How Districts work in Civilization VI
There are many changes in Civilization VI, but arguable the biggest and most complicated is the district system, the new method for city development. Districts are buildings produced in cities, but placed directly on the map. They include types like Encampments and Theater Squares, which you put your Barracks and Art Museums inside. Districts aren’t Wonders, and they’re not the handful of simple buildings like Granaries, Water Mills, and Monuments that you can still build directly in any city. But every other building you’re used to constructing in Civilization is now part of the district system.
Types of districts
Speciality districts are the main focus. Think of these like boxes you place on the map to store your building types. If you build a Holy Site district, that’s where your Shrine and Temple buildings are going to go. Each city can only build one of each kind of district, and the districts are gated by population: you need size-10 city to build your fourth district, for example.
Benefits of districts
Each district type has its own type of benefits. A Commercial district, for example, produces three gold every turn. They also passively produce points for recruiting Great People, a process that can be hurried up with “projects.” Instead of making units or buildings, a city with an Encampment, say, can build an Encampment Training project to gain gold and Great General points.
Each district in a city also makes that city better to trade with -- you can load up a core city with every district possible, and then send caravans from every new city to that one in order to get major food and production buffs. Having a core set of supercities with several districts then becomes a way to quickly get underperforming or new cities the resources they need.
District location and adjacency
But here’s where things get interesting: most districts have adjacency bonuses. Commercial districts have adjacency bonuses with rivers, so if you build this district next to a river, it’ll get two extra gold every turn, for the entire game (districts are permanent!).
The details of the adjacency system mean that you may spend a lot of time planning perfect district setups -- it may be impossible, but you can certainly try. Perhaps more interestingly, it changes what makes for a “good” city. In the last most Civilizations, this process was simple: find a spot with a bunch of nearby resources and a good variety of grasslands and hills. Now there’s a lot more variety: a city location surrounded by mountains has major advantages for Faith and Research, while a spot mostly surrounded by water can still have strong production with a well-developed Harbor and Industrial Zone.
There are a bunch of interesting district combinations and, especially in the first few games, some surprises that might mess up your campaign. It’s worth taking a look at all the districts in the game to see how they work.
The first district you’re likely to see is the Holy Site, the primary Faith generator in the game. Access to districts comes from tech or civic advances--in this case, the Holy Site comes from the Astrology tech. Faith is used to purchase religious units like Missionaries, accelerate Great People production, and eventually, purchase Naturalists who can create parks.
Holy Sites have adjacency bonuses with mountains, but they can change pretty significantly based on your religion. Religion works largely the same as it did in Civilization V once it was introduced: generate Faith to start a Pantheon, and then race to build a Great Prophet and found a Religion.
Both aspects can affect the districts. There’s a bunch of different Pantheon options, but some of them improve Holy Site adjacency bonuses. In one game, I started in the far north, on a tundra, which seemed like a handicap until I got the Pantheon that gave extra faith for nearby tundra hexes -- suddenly I was able to build Holy Sites with absurdly high bonuses of +7 or even +9 faith per turn.
Religions change the advanced buildings available from Holy Sites as well -- make a religion with Cathedrals, and they can be added to Holy Sites after Shrines and Temples for even bigger bonuses.
Campuses are the science-focused districts of Civilization VI, and are another possibility for the first one you’re likely to encounter, coming from the Writing tech. The research mechanics in this incarnation of Civilization are not notably different from others--you try to get as many research points as you can in order to get more technology.
Campuses gain adjacency benefits from each nearby mountain, every two adjacent rainforests, and every two adjacent districts. Thus they’ll benefit most from being up high in the peaks, but will still do pretty well in the middle of a dense city.
The buildings attached to campuses are the typical science buildings you can expect in Civilization: the Library, the University, the Research Lab. They’re arguably the most straightforward of all the major districts -- build ‘em if you need more research.
Alongside the Industrial Hub, the Commercial Hub is arguably the most important district in Civilization VI, in that you’ll almost certainly want one in pretty much every single one of your cities. Commercial Hubs, as the name implies, add money. Money, always useful in Civilization, seems slightly more so in Civ VI. You'll have enough of it that you can and should use it to buy early city buildings and builder units as much as possible.
The Commercial Hub gains adjacency bonuses from being placed next to rivers, Harbor districts, and two districts. This may sound simple in theory, but in practice, placing the Commercial Hub is one of the key decisions you consistently have to make when planning a city. Because it’s so important, and because its placement is so critical, especially in coastal cities that might have Harbors, you’ll likely start many cities’ plans with the Commercial Hub. In many cases, you’re likely to build a Commercial Hub before a Harbor, but knowing where you’re likely to place that Harbor can influence your placement decisions.
Like the Campus, the Commercial Hub doesn’t have too many major decisions down the road--you add a Market, Bank, and Stock Exchange for more gold.However, the Commercial Hub is required for one of the odder Wonders in the game, Great Zimbabwe, which grants a significant boost in trade in the city. The thing is, Great Zimbabwe has to be adjacent to both a Commercial Hub and a Cattle resource--it’s entirely possible that in any given game, you’ll never be able to build Great Zimbabwe without specifically aiming for it.
Encampments are the core military district for the majority of the game -- Harbors will take ships, of course, and eventually Aerodromes will hold aircraft. But from slingers to tanks, Encampments are supposed to improve the bulk of your land military. They also are where new units trained in that city appear--as such can be placed strategically.
Encampments don’t have adjacency bonuses, at all. They do, however, offer adjacency bonuses to districts like Commercial Hubs and Theater Squares.
There are a couple districts that do not have adjacency bonuses. Initially, this makes them feel relatively unimportant -- if a city isn’t special for them, it can be difficult to prioritize building them if you’re trying to mix-max your geography. But of course, getting the stacking unit experience benefits from Barracks, Stable, and Armory buildings has clear advantages if you’re doing any kind of fighting at all. What’s more, many of the buildings attached to Encampments also add Housing, a mechanic that allows cities to grow unimpeded.
The biggest choice you have to make with Encampments comes early: whether to build Barracks or Stables, and get buffs to experience for mounted or unmounted units. The simple division means that you’ll likely feel pushed to have one Encampment focused on cavalry, and another churning out the rest of your units. This is not the worst way to plan an empire’s military production.
The culture-focused district is one of the more awkward-fitting districts, at least initially. Culture is, if anything, more important in Civ VI than it was in previous games, thanks to the introduction of a Civics Tree, which allows for social progress alongside technological progress. With that and the usual expanding cultural borders around cities, you definitely want Theater Square districts.
What makes Theaters complicated is that their adjacency benefits only come from existing district buildings -- you get +1 culture per turn for every adjacent Wonder or every two adjacent districts. Thus when you’re building Theater Squares, you either need to be pre-plan, which can be done using map pins, or you’ll have to add it to an already existing city later on. In other words, it’s quite easy to let Theater Squares slide for a while, even though they’re one of the most important districts in the game. Keep this in mind!
Theater Squares have a couple straightforward buildings, Amphitheaters early and Broadcast Networks later. But in-between they have one of the more interesting choices of any district: Art Museum or Archaeological Museum. Both of these are critical for increasing culture and especially tourism, the mechanic necessary to win a culture victory. But the museums are filled in different fashions: Art via Great People, and Archaeology via sending units across the map. Whichever one works for each city becomes an interesting choice, each time.
Another somewhat strange district, the Entertainment Complex first feels like it’s just another name for the Theater Square. It’s not -- the Theater is focused on culture, and the Entertainment Complex is focused on “Amenities” -- the new term for, essentially, happiness.
Like the Theater Square district, you’re likely to build the Entertainment Complex later, for somewhat similar reasons. You’ll usually run into an Amenities wall in the midgame or later. Moreover, the Entertainment Complex has no adjacency benefits, so there’s never any reason to build a city around it. It provides bonuses to things like the Theater Square, of course, but offers nothing on its own.
The buildings for the district are also relatively straightforward: the Arena, Zoo, and Stadium all offer more Amenities. The only thing to keep in mind is that the Maracana Wonder, which offers a big, empire-wide boost to Amenities, requires an Entertainment Complex with a Stadium.
Remember when I said the Commercial Hub was arguably the most important district? Here’s the other option. Every city needs production, and the Industrial Zone is nothing but that. It shows up relatively late in the game compared to the other core districts -- with the Medieval “Apprenticeship” technology -- but it’s important enough to be the first district choice in cities once it’s available. .
The adjacency bonuses for the Industrial Zone are +1 production for every two adjacent districts, as with most, but also a bonus for each adjacent quarry and mine. Bonus resources like marble and stone are less important in Civ VI than previous games as they’re not useful individually for things like wonders. But they are useful in bulk for Industrial Zones.
The Industrial Zone is pretty straightforward: you add Workshops, Factories, and Power Plants, and it produces more. The only complicated Wonder associated is the Ruhr Valley, which requires being adjacent to an Industrial Zone as well as a river -- not every city has this, but it shouldn’t be uncommon.
The Harbor is the last of the major districts, and, in the cities that can actually build it, it might be the best district. In most Civilization games, coastal cities have had a bunch of food, but struggled with production unless they could build mines. Harbors are arguably the most versatile districts in the game. They improve food and gold on their own, and production for trade routes sent to their cities. If you can build them, they’re great additions to any city.
Obviously, Harbor districts have unique requirements for building -- like, you know, being on a coast. It gets adjacency benefits from being near ocean resources like fish and crab, as well as being next to two districts. (If you’ll recall, Commercial Hubs gets benefits from being next to a Harbor, which makes sense.)
Harbors are fairly straightforward in their buildings -- Lighthouses, Shipyards, and Seaports--but their Wonders are a little more interesting. Sea-based Wonders like the Colossus and Great Lighthouse need to be placed next to a Harbor, on the coast. So if building those is your goal, you'll have to leave some empty space.
Arguably the most interesting thing about the Harbor district for long-time Civilization players, however, is that they allow cities that aren’t built on the coast to reap the benefits of being coastal. If a coastal tile is within cultural reach of a city, it can build a Harbor--which means it can build ships or coastal Wonders. So for the first time in the series, building a city a tile inland from the sea is no longer the worst possible move.
As discussed above, Aerodromes are essentially Encampments for aerial units. This is where planes are housed, and eventually, Airports and Hangars are built. They must be built on flat land, for obvious airstrip reasons. They have no adjacency benefits, but they can, eventually, be used to airlift units from one city to the next in a single turn.
These are buildings which, like the other districts, are placed directly on the map. However, these are only placed once and they’re done, with no further improvement possible (or necessary).
Aqueducts provide bonuses to a city’s Housing, which can be quite helpful. However, they must be built both next to a city center and next to a lake, oasis, river, or mountain to transfer the water to the city. In practice this often means there’s better improvements in those spots already.
If you’re going for a science victory, you’ll need a spaceport to start launching satellites and missions into the void. They have to be built on flat land, and they’re expensive.
Neighborhoods aren’t quite normal districts, but since they are placed directly on the map, they require similar strategic decisions. Essentially, as the game progresses, and more and more districts get built, space gets cramped -- both directly on the map itself, and conceptually, via Housing that comes primarily from conventional improvements like Farms.
When you reach the Industrial Era in technology, you get Neighborhoods as a way to remedy these problems. These are districts built directly on the map that provide significant Housing. The amount of Housing depends on the aesthetic value of the tile, which is calculated...somehow, on a rating scale that goes up to providing six extra Housing. You’ll almost certainly need at least one Neighborhood in any viable late-game city.
National Parks aren’t districts at all, but they are placed directly on the map and receive benefits based on aesthetics, similar to Neighborhoods. These are four-hex, diamond-shaped zones that cannot be developed with farms, mines, or districts. At all. What they do for you, however, is provide big boosts to Tourism, helping with winning a Cultural victory, or stopping a rival from doing so.
Ideally, National Parks are placed next to Natural Wonders, which return in Civ VI. But any four-hex, undeveloped piece of land with good aesthetics will work. This is worth remembering because later in the game, when you unlock a technology which allows you to use Faith to buy naturalist units, Civ VI will tell you that you should do this to build a park. But it’s entirely possible that you haven’t planned on building a park like this at all...so you’ve just wasted your Faith, unless you know parks are coming.
Districts are like a partially solvable puzzle in every new city in Civilization VI, and figuring out those puzzles are some of the key decisions players will have to make. Districts are also the glue that holds Civlization VI’s empire-building systems together. They can be confusing at first, but knowing how and where to deploy them, and what benefits they have, is what will lead to victory.