This will probably be my last word on Civ 5 for a while on the blog, but if any of my colleagues want to use this platform to hold forth, I won’t stop them.
I’m working on a short strategy guide on Civ 5, and to be honest it is a bit difficult to write. There is no ideal build order, a lot of the game remains underdocumented, and so many of the strategies depend on which nation you use and when you start planning your strategy.
This is really the first Civ where you need to pick which victory condition you are going for in your opening turns. Once your empire gets larger than say, five cities, a culture victory is almost impossible unless you have some magic luck with being left alone. A domination victory means you either need to play on a Pangaea map or hope there are still capitals left to conquer when you cross the seas – unlikely. You can’t move from a culture to a science victory easily – the latter needs a larger empire. Some nations are better suited to one victory than another.
There was some of this in Civ 4. If you had multiple religions, it made sense to always put your cathedrals in the same three cities and then shoot for those wonders that had culture multipliers (Hermitage, Broadway, Hollywood, Rock & Roll, etc.). But this is an extreme version of that.
As I said on the show two weeks ago, for the first time you cannot measure your general progress by the size of your empire. A small empire might be the best choice if you want that Utopia Project and even there you want to play India probably since it gets no penalty for large cities, but a double penalty for every new one. Infinite City Spam was reduced in Civ 4 by upkeep costs; in Civ 5, happiness is the problem and that keeps you away from the Golden Ages you need to keep things moving efficiently. (I can’t remember a time when Civ was so reliant on the Golden Age concept for victory.)
In some ways, this makes Civ more a series of achievement centered challenges than a game where you adjust your strategy depending on your circumstances. You sit down and say “I will try for the diplomatic victory” (which requires a lot of gold) or “I haven’t tried the Japanese Domination Strategy” yet. My favorite strategy games aren’t like that; they are evolving worlds that force me to change course or take advantage of new opportunities. A weakened enemy is no longer attractive prey if I want to get that culture win. If I had wanted a science win, I would have had to expand early and fast. Without a gold centered strategy, the diplomatic victory is hard to earn.
In multiplayer, I can see how this might be interesting, at least if MP wasn’t so frustrating. Each empire trying to plan out its own strategy while the other players try to subvert those plans. But the AI still plays Civ 5 like Civ 4, preferring to expand at all costs. An India that owns an entire continent will not get anywhere fast because of the happiness penalty.
It’s only been a few weeks and the community forums are still fighting over what the best options are for each nation. There are some ridiculous examples of people finding ways to break the system, but by and large there is still a lot of debate about how to face this new world of Civ.
If I’m missing something, let me know. Because this is a Civ I barely recognize at times.
150 hours played, btw.