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A Brave New World for Sid Meier fans

July 23rd, 2013

Last week the 2nd expansion to the video game, Sid Meier’s Civilization V was released. Against my better judgement I download it on day one. I’ve only managed to finish four games since then, but that still represents substantial time and effort, especially when added to the fact all the time I’ve put in since the first game was released in the 90s. Sid Meier is my favourite video game designer and Civilization is undoubtably the video game series that I’ve spent the most time on. As a result I have more than a few thoughts on how to play the game, even though I don’t play competitively or even optimally, I still have much hard earned experience.

A lot of time has passed since I wrote this. I played many games of CiV but could not move on to Beyond Earth or Civ VI for “reasons”.

Suboptimal Opening Strategy

My opening has been refined during 100s of hours of play, it isn’t optimal, in fact it is safe and conservative. It will work for a wide variety of civilizations and all the victory conditions. I take a safety first approach in my research and expand considerably less than I did in my youth. I try to maintain good relations with my neighbours and do a lot of trading. This leads to profit and influence with other civilizations and city states, it also can lead to victory.

Opening Techs

  1. Archery – for defence
  2. Writing – for library and early diplomacy
  3. Calendar – to build Stonehege and plantations
  4. Philosophy – to advance an era and potentially build the National College and/or Oracle

Opening Build Order

  1. Scout – worthwhile even on small maps
  2. Monument – culture is very important in Civ V BNW
  3. Archer – remember kids safety first
  4. Shrine – in order to start generating faith early
  5. Library – this increases your progress up the tech tree and allows the building of the National College
Screenshot from my first game of Civilization V: Brave New World

You could build Stonehenge

If you follow this opening you have many many options. I like to build Stonehenge as founding a religion is better than not founding a religion. Stonehenge is one of the best ways of generate faith early in the game. With Stonehenge it is possible to found a religion without choosing Piety as your first social policy.

You could NC Start

Many people online like the National College opening or “NC start”, this involves beelining up the tech tree, building a library in your first city and then the National College. The opening outlined above is compatible with the NC start which some consider the optimal Civ V opening strategy. My opening is slightly more defensive and involves ensuring culture and faith generation is started in my capital promptly. It is definitely possible to build Stonehenge then quickly build your National College. It is even possible to try for the Oracle. Building all three wonders is greedy and you’re probably better off building a worker if you haven’t acquired one already, rather than get early wonder lust.

Build a prosperous capital and a tech lead

With this opening you will have a prosperous capital that can then be tailored to generate culture, faith, or production. Science is perhaps the most important ‘resource’ in Civ V. With a tech lead, every victory condition becomes easier. A tech lead allows for generating more money through banks, stock exchanges, and trade routes.  A tech lead allows for building better military units. A tech lead allows for building more elaborate cultural buildings and wonders of the world. Everything else being equal a civilization such as Babylon or Korea will always be strong regardless of path to victory because of their bonuses to science production.

Tradition over Honor

A lot of decisions need to be made in the course of a game of Sid Meier’s Civilization V. Some important decisions are made before the game even starts. Some people feel the need to adjust the settings heavily to reward their preferred tactics. They also ragequit if things don’t go their way. The size of the map affects the game more than some people realize. I have a smaller, older, MacBook Pro so I must play on small maps. This possibly makes the Tradition social policy better, therefore it is part of my recommended opening post Brave New World. Opening other social policies in addition to Tradition, such as Honor, can be worthwhile but finishing Tradition is a priority as it lets you expend faith later in the game to buy Great Engineers. I’m a big fan of this technique.

Which civilization should you use?

The other key pre-game decision is which civilization to play. Some like to play a random civilization, but I prefer to experiment with different civilizations and tactics, often writing down openings to attempt or technologies to prioritize. Civ V is very much a game that rewards note taking. In previous versions of the game, I spent a lot of time ranking the civilizations, now there are just too many to play with them all extensively. I use the ones I like, the ones that seem fun, the rest add to the game as opposition.

Choosing Your Religion

The final important decision that often gets left out of a lot of strategy guides and reviews is choosing your first belief. This one decision has more effect on the early game than almost any other. If you choose the right belief, one that meshes with your chosen civilization and the terrain around your starting city, you can benefit immensely. For instance I’ve long been a fan of Arabia. I’ve possibly played more games of Civ V as Arabia than any other civilization. The rivals to Arabia in my mind pre-BNW were: Babylon, China, the Inca, and Polynesia. Of the G&K civilizations the Maya may be my favourite. If you’re Arabia you start near a desert, so taking the Desert Folklore belief is very beneficial. Other synergies exist between civilizations and beliefs. This is why it is important to generate early faith no matter what your ultimate aim, thus prioritizing the building of Stonehenge.

In a Brave New World, culture is hard

Of the five ways to win, in Brave New World, culturally has got to be the hardest now. Diplomacy, science, even domination require less effort. Who your opposition is and what victory condition they are targeting probably has the biggest effect on cultural victory. You have to commit early to building culture and despite all the turmoil in the world you have continue to prioritize culture even though the return is much more immediate when prioritizing faith, production, science, or cash flow. Look at how much culture I got Edinburgh to generate, still it wasn’t enough for a cultural victory. Perversely it might be easier to win culturally if you kill off your biggest cultural rivals through strength of arms.

Look at all the culture in Edinburgh

Civilization V Brave New World opens up more avenues than ever before in an empire building strategy game. I’m not sure how much time and effort I can devote to gaming. I need to improve my personal brand online and find a permanent job pronto.

What of Liberty?

Although I probably should have been doing something else, I attempted another game of Civ V. I played as France and once again tried hard to win culturally. I opened Liberty which in BNW on smaller than standard maps doesn’t seem to be the way to go. I did earn a tonne of culture, especially in Paris. But despite completing four social policy trees and almost completing Freedom I still did not earn a cultural victory. Despite not going Patronage I still managed to buy all the surviving City States as friends and easily voted myself world leader in the very first vote.

Paris earning a pile of Culture and Tourism in Civ V.

What of Tradition and Honour?

I suspect the best opening strategy involves going heavily Tradition with perhaps a dash of Honour. Once Tradition is finished then you can open Piety or Patronage or Aesthetics, but Tradition seems to be the best all around social policy for having a solid opening game and capital in Sid Meier’s Civilization V.

If after all these years you have thoughts on the optimal opening strategy for Sid Meier’s Civilization V you can leave them below.


  • Muskie says:

    For the record I finally earned a cultural victory, one turn before I would have again voted myself world leader. I used Polynesia, I used Exploration, and I used Autocracy. The last wouldn’t seem to be that important, but in order to win culturally you must defend yourself and it can help if some of your cultural rivals are eliminated by the sword or at least have some of their cities sacked.

  • Muskie says:

    Last night I tried to finish my game as the French. I was the closest ever to a cultural victory. It definitely helps if someone, even the AI eliminates a few cultural rivals via military force. I was so close I took a screenshot of Paris which was producing over 600 culture a turn and when I pressed command + shift + 3, my computer crashed. So not only did I not complete yet another theming bonus, not only did I not win, I may have lost several turns.

    I needed to go to sleep anyway.

    I have to devote my time to more important things than Civ V. It takes my mind off my troubles sometimes.

    France is definitely a strong cultural civilization. I tried the Liberty opening with a dash of Honor, skipped Patronage and finished first Exploration and secondly Aesthetics. I need to remember to build 3 factories or advance even farther up the Tech Tree as I was not the first to adopt an ideology. In fact I eventually relinquished my lead as I focussed all my efforts on culture and tourism. Sending musicians on tour definitely helps in the late came so Aesthetics + Faith to buy musicians is necessary. I’m tempted to play the Inca when I start my inevitable next game, but I also need to find a way to gain culture even quicker. I think Babylon or the Maya will do well in a cultural victory, they do well with the opening described above.

    I also need to give Piety a go. I’ve created some strong religions in the past and making my religion and holy city the world religion is something I regularly do in the late game to get the extra votes and tourism, but I think forcing a world religion much earlier, some sort of Piety + Patronage strategy could work. Opening Honor for the cultural bonus to killing barbarians is almost a must.

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