Still unknown if this will be a three-part series; below are still more early-game points that I realized I forgot on the first post. More playthroughs means more opportunities to figure out what works and what doesn't. Here's a few more things to keep in mind, in what is still one of the most interesting puzzle games masquerading as a world building game that I've ever played.
In an effort to try to organize my thoughts a bit better for you, I've kept the top-level points and tried to put a subtitle around some of what I cover, so that you might be able to find the information more easily. Feel free to send some feedback to tell me if this helps more or is more confusing.
1. Defending early on via military:
Keeping up with everyone is absolutely important in this game. At the higher levels, the computer needs less food to grow a point, less production to complete units or wonders, and less science to gain a technology. This means you need to find replacements, and fast.
How much military do you need?:
The military part is pretty easy to take care of, considering what happens in Civ V (compared to all previous Civ games). Each city becomes its own archer, and can hold out for a few turns depending on the number of units and the technology of the units coming after the city. The best defenders for a city happen to be ranged -- ranged defenders do not take damage when they attack, and they can be stashed behind a city yet shoot two squares forward, making them devilishly hard to get to without deploying mounted troops. Two archers (plus perhaps a warrior to deal with the up-close issues) are enough to snuff out 85% of threats to the cities of your kingdom.
Shooting at the correct targets when defending a city:
Without a ground troop to occupy it, a city cannot fall. You can throw as many catapults as you want at it, but it won't go anywhere without a ground troop. So, you know what your likeliest targets are! The ground troops will come first anyway, and if the computer does it in ones or twos, your two archers + city + warrior should do a good job of mopping up most of the ground troop threat even before the catapults or archers set up. Even if the catapults and archers arrive, keep pounding those ground troops. Three archers plus the city is ideal, as three archers + one city will down a warrior in one turn, and depending on the bonuses can even get a spearman down too. Two is minimum.
Sniffing out external threats:
As I discuss below, roads are not for the early-game anymore, which means you may have to keep troops close to a city. This means more advanced sniffing is necessary to figure out where the threat may come from. There's ways to figure it out though, and here are a few:
-- A enemy civ capital city with no second city thirty to forty turns in. A sure sign that military is being built.
-- In the diplomatic screen, hovering over the leader to find out ways that your relationship is affected includes "They covet your lands!"
-- Finding three or more units of theirs on the move, especially if they're moving towards you.
-- A warlike civilization with a very early specialized unit (Huns, Aztecs, for naval battle - Carthage)
-- Check the Demographics and find out who has the largest military. Increased scrutiny on this civ is a must, if they are known to you.
-- An enemy civ that has swallowed up cities and is currently razing them. An absolutely sure sign that someone's out to eat up the map and mess everyone else up.
-- Notifications that an enemy civ has had their capital taken. The game now tells you who took the capital, as well as who controls the most capitals. They have the military.
Yes, enemy Civs are 95% likely to be coming after you, especially since you likely have the fewest military this early in the game. It may be "unfair", but did you sign up for a challenge or a squash? I find that there are times that if I have an interesting start position, I will save it at the beginning of the game just in case I want to run a game again, and there's no stigma in restarting or recovering from autosaved files.
FYI... it is absolutely possible to get bum rushed and killed, too... if you get a mad Hun after you early enough, or a mad Aztec, they can absolutely pump out five or six battering rams, or eight to ten jaguar warriors, and your game is definitely over. Just restart and try again, knowing full well that if your start was that bad, going again is probably the best option. In a recent playthrough (and unless I completely misread the damage indicator), I had a Hunnic battering ram hit my city for -167. There's just nothing one can do about that, especially when you see three more coming at you. Just remember that if you do put down the Hunnic/Aztec threat, they're not going to have such ridiculously overpowered troops for the rest of the game.
I do note that on my other games, the enemy Civ is more likely to come after you with their own specialized unit. It's helpful to know or remember what their special units are and to have plenty of troops available that their type is weak against... for instance, make sure to get pikemen or lancers when the Mongols start trotting out their Keshik (cavalry-based archers). Keeping scouts or other units that can station outside an enemy Civ's land to find out what the troop movements are is pretty helpful in this situation.
If you do manage to take out the enemy civ's troops, immediately threaten their lands (safely!). The enemy Civs often (but not always) panic and overreact with troops closer by. If they're currently out of troops you'll get a far better deal. If they have more than one town, you may even pick up unexpected territory... just make sure that you're in the green happy-wise before puppeting, otherwise weaken them by razing it. Bonus note... even if the city is undefendable, it will give you gold and science plus perhaps a religious point or two at the cost of happiness. If you can spare the happiness, take it. It will also be your new "canary in the coal mine" if it is undefendable, as the enemy Civ will try to get that city back first being such a juicy target. You will then know if the enemy civ will want to come after your core cities at the cost of increased gold plus a couple happy faces.
If you do go with a large military early, just remember that you can get other people to pay for it too. How, you may ask? Through the bullying of city-states. They'll also hand over workers if you have enough troops on the outside of a town. You need to have a large military to do this, but it's a decent two-for-one (worker for the price of military) if you're not trying to curry favor. Heck, you can turn your military into effectively a city-state-supported workforce if you're diligent enough, and by threatening the non-hostile you could get quests where the hostile actually want you to threaten the non-hostile, which will net you money AND a new City-State friend.
That stuff is HARD to come by early. There's a ton of things that you need, including a military to beat off any foes, roads to keep your military mobile enough to fight off other foes, a scout to find other civs, and workers to develop your resources. Not only that, but those pesky buildings cost money too.
Taking care of your gold reserves can be almost like gaining another city's worth of production. A settler, for instance, is 500 Gold (on Standard length game and King difficulty)... or, it's five or six turns of no city growth. A courthouse is multiple turns of unhappy faces, or about 600 gold(?, I don't completely recall). 1000 Gold can be worth ten happy faces when it's given to mercantile city-states... or, in one of the most interesting situations, 1000 gold can help keep an enemy civ who's declared war off your back by allying with a city-state and letting the enemy civ either get bogged down, picked off, or at least slowed down from invading your position. As a last resort, it can be used for walls/units if things get desperate too. And, most importantly, piles of gold will give you the diplomatic victory that you may be searching for. Where will it all come from?
Developing second/third copies of luxuries:
On my best games, I've developed redundant luxury items early. Just starting out, enemy Civs are usually willing to give you top dollar (e.g. 7 gold per turn) for extra luxuries. Even if the redundant luxury is in the water (yikes!), getting that extra gold that early will allow you to keep the science coming while at the same time staying defended, which is absolutely necessary. Just remember that the trade-off for selling your luxuries is possibly another new city for the Civ you sell the luxury to, as the +4 it will give them is the number that is typically needed for each new city. (This can get them in trouble in the long haul if they can't find ways to keep the luxuries flowing in, though.)
Roads and alternatives to building roads for workers:
Roads are for closers. [/Glengarry]. Don't get the roads built until the city you're building to can support the road... if you're already negative and your city is four spaces away, you're looking at between twelve to sixteen losing turns just to break even again. Yes, that means that you may have to stash troops in the more forward places and cross your fingers, but hopefully you read the early warning signs like a woodsman collects deer tracks.
The alternative to building roads if you have an idling worker and little cash... do all of the below in descending order.
1. Improve every single special tile you can find first. These things will help your civ grow the fastest. (Possible exception - jungle bananas, see below)
2. Build farms in your outlying cities to grow them quicker. (Or, alternatively, set the focus to "food" in the city screen.)
3. Build enough mines/lumber mills to give your city a production boost when it's needed. Typically, I try to set up at least two more mines or three more lumber mills than I would usually need. This helps for when you're trying to rush through units, or a Wonder, and don't have the gold to deal with it.
4. Drain marshes -- unless you're the Dutch and can build polders.
5. Take out *unnecessary* forests.
6. Take out *unnecessary* jungles, but only as a last resort -- see below.
With jungles, note that when the University comes available, each one is worth +2 Science. Keeping a jungle banana square will net you a +4 Food and +2 Science, instead of the possible +5 Food (or +4 food +1 production if on a hill). Five jungle squares with trading posts and an in-town University will net +10 food, +13 science (+10 through the University skill and +3 due to the University bonus) and +5 gold. Keeping Jungles is a strategy that I follow, especially since you can't replant if you so choose.
Jungles and forests are also places that you can defend with troops, though it depends on how many ground troops (swords, spears, pikes?) you have available to defend and whether or not those areas can be ranged into.
Caravans can only get you limited amounts of gold early on. The more you develop your city, the more gold a caravan will be able to net. Caravans will also provide science, definitely important in the early going too, and as you develop the land around the home city for a caravan, the caravan will net more money. Having water nearby will add to the bonuses.
3. City building and specialization
Choosing sites, managing expectations, natural wonders:
Your capital should ideally be near two luxuries. I've had games where a third was in easy reach, but typically there's no way you're going to start with three luxuries encircled by one city. Typically, city #2 will be next to a luxury, and if you're lucky you might find a spot where you can get two luxuries as well. Your first city spot has to be close, chosen pretty early and focused upon.
In a good 60% of my games, I've found that my next favored spot for a city just will not be there for two reasons. Either the other civ(s) got to it first, or the civ that would have gotten there first has eight warriors and five archers to throw at me when I plant my settler. However, there are also games where I had to go to Spot #3 just because the computer absolutely jumped all over Spot #2 before I could do anything.
The point? It's rare if you manage to get Spot #2 and Spot #3 both, and if that happens hang on tight.
See, this game isn't exactly a land-grab game anymore. In Civ IV, as long as you had a forward-looking phalanx, keep hopping those settlers forward, and you can fill in the cities with phalanxes after you grab the territory. In Civ V, you don't start off with happy people in every city you build... you have to back it up with both workers to gain the luxury and with military to defend it, or your position is lost.
HOWEVER! There's hope! Just remember, if the computer stakes out a city in a spot you desperately wanted, it's a GOOD THING. Let the computer build it, farm it, etc and then you can swoop in with military to take it later. You want and need ways to maximize your shield count, and even if you spend three warriors out of your force of multiple archers/catapults and melee units, it's still likely less than you would have had to spend with a settler, worker, etc. and it steals the production that the computer worked so hard to set up to begin with.
Most natural wonders are imperative to take and can grow to provide +5 culture in the late-game depending on the World Congress. Ones that provide happy faces (Mt. Kailash, Fountain of Youth, Old Faithful) are most important. Natural wonders that provide religious bonuses (Uluru, Mt. Ararat, Mt. Fuji, etc.) are also very important, and can even replace world wonders such as Stonehenge. The only ones that are not worth the time and effort are the Grand Mesa (+3 gold and +2 shield, which you can get from any developed luxury mine) and the Barringer Crater (+2 Gold / +3 Science, which is easily replacable by any Jungle tile with a trading post in a town with a University -- +2 Food, +1 Gold, +2 Science before Economics). Only get these as afterthoughts rather than as targets.
So when you have a city, what should you do with it? High food cities are good for getting the specialist buildings, such as the Writers Guild which takes population points to be most effective. Cities with plenty of hills do good in building wonders and creating your army. Cities with lots of special squares, by rivers or by oceans are good spots for caravans to operate from. Just make sure to improve as many of the squares around the city as possible so that the bonuses for resources are realized. Cities with lots of jungle make for amazing science cities mid-game, to the point that waiting on a National College becomes a viable strategy... especially since the computer players rarely (if ever) examine your other cities for tech-stealing potential. If you run a high-knowledge city that's not your capital, that lowers the tech-stealing potential of your capital city and typically the computer players won't figure out that there's a far higher potential city elsewhere, which makes defending technologies easier. And since the game gives bonuses for stacking tourist improvements/Wonders into one city, it may as well be the one that you've been building Wonders in since you started the game, right?
Additionally, the game's governors help you to keep your specialization going. If you're trying to grow a city, feel free to leave it at "growth" until it gets to the size you want. If you're trying to obtain science, then use the governor to reapportion your citizens to find science. You can certainly micromanage to the point that you're directing individual citizens into individual tasks, but it will make your games take even longer than they did already... and you get a feel for what real historical rulers thought when they were asked what each individual citizen should do instead of taking advice from trusted council. Specializing cities will keep you afloat technologically through the lean years, when all of the other civs are gaining technologies left-and-right... to be covered in a later topic.
Last note for city building. In the beginning of the game there are only three acceptable reasons for killing barbarians. Either you were asked by a city-state and will get influence, you've opened the Honor track and will receive culture, or it's right next to your town and about to stomp your spice plantation to dust. Otherwise... leave them alone and let them be someone else's problem. Letting them roam means that they'll kill enemy civ settlers that the enemy civ got greedy with, or take city-state workers that you can liberate later and receive bonuses for. They will work as experience fountains, but only for the first two levels... you can get those just with defending your own territory. In this case, the enemy of your enemy (your enemy being the other computer Civs) is your friend, and if the other Civs want to build cities, don't clear the way for them by taking out their threats.
4. Faith and religion
I must admit, to me this is one of the trickiest concepts in the game, second only to the culture bonuses. It's difficult to figure out where your game will go in three hundred turns, and there are times that your religious bonuses are either unhelpful, or undefendable. What little I can tell you to help you out I have below.
For your pantheon, the most logical choice is to choose something that will net you a faith bonus based on where you're located... for instance, the +1 for all unforested Tundra squares, or the +1 for all Desert squares. There's also a +2(!) for each stone/marble source you have, a +1 faith/+1 culture for each copper/iron/salt source you have, and a +1 faith/+1 culture for each gold/silver source you have. These are definitely the easiest to obtain, and if you have enough of a resource it would be best. If you have a natural Wonder close, you can get an extra +4 faith from it via the "One with Nature" bonus, which would make even the marginally bad Natural Wonders listed above reasonable, but only if you can't get more faith from another vector.
If you're going to be fighting quite a bit, the "God of War" bonus gives faith for every battle you win within 4 squares of a city that follows your Pantheon. This is a good bonus if you're on defense quite a bit, but does little for offense unless you first prime the city you're going to war against.
There's another bonus that I've found... it's actually a bit of a delay for faith, but works really well. If you choose the "Monument to the Gods", you'll get an extra 15% discount to building ancient or classical wonders, of which there's more than a few. (E.g. Stonehenge, Colossus, Pyramids, Hanging Gardens, Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Temple of Artemis, Oracle, Parthenon, Statue of Zeus, etc.) Now, combine that bonus with one that the computer almost never takes when it comes time to select religious enhancements, which is +2 for every World Wonder. Better yet, combine the +15% pantheon bonus with the +15% Tradition bonus, and if you're really lucky combine that with the +15% bonus from obtaining a source of marble. It will only take a few turns to get Wonders up with all those bonuses! And for later in the game, you now are getting a +2 for all of those classical wonders that you were able to build with the bonus(es), not to mention the fact that having the wonders gives additional bonuses to Great Persons, to underlying statistics, and can generate tourism/culture later on depending on what happens in the game.
At any rate, the pantheon bonus is going to be one of the last religious bonuses you receive until you get to choosing your Religious Enhancement, which comes with the second Great Prophet. If you choose a pantheon bonus that is not religious, you do run the risk of not being able to keep your religion... there's only five in the eight-player game, and worse yet only seven on the huge maps. If you choose a pantheon bonus that is not religious and you want to keep it, at that point it would be best to build a temple or three.
The Piety track of Culture bonuses:
There's now the "Piety" set of culture bonuses, and you will find more than a few computer players running down this set of bonuses. If you're used to the old culture from Civ V Original, or the Gods & Kings expansion... it'll throw you for a loop, because previously you could not have Piety and Rationalization open at the same time. Now, there's no limits. I think that the game designers realized that while some religions inspire people to stay in the dark so that the religion can continue to dominate, other religions inspire people to discover new concepts... think of Islam in the Middle Ages, with the advances in science, mathematics, and other fields.
However, the problem with the Piety track is that unless you use your religion to gain the happy faces, none of the specific policies in the track gives you happy faces. The other three tracks (Tradition, Honor, Liberty) all offer ways to get the happy faces, either via 1/2 of the population of the capital through the Tradition track or by connecting cities via road or by stationing military. There are two religious tenets that provide happy faces, either through the total number of cities or by the population of foreign cities (IIRC), but that comes at a cost of some of the more excellent religious tenets, either the science track where missionaries/prophets can generate science by spreading religion, or via the faith provision where you can get +2 faith for each enemy city following your religion.
The good news is that you will be guaranteed at least some sort of religion by going down the Piety track. Purchasing units for 20% off will make it so that you will have an inquisitor at all times to guard against an enemy prophet coming by. The Reformation beliefs are helpful, especially two... one that allows for you to receive tourism for each building you purchase with faith, or another that allows you to purchase any Great Person that you want with your faith rather than having to go all the way down the track. Both can be useful, though it depends on how much religion you can generate. If smaller amounts, then the tourism bonus would probably be best... the buildings you build don't need as much faith as the Great Persons. If you're able to generate gobs of faith points, then getting the Great Persons reformation would be most helpful... you can get the Great Persons you need to get the tourism points anyway, they'll come with culture points too, and you can then fill in any of the empty slots you have with the appropriate type of Great Person. You can even make sure to get the themed bonuses this way, especially if you need to generate those Great Persons during a certain age -- e.g. Broadway, which requires three Great Musicians during the exact same age to get the theming bonus.
The other benefit to the Piety track is to be able to effectively pick a second Pantheon belief bonus via the Religious Tolerance policy, where a city with a majority religion can receive the Pantheon benefit of the second most popular religion. The Pantheon beliefs aren't exactly the best, to be truthful, but in this situation you can not only control which one you get, but you can also pick on a per-city basis. You can have an ocean city gain the +1 Production bonus while at the same time have an inland city receive the +1 Jungle Culture bonus... so they become more effective now that you've been able to choose based on the city.
Religious bonuses can be applied to every method of winning... for those people who want to send missionaries to civs that they will soon conquer, there's a 20% bonus against enemy civs that follow your faith with the "Holy War" enhancement. Defense can also net you a +20% if your own city follows a religion with the "Defender of the Faith" enhancement.
Optimum Religion Bonuses:
Rolling up the whole world under your religion is easiest with the Pilgrimage bonus, which generates +2 Faith for each foreign city that follows your religion. Add to that the -30% faith bonus for missionaries/inquisitors, and you can pretty much flood the zone. There's an extra -20% faith for all units purchased on the Piety track that will make this even more effective. Make sure to build temples as well as the Great Temple for the extra +8 Faith and the extra pressure that the Great Temple will exert.
If you're not crazy about where your religion is taking you, then feel free to see if another religion will come by. You can do this passively, as the computer players will send missionaries to your towns. You can do this aggressively, as you can absolutely capture both prophets and missionaries too. You will not have the benefit of owning the holy city and getting the nationwide bonuses (e.g. increased religion, additional happy faces, etc.) unless you take the holy city. However, there are town-by-town bonuses that some religions will have (e.g. building Cathedrals/Pagodas/Mosques), and you can take advantage of their enhancer beliefs too, such as +25% strength or the +20% defense/offense for shared religion. The other bonus to this is if you're playing culturally, converting to the religion that all the other civs have will give you the additional 25% shared religion bonus that one of the civs is probably already reaping. May as well even that score if your religion is lacking in other ways.
Other odd and useful faith strategies:
You can always block missionaries from either moving through your territory or block cities from accepting a missionary via both military and civilian units. As a missionary needs to be next to a city in order to work its magic, if it cannot get next to the city then it cannot do so. It may also take attrition damage while waiting for your city to become available. Similarly, make sure that if you send a missionary into a city that you do so while it still has moves left, or it could also absorb attrition damage.
If you happen to capture a Great Prophet before it can make one conversion, you can use the Great Prophet to create a holy site. Useful if you manage to find one that was captured via barbarians, or if you preemptively take a Great Prophet that an enemy civ thought to send to your shores. Be careful though, you won't know how many conversions the Great Prophet will have left on it until you take it.
All units that you have control of, be they military or civilian, cost gold. If you happen to capture a Prophet or Missionary of another religion, you will need to pay for that unit until the day you disband it. Feel free to keep it around long enough to be useful, but remember that you're paying for it each turn.
...whew! There's probably more than this, but it's going to go on a later blog post.