Research: Multiple tech trees


Oct 10, 2008
After reading Sulla's "New Civ" tech ideas, and thinking back to other threads I've seen on here, I've started to ponder about how to "fix" the tech tree, to make it more realistic and more strategic.

So, here's my idea: 2 tech trees.
Let me clarify.

Through history, we never researched technology like we do in civ. That's one gripe I've heard a few times. It's not like the leader of an empire went out and decided "Let's research Gunpowder now." What happened was that people were playing around and saw something explode, and then investigated deeper into it. That's when scientists started playing with chemicals and found a mixture that was stable but ignited. And then they saw they could launch things far. And then they decided to use that to launch things at enemies, and as they say, the rest is history [note: I have no idea if that's actually the history, but it makes more sense than "hmm, let's think of something to get 'musketmen'"]

So based on that, I think we need to have 2 tech trees. The first one will be a tree of concepts. As you progress along in the ages, you discover concepts. Bronze working, Iron working, metallurgy, gunpowder, etc... In general, none of these concepts give you anything. In civ5 terms, this would be the basic science you would invest in. Where the "science from pop" equations and all that stuff comes in, that invests along this line. Based on this, you progress through the ages with the concepts. The key point here is that this research is blind, and somewhat random too. Since you're not really investing into anything, it's just people in labs or around discovering stuff at random, I foresee this tree as more like this:
your science goes into a pool. Each turn, it goes using a random distribution into all the concepts that you can research at that moment. You have no choice in the matter. And then, as each one fills up (or maybe gets drawn randomly), you have access to it. It will take some time to get used to - you might go 30 turns without researching a new concept, but then maybe you get 3 in a row. But really, that's how science worked in the past.

However, as my history above shows, once you understand gunpowder, you can refine it more. So at that point, you start discovering how to make muskets, and rifles, and cannons. Or you discover other uses for these concepts (ie. iron working leads to forges). This would be on a separate tech "tree" (well, not so much a tree, but based on the concepts you've discovered, you can research along different paths). The key point here, why this isn't all connected together, is that research into this path is controlled. This is directed research. You tell your scientists "GIVE ME MILITARY APPLICATIONS", and they do it. Thus, in this path, you choose what to research. I'd also allow an option like the SMAC "blind research", where you say, "develop military applications for what I know now" or "based on what we know, emphasize growth", but I'd keep that optional (since everyone likes some control sometimes). The other point with this is this science would come from a separate pool than the first one.

This second pool would come from specialists and perhaps some control from the science slider (I think I'd like to avoid that, but that's not critical to the point at hand). So what this means is that now you can develop everything at different rates. So say your empire grows large and you discover many concepts. However, if you don't put time to focus in on research, you won't be able to use those new concepts. So in real life terms, we know that the concept of "cold fusion" might exist right now, but nobody has refined it to the point of making anything useful from it.

So, put it all together, and you develop along multiple lines. If you're isolated and at peace, you will happily develop concepts on your own, but you won't invest down the specific combat research path since it's not useful.

Now, to make this work, there'd need to be some changes. Personally, I'd want to make sure that there's always tons of choices. So I'd probably have the specific group have tiers for each tech. So you might invest in "swordsmen 1, swordsmen 2, swordsmen 3, longsword 1, etc...", where the first tech gives you the unit, and then the other ones either gives you bonuses (+10% to your swordsmen), or maybe they unlock specific promotions ("you can now use march on your swordsmen"). I think I'd also like some way to divert research from the concept path to the specific path in certain cases (since, sometimes you get to crunch time and desperately need to invest all your empire research into certain refinement concepts). The specific tree would also be somewhat inter-twined - some might require one or more concepts. And I'd rather not keep the path isolated (like Sulla's idea), but more inter-twined (like in SMAC). So maybe in order to get longswords, you need to have discovered at least the basic forge tech, which would be in the "buildings" line.

I think this change would be a good balance of the random flow of concepts through history, but still allowing you to specialize in certain areas. Since the flavours are out there, you could even have buildings or policies that gives you "+20% research into military applications" or "+5 research to concepts" instead of the current +X science. I'm not sure how I would mix it with tech trading (could you share concepts? or specifics? both? neither?) or research agreements (does it give you +X for concepts you both can research? That one partnership already has? Does it work for specifics?). But I definitely think an idea like this would improve the game. I think in terms of scale, the concept tree would not be the 70+ techs like the current tree. Maybe it would be pruned down to 30-40 techs, and they should take on average maybe 15-20 turns each to research. Then off of any new concept, you'd get maybe 3 new specifics, each having maybe a couple branches to go through, and on average, they'd be faster, maybe 3-5 turns each.

There's a few other ideas that I think could be incorporated well into this - for certain specific techs, I would pick 5-15 randomly each game that would change into "the first to discover this tech gets a free boost" which would basically be like a free extra UU or UB. So maybe if China isn't in the game, in the tech for libraries, maybe "libraries 3" would have a 20% chance that the first person to reach it would have their libraries upgraded to paper makers. Or you could throw in some of the generic bonuses, so you can't research horseback riding if you don't have access to horses. But for now, I definitely think the basic idea of concept + refining would be a nice change to the game, incorporating some history into the game, while at the same time solving many of the current issues with the tech tree (the old, why can I reseach atomic theory without hunting type questions).


Dec 27, 2008
I like how you've separated out 'concepts' and 'applications', and I think that would be good. What I don't think would be a great thing is making something as important as technology highly random. As you say, this would be more realistic, but it would come at the cost of gameplay. Too high a cost to be acceptable, IMO. Your technological advances are very important to your progression through the game, and your ability to guide them more so. Removing this would take away from skill in the game, and leave a lot of it up to sheer luck.


Jan 23, 2011
I love this idea!! I've always thought you should be able to research more than one thing at a time, so this would even be better - and more realistic - that "how long" it takes to discover stuff is not pre-determined and neither is the "what", atleast not exactly. I really love your idea that you could always invest more resources into R&D and hope what comes out for you is helpful and you even have control over what general area(s) to invest R&D, say proportionately across the different categories (military, social, economic, etc.). It's a fantastic idea! They have to implement this in Civ VI!

Contrary to what the previous commentor said, I think it would significantly add to the gameplay because every game you played wouldn't be so predictable and "routine" like now (i.e. currently everybody beelines to technology X, then to Y, etc.) and this would force you to adapt to things, while maintaining some control, and would be much more fun.
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