Recommended Civs for a New Player

Article written by Doug Thompson
Published on 10-31-2008; updated on 08-17-2014
Tags: New Player Tips, Beginners

Here's the final draft. It shows the consensus, even when I disagree with it.

"Newbie" has various definitions. To some, it's a player who just installed the game, with the shrink wrap still lying on the floor. To others, it's someone who's tried to learn the game but keeps getting stuck. To a few, it's somebody making his debut in multi-player games. To a few more, it's somebody who is a net detriment to his team in multi-player rather than an advantage.

This list fits all these definitions well, in my opinion. It represents consensus, but not undisputed consensus. Many serious dissents are noted below.

The emphasis here is on civilizations that are easy to manage and give the player an economic head-start. In short, this guide is a rough ranking of which civs best allow somebody to keep up with better players.

Note that the emphasis is far more upon a fast, balanced economy than upon what kind of military, although military factors were not completely ignored. There's a multitude of very good reasons for this. To name one, new players tend to be attracted to "neat" military units. Well, stylish units are like stylish cars: They cost lots of money. Newbie players need to "get a job" in the form of a hard-working economy, then apply tactics.

Note that ranking high on this list does not mean a civ is a "rookie" civ. Vikings, for instance, are the choice of many experts. Also, note the large number of opinions within the thread that the Chinese are really an expert’s choice.

Simple choices

  1. Personal preference -- Nobody who replied disputes that the best civ to play is the one you like. No civ is so dauntingly difficult that you should abandon your favorite and play something else. Also, personal style of play is very important. Vikings, for instance, are a great newbie civ but no fun for a born cavalry player.
  2. Vikings -- Far and away the most recommended specific civ. The generous, automatic economic bonuses help newbies where they need it the most.
  3. Britons -- Easy, automatic econ bonuses and solid, uncomplicated units.
  4. Persians -- Extra food and wood is just about as straightforward an econ bonus as anybody can get. If only a way could be found to stop newbies from wasting that head start by building elephants first. Also, this civ's lack of a champion and a cavalry-heavy military mix makes combined arms tactics necessary in the Imperial Age, something hard for newbies. At least you might get to the Imperial Age with this civ, though. Very nice economic tech tree, too.
  5. Celts -- Woodcutting bonus simplifies things. Easy-to-use unique unit. Harder-to-destroy siege weapons teaches people how to use these units with some room for mistakes.
  6. Teutons -- Nice line of sight bonus for the town center almost guarantees a sighting of the first four sheep and nearest berry patch. Teuts are a good, solid civ with a good farming bonus. The farming bonus is so very helpful, however, that some warn that the bonus tempts newbies into skipping necessary hunting and fishing, going into inefficient Dark Age farming instead.
  7. Spanish -- Many good units and many upgrades that cost no gold, so the newbie tendency to buy upgrades for units he doesn’t have yet doesn't cause as much damage. The trade bonus is very good, but not applicable in the game's early stages when the newbie needs a boost the most.

Good, but with a wrinkle

  1. Byzantines -- This is a good defensive civ. There are counter units for all occasions, several of which are very cheap, which helps the newbie cope with both attacks and economic pressure. The logistica cataphract is expensive but powerful and easy to use.

    A few of us still say the choice of options are too ample, to the point of bewildering. Add to that the lack of an early economic bonus and lack of the vital blast furnace and siege engineers technologies. Newbies will fall behind and stay there with this civ, dissenters say.
  2. Chinese -- The Chinese are a paradox: Easy to play, hard to play well and close to impossible to master.

    This civ was near the top the first time this list was compiled. Good econ bonus, nice tech tree and no weird unique unit requiring special playing skills. Offset somewhat by the weird nature of having double the number of starting villagers, making play with the Chinese easier to bungle in the opening moves and making experience with Chinese less adaptable to playing other civs.

    Yes, the opening moves with the Chinese are easy to foul up. So what does this mean? That the newbie loses a good head start, making him about even with a slightly better player. Cheaper techs and more food from farms will still help him.

    One real problem is that the Chinese must be played well to "knock out" an opponent. A newbie Chinese player may win many battles and still lose the war, despite those great scorpions.
  3. Mayans -- Simple but effective. The lack of cavalry and other factors can make the Mayans need more subtle play than they appear, though. Extra starting villager and resource bonus make help the newbie keep the resources flowing.

Causes some worries

  1. Huns -- Nobody who replied denies that Huns have the easiest mechanics in the game. That’s the problem.

    I_Clan Emporer was the first to argue that playing Huns can stunt your growth. Other player agree, that the no-housing bonus makes players lazy and makes a transition to other civs more difficult.

    I still consider the Huns the obvious choice for a newbie, who is likely to be overwhelmed by the need to do everything at once.
  2. Franks -- Easy econ bonuses again and easy-to-use troops. Reinforces the newbie tendency to build nothing but paladins, though.
  3. Koreans -- A strong defensive civ, which is important given the newbie tendency to seek survival.
  4. Mongols -- Mongols were at the bottom when the first version of this list came out. Many forum members are protesting the move up. The unique unit doesn’t really shine, for instance, without a pro at the controls.

    Certainly, no newbie can hope to get the blazing feudal and castle times a seasoned player can draw from this choice.

    Still, there’s no denying that newbies have a lot of trouble with scouting, and the scouting bonus is a big help for them. The big, black gaps in a newbie’s scouting pattern are considerably smaller with Mongols. Perhaps the best choice would be Vikings with a Mongol ally.

    Newbies need to learn how to hunt. The Mongol hunting bonus rewards them for trying. Certainly, Mongols are much more conventional to play in the Feudal and Castle ages than the Chinese. Finally, the hussar flood technique allows somebody to play the Mongols without being a mangudai maestro.
  5. Japanese -- Nice bonus that saves on both labor and wood, but not the easiest civ to play well.

Challenging

  1. Random -- Newbies should try all civs, but in a methodical fashion while learning something of each civ's strengths and weaknesses before playing them.
  2. Goths -- The "boot camp" civ, this is the civ that teaches you -- the hard way. It fights the newbie tendency to wall up by taking walls away. Goths must learn to attack. Doubters argue that a newbie Goth player won’t live long enough to learn anything. My opinion; if the progression is newbie-rookie-intermediate, Goths should be used by a rookie wanting to become an intermediate player, not a newbie.
  3. Aztecs -- Kind of like the Goths, only not as forgiving.
  4. Saracens -- Great civ, but their market bonus needs an experienced player's hand. However, some say no other civ teaches you how to use the market without charging you too much for the lessons.
  5. Turks -- A great civ for someone with enough experience to use them correctly.