I’ve tried to compile a comprehensive guide to variants that I’ve seen in stories and tales, succession games, the main forum, or other places. If you’ve ever wondered how some of these games are played, a starting point can be found here.
- Always War (AW)
- Fast Moving
- Five City Challenge (5CC)
- Non-Oscillating War (NOW)
- No Military
- One City Challenge (OCC)
- Oscillating War (OW)
Always War (AW): When you meet an opponent (as soon as they appear on the F2/F4/Shift-D diplomacy screen, you’ve met them), you must declare war on them – THAT turn. You can make initial deals for hard goods only (no gpt deals, no alliances, no resource/luxury trades). Opening the diplomacy window to spy techs, cities, resources, etc. is allowed. Signing peace for even a single turn is prohibited.
Comments: Adds about 1.5-2 difficulty levels. Games usually take significantly longer. Once you’re past the “Can I hold my front?” stage and making progress forward, it’s usually won. Approximately doubles the time required to play. Sample Game
Restricted Always War (RAW): Add to AW rules, no initial trading and/or must declare war during the first visit to the diplomacy window with a particular foe instead at end of turn.
Comments: These are just flavoring and change the dynamics of AW very little. They’re really minor.
Defiant: You must never give in to a demand from an opponent, that is, you always reject demands for tribute. You may never ally, sign a Right of Passage, MPP, or embargo with another civilization. You may never pay for peace (a peace treaty must either be straight-up or the opponent gives a concession to you. A deal where a tech costs 20 gpt normally and you pay 10 gpt for that tech as part of a peace treaty is fine). Any troops on your soil must be given a boot order every turn. No capturing foreign cities or demanding them in diplomacy. No foreign workers merged into existing cities. If an AI razes one of your cities, that civ must be eliminated.
Comments: Makes very little difference on the easier levels but gets crazier on the high difficulty levels. Probably 2/3 of a difficulty level or so. Usually adds to game length, especially >Emperor. Sample Game
Fast Moving: Military units with movement one may never exit your cultural borders. Settlers and workers are not military units and so are allowed outside your cultural borders.
Comments: Makes conquest a bit harder, especially in the cavalry age. Requires a start with horses attainable. Any barbarians at all would be lunacy. Probably 1/2 a difficulty level. Sample Game
Five City Challenge (5CC): You may never have more than five cities. If at any point you have more than five cities, you break this variant.
Comments: This one isn’t as hard as it sounds. Diplomacy is critical, as luxuries and resources are cheap and staying in minimal war generally important. Hardest part is determining the location of the 5 cities, often. Plays 1/4 difficulty level harder. Plays slightly faster than normal, usually. Sample Game
Five City Conquest Challenge (5CCC): A 5CC wherein the only accepted winning condition is conquest.
Comments: Added difficulty is fairly high here. A late-game charge is the way to win. 3/4 of a difficulty level. Sample Game
Relaxed Five City Challenge: A 5CC wherein the requirements are relaxed to never end a turn with more than 5 cities. Additional cities can be acquired/built during the main turn but all the extras must be disbanded before the end of the turn. This allows building additional armies and accepting cities as peace tributes.
Infantry: No fast units (units with movement > 1) may ever be built, except scouts. That means no chariots, horsemen, knights, cavalry, mechanized infantry, or UUs based on those units. “Special” UUs affected are jaguar warrior, impi, and Gaelic warrior.
Comments: Adds a lot of time to the game. Artillery becomes incredibly important. Can help hone a lot of strategies. 1/3 difficulty level. Sample Game
Non-Oscillating War (NOW): The first civ met must have war declared on them during initial diplomacy. Each later civ met gets added, in order, to a list. When the first AI civ on the list is eliminated, war must be declared on the second. As each is eliminated, the next must be declared on before the end of the turn. Other wars are allowed, and alliances are encouraged. Sandbagging or not finishing off a defeated foe simply to not go to war with the next one on the list is illegal. When two or more civs are met simultaneously (via contact sale, perhaps), it is player’s choice which order to declare on them.
Comments: The ability to make alliances is a huge difference from AW. Time commitment is significant, as every turn is a war turn. 1/3 a difficulty level, probably. Sample Game
No Military: You may not build military units ever. Settlers, workers, and buildings are allowed. Not for the faint of heart.
Comments: Appears to depend a fair bit on luck. I would expect it to run faster than average but I don’t really know. Sample Game
One City Challenge (OCC): You may never have more than one city. Acquiring a second city by any means for any length of time is a disqualification.
Comments: Plays pretty fast, in general, with so few units and so little city management to do. Diplomacy is usually critical. Plays 1/3-2/3 difficulty level harder. Sample Game
One City Conquest Challenge (OCCC): An OCC wherein the only accepted winning condition is conquest.
Comments: You either win fairly early or you don’t win. The clock is always ticking.
Relaxed One City Challenge: An OCC wherein the requirements are relaxed to never end a turn with more than one city. Additional cities can be acquired/built during the main turn but all the extras must be disbanded before the end of the turn. This allows building armies and accepting cities as peace tributes.
Oscillating War (OW): You must always be at war with a neighboring civilization. Psuedowars (where neither side can really reach the other) do not count. When peace is signed with the current foe, war must be immediately declared on another enemy.
Comments: Seems to be an almost optimal strategy for a human to carry out. Plays almost easier than a regular game, if possibly a bit more time-consuming. Sample Game
Passive: You may never attack a city. If you lose one of your cities, it’s gone. Accepting culture flips, using propaganda, and attacking units in the open are all allowed.
Comments: Plays reasonably easily unless you’re trying for domination. Great way to enforce SOME builder’s tactics while still letting warmongers shed some blood. Alone, it’s not too much of a variant, but it shines in combination with other goals. Sample Game
Relaxed Passive: You may bombard cities with artillery units (catapult, trebuchet, cannon, artillery, radar artillery, fighter, bomber, stealth fighter/bomber, ships). You still may not capture a city militarily.
Tactless: You may never initiate diplomacy. If the AI initiates diplomacy, you must either reject or accept their offer. No haggling.
Comments: Not checking diplomacy definitely makes the game go faster. Doing all your own research and never getting to trade on your terms is actually a significant challenge. I’d estimate a full difficulty level challenge with this variant. Sample Game
Combinations of variants are also lots of fun. It’s sometimes hard to predict how certain variants will play out together. Certain variants almost completely subsume other variants (AW, for example, almost completely comprises NOW, oscillating war, and defiant). Essentially adding tactless to AW is pretty common and works well. You can combine lots into one variant. Other combinations seem to be suicidal (AW and no military, for example).
Variants can force you to consider new ways of playing the game and help bridge the gap between difficulty levels (e.g. a player who consistently beats monarch but really struggles at emperor can try a variant for an in-between experience and eventually move up or stay in that monarch variant range). Variants work well with any difficulty level and are a way of adding spice to your game that’s different from full-fledged mods. Try one out today!