bonus for science (further enhanced with Free Thought). There’s also an added bonus for science, gold, and happiness when on a jungle tile.
Naresuan’s Elephant replaces the Knight. While this elephant does take a penalty when attacking cities and moves more slowly, it also has an additional 50 percent bonus when mounted. It’s also notably stronger and doesn’t require horses.
You could make an argument for many victory paths. While less commonly pursued, I’d argue for a scientific victory. This is due to connected city-states, production boosts, and bonuses with the Wat. Invest in building cities up and work on policies within the Patronage tree.
Songhai is depicted by a red pattern on a yellow background that is considered a cultural, traditional design. Led by Askia, Songhai is inclined towards both Islam and Autocracy.
From promotions to special military units, Songhai is known as a militaristic Civ 5 country. Military units include special promotions that allow them to attack embarked naval units.
However, with their unique Mud Pyramid Mosque, they are also cultural. The Mud Pyramid Mosque is free to maintain and boosts more culture than a typical temple.
Mandekalu Cavalry are unique to Songhai and replace the Knight. Not only do they not have a penalty for attacking enemy cities, but they also are quicker to produce and can move after attacking.
The clearest path to victory for Songhai is dominance. Make use of militaristic advantages by using your unique Cavalry unit for direct attacks and research Chivalry to help boost horse production.
You can also make an argument for a cultural victory through religion if you have the Gods & War expansion for Civ 5. Build as many mosques as possible, invest in studying religion, and construct the Statue of Zeus.
Countries added in DLC
Beyond the base game, Civ 5 has additional countries that are added with its expansion packs.
Additional countries added in free patches include Inca, Mongolia, Babylon, Polynesia, Korea, and Denmark, as well as Isabella of Spain.
Gods & Kings
Gods and Kings, which also added a religious component to the game (with implications for cultural victories) and added the Netherlands, Celts, Maya, Carthage, Byzantium, Huns, Ethiopia, Austria, and Sweden.
Brave New World
The Brave New World expansion for Civ 5 added Zulu, Poland, Brazil, Assyria, Indonesia, Portugal, Venice, Morocco, and Shoshone.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: There is no one best country in Civ 5. Instead, it depends on what type of victory you hope to accomplish. Siamese have many victory paths, while Germans have a strong path to dominance, and India a strong path for a long-term, cultural victory.
Answer: Many compare Civ 5 vs Civ 6, and there are advantages and disadvantages to every Civ game. Civ 5 excels in challenging mechanics and arguably strong AI.
Answer: Typically, it’s difficult to win fast in Civ 5, as it is often seen as a long-term strategy game. If you do want a quick victory, select a small map size and a military or expansionist-oriented countries, such as Russia, Germany, or Japan. Build cities and expand quickly, fortify each with standing armies, and investing in roads to increase movement for attacks on enemies.
You are by no means limited to leaders in the base game if you buy one of the two Civ 5 expansion packs, but there are some excellent options regardless. You just need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each Civilization to guide your way to victory.
Interested in a previous game? Check out my quick guide to Civilization III.