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Unit Movement in Civilization V (vanilla)

Unit Movement in Civilization V
"E pur si muove!" - Galileo Galilei

During a game of Civilization V, much of your time will be spent moving units around the world. You’ll be marching your military units off to discover stuff or to fight with your neighbors. Your workers will be moving to new tiles to improve terrain and to construct roads. Your Settlers will be moving to good locations on which to build new cities. (Civilization V manual)

And sometimes you will wonder why the game refuses to move one of your units on that so important tile or lets your enemies cross a forest without pain!

Hopefully this article will help you to find the reason.

Note that this article does not treat of units, which have very specific rules described in the game manual.

Definitions / Abbreviations
  • Combat Unit –- a military unit that can engage in combat against other units or against cities.
  • Non-Combat Unit (aka Civilian Unit) - a unit that cannot fight, i.e. Settlers, Workers, Work Boats, and Great People
  • Embarked Unit - a land or civilian unit that is on a water tile.
  • Civ - Civilization
  • DLC - downloadable content, i.e. game extensions
  • MP - movement point
  • MC - movement cost
Other Civ V acronyms and terms are described in this article.


Fig. 1: the horseman (4 MP) can only move 3 tiles to the north due to the hills.

The Civ V unit movement is based upon following key notions:
  • movement point (MP) :c5moves:: at the beginning of a turn, each unit is given a certain number of MPs that may be spent to move. The more MPs, the more mobile the unit.

  • movement cost (MC): when a unit enters a map tile, it spends a certain amount of MPs called the MC of the tile. The more rough the terrain, the higher the tile's MC.

  • actions : a unit may not only move but also perform one or more actions, for example setting up a siege unit. Actions usually cost MPs.
The Civ V movement rule states that a unit may move one tile or take an action as long as it has not used up all of its MPs.

In particular, a unit may enter a tile even if its remaining MPs are less than the MC of the (destination) tile. Some moves or actions, like crossing a river, "expend all remaining MPs", hence stopping the unit.

Unit MPs, terrain MCs and action costs are listed in the tables at the end of this section. Note that there are many exceptions affecting unit movement, listed in this section.

Movement mechanics

Let's take a horseman, as shown on the right, and explain how unit movement is computed when the horseman goes north to the hill:

starting position: available 4 MP
move#1 (-> NE) : spending 1 MP (clear terrain/horses), still remaining 4-1 = 3 MP for further move/action
move#2 (-> NE): spending 2 MP (hill), still remaining 3-2 = 1 MP for further move/action
move#3 (-> NE): enters hill/forest (although it costs 3 MP), no MP left (unit stops moving)

NOTE: When a unit is selected, an information table appears showing Movement, followed by the current amount of movement points available / the starting movement points for the unit. The amount displayed is rounded down, but hovering over the MPs will reveal a tooltip with the exact decimal amount of MPs available.

Executing actions

Units may also spend MPs to execute actions like embark or fortify, and may combine moves and actions. Note that attacking an enemy is also an action. For example, a catapult (2 MP) may move one tile on a road (0.5 MP), then be set up (1 MP) and still fire on an enemy (using the remaining 0.5 MP).

Illegal moves

Following movements are not allowed or at least restricted:
  • naval units cannot enter land tiles (except coastal cities).

  • mountains and natural wonders are impassable to non flying units.

  • unit stacking is very limited.

Unit Movement Points
  • 2 MP: all units unless otherwise listed
  • 3 MP: galley, knight, cavalry, mechanized infantry, rocket artillery, giant death robot
  • 4 MP: workboat, trireme, chariot archer, horseman, lancer, ironclad, battleship, mobile sam
  • 5 MP: frigate, carrier, submarine, tank, modern armor
  • 6 MP: caravel, nuclear submarine, helicopter gunship
  • 7 MP: missile cruiser
  • 8 MP: destroyer
Unique Units:
  • 3 MP: Indian war elephant, Denmark berserker
  • 4 MP: Korean turtle ship
  • 5 MP: Mongolian Khan, Egyptian war chariot, Greek companion cavalry, Mongolian Keshik, Ottoman Sipahi
  • 6 MP: German panzer
Terrain Movement Costs
  • road/railroad: < 1MP (details in Roads / Railroads / Rivers / Bridges)
  • clear terrain: 1 MP (plain, desert, tundra, snow)
  • water tile: 1 MP (sea, lake)
  • hill (clear of trees): 2 MP
  • forest / jungle on clear terrain: 2 MP
  • forest / jungle on hill: 3 MP
  • marshes: 3 MP
  • fallout: 2 MP (special “terrain feature” that appears after the nukes begin flying)

Roads / Railroads / Rivers / Bridges

Roads and railroads not only play an economic and production role, they also have a strategic impact by speeding up unit movement within friendly and neutral territory, allowing for fast military deployment in case of invasion. Note that a civilization at war does not gain benefit from roads and railroads in enemy territory; base tile MC is used instead.
In Civ V roads and railroads are tile improvements built by workers.

Roads can only be built if your civilization has discovered The Wheel. Roads do not cross rivers at the beginning of the game. Bridges will be automatically built and displayed on the map once your civilization has discovered Engineering in the middle age. And later, railroads may only be built if Railroads has been discovered.

Note that cities are automatically road (or railroad) tiles as soon as the requested technology has been discovered.

  • Movement Costs
    • road: 1/2 MP (1/3 MP as soon as Machinery is discovered)
    • railroad: 0.2 MP for units with 2 MPs, 0.3 MP for units with 3 MPs, 1/3 MP for other units
    • cross a river (no bridge): expends all remaining MPs (except Scouts/Helicopters/Minutemen which spend only 1 MP)
    • cross a bridge: no supplementary cost
    • entering a city (from a tile with no road): 1 MP (if no river is crossed and regardless of the terrain the city is built upon)

    Fig. 2: The warrior may reach the sugar plantation, via the city and the road.

  • Moving on a road/railroad

    The road/railroad MCs only apply if start and destination tile have a road/railroad, and there must be a bridge if a river is crossed.

  • Joining a road/railroad

    If a unit is just joining a road/railroad (from a tile with no road), the road/railroad MC does NOT apply and the base MC of the destination tile is used instead (e.g. 3 MPs for marshes)

As shown in Fig. 2 on the right, the warrior (2 MPs) may reach the plantation because he first joins the road in the city (1 MP) and then continues one tile on the road "through the horseman" (0.5 MP), ending his movement in the plantation (using the remaining 0.5 MP). Note that the warrior may also reach the forested hill east of the plantation.

Stacking / Moving through Units

Unit Stacking - Unit Stacking refers to the possibility for a player to place ("stack") several units on the same tile.
Stacking is very limited in Civ V.
  • You may stack:
    • only a civilian unit and a combat unit on the same land tile.
    • only a civilian unit, a combat unit and a naval unit in a coastal city.
  • You CANNOT stack:
    • naval units, embarked units, naval and embarked units.
    • your units with other players' units (even with friends/allies)
This rule applies at the END of the turn and it may happen in some rare situations that two combat or two civilian units are temporarily stacked during a turn. But the game always demands to "move stacked units" at the end of the turn, if needed.

Moving through other units - During their movements, units may enter and immediately leave tiles that are occupied by other units, with following restrictions:
  • Combat or civilian units may move via tiles occupied by combat or civilian units of the same Civilization
  • Non civilian units may move through tiles occupied by the units of any civilization the player is not at war with. Civilian units cannot pass through tiles occupied by other players' units.

Fig. 3: The horseman may attack the archer and then continue his movement.

This section lists the actions a unit may execute during its movement phase. Some actions are general, others are unit or domain specific.

Action Costs (without bonus/promotion/special ability)
  • garrison/station in a city: no supplementary cost
  • paradrop: 1/2 MP
  • set up a siege unit: 1 MP
  • pillage a tile: 1 MP
  • heal/fortify: expends all remaining MPs (only at beginning of next turn)
  • attack: expends all remaining MPs
  • embark/disembark: expends all remaining MPs
  • upgrade: expends all remaining MPs
  • enhance/repair a tile: expends all remaining MPs

Embark/Disembark - Land units may enter a water tile by embarking in boats. Embarked units may exit a water tile and enter a land tile by disembarking. Embarking/disembarking stops moving and is only possible if the unit has the Embarkation promotion.

A unit gets this promotion automatically if it stays in its own territory and its Civilization has discovered Optics. Thus, units outside of their territory when Optics is being discovered, will have to go back to their country before they can embark/disembark. Any friendly territory grants embarkation.

Note that an embarked combat unit may attack (an enemy or a city) while trying to disembark.

Attack - Most units stop moving after an attack. Some units, like horsemen or tanks, "can move after attacking": in that case the cost of an attack is the MC of the enemy's tile, even if the attacker is forced back.
Some ranged units may attack several times in a turn (e.g. Chu-Ko-Nu): in that case each ranged attack costs 1 MP.

As shown in Fig. 3 on the right, the horseman may attack the Persian archer, spending 2 MPs (enemy in a forest) regardless of combat result.

Heal/fortify - Healing and fortifying units are deferred actions that start at the beginning of next turn. Thus, you may still move a unit after you hit the "heal" or the "fortify" button, but doing so the heal/fortify action is cancelled.

Movement Modifiers

This section lists the bonuses/penalties affecting unit movement.

Promotions / Penalties

Embarkation: Unit can embark into water tiles.
Mobility I: Unit gains +1 :c5moves: Movement.
Mobility II: Helicopter Gunship gains an additional +1 :c5moves: Movement.
Scouting II: Scout gains +1 :c5moves: Movement.
Logistics: Unit gains 1 additional attack (or capture) per turn, and may move after attacking.
Blitz: Unit may attack (or capture) multiple times in a turn, and may move after attacking.
Woodsman: Unit doubles movement rate through forest and jungle. Aztec Jaguars start with this promotion. (Forest/Jungle on clear terrain: 1 MP, Forest/Jungle on hill: 1.5 MP).
Ignore Terrain Cost: Scouts, Helicopter Gunships, and American Minuteman move through all terrain at a cost of 1 MP per tile.
Second Attack: Chinese Chu-Ko-Nu can attack twice in a turn.
Free Pillaging: Ottoman Sipahi can pillage tiles without expending MPs.
Bonuses in Snow, Tundra, and Hills: Norwegian Ski Infantry doubles movement in snow, tundra, or hill.
Rough terrain penalty: Chariot Archers and War Chariots expend all remaining MPs when they enter rough terrain, i.e. hill, forest or jungle.


Great Lighthouse: +1 :c5moves:Movement and +1 Sight for all Naval Combat Units. Must be built in a City along a Coast.

Great Wall: Enemy land units must spend 1 additional :c5moves: Movement Point when inside your territory.


Commerce - Naval Tradition : +1 movement for embarked and naval combat units, +1 sight for naval combat units.

Unique Units

Unique Units having a movement bonus are already listed in this table.
Unique Units having a specific promotion are mentioned in the promotion list.

Unique Traits

Unique Trait: Sun Never Sets: +2 MPs for all embarked and naval units.

Unique Trait: The Great Warpath: Units may move through Forest and Jungle tiles as if they were roads when in friendly territory.

Unique Trait: Achaemenid Legacy: Golden Ages lasts 50% longer. Units receive a movement bonus (of 1 MP) and a +10% attack and defense strength bonus during a Golden Age.

Denmark (DLC)
Unique Trait: Viking Fury : Embarked units have +1 movement, moving from sea to land only costs 1 movement point, melee units pay no movement cost to pillage.

Inca (DLC)
Unique Trait: Great Andean Road - Units ignore terrain costs when moving into any hills. No maintenance costs for improvements in Hills; half cost elsewhere.

Mongolia (DLC)
Unique Trait: Mongol Terror - Units fighting City States receive a +30% combat bonus. All mounted units receive +1 movement.

Fig. 4: The Swordsman and the Archer may swap on the hills.

Special Cases

Unit swapping - You may swap the position of two of your units assuming both have enough MPs to do so. Simply try to move one of the unit to the tile of the second: the move cursor will appear in grey if the permutation is allowed, as shown on the right.

NOTE: if a unit is in a deferred action state (e.g. fortified), a red cursor will appear when trying to swap to that unit's position. Cancelling its deferred action will allow for swapping.

Units jumping to a non adjacent tile - In very few cases units may move directly to non adjacent tiles:
  • Use of paratroopers
  • End of open borders: Units present in territory for which an open border agreement ends are automatically transported outside of this territory for no MP cost.

Capturing/Destroying non-combat units - A combat unit may capture/destroy an enemy civilian or embarked unit (alone in a hex) by simply entering the tile the enemy occupies: workers and settlers are captured, all others are destroyed (Great Persons, embarked units, work boats):
  • capturing/destroying a unit does not cost any MP.
  • each captured enemy is counted as an attack.
  • each destroyed embarked unit is counted as an attack.
  • Settlers are turned into Workers, if captured by another Civ. Settlers are NOT turned into Workers, if captured by barbarians (so it is possible to recover a captured settler of YOUR Civ).

Other rules impacting movement

Movement is only possible if a unit has some MP remaining AND no other rule impedes the movement (or attack):
  • The zone of control of the enemies must be respected. More details in this article.

  • The stacking limit must be respected, thus a unit cannot attack from a tile already occupied by a combat unit:

    • in a city, a new built unit stacked with a garrisoned/stationed unit cannot attack as long as the stacking issue is not solved.

    • it is not possible to attack "through" another combat unit (to avoid a stacking issue if the attacker is forced back).

As shown in next figure, The French Mech Infantry cannot attack the Mobile SAM directly "through" the Foreign Legion: it has to first move through other units to a free tile (trading post) and to attack from this tile later. Note that it cannot attack in the same turn because of the enemy's zone of control.
Spoiler Fig. 5 :


Civilization V proposes a somewhat classical unit movement mechanics (for non-air units), modeling terrain effects via movement costs, unit mobility via MPs and integrating unit specific actions that also have a cost.
Unit stacking is very limited, specially combat units cannot be stacked.

At last, due to the richness of the game there are so many exceptions reflecting the special abilities of each nation, that it may be useful to record all the Civ V banes a player may be confronted to: mobile Greek Cavalry devastating your country or Iroquois warriors unexpectedly cropping up from a wide unknown forest.

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