Guide to Five City Challenge (5CC)

Five city challenge, or 5CC, is a variant game where your civilization can ONLY have five cities. That means accepting no flips, always razing instead of capturing, and making the most out of the few cities you have.

Having done well in several medium difficulty 5CC, and somehow pulling off a 5CC conquest victory on deity, there’s a lot I’ve picked up and wanted to share in this guide.

What makes 5CC hard?

  • Quite limited production, income, and area
  • High likelihood of missing several key resources
  • Likely few luxury resources as well
  • Can never have more than one army (can support 1 army per 4 cities)
  • No forbidden palace (which means no using FP as placeholder either)

What makes 5CC doable, in fact, why five and not 4 or 6?

  • With five cities you can build Wall Street and boost income
  • With five cities you can build Battlefield Medicine
  • With five you can get a capital plus one very nice ring of core cities
  • Compared to more cities, the ‘top five’ often account for about 50% of the income, research, and culture, due to extremely low corruption.


Three things are very important to consider before the game even starts: Desired win condition, civilization, and map conditions. Any win condition (other than domination) is possible, although the feasibility will depend alot on the difficulty. Diplomacy is in general one of the easiest ways to win (especially on deity). Conquest is a bear, an extra challenge, but it’s possible. Culture victory would come as a 20K victory in one city with support by its other four. This is a highly viable choice on lower diffs, and nearly impossible on deity due to the speed the AI will reach space launch.

Your civilization choice should (naturally) match your desired win condition. Egyptians and Babylonians are great choices for the peaceful victories, while Germans, Chinese, Celts, Vikings, etc., are excellent choice for military games (or combo games). Despotic Golden Ages are definitely to be avoided. The expansionist trait is less useful than in normal games, and scientific slightly more useful. You’re more likely to be well behind in tech, and the ‘slingshot’ provided on entering a new era can make all the difference.

Map conditions also take increased importance, as pulling off naval conquest when you can’t capture or build new cities would make for an extremely difficult 5CC. Large and huge maps make less sense for 5CC because you can’t take advantage of added space. A ‘common’ choice would be standard map, pangaea, random conditions. Pick the barbarian level to taste – some don’t want added headaches, while others would like the chance to promote some troops without being at war.

Variations on the theme: i) ‘loose’ 5CC where you can temporarily have an extra city but never end a turn with more than five, ii) start with four cities and save the fifth for another continent, and for the truly insane, iii) all four cities other than capital must be captured, and iv) always war.

The Opening

To have a good chance at winning your core area, and especially your capital city, should be fairly fertile, and should have some hilly areas. With high food and low shields a granary is an option but it’s far less crucial than in other games where REX and/or settler factory is used. You only need build only four settlers, ever.

It at all possible, found your capital on a river tile with some kind of food bonus. A near ideal setup is: non-coastal capital surrounded by four well spaced cities, at least one city on the coast, taking up a space (peninsula or subcontinent) that will be swallowed up completely by your cultural borders, with a chokepoint leading to your single nearest neighbor. While you don’t need all of these factors, the more the merrier.

Pick good spots! Do not overlap cities, in fact spacing them an extra tile or two apart will let you claim more area and the culture gaps will fill in after a few expansions. Definitely strive to snag as many luxuries and strategic resources as possible. Get the Wheel ASAP to make sure you get horses for one city, and get Iron Working for sure before you found the fifth city. If you’ve not snagged Iron in the first four its worth taking your time settling the last one, and even founding a little further away from the other cities. Found on good fertile land, but if there is tundra or dessert outside the 21 tiles but very closeby, excellent! With late game expansions you might get lucky and snag saltpeter or oil, or have it close enough to easily colonize. (Rubber-jungles, coal-mtns too). River spots are especially nice, allowing your cities to reach size 12 without an aqueduct. The commerce bonus of the river is helpful too.

Initial research – plan to either research or buy techs that display new resources. If the Great Library is in your plans, get to Literature ASAP. In general, pick techs the AI tends to neglect and research those for great bartering opportunities. Mathematics and Polytheism come to mind.

At the end of the era you’ll very likely want to get into a Republic. Your cities are quite highly developed, the military unit support is puny with just five cities, and the bonus commerce from size 12 cities is huge. Even if you plan to fight several wars, you’ll VERY likely do better in Republic. (If you don’t believe me, ask T-Hawk 😛 )

Middle Ages

In the early part of the middle ages you’ll start to feel the sting of five cities, as all other civs in the game are much larger, and think nothing of bullying you around. Giving in to tribute is likely unless you have a decidedly military focus. ‘Hang in there’ is the key to the middle ages, it’s the low point of many games, and you may fall way behind for a time on higher difficulties. Stay out of trouble, and build-build-build. Once you get Wall Street going and have all size 12 or greater cities, and have a few lux or resources to sell, and are in democracy, your economy will soar!

Industrial Era

Railroad quickly, have some workers on hand to add in instantly when you build hospitals, and jockey for tech position on Scientific Method. With a prebuild go for ToE and use it to snag Hoover (for denial even if you could do without it yourself). Target size 20 or 21 with your cities, so that you have zero extra food with as many tiles mined instead of irrigated – this will maximize production and you will likely have several cities able to crank 100 shields per turn. With size 21 cities, banks (and stock exchanges on PtW), full railroad network, and Wall Street, you will have a highly efficient empire capable of heading toward several goals — firm up your idea of what win to strive for, and focus on that direction heavily now.

Modern Era

The human player has a huge advantage at this stage, in knowing how to use railroad networks, artillery, air support, strategic alliances, and how to effectively manage the space race, that he’s in great shape if he has survived this far. For diplo win this phase is short and sweet. For other wins, do what you need to in order to slow down the superpower who threatens your win condition. Declare war and bring the whole world in on alliances, deny resources, and force him into the quagmire of communism. Unlike the AI, you can use the luxury slider and stay in democracy though just about the bloodiest warmongery if you need to. In 5CC there would almost never be a need to drop out of a representative government.


Some players have never built a colony, or think them useless. Put that thinking aside in a 5CC game and learn the amazing power of colonies! With dire needs for strategic resources and luxuries that can never be met by expansion, colonies are vital – IF you’re willing to go a military route or at least a combination game with some warfare. It’s important to raze any cities remotely close to the resource, and to post units permanently around them as far as practical, to keep others from settling there and stealing your resource. You can later make an airstrip (but not radio tower) in an area outside your cultural borders to help get units there quickly when needed.


Trading is a very important part of playing the 5CC. You WILL be behind in tech and you will lack resources you need, and you will want to know how to keep hungry AI at peace. Something to keep in mind is that you can sell your ONLY source of a lux or resource even if you have no extra – forgoing the benefits of having it yourself. Playing a peaceful game you can make great friends and learn many techs by selling saltpeter to the planet warmonger, or coal to the rich nation who lacks it, or a few lux to the civ with the most cities. They’ll pay through the nose for them.

Conversely, with so few cities, you will pay *peanuts* to buy lux or resources. Insanely cheap prices. You might be able to trade your only dye for three or four lux with a much larger civ!

Relations are important too – in 5CC you can’t afford to be the one everyone is dogpiling on! For diplo win especially, see if you can avoid ever being in a war, and having everyone giddy about being your friend. If that’s your desired win, be generous on deals when you can, rather than haggling for the last penny. Use MPP’s wisely and don’t get dragged into unwanted wars. RoP will be expensive for you due to small area controlled.


The decision for wonder building depends a LOT on difficulty level and desired victory condition. If 20K culture victory you better get cranking on them early. Colossus is one of the easiest to get (needs to be coastal). Probably the most important wonder is the Great Library, both for its nice benefits and for its whopping 6 culture per turn. With lower income and research potential, the GL is more useful in 5CC than in other games. The Pyramids would usually be a top choice, but just five cities, it’s less important. Snagging GL and one other ancient wonder is nearly essential for a 20K win. For middle Ages, Sistine and Bach’s are excellent, since you will be on one continent and will have large cities with few luxuries. Sun Tzu and Leo’s are less valuable, unless for denial. Try to get at least one or two Middle Age wonders if going for cultural win. In the Industrial Age, there’s nothing more useful and powerful than the combo of ToE and Hoover, taking Atomic Theory and Electronics with the former to secure the latter uncontested. If you can’t get Hoover, don’t fret though. It’s easy to build five power plants, and you can use ToE for replaceable parts or corporation or something useful. A game that snags these two is well on its way to victory. In the Modern Era, UN is usually vital – either for the victory or for denial. Fortunately, it’s easy to snag using a placeholder. On sub-deity levels, SETI along with Copernicus or Newton will be helpful in doing your own research (on deity it’s almost impossible to do research).


A realm in which to tread carefully, but where the benefits may be quite nice. Five cities is definitely enough for an early rush of archers, horsemen or swordsmen. On Monarch and below this is of definite benefit, so that your nearest neighbor(s) are the weakest. The last thing you want in 5CC is to be next to an aggressive superpower! Emperor gets dicey for very early action, but it’s possible, and on deity you better have a UU up to the task – even then by the time you’re ready with five cities and barracks and a dozen units, the AI might be just about at Feudalism!

Fighting for resources or nearby lux to colonize may very well be worth it. Fighting for a monopoly of a pivotal resource like oil or uranium will often the a game-winning move if you can pull it off. Keep a close eye on who has what (in strategic resources).

The key timeframes to consider for warfare include ancient era (when they don’t have much more than five cities themselves), Chivalry era if you have a knight-based UU or a neighbor who lacks iron (pikes). Cavalry provide probably the biggest advantage for warfare, as do Tanks. In the era between infantry and tanks don’t let the AI boss you around, as they will use infantry on offense vs your fortified / fortressed units and take such a severe beating they’ll pay for peace.

If you find yourself sharing an island with one other civ, and if it’s at all feasible, take them out in a series of wars. Beat on them and raze a few cities, take tech for peace, wait 20 turns and repeat, each time leaving them with less cities. When you reach tech parity with them, finish them off and colonize any resources. This should be considered even if going for a diplo win, as dead civs can’t vote against you 😛

On higher difficulty levels you may find everything progressing nicely toward your desired win with one problem… the AI will launch a ship before you win. It’s time for a resource denial campaign. Aluminum rubber and uranium are all needed for a spaceship – and razing the capital will destroy any existing spaceship. To pull this off, you’ll want as many of these factors as possible: no other civs who can sell them the resource, an alliance or two against the target (required if the ally can sell them the goods), and a large number of military units built up before you actually start the war. Your troops need to get there safely, raze possibly several cities so that the resource falls into neutral territory (for long term denial, if you expect peace after the campaign), and a strong enough force to hold it once you take the resource site. If it falls into neutral territory by razings, use a captured worker to build an airstrip next to the spot, build a fortress or a colony on the tile itself, and surround the area several squares out with troops so they can’t re-settle in the area and get it back.

In a conquest game – oscillate or wipe out a civ? The advantage of little wars against many civs is that it keeps them trimmed down and nets you many techs. But due to corruption there is only so much productivity on the planet, and wiping out a civ will often help slow things down. Two other foes sharing the world will have far less ‘total’ productivity and research potential than many peaceful civs trading with each other.

Leaders? They’re nice, sure, but less useful than in normal games. You can’t use one to rush a Forbidden Palace, and you can never have more than one army. In a military game you’ll end up rushing battleships or nukes. In a non-military game don’t even bother with the army or Epic. For example, I would take SunTzu just to deny it to the AI rather than increase odds for another leader with the Heroic Epic (unless I was planning a conquest game, where I would get lots of leaders, and will end up razing the SunTzu anyway). GL’s would mostly be used for rushing Great Wonders.

Specific Tips for different victory conditions

  • In diplo game, always give in to tribute demands, cut the AI slack on deals, gift techs to the most backward nations and help them live to see the vote. Trade away your saltpeter and rubber and oil for cash and brownie points. Instead of a large military, use alliances to protect you in case of war.
  • In conquest game, you’ll need a very large amount of units, and quite a few are well used for blockade duty. Resettling of lands that you raze is hard to completely avoid, but it’s important to maintain a road network out in completely neutral territory, connecting your core to the ‘front line’. This becomes essential once railroads are in place, or when you have distant colonies. Areas very close to home that are resettled are often a blessing, as you can pound on the AI that dares do such a thing repeatedly and get much gold and tech.
  • In a culture game have a *total focus* on culture on the city you plan to hit 20K. Have other units make workers to add in to that city, produce all the military, and support the culture city. If other cities go for wonders at all, it would be almost strictly for the purpose of breaking the cascade, or to catch lower culture-generating wonders that your culture city can’t get but the AI will. (e.g. say your culture city is working on Newton’s and another city can get Smith’s)
  • Spaceship game is most effective on lower and medium difficulty levels where you can self-research the needed techs more effectively. In a close race you may need a resource denial campaign (see above). Here more than with other victory conditions you might need to make judicious use of espionage to snag techs quickly.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Espionage can be your friend, but it can also be your worst enemy. Be prepared for war if you try to steal a tech, whether safely or immediately. Sometimes, especially on higher difficulties, it might make the difference between falling so far behind that you lose and keeping in the race enough to win. Look for ‘broker’ steals, where you can steal a monopoly tech and sell it to others to net you several techs for the price of one. Pick on the weakest civ to steal from, and if possible use a spy rather than the embassy. Also… don’t get addicted. Past performance is no guarantee of future success. Steal tech because you need to or because you can’t bear to line the pockets of the top researcher with cash by buying it from him.
  • If the AI has an ‘obvious’ sneak attack coming, see if you can buy a tech from him for a large gpt deal, and if he wants to attack let him shoot himself in the foot.
  • If playing for non-military win, do so aggressively, building like a madman and forsaking all military. Keep the others happy, pay tribute when demanded, and keep aggressors in gpt deals.
  • If playing for a military win, do so aggressively. Don’t wait until Modern Armor before your first wars, but war early and war often. If another civ has to cross the sea to get to your land, be especially bold with him! Raze any cities he settles on your continent, don’t cave in to his tribute demands. Get some Great Leaders and techs from such an AI – punish them for incompetence at waging war across the sea.
  • Micromanage. Unless this thought makes you ill, there is great benefit gained from watching your citizens closely, swapping tiles, haggling at deals, selling your world map and looking for broker opportunities almost every turn. You’ve only got five cities to manage, so it’s not as burdensome as in other games.
  • Game length, in real-life terms, varies greatly depending on win condition. Diplo wins can involve many ‘next turn’ no action turns and are the quickest to play. Culture is not much different. Conquest games can take a loooong time (trust me), and spaceship games might go quickly (Monarch or below) or very long (Emperor or anywhere where you need a military campaign to stop an opponent about to launch).

I hope this guide has been helpful, and hope it might inspire some of you to try this great variant challenge!



PS: This guide is dedicated to my wonder wife, "Mrs. C" on this Valentine’s Day, and is my 1000th post at CivFanatics

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