Having tried the peace and prosperity route (with limited success), I have gone the other route and tried the domination strategy. This is much more successful. You will never keep up in science or expansion of the AI at the harder levels (Emperor and Deity). The only path I could see was to exploit superior tactical and strategic thinking through use of early military. By capturing the AI cities, I am able to keep up with and exceed the AI in the number of cities. This tends to even out the production bonus.
1. My goal was to take over the first 1 or 2 civs I encountered and exploit the AIs superior production bonus in my favor.
2. To do this, I chose a
1. Militaristic civ – cheaper barracks means veteran units in early days. Increased chance of getting heroes means advantages in building key wonders
2. Expansionist civ – early scouts means I find resources and barbarian huts first. Bonus for booty in huts means I get a leg up on early expansion.
3. Civ with a good early age unique unit (either superior attack or superior speed) – superior early unit means I have a military advantage over neighbors and can take them over fairly quickly, even if they are slightly more advanced
Based on this, I chose the Zulus, who are militaristic and expansionist. The unique unit is the Impi, which has 1/1/2. The 2 in movement gives the ability to get to battle twice as fast and the ability to retreat if losing.
3. Basic start was to make a barracks first and then produce 2 Impi to attack nearest enemy. My scout went out from the start to hunt for barbarians and the nearest civ. I would keep attacking the enemy and making more advanced troops (e.g., archers, horsemen) as I gathered more techs and cities.
4. Rush building using up population solves both production woes AND disorder. Since I do not have temples in my towns, I need troops to quell disorder past 1 pop. (In this particular game I was fortunate to get an early luxury resource.)
5. Science was kept to 10% (get a new tech every 32 turns, but maximize gold). Get techs through 1 of 3 ways:
1. Find in barbarian hut
2. Buy from AI
3. Receive from AI as part of peace treaty
6. Process works like this: attack enemy towns with enough force to capture quickly, sue for peace. Generally I need to capture 2 towns, or 1 major town of a small civ to make them willing to sue for peace. At this point I can generally extract gold, towns, and all available techs from them. If I wipe them out very early, the computer will respawn that AI, with ADDITIONAL techs, and a new settler. I can continue to dominate that one civ until there are no respawning places left.
7. Production in towns is devoted to building new warriors to continue expansion. Culture buildings come after I have dominated the first civ and have explored enough of the area to find next victim.
8. Once I have taken over the nearest civ, I should have as many or more towns than any of the other civs (the AI keeps expanding even while I am conquering them). Now I can switch to production of culture, or I can continue conquest of my continent.
9. I prefer to completely capture an entire continent to prevent long wars with the AI. It is much harder for them to sneak attack and maintain the war across the ocean.
10. Avoid making combat units that are not fully upgradeable. Impi get upgraded all the way to mech infantry. (Romans kinda suck for this since warriors do not get upgraded to Legions and Legions are obsolete. Horsemen can get to Cavalry, but Cavalry gets obsoleted by Tanks. Elite cav are still effective though for winning battles and making GLs.
11. All this combat produces 4-5 great leaders. Use the first GL to make an army. Win a battle with it. Build the Heroic epic – this gives you a better chance of more GLs. Use ALL of the remaining GLs to hurry key wonders. I leave it to the player to decide which wonders are key. My list is Pyramids, Sistine Chapel, Adam Smith’s, Cure for Cancer.
12. Late-game I switch to Democracy and aggressively go after Luxuries. I also try to deny the AI Strategic resources if possible. Cutting off their horses, iron, oil or uranium is a HUGE bonus – depending on the time frame.
I am now in the late ADs with control over about half of the power graph, slightly higher culture than my nearest rival, and am #2 in techs. I dominate in production and military and will soon control all sources of uranium. My late-game strategy is to control the uranium and nuke the AIs back into the stone age. Based on the success here, I think this strategy will also be viable on Deity level.
Note: As the empire grows, corruption becomes a major problem. Past a certain distance from your capitols (palace and FP), NOTHING prevents total corruption (i.e., 1 shield, 1 coin). WLTKD, courthouse, and Democracy still cannot get those 1 shield, 1 coin cities out of the corruption pit. Only use for 1 shield, 1 coin cities is to be used as:
1. Culture producers – temples and libraries are a good start, but you have to hurry production at a huge cost in gold or population to get these.
2. Access to resources – expanded culture boundary gives you access to additional strategic and luxury resources which you do not have to trade fromo the AI.
3. Map control – with culture boundaries expanding, even at zero production, the AI cannot build there.
4. Supply bases and staging – use the towns to heal up troops and the rail network to quickly launch major military operations.
5. Draft military units – you can quickly call up a rather large military force if your 1 shield, 1 coin cities are of sufficient size – this can be used to great effectiveness in launching attacks or defending from AI attacks