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Civilization VI: Rise & Fall guide to Dark and Golden Ages

Civilization VI has its first major expansion with Rise and Fall. The add-on packs in a bunch of new ways to grow and manage your growing civ including an array of new options for diplomacy and even city-specific leaders that can help you hone your strategy or help buttress a struggling region of your nation. The biggest addition by far, though is the introduction of Golden and Dark ages. In our Civilization VI: Rise and Fall ages guide, we explore how Golden and Dark Ages work so you can plan new strategies that will lead your people to a victory that will echo through all of time.

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What are Dark and Golden Ages?

Dark and Golden Ages are temporary ebbs in the course of your civ’s history, representing the natural surges and declines of nations and their economies. Ages are tied to Civ’s cultural eras (e.g. the Ancient era or the Atomic era), loosely corresponding to the significant twists and turns in humanity’s real-world history. As you play, you earn points for significant leaps in development or milestones in your civilization’s history such as building a wonder or winning a major battle. Then, at the end of the era, the sum total of those achievements, known as your “Era Score,” determines whether you will fall into a Dark Age or spring into a golden one. 

Either one can seriously alter the balance of power between you and your rivals. Your age either boosts or diminishes the “Loyalty” of your citizens, a system that replaces happiness in Rise & Fall that makes holding territory either much easier or much harder. Both Golden and Dark Ages also introduce a bevy of new policies and traits you can implement.

While “golden age” sounds good and “dark age” sounds bad, both era types have pros and cons. Golden Ages, for instance, boost the resolve of your people, affording great opportunities for immediate growth, but that growth may not be sustainable long-term. Dark Ages, on the other hand, destabilize your cities and borders by lowering your loyalty, but they offer policies that can offer huge rewards if you’re willing to sacrifice for them and make the process of earning Golden Age much easier.

Further blurring the lines is the “Heroic Age,” which you earn by catapulting your civilization out of a Dark Age into a Golden Age. Heroic Ages nets you almost triple the bonuses of a Golden Age, and when used properly can completely alter your position.

All of these states are important to understand as they can have major effects on play. You likely won’t be able to stay in the same age all game, and you generally shouldn’t try. Instead, we recommend learning how to use Dark and Golden Ages to your advantage in kind.

Understanding Your “Era Score”

Civilization VI: Rise & Fall
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Where you stand comes down to your “Era Score.” In Rise & Fall, you have a score that rises whenever your civ achieves something of portent, which dictates whether you earn a dark, standard, or golden age. At the start of each age, each civilization is given a target range for their Era Score. If you fail to meet the low end of the range by the start of the next age, your civ enters a Dark Age. Exceeding the high end will earn you a Golden Age. These thresholds will be pre-set at first — in the ancient era, you need 12 points to avoid slipping into a dark classical era. As you play, though, your past performance will dictate your new goals.

You can check what your current target is with a click glance to the bottom-right of the screen, on the left-hand side of the turn timer. If you want a detailed breakdown of your score, you can scroll to the top right and select the Golden/Dark Age screen.

Civilization VI: Rise & Fall hands-on preview
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So how do you increase your Era Score? Generally speaking, you earn points by doing something that enhances your civilization, such as completing a wonder or circumnavigating the globe. How you earn them will be as varied as the strategies you use in Civ: You can earn them from combat, science, diplomacy, etc. Your goals can also change based on the era you’re in, and what civ you’re using.

In general, though, there are a few achievement categories that will always increase your era score:

  • Building special districts, as well as your civ’s unique buildings and units, for the first time. These can net four era points (that is a lot).
  • Discovering natural wonders, new continents, and circumnavigating the planet.
  • Creating a “World Wonder” will always boost your score. Some wonders have slots for great works or artifacts, and filling those slots can yield quite a few points in a single turn.
  • Befriending city-states and building alliances with other civilizations
  • Winning battles quickly, especially with a great general in tow, will increase your score. You can multiply those benefits by pairing a militaristic culture with an aggressive religion.
  • Learning new technologies and being the first to unlock a new tech in the next era can net you a small, but reliable amount of points.

As we said, you can craft a strategy that involves letting yourself slip into a Dark Age, only to burst forward with a Heroic Age. Holding a Golden Age, too, can be a monumental struggle and doesn’t always net the best rewards. Instead, all of these states are meant to be thought of as an array of tools that leveraged in any number of situations. That said, there are a few ways to maximize their utility and control which age you land in next.

I do declare!

Dedications are the defining element of the whole age system. At the start of a Dark, Golden, or Heroic age, each player declares the intentions of their civilization for the coming age. These set rough goals that can aid in the creation of more era points (to help those in a Dark Age get back in the game) or provide other sweeping benefits for your society if you fulfill certain conditions throughout the forthcoming era.

Some of these are pretty straightforward. “To Arms,” for instance, allows you to wage war with a reduced penalty if you’re in a Golden Age, or help you build an army if your civ is lagging behind in the arms race. Others like “Heartbeat of Steam” or “Wish You Were Here” are geared to boost era score. The former will have you cranking out heavy industrial buildings and the latter will have your archaeologists plundering ancient ruins for artifacts to be displayed in your fine museums and wonders. 

Here’s a list of the most common Dedications and what they offer:

Pen, Brush, and Voice: Grants bonuses each time you trigger an inspiration and offers boosts to culture production if you’re in a Golden Age.

Reform the Coinage: Grants score for trade as well as protections for traders if in a Golden Age and extra gold for international trade routes.

Hic Sunt Dracones: Great for exploration-focused civs, granting massive bonuses for discovering new natural wonders and new continents. If chosen in a Golden Age, grants massive population bonuses to new cities founded on new continents.

Heartbeat of Steam: Era score for constructing Industrial-era (or later) buildings. When chosen at the start of a Golden Age, grants additional bonuses for constructing late-game wonders.

Monumentality: Gain score from new specialty districts. If during a golden age, builders get bonuses to movement and both builders and settlers are cheaper.

To Arms!: About as combat-focused as you get, providing era score every time you kill a non-barbarian core or army unit, and unlocks a special Casus Belli that dramatically reduces warmonger penalties. All of that on top of an added 15 percent production toward military units.

Exodus of the Evangelists: Extra era score from converting cities to your religion for the first time, and, if chosen during a Golden Age, offers massive bonuses to religious units like Missionaries, Apostles, and Inquisitors.

Free inquiry: A science-focused version of “Pen, Brush, and Voice,” giving you bonuses each time you earn a Eureka moment or when a great person arrives in your civ. Commercial buildings will also grant their gold bonuses to science for the duration of the era.

Sky and Stars: Late-game dedication that greatly advances flight. Grants a bonus for each Aerodrome and instantly bumps advanced flight, rocketry, nuclear weapons, and the like if in the Atomic era, or Satellites, Robotics, Nuclear Fusion, and Nanotechnology are unlocked instead.

Bodyguard of Lies: Grants bonuses to each successful spy action. If chosen during a Golden Age, allows spies to get immediately settled and they complete their missions 25 percent faster.

Wish You Were Here: Earn score for gathering artifacts. In a Golden Age, cities with Governors get 50 percent extra tourism from world wonders and 100 percent from all National Parks.

The bonuses and goals shift based on the current era and your own age status. Regardless, you will want to tailor your approach to suit your broader tactics. You always have a decent breadth of options — including science, military, trade, etc. — so you will need to focus on committing to one tactic and incorporating that into your larger plan. Based on your long-term goals, you may want to get the best, fastest benefit possible. If you’re intentionally pursuing a Dark Age, then the calculus will be a bit different.

Choosing your age

Civilization VI: Rise & Fall

You should, ideally, step into the game knowing roughly when you want at least one Golden Age to happen. If you have a sense of when your civilization would naturally thrive, either because you have access to special units or play using tactics that culminate at a specific time, you should set yourself up to earn a Golden Age at that point. There is no easy guide to making these decisions, unfortunately. They will be complex and critically dependent upon what else is going on. In broad strokes, though, you can step into the game knowing that you won’t have a Golden or Dark Age to start and that you can’t earn a Heroic Age during the Classical era. 

From there, you will want to focus on getting the timing just right for your big leaps forward. There plenty of ways to stall if you need to dip into a dark age. Depending on how your cities are established, for instance, you may not be able to complete a wonder in time for it to affect one era. If the era is about to come to a close, then, simply shift production off those projects, let your score fall behind, pick the “Monumentality” dedication and pick up some extra points for the next round.

Rapid progression, on the other hand, is much harder, and why planning is critical. You will always have an estimation of when the next era starts until it gets down to the last 10 turns, then you will be given a warning each turn. Unfortunately, 10 turns are not usually enough for a big switch. So you will want to focus on that timer a little further out. If you have 20 turns, then that’s a bit more workable.

Look around at the cities that have the highest production. Set them to work on whatever wonders you can hammer out, and then squeeze the city. Hard. Toggle the settings so that your city is maximized for industry, build or buy whatever buildings you can to boost that rate, build mines, and then chop down every tree you can — provided you don’t need them down the line. Clearing forests gives a one-time production bonus that can help you clear out your projects a little faster.

There are plenty of ways to boost your score and set yourself up for the perfect era, but many of those tactics are pretty variable. We recommend using Wonders if at all possible because they are consistent and more predictable than, say, making a trip all the way around the planet.

Using a Heroic Age

A Heroic Age is a goal unto itself — like the development of a nuclear weapon — and, like the bomb, it can be a game-changer on its own. While the typical bump that comes with more prosperous times is nice, a well-timed Golden Age can flip the power dynamic of a game. This is mostly because it does away with the core limitation of ages — their limited utility. By selecting three perks, you essentially have three massive ways to grow — buttressed by the loyalty boosts that naturally accompany a Golden Age.

So when is a good time to trigger one? Unfortunately, as you’re likely tired of hearing by now, that depends. There are some solid, loose rules to follow, though.

Heroic Ages, because of their nature, take two eras to trigger. With that in mind, you should know ahead of time when one is coming. And that is the best time to start making a ruckus. If you’re a militaristic player and you can avoid the serious penalties for declaring war, the years just before you leap to your Heroic Age are a perfect time to start one. As the fighting heats up, any territory that you’ve managed to capture will suddenly become extra loyal, allowing you to keep up the assault for far longer. Conversely, the loyalty bump makes it a great time to start expanding, so you can prepare for that by building settlers ahead of time.

Picking your three complementary dedications (the other major advantage you get with a Heroic Age), thankfully, isn’t much of a hassle. There is almost always one dedication that will be essentially useless, one that will be OK-ish and two that will be excellent. Pick the three best and go. It’s pretty hard to go wrong.

Matching the real world ebbs and flows of countless nations and empires, the ages of Civilization VI: Rise and Fall don’t really exist in isolation. In the absence of other powers, diminished loyalty in your nation isn’t a huge deal. What matters is how that interacts with others.

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