A Beginner’s Guide to the Specialist Economy (SE)

In just about every thread in which the topic is discussed, someone asks for a strategy guide to creating a Specialist Economy. Wodan gives some general principles here but it is still not a step-by-step guide. I do not consider myself an expert, but in attempting to teach myself to master this important style of play, I took several notes from the various threads on the subject and combined them with my own experience. Adding a bit of polish to make them fit for public consumption, I submit them for comments by the true experts.

Please note that this thread is an attempt to tell the beginner HOW to run a Specialist Economy and therefore assumes that you actually want to try the SE for whatever reason. Maybe you think it is a good strategy, maybe you are bored with your current games and wish to try something new, maybe you think the SE sucks and are just a masochist. I don’t care. Just keep the comments helpful and save tha advocacy for another thread.

The actual guide will be in the second post. Here are some other links that I found helpful in filling in the gaps and getting my thinking in order on the topic:


futurehermit (This is where I got the basic outline for this guide as well as Average Tech Cost and Optimal Number of Science Cities data. He makes an error in his calculations that he notes at the bottom of the first post, which I have corrected in this guide.)



There are lots more, but I can’t remember all of them. A search for threads with “Spcialist Economy” in the title is a good place to start for more info.

Edit: I should mention that I don’t play the Warlords expansion so I have limited information on that. Anyone that can make suggestions on that score or on anything else I’ve left out, please feel free.

Definition of Specialist Economy:

A civilization in which the majority of research is funded by Scientist specialists supported by 1-2 farms or other high food resources. Since this approach tends to generate Great Scientists more quickly than other economies, another source of research is the lightbulb option.


  1. Optimized regrowth of population from slavery/drafting. (Note: this sacrifices research until regrowth is complete.)
  2. Less danger from pillaging since farms are much easier to rebuild than cottages which have matured to towns.
  3. Independence from the :science: Slider increases flexibility to divert commerce directly to gold for upgrades or to Culture/Happiness if the :culture: slider is used.
  4. More effective at higher difficulty levels (Emperor and above).


  1. May require more micromanaging compared to Cottage Economy (CE).
  2. Specialists require supporting food resources or farms. In cases where food resources or fresh water for farms are unavailable this may be a limitation on early city placement. After Civil Service this becomes less of a consideration.
  3. Specialists can only be assigned if certain buildings exist (e.g. Library enables two Scientists).
  4. Caste System eliminates the restrictions for item 3, but conflicts with Slavery as well as other labor civics. This may later become critical if Emancipation is adopted by another civ, since the unhappiness generated by failing to adopt Emancipation can be a serious drain on productivity.

General Tips and Advice

  1. Prioritize food resources and farms in new cities.
  2. New cities only need Granary, Library and possibly Courthouse. Any other buildings are secondary. (This doesn’t apply to Production cities which will be the same as for CE).
  3. You may drop the :science: Slider to 0 when Alphabet has been researched and trade for any techs you do not yet know. This is to maximize cash for other purposes — usually military upgrades or high maintenance costs due to conquests. However, it may be wise to keep the :science: slider up at the maximum that is still generating a positive income for certain critical techs such as Literature and the Paper-Education-Library sequence (if there is no GS available for lightbulbing these).
  4. Alternatively, if dropping the :science: Slider from 100% to 0% results in only a factor of 2 or 3 increase in the number of turns for your current tech, then it is about time to drop it. If it is much more than 3, you probably need to focus on getting more scientists up.
  5. Philosophy, Paper and Education are prerequisites for Liberalism and can be lightbulbed by a Great Scientist. Consider saving a GS or three for these techs.

Pre-Game Considerations:

Leader Characteristics: Philosophical is generally considered to be very important (for the double Great Person Points (GPP) and also for the cheaper University). Industrious is a good second choice at lower difficulty levels, but note that you can’t be both. For a second trait, Spiritual is good for rapid civic shifts, Expansive is good for the health bonus, Creative for cheaper libraries (Warlords expansion), and Aggressive because of the general synergy between SE and warfare (See Benefits section above).

City Order: This guide assumes that the capital city will be used primarily for wealth production to take advantage of the Bureaucracy civic. No other city should generate wealth in a Specialist Economy, unless there is no way to farm it (which will be rare, especially post-Biology). I generally find it useful to make the second city a Production Facility and will not found the Super Science City (which also winds up being a GP Farm) until at least the 3rd city. At higher levels of difficulty, however, it may not be beneficial to build the Academy or settle scientists. This is due to the much faster tech rate of the AI and the need to use every scientist to lightbulb a tech. So the Super Science City may not be the way to go at these levels, but that discussion is more appropriate for Intermediate and Advanced guides.

You will probably want at least one other high-production city by mid-game and others as necessary. Also don’t get into the mindset that all cities need to be research oriented. The SE is a method of acquiring research in those cities dedicated to the task, but Civ IV is a game of balance and tradeoffs. This isn’t limited to the SE, but the lesson to bear in mind is not to sacrifice military preparedness for research.

The following Age-by-Age guidelines are offered as a preliminary base for experimentation. Obviously any of the recommendations made can be rebutted, but I prefer to err on the side of structure vs. flexibility, since too many options can be confusing to a novice. Once people have tried the recommended format, they will be in a position to decide for themselves what works for their style of game play.

I have used the following principles in determining how many Great Scientists should be settled versus used to lightbulb technologies (based on futurehermit’s analysis in this thread): There are no settled GS listed in the Classical era because you are still setting up Libraries and the GP farm. The first spare GS is used for the Academy and each era gets another settled scientist. The exception is the Industrial Age, in which Scientific Method eliminates the two free scientists from the Great Library, so an additional parked scientist is added in that era. The objective is to sustain a rate of science with an average of 5 turns per tech. This requires either the addition of settled scientists or an increased number of cities with 2 or more specialists each.

Note that some people object to settling any scientist or building an Academy, preferring to use Great Scientists solely for lightbulbing techs. The rationale is that, although the former use produces more total research over time, lightbulbing produces the techs earlier which can be more important. I consider this to be more of an intermediate or advanced topic, but I note it here so that the beginner will be aware of the issue. Advocates for the lightbulb theory admit that the SE tends to falter after the late Renaissance or early Industrial eras (about the time Democracy and Scientific Method start eroding some of the SE-friendly benefits). My intention in this guide is to provide a long-term strategy for SE that is sustainable throughout even a long game. But I must also note that these advocates are also much more experienced than I so at least be aware of the controversy. Also, at higher difficulties the lightbulb method may be the only way to stay competitive, but — again — that is an intermediate or advance consideration.

Classical Age

Research Priorities: Masonry, Writing, Alphabet, Literature, (Polytheism, Meditation?)

Build Priorities: Libraries, (Monasteries?)

Optimal Number of Science Cities: 3 (including SSC)

Scientists per city: 2

Super Science City has: Great Library

Wonder Priorities: Great Library, (Pyramid, Parthenon?)

Civic Priorities: Representation

Notes: Pyramids is somewhat optional and many feel that the time spent on building this wonder can be better used to expand your empire. Likewise with the Parthenon. I recommend building these, but you may need to reconsider if stone or marble is not near the capital. The Great Library, however, is very important and is usually achievable but is much more valuable if you have access to Representation (from the Pyramids). I put a question mark by monasteries since they may not be possible to build if you didn’t found a religion. This period should be characterized by expansion more than research.

Medieval Age

Research Priorities: Meditation, Code of Laws, Civil Service

Build Priorities: Libraries, Monasteries

Optimal Number of Science Cities: 6 (including SSC)

Scientists per city: 2+ (Library allows 2, Caste System allows indefinite)

Super Science City has: Great Library, Academy, 1 Settled GS

Wonder Priorities: Academy

Civic Priorities: Representation, Caste System, Bureaucracy

Notes: There is some debate as to whether Caste System is more beneficial than Slavery. I include the former since Slavery is not specific to the Specialist Economy but use your own judgment here. Make sure that you have at least 6 libraries by the end of this period. This figure includes extra cities to prepare for building Oxford in Renaissance which requires 6 universities (which, in turn, cannot be built in a city without a library).

Renaissance Age

Research Priorities: Education, Liberalism, Astronomy, Banking

Build Priorities: University, Observatory

Optimal Number of Science Cities: 4 (including SSC)

Scientists per city: 3+

Super Science City has: Great Library, Academy, 2 Settled GS, Oxford

Wonder Priorities: Oxford

Civic Priorities: Representation, Caste System, Bureaucracy, Mercantilism

Notes: Mercantilism is also controversial and is included here for similar reasons to Caste System noted above. The usual caveats apply. You need 6 Universities to build Oxford which will use the “extra” cities built in the Medieval period. Also, if you don’t have a reliable source of copper for the Statue of Liberty in the next era, this would be a good time to start thinking about capturing one.

Industrial Age

Research Priorities: Democracy, Physics, Biology

Build Priorities: ?

Optimal Number of Science Cities: 6 (including SSC)

Scientists per city: 5+

Super Science City has: Great Library???, Academy, 4 Settled GS, Oxford

Wonder Priorities: Statue of Liberty

Civic Priorities: Representation, Caste System, Bureaucracy, Mercantilism

Notes: Statue of Liberty is huge (unless you are on an Archipelago map) so make sure you get it. This is doubly important since you lose the Great Library about this time due to Scientific Method.

Modern Age

Research Priorities: Computers, (Fiber Optics?)

Build Priorities: Laboratory

Optimal Number of Science Cities: 8 (including SSC)

Scientists per city: 6+

Super Science City has: Academy, 5 Settled GS, Oxford

Wonder Priorities: (Internet?)

Civic Priorities: Representation, Caste System, Bureaucracy, Mercantilism

Notes: This era is a bit less well researched since many SE games have been won by this point. I will update this if anyone has any further suggestions.

Sample Games:

Frederick ALC – Prince

LotR18 No Cottage Challenge – Prince

Louis XIV – Monarch

Isabella No Cottages – Emperor

Saladin No cottages – Immortal


The following threads/posts were invaluable in forming my early versions of this guide.

The discussion thread for this guide can be found here.






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