An Advanced Guide to the Specialist Economy for Emperor and Above

An advanced guide to the Specialist Economy for Emperor and above

I first heard about the “Specialist Economy” (SE) in the war academy, and read guide to get a flavour of how it worked. It was a great introduction, but since then I have played quite a few games using this strategy and thought there was need of a more detailed guide. This guide was developed on Vanilla, but I have since switched to BtS. Most of the information is still applicable, and anyone who has played both could easily adapt their favourite BtS strategy to this guide. I have included some updates for BtS.

I usually play on Emperor, everything random (map size, type, and especially leader). That way, I am forced to adapt rather than come into the game with a predetermined strategy. That being said, whenever I get a philosophical leader and start near some food or floodplains, I usually try for the SE. I have won regularly on Emperor both single and multiplayer with this strategy, and on Immortal with Saladin (in Vanilla Civ4). This guide assumes basic knowledge of the SE and at least one trial game. The strategy is geared more towards single player than multiplayer, but will work on a peaceful or isolated multiplayer game as well, and a war game on a large map with few players. It is not good for small map multiplayer games.

I also read succession game thread, which single-handedly caused me to move up a level immediately.


• Your economy cannot be pillaged as easily as a CE. While a nuisance in single player games, this becomes especially important in multiplayer as a human with a lower power graph rating can still declare war and pillage your super-capital, while an AI may not take that risk.

• Gets off to a faster start than a cottage economy. Regardless of your chosen victory condition, you have to play the early game like a domination win in order to have enough cities/religions for a cultural win, enough land for a tech lead -> space race win, and enough population for a diplomatic win. The CE takes too long to develop, and on the higher difficulties the AI tech-whores will be ahead of you by the time your cottages develop. In multiplayer games all-out war tends to prevail early on, so there is rarely time to build many workers and improvements.

• Less dependence on Workers. Since you won’t be working many tiles, you don’t need to improve many tiles other than the food sources. This means you don’t need to waste hammers and food on workers early game, and you are less susceptible to worker stealing (a problem more particular to multiplayer).

• Gain an early tech lead/Increased flexibility in choosing a tech path. You will be making great scientists all game, so you will have the opportunity to lightbulb a few techs in the early part of the tree. These have immense trading value, both for other techs and for instigating war between two AIs.

• Less emphasis on the capital. The CE places a huge emphasis on the capital, opening itself up to pillaging and capture. You should not lose your capital in any game, but you cannot stop a determined enemy from pillaging. The SE is less susceptible to pillaging.

• Minimal number of buildings to build. Cities will be very specialized, so there is no need to build markets and grocers everywhere, etc.

• You know exactly what specialists you will receive from each city. Because the cities are all making just one type of specialist, you can plan much better. With a single GP farm, you never know what you will get, so you can’t depend on a certain GP.


• Late game, this economy cannot compete with the cottage-spammed, bureaucracy-running, Oxford-holding capital city of a financial leader. Of course, you could just capture, raze, or pillage that city …

• You will be running at negative gold for the entire game. This is not a problem if you are capturing and pillaging regularly. You can also sell techs to lower ranked civs if necessary.

• The SE is a poor choice for the space race or time victory.

• Cultural victory probably won’t work above emperor, as the cottage-spamming technique listed is probably faster.


The basic idea behind a SE is that the vast majority of your empire’s output comes from specialists and Great People (GP), and not from citizens working tiles or commerce. This includes:
• Science Beakers
• Gold
And to a lesser extent
o Production
o Culture

The other major paradigm is the Cottage Economy (CE), where the bulk of the quantities listed above come from towns via commerce and its multipliers. This is not to say that you can’t have cottages in a SE, but you won’t have nearly as many.

No one particular strategy works every game, as starting conditions, resources, neighbours and AI behaviour will dictate your path for you. The basic strategy of the advanced SE is as follows: You will have three GP producing cities, one of which is your capital. Depending on your leader (Saladin changes things) and your starting situation, the capital can take on one of the other roles. In general:

1. Great Scientist (GS) city: Your capital will hire only scientists and build only scientist wonders (Great Lib) and (Oxford). You will settle all of your third and future GSs here, and build an academy with your second GS. A library is essential as soon as possible, and university, observatory, and laboratory should be built quickly as well.

2. Great Engineer (GE) city: Your second city will hire only engineers (probably just one) and build only engineer wonders (Pyramids, Hanging Gardens or Hagia, Pentagon) and (Ironworks, West Point). I wouldn’t settle any GEs, just use them to rush the wonders listed below. Build a forge and a factory when possible.

3. Great Prophet (GP) gold city: Unless you founded a religion (Saladin), you must capture a holy city with an early religion to fund your economy. The later religions won’t have spread enough on high difficulty to work. This city will provide most of your gold, and will hire only priests and build only prophet wonders (Angkor Wat, Spiral Minaret) and (Wall Street). You will settle all priests here. It is worth spreading other religions here to build additional temples, both for the priests and for the happiness. After building Wall Street and settling about 8 super-priests, I have produced 334 gpt in this city. That will pay for just about anything!

In choosing locations for these cities, food sources are absolutely critical. You can have one specialist for every two farmed grasslands, but two specialists for every fish or corn resource! Floodplains are better than grasslands, and will provide some commerce too. The best location I can remember had four (4)! Fish/Clam resources and a rice paddy. Working those 5 tiles and the centre tile can support 10 specialists.

4. Unit production City: This city should have lots of hills in the fat cross, and you will build the Heroic Epic here. Don’t bother with any additional National Wonders like West Point, Ironworks, etc. Yes, they give a nice benefit to the HE, but in that time that you were building them, you could have built troops at double the speed! This city should build troops until the end of time, so that your other cities can lay down the wonders and infrastructure to pay for these troops.

5. Additional Cities: There’s really no need to build more than 4 cities. You may not even get that far on a standard/small map at high level. You will start conquering cities though, and you’ll have to adapt them as they were found. Most of my conquered cities would produce troops and missionaries, but keep in mind you will need 6 universities, banks, theatres, and courthouses to unlock certain national wonders. I would use cities 1-3 and 5-7 for these, although in a pinch you could use 4 if you don’t have a 7th. This way, you only really have to defend 6-7 cities well, and a few others superficially.

The ideal expansion method is an outward spiral fashion. This is good for three reasons:

1. Distance-based upkeep is lower
2. You can keep all of your passive defenders (longbowmen, muskets) with city garrison in your outer ring, and all of your active defenders (catapults, knights) in your inner cities. This will minimize maintenance and maximize mobility of your forces. With engineering and a decent cultural border, you should be able to respond to any threats in time.
3. Your main cities will be nowhere near your borders, and thus difficult to pillage or capture.

You may not achieve this expansion because of political or geographical reasons.

On Immortal or in multiplayer, you will probably have to switch cities #2 and #1 in order to get the pyramids. This may involve moving the palace to #2 later on.

With Saladin, you have the option of making the capital your GP city as you will have founded Hinduism there. In that case, you don’t have to capture a holy city, but you’ll have to build the pyramids faster.

The decision to build the National Epic in the GS city or the GP city is left to individual tastes. It will dilute your GP pool slightly, although probably not enough to make a Great Artist (GA) appear. Both will be high producers of GP points. Here is a screenshot of my current game’s capital (242 GPPs without starvation)!! I got lucky with 4 food sources. Never mind the archer defending – the city was nowhere near the fray.


The decision to build Globe Theatre as your final National Wonder in a top 3 city is optional. It will dilute the pool and take time, but if growth is limited by happiness could really help. The other option is to use a conquered large city and make it your draft provider. In that case, build GT there.

I don’t use any GAs or GMs. The culture from a GA is not as useful as the science and gold/production you get from scientists and priests respectively. The gold from a merchant is only one more than the gold from a priest, without the production bonus. Moreover, the science/prophet wonders help much more in the SE than the artist/merchant wonders. If you must build an artist/merchant wonder, do so in a 4th city not included in the preceding list.


Obviously, with the heavy dependence on GP, philosophical is a must. The quicker timeline to Oxford (via half-price universities) only cements this trait as essential. Due to the lack of cottages and commerce multipliers, financial is not required. I have ranked my favourite leaders in order below. You will need to trade techs a lot, and therefore find a few other civs quickly, so I have valued scouts a little more than most people.

Vanilla Civ4:

Saladin (phi/spi – mysticism, wheel): The free civic-switching is great for building highly promoted units in the medieval/renaissance ages without sacrificing too many turns to anarchy. Saladin is the only philosophical leader who starts with mysticism, which enables Hinduism as your early state religion. Getting an early religion will allow all cities to grow bigger, enabling more specialists, and unlock the holy shrine necessary to fund the wars. Cheap temples are important as well; the happiness boost helps grow the city which means an extra specialist, and you will want to run priests as they will be the most productive mid-game. He is far and away the best leader for a SE.

N/A (phi/ind): If there were a leader with these two traits, I would rank him here! The SE really benefits from a few wonders, and getting them for sure in your big cities would only stop expensive campaigns to take them by force.

Alexander (phi/agg – fishing, hunting): I usually try an axmen rush on my nearest neighbour, and the combat bonus helps a lot. You will be building melee/gunpowder units all game, and a barracks in most cities as well, so aggressive pays off in the end. Alex is best when you start near water with a food resource.

Frederick (phi/cre – hunting, mining): Creative really shines in the ancient age as you can pop your borders without obelisks or religion, hooking up important resources that don’t happen to be within your small cross. Creative has a bum rap later in the game, which is well deserved. This trait doesn’t stack up well at all for a builder, compared to financial and industrious. But we aren’t building, we’re taking over cities, and those cities will need cultural protection as well as land to work. The game should be in the bag by the time this trait becomes obsolete.

Mao (phi/org – agriculture, mining): Organized is not useful directly in war, but will make it possible to expand a bit quicker due to the smaller upkeep. You won’t be running expensive civics anyway so this trait is not required. The best thing about Mao is the agriculture tech with which he starts. You will be focusing on food resources to support your specialists, so getting them online early is nice.

Peter (phi/exp – hunting, mining): The expansive trait is useful only for the cheap granaries. He does start with a scout though, so you can probably find an extra civ or two before he gets killed, which may boost trading after alphabet.

Elizabeth (phi/fin – fishing, mining): Financial is a waste of a trait in the SE, in my mind. She doesn’t even start with a scout! Worst philosophical leader for the SE.


Gandhi (phi/spi – mysticism, mining): Same as Saladin.

N/A (phi/ind): Same. I was disappointed when there wasn’t one available in BtS.

Suleiman (phi/imp – wheel, agriculture): Arguably the two best starting techs to get food online, you can have BW by the time you hook them up to start chopping. The imperialistic trait sure is a lot of fun, particularly since you’ll be taking cities all game. I usually use the GGs to make a few super raiders (from axmen or macemen) upgrading them all the way to rifles and infantry (who can’t get city raider promotions). At least one should be a super medic. I have even given this to a warrior! Might as well use the worst unit, the upgrades are free!

Lincoln (phi/char – fishing, agriculture): Two great starting techs for food, and a boost to happiness which will limit your growth early game. As well, faster promotions mean your super-raiders grow quicker. The unique unit and building come a little late, which is his only downside.

Alexander (phi/agg – fishing, hunting): Same.

Pericles (phi/cre – fishing, hunting): Same as Frederick.

Frederick (phi/org – hunting, mining): Same as Mao.

Sitting Bull (phi/pro – fishing, agriculture): The best thing about Sitting Bull is the agriculture tech with which he starts. You will be focusing on food resources to support your specialists, so getting them online early is nice. The protective trait is good in combination with the totem pole and a barracks to build archers/longbowmen with triple city garrison and drill. This makes your cities and forts virtually impossible to take, but doesn’t help you much to expand. You will need a lot of land and some luck with the wonders to win with him on a high level.

Peter (phi/exp – hunting, mining): Same.

Elizabeth (phi/fin – fishing, mining): Same. Starting techs are good though, so it is possible to play with Elizabeth.

Tech Path

You need to locate copper for axmen, so Bronze Working should probably be your first tech, unless you started with Saladin. If you have stone already, settle near the bronze and get some axmen out quickly while you build the pyramids and chop forests. Don’t worry about a barracks at this point; you could build 2 axmen in the time in takes to build the barracks. Alexander is the lone exception, since he can build it faster and gets Combat 1 automatically. That extra promotion (probably Cover) can make the difference between taking a city and not. Once you win one battle, City Raider or Shock is next.

You need to grow quickly, both for whipping citizens and later for hiring specialists. For that reason, agriculture or fishing are required next. If you have cows and pigs around, animal husbandry should come first, with the added bonus that it unlocks horse and is one step closer to writing.

Beeline to writing through AH, then Alphabet. You need a library in the capital to start hiring scientists. You want your first scientist to bulb philosophy and form your own religion in case you can’t capture a holy city. To do this, you’ll need to have Code of Laws. Whoever built the Oracle probably grabbed it, and you can trade alphabet + another tech for CoL after a few turns. I usually trade Alphabet around for Math, Iron Working, and all of those religious techs I skipped but you’ll need for CoL. Sometimes the Oracle builder doesn’t take it, and I have founded Confucianism more than once. I would still bulb philosophy for its trading value, even if you founded Confucianism or somebody else beat you to it. You can catch up like crazy in two turns. Feudalism, Theology, and Metal Casting are techs I can usually get for Philosophy. The AI doesn’t like to trade philosophy so you can still monopolize the trading market with it. It goes without saying, but the fewer religions there are kicking around, the more likely you can spread yours and gain a few war allies along the way. You also have the opportunity to build other shrines, but unless they happen to occur in your main holy city, it’s probably better to settle the priests instead. While waiting for that GS, go for Literature and build the Great Library. The AI doesn’t tend to rush this tech either, but its trading value is quite low.

After this, Paper->Education->Liberalism. Don’t trade these away until you’re well on your way to the next one, and you should have built an academy in the capital somewhere along the line. Even on Immortal, you can be first to Lib with a SE if you work at it. From there, pick your poison. Astronomy leads to scientific method which will hurt your Great Library, and the monasteries you built for their combined culture, science and gold value (if you have Spiral Minaret). Nationalism opens up the constitution/democracy path which helps other players much more than you, so its trading value is over-hyped. Printing Press only benefits towns, which you won’t have, and Gunpowder is the cheapest available new tech so you’ll feel like you’re wasting the bonus. You won’t have the prerequisites to get Economics either. All said, I would probably go for astronomy if I had Optics just for the trading value, or Gunpowder if things were getting ugly on the warfront. You can usually trade for Gunpowder though, so sometimes Nationalism is the better choice. Divine Right is a great choice on a lower level, particularly if you’re first to it (you won’t be, on a high level) so that you can eliminate one more religion and build Spiral.

Roughly the same, except you’ll have to get aesthetics as well.


These will depend on the era a little, but not as much as you’d think. Here are my favourite choices:

Government: Without a doubt, you want to be running Representation. The +3 science for each specialist is what makes specialists compete with towns. You must have this ASAP which requires the Pyramids (see below). No other government makes sense – even the happiness bonus in HR is partially covered by Rep. If you don’t get the pyramids, run HR until you can capture them.

Legal: Because your capital won’t be producing that much commerce, bureaucracy is not needed. I usually stay in Vassalage permanently, because I like highly promoted troops (I have yet to see a good analysis of the cost benefits of a promotion vs. another troop. In general, the fewer troops you have, the less of a drain on your economy they will be. In that case, it makes sense to build highly promoted troops and run vassalage). If using Saladin, you can switch to Free Speech in peace time to expand your borders and save money on civic upkeep. I use the draft as well, more so with Saladin than others.

Labor: Slavery as soon as you can. Since you will be focusing on food resources, production will be at a minimum. You can read article for a good numbers-based discussion about why working farms and whipping is more productive than working mines early game. Once you hit your happiness cap and have the wonders you need, Caste System is it from here on in. Cities will now be able to support more scientists than the number given by libraries, and your newly conquered cities can run artists until they have a decent cultural border and can work the tiles around. If you must switch to emancipation late game to keep people happy, make sure you’ve built up the infrastructure to keep most of your specialists employed. Citizens aren’t terrible with Rep. and the Sistine Chapel, but at that point you may as well work tiles.

Economy: I tend to avoid free market here, since the free specialist given by Mercantilism fits better into what we’re trying to do. You will probably be at war with somebody at all times as it is, and with a little diplomatic effort you can usually start some other wars as well. All of this war means many closed borders, which negates the benefits of free market as it is. Late game, State Property is a good way to sustain the production levels necessary for a modern war campaign, but I have stayed with Merc. until the end game as well.

Religion: Organized religion is expensive, and you can probably whip necessary infrastructure cheaper. Since you will probably bulb philosophy anyway, I would form Pacifism as early as possible. Again, since you built better troops rather than more troops, the +1 gold per troop doesn’t hurt as much. The boost to GP points will really help. With Saladin, I use Theocracy when building troops for the extra experience. This isn’t worth it with any other leader.

Critical Wonders

On Emperor and above, getting wonders is tough, so any realistic strategy cannot depend on them. No wonder is necessary, but some are so useful that I would immediately capture any close city that built them before me. We will target only wonders that have a specific benefit to specialists. The ideal starting location would have stone in the first or second city. Marble is not required if you can get the pyramids. Here are my crucial wonders, in order:

Pyramids (GE): Since you will have so many specialists in your cities, representation is required as early as possible. Chop, whip, and starve for this wonder in your second city (ideally located near stone) or capture it ASAP if somebody else gets it. You probably won’t win above emperor if you don’t have the pyramids, but the AI doesn’t tend to rush this wonder, even on Deity. In multiplayer, you will have to build it in the capital, and you’ll need stone for part of the construction or another player will build it. If you don’t have stone, I wouldn’t even bother trying. Just build up an army and hope it’s built somewhere nearby.

The other main reason for this wonder is the great engineer it will produce. If you can, build the hanging gardens here too, and hire an engineer after you build a forge. You may get a second GE in time to rush Sistine Chapel, or the Hagia which also contributes GE points. The reason to build it in your second city (ideally) is that the first should build scientists only, and we don’t want the GE points mixing with GS points. Because of the engineer it provides, this is the only wonder you really have to fight for. The rest will come with great engineers or by assimilation.

Once you build it, don’t forget to switch your government! I have done this more than once. Grrrrrrr.

Great Library (GS): Two extra scientists in the capital, each producing GP points as well? With the phi +100% and the pac +100% bonuses, and representation, this is a great benefit. The capital should be your GS farm, where after bulbing philosophy and building an academy, you should settle all of your scientists. If you got the pyramids, use your great engineer to build this wonder in the capital. If you had to build the pyramids in the capital, consider making another city the science farm (which may require moving the palace later) and build the GL there instead.

Holy Religion Building (GP): Build this in your holy city with the first Prophet you get. It will spread the religion faster and pay for your war efforts, as well as contribute to Prophet points.

Angkor Wat (GP): You started with stone, or conquered it, right? And you bulbed philosophy, right? Then you should have no problem getting this guy. Build him in your holy city and crank out the priests. With that extra production from the priests, you can build all the money bonus buildings (bank, market, grocer) in your holy city while your religion spreads, and when it comes time, you should also build the …

Spiral Minaret (GP): I would build it in your holy city, only because you already have a Great Prophet producing wonder here (Angkor Wat) and you are running lots of priests so production will be high. This is one of your support buildings. It isn’t absolutely necessary, but really helps to pay for things.

Pentagon (GE): I love this wonder! The GE points come a little too late, but I would build them in the GE city all the same. You can usually rush this guy with your third GE, and nothing beats running theocracy and vassalage, building troops in a city with a barracks that leave the gate with three promotions (four if you are Alexander). This building makes west point unnecessary, as ALL of your cities will build monster troops, not just the HE city. Triple City Garrison troops are hard to kill, and you can also make double-medics immediately as well as a host of other specialized troops (triple city-attack siege weapons …) This doesn’t work as well in BtS because of the reduced barracks effect.

Capture -> Sistine Chapel (GA): Because it takes marble, this is a building I would capture or build with the second great engineer, if it’s still available. Or God forbid you missed the great library, use your first engineer if you didn’t restart. I would build this in an additional city, somewhere near your borders to help with cultural wars. Also, the GA will pollute the GP pool of your specialized cities if you don’t. This wonder isn’t necessary, but +2 culture per specialist will expand your borders rather than compress them. Combine this with Free Speech during peace time for an unbeatable border push. You probably won’t get it, but you could try Notre Dame in this city as well.

Capture -> Parthenon (GA): I don’t usually build this, but if you started with marble and not stone, it may be a viable path. This is worthwhile to capture early though (before chemistry) because of the +50% bonus across the empire for GP points.

Capture -> Statue of Liberty (GM): You probably won’t be rushing democracy, as it leads to a civic you certainly don’t want to be running, but the free specialist this wonder gives really benefits the SE. I would capture this baby unless for some reason you find yourself with democracy before everyone else.

None of them help any more than the ones above, but now the AI may build these instead. That should make it easier to get what you want.

That’s it! Please try it out, and let me know what you think.

– Zizzeus