Brave New World: The Sample Game (Part Two)

Continuing from the last part, I abused the early game bonus of the pathfinders to accelerate out to a strong start. After building a pathfinder and a granary, I started a library next in the capital. You don't seem to need workers as early in Civ5 as you do in previous Civilization games, largely because the benefits from improving tiles are so much lower. In Civ4, farming a corn resource adds +3 food every turn. Here in Civ5, improving a tile usually adds +1 food or +1 production. Nice and all that, not critically important. Resources matter because they can be sold to other AI leaders for gold, not because of their inherent tile benefits. We'll get to that in a minute.

There are also other ways to obtain workers aside from building them. My pathfinders had been poking around the map looking for opportunities, and I found one in time outside Ragusa. This was a Maritime city state off to the east, and that's arguably the weakest type now. My how the mighty have fallen since the release days of Civ5, when the maritimes were extremely overpowered. There are much better ways of accumulating food now than spending money on maritime city states, you're better off making use of Cultural or Religious city states (or Mercantile ones if you need happiness). Anyway, I was waiting for Ragusa to flash a worker on its border, and sure enough, they did a little after Turn 30. I claimed the free prize:

You can steal a worker from a city state at no penalty in every game of Civ5. They will immediately sign peace with you, and although relations drop to -60, they will slowly begin creeping back up to zero each turn. By the time you hit the midgame when relations with city states start to matter, the whole thing will be a distant memory. You can do this exactly one time without penalty; if you attack a second city state, all of the others will start to become hostile, and it has a negative effect on diplomacy. But the first attack is a free one, no penalties at all. This is never explained anywhere in the game, of course, and players only discovered it through code-digging and empirical observation.

I hate how this game mechanic works. I hate how Civ5 lets you sucker punch one city state of your choosing in every game, and I hate how there's no in-game diplomatic explanation for what's really going on under the hood. It's bizarre how you can brutalize one city state at no penalty, but if you attack a second one, suddenly you become the world's bad guy. No logic at all there. I also hate that it's incredibly effective too. If you want to play the game in optimal fashion, you basically have to whack a city state for a free worker, because it speeds up your civ's development so much. You just can't tie up your capital for 8-10 turns building a worker when you can get one completely for free. Everything about this system is rotten. (I'm aware that worker captures were possible in Civ4 as well, but at least there you had to declare war on an actual AI opponent, not a completely helpless city state. Future Civ games should simply take worker captures off the table, in the same way that settlers can't be captured. Too abusable.)

While escorting the captured worker back to the capital, I started work on a settler of my own. Here's one of the strange quirks of Civ5: when building a settler, food and production are not interchangeable. You need to set up the tiles for maximum production, or else you can see food getting completely wasted and doing nothing (since cities don't grow while building settlers). Here I shaved a turn off the settler build by swapping off all my grassland tiles to hills. This is a bit like building settlers with the Imperialistic trait in Civ4, an odd little micromanagement thing that otherwise doesn't come into play. I've finished the Library now in Moson Kahni, which coincided with growth to size 6, and the worker will soon be back to start connecting those resources. Too bad the city state wasn't closer, I was wasting some turns here due to walking distance.

I nearly snagged a second worker here, with the barbs capturing one from somewhere. I thought that this archer/worker pair ran off to the west, but apparently it actually headed into the deep southern tundra. Sadly I would never see this captured worker again. Nabbing it would have given me a second worker, and sped things up significantly. Ah well, bit of a shame.

I did clear the barbarian camp for the 25 gold bonus (and the appreciation of Ragusa, heh). It was shortly time for another new social policy:

Monarchy provides gold and happiness based on the size of the capital city. This one is decent, if not as strong as some of the others in the Tradition tree. It scales pretty well into the lategame, since your capital can easily hit size 40 before crossing the finish line. Note the timing of the policy: taking the Fountain of Youth out of the picture, this would be hitting at +1 happiness, just in time to avoid dropping into the red zone. A nice pickup.

To this point in time, I'd only discovered the two city states mentioned so far, Kabul and Ragusa. That was pretty unlucky, since every city state is worth at least 15 gold upon meeting them, and up to 30 gold for the first visitor. City states are also opportunities to steal workers, or have workers stolen from them by barbarians to be picked up at camps, or various different quests and other rewards. I did finally find two more of them to my northwest, in an isolated portion of the map that apparently no one had explored yet. Along with yet another ancient ruin (my seventh of the game, where I took the gold option), this finally gave me enough gold to purchase a worker in the capital:

An early game worker purchase is a very strong option in Civ5, and I'd been trying to accumulate enough gold to manage it for quite some time. I've seen other players pull this off as much as a twenty turns earlier - I'd been stuck gaining 3 gold/turn for quite a while. I just needed a couple more city states on this starting continent, argh! This is another reason why Pangaeas tend to result in faster finishes. Anyway, now I had two workers available to start improving the capital, and both of them would go to work on the silver resources first. In Civ5, you almost always want to improve the luxury resources first, a major departure from Civ4. I'll explain why in a minute.

Nothing much happened until I founded my second city on Turn 46:

I loved the location of Te-Moak. It sat on a hill (defensive bonus), next to a mountain for a future observatory, and with a fertile river valley just to the east bearing more silver and cotton. Strategically, it also cut off the Persians from expanding further north, and largely confined them to the weak lands in the southern tundra. This was one place where the Shoshone Great Expanse ability worked like a charm, granting my civ the extra eight tiles right off the bat. There was no place to slip in a rival city anywhere in this region. So long as I avoided an attack, I'd be golden.

The two workers finished their silver mines at the capital on the same turn, and it was time to go on a selling spree:

I sold them to Shaka and Darius for 7 gold/turn apiece. This is something that I'd caught onto all the way back in the release version, which I wrote about in my Egypt game in the first month. You can't trade techs in Civ5, but you sure can sell resources, and that's ones of the keys to making the in-game economy work. My civilization was making all of +4 gold/turn prior to connecting these resources. With those two trade routes in tow, suddenly that was bumped up to +18 gold/turn. Not exactly a trivial difference - my income more than quadrupled! And it's not as though you have to worry about the extra happiness doing anything, since all of the AI civs cheat outrageously when it comes to the happiness side of the game. You might as well sell all your luxuries without worrying about the consequences. Brave New World tones this down somewhat by only allowing your civ to trade for gold per turn, rather than flat lump sums. In the early versions of Civ5, you could trade resources for flat gold, then immediately declare war to break the deal and trade again. You could even sell cities for thousands of gold, then declare war and recapture them back. It was not a good system. This tones down the trading a bit without changing the overall strategy. You want to sell your stuff, all the time, without ever stopping.

Sadly, the whole resource selling diplomatic system is both tedious to micromanage and extremely effective. You're crippling yourself if you aren't taking advantage of it. (In fact, by having only two AIs to trade with on this continent, a lot of my resources would end up going to waste until later in the game.) Resource sales are so effective that they undercut how other in-game systems are supposed to work. The biggest example is the trade routes:

Here I've finished a caravan in the capital, prompting the option to set up my first trade route. The designers probably intended players to send a lot of trade routes to foreign cities and city states, in order to pick up gold and science. They deliberately nerfed the gold that used to come from tiles next to rivers as a way of forcing players to use trade routes to compensate. Unfortunately this doesn't work at all because selling resources is so effective. Use a trade route for 3 gold/turn? Ha! I get more than double that from selling a silver resource I don't even use. There's no point in doing so. Of course, I could use a trade route to produce science... but as we'll see, there's a better way of obtaining science from trade routes. There's simply not much reason to waste your strictly limited trade routes on other civs. Once again, the inability to balance one of the game mechanics (diplomacy/resource sales) ends up undercutting another mechanic (trade routes).

In the absence of international trade routes based on gold and science, that leaves the internal domestic routes. And here the designers made a glaring mistake: you can use trade routes to create free food. Let's step back for a minute and think about why this is such a problem. Food and city growth have always been the lifeblood of the Civilization series, and the secret to success. More food means larger city sizes, which means more population, which can then be turned into whatever the player wants. Get more people, get more cities, turn that into gold/science/culture/military/etc. and win the game. In Civ5, this is only magnified further. Remember, this is a game where population = science, rather than science coming out of a separate commerce mechanic. So anything that provides food and allows your cities to grow faster will result in more tiles worked, while simultaneously also providing more science. You're not trading off between food and science. Food *IS* science.

The designers thought that players would use trade routes to produce gold and science in modest amounts through trading with other civs. However, smart players already knew how to get massively more gold through resource sales, allowing trade routes to be used for free food. That food allows cities to grow faster, and work more tiles, and build stuff faster, while also producing more science, since population = beakers. Which means... uh oh. Hey, remember how magical maritime food broke the game in the release version? The designers done gone and did it again! This is such a wasted opportunity, as the trade routes are the best addition to Brave New World and could have, should have been implemented in a more balanced state. Unfortunately, food caravans are the One Right Choice (TM) and crowd out all other options. Very disappointing.

Note to any future Civilization designers: no mechanics with free food, please. Corporations, maritime city states, internal trade routes... They're all bad ideas. Please no more of this.

Anyway, with that free food coming from the caravan, Te-Moak would grow very quickly over the next few turns. Very quickly. This would start eating into the extra happiness that I had from the Fountain of Youth, and begin producing more science. I was building a granary in the new city so that I could run a future food caravan back to the capital, that's the one requirement to send a food caravan. (Note that a city doesn't have to have a granary itself to receive a food caravan, and you should definitely use them to pump up new settlements rapidly.) Elsewhere, I was able to disperse a barbarian encampment off to the west, which produced a third worker for my civ. I had built exactly zero of them so far, capturing two and purchasing one. This would help me improve tiles at the capital and at the second city. There's always a huge race to get tiles improved in the first 100 turns of a Civ5 game, since cities grow so quickly at small sizes.

Here's an overview of the situation on Turn 60. I was building a second caravan in the capital to send food from Te-Moak, since the granary there had nearly completed. Most of the resources around Moson Khani have now been improved, and workers are swinging down to the south to fix things up there. The Fountain of Youth has also produced a somewhat unwanted Golden Age; without it, I would be sitting right at zero happiness, up against the limit. This felt like an excellent position, and I was already clearly ahead of Darius, who had cities of size 6 and size 3. Outgrowing the AI this early on Immortal? Such is the advantage of the early snowball.

When I ticked over 400 gold, I went ahead and purchased the Library in Te-Moak. The idea here was to open up the National College in the capital, which of course has the requirement of needing a library in every city to be built. I hadn't been sure whether to build the granary and buy the library, or vice versa, but I think it worked out correctly. This is where Civ5's early game shines at its brightest, trying to juggle together several different things and get them all to line up at the same time. I honestly enjoyed playing out these early turns, piecing it all together into one well-running machine. I don't want this sample game report to come off too negatively, the early turns in Civ5 genuinely are a compelling experience. I can see why T-Hawk has played out so many openings, trying to optimize everything to perfection. The first 100 turns can be a lot of fun in Civ5, even with all of the issues in the mechanics.

This policy timing also lined up really well, although I'd be lying if I said I planned this. Aristocracy provides a bonus to wonder construction, and that includes the National College as well as the world wonders. I kind of lucked into this since the National College was due to start production next turn. It also meant that I was only one policy away from completing the Tradition tree, and the finisher for this one is particularly strong.

Here's what the National College does for those who don't play a lot of Civ5. It produces a flat 3 beakers and adds +50% science in the city of its construction. In the early game, this will inevitably be your capital. Expert players are almost universal in agreeing that an early National College is the path to victory in this game. The faster you can get this thing up and running, while working around that "must have a library in every city" requirement, the better. There's a lot of different openings based around a National College with one city, two cities, three cities, or even more. But generally speaking, players should aim for having it done by roughly Turn 80, or they'll end up wasting too much potential science. If you're not getting the thing done until after Turn 100, or not building it at all, then you're doing something wrong.

While I was building the National College, I was able to send my second caravan back to the capital for 4 free food per turn. Ahh, just like the old magical maritime food, and arguably even easier to pull off. I had my workers chop a couple of forests near Moson Kahni for the one time forest removal production bonus, which shaved a couple of turns off the National College finishing date. I also had a pathfinder clearing barb camps, which mananged to produce a free friendship agreement (if not full alliance) with the cultural city state to the south. More freebies yet again. I also re-signed my silver resource trade agreement with Darius for another 7 gold/turn... and got Shaka to declare war on the Persians for a mere 6 gold/turn payout. Ha! Shouldn't that be more expensive? Well, I'll talk more about diplomacy in later sections of the sample game when it becomes more relevant.

When the National College finished, it took my science from 24 beakers/turn to 36 beakers/turn overnight:

That was a big increase in science! Turn 75 is also a pretty good completion date for the National College, better than I was expecting to do here. With the wonder done, I could also pursue further expansion, no longer bound by the need to remain on two cities. I'd be looking to go up to four as quickly as happiness would allow. Here were the corresponding Demographics:

I was first in Land, second in Production, third in Gold, and fourth in Food. Also last in military power, of course. There's a reason why I tried to stir up trouble between Shaka and Darius, after all. It was somewhat concerning that Shaka ranked so highly in a lot of these different categories, he had a number of cities up there to the north and wasn't that far away. Fortunately the Persians seemed to be nonentities in this game. Next up I would be shifting into the midgame, hopefully keeping the snowball rolling on down the hill.