This began as advice for players struggling, but with the details came criticism of the current balance. Well, criticism is a little more thoughtful. This is just 3 pages of stuff I've wanted to say for a while. Relevant to version 11.7. There are several problems with balance. I do this basic outline almost every game and it only approaches balance on Pangaea. Policies (I don't know the names, so I describe the tree and effect): 1. Piety opener P: 2. P:30% excess happiness to culture 3. Commerce opener C: 4. C:+3 hammers every coastal city 5. P: 100% settler production 6. C:+2 food every coastal city 7. C:+5 coins every coastal city 8. C:+20% all ancient and classic buildings 9. Rationalism opener R: 10. R:+1 science per specialist, +20% building of Library 11. R:Libraries and Observatories produce 1 happiness, every city gets 1 science 12. Patronage Opener Pa: 13. Pa: +100% something, +50% happiness from gifted resources 14. Pa: Sometimes city states will give you great people 15. Pa: I forget, the one before this next one 16. Pa: All connected cities get +2 happiness. 17. P: Sometimes on Pangaea I take the one that boosts city tile acquisition by 15%. The +1 hammer makes it almost worthwhile. But since you have to take it early to have any early-game tile acquisition benefit I usually skip it. Delaying any of the policies 1-8 is a tough sell, they're all overpowered. #8 is quite powerful because the three obligatory ancient buildings (Workshop, Apothecary, and Storehouse) and all the other useful buildings are Ancient and Classic. I think the Theatre is the only building that I find myself building that doesn't benefit, but I have never checked. Despite it's power, since it requires #7 to access, sometimes I start shuffling in #9, #10, and #11 earlier. If I have a poor cultural infrastructure due to war or a lack of cultural city states, sometimes the policy flow is too slow to take commerce and production enhancing policies like #7 and #8 before science and happiness enhancing ones. What's the best tile in the game? After the first three commerce policies, the best tile is a city(6,6, 6) so you want as many as possible. Reasons Infinite City Sprawl (ICS) works: 1. You can found cities with only two tiles between them. 2. The first 10 citizens are worth 1 happiness each. 3. Next to resources or rivers, the best thing for a citizen to do is be a specialist. The obligatory three provide three specialist slots, and most unique buildings offer two more specialist slots, usually quite early. Engineers and Scientists are quite good. Merchants and Artists are substantially less worthwhile, but with the added science from policy #10 are still more worthwhile than any non-resource or river tile. 4. After you get the obligatory buildings built the city core produces something like 6,8, 9, 2, and 4 It's ridiculous. Oh, your city also gets a ranged attack every turn and has 25 hit points. Your ranged attack, science, and trade route revenue is based on population, which increases faster pop 1-10 than 10-15. And how! While ICSing all over the place, happiness is the only limit. Every city gets these buildings: 1. Monument (Built with Stonehenge unless America is on the map) 2. Obelisk (+15% hammer bonus from Piety opener, +20% hammer bonus from Commerce) 3. Workshop (engineer specialist which may be useful, depending on terrain, +20% hammers) 4. Apothecary (scientist slot, +20% hammers) 5. Storehouse (+20% hammers) 6. Library (+1 happiness, another scientist slot, +40% hammers) Here there is some minor variation 7. Circus (if possible) 8. Harbor (if archipelago) 9. University (more scientist specialists) 10. Theatre (7 happiness) The first five get built immediately, as they are so overpowered as to be better than virtually every other consideration. After the first five, cities might start building units and boats to help newer cities start up. The point is just to try and be working your best tiles at all time, and when you can't, have a worthwhile specialist position. Some wonders that I like because they help with happiness are: 1. Stonehenge. It's yours on any map that America isn't on, no matter how late you build it. I've found better results building it very late and forcing my first 3-4 cities to build monuments manually. It's hard to fit into your building queue any earlier. 2. Tower of Babel. +2 pop in each city, basically +2 happiness * number of cities. Can only be built during a revolution or whatever, so I've stopped aiming my tech tree for it. 3. Hanging Gardens 1+ pop in each city is basically +1 happiness * number of cities. Recently I've started skipping the tech for it, because the risk of losing the wonder while building is so high. 4. Notre Dame +2 happiness in every city. It's easy to get if your prioritize it, since many AIs turn to mush about this point in the game and you probably have a great engineer doing nothing. 5. The Great Library doesn't help with happiness, but I find that it's is perfectly timed for the turns when I'm trying to get my happiness up off the floor after plopping down several cities. It does help with policies and those are the most powerful things in the game, cost-benefit wise. The routine piles of money Civ Nights gives you are excellent for buying city states because their resources are +50% happiness compared to your lame resources. Sell your resources to the AI and then snatch up their city state alliances with the same money. In addition to helping with happiness, city states help you grow and attain policies faster. Except for military city states, they hurt your happiness. But they might help save your butt early on, especially since they seem to gift you the most advanced unit you know of. That means if you aim for Notre Dame, thus have to research that Abbey tech with the Hospitalier Knights, you will get gifted a very useful unit for defense. The AI declaring war when you are unprepared is the only way you can lose. On Achipelago there is no such thing as unprepared. On Continents I usually am prioritizing Swordsmen and Catapults over expanding to every crevice with my city-weeds, so preparedness is high. On Pangaea I do give up games on Emperor and Immortal when I over-expand and can't handle the declaration when it comes. Cities, and even ones with walls, are pretty worthless. You need troops. I have found it difficult to secure a swath of land for my ICS empire while also being prepared to knock out a neighbor. Don't rely on rush-buy units. They are horrendously priced if they aren't Warriors, and the price rises with every purchase. Your 1000 gold would be better spent on a military city state. On the other hand, other than settling aggressively after your first warning, the worst thing you can do to cause a declaration of war is to buy city states a rival likes. I only steal city states from rivals whom I don't share a border with (although annoyingly they always have some random ship or scout somewhere who is going to steal a worker somewhere). Now that you've read a lot of decontexualized lists, here's how a game might look in practice. Settle your capital. I often take Pottery as my first tech because I want to build a Monument immediately. Sometimes I take Mining if I know I'll want Masonry sooner since I'm surrounded by Marble or Stone. If the area looks like Continents or Pangaea I'll build a scout first, then a building. My goal with the starting warrior is to find an AI and steal a worker. When I fail, I usually hard build a Worker after the first building completes. Some games I've found it as fast to purchase the worker instead of building it. I don't really pay that close of attention, you should just note that the obligatory three buildings are all so powerful as to be about as strong as two tile improvements, so the worker can wait a little bit longer than vanilla Civ5. Also note that the second policy, 30% happiness to culture, is like "+10 culture in your capital." It makes the next policies come faster, which also is counterintuitive after playing vanilla Civ5. My early game goal is to scout. I want to seal off swaths of land without pissing the AI off, so the first few cities need to be well-placed. When I know where those spots are and/or I ran out of obligatory buildings in the capital, I take the 100% settler policy and start pumping them out. Cities cost 20 happiness, 10 if you settle them where they can get a new luxury in the first or second ring. You start with 40 or so happiness, so that's enough for two or three cities. After those are down, I need something different for my capital to do, so I build the Great Library. My most common mistakes at this point are failing to have enough workers to always work my best tiles, and pissing off the AI so they declare on me later. After the first cities get off the ground with some combination of population, Obelisks, Circuses, Luxuries, and bought city states, I pump out another round of settlers to soak up the excess happiness. I want my happiness to be between 10 and -10. Not so much -10, but remember, it only loses 25% of your food in Civ Nights, not 90% or whatever it is in Civ5. If the city just existing gives you 6,6, 6 plus more shortly, then it's usually worth going into the red across your empire to apply those hammers to the obligatory three, turn that food into a second and third pop in ~8 turns (two happiness) add that commerce to your coffers. The cities grow like weeds anyway, and Maritime city-states ameliorate the lost food. If you settle almost every city on the coast, even on the blockiest Pangaea that usually means about 4 coastal cities for every 2 two interior cities. Those two interior ones get founded last, unless they have 4+ resources and the nearest coastal equivalent has 1-2. On Pangaea the threat of rivals kicking your ass in war is so heightened that cities might actually have to be placed strategically, a welcome departure to the routine computing of maximum city positioning that Civ Nights usually offers. Also keep in mind that while the ideal ICS will have cities every third tile, in the early game you may as well settle on every sixth tile and back fill later. Your cites will have lots of tiles to work and the AI will have less space to expand. As I'm founding this second wave of post-Great Library cities, I usually have to be alert for war. If I beat back the enemy when he comes, I have won the game. The AI can never stand a chance once you get enough of your overpowered cities up. Your score will go from 2x the nearest competitor to 4x. You soon will have every city state allied and just click some distant tech on the tree and try to end turns. Then it becomes a slog of queuing up buildings in countless cities and trying not to shoot yourself in the head. The war seems to come much later on Archipelago than on Pangaea. Long term goals? Notre Dame then a distant miltary tech to swat my opponents like, Frigates or Cannon. Back filling cities every fugging where, even on ice and one tile islands. Having a capital do nothing but settlers and Great Library is pathetic, but each city the settlers found is so powerful as to squash the benefits of anything else the capital could do. Conclusion: It's worth noting that my prescription isn't necessarily the most optimal, it's just one I settled into as I sought the policies and tech path which had the most obvious bonuses to ICS and happiness. But I would say that in general, if you aren't ICSing, you're doing something suboptimal. I also would say that I'm not actually a knowledgeable player. I don't know how close is too close to AIs, I can't be arsed to figure out what the heck this cultural revolution thing is, and I have lost a handful of attempts at Immortal in early wars. My memory is probably skewed by the recent Archipelago games I rolled, and even then it's based on a very small sample. But even for a player like me, the obvious strength of ICS, given the obligatory buildings and early policies, is frustrating. It reduces the strategical depth once discovered and carries a huge management baggage. But if you're having trouble with Warlord, give it a whirl. And if you want a game to be over in the first 200 turns, check it out.