Guide to Single-City 20k Cultural Victory

This is a guide for how to achieve a single-city 20,000-culture victory in Conquests. It is geared towards high-difficulty play, generally for Emperor through Deity. The purpose of this guide to explain not just how to get a cultural victory, but how to accumulate enough culture reasonably quickly that you can claim a victory without seeing your opponents threaten a space or even histogram victory. This is all about single-player play against AI opponents; nobody in their right mind tries to reach 20,000 culture in multiplayer. 🙂
This assumes a fairly typical game situation, and is not meant to be a guide to offbeat plans like militarily stomping all the AIs so your city can clean up on all the wonders.

Understanding this guide requires knowing what a “prebuild” is in terms of Civ 3. A prebuild is when you have a city start production on an expensive item that you have no intention of building to completion, such as the Pyramids or a new Palace. You set production to this item solely to hold and accumulate shields in the city’s production box until you can acquire the technology needed for whatever you actually want to build, such as the Great Library.


Here is my assessment of the relative usefulness of civilization traits for a 20,000 culture victory.

1. Religious. The best trait, completely undoubtedly. Shorter anarchy directly translates into an earlier victory date, both of the cheaper religious buildings leave more shields for wonders, and you start with the tech for a temple. Finally, you can often time a Golden Age very well with the Sistine Chapel or Bach’s Cathedral.

2. Scientific. The free technologies can go a long way towards retaining economic parity on higher difficulties. Cheaper buildings are helpful, as is starting with Bronze Working for the Colossus, and a scientific Great Leader is a great boon. And the Great Library can score a decently timed Golden Age.

3. Industrious. It’ll depend on the terrain, but it’s a solid all-around trait, and you start with Masonry for early wonder availability. There aren’t many Industrious wonders, though.

4. Agricultural. Early bonus food does help the city to grow faster, although this isn’t extremely significant as you’ll probably pick a site with food bonuses for the cultural city. Agricultural wonders for a Golden Age are also very few, though almost all the Agricultural civs have early unique units.

5. Expansionist. This depends on luck, but it’s a big payoff to grab a free settler early so that your 20k city doesn’t need to put out one. It’ll also let you scout terrain quickly if you think you might plan on using a non-capital city for the culture. You’ll need either the Colossus or Copernicus’ Observatory for a wonder Golden Age.

6. Militaristic. This was very useful in Civ3/PTW for the enhanced Leader generation abilities, but it’s mostly useless for a 20k win in Conquests, since military great leaders can no longer rush great wonders. All the Militaristic wonders are lousy for culture except the Statue of Zeus.

7. Commercial. Useless except for the fact that you start with Alphabet tech towards the Great Library. You can get half a Golden Age from the Colossus, which is nice, although it isn’t so great if it fulfills both your traits by itself.

8. Seafaring. See Commercial. Better on an archipelago map of course.

Unique Units generally don’t matter much towards a 20k victory. You shouldn’t be pursuing military conquest. The only way a UU really matters is triggering a Golden Age if your wonders don’t work out for it, and for that a late-ancient or early-medieval UU is best.

Best overall civs: Babylon, Egypt, Celts, Persia, Sumeria
Worst civs: Hittites, England, Portugal (these three have instant Colossus Golden Ages and two have late UUs), America (if you miss the Pyramids and Hanging Gardens, you won’t get a Golden Age), Scandinavia, Zulu, Mongols

[b][u]FIRST THINGS FIRST[/u][/b]

Unless your starting terrain is absolutely excellent for a 20k city, you’ll want to build at least a couple exploring warriors or scouts to see what terrain is available. A good 20k city site will have as many of these features as possible, roughly in order of importance:

* At least one strong (cattle or wheat on grass or flood-plains) food bonus, or multiple weak bonuses
* Fresh water access
* A supply of bonus grassland tiles and forests for ancient-era shield production
* Coastal access for coastal wonders
* A few hills or mountains for middle-ages shield production

If your capital site doesn’t have a good combination of these, and restarting is off the table as in a tournament game, you’ll likely want to look elsewhere for a good city site. Of course, if your capital has a coastal river with four cattle tiles, go for culture right there.

[u]In the Capital:[/u]

* You know very early what terrain the city has to work with
* The Palace provides free culture
* Faster to get a wonder started
* No corruption

* Slow civilization expansion in the early game as your capital cannot be a settler farm
* Cannot use the Palace as a prebuild to start wonders early or carry over between them

[u]In Another City:[/u]
* Can always use the Palace to prebuild or carry over between wonders
* Faster civilization expansion as the capital can build a granary and farm settlers
* Can build the Forbidden Palace, which provides more culture than the Palace in the long run
* May find location with more terrain potential than the Palace

* Slower start
* Must first explore to find good terrain to build city
* Will have a small amount of corruption

Both these plans carry significant advantages and disadvantages. On high difficulty, I usually prefer to use a city other than the capital. Having the Palace available to prebuild wonders is very important against steep AI cost discounts, and maintaing good speed on early settler expansion is also desirable.

[b][u]OPENING MOVES[/u][/b]

I almost always start with at least two warriors or scouts to start exploring. After that, I usually follow these build orders. For a game plan in the capital:

* Temple (research Ceremonial Burial right away if you’re not religious)
* Settler
* At least two warriors for MP, plus an archer or spearman if barbarian activity is high
* Wonder

The second city should build:
* Granary (research Pottery if necessary; use a settler or barracks to prebuild it)
* Military as needed to defend against barbs
* At least two more workers, one each for this city and the capital
* Settlers

For a game plan outside the capital, the capital should build:

* At least one escort for the settler if barbs are Sedentary or higher
* A settler to go found the 20k city
* Another warrior or two as needed for MP and barbarian defense
* Granary
* Units to provide two MP in the 20k city
* Workers so that the 20k city has at least two (often the starting worker will improve 3-4 tiles at the capital and then migrate to the 20k city)
* Settlers

The second (20k) city should build:
* Temple
* Wonder

The capital must be dedicated to supplying the 20k city with military support and workers, before you start farming settlers. All these build orders are subject to changes and adjustments, but that’s the general outline of what I’ve found to be the best moves. I have found in general that a granary is NOT necessary in the 20k city, as long it has a food bonus or two. Better to put the 60 shields towards a wonder instead.

Of course, you want to follow standard micromanagement principles in the early game, adjusting food and shields to complete growth exactly, micromanaging the luxury tax to keep all your citizens working, and so on. You also want to manage your research choices to make sure you always have a wonder available when your city is ready to start building one. Masonry provides the Pyramids and Palace prebuild, so Industrious civs have an ideal position here, and scientific civs may have the Colossus available. Other civs need to make sure to get Masonry or Mysticism quickly. Then direct research as needed towards Mathematics and Literature for those wonders, and go for Philosophy too if you have a good chance at getting that first.

A key element of a 20k game is to keep the global research pace as [i]slow[/i] as you can. The slower techs come in, the more time your city has to build each of the wonders. Especially on Emperor or lower difficulty, don’t be in a rush to trade techs to groups of civs that don’t have contact with each other. Don’t be in a hurry to research by yourself, either. And nothing slows global research like getting some civs at war with each other.

[b][u]OPENING WONDERS[/u][/b]

There are three key ancient wonders for a 20k cultural victory. These are the Colossus, Statue of Zeus, and the Great Library. Not only do all of these provide excellent culture per shield invested, they also all have very helpful effects for a 20k victory game. Colossus commerce is nice – one hidden benefit of this wonder is that it goes a long way towards keeping the city happy via luxury tax. The Statue of Zeus gives you instant superiority over any remaining barbarian activity, and can provide all the military your entire empire needs for quite some time. Finally, we all know the Great Library gives you economic supremacy until the middle of the Middle Ages, letting you use your cash to rush buildings instead.

Which of these wonders and in what order you can get them is a skill learned with practice. On Monarch, getting all three should be quite possible if you can meet the eligibility requirements (coast and ivory) for the Colossus and Statue. On Emperor, you can get all three (a capital city has a better chance), although you’ll need a bit of help with the eligibility requirements keeping strong AI cities away from the early wonders.

If you can’t meet the eligibility requirements for the Colossus or Statue, the other options are the Oracle or Pyramids. I’ve played quite a number of 20k games, and I find that the lower shield cost of the Oracle – getting another wonder started sooner – is more important than the effect of the Pyramids. Of course, the Pyramids aren’t a bad prize if someone does beat you to the Oracle or you don’t get Mysticism early. And if your civ is Industrious or Agricultural with a late UU, you should definitely seriously consider the Pyramids, as getting them may be your only way to a Golden Age.

On Demigod, plan on no more than one of the early wonders before the Library, and on Deity, grab any wonder at all that you can get. On Demigod or Deity, if you’re not using your capital for the 20k attempt, the best plan is very often just to start a Palace prebuild ASAP and go directly for the Great Library.

If you get lucky enough for a scientific Great Leader, save it until your city finishes another project, then use it for the best wonder available. Generally the Pyramids, Great Library, or Temple of Artemis. Do NOT waste shields – if your city has 100 shields accumulated already, don’t “finish” the wonder with the Leader. Rather, build a cheap wonder yourself, then rush another. The Leader will wait patiently.

Keeping track of strong AI cities building wonders is also important, so you know when you won’t have a chance at a particular wonder. I’ve gone so far as to write down the city and date anytime a rival starts a wonder. Establishing embassies gives you a peek at the capital, of course, and also lets you sign a Right of Passage to send exploring units to find their wonder-building cities so you have an idea of their power.

It depends on your city’s terrain, but if your civ happens to get an early Golden Age from the Colossus or Statue or combination, it often isn’t completely wasted in despotism. Much of the commerce boost will likely be lost, but if your city is up to a decent size working some 1-shield plains or mined grassland, or 3-shield mined hills, the GA will give a decent boost towards another wonder.

[b][u]MANAGING YOUR CITY[/u][/b]

Rule One of managing a city trying for a 20k victory is to always keep it happy and all the citizens working. Go up to 50% or 60% or 80% luxury tax if you need to.

To build a powerful city early is to manage its growth. Dedicate at least two workers to improving this city’s land; preferably three, or even more if it has a lot of hills to improve. First, get the city to the maximum food surplus that it can manage in Despotism – irrigate all food bonus tiles (including flood plains). Then, irrigate plains and clear jungle as necessary to make sure the city has a supply of tiles that produce two food so that its growth is not slowed. KEEP THE CITY GROWING – don’t work forests when you could be working grassland or irrigated plains. Only when the city has enough food and will for some time do you start mining. Mine plains first (faster and the bonus is not lost to despotism), then hills and mountains.

Once your city reaches size 12, it must stay there and work maximum shields. You may want to merge in workers for the last 2-4 city growth increments, especially if the city can’t make more than +4 surplus food. A worker farm nearby can help greatly.

DON’T clear forests on grassland tiles unless the city is really hurting for food. These are irreplaceable before Engineering, and are a prime source of shields once the city reaches size 12 and can shift to working sustenance food.

[b][u]THE LATE ANCIENT AGE[/u][/b]

If you get the Great Library, you’re well on your way to a 20k victory. If not, your task is somewhat tougher. Either way, get into Republic; let the GL bring it in if you can, or somehow trade, scheme, steal, or research your way to the technology. Do not waste time flipping around between different governments. Anarchy is the direct enemy of both building wonders and accumulating culture. Even with a religious civ, you really don’t want to do anything besides go to Republic and stay there.

Anyway, now is the time to think about any remaining wonders, after you build or cash-rush a regular library of course. The next best ancient wonder after the ones that have been mentioned is the Hanging Gardens, although in Conquests this can be VERY hard to get thanks to cascade from the Temple of Artemis. If Artemis is finished before Monarchy is researched, definitely start prebuilding for the HG however you can. The Mausoleum of Mausollos and the Great Wall are decent consolation/interim prizes (you can go for the Mausoleum even before the Great Library sometimes), although they usually tend to fall in cascades that come all the way from the Pyramids through the Oracle and Artemis.

Don’t try to build Artemis yourself (except via scientific leader) – 500 shields for only 4 culture is not a great deal. And don’t even think about the Great Lighthouse unless you’ve got absolutely nothing else to build. Building these in other cities is an option, though if you’re going for the Hanging Gardens, you don’t want to create cascade to it from Artemis.

As soon as you’re in a better government is also the best time to get a Golden Age. If you haven’t gotten it already, keep your civ traits and wonder plans in mind. If that won’t work out – common for agricultural, industrious, or militaristic civs – you might have to plan for a war to trigger it with your UU.

And of course, build a Forbidden Palace somewhere when you can. If your 20k city is not your capital, build the FP there if the geography makes it any sort of a reasonable option.

[b][u]THE MIDDLE AGES[/u][/b]

Once all the ancient wonders are completed or you can see your city has no chance at them, it’s time to think about medieval wonders of course. The rule from now on is to always, *always* have your city building or prebuilding a wonder.

Cash-rush the colosseum, cathedral, and university when you can. Cash rushing is very important to a 20k victory – without wonders from Great Leaders, that is the only way to generate extra shields for the city beyond what it can pull from terrain. Spending cash on a colosseum is fine, but don’t have the city put 120 “real” shields into a colosseum that could go towards a wonder instead. Rush a courthouse too if the city is not your capital. Don’t waste effort constructing or rushing other buildings (marketplace, harbor, barracks) unless immediately and urgently necessary. You want culture, culture, and nothing but culture.

Knowing how to efficiently rush such buildings in a single turn is important. Every extra turn spent on a mundane building is 20-30 shields lost towards building a wonder. An example is probably the best way to illustrate this. Suppose your city just finished a wonder, is producing 20 shields per turn, and now you want to rush the colosseum. First, disband an obsolete military unit or rush a 10-shield worker for 80 gold to get some shields in the box to avoid the double-cost penalty. Then, change production to the marketplace and rush the 100 shields. Finally, change to the colosseum, and let the city finish building the last 20 shields on its own to save 80 gold as compared to simply rushing the colosseum outright. If you do not have an item of the correct size to short-rush the building (this often happens with a 200-shield university), either actually rush the building to completion, or rush the best item you can (like a 160-shield bank), change production to the bigger item, and disband military until the city can finish the rest of the remaining shields in one turn.

This age is where using a non-capital city for the 20k starts to pay off thanks to having a Palace prebuild always available. If you’re using the capital for the 20k, you’ll have to be more creative. You’ll always have a courthouse available that can hold 80 shields of prebuilding, and usually either a marketplace or bank for 100 or 160, but that’s about all you’ll have.

However big your prebuild is (even a Palace prebuild might not be bigger than 300 shields), you’ll need to make sure to manage your economy to research or purchase a wonder technology when it runs out. This is a critical skill required to manage a 20k city in the middle ages, and it comes with experience.

If your city is still producing surplus food even when you’ve mined everything you can, plant forests on grassland tiles.

Anytime through the middle ages, you may want to consider starting wars. This is especially true if you haven’t gotten a wonder Golden Age yet, don’t expect to for a while (there are no medieval agricultural or industrious wonders, and the militaristic ones stink for culture), and can trigger it with your unique unit. Good goals include simply acquiring more land, knocking out an enemy wonder-building capital, and capturing other ancient wonders. And getting the world into war always slows the general pace of technology.

[b][u]MEDIEVAL WONDERS[/u][/b]

By far the most common medieval wonder you’ll build first will be the Sistine Chapel. Get Feudalism as soon as you can to use Sun Tzu’s Art of War to prebuild. Even if you have the Great Library, you may well have to research or (if held by only one civ) steal technologies to make the timing work out for these wonders. You must recognize these situations and do whatever you need to keep your city building a high-culture wonder. Your 20k city should virtually never build the low-culture medieval wonders of Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Leonardo’s Workshop.

After the Sistine Chapel, there’s no one path that always works in the middle ages. Most often, the next wonder prebuild will turn into either Copernicus’ Observatory or J.S. Bach’s Cathedral. I usually try to claim Copernicus if I can, as the 400-shield wonder can easily be lost to cascade from the 600-shield militaristic wonders. You can get both, but if you do, Copernicus has to come first. If the cascade from Sun Tzu’s and Leo’s stops before anyone researches Music Theory, you can ignore Bach’s for now and wait until someone gets the tech.

On Emperor or below difficulty, it can be useful to build Leonardo’s in a city other than your 20k city, to stop the AI wonder cascade. Ideally, you’ll start doing this right around the beginning of the middle ages, and complete it before Music Theory or Astronomy is researched. However, you must NOT build Leo’s yourself if doing so will create cascade to the higher culture wonders. Again, this varies much game to game and you’ll have to learn the signs and strategies. (On Monarch, you can probably build Sun Tzu’s yourself too and keep ironclad control of the cascade permanently. Managing multiple wonder prebuilds can become very complicated, though.)

Once Copernicus is resolved and either Bach’s is resolved or the cascade ends, it’s time for you to get up to Free Artistry and prebuild for Shakespeare’s Theatre. Before Conquests, this wonder could be ignored until the AIs got the tech, but with the new hospital effect, you want it right away as it increases your city’s shield potential dramatically (assuming it isn’t half full of water.) On Deity and maybe Demigod, you may want to conserve your economy to do tech brokerage deals instead and wait for the AIs to get Free Artistry, but on lower difficulties you want to research it and build the Shake right away. Once you build it, merge in workers to take it to size 20 (you can let it grow from 12 to 13 by itself if the food box is already full.) Have more workers standing by to optimize its terrain as needed. Get the city to 1 or 2 surplus food at size 20 (to allow for loss to pollution) and the rest for shields.

The late middle-ages cascade can go in many different directions depending on the shape of the earlier wonder cascade and when Music Theory, Economics and Navigation come into play. Get Newton’s University if at all possible; Magellan’s Expedition is okay too; Smith’s Trading Company if you can’t get anything else. You can also consider building Smith’s in another city for its effects and to stop the cascade. It may take a few games, but eventually you’ll learn how to manage the cascade; when technologies will appear and what cities will cascade to which wonders.

If you get any military Great Leaders, definitely make an army and have your 20k city build the Heroic Epic when it gets a break between great wonders. If you get spare Great Leaders beyond the first, rush the Heroic Epic if you haven’t built it yet, or Military Academy once that’s available, or keep making more armies. Once you get three armies, you can rush the Pentagon, or keep it available for the capital to use as a 400-shield prebuild item. Once you complete the Military Academy, the city will always have a 400-shield Army to use as a prebuild as well.

If you get any scientific Great Leaders, let the city finish what it’s currently doing and then rush the best available culture wonder, of course. It’s acceptable to rush Sun Tzu’s or Leonardo’s if no other wonders are available, especially if doing so will break the AI wonder cascade.


Once all the medieval wonders are gone, the cultural destiny of your city is pretty much set. If you’ve kept pace economically, you should be able to collect all the remaining great wonders with good prebuilding.

As soon as the cultural city finishes with its last medieval wonder, I’ve found that the best thing to do is use whatever prebuild is available to start on a factory. Research to Industrialization at your best rate, change the prebuild to the factory, rush it if necessary, then rush a coal plant. Rush the coal plant next turn, then start on Universal Suffrage. Suffrage can come before the factory if you end up with enough time to prebuild 400+ shields, or if Economics comes late enough to carry cascade over from Smith’s (but then you should build Smith’s yourself.) If you missed Shakespeare’s, sidetrack to Sanitation now and rush a hospital. Prebuild and research to Theory of Evolution, grab Atomic Theory and Electronics, then build the Hoover Dam (if you have a river.) Build stock exchanges and Wall Street when you get a chance, and fill in the rest of the small wonders as they become available. When no more culture is available is the time to start building the normal buildings like a marketplace and commercial dock.

You will also start getting a visible economic benefit from wonder tourism around this time. It’s possible to build both the Colossus and Statue of Zeus by around 1000 BC, which by 1500 AD will have each wonder providing an extra 14 commerce per turn – totalling well more than the Colossus’ basic effect!. This income is multiplied by any applicable buildings (including Copernicus and Newton) as well, providing a nice economic boost. With the science wonders, it’s not uncommon to have the 20k city churning out as much research as four or five normal cities.

Keep plenty of workers around to clean up your city’s pollution. Sell the coal plant once you build Hoover somewhere. Save any scientific Great Leaders for a 1000-shield modern wonder.

If you have a healthy economic lead and your 20k city isn’t your capital, you can consider building an actual new Palace in the city (even if it already contains the Forbidden Palace) for the small cultural boost and elimination of corruption.

For the Modern Age, research Computers, Fission, Nuclear Power, Miniaturization, and Genetics in some order approximating that, and build SETI, the UN, the Internet, Cure for Cancer, and Longevity. This is easy stuff and really doesn’t affect the cultural victory much. Cash-rush an Offshore Platform if applicable, and a Nuclear Plant. If you still haven’t won yet, you can go for the Manhattan Project and Apollo Program.

Getting 3 or 4 ancient wonders and the five high-culture medieval wonders (Sistine, Bach, Copernicus, Shakespeare, Newton) should lead to a victory date in the middle 1800s, which should be before the AIs get too close to a space victory. 1820 is a very good date, 1750 is excellent, and 1700 is about the best achievable without military-GL wonder rushing or extreme luck on scientific leaders.

Click End Turn a bunch of times – try not to let the AIs get too close to nukes – and enjoy your victory. 🙂

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