Brave New World: The Sample Game (Part Three)

In the last part, I touched on some of the issues involving resource sales and food caravans, both of which are so powerful that they become the one right choice in practically all situations. This time, we'll shift into the midgame and address some of the issues with science and diplomacy. Let's get back to it.

OK, not trying to beat a dead horse here, but this is another perfect illustration of why I've never liked the city state quests in Civ5. One of the city states popped up with a random quest, asking me to connect silver to my trade network. This is a particularly silly request, since I have four silver resources within my borders, and two of them were already improved. They aren't officially connected to my trade network since I've sold both of them to Shaka and Darius for cash. Nevertheless, when this worker finished mining another silver resource two turns later, I was rewarded with 40 free influence points and a full alliance with the city state of Vilnius. Since it was a Mercantile city state, that was worth eight extra happiness - EIGHT! There are whole wonders that do nothing more than provide five happiness in this game. That's a pretty big benefit for doing nothing more than finishing a mine on a resource tile.

This was yet another example of a freebie thrown out by the Civ5 gameplay. It's one thing if you're actively doing something to earn these rewards; for example, when you build a wonder, you typically have to make some sacrifices and hard choices to complete the structure before another civilization. At the very least, you're giving up the opportunity cost of not doing something else. But with these city state quests, the vast majority of the time you're being rewarded for doing things that you would have been doing anyway. Did I *REALLY* deserve to be rewarded for hooking up my own silver resource? It feels like an assignment graded by the world's easiest teacher: "You made it to class today on time! Congratulations! Gold stars for everyone!" The city states aren't inherently a bad idea for the Civilization series, but their implementation in Civ5 has always felt like a real mess to me. They serve as punching bags for free workers, hand out gold at first meeting, and randomly dish out freebies in the form of quests. This is a mechanic that needs a total overhaul if they're going to be included in a potential Civ6.

Moving on. Here's where I chose to place my third city of Agaidika. This one should have gone on the coast, with the tile northeast being a superior spot to the place that I picked. I went with this location because I wanted the defensive bonus for being on a hill (in case Shaka attacked), despite knowing that I would be wasting the fish resources and the possibility to add lighthouse/harbor structures by being landlocked. There was no way to know at the time if this was the right decision, we would have to see what happened down the road. Agaidika would get the next food caravan out of Moson Kahni, good for +4 food/turn, and that would allow it to grow rapidly through the early city sizes to start using up some of my surplus happiness.

Soon enough I had enough culture to unlock the final policy in the Tradition tree:

Oligarchy is by far the worst policy in the tree, and it should be the last one unlocked in anything other than an extremely dire war situation. I guess you can save a few pennies on unit garrison costs and get more damage from city bombardment, but this is nothing to write home about. Oligarchy itself doesn't really matter though, it's the finisher bonus from completing the Tradition tree that brings home the bacon. For completing the Tradition tree, all of your cities gain +15% bonus food, and the first four cities receive a free Aqueduct. Both of these are simply huge. The bonus food in all cities is pretty self-explanatory, although it's important to keep in mind that it only applies to bonus food (the food not eaten by your population), and not the total food output. It's still pretty good though, and it combines well in the capital with the Landed Elite policy, and also with the Fertility Rites pantheon that I had in this game. 35% bonus food in the capital and 25% bonus food everywhere else, pretty slick.

The free aqueducts are arguably even better, granting an expensive and crucially important city improvement for free to your first four cities. Civ5's aqueducts work in much the same fashion as granaries in the previous Civ games. They allow 40% of the food surplus to carry over to the next population level upon city growth, which does wonders to speed up the rate at which cities pile on more population points. Recall again how Civ5 uses population = science as one of its basic mechanics, and the importance of finishing the Tradition tree as soon as possible should start to become clear. Here's a picture of Agaidika with these policies in action:

This city is growing like a weed with all of the food bonuses in place. The food caravan from the capital provides +4 food each turn independent of the tiles that the city works, and the granary is about to finish for another +2 flat food. (Arguably I should have purchased the granary immediately when the city was founded. That would be the ideal play if I had enough money on hand.) Note that the city gets both its monument and its aqueduct completely for free via social policies, with no need to waste precious early production. This is yet another reason why Tradition is so powerful, granting those freebies up front immediately rather than having to wait for a longterm payoff. Since every population point will add to my science (and also produce more production/gold from working tiles), there's no tradeoff here. All I have to do is keep the global happiness counter in the green, which can be managed pretty easily through resource sales and city state quests. It's not that hard to do, and wait until you see how all these bonuses to food will accelerate my science output as more time continued to pass.

100 turns into the game, I'm sitting on 50 beakers/turn and about to expand out to a fourth city in the west. The land over there isn't great, but it does bring in one new native luxury (ivory) and I need another city on the coast to serve as a partner for sea-based food caravans with the capital. I have plenty of gold, and income will only increase as the workers are finally finishing the first roads between cities and markets are going up in Moson Kahni and Te-Moak. In the Demographics, I was first in GNP and first in Land (by wide margins), and had climbed up to second in Food, third in Production, and fourth in "Literacy", Civ5's vague representation of technological progress. Two turns later I finished Civil Service tech and entered the Middle Ages. This looked to be an excellent position.

I'd been saving gold for some time now, and I finally spent it on a big purchase: 1000 gold for 90 influence and an alliance with Cultural city state Kyzyl:

This may or may not have been the best use of that money. Cash-rushing granaries and libraries in my newest cities would have been another strong option, and quite possibly superior. However, I had need of additional happiness since I had gone up to four cities, and Kyzyl brought a new luxury that I was lacking to ease the crunch. And as a Cultural city state, it also greatly increased the production of culture throughout the empire. Look at how city states were producing half of my overall culture here. This made more sense than the alliance that I picked up for mining a silver resource (since I did spent 1000 gold for the benefit), but it still feels silly that friendship with a city state can produce this great of an impact. And much of the time, you can get these alliances for doing nothing more than taking advantage of those extremely random quests that pop up all the time. Oh, and don't forget that out of that 13 culture I'm currently "producing", 8 of it comes from my four free monuments (Legalism policy), 3 of it comes from the Tradition opening policy, 1 point comes from the National College, and the last point comes from the Palace. I have literally built zero cultural structures, and I've never run a culture generating specialist. Nothing whatsoever.

Culture production and social policies are something that the player should have to invest into, right? Not just take advantage of endless free stuff? I can't be the only one who sees this as a problem when my civilization has done absolutely nothing with culture, and the policies keep pouring in every 15-20 turns like clockwork.

Anyway, the turns kept on rolling and my cities kept on growing. I continued to walk the happiness tightrope correctly, having just enough to keep the cities growing at full blast without piling up a major surplus. (If you find yourself with 25 unused happiness, then you aren't pushing the envelope on city growth fast enough!) I was researching towards Education and universities, the key medieval tech for any strategy other than early warfare. The picture above demonstrates another example of One Unit Per Tile silliness, as two pathfinders and a composite bowman kept a Zulu settler locked up indefinitely in limbo. Shaka probably wanted to put a city down in the hinterland between our civs, but I refused to let him pass and there was nothing he could do about it while we were at peace. This whole situation feels pretty dumb to me.

I would end up buying a granary in little Goshute to help it get started, since my fourth city couldn't receive a food caravan just yet. I still needed more techs to unlock a fourth trade route and send each city one of them. I also amassed enough culture for a new social policy on Turn 116, and I chose to take the opener in the Commerce tree for lack of anything better. This is where a perfectly played game would already be in the Renaissance era to go straight into Rationalism, but I didn't have enough science to reach that mark. The Commerce opener provides +25% gold in the capital city, and it's arguably the best opener if you're waiting around for enough technology to go into Rationalism. I think it was a decent choice here.

Two turns later Education finished:

As I mentioned above, Education is the critical midgame tech for any kind of peaceful gameplan, due to all of the science bonuses. It unlocks universities, which greatly increase science in large cities (+33% to start, later increasing to +50% with Rationalism policies) and opens up Scientist specialist slots for the first time. Working those Scientist specialists is incredibly important to produce as many Great Scientists as possible. Education also indirectly unlocks the Oxford University national wonder, since it's based on completing universities in every city. And the tech even makes research agreements available as well! Long story short, Education is crucially important for increasing your research rate. Watch how fast the beaker count goes up once universities start finishing.

Here's an overview of my civ on the same turn, with universities under construction in the oldest two cities. Note that I'm sitting on zero happiness at the moment, but I will just barely tick over 500 gold in the next two turns, enough to toss that sum to Mercantile city state Vilnius for a renewed alliance worth 11 more happiness. Whew. It's tough having only two AI trading partners and four total city states available. I was heading towards Compass and Astronomy techs next to get some ocean-going ships in the water to look for the rest of the civs and city states. (Astronomy tech also enables observatories, of course, and I did have three of my four cities next to mountains.)

Well this didn't look good. Shaka was shuffling around a big mass of units every turn and acting as though he was about to attack. I had to use my gold income to rush some composite bows and upgrade older archer units. That's not what I wanted to be doing, I wanted to use that money to rush universities in the newer cities so that they didn't have to slow build the things by hand. Darn you, Shaka! He still held off on declaring war for the moment, and I wasn't about to start a fight. Stalemate and sabre-rattling it was then.

This was the view inside the capital once the university was done. Make sure to stuff two Scientist specialists into your universities as soon as they're finished and never take the eggheads out. They produce a ton of beakers (even more with the Rationalism social policies) and they create Great Scientist points for more science later. Finishing the university in the capital and staffing its specialist slots increased my civ's overall beaker production by 25%, going from 83 beakers/turn to 104 beakers/turn. It makes a big difference. Note too that the workers have connected just about all of the resource tiles inside my borders by now. As for your other non-resource tile improvements, it's normally pretty simple in Civ5: farm the flatground and mine the hills. The other options (trading posts, lumbermills, etc.) are only rarely work building. There's a lot less depth to this system than the tile improvements in Civ4.

As Shaka continued to dither around in the north, he began sending his military units into the water in a bizarre display:

Ummm... what's going on here? Shaka still hadn't declared war yet. He was just moving his units around in increasingly weird patterns, especially sending all those units out into the water. I think that those three Pathfinder units were messing up the AI pathfinding (heh) in the middle of the map. Something odd was going on, at any rate. Situations like this make the One Unit Per Tile rules look pretty silly. Even the terribly dumb Civ3 AI could clump all those units into one big stack and throw it at a city. Do something, Shaka!

Not being stupid, I detoured to Machinery tech so that I could upgrade my composite bows to crossbows. I wasn't all that worried about Shaka, since his army was made up fairly old junk which would fall readily to crossbows. I was more annoyed that I had to divert off the pure economic tech path, and that I had to waste gold upgrading units rather than rush buying universities and observatories. Ah well, nothing to be done for it. Have to be safe and not die before pushing for fast finishes.

Did I mention that sea-based trade routes provide double the benefits of the land-based ones? That... that is a lot of food there. I'm not sure how anyone could possibly think that this mechanic is properly balanced. The notion that I would want to trade for 8 gold/turn instead of a humongous food boost in the capital is simply laughable. Here's what that produced inside Moson Kahni:

The food trade route is what makes this city work. Without the trade route, this city is getting +5 food suplus, and the multipliers would turn that into 6.75 food/turn. However, once we add in that massive trade route bonus, the city goes to +13 food/turn, and the displayed 17.55 food/turn after bonuses. Wow. Since this capital has a library and university and National College, each population point from growth then creates a positive feedback loop that produces even more science. Moson Kahni doesn't even have particularly great terrain from a growth standpoint, since few of these grassland tiles are next to sources of freshwater. A river start, especially one of those floodplains + Desert Folklore + Petra situations, could be even more disgusting. Again, it's too bad that the food caravans are so crushingly overpowered compared to every other trade route possibility. There was a lot of unused potential with that gameplay mechanic.

The first Great Scientist popped on Turn 140 out of the capital, and I used him for an Academy tile improvement just to the south of the city. This is the best way to use the Great Scientists in the early game, while saving them for tech lightbulbs later on. The capital city with the National College bonus modifier to science is the clear place to use them. This one guy was worth about 15 beakers/turn after getting fed through all the modifiers. Not bad.

I entered the Renaissance era on Turn 141, and I was immediately prompted to use my first spy:

I confess that the whole espionage mechanic in the Civ5 expansions doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Sure, I was presented with this spy, and I sent him off to spy on the Zulus, and eventually he stole a low-level tech for me. I suppose that the mechanic is fairly harmless, at least it isn't breaking the game or causing any problems. But like so many other things in Civ5, it feels strangely passive and non-interactive. The spies kind of go off and do their thing with minimal interaction from you, and then they appear and present you with a tech steal or some other minor benefit. It feels a bit like filler - there's just not a lot going on here. T-Hawk wrote on his website that it felt like Firaxis was checking off a list of needed additions in the expansions, and this fulfilled the "Features: Espionage" box. I do wish that there was a bit more substance here. Perhaps I'm missing something?

On Turn 147, I had enough culture to take another policy and unlock the Rationalism tree. I'll make use of an SAT analogy here: Rationalism is to the late game what Tradition is to the early game. It's the best option to take in nearly any situation possible. Rationalism produces science in large quantities, and science will allow you to do anything you want from there. Want to win the spaceship victory? Faster research obviously helps with that. Want to win through military conquest? Rationalism unlocks more advanced units. Want to mess around in the World Congress and try to win through diplomacy? Rationalism gets you to the key lategame wonders and ideologies faster. Science has always been the route to victory in every Civilization game, and Civ5 is no exception.

The Rationalism opener increases your civ-wide science by 10% so long as the empire avoids unhappiness. I was just barely toeing that line here, sitting on exactly zero where you still do get the benefit. Given the generally small modifiers in Civ5, the blanket +10% to global science from the Rationalism opener is an extremely powerful policy. It only gets better from there, as the deeper policies in the tree pile on even further bonuses to beaker production. You're really gimping yourself if you choose to skip Rationalism's huge benefits.

So here's where we stood on Turn 150:

I just finished an observatory in the capital. Notice how the combination of food caravans + universities + Scientist specialists + Rationalism + observatories has caused my science to explode over the past 25 turns. The beaker count nearly tripled in that span! I've pushed well above 200 beakers/turn now, and there are still two more observatories to be completed. Even here on Immortal, even with their gigantic discounts on growth and tech and happiness, the AIs have no ability whatsoever to keep up with this kind of tech push. I've just taken the lead in Literacy, and I'll never look back from this position again. Here were the Demos:

I now lead in every important category other than Production and Military. (Check out that Approval Rate figure to see how badly the AIs cheat on happiness. Heh.) The Food stat was particularly disgusting, given that I only had four cities and some of the AIs had significantly more than that. But they're not running food caravans, and that makes all the difference. Everything else flows from there, leading to advantages in population, gold, and tech. It really is magical maritime food all over again. Sigh.

And as for Shaka? He *STILL* hasn't attacked me yet. Let this be a damning indictment of the Civ5 diplomatic AI in action:

Even when the numbers look like this, he still can't make up his mind to attack. Instead, he keeps running his units around in pointless circles and embarking them on the water while achieving absolutely nothing. Back in the release version of Civ5, all of the AIs were totally insane and would declare war constantly for no reason at all. Now they appear to be the opposite, way too peaceful, only attacking rarely. This is no better and may even be worse from a pure challenge standpoint. Keep in mind, we shouldn't read too much into one moment in one game, but if ever there was a situation where an AI should have declared war, this would have been it. I even managed to toss a piddly 9 gold/turn to Shaka to get him to declare war on Darius again. The diplomacy should not be this easy to manage. In past Civilization games, I would fear an AI with that much military power right on my border. But Shaka didn't scare me at all, since I knew that I could easily shoot down all of his older units with my massed crossbows, probably without losing a single unit. When the AIs outnumber you enormously and you still have no fear of them, that's a problem.

In the next part, we'll look at the broader world as my ships finally began to contact some new faces on other continents.