Playstyle Comparison & Tips for City Layout/Empire Management

There are two frequently mentioned terms describing playstyle and City placement in Civilization 5: Tall and Wide. This Guide will help you understand the differences between them and the benefits of playing with each layout. Civ is a game about exploring and using the land around you to create an Empire that can pursue one of the various Victory Conditions. So, while you may be inclined to play with only a few Cities, leaving large amounts of land unsettled only invites your neighbors to grab that land and use it against you.

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Simple Definitions of Tall and Wide EmpiresTall: 5 or less Cities on a standard map, with plenty of land between them to allow for optimal growth. There is little to no overlap in tiles to enable Cities to work every tile within a 3-hex radius. Tradition is usually the best Policy to open with this playstyle. The Hanging Gardens Wonder is unlocked with Tradition, giving your Capital even faster growth, complimenting the strategy and giving your Capital easier use of Specialists without sacrificing growth early on.Wide: Numerous Cities with some overlap of workable tiles. This playstyle focuses on grabbing up much land and has Cities that do not have as much population but their combined output enables quick production of Military units and comparable Scientific output with enough Happiness to allow growth. You"ll be working nearly every tile around, though spamming Cities is not wise as of Brave New World. It is better to choose locations that are at least somewhat desirable. Liberty is usually the best Policy to open with, as it allows for fast expansion by increasing the rate you can produce Settlers in your Capital and the rate Workers construct Tile Improvements. The Pyramids Wonder is unlocked with Liberty, providing a pair of Workers instantly and giving you another 25% faster increase in Tile Improvement construction. Tradition is viewed as so good that people often use it even with wide play, relying on their first Cities" growth bonuses to help fuel Science and increase income. Either is a valid choice, but very few would use Liberty for Tall play.

Adapting to the Map & WarAs for Tall vs Wide, there is no best - often, you"ll need to strike a balance between these playstyles. This means you should never go into a game and say, "I will have 3 Cities". You should settle the good lands that offer new Luxuries if they are available, weighing whether it"s worth expanding toward a neighbor and causing a diplomatic penalty from land covetry. If you have 3 Cities already, and there is large area between you and your neighbor, take that spot that has 2 new Luxuries you don"t have or an area with excellent potential for growth because of numerous food resources! Strategic Resources are also important, and may be hidden in areas that seem to have little to offer aside from some Food. Technologies will reveal them and provide the City with Production bonuses later on.

In every game, you must adapt. Sometimes you will be crunched and have no intention to War, so you will work with what you have and find that is fine. I have won games with only 2 Cities, and the Venetian Civilization may only have full control over one but has the ability to win an easy Diplomatic Victory. Otherwise, if you are crunched and want more land, you will have to war with your neighbors. Scouting is the most important factor to knowing whether you will be going Tall or Wide, and whether you will be forced to fight for land. You should know what lands and Luxury Resources are available, and who your neighbors are - this is why the first thing you should always build is a Scout, often two, while your starting Warrior sweeps the perimeter around your Capital to determine your first Settlement location.

Later in the game, you may end up with more Cities through Peace Treaties or Conquest - choosing to Raze Cities is a smart move when the AI or other players have placed them in bad locations or with too much overlap to let the City Grow in Population. Knowing when to Raze and realize a City is not worth keeping even as a Puppet is wise. You may raze all the Cities around a Civ"s Capital and keep that one City with the intention of Annexing it and making it a part of your Tall empire. You may also Raze and place Cities in new locations that are better suited for growth - knocking out 2 Cities to found one really good City that is better than the previous 2 combined.

Clarifying Opening Policy ChoicesWhile myself and others will often say Tradition for Tall/Liberty for Wide, there is no one right way to play, and being flexible while adapting to changing circumstances will make you a better player. While most players would recommend Tradition/Liberty starts, you will not always hear that you should finish those immediately. Some players will take just the Settler from Liberty or get Border Expansion from Tradition then move on to getting a few Policies from Honor or Piety, with the intention of finishing the openers to get the bonus later. In regard to Tradition/Liberty you should always finish them at some point for the big bonuses they provide, while other Policies you may only want to Adopt to get a bonus or unlock a Wonder, getting only what you need out of them. Generally, it"s better to pick one of these two for your start and stick with it until it is complete.

Cost Increases per CityKnowing how the game"s subsystems work is very important to managing your Empire and deciding what is the best route to take. This knowledge will let you know if settling an area will pay off in the long run. The following metrics increase in cost with each City you own:Social Policies: +10% per City, (not Puppets). This is additive, 3 extra Cities would raise Policy cost 130%.Science: +5% Tech Cost per CityUnhappiness: +1 Unhappiness per Population, +3 per CityRoads: 1g/Road, 2g/Railroad. You"ll need more of them to connect your Cities the wider your Empire.

Offsetting Cost IncreasesAlthough costs increase, with a Wide Empire you will be able to offset a good portion of higher Science costs by simply having buildings in those Cities that increase Science and getting more from Population (Library/University). With regard to Social Policy costs, you"ll have more buildings that generate flat culture (Monument, Ampitheater) and thus more slots for Great Works to generate Culture. However, you still need Great People to make them, and that is something that is easier to generate Tall - working many Specialists relies on you having enough +Food to support them while maintaining growth. Thankfully, Faith is easier to generate and Religion spreads faster with a wide empire and you can get any of these (Gold, Science, Culture) from Religion, depending on the beliefs you select.

Playing a Tall Empire in Civ 5

Tall essentially means having fewer (5 or less) Cities with little to no overlap in land. Cities are able to work up to 3 tiles away, but a tile can only be worked by one City at a time. Thus, the minimum placement you would want (exceptions aside) would be to count 7 hexes and place your City there.

Here"s an example screenshot that I made, using the Ingame Editor to Cheat, just to show how Cities would be laid out for Tall play:

Click to Enlarge. Placing Cities so that they can work all Tiles around will give them maximumPopulation growth potential. Counting 7 hexes from a City is an easy way to do this without Mods.That placement would enable both Cities to work the 6 tiles in between them with no overlap. You can click the screenshot to get a bigger view of the spacing - there are exactly 6 hexes in between. I counted 7 hexes away and chose that as the place to put the City, based on surrounding resources. It doesn"t have to be perfect - it"s better to grab a couple extra workable food/resource tiles than to worry about 1-2 tiles of overlap. You don"t just place them wherever you are able. Good City placement is key with Tall, so you would want fertile lands (Food resources or River/Grassland) with some tiles for Production. A City focused on Science and growth would not necessarily care about Production, but does need to be able to construct the buildings it needs to flourish. Thankfully, Farms (with Fertilizer) are eventually able to provide +2 Food even without a River or other fresh water source, and you are able to construct Lumber Mills on Forest tiles to make up for Production in areas without hills.

Playing Tall almost always means taking the Tradition Social Policies. These give powerful growth bonuses in the Capital and the next three Cities you place. It also increases border expansion by providing a free Monument (or Ampitheater if you wait to take that Policy) in those Cities.

Cities are able to expand their borders up to 5 hexes away, meaning a City with high culture can reach out to grab Luxury and Strategic Resources for your Empire, even if it cannot work the tile. So long as the tile is improved and it"s within your borders, you will get the Resource.

Benefits of Playing TallReduced Chance of Diplomatic Penalties from AI Coveting Lands - Land Covetry is a problem with Wide if you have nearby neighbors. You can still have land disputes playing Tall, but they"re less likely to be a problem in any given game.Easier to Defend Your Territory - Having just a few Cities to protect means they"ll be easier to defend against invasion as your Military will always be closer. The Cities will also have large population, giving them a higher Combat Strength.Unhappiness is Easier to Manage - Every City you found increases Unhappiness by 3, so you need more unique Luxuries to make a Happy Empire. Tall empires will hit a cap until they get new Luxuries, an Ideology, or a Technology enabling a new building for reducing Unhappiness (Circus, Colosseum, Zoo, Stadium).More Golden Ages - Golden Ages give your Civ a great boost, and playing Tall offers more Golden Ages simply because you will have less trouble maintaining positive Happiness. At times you may need to avoid Growth, but you should find plenty of Luxuries within your area and spare copies to Trade with other Civilizations.Cheaper Science - You may have less Scientific Output than a Wide empire, but Policies are significantly cheaper - when Cities grow really high in Population, either Tall/Wide can easily win Scientifically.Cheaper Social Policies - This one is big. If you expand too much, you won"t be able to adopt policies very quickly unless your Capital is wholly dedicated to producing Great Works by working the three Artists" Guilds. With Tall, you have the extra Population to do that while maintaining growth and Policies are much, much cheaper to adopt.Better Production of Wonders - With a bigger City, you will have an easier time making Wonders. You are also not using as much Gold/Production time to make Settlers so can get the buildings necessary to make a good City before a Wonder becomes available. Tall Civs can take their pick of Wonders when playing on Emperor or below, so long as they are first to the Tech. It gets harder to get early Wonders on Immortal/Deity but when you catch up Scientifically, you are able to pursue mid-late game Wonders.Cheaper National Wonders - You"ll require fewer buildings total to allow your Cities to make National Wonders, and the cost to build them is lower with fewer Cities. With 3-4 Tall Cities, it"s easy to throw up a few Opera Houses swiftly then make your Hermitage to boost Culture.

Tall Civs ListThe following Civs are good for Tall play. This list is not exhaustive. There are 43 Civs with DLC and you may find many great strategies for any of them::Egypt - a Tall Capital with the +15% bonus to Wonder Production from Tradition and +20% Unique Ability will let them win Cultural Victories easily. Their Burial Tomb (Temple) can be used for Wide Play to offset Unhappiness from number of Cities.Ethiopia - They get a combat bonus against any Civ that is bigger than them, a UU that specializes in Capital defense, and their Monument replacement gives +2 Faith to help them quickly get a Pantheon.Siam - Play Tall and work on income to help you ally with City-States. Their University replacement will help your Cities reach out to 5 tiles away faster, so long as you also prioritize Culture in Cities. This will give you more Resources to trade.

Playing a Wide Empire in Civ 5

Wide is generally more than 5 Cities, with some overlap of tiles. The strength here is the sheer number of tiles you will work. This can lead to far more Production throughout the Empire and with the right buildings, Scientific output equivalent to that of a Tall Civ. By taking land quickly, you are able to secure many Strategic Resources to make a strong Military, and though Cities will not have fast build times themselves, the overall rate that you can get Military units out will be faster than Tall. They will also be working more Gold-producing tiles to support that larger military. Wide play has fallen in popularity since Brave New World and the most recent patch, but it is still a perfectly viable playstyle that can lead to victory quickly if you manage your Empire well.

Click to Enlarge. Rapidly Expanding can lead to conflict, but can make your Civ powerful later.Wide play often precludes War, which will result in even more Cities for your Empire if you are the victor.

City placement is still important when playing wide in Civ 5. You want good tiles within reach while trying to minimize overlap. At one time, people would spam Cities and crunch them together, but Wide play now involves more thought. The minimum spacing of Cities is 4 tiles away, which is okay - but 5 is better for Wide these days, so that you can grow to greater heights. You must seek out new Luxuries or at least copies of those you already have, while maintaining some positive relations with other Civs in order to trade - else, you will need to do many City-State Quests and give them gifts of Gold to secure more Luxuries. Remember that the AI will gratefully take Strategic Resources that you do not require in exchange for Luxuries at a 5 to 1 ratio.

Using Avoid Growth is an important aspect of this playstyle. Some Cities are only going to be there to grab Resources and provide some gold/science. Until you have plenty of excess Happiness, you do not want these Cities to grow too much. Having a strong Capital is still crucial so that you are able to produce Wonders/National Wonders. The trouble with National Wonders is that they rise in cost the more Cities in your Empire and you must make the required building in every non-Puppet City. Timing may be important - for example you want a National College to improve your Science. You should delay placing a Settler until the building is done, else you will need another Library. If you can buy that Library immediately, great, but it may not be the wisest course since a 1 Pop city with a Library will barely help you. Instead, get the Settler where you want it and wait on that Wonder to finish.

While Wide does often mean you are rapidly expanding with Settlers, you can also start Tall and grow through conquest to have a Wide empire. Make just 2-3 Cities, rush to Composite Bowmen and Spearmen or Swordsmen and conquer your neighbors. Rather than razing Cities, you will keep 2/3 of them as Puppets and Annex the best-placed Cities (generally Capitals). As stated before, Razing and placing a City a couple hexes away is not a bad idea if you can place it better than the other player.

If you grow Wide through Warmongering, note the above about Puppets not increasing Social Policy Costs. This is important and why you should keep most as Puppets. You are not even able to check Avoid Growth, so the best means of stunting their growth is to replace Farms with Trading Posts. They are naturally inclined to work Gold-generating tiles, as they have the Gold focus checked by default. Be sure to change this when you Annex a City, and immediately build a Courthouse (or buy it) to stop the additional Unhappiness. Be sure that City can pay off Culturally, as in if you need extra slots. They will build Cultural buildings - eventually - on their own, and these can be used as well. Annexing is mainly about taking control and allowing a City to grow, more to boost the Scientific output of that City. Most Capitals are in good spots, and the AI isn"t always foolish about where it places expansions, so non-capitals sometimes make good Science Cities.

Local Happiness is an important mechanic to understand with Wide play. A City cannot generate more Happiness than it has Population, so if you have a City with a Pagoda, Colosseum, and any other buildings that produce Happiness, it will only contribute an amount up to its Population. This means a 5-Pop City is not able to generate 6 Happiness, but if it does have enough buildings to do so, the next level of growth will not reduce your Happiness.

One of the major drawbacks of Wide play is Building Maintenance. You will be paying a lot for it, so it"s important you have some Trading Posts around any Conquered Puppet Cities to help with your GPT. In some Cities, it"s wise to skip building certain things - for example Military Academies and certain growth buildings. If a City doesn"t have much Production, you probably won"t care that it doesn"t make great Military units, nor would you want it to grow very quickly. Growth is best in your City with the National College and Guilds, Coastal Cities to improve Trade Route income and a couple of Cities that can be dedicated to Military production.

Benefits of Playing WideEasier to Build a Big Military - While your other Cities work on Science/Culture, it"s easy to dedicate a few Cities to pumping out Military units.Improved Faith Generation - Taking a belief that increases Faith (building, terrain) along with the usual Shrines/Temples can result in a lot of Faith generation.Easier to Spread Religion - Having many Cities follow your own Religion means they will exert pressure on other Cities nearby, causing your Religion to spread.More Strategic Resources - The more land you control, the more likely you are to have a particular Strategic Resource within your Borders.Internal Trade Routes - If you are at War with many Civs, it"s better to use your Trade Routes to boost Cities. You can send several Trade Routes carrying Food or Production to your Capital/other Science City to help it grow and improve the Scientific Output or rate of Wonder Construction for that City.More Great Works Slots - Tourism Victories are generally easier with Wide empires, because they will be able to have many more Amphitheaters and Museums throughout the Empire.Better Defense vs Negative Public Opinion - If you pick a different Ideology than the most Cultural AI, you will suffer negative Public Opinion. While Wide empires" Social Policies cost more, having a higher Culture output will help defend you against this. Wide will have more Culture-producing buildings and tiles overall, so they can be hard to overtake with Tourism.Better Reach for Trade Partners - When going for a Tourism Victory, it"s important you are able to send Trade Routes to other Civilizations. Playing wide means you"re more likely to have a City in range for a land or sea Trade Route.Improved Resource Diversity - Trade Routes" income are based on the Gold Output of both Cities, along with the differening Resources available to each Empire. The more Luxuries and Strategic Resources you have that they don"t, the better the income will be.Learn to Manage Happiness - While it is more difficult to manage Happiness with a Wide empire, you should learn a lot from the experience. After playing Wide, Tall is very easy to manage. Using Avoid Growth at times, along with Trading with other Civs, researching appropriate Techs and Allying with City-States are all important concepts to master in Civ 5.Wide Civs ListThe following Civs are at least okay at playing wide, while some will only see their true potential while playing with many Cities. This list is not exhaustive. There are 43 Civs with DLC and you may find many great strategies for any of them. Just about any Warmonger Civ can/should be played Wide, at the very least with an Empire of Puppeted Cities:

Further Reading

This site has a lot of information about the game scattered through over 100 pages. Here are some references that can help you with either playstyle.

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Share your Tips for Wide/Tall PlayUse the comments form to share your gameplay tips below. Feel free to disagree with me here - this article may provoke some discussion and help other players learn about the game. I feel that things are fairly balanced between the two playstyles, and it is ultimately about how well you are able to manage your empire"s Happiness and Science/Culture output.