8/19/14: I will occasionally update with a new Civ page. There are 10 to go, but the guide is otherwise completed.
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Civ 5 City Guide Part 1: Cities at the Empire Level

Expanding Your Borders, City Placement, Happiness, and Connecting to the Capital

Civ 5 City Information & Strategies
City ConceptsCity Borders & Working TilesBuild & GrowScience, Gold, etc.City Strength & Military

City - Civ 5
A City in Civ 5

Cities are the backbone of your Civilization. They produce buildings, Units, Wonders, and Great People for your Civilization along with the game's Empire-wide resources - gold, science, faith, tourism, and culture. This Guide to the City in Civilization 5 will teach you the basics of managing a City and maximizing its output based on the resources and land available to you. It is a great starting point for beginners who need to understand the potentially confusing city screen and all the options available for tweaking your cities. We'll also talk about some scenarios that may answer frequently asked questions about cities and the tiles around them.

This Guide is pretty exhaustive and covers most concepts related to Cities and their role in your Empire. They're everything. Making the right decisions in your Cities and your macromanagement of the Civilization will win the game. I decided to split it up into five pages, each covering distinct areas. This is so that people who are searching will not have to go through a huge page to find the information they were looking for. I'm already a bit longwinded, but I like to be thorough and provide decent information. I want to help those just learning the game and those with less experience than I all that I've learned during my many hours of play in Civilization 5. Enjoy the Guide. This one took a lot of notetaking, investigation and Civilopedia searches for reference.

City, Land Ownership, and Cultural Border Concepts

Capital Cities
Capital Cities (noted by a star next to their name) are the first city founded for a Civilization, and are typically the best-developed due to the head start in development they'll have over later Cities. They also tend to receive bonuses from more policies (typically Tradition, but also others). A Capital cannot be destroyed by Razing as they are necessary for Civ 5's Domination Victory in which all Civs' original Capital Cities must be controlled to win a game with this condition. If a City loses its Capital, the next-largest City will automatically become their new Capital. Managing your first city and its output and build order, along with your Empire's research, exploration, and diplomacy are all key to a good start.

Population and Working Tiles with Citizens
There is a Citizen for every unit of Population in a City, so a size 10 City will have 10 Citizens to use to gather resources in a few different ways. We will get into managing these manually or with Civ's Governor AI later in the article, but noting this is important for total newbies. Citizens are used to work tiles, one Citizen per tile.

Citizens may also be unemployed if there are no tiles for them to work, or there is a reason for them to be so - such as having ample food and a production focus. Unemployed Citizens generate +1 production for a City, so they are not useless and even come into play to help you build things faster at times. Lastly, Citizens can be assigned as Specialists in buildings that have slots available to them - such as Markets providing a Merchant slot, or Universities providing two Scientist slots.

Civilization 5's strategic view
The Strategic View can help you count tiles when deciding where to found a city

Know Before you Found: a City's Workable Tiles (Max Range and How Many it Can Use)
It's important to know just how much land one city can work and ultimately claim for your Civilization when you are founding new cities, so that your city placement allows you to grab the most resources. Each city can 'work' (gain benefit from by using a Citizen) tiles up to three hexes away. It is easier to count the tile hexes' distance when you use strategic view, which is the hex icon next to the minimap in the bottom-right corner of your screen. Return to normal mode by clicking this again. The City's Culture generation determines border growth rate, covered in the next section of this Guide.

Cities can extend beyond this workable 3 tiles to eventually claim tiles up to 5 hexes away, but that takes many 'levels' of border growth to achieve - so don't expect your empire to get control of that iron 4 hexes away for quite some time unless you first own all of the three-range tiles the City will work. It will naturally prefer to first buy the tiles nearest the city or those most valuable that can be worked, while later prioritizing those with strategic/luxury resources outside the tiles that the city can work. Tiles are best when improved by a Worker, which must move about the map and build these improvements to boost a city's output and acquire resources.

Settlers in Civ 5
A Settler in Civilization 5 - a Great Start, at that.

Expanding your Civilization: Where to Found New Cities
Unless you're going for the One-City Challenge or playing as Venice, you will eventually want to expand to a new city with a Settler or by conquering another City. When you're using a Settler, the advisor will automatically suggest some explored areas to found a new city - but don't always listen to that suggestion. You want to have good tiles within 3 tiles of the City so that later it can work all of them and grow to its maximum size while also using Specialists to generate more resources and Great Person Points of the various types. Make note of areas with multiple types of Luxury resources that will keep your Cities happy and growing, or those strategic resources you need.

When it comes to the best land to found new Cities on, it largely depends on the Civ you're playing and their Leader's bonuses and unique buildings. Some general guidelines: Cities founded on hills will have the default food but +1 production, but later cannot build Windmills which give more production and a boost for constructing buildings. The early benefit may outweigh this for you. Cities on hills get a defensive bonus when attackers are on your doorstep, so take that into consideration if you are settling near a Civ you expect to later war with. In general, look for rivers - early on these give +1 food from the Farms your Workers build (Civil Service Tech required), which will help your cities grow faster. Look for resources, luxuries and strategic. These can be traded to other Civs, with luxuries required for your cities to grow. Strategic resources do not have nearly as many varieties and thus are not always as valuable to other Civs in trade, so you should try to find places with multiple luxury resources that you can claim.

Adding Luxury and Strategic Resources to your Empire
Strategic and Luxury resources are automatically gained for your Civilization's use so long as they are within your borders and have the appropriate tile improvement built on them - Quarry for Marble, Camp for Furs, Work Boat for Whales, etc. The reason to work a tile is to get the benefit from those tiles either directly helping the city (food/production) or your nation (gold/science/faith).

Building Cities on Top of Resources
If you found a city on top of a Resource, you will get the benefit of that resource, just not the tile improvement that you could build were it on another tile. So, settling on Iron would give that City a higher base production than normal, but not the +1 (later +2) bonus from building a Mine on that Iron. You will get the Resource when you have the appropriate tech to build the tile improvement needed to use it - so, you can't build on Incense and get it as a Luxury Resource for your Empire until you've researched Calendar. I'd usually avoid doing this due to the lack of tile improvement bonuses, but there may be reasons that force your hand - wanting to build next to a mountain for a later observatory or that the city will have better access to resources 3 hexes away when built on that exact spot. Sometimes this happens accidentally; like you may discover you've founded one of your Cities on a source of Coal later in the game, and that is a pleasant surprise.

Settling Outposts
You may choose to make a City as an outpost and limit its growth to just a few population - enough to work some resources to justify itself. This is just a term I am using to describe such a small City that will never grow, you still settle and 'Found City' with a Settler as you normally would. You can use the avoid growth box in the City Management Screen to prevent starvation in cities that have little growth potential but are needed to get those resources - examples being Desert cities and those near the polar caps with lots of Tundra. Avoid building too much in these cities, for buildings cost gold to maintain - only do those buildings like Monuments that will help border growth (if it will reach something useful) and certain buildings to boost the tiles it will be working, like a market to increase gold income for a settlement near lots of furs, and a granary to help it have just enough citizens to work those tiles and contribute the gold to your empire.

Cost of New Cities
It's never wise to go about like Civ 5's AI and settle everywhere. Each new City you add will increase Unhappiness by 3, while each unit of population will also generate 1 Unhappiness unless you're playing on a really low difficulty (it will still fall, just not as much). So, since a city is -3 and starts with 1 population, settling a new city will cost you 4 unhappiness immediately. Cities will raise the cost of future social policies by 10%, and that can be quite a lot - so most cities need to at least justify themselves with the basic boost of a Monument to mitigate this, though it's not nearly enough later in the game. If you need more slots for great works of art, music, or writing, you can always add some of these buildings to Outposts so that you can fit the Great Works and get the +Culture/Tourism of those along with any base benefit from the building itself, at the cost of gold maintenance. Science costs go up 5% with each new City, but this isn't a big issue and wouldn't make me want to put a library in a little outpost to try to mitigate it - after all, any settlements I've made that are never intended to grow large are allowing my other cities to grow larger due to the resources they provide.

Happiness: Vital to City Growth and Golden Ages
Happiness is a Civilization-wide stat and is shown at the top of the screen, though it is generated on a city level in a few ways. It makes sense that it works this way. If your Citizens have enough fun places to go, like Colosseum and Wonders that produce happiness, they're good. Finding natural wonders gives a city +1 happiness (another fun place to visit), so send out scouts, and later triremes and ships capable of crossing ocean to find them and get these passive boosts to Happiness.

Your cities' role in producing this stat vital to growth is to have a worker build a tile improvement on the luxury resource within your borders which provides them, along with construction of aforementioned buildings. Each unique Luxury Resource in your Empire will give you +4 Happiness, and you do not need more than one. When you have extra copies of a Luxury Resource or excess of a Strategic Resource, try to trade these to a Civilization that has an excess of their own and initiate a Trade Agreement. This will strengthen the bond between your Civilizations and allow your cities to grow.

When Happiness falls to -1, your cities are unhappy and immediately grow at 1/4 the usual speed. Production and military unit strength in combat begin to degrade at 2% per point of unhappiness. If you find yourself in a Happiness crisis, stop growth on your cities so that it doesn't get worse by using the Citizen Management option, "Avoid City Growth" on all of them until you do any of the available means of generating Happiness. I recommend you not untick this until you have the crisis solved. If you go +2, allow one or two of your best Cities to grow one population unit each then turn on Avoid Growth once again until the Empire has an excess large enough to grow freely. Such problems are frequently met when you do not pay attention to your Happiness in the first place, accidentally trading off the last copy of one of your luxuries, getting Embargoed in the World Congress, or when at war and Annexing cities that will require Courthouses to cease hitting your Civ with a -5 Unhappiness penalty.

Harbors and Roads connect to one another to help you connect your cities to the Capital from afar
Note the City Connection icon below the City's name - that means it's connected

Road and Water Connection Networks to the Capital City
Cities that are connected to the Capital generate Gold from the connection, with the income based on the size of the City you're connecting. It is about 1 gold per population. Really small outposts should not be connected, for they will cost more in road maintenance than they'll generate in income. On normal game difficulty, it's 1 gold maintenance per turn per tile. So, a size 3 city 6 tiles away would only generate about 3 gold and cost you 6 to connect. You may have other reasons to connect these cities, however, if they're near the border of a potential enemy to help your military move about much faster. Roads are the primary means of connecting cities and form a means of travel even if through other countries. If you have a City on the other side of another Civ's territory and have Open Borders with them, then your citizens can travel to the Capital through their roads to yours. Road maintenance is paid by the Civilization or City-State that owns them. Go ahead and build to connect your city through their territory if you find yourself in this situation. You can actually build roads through the terrirory of a Civilization you have open borders with or City-State you are friends with, and force them to pay the maintenance costs. That was determined by me playing with the Ingame Editor Mod. I suppose a mid-game exploit would be to build roads in a Civilization's territory and force them to pay for something they can't remove, then later stab them in the back.. but that would be a hollow victory. I was not first to find this, as after determining they paid it, I did a search and found this thread in 2010.

In Civ IV, you could connect two cities using a river. With Civilization 5, this is no longer possible. The only type of water connection available is through the Harbor. Harbors only cost 2 gold maintenance/turn so connecting smaller cities is worthwhile, and can help spread your network to bigger cities near them. It is possible to connect a city to the Capital with a Harbor even if the Capital City is land locked. As long as you can connect two cities with Harbors, you can form the connection so long as a road leads from the Harbor city to the Capital. If these two Harbor cities were on the same continent but far apart, you could connect them with the Harbors if both were on the Coast and save gold while connecting cities near the harbor with roads, but lack the mobility for your units between those two areas. Roads and Harbors connect together, so one harbor on each continent would suffice. You can even make connections through other cities' Harbors, again, so long as roads connect them to your network. Allied City-States or good Friendships with other Civs are the only of this kind that can really be relied upon, just as with Roads, for Open Borders must be in effect for using the other's Harbor to work. For a City-State, that means Friends status.

An example of a City Quest in Civilization 5
Completing City Quests will cause them to celebrate We Love the King Day!

We Love the King Day: City Quests
Occasionally, one of your Cities will make a demand for you to connect a certain resource to your trade network. You can do this by building a tile improvement on the resource within your borders, through trade with other Civs, or an alliance with a City-State (who also give Quests). If you succeed in this, the City will celebrate We Love the King Day for 20 turns (that's a LOT Of days). We Love the King will boost foot output in that city by 25 percent for the duration. If your Empire's happiness can accommodate it, this is a GREAT boost to growth. You could deliberately time it until you have the excess happiness to really take advantage of the We Love the King Day bonus. Otherwise, it's wasted and you may need to use Avoid Growth to prevent your Empire's Happiness from falling below 0.

Next Page

Civ 5 City Information & Strategies
City ConceptsCity Borders & Working TilesBuild & GrowScience, Gold, etc.City Strength & Military

Comments (11)

Dan says...
I'm really enjoying reading through the guides, but in my play I don't understand how to play with anything above 4 cities. When I try my empire becomes far too unhappy(playing on Emperor). I do my best for city placement to nab unique luxuries, but it is never enough.
Few questions, is there a race that is easier to play wide with, when do you hit the avoid growth button population wise, if you're aiming to build wonders that require x building in all cities how do you manage that?

I've managed to win a couple games culturally and diplomatically without using the Tradition tree at all, but I still ended up with only 3-4 cities.
This is  great question and a good place to ask it. I will eventually get to a Guide to Wide/Tall play that should be of further help. For now, I'll summarize some of the things that help with Happiness and Civs that get direct bonuses for that metric.

The Celts, Egypt, Netherlands, and Persia all get some bonus to Happiness. Celts get an Opera House replacement (Acoustics, so kind of later), Egypt gets Burial Tomb (Philosophy, much earlier) and Persia gets Satrap's Court, a Bank replacement. All 3 of these give you +2 Happiness, so they benefit Wide play. The Netherlands get to keep 2 Happiness from a Luxury when the last copy is traded away. Not all of these are suited to wide play, but their direct bonuses are good. One thing to keep in mind is getting more copies of your first Luxuries is also good, because each one can be traded off for another Luxury, and trading with Civs also helps deter war by giving a Diplomatic bonus. It's also likely if there is cotton all over your area, then other Civs don't have much Cotton. 

Getting to techs like Construction that lets you build the Colosseum and getting those all up for the Circus will help. Having Elephants or Horses nearby will let a City build a Circus for +2 Happiness and that is available early. If you are having Happiness problems, get some Trade Routes going so that you can afford to buy them from other Civs for 7-10 Gold per Turn. It may be higher, later on. It's worth it for +4. If using Liberty, make sure your City Connections are done as soon as you can, for that +1 will begin to offset the cost of a new City. 

Founding a Religion and choosing certain beliefs such as Goddess of Love (Pantheon for +1 Happiness in Cities size 6+), and any of the buildings that give Happiness - Pagodas rock and are well-balanced giving +2 Happiness, Culture, and Faith. When playing Wide, it's usually easy to Found a Religion because you have more Cities with Shrines. Choose a Faith-producing Pantheon to help ensure this, and it will also help you purchase Pagodas (or other Building) in your Cities. There is also a Founder Belief that gives +1 Happiness for every 8 Followers in Foreign Cities, so long as they are not enemies.

Prioritizing Mercantile City-States is also a good idea, because they give a flat +2 Happiness boost along with the Resources they have available when you Ally with them. 

I hope this is helpful to your Wide play.

- Carl
12th February 2014 7:53am
LimpCoffee says...
Very well done mate. I am 35 hours into civ 5 and I just started playing about 5 days ago... I found this guide helpful. Is there a guide you made that describes each majour civ in detail? Like what are the max benefits, good terrain, what they are most likely to succeed in, etc? If you have then I missed it some where. Again thanks for making the awesome guides!
I am working on the list of Civilizations (click Civilizations in the navigation on the left) but it's only half done. I have a lot more to go before all are updated for G&K and BNW and I've set a higher standard of quality for those articles instead of rushing them. This means the guide is taking a long time to develop, but I'm coming up with better and more helpful pages (I hope).

- Carl
7th January 2014 4:18am
Alan R says...
Great resource!
21st March 2014 6:12pm
Shane says...
Outstanding guide - well written, insightful, intelligent. I agree with Vik that the game deserves you. Thanks!
You're welcome, I'll keep going and try to publish at least an article or two each  week from here on out. I'm finally done covering The Sims 3 (for the most part) which gives me much more free time to develop on other games that I enjoy :)
18th December 2013 4:44pm
laccor says...
thank you very much! this guide is amazing!
13th December 2013 1:02pm
Vik says...
Nice to see such a nicely done guide for Civ 5. I was looking around for some tips and tricks and stumbled upon this treasure. A game such as this really deserves such a gem. Keep up the great work!
7th September 2013 7:43am
BubblestationCPH says...
Great work. What I like the most is the comments on what works early and what to look after later on. really helpfull even after a cpl of playthroughs.
Played civ 1,2,3 and just bought this recently. This is what i need to restore my my former glory :P
TY so much for the deep yet easy accesable how-to guide
Cheers. Still working on it, but glad there's enough content here to help people :)
6th January 2014 11:30pm
Pieter says...
This is great. It's already past midnight but now I'm reading this guide I can't wait to start a new game in Civ V. I finally found it!
I'm glad I could help you get more fun out of the game. Enjoy!
28th September 2013 8:51pm
Tobbe says...
Amazing work!

I would say im a pretty experienced player (150 hours) and i still learnt alot and had many new angles/strategies on how to approach things!

Found a spelling mistake also :)

"Each new City you add will reduce happiness by 3, while each unit of population will also lower population by 1"

All in all, superb work. Keep it up!
Thank you! In fact, I should be using the term Unhappiness there anyway, as there is a difference .. nothing lowers happiness, it just generates Unhappiness.
7th February 2014 4:36am
DrtyOMan says...
I concur with the previous comment. This is a great piece of work; very useful.
18th September 2013 3:11pm
Civ V noob says...
Best guide i've found so far. This game becomes greater everyday i play it or find info on it. This can count as a legendary item. Greetings from Belgium.
Happy to help! I myself read the /r/civ and /r/civstrategy subreddits and love learning something new or getting a new idea for how to play a given game. There are so many valid strategies that Civ 5 is a game you can play for hundreds of hours without ever growing bored. Every game is different!
12th July 2014 8:45am
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This site and all original strategy guides created by and © Carl Ratcliff. This is an unofficial Civilization V fansite and I am in no way affiliated with Firaxis Games, Developer of Civ 5 Brave New World and Gods and Kings.