Many people have found rushing as a despot to be particularly effective. I’ve seen posts here that mention it and go into a little bit of detail, but haven’t seen a thread on it specifically. I’d like to lay out some of the techniques I’ve found, both from my own experience and from others, and request input from forum members.
Be aware that rush building as a despot may be an overpowered technique, and upset the game balance in your favor. It clearly isn’t an exploit, since it was deliberately put into the game, and purposely scaled the way it is. However, it’s maximizing production from it that makes it overpowered.
The general idea is that food production is not affected by corruption. With a granary in your city, if you have extra food producing squares, you can get to the point where you get a population increase in two turns. If you keep your city small and manage unhappiness well, you can produce anything that takes 40 shields or less in two turns. This includes swordsmen, pikemen, horsemen, cannon, caravels, and longbowmen, as well as special units immortals and mounted warriors. Also, barracks. If you work it very well, you can produce units that take 80 shields or less in 4 turns. This includes Knights, cavalry(!), fighters, riflemen, artillery, and ironclads, as well as temples, libraries, and harbors. In short, what it does is take your corruption plagued cities that normally turn out one shield per turn and turns them into powerhouse production cities that can pump out 20 shields per turn. It’s worth noting that it doesn’t help with wonder production, unless you count giving you more units to try making great leaders out of.
Not all your cities are going to be able to produce this quickly. It depends on the terrain. What you shoot for is 5 food production. You usually get 2 food per turn, just because a size one city lets you work two squares. So you’re looking for special squares that will give you 3 extra food. Irrigating grassland squares doesn’t help under despotism, unless you get special resource squares. Cattle or wheat will give you an extra food each–two if you irrigate. Fish squares will give you an extra if you build a harbor. Each flood plain square will give you an extra food if you irrigate. If you get lucky and get a wheat flood plain square, irrigate it and that one square will give you 3 extra food per turn.
What I have found works best is to produce warriors until your city gets up to the point where you can rush build your granary. This gives you bonus exploration and unhappiness control units. I’ve always had enough warriors scouting that I can pretty much plan city placement while I’m building the settlers. I don’t usually worry about escorting my settlers unless I’ve seen barbarians in that direction or I think there’s a high probability of an encampment in that direction. I can make more settlers if I don’t have to use production protecting them, so I can afford to lose one or two. I plan my city placement around the bonus food squares. Don’t actually settle ON the bonus food square, or you won’t get the full potential of it. Settle next to it, or at least where it will be in the city radius. Settle on hills or tundra, since they then give you 2 food and one shield. Settle jungle and it automatically clears it for you. Leave the grassland for food production.
I have had cities get diseased before. Once, my capital lost a couple of population just as I was about to build my first settler. It was a pain, but only took a few turns to get it back, since I already had my granary. Disease has not been a major problem.
Unless you need to expand the city size to include bonus food squares, or build a harbor to take advantage of fish squares, I find it almost always works best to rush build a granary in every city as quickly as possible.
There are two issues you’ll need to deal with besides the food production–unhappiness and cost. Cost will only become a big problem on smaller maps or when you get a LOT of cities with max corruption. Each city at max corruption gives you one commerce. That will pay for one improvement. Unless you have the pyramids, that would be the granary. Any other improvements will cost extra. With a lot of cities, it doesn’t take long to get to the point where you’re running a deficit income each turn. Of course you’re turning out lots of culture, and tons of veteran units, but be aware that it may be a problem.
Unhappiness can be dealt with in several ways. If you keep the city size small enough, unhappiness will not be a problem, regardless of how many jobs you rush. However, in order to take advantage of 3 irrigated floodplain squares, your city must reach size 3. After a couple of rush jobs, you’ll need some unhappiness control. It’s a general rule to keep two units in each city. The primary purpose of these units is not to defend the city, although they may end up doing that. They are supposed to keep order in the city. As such, don’t bother using anything more expensive than warriors, unless you’re already rushing units. Then you may as well rush the best unit available. I usually end up with horsemen or swordsmen. Jaguars if I’m Aztec, immortals if I’m Persian.
Temples are a good idea if you’re going for culture. Cathedrals and colosseums if you need them. Luxuries are a major priority, being free and all after you have the roads in place. In cities with lots of unhappiness problems, a marketplace with 6 or more luxuries will do wonders, even if the city is corrupted so badly that there is no monetary gain from the marketplace. Just remember that every additional improvement is going to compound the cost problem we already covered.
Ok. Let’s cover how and when to do the rush job. In general, each citizen is good for rushing 20 shields. However, the citizen cost is rounded down, and rushing cost is doubled if the shield box is empty. For example, trying to rush a harbor (cost 80) when the shield box is empty will cost you 8 citizens! If you wait for a turn and your city produces one shield, it will only cost you 3 citizens. Maximizing rush jobs is done by rushing 39 shields at a time. If you have a size three city, you can rush a harbor in 3 turns using only 2 citizens.
1. Have it build the harbor for one turn.
2. Switch to barracks or something else that has a 40 shield cost.
Rush build it. It will cost only one citizen.
Switch back to harbor and let it build for another turn.
3. Rush build the harbor. It will cost only one more citizen.
You can see how to cascade this technique to build cathedrals and colosseums, 40 shields at a time. If your city is producing one population every two turns, you just rush it to the next 40 shield level every two turns. There may be some gaps on your build list. For example if you’re trying to build a stealth bomber (240 shields) you can go longbowmen (are they still available that late in the game?) for 40, Fighter for 80, stealth fighter for 120, but if you’re not in a coastal city, what can you buy for 160 or 200?
Settlers are a special problem, because they take not only one citizen for rushing, but two citizens for populating them. That means if you’re using a city with 3 irrigated flood plain squares, you’ll have to get it up to size 5 without going into civil disorder. Otherwise it will take a couple extra turns to rebuild your population. If you rush it the turn it gets to size 6, it will pop back down to size 3 and be ready for another settler in 6 turns. If you rush it early, at size 4, for example, it will pop down to size 1, at which point it can only use one of the irrigated flood plain squares. It will take 9 turns to get back to size 4, instead of 6. At any rate, for settlers I find it easier to either use cities that aren’t at max corruption, or cities that have the Wheat Flood plain square. A city that has the wheat flood plain square still has to get to size 2 without civil disorder, but that’s not such a problem. If you rush it at size 2, you can just leave it alone for 4 more turns, at which point the settler pops out and it returns to size 1.
Workers can be done without rushing. You can probably get a city close to your capital that can put out 5 shields per turn, and one population every two turns. It can turn out a worker every 2 turns without rushing.
Some cities don’t have access to enough extra food squares to get one population every 2 turns. If you only have two extra food, it will take 3 turns. If you have one extra food, it will take 4 turns. If you don’t have any extra food, it takes 5 turns. The rushing strategies work with them, too, it just takes longer before you can rush. If they are close to the palace, and not at max corruption, you may be able to pump out a cheap unit between rush jobs. For example, suppose you have a city that has one extra food square, and takes 4 turns per pop point, but can give you 3 shields per turn. And warriors are no longer available. Build an archer for 7 turns, then rush a knight for the next 3 turns. You might be able to get the archer in 6 turns, if the extra population you got after 4 turns gives you another shield.
Sometimes it takes a lot of turns to get a new city with a granary, temple, and barracks so you can start pumping out the units. This can be reduced by transferring population with workers. Even settlers if you’re into that sort of thing. I have a hard time not just starting a new city with settlers.
One way to battle the cost problem is to build improvements and then sell them back. It doesn’t make you a lot of money. Selling a harbor, for example, only nets you 20 gold. In a max production city, that’s only 5 gold per turn. Better than nothing, though. Sell the barracks in cities you’re not producing units in. Build them next time you go to war.
That’s about it as far as my experience goes. I have tried this strategy on chieftain level, regent, monarch, and emperor. I have not tried it on tiny maps. Only small and huge. I have not had a lot of experience with the end game–usually because I dominate early. So here are some questions for other people with more experience with this and similar strategies:
How does it work with Communism? I would expect there would be a lot more population increases, but I’m not sure how the level corruption would stack up. With the number of cities I get, I’m not so sure it wouldn’t just make every city a max corruption city. You can garrison more units in the cities for unhappiness control, but small cities only get two free units, so maintenance may be a nightmare.