With Civilization 6 due out in about a month I'm going to be celebrating one of my favorite strategy games with some tier lists, a Top Ten civilization countdown and maybe some other fun stuff (most calming Civ colors, leaders ranked by how jacked they are, who knows). Will six be any good? Well, we're going to have mobile app-tier graphics, the return of Unit Stacks of Doom, exciting "innovations" no one asked for (Now they're called "Builders. Oh wow!). Trust me, that abortion of a video would be a DotTeeVee if it was shorter and I could control my gag reflex while watching it. So the answer to the hypothetical is probably "No, or at least not until it's been fixed with mods and expensive add-on packs." With that in mind, let's take a long hard look at five, which was the best in the series in humble and correct opinion.
To grade the pantheons I'm assuming the relevant terrain/luxury is present, but I will be taking into account the relative scarcities (Marble doesn't spawn in clusters, for example) as well as the set-up time involved to gain the bonus. Everything is graded A to F and there is no grade inflation. A "C" is solid but unspectacular, in other words, not a failing grade where your Panama City spring trip plans get cancelled. With that in mind, let's get going.
Ancestor Worship: +1 Culture from Shrines. This is pretty lackluster, in most games you're only going to have a few shrines when you get this and the bonus is too small to matter much later in the game. Since this won't help you get a religion you're also likely to lose it by then, although you probably won't even notice when you do. Grade: D
Dance of the Aurora: +1 Faith from Tundra tiles without forest. If you're unlucky enough to be surrounded by tundra...well, there are probably still better choices. This will help you get a religion, but at the expense of having to work tiles that are absolute garbage, especially early in the game. This one actually gets better later on when you can at least build trading posts, so at least there's that. The fact that this doesn't work on forest tundra, squares that are likely to have deer and thus not be worthless, is one final insult. Grade: D
Desert Folklore: +1 Faith from Desert tiles. There's reasons why a desert start is considered desirable and this very powerful pantheon is one of them. Unlike Dance of the Aurora it works on all desert tiles, including flood plains and oasis (That is the correct plural, right? Oasises? Oasisi?). The upshot is a large increase in faith generation and a chance to get a strong religion. Later in the game you might be able to build Petra and make this one even stronger. Grade: A
Earth Mother: +1 Faith from Copper, Iron and Salt. Tiles that are already very desirable now generate faith, it's hard to find fault in that. Especially nice if you have salt, which is arguably the game's best luxury. I wouldn't hesitate to take it if the relevant resources are there. Grade: A
Faith Healers: +30 HP healed in adjacent to a friendly city. Sounds bad, is bad. You're not only giving up some very nice early boosts to take a pantheon that's only useful when you're in defensive wars, but the bonus itself isn't even all that great. To get the healing the unit can't take any action, making its worth as a defender very passive indeed. I could see how this might have highly situational use, but you're giving up way too much for a bonus that only activates when you're getting your lunch eaten. Grade: F
Fertility Rites: 10% bonus to surplus food. When the effect is correctly stated, as it just was, it's clear this one is deceptively awful. The promise of early growth is definitely enticing, but you're unlikely to get even a full unit of food from this. Grade: F
God of Craftsmen: +1 Production in cities with 3 or more population. This is yet another choice that sounds good on paper, but has a minimal impact on the game once it's chosen. Compare it to God-King, which gives +1 production and many other bonuses, God of the Sea which could generate many hammers in the right city or even Monuments to the Gods and it's clear this one is a pretty under-performing choice. Grade: D
God of the Open Sky: +1 Culture from Pastures. This is a nice culture boost early on tiles that would be worked anyways. On the down side, you'll have to actually build those pastures, which is time-consuming but would probably be among your first worker projects anyway. Overall, this is a very nice bonus in the early game, but loses some points for the set-up and the fact that it won't help you get a religion and as such is likely to be lost. Grade: B
God of the Sea: Definitely better than God of Craftsmen, but still not what I'd consider a top-tier choice. It can give a nice production boost, but is somewhat set-up intensive. Work boats are surprisingly expensive early on and there's often more pressing concerns to build. Once it's up and running it's a strong bonus, especially with a lighthouse in the city, but expect to lose it unless you gain a religion via natural wonders, world wonders or building lots of shrines and temples. Grade: C
God of War: Gain Faith for destroying units within four tiles of your cities. Much like trying to use the honor tree to generate a steady flow of culture, but even weaker. You'll need to fighting within your borders, something that shouldn't be happening if you're a serious war-monger and is likely to spell your ruin if you're not. It is marginally better than the other combat-oriented choices, but is still no prize. Grade: D
Goddess of Festivals: +1 Culture and Faith from Wine and Incense. On the plus side no special set-up is required other than working the relevant tiles. On the downside these are tiles that shouldn't be prioritized in the early game due to their lack of production and food. Overall this is pretty middle of the road. Grade: C
Goddess of Love: +1 Happiness in each city with a population of 6 or more. This provides a small boost in happiness, but only in larger cities. In other words, it's not going to solve those happiness problems, although at least it's something. Grade: D
Goddess of Protection: +30% to City's ranged attack strength. This is even worse than Faith Healers. A stronger one-shot per turn ranged attack won't save you if you're being overwhelmed and won't matter if your defense it strong. It would be interesting to try to pair this with the Red Fort and Their Finest Hour from the Liberty ideology to create insane city strengths, but let's be real, why would you even pick it? Grade: F
Goddess of the Hunt: +1 Food from camps. A nice early game food boost, one that actually makes a difference, unlike Fertility Rites. On the down side camps require Trapping, which is a second-tier improvement, so it will take time to get this bonus online. This makes this one a little weaker than Sun God, the strongest of the growth pantheons. Grade: B
God-King: +1 Science, Culture, Faith, Gold and Production in the Capital. Several small advantages are given and they activate right away without any need for constructing improvements, specific technologies or assigning citizens. This is the strength of God-King, but also the weakness since what you get is relatively minor compared to the stronger pantheon choices. I would take this as a consolation prize if what I really wanted was already gone. Grade: C
Messenger of the Gods: +2 Science in cities with a city connection. It's Science (!) so it's automatically good, right? Well, not really. The time to get your extra science is the major downfall, you need to research roads and then build them, as well as have enough cities built to gain the benefits. Maybe use Carthage's free harbors? Yeah, maybe. In most cases by the time you're getting this bonus it doesn't lend a huge advantage and you're about to lose it because you don't have a religion. Grade: D
Monument to the Gods: +15% production on Ancient/Classical wonders. On the highest difficulties this one is almost worthless for world wonders, although the bonus on national wonders is still nice. If you're playing on King or lower, this is probably a more reasonable choice and it does stack with Aristocracy from Tradition, the Marble bonus and Egypt's ability. Build the Pyramids in one turn? Not going to happen, but could be nice under the right circumstances. Grade: C
One with Nature: +4 Faith from Natural Wonders. A nice faith boost that activates immediately if you're working a natural wonder. If said wonder also offers faith, you're all but assured a strong religion. If the natural wonder is Grand Mesa or the Barringer Crater, this one might not be as attractive. Keep in mind that if you playing as Spain the faith from this is doubled, creating an insane 24 faith per turn if you're lucky enough to have Mt. Sinai. This one will be affected by the value of the natural wonder in question and it's unlikely you'll have more than one in your early empire, but it has the potential to be extremely strong. Grade: A
Oral Tradition: +1 Culture from Plantations. Another nice early culture boost, with the notable disadvantage that you need to build plantations first. It's worth noting that in many cases it's actually more desirable not to build a plantation, especially if you want to keep jungle tiles for science later on. This is the major failing of an otherwise nice pantheon. Grade: C
Religious Idols: +1 Faith and Culture from Gold and Silver. No set-up required and one of the rare choices that provides both faith and culture. On the downside Gold tends to spawn singularly rather than in clusters and you're going to need to get food for the city from some other source to enjoy the bonus. Once those issues are dealt with, this is a good choice. Grade: B
Religious Settlements: +15% faster border growth. Another choice that sounds useful and really isn't. The percentage boost is too small to make much of a difference, simply stated. If you went Tradition you probably won't even notice the effects and you get no boost to faith, culture or anything else, just marginally faster access to tiles that you could just buy or go Tradition to get. Grade: D
Sacred Path: +1 Culture from Jungle tiles. The good news is this also applies to tiles with special resources and you don't have to build any improvements. The bad news is that jungle tiles aren't desirable early on. A pretty mixed bag. Grade: C
Sacred Waters: +1 happiness from cities on rivers. Like Goddess of Love this provides a small boost to overall happiness. This time you need to build cities on rivers, something that realistically is not always going to possible and even if it were you're not getting a huge boost. I consider this one slightly better than Goddess of Love, but both are sub-par compared to other options. Grade: D
Stone Circles: +2 Faith from Quarries. This is a nice boost and stone/marble are very desirable tiles. Unfortunately, masonry is a second-tier technology and then the quarries must be built, so it's going to take time to start reaping the rewards, time that you can ill-afford if you're racing for a religion. This drawback is significant, along with the relative scarcity of marble, but overall this one is pretty decent in spite of these limitations. Grade: B
Sun God: +1 Food from Bananas, Citrus and Wheat. The best choice for early growth. This goes into effect immediately and once combined with farms and granaries it's possible to gain the equivalent boost of building the Hanging Gardens. This is the best non-faith pantheon. Grade: A
Tears of the Gods: +2 Faith from Gems and Pearls. The other +2 faith pantheon can be activated immediately and as such is potentially stronger. The tiles won't be as productive as quarries, however. Still, if the relevant luxuries are present there's no reason not to take this. Grade: B
Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more Civilization 5 goodness in the coming days!
Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.