Reaping the Rewards of Agressive City States


Aug 18, 2010
I'm sure by now we can all agree that unless you don't build buildings that cost maintenance period, having a gigantic size army of 100 units in this game is pretty much impossible. By the same token, if you do build buildings that cost maintenance, you have to be pretty selective at what buildings you do build as well as the units you build, lest unit maintenance and building maintenance cripple your empire's economic growth.

In a game I played yesterday, I was having that same problem. I played as the Russians (selected Random), and of the 11 cities I had, even though 9 of them were specialized in gold production while my other two cities were more focused on production and military by building pretty much every building, I was forced to keep my army size small to about 7~8 units. After the French, the biggest AI Empire on the same continent, declared war on me and stomped across my borders with a ton of their Musketeers, I was forced to expand my army and build more units in my production cities to fend them off. This of course immediately had an impact on my economy, dipping me into the red.

After fending off their initial assault and counterattacking with my newly built army, I came across a French puppet'd city state and I liberated them because I was thinking of trying for a diplomatic victory. By then I had already unlocked most of the Patronage social policies and had three solid allies after doing missions for them that ensured me I was allies with them for a long time, but liberating that new city state presented a problem. By liberating that city state, I had to choose carefully where to attack next as they were located deep within French territory. Be I go North or East (the directions where the rest of the French cities were located) the other side would be wide open and the city state would be threatened with attack. Being newly liberated, they of course had nothing to defend themselves with. I either needed to split my forces and leave a garrison which would probably end up doing nothing for a long time costing me precious maintenance gold until the French raiders came, or...

What I decided to do was gift a few of my existing units, and create more new units in my production cities and gifting them as soon as they were complete.

This, as it turns out, was a fantastic choice. Although it takes three turns for the gifted units to 'arrive' in the city state, I could instantly gift any unit to a city state as long as the unit was within friendly borders. So, in most cases, the units arrived faster than normal travel, and would be ready to fight the coming French counterattack. Granted, it was going to be under control of AI's rather horrid military AI, but I figured, hey, it doesn't cost me any maintenance, and at least the AI's are on the same boat so it shouldn't be too horrid. Every turn I pump out Riflemen out of my production cities and gift them to my newly liberated ally, while my main army went on and attacked the Northern portion of France while my gifted units protected my flank as that was the only other invasion route. And it didn't cost me any maintenance to maintain that protection.

I play for a few more turns, razing a few more French cities up north, when I notice that my new ally is flooded with Riflemen and a few Infantry I now had access to, and having beaten back what little forces the French sent, it was actually starting to counterattack. And by counterattack, I mean actually going outside their borders and taking over the nearest French city!

So this got me thinking. I was playing this game in a standard sized map, but because I felt the normal game was too, well, open, I decided to make things a little more crowded and made it into a 12 civs, 24 city state game. And although by this time a few civs and more than a few city states were gone, there were still plenty left. And there were plenty of city states that were located right next to French border cities as well. Since I was starting to rake in a lot more money now because I freed up my maintenance costs, I send them gifts of gold to turn them to my ally and gift them a couple of Infantry to attack the French in the rear.

In the end, I didn't end up capturing any French city. However, I now had 7 new city state allies and together they had captured 3 French cities and razed 6. Not only that, each of them had at least five to six industrial era units I gifted. I also had Scholasticism, Cultural Diplomacy, and Educated Elite social polices now active, so I was getting more science (city state bonus science was nearly 1/4th of my total science output), double quantity resources and 50% increased effectiveness of luxury resources from City States (including the new resources captured ones from the French, potentially giving me more resources than I would have by simply puppeting them) and getting free Great People every so often. And best of all, these city state allies completely cut me off from any other foreign invasion, as any invading civilization would have to face the massive City State army I gifted them. And not just from one front, too. And it didn't cost me a dime in maintenance. Having mostly been freed from massive unit maintenance, I was making more money than ever, allowing me to focus on building more production cities, making me gift units faster, and because I was constantly gifting them with units I didn't have to pay them gold to make them happy very often. Not to mention my military city state allies providing me even more units which I can gift right back at them.

In the end, I ended up allying with every single city state on the map, giving me 19 of the 12 required (including the Japanese, whose capital I liberated during the French campaign) diplomatic votes even before I built the United Nations, and was awash with production, science, happiness, gold and culture, even if my army was virtually non-existent.

I think I have a new-found fondness to gifting units to city states now.

There is of course the slight problem of all that gifted units turning on you if your ally is bought off by a enemy civilization, but only minor. Just need to be careful about it. Also, city states won't attack another civilization's city unless the enemy is pretty close. They won't go all the way to the other side of the world to fight your wars for you. And they will raze cities, not always capturing them. So this strategy is limiting is some aspects, but I think it's well worth taking the look into.

Edit: I should also probably mention that if you gift a city state a unit that takes up a resource and if that unit consumed one of your resources, you'll get it right back. So, in theory, you could gift a city state a total of 20 Giant Death Robots to protect your borders and/or attack nearby enemy civilizations that normally costs a Uranium to maintain even though you only had 1 Uranium to begin with.


I was saying boo-urns...
Oct 14, 2008
Melbourne, Australia
This is a really interesting strategy, it seems that city states are the area of Civ V that people need to explore more before we make judgements of the game.

When I first started playing this game I had the same feeling as most other players coming from other Civ games. Everything felt smaller and slower, fewer hammers meant slower builds and no tech trading meant slower teching and i had smaller armies.

I think city states are the answer to this however. In my last game I decided to go for patronage to see what the fuss was all about (up until then I was certain that piety was the way to go). Needless to say I was amazed by the results. I'm gaining massive influence over all city states (I've got 6 allies) for minimal effort as some of their quests are pretty easy to do and gold donations are cheap now.

I think that especially Militaristic City states make more of a difference than you'd think (The cultural and maritime bonuses are more obvious), I befriended two, one of them basically by accident (wiped out his neighbour who it turns out he hated) and I found that that significantly freed up my production as now I have a steady supply of up to date military units coming in.

I'm sure that we're going to see more and more interesting ways of utilising these city states and this will cause our games to be more fun, dynamic and fast paced. :goodjob:


Sep 26, 2010
In my current game as Greece I am allied with every single city state. A few were captured by AIs but I managed to liberate them all except one (but my armies are on route as we speak).

15 allies is not to be trifled with. They really help a lot. They provide very nice military assistence during wars, and they are a nice buffer too. England and Persia double-teamed me, but barely sent any units into my territory, because most of their armies were fighting my city states. They captured 2 (very nearly three). But that only costs me a few turns of benefits, and I get a huge bonus for liberating them in return.

Plus they keep gifting me the most advanced units and great people. It's awesome.

I just have to build the UN now to win :)
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