Ostensibly the measure of your colony’s pursuit of artistic, philosophical, and spiritual refinement, Culture in Civilization: Beyond Earth serves a similar purpose as it did in previous games from the franchise. One of four fundamental resources that accumulates each turn (hopefully, anyway), Culture is a necessary component for dragging your colony to the top of the heap by bestowing upon it a ton of bonuses.

Border Expansion

Though it’s less visible, Culture’s first purpose is nevertheless quite important for keeping down costs: it allows you to expand your borders. As cities age and grow they will accumulate more and more Culture, and whenever your city hits a certain milestone amount of Culture its borders will expand. Not only will this allow you to acquire land without purchasing hexagons outright with Energy, it will allow you to expand beyond the limits of those purchases. A city’s influence can only get so big through purchases, but with Culture, the possibilities of expansion are limited only by impending victories.

The Virtues screen. Culture is needed to gain new Virtues.

Expansion aside, Culture’s primary purpose is similar to that of Science: advancement. Where Science is pressed into the accumulation of techs, however, Culture is used to bestow your colony with a series of Virtues. Virtues are bonuses that are separated into four distinct categories - Might, Prosperity, Knowledge, and Industry - which better define the ultimate direction of your colony. Choose Virtues from the Might category, for example, and your colony will be better suited to warfare. Choose Virtues from Industry, on the other hand, and the construction of buildings and improvements will happen more quickly, and with less of a financial burden. Virtues offer an incredible amount of freedom in shaping a customized colony, in short, and Culture is the resource needed to snap Virtues up.

Sound simple enough? There’s a snag: the other colonies on your planet accumulate Culture at the same time as you, and they, too, spend it on Virtues. Consequently, if you don’t make a point of developing Culture in a hurry, you may fall behind in a big way midway through the game. Virtues may not seem as important as techs, but they play a huge role in the sustainability of any colony.

Accumulating Culture

Like Science, Culture can’t go into the negatives. There’s no losing Culture. That said, you won’t get it for doing nothing - and each Virtue past the first gets progressively more expensive based on the number of cities you own, so you need to boost your Culture output constantly. There are several ways to accumulate Culture, fortunately, and you need to pursue most of them to keep up with your opponents. These include:
  • Building new cities, as each has a base Culture output
  • Certain terrain hexagons
  • Specialists working the appropriate hexagons / buildings
  • Buildings, such as Old Earth Relics, Networks, and Terra Vaults
  • Wonders, such as the Headquarters or the Panopticon
  • Improvements, such as Terrascapes or Mines built on Gold deposits
  • Virtues, such as Social Mores (Knowledge), Creative Class (Knowledge), and Monomyth (Knowledge - see a trend?)
  • Virtue Synergy Bonuses
In addition to the passive sources of Culture listed above, you can gain clumps of Culture by completing certain tasks on the map. Many Quests offer Culture as a reward, for example, and creating Expeditions in the right places (I find Derelict Settlements particularly useful in this regard) may result in a lump of Culture for your colony.

A strong, well-populated city. Its borders have grown massive thanks to its long-term Culture output.
A strong, well-populated city.
Its borders have grown massive thanks to its long-term Culture output.
Culture Tips

As with everything, you need to strike a fine balance between Culture accumulation and the rest of your goals in Beyond Earth. Culture isn’t quite as important as Science in the long run, as it doesn’t contribute as directly to Victory conditions as Science, but it’s still pretty damned important. Here are some tips for making the most of your Culture:
  • If Culture accumulation is your long-term goal, go for Knowledge as your first Virtue. No other Virtue offers a comparable amount of Culture boosts, and it’s pretty good for Science as well. 
  • Don’t supersize your colony. The more cities you own, the more expensive each new Virtue becomes. You’ll accumulate them more quickly with a comparatively small colony. The exception here goes to warmongering players, and they’ll probably only pursue the Might Virtue anyway.
  • Send Explorers out early, and make sure they always have expeditions available. You can earn a fair amount of early-game Culture through expeditions.
  • By entering the management screen of a city and clicking on the Culture indicator (top-right corner) under Citizen Management, you can set the city to focus on the development of Culture. It’s not a bad idea to set one city to do this, and perhaps two if you have a spacious empire. Be warned, however - the city will be less productive in every other respect. Don’t do this until your cities are nicely self-sufficient.
  • Try to develop a few Wonders. Culture has a few supporting buildings amid the normal crowd, but it shines if you have the right Wonders. Deep Memory is great for this.
  • Last, perhaps a slight reiteration, don’t focus on Culture too much. Culture was much more important in previous Civilization games, where it could win you a match through border expansion or the spread of Tourism. In Beyond Earth, though… not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still important, but Culture probably shouldn’t be the focus of your colony unless you’re really jonesing to max out that Virtue tree. Just sayin’.