List of Culture Tiers
Here’s a guide to help you decide on which culture is the best for which purpose. For each culture I will assign a letter from S-tier (the best of the best) to D-tier (the worst of the worst). I will write a paragraph explaining why I think this culture deserves its place. Of course this tier list, while trying to remain objective, is heavily influence by my playstyle and the options I play on (Endless pace) which is not necessarily balanced.
Huge industry boost that will carry you through all the eras with -10% to district cost. Their Emblematic district is nothing to scoff at with Influence and a lot of Industry generated. Moreover their unique unit is quite potent as a replacement for the Archer. If you manage to grab the Pyramid of Gizah then it’s almost a guaranteed win against the AI.
It is no surprise that the AI tends to favor the Harappans when they reach the Ancient Era. It is an incredibly potent culture. First off, Agrarian Affinity is broken and will generate tons of population while denying them to your neighbors. Incredibly effective.
The Emblematic District is very potent as rivers are incredibly good in the early game with the Irrigation and Watermill infrastructure and will make the cities founded on rivers extremely powerful.
Furthermore, population is very important in the early game as, most of the time, they will generate almost as many resources than a district and can be used to build military units.
Therefore, a strategy with the Harappans could be to steal the population from your neighbors, preventing them for easily raising an army and then rushing them with an army of your own. They might not be considered as a militarist culture as they lack bonuses to make their units better, but they can overcome it with sheer number especially in the early with their special unit that is very effective at rushing.
The best culture for people who want to be aggressive. Their legacy trait means +1 Combat Strength to all their units in the Ancient Era and they are cheaper.
Their Emblematic District is the best early game tool to deal with Stability and generates tons of Influence. The culture is a bit more focused towards defense rather than offense but with all those bonuses can be very versatile. Their unique unit in particular can have a shock and awe effect when attacking during the first round, making them very effective at overwhelming attackers and defenders alike. Only downfall is that being aggressive is situational.
Their legacy trait is incredible, allowing you to deal with stability much easier throughout all eras. For every 6 garrisons in the early game that your competitor will have to build, you will only have to build 4 (and a quarter of one). It can almost be considered as an Industry bonus. Moreover their Emblematic Quarter can also be an effective tool to deal with Stability while also generating Science. It can even be a good science alternative to Babylonians if you are in a Mountain-heavy area. The downside of their Emblematic District is that you can only build it adjacent to other districts (like regular districts) and thus its placement can be a bit finicky to exploit those mountains and special tiles. Otherwise not S-tier as they do not have the most powerful bonuses Industry or Food wise. Moreover, Unique unit is not that amazing.
A good food and influence oriented culture with their Emblematic Quarter. Their legacy trait is however on the weak side. Their unique unit can be quite good in Forest Tiles.
A good expansionist culture with a very useful legacy trait that will carry through the eras. The +1 Land Movement Speed is incredible on Huge maps and is useful in more areas than just simple warfare. The Ransacking bonus will mean that you need less time to ransack outpost to prevent the expansion of your competitors. In addition their unique unit is very mobile and can ransack for a bit more gold though it is not a huge bonus.
Finally their Emblematic District can act as an Influence generating garrison and can be purchased in Outposts that are not attached for an influence price. It can quickly go out of control with more and more influence generated. Perhaps the best influence culture in the Ancient Era.
Not S-tier or A-tier as those bonuses will be useless if you don’t have a lot of neighbors and there is nothing to boost your economy except for Influence. Therefore it is a situational culture.
Merchant cultures are in my opinion fairly weak compared to other affinities. Money isn’t that good in the early game. Sure it can replace production in some cases as you can rush production. It is however extremely costly with 1 turn of production being equal to hundreds of Money. The only real use for Money is influencing independent people. Influencing them and then hiring their armies might be the only way you can defend yourself against more aggressive cultures. Their legacy trait is quite useful in the early game and will generate a lot of gold but almost entirely useless in the late game (it will generate at the very most 250 gold when you will produce more than 20k). And their special district has the merit to act as both a Market Quarter and a Makers Quarter. Therefore it exploits both Money and Industry. They have decent Archers that can truly benefit from steep terrains to avoid being attacked back by ranged units.
Very weak Legacy Trait that will only be relatively meaningful in the Ancient Era but then completely useless. There are less than 100 technologies in the game so at most you are looking at a 200 Science boost in the late game, which is around 2% of what you will produce (high estimates).
Their Emblematic Quarter however is quite potent as it is able to exploit both food and science (thus counting as both a Research and a Farmer Quarter). It can produce quite a lot of Science in the early game and make your Researchers able to generate a tiny amount of food (1/8th of what they need to survive). For that alone, the Babylonians can be a good science culture to get an early tech lead. They also have a strong defensive unique unit that can quite effectively defend your cities.
A much weaker version of the Myceanans as far as aggressive cultures are concerned. Their legacy trait is good and will be useful throughout the game. It is their saving grace as their Emblematic Quarter is almost completely useless. It is as if they didn’t have any. They do have a redeeming quality in their Unique Unit that might be the best in the Ancient Era. Suppression and Charge can be quite deadly against all types of units.
Same thoughts as the Nubians for the Merchant affinity. In addition the Phoenicians are very weak with their legacy trait (as you won’t have any Merchants in the early game but it does scale better than Nubians’) and their Emblematic District is unlocked too late in the era to be really useful. Only use that would make them C-tier is in Ocean heavy maps where their unique unit can explore a bit better.