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States Of The Nation: More Civ V Thoughts

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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Sid Meier's Civilization V

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Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.