The Malians' civilization ability is Songs of the Jeli, which provides their City Centers with additional Faith and Food for each adjacent Desert and Desert Hills tile. It also allows them to purchase Commercial Hub buildings with Faith. Lastly, it increases the Gold output of their Mines at the cost of Production and gives them a 30% Production penalty to units and buildings. Their unique unit is the Mandekalu Cavalry (which replaces the Knight), and their unique District is the Suguba (which replaces the Commercial Hub).
Mali is able to establish a bustling commercial center of the world in the middle of a desert and grows their cities tall in the blink of an eye by their religious and purchasing power. Not much of a builder but a "buyer," Mali's distinct area of specialization allows for any type of victory, with their best choices being Religious or Diplomatic Victories.
Songs of the Jeli
Mali's cities can grow very fast in the middle of a desert. If surrounded by 6 Desert tiles, Mali's Capital can grow with +6 starting Food and Faith, making them uncontested when trying to establish a Pantheon. Religious Settlements is always worth considering; however, choosing Desert Folklore is a wise decision - you want to construct Holy Sites anyway to boost the yield of your unique district, another important component of your Mali game, which may have a more lasting impact on your empire. Having both high income and reduced buying costs will help you overcome your Production penalties by spending Gold. You can put your accumulated Faith to good use by purchasing Suguba buildings and religious (if you manage to found a religion), military (via the powerful Grand Master's Chapel), or Naturalist and Rock Band units. As you might have guessed, the Grand Master's Chapel is the clear winner for buildings in the Government Plaza.
A common misconception with this ability is that (despite the tooltip being quite explicitly clear) Mali recieves a flat-30% penalty to all Production. This is not accurate - Districts and Wonders are exempt.
When settling, try to look for areas with a lot of Hills to build Mines on, as Mali's Mines receive +4 Gold each; this is absolutely crucial for their purchasing power later in the game. Desert Hills tiles are also the best ones to benefit from Petra, a Wonder that if successfully built will give Mali a huge leading edge into the Medieval Era and beyond.
The key to unlocking Mali's true power is to set up international Trade Routes from your prosperous desert cities. Try to achieve as many Golden Ages as possible to increase your trade capacity, and always pick Reform the Coinage as your dedication. Don't worry about the possibility of your Traders being plundered; deploy Mandekalu Cavalry units to guard them on their long journeys. Having good relations with trade recipients leads to the creation of Alliances, which can supply your cities with Culture, Science, Faith or additional Gold. Going for a Religious Victory is your best bet, since your having an early pantheon means you can always have Desert Folklore, which itself leads to an immense amount of Faith. A Cultural Victory, can be decently supported by your Trade Routes to other civilizations and your peaceful gameplay which will both lead to Alliances and extra tourism from those allies. Having a lot of Gold to support the maintenance of Faith-purchased military units opens up Domination Victory as well. Finally, Diplomatic Victory is a good option, as you can use your large wealth to buy yourself some diplomatic points when emergencies occur, or to buy yourself the first place in Aid Requests. .
As Mali, you may want to settle your cities close together. While this will give you less Production per city (a problem that is compounded by the Production penalties of Mali's Mines), this will allow you to place more Sugubas and Holy Sites, which will increase the number of Trade Routes and amount of Faith you will have. When founding a city, building a Suguba should be your first priority, followed by a Holy Site. By building such an empire, you can drown yourself in Gold, and drown your enemies in religious units.
Since Trade Routes are integral to Mali's strategy, your Policy Card, Wonder, and city-state Suzerain choices should focus first and foremost on increasing their yields. Caravansaries may have too little impact to warrant a place in one of your government's Economic Policy slots early on, but Triangular Trade and Ecommerce absolutely do. Trade Confederation and Market Economy will allow your international Trade Routes to provide you with valuable Culture and Science, and Wisselbanken and Online Communities will give you a good incentive to stay on friendly terms with your neighbors and send a steady stream of Traders to their lands. Free Market and Simultaneum are also highly useful, as they will increase your cities' Gold and Faith output and give you more purchasing power. Similarly, Mali benefits most from Wonders that provide bonuses to their Trade Routes or other aspects of their economy: the Colossus, the University of Sankore, Great Zimbabwe, and Big Ben should always be high on your priority list, and the Casa de Contratación can be helpful if you have an intercontinental empire. Where city-states are concerned, Antioch, Bandar Brunei, Hunza, Singapore, and Kumasi all have Suzerain bonuses that will further enhance your Trade Routes, and you should make every effort to become the Suzerain of Valletta and Ngazargamu if they appear in your game. Being able to use your abundant Faith to purchase discounted City Center and Encampment buildings in any city with a Suguba will be a great boon to you, and the percentage discounts from multiple sources stack additively instead of multiplicatively, so further purchasing discounts from the Suguba and Democracy can give you a whopping 95% on all land units - an exceptionally powerful combo. Mali is rather weak militarily, but you can still benefit from this by buying units to defend your territory.
This unique district is similar to the Hansa and can be placed in the same way. If you found your cities only 4 tiles apart, you can easily place each Suguba between two Holy Sites and receive a +5 Gold bonus (+2 from each Holy Site and +1 from having two adjacent districts). Place them on riverbanks for even better results.
The Suguba is the backbone of the Mali empire, as it is evident that the weakest point of Mali during the game is before Currency is unlocked. Aim for this technology as soon as possible and get up multiple Sugubas so your purchasing strategy can finally begin.
It is important that you promote either Reyna or Moksha (preferably both) so that you can straight up buy districts using Gold and Faith as soon as possible, even though the -30% Production does not affect building districts.
The Mandekalu Cavalry was a fearsome unit to face back in Civilization V - its bonus to assaulting cities, as well as its superior synergy with the Songhai's kit in general, made it dominant. Its glory days are long past, but this iteration is still quite usable in Mali's hands.
The main advantage the Mandekalu Cavalry has over the Knight is 5 additional Combat Strength, making it the strongest unit of the Medieval Era. This is enough for a full-health Mandekalu Cavalry to kill a Crossbowman in two hits, provided it doesn't heal in the meantime. It will also usually take only 10 or so damage from Crossbowman fire. Considering that the Crossbowman is the premier defensive unit of the Medieval Era, this edge in a matchup is pretty significant. By itself, however, it doesn't contribute too much to Mali's offensive game. The really important factor to consider is Mali as a whole in the Medieval Era. By now, Mali will have their Sugubas up and running in most of their cities, probably making a couple hundred Gold each turn, and may have even built the Grand Master's Chapel. With this unparalleled purchasing power, Mali can pump out a ton of units during this era, and most civilizations simply will not have the infrastructure to oppose them. The solution against this horde seems like it would be Walls, but as a heavy cavalry unit the Mandekalu Cavalry is totally equipped to oppose these. This is far from being Mali's most consistent strategy, but if you are looking for a change from the gameplay of Religious Victory it can be an enjoyable change of pace.
A significantly worse aspect of this unit is that it can earn Gold from kills, which is the theme of Mali as a civilization. The problem here is that it replaces the Knight, so it will not come into play until the late Medieval Era. By this time, Mali's economy must be already solidified such that a few Gold from kills most likely does not matter too much. Of course, you can still gain Gold from killing Barbarians, but in the Medieval Era, Barbarians are not as rampant, and with the low Combat Strength of Warriors and Archers, killing them to earn Gold is like adding an extra drop into the ocean. If the Gold earned by the Mandekalu Cavalry actually contributes a significant percentage of your treasury, you are probably playing this civilization completely wrong. The ability to protect Traders is clunky and impractical at best, because you will never be able to move your unit around to follow Trade Routes, especially with the number of Trade Routes that Mali has.
All in all, what you have on your hand is a slightly stronger Knight which can you field en masse in an instant thanks to your generous treasury. If you want to wage a war, make sure you purchase enough of them. Also, don't expect you will be able to farm Gold with it, there is no amount of killing can recoup the cost you invested in the first place. After the April 2021 Update, the Mandekalu Cavalry is a decent unit thanks to its outstanding Combat Strength compared to other units of the same era, but quite plain, since the abilities that set it apart from the basic Knight are meaningless.
Mali is pretty flexible, since gold can help in any victory, but they are skewed towards Religious and Diplomatic Victory more than anything else. Religious Victory is the most obvious path, since Mali has good Faith output from the very beginning of the game, and this victory largely does not rely on Production, as you can buy districts, buildings and religious units relatively freely. In terms of Diplomatic Victory, your large Gold income allows you to dominate Aid Request and Military Aid Request competitions, buy Diplomatic Favor, and buy districts and units to complete city-states' quests, and their peaceful nature will lead to easy Alliances. However, they may have a hard time competing for Wonders, as Diplomatic Victory is more Wonder-reliant than Religious Victory.
Mali is very weak before unlocking Currency, most specifically before they have their first Suguba up and running. They have low Production in all cities, regular to slightly higher Gold compared to a regular civilization and decent Faith output, but they cannot use their Faith to buy military units until they build the Grand Master's Chapel. If playing against Mali, should you spawn beside them, destroy them or cripple their early expansion efforts as soon as possible; any civilization can do this without any hurdle thrown their way, as it is extremely difficult for Mali to defend or retaliate.
The Kingdom, and later Empire of Mali was a remarkably long-lasting, pious, and rich empire, built on a foundation of trade between the Sahara, Sahel, and Subsaharan regions of Africa, unified by an Islamic faith, and administered capably by rulers for over 300 years. The Empire of Mali was at its height of power between the 13th and 16th Centuries, until it fractured under internal pressure and external threats.
West Africa is blessed with a wealth in three valuable treasures: Gold, salt, and copper. The demand for these commodities has meant long-standing trade routes across the region for most of recorded Western history, and the introduction of the camel as a beast of burden during the 2nd Century enabled an increasing volume of trans-Saharan trade.
Into this context, the kingdom of Mali arose in the 9th Century as a local power. Islam spread to the region in the 10th or 11th Century. Mali began a campaign of expansion and conquest under Sundiata (or Sunjata) Keita in the early 13th Century, who is the subject of some of the most famous praise-songs of the Malinese jelis, or griots. Sundiata defeated the Sosso at the Battle of Kirina in 1235, setting Mali on its ascent. According to the Epic of Sundiata, he gathered the nobles to charter a government for Mali, organizing the society, declaring property rights, protecting the environment, declaring rights for women, and listing personal responsibilities—a remarkable document that has been declared a UNESCO Intangible Heritage item. The charter even lists the person who can joke with the royal family.
The kingdom was organized more as a confederation of allied city-states and locally administered territories. There was a noble, warrior clan aristocracy, as practiced in other places throughout the world. These rulers were advised by the jeli, a person who combined the role of troubadour, oral historian, and bard. The role of jeli or griot is still an important one throughout West Africa today. Sundiata started a process of centralizing more of this rule under the Manden, but local rulers and ruling families maintained authority after swearing allegiance to the Mansas of Keita.
Mansa Musa Keita I, the grandnephew of Sundiata, ruled for 25 years at the start of the 14th Century. During his lifetime he undertook a famous hajj to Mecca, bringing (and spending) an immense fortune in gold. While he was abroad, he recruited Islamic jurists, scholars, artists, and scientists from around the Islamic world, and invited them to return to Mali with him. Also during his Hajj, Malinese generals conquered the Songhai kingdom and incorporated the cities of Timbuktu and Goa into the empire. Musa returned to his own throne through these newly-conquered lands.
Timbuktu was already a rich trading city, situated on the edge of the Sahara and an important waypoint in the gold and salt trades. Mansa Musa ordered mosques built and the madrassa at Sankore enlarged, where it would become Africa's largest library and a center for jurisprudence (much as Bologna was becoming such a center of learning in Europe at the time). Their distinctive earthen construction was new for the era, but is now considered an iconic part of Malinese architecture.
Ibn Battuta, the legendary traveler and chronicler, passed through Mali from 1349-1353, and remains one of the best sources for life in Mali during the apex of the Empire. During his visit, he remarked positively on the Malian regard for justice, the public safety and absence of banditry, and the public devotion to Islam. He was less enthusiastic about the free mingling of sexes (he thought it unseemly, to say nothing of the dress code), the tolerance of pre-Islamic cultural and religious traditions (he thought it an insult to the faith), and Mansa Souleyman Keita's gifts of traditional foods (he thought them insufficient to his station).
Records of the Malian Empire are sparse from the 14th - 16th Centuries, possibly as a result of weakening central authority and ineffective rulers. Shifting ecological conditions may have contributed to some of the problems of the late empire. The southward expansion of the Sahara impinged on the woodland regions, reducing supplies of wood for fuel, and the wetter conditions of the early 16th Century may have led to the spread of tsetse flies, which prevented the Mandekalu cavalry from pushing southward. Weaker rulers, and growing power of Morocco and a resurgent Songhai, and a succession crisis on the death of Mahmud Keita IV resulted in the Manden heartland splintering into a series of successor states.
Mali's unique combination of traditional West African and Islamic cultures, oral heritage (particularly the role of the jeli or griot), and its fabulous wealth make it a particularly attractive and rewarding subject of study. West Africans today still look back on the reign of the Mansa with pride, at an age when the European-made maps of Africa depicted the region with a crowned, black-skinned king, sitting on a golden throne, holding an immense gold coin, and spoke of Timbuktu in hushed and awed tones—a heritage of immense material and cultural wealth.
- Main article: Malian cities (Civ6)
|Males||Females||Modern males||Modern females|
- The Mali civilization's symbol is an adobe mosque (possibly the Great Mosque of Djenné).
- The Mali civilization ability references the West African keepers of oral tradition (and often royal advisors).
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