The Social Policy Situation

Celevin

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Right now there is a huge change to social policies in the next patch notes which greatly concerns me:
•Have culture cost for policies never go down (trading away cities to reduce culture cost exploit).

First some background. I documented this exploit about a week or two after the game came out, and have laid out reasons why the exploit is so effective, and also how to kill it. It’s a pretty simple idea: sell every city so your policies become dirt cheap to buy, and then buy the policies in order to build the Utopia Project very quickly.

It’s obvious that this tactic should be stopped. This change does stop it, however I think Firaxis is going about the completely wrong way of doing so.

Here are some consequences of the change:

- You will never be able to “liberate” another civ by taking cities then gifting without being severely punished.
- You will never be able to conquer a couple cities then gift them back as a means of war without being severely punished. This will greatly limit strategy, and will make taking cities as a way of getting out of war (by using them as a bribe against the aggressor) hurt too much to consider.
- You will now be punished severely for trying to raze cities, as they will raise your policy cost permanently. A city being razed raises your policy cost.
- Your empire will no longer be organic, nor will any other civ’s. If you have a big empire and you lose half your cities, this change will make it much harder for you to make a comeback. Isn’t this game already anti-comeback enough?


These points will actually make the game unplayable for me. My decisions should be based on strategy and seeing empires shrink and grow naturally, not what the “biggest point my empire was at” even if it was for a single turn. To put in an extreme example, what if for the entire game my empire had only 5 cities, except for exactly one turn I had 50? It’s a horrible punishment.


The trading cities exploit itself isn’t actually the problem. Instead it’s just a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is your “policy gain rate” (PGR), with respect to the number of cities, is only updated the turns you actually buy or sell the policies. Here’s an example:

- Say I have 5 cities, and I’m gaining a new policy in 10 turns. I don’t buy or sell any cities. I will gain that new policy on the 10th turn unless something else comes up.
- Say I have 5 cities, and I’m once again gaining a new policy in 10 turns. On turn 5 I build 1 city, then on turn 9, 1 of my cities was razed. I still gain a new policy on the 10th turn (if my culture rate didn’t change). I could gain 100 cities for 9 turns, but as long as I get back to that 5 city level for the turn I gain my policy, I will still get it on that 10th turn.

Why is this such a bad thing? Well, for one there’s the selling all but 1 city exploit, but there’s more that the Firaxis change doesn’t address. If my next policy is in 10 turns and I’m holding onto exactly 1 city and then build a city on the 9th turn, the PGR is actually at *2* cities for all 10 turns I’ve been waiting. In other words building a city on the 9th turn is no different than building a city on the 1st for the final policy cost. So (as we know) for optimal policy gains, we should only place cities right after we use up our culture points. This in no way feels organic, and while we deal with it as just a minor nuisance, it can drastically change your empire efficiency early game.

Another problem is, other than taking out a calculator, it’s hard to judge just how much that new city set your PGR back. Did you lose 10% efficiency? 5%? While I’m sure I’ll get a bit of snark saying “the numbers are right infront of you!”, how many people actually notice how big the difference is without doing a lot of mental math?


Here is my proposed solution:

The formula for policy cost is: z*(Base amount for xth policy)
Where z is the modifier depending on your number of cities. For my proposal we don’t need to know exactly where this number comes from, but for curious people, z=(1+yn) where n is the # of cities other than your capitol, and y depends on the world size. For a standard world, y is 0.3. So, if you have a 5 city empire on a standard world, z=1+.3*4=2.2. What this means is you’re paying 2.2 times the amount for your next policy compared to a 1 city empire.

My proposal is to make the formula for policy cost simply (Base amount for xth policy) by not multiplying the policy cost by z. Then divide the total culture gained each turn by z.

For example, say you have an 11 city empire on a standard map, and you make 80 culture per turn. In this case, z = 1+.3*10 = 4. Assume the base cost for your next policy is 200.
- In the game currently the next policy will cost you 200*4 = 800. Since you make 80 culture per turn, it will take you 10 turns to gain that policy.
- With my proposal, the next policy will cost you 200. Your culture gained however will be 80/4 = 20. It will still take you 10 turns to gain that policy.

Here is what will and won’t change:
- Assuming no changes in # of cities, your PGR will remain the same before and after this change. So for our example of 5 cities and a policy in 10 turns before this change, you will still gain your policy in 10 turns after this change.
- Now say you have the same setup with 5 cities, and a policy in 10 turns, and on the 1st turn you build 2 more cities. Then on the 9th turn you sell all but your initial 5. For those 8 turns that you had 7 cities instead of 5, you gain less culture towards your next policy. In other words it’s a smooth transition period where for 2 turns you have the PGR of your 5 city empire, and for 8 turns you have the PGR for a 7 city empire. This brings back the organic feeling!
- There is no more “optimal time” to settle. No more needless micromanagement watching when your next policy gain is. Now expansion feels more natural.
- This completely kills the “mass selling cities” exploit. Your PGR will be at the correct level every turn of the game rather than just at the turn you decide to sell all the cities.
- The amount of culture for the xth policy is always the exact same from game to game. This lets people get used to the values and to know what to expect after a few games.
- Finally, as an added bonus, it’s really easy to see the effects on your PGR from settling a new city. You see “130 culture gained” turn to “110 culture gained”.


I’m praying Firaxis reads this. I firmly believe that their intended change will actually make the game worse, and if I had the time and know-how, I would actually reverse it. Please consider this change instead, Firaxis. I believe it’s needed for the survival of Civ5. I don’t think the ramifications of their change won’t be felt until the playerbase gets hold of it, and it’s going to really hurt. Out of everything I've written about for Civ5, I'm definitely most passionate about this.
 

Louis XXIV

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I'll read through your post when I have a better opportunity, but one comment.

- You will never be able to “liberate” another civ by taking cities then gifting without being severely punished.
- You will never be able to conquer a couple cities then gift them back as a means of war without being severely punished. This will greatly limit strategy, and will make taking cities as a way of getting out of war (by using them as a bribe against the aggressor) hurt too much to consider.
- Your empire will no longer be organic, nor will any other civ’s. If you have a big empire and you lose half your cities, this change will make it much harder for you to make a comeback. Isn’t this game already anti-comeback enough?

This can be addressed depending on how they implement it. If they make cities lost in war and peace negotiations not count towards this penalty and don't count the increase in culture cost until the end of the turn, everything will be OK, no?

You might still have good points with how the system works, I'll give your post some more thought probably tomorrow.
 

Celevin

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This can be addressed depending on how they implement it. If they make cities lost in war and peace negotiations not count towards this penalty and don't count the increase in culture cost until the end of the turn, everything will be OK, no?

You might still have good points with how the system works, I'll give your post some more thought probably tomorrow.
At the time I also forgot to include the razing penalty as well. Unless they address this too, we're going to see people being punished simply for razing a city.

Everything still won't be OK even if they included war and peace negotiations, for numerous reasons. First, it complicates things quite a bit (personal grief! :) ), secondly I sometimes nab 1-2 cities to use to give back to the stronger AI in order to negotiate peace. I'm now punished badly for that. What if I have to keep those cities for a couple turns in order to finish the negotiations? Sometimes peace talks and unit wars take a few turns to sort out. When would you declare a city going from "just a city on the front of a war" to "part of your empire"? That's a really grey line.
 

cf_nz

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So (and I'm not sure if I fully understand the above), if the policy cost is only updated on the turn you gain a new policy is it not is possible to remain unscathed by the change so long as you offload cities between policy changes (as per your point on 'the real problem')? Having an optimal time to sell cities is pretty dumb but maybe the impact won't be so great.
 

Celevin

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So (and I'm not sure if I fully understand the above), if the policy cost is only updated on the turn you gain a new policy is it not is possible to remain unscathed by the change so long as you offload cities between policy changes (as per your point on 'the real problem')? Having an optimal time to sell cities is pretty dumb but maybe the impact won't be so great.
Nono, with the Firaxis change, you will see the impact being the maximum number of cities that you've ever had. So if you have 5 cities and have a policy in 10 turns, and in those 10 turns you build then raze 3 cities on turn 9, you're now charged at a policy cost of 10 cities. You are punished by having a PGR at an 8 city level for not 1, but *ALL 10* turns that you've been waiting for this next policy.


Here's an example using the Firaxis change. We'll say that each city adds 0.25 times for a small map size. You have 3 cities, so z = 1.5. Let's say you make 10 culture, and your next policy base cost is 100. This means your next policy will cost 150 culture, and will arrive in 15 turns.

Now on turn 14, you buy and sell 2 cities. Maybe it's an empire reforming, or maybe you conquered then sold 2, who knows. Your next policy now costs 200 instead, and you won't get it for another 6 turns! You have to wait a total of 20 turns for this policy instead of 15.

Now assume on turn 1 you built 2 new cities, and they aren't giving any culture. As in the case above, you need 200 culture for your next policy, so 200 turns in total.


In one example we built 2 useless cities that started early, and in another we simply had a quick buy/sell that lasted 1 turn. Yet in both cases we're punished equally. Even more frustrating, if that buy/sell happened *1* turn later, we would be gaining that last policy 25% faster.
 

demidyad

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puppet the cities, then gift them. problem solved.

when razing you would have to assume firaxis will fix it so that razing does not increase culture cost. if they haven't done that in this patch, it will be quickly fixed.
 

Louis XXIV

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At the time I also forgot to include the razing penalty as well. Unless they address this too, we're going to see people being punished simply for razing a city.

Everything still won't be OK even if they included war and peace negotiations, for numerous reasons. First, it complicates things quite a bit (personal grief! :) ), secondly I sometimes nab 1-2 cities to use to give back to the stronger AI in order to negotiate peace. I'm now punished badly for that. What if I have to keep those cities for a couple turns in order to finish the negotiations? Sometimes peace talks and unit wars take a few turns to sort out. When would you declare a city going from "just a city on the front of a war" to "part of your empire"? That's a really grey line.

How about draw the line as soon as the city starts producing culture. When you capture a city, all cultural buildings are destroyed. As long as you never produce any culture in the city, you're not really taking advantage of the exploit. The only thing I can't figure out is what to do about France.

If you took one of their cities, you've had them refuse peace in exchange for the city? It seems a pretty rare situation.
 

stormerne

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Assuming for a moment that the projected change is implemented by Firaxis as is, and not as the OP suggests, there is at least one small hidden benefit. When suing for peace, the AI often offers you a bunch of cities. If you take them and take on their culture point threshold raising effects, you'll at least have the reassuring knowledge that the AI will not be gaining cheaper policies like they do now. :)
 

Celevin

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Assuming for a moment that the projected change is implemented by Firaxis as is, and not as the OP suggests, there is at least one small hidden benefit. When suing for peace, the AI often offers you a bunch of cities. If you take them and take on their culture point threshold raising effects, you'll at least have the reassuring knowledge that the AI will not be gaining cheaper policies like they do now. :)
No but isn't that bad? We're taking away all chances to make a comeback. If you lose a few cities, you're at an extreme disadvantage until you gain the same amount back. It's already really hard trying to gain social policies with a large number of cities, can you imagine doing it with a small number of cities but having the cost of a large number?

LouisXXIV said:
How about draw the line as soon as the city starts producing culture. When you capture a city, all cultural buildings are destroyed. As long as you never produce any culture in the city, you're not really taking advantage of the exploit. The only thing I can't figure out is what to do about France.

demidyad said:
puppet the cities, then gift them. problem solved.

when razing you would have to assume firaxis will fix it so that razing does not increase culture cost. if they haven't done that in this patch, it will be quickly fixed.
Puppets need to be changed to alter social policy gain rates though, otherwise cheesy exploits still remain unsolved. For kicks I managed to in a game win an extremely early culture victory by simply puppeting anything I came across and only keeping 1 city of my own. Those games will still exist post-patch.


Secondly, let's look at the exceptions to social policy costs that people have brought up to "fix" the fix:
- Puppets
- Razing cities
- Cities that are involved in wartime conquering before the war ends
- Cities producing 0 culture (with another exception for France for cities producing 2 culture, and another exception for the +1 culture policy)
- Cities built and sold in the same turn

Isn't this getting a bit crazy? This is way too complex, and might only be the start. If you immediately see a number of solutions needed for a fix, it means the fix itself needs to be reevaluated. We haven't even touched the simple idea that maybe someone, who isn't trying to exploit the game, wants to downsize their empire due to happiness issues.

The underlying problem still isn't being addressed, that a PGR that only updates when you buy a policy (with respect to the number of cities) is fundamentally bad. I haven't went fully into the details of the minor problems seen.
 

Louis XXIV

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Really what they need to do is have a behind the scenes calculation that keeps track of each city's cultural production separately. The second you lose the city, you lose all the culture it would have spent towards the next tech. That would be simply and take care of all the concerns, no?
 

Celevin

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Really what they need to do is have a behind the scenes calculation that keeps track of each city's cultural production separately. The second you lose the city, you lose all the culture it would have spent towards the next tech. That would be simply and take care of all the concerns, no?
Wouldn't that be rather confusing to the player? I'm not purposely arguing against your points, but this idea looks like I'd end up cursing "where the hell did my culture go!" a lot of the time. It would be hard to calculate the impact a city lost would have on my empire.

I also just have to ask, what's wrong with my proposal? I need nit-pickers for it. All the fixes to problems brought up so far are solved by it.

I really want to get the word out for it to Firaxis. If I could even have a response by someone even distantly related that says "they looked into it", that would help. Firaxis' change will break the game for me and I believe a lot of others.
 

Rohili

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I am having real doubts about the intelligence and competence of those game designers handling the patch. It does seem like they have not carefully thought through all the side-effects their "fixes" will bring about, and are just clumsily slapping on band-aids to whichever areas of the game players are complaining about.

First, they made it so that social policies must be selected on the turn that they are earned. This alone would have drastically weakened the "sell city" exploit so that it no longer posed a problem, since players would not be able to save up massive amounts of culture to be used after they sold off all their cities.

However, many players pointed out that there are legitimate reasons to hold off picking SPs. Forcing players to pick them immediately eliminates a key strategic choice from the game. So the game designers decided to add an option to disable this change.

But then the "sell city" exploit would be enabled again, and it would not do for there to even be an option for such an exploit. So the game designers decided to make it so that SP costs never went down. However, this extremely inelegant "solution", would - as pointed out by the OP - penalise many legitimate play styles and strategies. To prevent all of the undesirable side-effects, the game designers would have to add all sorts of exceptions and qualifications to the rule that SP costs never go down, which would just make the fix needlessly complicated and potentially open up new loopholes for players to exploit.

IMO, what is needed is a fundamental rethinking of the game system. The game designers should be coming up with simple overhauls like the one suggested by the OP, instead of trying to keep the flawed basic structure of the game and welding on unwieldy "fixes" that would only make the structure more bloated, precarious and prone to collapsing.
 

blac

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However, many players pointed out that there are legitimate reasons to hold off picking SPs. Forcing players to pick them immediately eliminates a key strategic choice from the game. So the game designers decided to add an option to disable the fix above.

I think they should enforce that, but why not make it so you can change your social policies around? Maybe for each one you change you have one turn of anarchy so if you change 8 of them then you get 8 turns of anarchy. This would be nice because some of the early ones are useless if you change game plans part way though.


Overall what the OP said seems like a good idea. I really hope Firaxis is listening!! (or reading...)
 

DaveGold

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There does indeed seem to be a shortage of elegant solutions coming from the designers. The proposal in the original post does indeed seem to be mathematically robust in calculating culture for empires of varying size.
 

PieceOfMind

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The problem I have with this proposal (I think another poster came to the same idea as you as well) is that your culture accumulation actually decreases with increasing number of cities (or at last stays nearly the same). I know that mathematically it's not hard to make the two systems behave functionally in a similar way, but from a gameplay point of view, it's just counter intuitive to build in negative modifiers for increased empire size.

Ultimately though, this is an issue that doesn't concern me much, so I haven't given it as much thought as you and others. Maybe I'm completely misunderstanding the suggestion.
 

Rohili

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The problem I have with this proposal (I think another poster came to the same idea as you as well) is that your culture accumulation actually decreases with increasing number of cities (or at last stays nearly the same). I know that mathematically it's not hard to make the two systems behave functionally in a similar way, but from a gameplay point of view, it's just counter intuitive to build in negative modifiers for increased empire size.
I don't see that as a problem. It is pretty counter-intuitive for your happiness to drop when you build new cities, but that happens anyway.

For those obsessed with realism or immersiveness, you can think of it as the civilization's culture being "diluted" when you found new cities with no culture of their own. There are more unwashed masses trying to vie for a piece of Shakespeare's plays or Picasso's paintings. To ensure that your culture production increases, you need to actually build culture buildings in cites.
 

jh779

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What I don't understand is why they don't simply have whatever percentage of the next level you've attained remain constant between changes in the number of cities you possess. In other words: If you currently have 20 cities and are 90% of the way to your next SP, then lose/sell 10 cities (or gain 10 for that matter), you'll still find yourself at the 90% mark going forward.

Anything else is gameable and rather odd, to be honest.
 

PieceOfMind

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I don't see that as a problem. It is pretty counter-intuitive for your happiness to drop when you build new cities, but that happens anyway.
That's a fair point. I agree that the happiness anti-growth mechanic is far from elegant.
For those obsessed with realism or immersiveness, you can think of it as the civilization's culture being "diluted" when you found new cities with no culture of their own. There are more unwashed masses trying to vie for a piece of Shakespeare's plays or Picasso's paintings. To ensure that your culture production increases, you need to actually build culture buildings in cites.

It's not about realism or immersiveness (unless I'm misunderstanding the meaning of the latter), but just making mechanics that make the player feel like their empire is becoming better over time.

What would it be like if with tech advancement, rather than having the cost of techs go up over time with the eras, instead all the techs were roughly the same price but as you went through the game a negative modifier reducing the effectiveness of your research got bigger and bigger.

Some would argue, and it would be fair IMO, that even that would not be a big problem. After all the main thing you look at with techs is how many turns it will take to get the next one and the game would still function the same way in that regard.

I think maybe because the accumulation of 'culture' is perhaps even more abstract than the accumulation of 'research' (and definitely more abstract than the accumulation of gold), it seems a bit more ok to put the focus more on the rate of acquiring the next policy rather than the rate at which points are being earned.
 

Rohili

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What I don't understand is why they don't simply have whatever percentage of the next level you've attained remain constant between changes in the number of cities you possess. In other words: If you currently have 20 cities and are 90% of the way to your next SP, then lose/sell 10 cities (or gain 10 for that matter), you'll still find yourself at the 90% mark going forward.

Anything else is gameable and rather odd, to be honest.
And how would your proposed solution apply in the case where the player has accumulated enough points to buy multiple SPs (assuming he disabled compulsory instant purchase of SPs)?

It's not about realism or immersiveness (unless I'm misunderstanding the meaning of the latter), but just making mechanics that make the player feel like their empire is becoming better over time.
You are confusing your empire improving over time with your empire improving the more cities you have.

It has never been the case in Civilization that your empire must improve in every aspect the more cities you have. Every previous iteration has included mechanics to penalise overexpansion - corruption, maintenance, etc.

So I don't see why it should be counter-intuitive for culture generation to drop the more cities you have. Moreover, note that in the OP's proposal, the actual culture generated by each city doesn't drop - rather, it is the amount of culture applied to the next policy which drops. A mechanic like that can be easily rationalised away as representing the difficulty of enforcing a new social policy in a bigger empire.
 
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A possible solution would be to keep track of the culture each city has produced since the last SP. When a city is traded away, razed or lost in combat the cost for the next SP decreases as it currently does, but all the accumulated culture for that city is lost as well. I haven't thought out all the ramifications (what to do with culture overspill from the last purchased policy, for example), just thought I'd put it out there.
 
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