Sid Meier's Civilization V

Sid Meier's Civilization V

176 ratings
Zigzagzigal's Guide to the Aztecs (BNW)
By Zigzagzigal
Building cities tall and wars not based around conquest are two things the Aztecs do well, but that's not all. This guide goes into plenty of detail about Aztec strategies, uniques and how to play against them.
Note: This guide assumes you have all game-altering DLC and expansion packs (all Civ packs, Wonders of the Ancient World, Gods & Kings and Brave New World)

Unite the Aztec peoples and bring them into a brave new world. Remind them of their shared history; once as a tribe from mysterious lands to the north, and the last to enter Central America. After arriving, the Aztecs would at first act as mercenaries to a city-state, and according to legend they would be gifted a daughter of the city's king as a reward - only for the Aztecs to sacrifice her. Forced to seek new lands and allies from this... clash of cultures, the Aztecs would find a new spot - an island in a large lake - Lake Texcoco - where they would build their capital of Tenochtitlan. A century later, the Azcapotzalcos - the main regional power - would lay siege to the city, but by making strong alliances, the Aztecs turned the tide in the opposite direction.

This new "triple alliance" conquered Azcapotzalco themselves, hence giving great power to the Aztecs, which grew to dominate the group. They brought roads and compulsory education to this vast empire that seemed unbeatable. That is, until Hernan Cortes, a strange man from a mysterious land to the east, came with a small force of men. He made allies with many groups conquered by the Aztecs, and combined with superior technology and the sheer good luck of being mistaken for a god, he could easily conquer the entire empire for Spain. Diseases brought in from this strange land would kill vast numbers of the Aztec peoples, and new cultures would displace the old. Now, it is up to you to forge a new Aztec Empire. Unite the Aztec peoples, and build a civilization that will stand the test of time.

Before I go into depth with this guide, here's an explanation of some terminology I'll be using throughout for the sake of newer players.

Beelining - Focusing on obtaining a technology early by only researching technologies needed to research it and no others. For example, to beeline Iron Working, you'd research Mining, Bronze Working and Iron Working, and nothing else until Iron Working was finished.
Builder Nation/Empire - A generally peaceful nation seeking victories other than domination.
GWAMs - Short for Great Writers, Artists and Musicians - the three types of Great People that can make Great Works.
Finisher - The bonus for completing a Social Policy tree (e.g. Free Great Person for Liberty.)
Opener - The bonus for unlocking a Social Policy tree (e.g. +1 culture for every city for Liberty's opener)
Tall empire - A small number of cities with a high population each. "Building tall" refers to making your empire a tall one.
Uniques - Collective name for Unique Abilities, Units, Buildings, Tile Improvements and Great People
UA - Unique Ability - The unique thing a Civilization has which doesn't need to be built.
UB - Unique Building - A replacement for a normal building that can only be built and used by one Civilization.
UU - Unique Unit - A replacement for a normal unit that can only be built by one Civilization or provided by Militaristic City-States when allied.
Wide empire - A high number of cities with a low population each. "Building wide" refers to making your empire a wide one.
XP - Experience Points - Get enough and you'll level up your unit, giving you the ability to heal your unit or get a promotion.
ZOC - Zone of Control - A mechanic that makes a unit use up all its movement points if it moves from a tile next to an enemy to an adjacent tile next to the same enemy.
At a glance (Part 1/2)
Start Bias

The Aztecs have a jungle start bias. This works well with your Jaguar UU (which moves faster and fights better in jungles and forests than the Warrior it replaces) and also is great for science once Universities are around. It does create the issue of an unproductive start, but the city growth from your UB should help make up for that.


The Aztec uniques all can be used well very early on in the game. Both the UU and UB are in the ancient era, and the UA tends to be more effective earlier on. This serves to get you off to a great start, which will help for the rest of the game.

Unique Ability: Sacrificial Captives

  • When killing any enemy unit, gain culture equal to the unit's strength, or ranged strength if it's higher
  • This works in a similar way to the Honour opener, (but for all units instead of just Barbarians) and stacks with it.

Unique Unit: Jaguar (Replaces the Warrior)

A standard melee unit

Upgrades from
Upgrades to
Production cost
Purchase cost
Resource needed
Available from start

Metal Casting
Medieval era
1st column
(6th column overall)


(Ancient Ruins upgrade)
*Assumes a normal speed game.
**Requires 1 Iron resource

Ranged Strength
Negative Attributes
Positive Attributes
2Movement Points
  • 33% extra strength in forest and jungle
  • Double movement rate through forest and jungle (Woodsman)
  • 25 health restored on a kill

Positive stay-on-upgrade changes

  • 33% extra strength in forest and jungle
  • Double movement rate through forest and jungle (Woodsman)
  • 25 health restored on a kill

Unique Building: Floating Gardens (Replaces the Water Mill)

Building required
Required to build
Production cost
Purchase cost
City restriction

The Wheel
Ancient era
2nd column
(3rd column overall)
City must be adjacent to a river or lake
*Assumes a normal speed game.

Base output
Output Multiplier
Great Work slots
Other effects
  • +2 to every lake tile worked by the city
*This is not the same as a growth bonus; this modifies base food before any is eaten - growth bonuses modify food after some is eaten by citizens.

Positive changes

  • Can be built in cities adjacent to lakes as well as rivers
  • 1 maintenance cost, down from 2 (-50%)
  • +15% food bonus
  • +2 food to every lake tile worked by the city
    • Does not affect the Lake Victoria Natural Wonder
At a glance (Part 2/2)
Victory Methods

Note these scores are a matter of personal opinion based on experiences with the Civilization. You may discover a way of utilising the Civ more effectively in unconventional ways.

Cultural: 6/10
Diplomatic: 4/10
Domination: 8/10
Scientific: 8/10

While the Aztec UA and UU encourage wars, they don't actually have any advantages to capturing cities and as such, the Aztecs might not be the warmongers you may think they are. They're still good at it, but their jungle start bias and their UB helping cities to grow tall offers a strong scientific path. For maximum impact, try and get a tech advantage before you start going to war with other Civs.

Similar Civs and uniques


The Inca are perhaps the best candidate for the Civ most alike the Aztecs. Both Civs have very good food bonuses making them strong at science, but they're also decent at domination as well.

Another Civ that can easily switch between domination and scientific goals is Assyria.

Same start bias

The jungle start bias is shared with Brazil, which depends on it to build their Unique Improvement, the Brazilwood Camp.

Similar to the UA

Although no other Civs' uniques provide culture from kills, there are some other examples of units which give yields when they kill other units:

  • Pictish Warrior (Celts, gives faith at half the level that the Aztec UA gives culture)
  • Minuteman (America, gives Golden Age Points at the same level that the Aztec UA gives culture)
  • Pracinha (Brazil, same bonus as Minutemen)

Similar to Jaguars

Jaguars overall are most alike Iroquoian Mohawk Warriors due to their similar bonuses in forests and jungles - both are stronger and more mobile in them (although Mohawk Warriors only have more mobility in their own lands.)

Receiving health for scoring kills is also a feature of Ottoman Janissaries and Indonesia's Kris Swordsman (if they have the Recruitment promotion.) In both cases, they heal 50 HP when scoring kills, rather than the 25 HP restored when a Jaguar kills.

Similar to Floating Gardens

A food multiplier is something that's unique to Floating Gardens, but having a food bonus is not. Three Unique Improvements offer food: Incan Terrace Farms, Morocco's Kasbahs and Dutch Polders. Terrace Farms have the highest potential food output of these, followed closely by Polders.

Siam also has a unique food bonus; City-State food gifts are 50% bigger for them making it easy to build a huge capital.
Unique Ability: Sacrificial Captives

Every unit you kill will give you culture to spend on Social Policies, equal to that unit's strength. If used carefully, you can rush through some powerful Policies quickly and get off to a great start. Play recklessly in order to get culture, however, and you'll give yourself more problems than the extra culture solves.

Farming Barbarians

It's tempting to build up a Jaguar army and invade an opponent for culture. Don't. Jaguars have low strength and are very weak against cities. Instead, take the Honour opener and go kill Barbarians. The Honour opener makes you fight better against them, reveals their encampments and gives you even more culture for killing them.

Above: With the Honour opener, killing Barbarians gives double their strength as culture - a huge amount early on in the game. Brutes are worth 16 culture, for example.

It's best to pour this culture into Tradition policies, to synergise with your UB (which encourages building tall.) While you'll start off one policy behind other Civs taking Tradition, the sheer amount of culture from Barbarian-killing can help you finish the tree before pretty much anyone else. That's great for getting city growth going from Landed Elite and Tradition's finisher.

To maximise culture potential, try to keep Barbarian encampments standing (and make sure other Civs don't destroy them - you can block off a peninsula with an encampment to make it harder for them.)

Above: I've got two Barbarian "farms" here. The longer I keep them up, the more City-States will set a quest to destroy them. If you need to move your units out to upgrade them, either destroy the camp to deny other Civs that City-State influence, or bring already-upgraded units over to cover the camp.

Taking at least one ranged unit (whether land-based or naval) will allow you to kill Barbarians on the encampment tile without destroying it. If you're not landlocked, (having a start bias which pushes you near the equator makes you fairly prone to that,) ranged naval units will be particularly good Barbarian-killers as their speed allows them to move to a new encampment if their current one is destroyed for whatever reason.

One problem, though - Barbarians later on in the game will frequently spawn weak units which won't have the culture potential they used to. So, to make the most out of your UA, you'll need to eventually go to war with another Civ.

Above: Occasionally you can get things like this, but not often. Killing a Barbarian Great War Infantry for 100 culture, or Barbarian Infantry for 140 does look pretty though.


Your Floating Gardens UB offers you a powerful food bonus which encourages you to build a tall empire. Tall empires already tend to be better than wide ones for science, but add in the jungle start bias and you've got a great opportunity to get a tech advantage over other Civs. Rather than fighting constant wars for culture, angering everyone and in the end getting yourself crushed by an alliance of angry Civs, (which is more or less what happened to the real-life Aztecs,) you can play relatively peacefully, build up a scientific advantage and unleash upgraded former-Jaguars onto an unpopular Civ.

The industrial era is a particularly good time for a culture-farming war due to the dawn of Ideologies and the power of Artillery - allowing you to more easily kill enemy units before they can start pillaging your lands, or take cities quickly and safely. When planes enter the battlefield, just get a Fighter or two with interception promotions and you can rapidly kill other planes, which grants you culture just like any other unit.

Your UA encourages you to kill lots of units, and not necessarily conquer cities. You can declare war on a Civ, then play defensively to wipe out incoming enemy units - this'll be easier than taking the offensive. You can weaken a warmongering Civ and lessen other Civs' fears of you as a warmonger at the same time by liberating cities. Of course, if you've worked up a scientific advantage, you could always take the opportunity to start conquering the world.

Above: Unless you're going for a domination victory, you're playing in multiplayer or you need to wipe out a Civ threatening to win, balance conquests with city liberation. If otherwise-neutral Civs fear your warmongering, you probably need to liberate more cities. If no-one but the Civ(s) you're at war with see you as a warmonger, you can probably safely capture a new city for your own.

So, there's two ways to take your uniques into war - either the minimal-warmongering route of playing defensively and liberating cities, or the aggressive route by going for a domination victory. Either way, you shouldn't just rush into war early on. Play peacefully at first, win allies, let your amazing UB work its magic and then you can really cause some trouble.


  • Grab the Honour opener, but then go into the Tradition Social Policy tree
  • Use Jaguars, upgraded former-Jaguars and ranged units to kill Barbarians and get loads of culture
  • Try to keep Barbarian encampments standing so you can "farm" the units for culture
  • Don't go to war with another Civ too early; wait until your UB gives you a strong advantage
  • Either go for a scientific victory or a domination victory, using defensive or offensive wars respectively to make use of your UA
Unique Unit: Jaguar

Right from the start, you'll have a Jaguar instead of a Warrior. These have three useful keep-on-upgrade bonuses, on top of the advantage from your UA! Not only that, but they're cheap to build and don't go obsolete until Metal Casting in the medieval era.

At first, the Woodsman ability of the Jaguar (allowing it to move at double speed through forests and jungles) makes it almost as mobile as the Scout, and combined with its superior survivability, you don't really need to build Scouts. Try to thoroughly explore your starting lands, so the Opener of the Honour tree can tell you where Barbarian encampments are.

The second job of Jaguars will be to kill Barbarians, which is where the forest/jungle combat bonus and the 25 health on kills comes in. Fighting better in forests and jungles allows you to defend better against Barbarian attacks, and more easily pick off those trying to defend in such tiles. Getting health back on kills allows you to keep killing without having to heal up your Jaguars as much inbetween attacks. Barbarian Archers can typically be taken down in two hits - making them an easy source of health. You can even get health from killing units while defending.

Above: For a normal Warrior, this would be fairly suicidal as such a move would leave it with low health, on marshland where it has a defensive penalty. For the Jaguar, it'll get more health than it loses from the fight, and the Woodsman promotion will allow it to quickly withdraw from the tile if need be.

Promote Jaguars with Shock rather than Drill promotions, so they aren't left vulnerable in open terrain. Now, only hills will cause you any trouble.

Avoid the temptation to rush enemy Civs with Jaguars - they're not particularly effective against cities. Instead, build lots (make them the bulk of your army) so you can upgrade them later. Hold off Metal Casting if you have to, to give yourself more time to build them. Just be sure to get hold of some iron so upgrading is possible (it doesn't matter if you don't have enough to cover all your Jaguars, as once you reach Musketeers it'll free up some iron again.)

Special promotions kept on upgrade

  • 33% extra strength in forest and jungle
  • Woodsman (Double movement rate through forest and jungle)
  • 25 health restored on a kill

The Jaguar carries over all its advantages when upgraded. The forest/jungle combat bonus as well as the 25 health received for killing units both are special promotions that cannot be earned through experience, and the Woodsman promotion would normally require Shock or Drill III! Considering there's a new front-line unit available every era, (on average; there's two in the modern era but none in the atomic era,) upgraded former-Jaguars will always have a role to play in war.

Above: A Jaguar that comes across the "found advanced weapons" outcome from Ancient Ruins will become a Spearman, keeping its unique promotions. This is particularly effective when upgraded to a Lancer, to rapidly rush through forests and jungles, but it's also good for Spearmen and Pikemen to be able to keep up with mounted units in such terrain. Helicopter Gunships aren't affected by the Woodsman promotion.

Former-Jaguars into war

As mentioned before, it's best not to go into war with other full Civs until you've developed a decent infrastructure, which your Floating Gardens will help greatly with. Once you've either got a strong wartime ally or a technological advantage, now's the time you can head into warfare.

Jaguars in war fight like a hybrid of the American Minutemen and the Ottoman Janissaries - like the former, they can cut quickly through rough terrain (or escape through it) without ranged or front-line units catching it up, and like the latter they can make otherwise risky attacks safely due to the health recovered on kills. For maximum effect, put your former-Jaguars in forests, ready to leap out at enemy units, deal damage, heal up on kills or retreat quickly if the attack doesn't succeed.

The greatest strength of the Jaguar's promotions is survivability. The greatest weakness is attacking cities. That's the job of siege. If you're going in a defensive war to farm culture off killing enemy units, that weakness is less of a problem.
Unique Building: Floating Gardens

It's all to easy to look at the Aztec UA and UU and overlook the potential of Floating Gardens, but they're actually an amazingly effective UB.

Making full use of Water Mills

Water Mills provide both food and production, and are great for getting cities off to a good start, but they have the downsides of a high maintenance cost for its era (2 gold per turn) and a restriction to riverside cities only.

The Aztecs lessen these problems. Gold maintenance is halved, meaning Floating Gardens cost no more gold per turn than a Granary. The production cost is slightly higher, but unless the city is lake-deprived and surrounded by wheat, deer and/or bananas, it'll make sense for you to always get Floating Gardens up before Granaries.

The restriction Water Mills have to riverside cities only is expanded to lakeside cities as well, which allows you to more easily make use of the extra food Floating Gardens add to lakes (covered in more detail later.) Still, this makes Floating Gardens one of only two UBs with such a restriction (the other being Poland's Ducal Stables) so be sure to settle your cities next to rivers or lakes.

If it's possible to settle next to a river or a lake in a good spot, favour the river as it provides a bonus to International Trade Route revenue, as well as production with a Hydro Plant later in the game.

+15% food

Most bonuses that appear to be to food (like the Fertility Rites Pantheon or the bonuses from the Tradition Social Policy tree) only affect growth. Floating Gardens, however, affect food (the only other food modifier is the Temple of Artemis wonder, which confusingly calls it a growth bonus.) The difference is significant. Food modifiers affect your cities' food before it's eaten by citizens, and growth bonuses affect it afterwards.

Let's say, for example, you have a size 8 city with 20 base food. 8 citizens mean 16 food is being eaten (assuming you don't have the Civil Society Freedom tenet which halves food eaten by specialists,) leaving 4 food towards city growth without modifiers. Let's look at how a 15% growth bonus would affect it, and a 15% food bonus...

  • A 15% growth bonus would give you 4.6 food towards city growth
  • A 15% food bonus would give you 7 food towards city growth

Now, let's consider how both food and growth bonuses work together.

  • Start with the base food (before any is eaten)
  • Add the food bonus
  • Take away the food eaten by citizens (2 food per citizen. Specialists only consume 1 food each if you have the Civil Society tenet from the Freedom ideology)
  • If the number is negative, end here. Otherwise, add the growth bonus
  • Divide by 4 if your Civ has 1-9 points of net unhappiness. More unhappiness than that completely eliminates city growth.
  • The resulting number is the amount of food going towards city growth!

There's an important point to raise here: A food bonus increases the maximum size of city your food can support. Growth bonuses are useless if your city is starving, but food bonuses are still useful.

Now I've gone through the whole explanation of how food and growth bonuses aren't the same thing, now for some fun - stack those bonuses!

Above: I've got every kind of food and growth bonus here except the 15% from Swords into Plowshares. Confusingly, all the food and growth bonuses are put together on the city screen, even though they work differently. Notice that I'm getting a total of 48 food as an input, but it then says 60 rather than 48 in the following row? That's because the 25% food bonus I have has taken effect there. The 35% growth bonus I have takes effect afterwards, leaving me with a massive surplus of 32.4.

So, now, you hopefully should understand that a 15% food bonus is much more significant than it may at first appear. It can really help grow your cities to great heights, which works very well for gaining science (technology costs go up the more cities you have, so tall empires tend to have an advantage science-wise later in the game.) Notably, this bonus to food comes earlier than unique food bonuses for other Civs, so build these early and you can get a great edge to city development.

+2 food per lake

Noticed the four-food lakes in the preceeding screenshot? Floating Gardens make lake tiles as good as technology-boosted grassland farms, but without the need to improve the tile nor research such technologies! In regions with even one lake, it can have a great positive impact on the growth of the city - and that's before taking the 15% food bonus into account.

Note that cities' cultural borders tend not to favour lake tiles, so you'll probably have to buy lake tiles not immediately adjacent to the city.

Resist the temptation to settle in areas solely due to the lakes, however. If you want to make use of your UA, you're going to need to be able to churn out plenty of military units, and production-poor cities will make that difficult to achieve.


  • Try to place all your cities next to rivers or lakes
  • Spots with lots of lakes are favourable, but make sure you aren't left with lots of low-production cities
  • Build your cities tall and stack food and growth bonuses
  • Use their size to get a technological advantage over other Civs, ready for war
Social Policies
Grab the Honour opener, but to make best use of your Floating Gardens, complete the Tradition tree afterwards. Start the Rationalism tree as soon as you're in the renaissance era, but if you have a few spare policies between Tradition and Rationalism, you can grab a couple of extra Honour policies to help you out later.



It doesn't matter what route you're taking as the Aztecs, unless you've disabled Barbarian spawning or the map has so many Civs crammed into a small space Barbarians can't spawn, you should start here. You'll get a significant amount of culture for killing Barbarians - 16 for a Brute and 10 for an Archer, for example, and you can also both fight them more effectively and find their encampments more effectively.

Remember, to make the most of Barbarian farming, don't finish off Barbarians on encampments with melee attacks (unless someone else is going to raze it anyway.) Finish them off with a ranged unit, so the encampment still stands and can spawn more Barbarians.

Interestingly, rebels that can spawn in a Civ with 10 net unhappiness or worse count as Barbarians, and their strength is era-appropriate. You shouldn't deliberately try to get your happiness low to cause this (it'll result in more problems than it solves) but getting Open Borders with Civs on very low happiness can potentially give you a shot at some particularly high-culture kills.

Warrior Code (Between Tradition and Rationalism, if there's spare policies)

If you haven't got Metal Casting yet, now's a great opportunity to squeeze in some last-minute Jaguars. If you do have Metal Casting at this point, you'll probably only be able to squeeze in one policy before the renaissance era if any, so Discipline will probably be more useful.

Military Tradition (Between Tradition and Rationalism, if there's spare policies)

Faster XP gain gets you up to those really useful promotions (March, Range, Logistics, etc) sooner.

Discipline (Between Tradition and Rationalism, if there's spare policies)

All your Jaguars and former Jaguars gain from this 15% strength increase, which is like a second Great General bonus so long as you keep those units adjacent to another unit. That'll help both with killing units faster and survivability.

Military Caste (Between Tradition and Rationalism, if there's spare policies)

Still not in the renaissance era yet? Here's an easy source of culture and happiness (maintenance-free with Oligarchy from the Tradition tree!) which will help lessen the unhappiness burden of any conquests you end up making.

Professional Army (Between Tradition and Rationalism, if there's spare policies)

This can save you a lot of gold over the course of the game (through all that Jaguar upgrading) and faster construction of XP buildings makes it easier to build new units where required.


Gold from kills helps to prevent unit maintenance costs becoming too much of a problem.


Tradition's strong synergy with your UB makes it a better choice than Honour for your first full tree.


Killing Barbarians will get you through Tradition's policies fairly quickly, but they won't help with expanding city borders. This opener will, however, so there's that issue resolved.


Saves a little money through free garrisons, and lets your cities kill approaching enemy units faster. You probably won't see too much use of the latter function, (you should be intercepting enemy units before they can get to your cities,) it's there, just in case.


Now your first four cities can expand their borders immediately. You'll still need to buy tiles from time to time (especially lake tiles as cities place low priority to acquiring them through culture) but hopefully less frequently than before.

Landed Elite

Grow your capital tall! There's a good chance your starting position will be by a river (allowing your UB) but if not, consider that this policy will help your capital to keep up with growth in your other cities.


If your capital has your UB, it can grow incredibly fast. Monarchy stops that being much of a problem for happiness at all, and gives you a good sum of money from all those people, which can go towards buying or maintaining more Jaguars.


If you want a shot at the Temple of Artemis or the Hanging Gardens, it might be worth taking this policy earlier. It's still useful anyway, as tall empires are good at building wonders even without the 15% boost. Plus, every 10th population point in a city is unhappiness-free.


More growth! With your UB, your capital now has a +15% food bonus and a 25% growth bonus. That's before diving into the competitive bonuses such as wonders or religious beliefs.



Whether for military or scientific aims, Rationalism will be a highly useful tree. Tall empires aren't particularly prone to unhappiness, so the 10% science modifer from the opener will pretty much always be in effect.


Tall cities tend to have plenty of specialists, and as such you can squeeze plenty of science out of them with this policy.


And more Great Scientists mean more even more science. Typically, you should place Academies with them until around Plastics, then rush technologies with them beyond that point. Of course, if you need a quick short-term edge, rushing technologies earlier can be useful.

Free Thought

Your jungle start bias already makes Universities pretty amazing. Put Trading Posts on those jungles and now they'll make more science, and your Universities will now have a 50% science multiplier rather than 33%.


Gets you a small amount of cash back from science building maintenance, but this is more a policy for wide empires. If you want to win a domination victory, you'll get more out of this than if you're going for science.

Scientific Revolution

On the other side of the coin, going for domination will ruin your chances at getting Research Agreements going (though taking this policy is still worthwhile for the finisher.) For a scientific Aztec nation, careful use of wars (avoid conquering cities unless you're liberating them) allows you to carry on running Research Agreements and hence take advantage of this bonus.


A free technology, which is great for either path as the Aztecs. Plus, excess faith can be poured into Great Scientists, which will be useful for keeping a technological advantage.
If you're clearly chasing a scientific victory, go for Freedom - it has good synergy with your UA. If you're after world domination or aren't sure which way you're going, take Order (in this section, I'm assuming those taking Order are after a domination victory.)

In this section, I'll show the best choices from each "inverted pyramid" of tenets (3 from level one, 2 from level two, 1 from level three.) The situation you have in your game may merit choices different to those I have listed here (e.g. taking Capitalism in the Freedom tree if you're low on happiness.)

Around the time ideologies come along is when Artillery and planes begin to enter the battlefield, making it easier to kill units from afar without risking your lands being pillaged. As such, it's a great opportunity to go to war for culture and rush through tenets.

Level One Policies - Freedom

Civil Society

Let's make those cities tall enough to reach space! It's easier now with this tenet to fill lots of specialist slots, taking full advantage of Rationalism's Secularism.

Avant Garde

You can use this to squeeze a few more Great Scientists to push you towards researching all those spaceship parts sooner.

Covert Action

You'll have Spies left over after placing anti-Spies (to stop other Civs stealing your technologies) and a good idea is to put them in City-States, in order to have a presence in the World Congress without having to pay cash which you could be using on your army, Research Agreements or buying Spaceship parts. Covert Action makes election rigging easier, meaning you can worry less about having to secure City-State alliances.

Level Two Policies - Freedom

Arsenal of Democracy

You probably won't be in the business of gifting units, but that 15% military unit production bonus is still very useful for building planes and Artillery. Those conquests can then give you the culture you need to quickly get through these tenets.

Universal Suffrage

Another reason to fill lots of specialist slots. Golden Ages are also now longer, which is useful for squeezing more gold or production (both good for getting the Spaceship up with the Freedom ideology.)

Level Three Policy - Freedom

Space Procurements

Your jungle start bias. Remember it? Well, the only improvement you can place on jungles (unless you're Brazil) are trading posts. And they'll generate quite a bit of gold helping you to make use of this tenet to launch your Spaceship sooner.

Level One Policies - Order

Double Agents

You don't want other Civs leeching from your tech advantage, do you? (If you have no tech advantage at this point, skip this tenet and pick up something like Socialist Realism as your third level three tenet instead)

Patriotic War

Helps you to hold on to new land, and also if you want to slow down a war so you can kill more units for culture.

Hero of the People

Tall cities are great at producing Great People. Might as well produce more...

Level Two Policies - Order

Workers' Faculties

New conquests can be more rapidly developed thanks to faster Factory production, and more importantly Factories now grant a large science bonus.

Five-Year Plan

Lots of production is good for getting military units built, or maybe even the Spaceship if you decide to change course and go for a scientific victory.

Level Three Policy - Order

Iron Curtain

All your International Trade Routes being pillaged? No problem, just use internal ones instead for extra food or production. Getting free Courthouses when you capture cities means less unhappiness from annexations or while you're razing them, which means your war machine won't be slowed down so much by such things.
There's a couple of decent things the Aztecs can get out of religion (particularly the growth and food bonuses) but luckily, you can get such bonuses through other Civs' religions if someone else steals them. Here's a selection of the best beliefs for the Aztecs, but generally, highly-situational beliefs are not covered - including most faith-giving Pantheons. Picking up a faith Pantheon is often a good idea to increase your chances at getting a full religion.


Fertility Rites

An early growth bonus which goes nicely with your UB's food bonus.

Goddess of the Hunt or Sun God

And more food to go with your UB's food bonus. Your jungle start bias makes it fairly likely you'll start near bananas, one of the three resources affected by Sun God.

Monument to the Gods

For those who want a better shot at the Temple of Artemis and/or the Hanging Gardens (and any other early wonder for that matter.) A decent choice of Pantheon if you don't expect to found a religion, as it won't matter if it gets drowned out by another religion later in the game.



Gold is best for diplomatic Civs, but still decent for warmongers, Research Agreements or buying Spaceship Parts with Space Procurements and as such Tithe works reasonably well for the Aztecs.

World Church

While your UA can get plenty of culture, there'll be times when you're not fighting and your culture gain may be fairly low. Using World Church is a decent way of dealing with that, so long as you can spread your religion to other Civs.

Interfaith Dialogue

Gives you an extra little bit of science.


Swords into Plowshares

Let's grow those cities even taller! It'll allow you to fill loads of specialist slots and get more out of Rationalism's Secularism, build wonders faster, and lots more. Just be sure your happiness can keep up, and you'll be fine.

Religious Community

Growing your cities tall early on allows you to take full advantage of the production boost offered here. 15% is a decent amount, and will be good for peace and war.

Feed the World

More food to throw onto the pile.


Religious Texts

You lack advantages to faith generation, so it's important to keep your religion defended against other Civs that do. This belief is also good for rapidly gaining followers in a city so you can take full advantage of Religious Community.

Defender of the Faith (Scientific Aztecs favoured)

If you're going for defensive wars, it's good to have strong defensive bonuses (well, obviously.) Defender of the Faith lets you more easily deal with enemy units which getting a little too close to your cities, keeping them safe from pillagers. This belief is less useful if you're warmongering unless you manage to spread your religion to the cities you're about to attack (so you can more easily hold on to new conquests.)

Missionary Zeal

You can use this to rapidly convert your tall cities to your religion and make the most out of your beliefs.
World Congress
Even if you're massively ahead on technology, the World Congress could see you lose due to the fact World Leader votes begin as soon as anyone enters the information era (or half the Civs reach the atomic era.) A wealthy Civ could unexpectedly win if you don't watch who's allied to which City-States.

Note "priority" refers to how high you should prioritise your votes if it comes up, not how much you should prioritise putting them forward. If someone wants to implement Arts Funding, you should prioritise to vote no, for example. If you could put forward a vote, then it'd be a bad idea to put Arts Funding on the table. Note also that voting choices can vary depending on your game.

Arts Funding

High priority
Vote no

Cultural Heritage Sites

Low-Medium priority
Vote no

This is more for cultural Civs, though if you have plenty of wonders and cultural Civs don't, it can help make things harder for them.

Embargo City-States

High priority
Vote no

Trading with other Civs can end up giving them science, and going into war makes trading with other full Civs risky anyway.

Historical Landmarks

Medium priority
Vote no

International Games

High priority
Vote no

International Space Station

Very High priority
Vote yes

If possible, try to get this going before the Hubble Space Telescope (or hold on to the Great Scientists) so you can make the most out of them.

Natural Heritage Sites

Low priority
Vote no unless you have Natural Wonders of your own

Nuclear Non-Proliferation

High priority
Vote no

Mwhahahaha! Hahaha! Ha! Ha...

Let me explain. The Aztec tall-building focus and jungle start bias will often give you a tech advantage. That means you can get nukes before other Civs know how to deal with them. Nukes can wipe out multiple units in a single shot, which means lots and lots of culture. Mwhahahaha indeed.

Scholars in Residence

Medium-High priority
Vote no

Sciences Funding

High priority
Vote yes

Standing Army Tax

High priority
Vote no

World's Fair

Low priority
Vote yes

The culture you get from killing other units isn't affected by the culture boost here, but it still can be useful for getting through Social Policies faster when you're not at war.
Building tall gives you an advantage to grabbing wonders, and this will be particularly noticable early on as Floating Gardens come earlier than most other unique food bonuses. The Hanging Gardens and the Temple of Artemis are particularly useful to you, though defensive wonders can be good too for unit-killing wars.

Here's a selection of the best wonders for the Aztecs, arranged alphabetically in each era.

Ancient Era

Great Library

Massively competitive, and the Temple of Artemis and Hanging Gardens offer more synergy with your UB, but if you do manage to grab the Great Library, it'll give you an edge to science which will last the rest of the game. Not recommended on the highest difficulties.

Temple of Artemis

The tooltip lies - it's not a 10% growth bonus this wonder offers, it's a 10% food bonus! That's the same kind of bonus your Floating Gardens offers, and together, every city with your UB has a massive 25% food bonus. Plus, it lets you build ranged units faster, which are good for killing Barbarians in encampments without clearing it.

Classical Era

Hanging Gardens (Tradition Only)

Best-placed in your capital to stack with Tradition's growth bonuses, and to make lots of gold with Monarchy. If your capital can't build your UB, the Hanging Gardens are still good as they're the only way you can get a Garden in a non-river or lakeside city.


Barbarians will begin to fall behind the times, and as such the culture they grant won't be as good as it used to be. So, it's useful to have a different way of getting a Social Policy.

Renaissance Era

Himeji Castle

Playing a defensive war? Trying to hold on to new territory? A 15% strength bonus will help out there. Keep in mind if you're playing scientifically, this wonder requires quite a technological diversion, and it's not too great a loss if you can't build this.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Building tall means more specialists and hence more Great People, so you'll certainly make use of the bonus here. Keep in mind that it's a popular wonder to pick up, so start early or assume you won't get it built.

Porcelain Tower (Rationalism Only)

While Research Agreements may be difficult to get going if you're heading down the war route, a free Great Scientist is a free Great Scientist. And everyone likes having Great Scientists.

Industrial Era

Brandenburg Gate (Warmongering Aztecs favoured)

With a Military Academy, you can get any unit started on three promotions - just one away from Logistics for Artillery, or straight to Air Repair for aeroplane units.

Modern Era

Kremlin (Order Only, Warmongering Aztecs favoured)

While the weakest of the three ideology wonders, the Kremlin does nonetheless offer a free Social Policy, and faster armoured unit construction will be useful if you haven't got mounted or armoured units already to upgrade to them.

Statue of Liberty (Freedom Only, Scientific Aztecs favoured)

Tall cities with lots of specialists? They're now production-rich, too! Great for helping out with the Spaceship.

Atomic Era

Great Firewall

Essentially, this wonder grants you a free Spy (as you no longer have to keep one as a counter-spy.) It also causes trouble for cultural Civs as they can't use the Internet technology's doubled tourism output against you. The culture you gain from killing units counts towards accumulated culture for defending against tourism, so by fighting some other Civ that's causing you trouble, you can solve two problems at once.


Your UU's been upgraded a long way, and it's not over yet. Save a little cash here with the Pentagon and you can dedicate the rest towards funding City-State alliances or Spaceship parts or suchlike.

Information Era

Hubble Space Telescope (Scientific Aztecs favoured)

Faster Spaceship building means a faster victory. And two free Great Scientists lets you get to Spaceship part technologies sooner.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Sometimes the obvious route isn't the correct one. This is certainly true for some of the gameplay of the Aztecs, so here's a few points of what not to do.

Assuming the Aztecs excel at a cultural victory

Tourism will win you a cultural victory, not culture. True, building tall with your UB can help you grab cultural wonders, but it's easier to go for science or domination as the Aztecs.

Early rushing with Jaguars

They're good at survival. They're good at killing units. They're no better than regular Warriors against cities, and there's no siege units at this stage of the game. Resist the temptation to carry out an early rush. Just build plenty of Jaguars so you always have plenty of units with their unique attributes throughout the game.

Constant wars

If you're always focused on wars, how will you manage your infrastructure? How will you manage when the entire world turns on you for warmongering? How will you make use of your UB? Don't neglect your UA, but don't let it take over everything you do.

Settling in bad areas just for lakes

Food on its own leads to cities which struggle to build anything. Make sure your city locations have decent production as well as food.

Related to this is not settling in very good areas due to a lack of rivers or lakes. Yes, that city will miss out on your UB, but if the spot's advantages outweigh that of Floating Gardens, then it's fine to settle there.
Murder Montezuma: The Counter-Strategies
The Aztecs can have tall cities early on, and their jungle start bias could give them a considerable scientific advantage (while their UU will help them defend that land) but there are a few weaknesses you can exploit.

Playing against the UA: Sacrificial Captives

The Aztecs get culture from killing units, but they won't get any from simply damaging units. If you're fighting the Aztecs, make sure your units have an escape route so they can't be finished off. That'll also stop their Jaguars and former Jaguars from getting health back on kills. It may be best to use a large number of regular ranged units if you're attacking their cities rather than taking siege units, as siege units are very easily killed.

If fighting the Aztecs in the late-game, it's a good idea to have a decent number of fighter-class aircraft, as stacked Aztec Bombers can very quickly take out your land units. (Similarly, make sure you've got Destroyers, Missile Cruisers or Submarines in the sea to stop Aztec Submarines.) Perform air sweeps to make sure they haven't got fighter-class aircraft of their own which can intercept your Bombers and kill them very quickly. Atomic Bombs and Nuclear Missiles are the ultimate killing (and hence culture-farming) weapons - get them banned in the World Congress.

The best way to stop an Aztec culture war is by making sure it doesn't start. The Aztecs' neighbours need a good, non-outdated army in order to put them off invading. Gift them units if you have to. Alternatively, invading the Aztecs while they've already launched an attack makes them likely to call off the original war to focus on repelling you.

Outside of war, the Aztecs can farm culture off Barbarians. Most other Civs have no reason to keep Barbarian encampments standing, so burn them down before the Aztecs can leech off that culture. As for any remaining Barbarian units, let the Aztecs weaken them, but try and finish them off yourself.

Playing against Jaguars

Jaguars fight effectively in forests and jungles, but on hills or in open land, they're no more effective than a regular Warrior (unless they manage to score a kill - again, make sure your units have an escape route and can't be surrounded.) Warriors are vulnerable to practically anything, so try and lure those Jaguars into non-forested terrain. If that's not possible, just give new units rough terrain promotions so you can fight more evenly.

Part of the Jaguars' strength is in the fact they keep all their unique attributes when upgraded, but one of their key weaknesses is that they need iron to be upgraded in the first place. Taking iron spots limits their ability to keep up with classical and medieval-era warfare, as they'll be left with a small amount of iron (if any.) That makes them vulnerable to attack during that time.

Come the renaissance era, if the Aztecs have any iron at all, they will be able to upgrade all their Jaguars to Musketmen, but they'll have the Metal Casting technology stopping them from building new Jaguars. Target the former-Jaguars first as they can't be replaced (look for the Woodsman promotion.) As jungles and forests become rarer, Jaguars become weaker.

Playing against Floating Gardens

One of only two terrain-restricted UBs, you can deny the Aztecs the chance to build these by placing cities near lakes and rivers yourself. Cities can't be founded within a three tile radius of each other, so you don't have to place your city precisely on a river to deny them such a city spot.

It's hard to play against Floating Gardens once the cities are built. The best thing to do to lessen their UB's impact in that case is to deny the Aztecs food and growth bonuses (such as religious beliefs or Wonders.)

Strategy by Style

Early-game Aggressors

If fighting the Aztecs, try to attack them from open terrain. It'll make Jaguars vulnerable and it easier to withdraw units on low health.

Mid-game Warmongers

The Aztecs will be fairly vulnerable in the medieval era if they don't have plenty of iron, which makes a great opportunity for you to move in and kill lots of their Jaguars. Again, attack them from open terrain for maximum impact.

Late-game Warmongers

Make sure you've got some units capable of intercepting aircraft and others for Submarines so the Aztecs can't pull off many one-hit kills. Front-line units aren't what they used to be by this era, so fighting the Aztecs at this point is no harder than fighting a standard tall-building scientific Civ.

Cultural Players

Aztec culture wars can rapidly give them culture to defend against your tourism, but if those wars never really get going, you've got nothing to worry about. Attacking the Aztecs while they're attacking another Civ will make them likely to pull out of that war, and they're more likely to accept a peace deal from a Civ that declared war on them than vice versa. Alternatively, just bribe them to stop going to war.

Diplomatic Players

For diplomatic Civs, the Aztecs shouldn't be too much of a problem so long as you can defend reasonably well. Diplomatic Civs can win the game even with a significant technological disadvantage, seeing as world leader votes start in the United Nations once any player reaches the information era.

Scientific Players

You can't really stop the Aztecs getting jungles, but you can take mountains to deny them the chance to build Observatories (and the fact mountains are generally surrounded by hills makes it difficult for the Aztecs to take them off you.) Tall cities in jungly areas are fairly likely to lack production, so you may have an edge over the Aztecs in grabbing good science wonders.
Other Guides
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These guides cover every Civ in the game and can be used as quick reference guides.

Civ-specific guides, in alphabetical order

All 43 Civs are covered in in-depth guides linked below. In brackets are the favoured victory routes of each Civ.
Small but Evil Sep 9, 2023 @ 5:00am 
I love playing the Aztecs after the family banned me from playing Rome or Greece. To ketchumr9's point, Autocracy is usually the BEST choice for the Aztecs.

I have also been incredibly successful with taking the Commerce tree vice the science tree. The additional money and happiness from that tree combined with the discounts for buying in cities allows you purchase units at greatly reduced prices and save time on buildings. If you get Big Ben, the cost reductions become absurdly in your favor. The policies combine well with jungle tiles building trading posts. You end up with jungles producing 2 science,3 gold, 2 food, and if you're lucky with religion, 1 culture for sacred path. I have a game now where we're in the Information Era and I'm collecting 1500 gold a turn and a bomber costs 880. The discount Landskenects were also incredibly useful, especially as they upgrade and maintain that free pillage, which continues to pile up the money along with the Honor tree kills.
Zigzagzigal  [author] Jun 28, 2023 @ 4:00am 
Ah, it's been a long long time, but I can try and guess at what I was going for. The civ ability drops off in impact later in the game, while Floating Gardens' food bonus remains very relevant for boosting science output. As such, late-game Aztecs tend to play more into science than domination, which fits Freedom/Order better than Autocracy.
ketchumr9 Jun 27, 2023 @ 10:36am 
Okay so I know this is *several* years late but I’ve been playin civ with my buddies for years and I just love the game. We still get a small group of us and hop in from time to time.

The Aztecs have become a favorite of mine, I actually found that you and I had very similar play styles with them (though, I usually started with tradition to get the passive culture, then go to honor, then finish tradition) and I must say your guide has been very enlightening.

My only question is why Autocracy is largely ignore when discussing end game? I had assumed that as the Aztecs, autocracy would be favored as the Aztecs are generally pretty aggressive with killing enemy units to get that culture (and if you finished honor) and gold bonus.

Do you think autocracy is the worst choice out of the 3 ideologies given? And if so, what are your thoughts?
Max Jun 25, 2023 @ 12:43pm 
random comment like 10 years later, but I realized that floating gardens can ALSO be built in oasis cities (that are not on lake or river); perhaps they just copied the "Fresh water" requirement from gardens?
Catface (Stalvern)/ Jan 21, 2020 @ 2:51pm 
Hey, did someone already mention Medieval Wonders, or are we trying to spam enough Jaguars to build a massive army by the Middle Ages, and hence trying to skip Metal Casting... Which can considerably delay one from getting Notre Dame?
Pig Jan 4, 2019 @ 6:35pm 
Hey, I don't really know the best place to express my gratitude, so I'll just do it here. I just want to thank you for the rediculous amounts of effort all of these guides must have taken, which have taught me a lot about playing this game, but more than that, taking the time to give a bit of history at the beginnings, which I absolutely love. Thank you.
Zigzagzigal  [author] Aug 5, 2016 @ 6:49am 
Well, considering I can see the notifications every time I set up Steam, and the volume of comments isn't overwhelming, it's not hard to check them all.
ShinigamiKenji Aug 4, 2016 @ 9:22am 
I see, thanks for the clarification!

Amazing how you still check out comments after quite a while you posted the guide, some authors never return to them. :)
Zigzagzigal  [author] Aug 4, 2016 @ 8:47am 
Culture's okay, but the Aztecs can get plenty early on via their UA anyway. I think a faith Pantheon will generally be more useful as the Aztecs lack any advantages to faith generation.
ShinigamiKenji Aug 3, 2016 @ 6:46pm 
Hi Zigzagzigal, thanks for the guides. They are the first reference I read when playing new civs. I noticed you didn't list Sacred Path for the Pantheon for the Aztecs, but did so with Brazil. Given their jungle bias, I'd guess it should be a nice extra source of culture. You can never go wrong with more culture, in my opinion.