States Of The Nation: More Civ V Thoughts

By Alec Meer on August 10th, 2010 at 9:44 pm.

I’m picking up right where I left off, so please forgive my brusquely providing you with this link to my initial Civ V post rather than summarising.

This time, I wanted to chat about one of the larger (if optional) changes to the age-old Civ formula. To whit (I keep saying “to whit” lately. What’s a decent alternative), City States. These are small, static nations which don’t compete with you – but they can help you. Alternatively, you could crush them.


At first, they seemed like they were just dead space on the map, architectural squatters preventing my expansion but offering none of the trade benefts of a full-on Civ. Get away, shoo! Get off my land.

They’re the only element of Civ V that I’ve ever hissed at, but taking a few steps back I recognised the irked purist in myself and had a closer nose. What City States actually mean is a whole new way to play the game. I stopped hissing pretty quickly.

You can just ignore them, you can choose to invade them if your hunger for the land they cover grows too strong, or you can turn them off entirely when you setup a new game.

Or you can help them. The key difference from full Civs, other than that they only ever encompass one city, is that when you agree to assist them it’s not because it’s part of a long game to beat them. These guys, these Seouls and Helsinkis and Dublins (in fact, real-life capitals of most of the nations not granted a full civ), will never try to beat you at the game. They’ll take a pop at you should you stage a botched invasion, and if you declare war on a Civ they’ve become allied with, they’ll join against you. Other than that, they’re happy to sit there quietly.

Make friends with them and they’ll start shoving bonuses your way – occasionally gifting the likes of units, culture or research, depending on their own nature. Please them enough to become full allies and they’ll lend a military hand should you end up in a war.

Essentially, you can construct a worldwide network of silent allies – ones who aren’t pursuing their own agenda. Enough chummy city states can seriously beef up your race towards a victory condition. What you’ve got to decide is if it’s worth the time and expense necessary to get them on board, as an alternative to quietly building an empire or noisily destroying others. It’s a new way to spend your resources.

To do so, you’re given quests. Wipe out a troublesome barbarian camp, build a road to the City State, acquire a certain luxury good… or declare war on another City State. Doing these racks up brownie points, and more brownie points means more gifts. Risk-reward, especially when they demand you go a-fighting. Is the amount of money and time you’ll pour into a war at their behest worth the long-term benefits of getting them onboard?

Alternatively, you can simply gift them gold, which can be comically effective if you have a cash-rich empire. Or you can gift the units, which is effective should you have a production-rich empire. The point is there are options as to how you can get these guys on your side; they’re a microcosm reflection of the broader game.

The trouble is that relations with City States decay constantly. The bright flower of alliance inevitably withers. So you need to keep up the charm offensive – this is the single greatest deterrent to pursuing the City State strategy. It can be exhausting if you’re chumming up with loads, forever dancing around the map, diverting units and workers to fulfill their requests or scattering gold all over the place.

But you can choose to go deeper still. Certain Civs – notably the Greeks – have a starting bonus that reduces City State relation degradation. Of course you’ll be denying yourself other, more traditional bonuses, such as culture or military boosts, if you pick them.

Then there’s the social policies, which I nattered about a little in the last post. The Patronage tree of this is all about City States – reducing degradation, setting a baseline level of good relations, amping up gift output… You could go all-in, but again at the expense of other bonuses.

The degree to which you can pursue City States as a game-wide strategy makes a fascinating (if slightly oblique) addition, a whole new level of micro-strategy say on top of the streamlined Civ core. Yeah, there’s definitely something to be said for the purity of you vs AIs who are equally hard trying to win, and I’ll be playing a fair few games like that for sure.

I’ll also be playing a ton where I’m quietly courting a spiderweb of chums who, for once, aren’t aware that they’re playing a videogame with a win condition.

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60 Comments »

  1. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    So, the bonus the city states give are supierior to just having them as a city?
    Cause i like having cities. One with no other ones around it seems like a sitting duck…
    How couldnt i help myself?

  2. WhiteWhale says:

    I’m 9 days from entering my first year at university. You just inspired me to fail out my first year due to Civ 5. This just sounds too great.

    Curse you, Tag Team of Sid Meier and Alec Meer!

    • Premium User Badge

      Hodge says:

      Hear, hear, I fear the sheer steer of Meier-Meer is clear and without peer.

  3. sebmojo says:

    It’s ‘to wit’ rather than ‘to whit’. Alternatives: that is, in other words, such as, eg, a semicolon or nothing at all.

    Enjoying the columns – I’m almost perfectly not caring about Civ V but I felt like that about the predecessor which I now love dearly (still never got to Steam in a game, though).

    • mandrill says:

      It can be either, ‘to whit’ being the more archaic form. ‘Namely’ is a good alternative in the cotext it was used in here

    • Jambe says:

      Mandrill hit it: namely. I’ve never seen wit spelled with an h; I just thought your use was another example of superfluous letters in British spelling.

      A better alternative is to simply change the sentence structure altogether. “To wit” always seems pretentious to me… it’s rarely necessary (there is almost always an alternative way of framing a thought). In the your case, the phrase can simply be cut out entirely, like so:

      This time, I wanted to chat about one of the larger (if optional) changes to the age-old Civ formula: City States.

      Straight to the point!

      City States strike me as a great concept. I wonder if their AI will be insane and/or variable enough to make them a legitimately interesting addition or if they’ll just be a glorified tech tree in the form of a city.

    • moltobenny says:

      I enjoy reading books because I am very literally.

  4. CloakRaider says:

    I literally cannot wait for Civ V.
    It’s looking fantastic. Demo/Beta please.

    • seanf says:

      You literally cannot wait? Or what, you die, lest time pass for you?

    • bildo says:

      I’ve never seen so much commenting about the term, “literally,” until I came to RPS to fulfill my quota of daily internet readings years ago. Why all the resistance to use a word in a different way than it was intended?

    • imirk says:

      The problem is not so much that the use is not the original intent of the word, its that it is used in the complete opposite form of what it means, and people who use it as such obviously just parroting something that they’ve heard used for emphasis regardless of the words actual meaning, we are merely fighting the sheeple.

    • pipman300 says:

      i literally do not give a shit about how to use the world literally.

    • Jambe says:

      i literally do not give a shit about how to use the world literally.

      I’m glad. If you offered your feces whenever the word literally was used you’d probably be rather unpopular. Unless you hang with scatophiles, I suppose.

    • Gassalasca says:

      There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using ‘literally’ only to add emphasis. Let no one tell you otherwise.

    • bildo says:

      Yeah, I never saw the big deal. It’s just funny that a videogame site is the only place where I ever see people complain about it’s usage :P

    • Kommissar Nicko says:

      I literally cannot stand the sincere use of the word “sheeple.”

      It is a neologism that I could literally do without.

    • bildo says:

      @ Nicko

      I love how you use the word ‘neologism’ and then, in a later post you use, “poop out” to describe the construction of a barbarian unit. Classy.

    • Ozzie says:

      If you want to throw in some random word just to add emphasis, use “seriously”.
      Like “I seriously cannot wait for Civ V”.

      Makes much more sense. Personally, I hate it when the meaning of a word becomes diluted through constant misuse.

    • bildo says:

      @ Ozzie

      So then that means you must have an incredible dislike when people use it in that way. Or is it just a annoyance? Hate is a strong word and another word that is being diluted due to constant misuse ;) See, we all do it, all the time.

    • Ozzie says:

      So then that means you must have an incredible dislike when people use it in that way.

      Correct. :P

      But honestly, hate is a more extreme form of “dislike”, so I used it is an exaggeration, but what is the less extreme form of “literally” then?
      Using “literally” in the wrong context isn’t an exaggeration, it’s just wrong.

    • bildo says:

      @ Ozzie

      lol fair enough. Maybe you do hate it, but literally has come to mean, ‘really’. Face it. I literally can’t ‘ wait for Civ V = I really can’t wait for Civ V. Famous authors used it back in 1600s to emphasize. It’s been a long time coming, but now it’s gaining wider acceptance in the form you hate so much. You have my condolences. Now, how about them Yankees?

    • Ozzie says:

      So, why not use “really”? Why not use “seriously”? Do we really, seriously, need another word for the same context?
      There’s no replacement for literally, so if its meaning becomes diluted, there’s no other way to express it.
      I guess I hate the thought that we might continually become more unable to properly express ourselves because we constantly use words in the wrong context or overuse them so that they lose their meaning. Maybe it’s a silly thought, I dunno, but all the same, that’s why I think every word is worth treasuring.
      At least I’m not a grammar or spelling nazi. Just a context nazi. ;)

    • Phydaux says:

      Some words are auto-antonyms. Literally is one of them. It’s original meaning was something like “according to the letter” so unless you’re talking about copying some text you’re already using literal in a figurative sense.

  5. JonFitt says:

    Whenever you come up against a neighbour in traditional Civ, you usually have the following options:
    - Annihilate them now.
    - Team up with them for now, and annihilate them later.
    - Team up with them for now, and edge them out with culture or beat them at tech.
    and they will be trying to do the same thing to you.

    The City States are a breath of fresh air in that respect.

    The potential idea of a whole expanding Civ that is trying to exist but not compete is interesting too.
    A Civ with non-imperial tendencies would be interesting to play against. I wonder if the City States could be modded to allow them to use non-aggressive expansion?

    • Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

      Falsehoods!
      There is only 1 option, Annihilation.

    • Grundlewart says:

      Once upon a time, Civ IV pre-release info mentioned “minor civs”, although details were scarce. I think Firaxis eventually blended that concept with barbarians, who (in Civ IV) would eventually become perpetually hostile pseudo-civs if their camps weren’t destroyed. I assume they’re properly implementing in Civ V what they did in a half-assed manner in the previous game.

      Minor civs also played a role in Stardock’s Galactic Civilization games; single-system races that you can trade with or conquer, but won’t expand. I’m glad this game concept is gaining purchase, as it’s agreat way to populate the game world/universe without having everybody unrealistically be a superpower.

    • Nick says:

      And for gods sake don’t open your borders or they’ll found a damned city on that 1 tiny, awful spot in the middle/coastline of your civ where the cultural borders just miss.

      Bastards.

    • Kommissar Nicko says:

      I actually was quite fond of the barbarian cities in Civ IV. They were a great way for loose, unoccupied territory to get bound up in neat packages for you to scoop up later when whimsy (or extra cash) was in supply. Granted, they’d also poop out the occasional unit to trouble you, but that wasn’t generally much trouble, and some of those cities could get quite large.

      Although, in every iteration of Civ previous, I was happy to let the barbarians hold onto cities that they wouldn’t be allowed to build. For some reason it warmed my heart in Civ I to see a big red barbarian city, with barbarian workers tilling the barbarian fields, waving their barbarian “hello” as I drove tanks past their barbarian gates.

  6. MasterDex says:

    It sounds similiar to the small states in the Total War series. While you’re out battling France and England while consorting with the Russians, you can ally and trade with the smaller states that won’t be pushed about pursuing a war with your nation. Alternatively, you can crush them to near defeat and demand they become protectorates and reap even more rewards.

    This seems like something that could really change the end-game. The chance that pursuing or choosing not to pursue the city states might mean victory or failure certainly adds to the depth of Civ 5.

    • Oak says:

      I hope they’re not like that. Minor states in Total War feel more like target practice than a way for the game to force you to behave.

  7. Nimic says:

    The very idea of City States that aren’t trying to win the game, or as you put it, ‘aren’t aware that they’re playing a videogame with a win condition’, is something that for one reason or another very much appeals to me. I’m not sure how often I’ll actually use them that much (not having played the game yet, obviously), but I expect I’ll have them around in any case.

  8. Petrushka says:

    “To whit (I keep saying “to whit” lately. What’s a decent alternative), …”

    “To wit” would be a slight improvement (see OED, “wit” v.1, II.10: “to wit” = “it is to be observed, noted, or ascertained”). “Whit” means “a jot or tittle”. With that done, I see no need for change — I rather like “to wit”!

  9. Matt says:

    I’ve always thought that if they made a Cold War-era Total War game, it would be less about expanding your territory through invasion and more about building a coalition of the willing and influencing your ‘bloc’ to follow your lead. These city states sound like a novel idea, but it’d be fascinating to see the concept of victory-through-diplomacy brought to its logical conclusion in a strategy game.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      It would be interesting if endgames could devolve into a Cold War style NATO vs Eastern Bloc standoff between the most powerful/influential civs and their allied city states.

  10. Moridin says:

    ‘Thus’ is another alternative I feel fits the bill.

  11. Michael Cook says:

    See, this is why Alec doesn’t talk to us any more, guys.

  12. Dougal McFrugal says:

    To whit – surely you would prefer to woo

    2 gags in one line!

    next time I’ll just go for one funny one

  13. J. Prevost says:

    Question: How dense is the placement of city-states in the world? It seems to me that having a reasonably high number of them will pleasantly complicate any civilization’s desire to expand.

  14. mate says:

    Noooooooooooo!

  15. Coillscath says:

    This reminds me a lot of how Minor Races worked in Birth Of The Federation, like Vulcans, Bolians, etc. You could ally with them and even absorb them into your empire quite peacefully, integrating all of their existing culture and facilities and putting them to use for your own agenda. This doesn’t sound quite as totalitarian, but it’s a great step towards a more complex game.

    Sid Mieier continues to impress the grumpy old man gamer inside me who misses the 90s.

  16. fabamatic says:

    You are literally fighting the sheeple?

  17. bildo says:

    Is ‘literal’ the new ‘bro’ of England? Is this a “must get rid of the ignorant pricks that say it” type thing?

  18. The Dark One says:

    Well, as long as they’re not as annoying as your pals in Grand Theft Auto, I’ll be ok with it.

  19. Antfan says:

    @jambe

    Give us back our letters! And our tea!

    On a serious note, a lot of the differences in UK/US spelling seem to stem from Webster who dropped “superfluous letters” because they didn’t make sense and weren’t pronounced. Which seems a bit silly when there are so many letters in so many words that are no longer pronounced, the older spellings do however give us an insight into the past usage of a word.

  20. itsallcrap says:

    I’d have gone for ‘namely’ as an alternative to ‘to whit.’

    I imagine I’d just tolerate the city states until such time as I’d built up a decent army. If they hadn’t proved their worth to me by that stage I’d just eat them.

  21. Ed says:

    “viz”

    Does the winner get to see their alternate used in the next article? Great series by the way, and Civ5 (CiV?) seems to have some nice thoughtful new features in it.

    • Javaguy says:

      I dare say that Sid Meier settled on the “Civilisation” name when he realised that number-in-text game names would become popular around the time of CIVilisation, CiVilisation and CiVIlisation

      In other news, I’m still looking forward to Civ 5 but city states sound rather like those annoying little quests they had in Civ IV BTS which no-one did. Well, maybe everyone did and that is why I lost all the time…

  22. Sarlix says:

    Hypothetically, what would happen if I said I’d never played a CIV game?

    • Tuan says:

      You would be forced to read infinite arguments on the proper usage of literally and ironic.

    • Sarlix says:

      Oh dear, good job it’s just Hypothetical then!..Honest!

  23. Rob Lang says:

    Falling out of University through Civilisation has been a recurring problem since Civ 1. By doing so, you’ll be following a long tradition.

    • bildo says:

      Thanks to WoW for adding to long history of failing out.

    • BonusWavePilot says:

      I remember feeling a warm and probably undeserved sense of fraternity with Iain M Banks when I read that one of his novels was delayed by too much Civ. I been there, bro.
      (Also, if coming up with ship names a la the Culture novels was somehow a game dynamic, I would spend hours doing it.)

  24. bildo says:

    @ Ozzie

    So then that means you must have an incredible dislike when people use it in that way. Or is it just a annoyance? Hate is a strong word and another word that is being diluted due to constant misuse ;) See, we all do it, all the time.

    • ManaTree says:

      You, sir, need to teach English in real life and not on the Interwebz.

      I’m just sayin’. :P

      See you at the Pagoda!

      Yes, I know this is incredibly weird. GO AWAY.

  25. mtp says:

    In the game, there will be a happiness penalty the more cities you have, so having cities is not always the best. Plus, if you’re going for a diplomatic victory, you would want the votes of cities states for sure. ;)

  26. Isle says:

    I concur with Jambe. Changing the structure altogether is probably the strongest option.

    I don’t think “whit” is an acceptable spelling. Neither WordNet nor Wiktionary nor Google Define: are familiar with “to whit,” while all three bring back helpful results for “to wit.”

    If there is an archaic form of the phrase, it would probably be “that is to witt,” using the old English “witt” meaning to see or know. In that sense, I suppose that the phrase “to wit” is closely related to the parenthetical “read” device often used to clarify a nonspecific reference in writing where inflection or gesture would normally serve, e.g.,

    I took the long way home to avoid certain undesirable persons (read: Johnny Loserface).

    So you could throw one of those in every once in a while to mix things up.

  27. Jeff says:

    Actually the AIs were blissfully unaware of any win conditions in Civ 4. They never actively persue any victory, which is why they usually stumble into space or culture as a byproduct of going about their normal business.

  28. BonusWavePilot says:

    So gifting has replaced giving once and for all?
    Not that I’m claiming any particular etymological superiority for the ‘giving’ alternative, just one of those things that irritates slightly, without actually making a lick of difference.
    Unlike people who use apostrophes for ‘emphasis’… Those guys need to be disembowelled.