Intermediate Tactics and Gambits

Table of ContentsIntroduction
1. The Oracle/Metal Casting/Pyramids Gambit
2. Riverside Ironworks
3. Trade Withdrawal
4. Trade Renegotiation
5. Trade Denial
6. Trading for Obsoletes
7. Specialist-Powered Cultural Victory
8. Great Prophet-Powered CS Slingshot
9. Multi-Turn Technology Trading
10. Fat Cross Overlap
11. Queue Loading

Introduction

I thought I would take some of the lessons learned from the ALC series (and other games) thus far and turn them into a strategy article. Rather than dealing with an overall, “big picture” strategy–there are better articles here on those–I thought I’d detail a few of the smaller tactics and gambits you can fit into just about any game.

I’m referring to these as “intermediate” mainly because I’ve learned and tested them on an intermediate difficulty level, Prince (and I’m starting to try them out on Monarch as well, and I’ve had success with most of them so far). This is not to say they won’t work on the beginner or advanced levels, just that they may be overkill on the former and I have not personally tested them yet on the latter.

Thanks and credit must go to the many ALC posters who alerted me to these. I am not the originator of these tactics; I’m just trying to distil what I’ve learned from others and pass it along, just as I did in my Beginner’s Guide. I encourage, expect, and appreciate refinement and correction and will edit the article accordingly.

1. The Oracle/Metal Casting/Pyramids Gambit

The idea of this gambit is to generate a Great Engineer as soon as possible, then use him to build the Pyramids, which a GE can do in a single turn. You can have the Pyramids by 1000 BC and never have to lift a brick!

Essentially, you’re going to build your first two cities within close proximity of one another. You’ll build the Oracle in the capital and use it to obtain Metal Casting, they you’ll build a forge in the second city in order to run an Engineer specialist and generate a Great Engineer before the capital generates a Great Prophet.

Because the 2nd city’s GP generation has to play catch-up, the most critical part of this gambit is to build the forge in the second city within 6 turns of finishing the Oracle. This is no mean feat. This is why you will build a barracks or obelisk in the city, but stop building it when you’re one turn from finishing. You want to whip this building to completion so that the overflow of hammers goes towards the build of the Forge (and in the capital, towards the Oracle).

Be sure to grow the population of the 2nd city to at least 3 and pre-chop the 3 forests required. Be prepared to use the whip to get the forge completed in time, but don’t whip the population down to 1 unless it will recover on the next turn. You need at least 2 pop in the 2nd city in order to run the Engineer specialist.

This really requires a Philosophical leader because of the +100% Great Person point generation bonus. A non-Philosophical leader may be able to pull it off, but with the greater delay in generating the Great Engineer, the likelihood of the AI finishing the Pyramids before you is much greater.

Frederick the Great and Saladin are probably the two best leaders for this gambit. Frederick starts with Mining and the Creative trait means his cities’ borders will expand without having to build Obelisks or Stonehenge. Saladin has the advantage of both of his starting techs being on the required tech path, giving you a head start.

(Getting the Pyramids this early lends itself to a running a specialist economy, since you now have access to all the government civics. A specialist economy also leverages the advantages of the Philosophical trait, since more specialists generate more GP points and therefore more Great People. But there are other threads on this board dealing with that economic strategy in more detail and so I won’t attempt to cover it here.)

Tech Path:
[LIST=1]
[*]Agriculture
[*]Animal Husbandry
[*]The Wheel
[*]Mysticism
[*]Mining
[*]Bronze Working
[*]Meditation
[*]Priesthood
[*]Pottery
[*]Masonry
[*]Metal Casting (from Oracle)
[/LIST]

City 2 “3F” Rules:
[LIST]
[*]A 3 Food source within the city’s workable area (if the leader is not creative, this may only be the initial 9 tiles!)
[*]3 Forests within the city’s workable area (ideally they should be between the 2nd city and the capital, but make sure that when chopped, the hammers go to the 2nd city)
[*]3 tiles from capital, maximum (this is to minimize the impact of maintenance costs on research, and to maximize the efficiency of the Workers)
[/LIST]
Worker Tasks:
[LIST]
[*]FARM or PASTURE tiles so each city has at least one 3-food tile
[*]build ROADS on forest tiles (preferably between cities)
[*]PRE-CHOP three forests for each city, especially for City 2
[*]MINE a hill or production resource for each city to provide additional hammers
[/LIST]
City Build Queues:

City 1 (Capital):
[LIST=1]
[*]Worker
[*]Settler
[*]Barracks or Obelisk to within 1 turn of finishing
[*]Military Units
[*]Oracle when available (Priesthood); whip-finish Barracks or Obelisk so the overflow of hammers goes to the Oracle
[*]Chop/Whip the Oracle
[/LIST]
City 2:
[LIST=1]
[*]Worker
[*]Barracks or Obelisk to within 1 turn of finishing
[*]Military Units
[*]Forge when available (Metal Casting); whip-finish Barracks or Obelisk so the overflow goes to the Forge
[*]Chop/Whip forge (within 6 turns, remember!)
[*]Pyramids once Great Engineer appears
[/LIST]
Warlords Variation:

In the original Warlords expansion pack, this gambit is even easier. Research to Masonry and build the Great Wall world wonder. The Great Wall generates 2 GP points towards a Great Engineer. Use the GE from the Great Wall to build the Pyramids. The only thing to really be careful about is if you’re building Stonehenge as well. Make sure the Great Wall finishes first, and in a different city from Stonehenge, so that you don’t generate a Great Prophet instead of a Great Engineer.

However, the 2.08 patch for Warlords reduces the the GP points from 2 to 1–making it unlikely that you’ll generate a GE in time to beat the AI to the Pyramids. Still, the original tactic described above should still work, and could even be combined with the Great Wall in some way for added effectiveness.

2. Riverside Ironworks

By the later part of the mid-game, the production offered by waterwheel and workshop tile improvements will have improved significantly. Watermills get +1 additional hammer with Replaceable Parts and +2 commerce with Electricity; Workshops get +1 hammer with Guilds and another +1 hammer with Chemistry. In addition, the State Property civic (available with the discovery of Communism) adds +1 food to watermill and workshop tiles.

So with Replaceable Parts, Electricity, Guilds, and Chemistry under the State Property civic, tile yields are as follows:

[LIST]
[*]Plains riverside tile with watermill: 2F 3H 3C
[*]Grassland riverside tile with watermill: 3F 2H 3C
[*]Plains tile with workshop: 1F 4H (1C beside river)
[*]Grassland tile with workshop: 2F 3H (1C beside river)
[/LIST]
Financial civs will gain an additional 1C from the watermills, of course.

A workshop on grassland or plains, then, has equivalent production output to a mine on the same type of terrain on a hill, but with +1 food under State Property. The extra food ensures that the city can grow to its maximum size and not only sustain the population to work every tile, but also run several Engineer specialists for additional hammers and to potentially produce a Great Engineer.

Around this time, Steel is discovered, making the Ironworks national wonder available. The late-game production city where Ironworks (and a Forge and Factory) should be located is not a city surrounded by hills, but one with a significant number of river tiles and mostly grassland tiles in its fat cross. The idea is to exploit the food and hammer yields from Watermills and Workshops.

The first priority is to increase this city’s population, so you should leave farms and food resources in place for a time. Place as many waterwheels as you can on the river tiles. Do not be afraid to replace cottages. On any flat land tile where a waterwheel cannot be built, build a workshop. Eventually, you should consider replacing the food resources’ farms or pastures with Watermills or Workshops—if they will provide more hammers than supporting an Engineer specialist would.

To maximize this city’s production, you want its citizens to work every tile, so you may end up “stealing” some tiles from nearby cities if their fat crosses overlap.

A tip for maximizing the number of watermills: build the watermills on the tiles with the fewest sides next to a river first. This is because if you build a watermill on a tile with 3 river exposures, the watermill may get placed on the same side as an opposing tile with just that one river exposure, and now a watermill cannot be built there.

One obvious advantage to using a riverside city this way is that it can then be used to build the Three Gorges Dam world wonder, which can only be built in a city next to a river. In addition, a riverside city with a large number of grassland tiles is usually near the equator (the grassland was probably jungle at the start of the game). This puts the city in the required location (within 30 degrees latitude of the equator) to build the Space Elevator if you are pursuing a Space Race victory. In fact, you should choose the riverside Ironworks city with these end goals in mind.

Flood Plains Caveat:

You can also build watermills on flood plains, of course. However, remember that flood plains are detrimental to a city’s health (-0.4 health per flood plains tile in the fat cross). You can mitigate the effects of flood plains with forests (each 2 forest tiles add +1 health). And a lumbermill with a railroad on a forested tile provides the same yield as a workshop would on the same tile type. So if there are several flood plains in the city’s fat cross, try to preserve some forests (always an even number, remember) and optimize their yields with lumbermills instead.

3. Trade Withdrawal

I regard this as an exploit now and have stopped using it, but I’m leaving it here for the sake of thoroughness and in recognition that “Civ Ethics” can be a very relative thing.

Your target: an AI civ which has at least 1 gold per turn (gpt) available for trading. You have a gpt surplus and at least one resource that your target lacks. Ideally, you should not be expecting or planning to go to war with this civ for a very long time, if ever.

In the diplomacy screen, check how much gpt the AI leader has available for trading. Gift them 2 gpt. Now check their gpt for trading again. If it went up by 2 as well, gift them another 2 gpt. Keep doing this until their gpt for trading does not increase, or only increases by 1. You have now found the limit that this civ is willing to give you in trade for a resource.

Now offer them one of your resources in return for all their gpt, which now includes all (or nearly all) of the gold you gave them as a gift.
If you have another resource they want, repeat the process.

You will pretty much break even for the next 10 turns. Once the 10 turn minimum before trade agreement cancellation is up, go in to the diplomacy advisor and cancel all the 2 gpt gifts you gave them. Do NOT cancel the gold-for-your-resource trade. You now get all that gold back, and just as important, you have taken all that gold from the AI’s gpt total, dealing a blow–potentially a significant one–to their economy; the AI civ will likely have to ratchet down the research slider to compensate for the loss. You will NOT get a diplomatic demerit, because you did not cancel all trade with that civ.

Note: Do NOT attempt this with a civ that has 0 gpt to trade. They may be running a deficit and there is no way to tell how much gold you will have to give them to bring them out of it.

As a further refinement, if you expect that other civ to be around for awhile and you have several resources to offer them, do NOT trade a resource to them that expires (e.g. whales, ivory, furs) if another is available. Otherwise you will lose the gpt and they get it back when this happens.

4. Trade Renegotiation

In a way, this is a simpler variation of Trade Withdrawal (above), but is much less of an exploit.

Over time, the amount of gold per turn (GPT) that an AI civilization is willing to give you for a resource will tend to increase. You could sell them another spare resource to get that gold, of course. Every resource you sell to an opposing AI civ, however, allows them to grow their cities larger and to thereby better compete with you. You therefore want to trade as few resources to the AI as possible. But how do you do that and still get your hands on all that lovely gold that’s just burning a hole in the AI’s virtual pocket?

Trade one resource to an AI civ for the maximum amount of gold they’ll offer you for it. Check the diplomacy screen frequently to see if the amount of GPT that AI civ will offer you has increased. Provided that ten turns have passed since you initiated the trade, you can cancel the deal and then immediately renegotiate its terms. Again, sell just the one resource to the AI for all the GPT they offer. Repeat this throughout the game.

I should mention that when you broker deals in the diplomacy screen, arrange for only one deal at a time. That is, finalize an Open Borders agreement, for example, then negotiate a resource trade. Otherwise you end up having to cancel several or even all your deals just to renegotiate one of them.

5. Trade Denial

There are certain resources that you should almost never, if you can avoid it, trade to an AI civilization, because they could be used against you.

First and perhaps most obviously, never trade a military resource–that is, one that can be used to build and/or fuel military units–to the AI. You don’t want the AI to use your resource to build units with which it can turn around and attack you.

The following items should be considered military resources and should never be traded to the AI:

[LIST]
[*]Copper
[*]Iron
[*]Ivory
[*]Horses
[*]Uranium
[*]Oil
[*]Aluminum
[/LIST]
Trading Aluminum is a double no-no since it speeds the AI’s ability to build space ship parts for a space race win. Remember that a space race win is the AI’s favoured victory condition, the one it will pursue above all others. Don’t make it easier for them!

You should also not trade coal, marble, or stone to the AI. Denying them coal will keep them from building railroads, while denying them marble and stone will make it harder for them to complete wonders.

In terms of what you should or can trade, health resources such as wheat, rice, fish, and cows are better trade offerings than happiness resources such as fur, silk, and gold. The reason for this is that cities’ happiness caps are lower than their health caps, so a health-boosting resource is usually less helpful than one that boosts happiness. Of course, you could also trade a happiness resource to the AI, let them grow their cities larger with its help, and then cancel the deal and plunge them into unhappiness. But that would be wrong. 😉

Probably the best resources to trade to the AI are livestock (cows, pigs, sheep, deer). This is not only because they aid health rather than happiness, but also because the building that doubles their effectiveness, the supermarket, comes very late in the game. After that, the next best are seafood (fish, crabs, clams), since doubling their health boost is only possible in coastal cities with a harbour.

Non-Absolutist Caveat:

“Never” is a little too absolute a term to use in a game as complex as Civilization IV; there may be times when you want or need to trade these resources to the AI. The AI may demand the resource as tribute when you’re not yet ready to resist them militarily, leaving you with no choice (the game’s equivalent of “Go fetch me a stick so I can beat you with it”). Or you may be allied with an AI civ and want them to build better units to attack your mutual enemy. Or you may trade aluminum to the AI to keep it preoccupied with building space ship parts while you build military units and prepare to conquer them. As the saying goes, these are not rules, merely guidelines.

6. Trading for Obsoletes

This is a situation that arises very rarely, but when it does, be prepared to take advantage of it.

Certain luxury resources expire when you research certain technologies. To wit:

[LIST]
[*]Whales are made obsolete by Combustion
[*]Ivory is made obsolete by Industrialism
[*]Fur is made obsolete by Plastics
[/LIST]
When you finish researching the technology that makes the resource obsolete, you are denied the benefits of the resource if it’s within your borders. Citizens of a city with the resource in the fat cross may still work the tile, but the happiness benefit from the luxury resource is gone. Or is it?

Keep an eye open for a less-developed civilization that has access to one of those resources with a best-before date. Until that civilization also obtains the obsoleting technology, they have access to the resource. If they have a surplus, they can trade the resource to you and you can regain the happiness benefit. Be warned, however, that once that civ obtains the obsoleting tech, the trade deal will be cancelled and the happiness benefit lost. This tactic may, however, buy you some time if you need to build happiness boosters like temples and theatres in cities that need them.

7. Specialist-Powered Cultural Victory

The prevailing wisdom regarding cultural victories is to research up to and including the late cultural technologies (Radio, Mass Media, Electricity), then turn research “off” in favour of increasing the percentage of commerce going to culture.

However, this approach sacrifices science and commerce from all of your cities, and therefore of your entire civ, for the sake of three cities. Other civs may outpace you technologically, threatening to attack you with a superior military or win the space race.

The solution: never touch the culture slider. Instead, use artist specialists just in the three cultural cities to generate the required culture.

Required elements of this strategy:
[LIST]
[*]The Caste System civic for unlimited Artist specialists
[*]Convert all tile improvements around the three cultural cities to those that produce the most food, allowing you to run more specialists
[/LIST]
Optional but helpful elements:
[LIST]
[*]The Mercantilism civic for a free specialist
[*]The Statue of Liberty world wonder for another free specialist
[*]The Sistine Chapel world wonder for an extra +2 culture per specialist
[*]Biology for +1 food from each farm
[/LIST]
One advantage of this gambit, as illustrated in the Victoria ALC game, is that you can leave your final push for (and commitment to) a cultural victory until quite late. So rather than playing as a peaceful wimp all game and worrying about getting invaded, you can warmonger happily until quite late in the game and pursue a cultural win from a position of power and, therefore, safety. The only early game goals to pursue would be getting to Music first for the free Great Artist and building (or capturing) the Sistine Chapel.

One caution: you may be running Caste System at the same time that other civs are switching to Emancipation. This will result in a happiness penalty for your cities which will grow over time. To deal with it, you first of all don’t want to exacerbate the problem with war weariness, so try to stay peaceful if you can. Also don’t trade or gift Democracy to any civs; the same thing goes for Mass Media (you want to avoid having the United Nations built and being forced to adopt the Emancipation civic). If any of the other civs do switch to Emancipation, try to bribe them to Caste System. If worse comes to worst, raise the culture slider.

8. Great Prophet-Powered CS Slingshot

On Noble difficulty and below, it is relatively easy to achieve a Civil Service (CS) slingshot: research techs up to and including Priesthood and Code of Laws, build the Oracle, and choose Civil Service as the free technology.

On Prince level and especially higher, it is difficult if not impossible to achieve this. The AI will usually beat you to completion of the Oracle if you delay finishing it until you have researched Code of Laws. An alternative and more reliable means to obtain Civil Service early is to rely on the technology-granting capabilities of Great Prophets.

In this gambit, you research (if required) Mysticism and build Stonehenge. Then you research Priesthood and build the Oracle in the same city, as both wonders produce Great Person points towards a Great Prophet. Also research Meditation, Polytheism, Pottery, and Writing (or trade for them) but not Masonry. For your free technology, you can choose Code of Laws, or even Metal Casting. In some ways it doesn’t matter; you can research Code of Laws on your own if it won’t take too long.

By having Meditation, Polytheism, and Code of Laws researched by the time the Great Prophet from Stonehenge and the Oracle appears, and not researching Masonry, you can use the Great Prophet towards research points for most of Civil Service. (If you have Masonry, the GP will pop techs along the Monotheism – Feudalism tech path.)

Warlords 2.08 Addendum: The Warlords patch makes this tactic difficult if not impossible to pull off. First, Great Prophets will now “pop” the Masonry tech before they’ll do the same for Code of Laws or Civil Service; in addition, Civil Service now has Mathematics as a prerequisite, so you’d have to finish researching that tech before you could pop the GP for CS anyway. Furthermore, the Great Wall wonder has made Masonry a more attractive early tech, and the change of Civil Service’s civic cost to high has made it less attractive to run early. All this means you’ll probably end up researching Civil Service honestly, and be better off for it in some ways.

9. Multi-Turn Technology Trading

Many players, if they have researched a technology which most other civs lack, will shop that technology around to other civs for tech trades on the same turn. However, it can be advantageous to only tech trade with one civilization per turn. The reason for this is that once you obtain a technology’s prerequisite tech, you cannot trade for the more advanced tech to which it provides access until the following turn.

By waiting a turn to trade your new technology with another civ, you may gain access to other technologies. For example, you may obtain Guilds on one turn, and then be able to obtain its successor, Banking, on the following turn by trading the same technology to a different civ.

The risk you run is that the first civ to whom you traded your new tech will, in turn, trade it to other civs before you can do so on the following turn. But this is often a risk well worth taking, especially since the AI seems programmed to prefer to hang on to a tech advantage rather than trade it away.

10. Fat Cross Overlap

Overlapping tiles in neighbouring cities’ fat crosses are not always a bad thing. One of the best types of tiles to have in more than one city’s fat cross is a commerce resource such as gems, gold, or silver. This is because these tiles yield high amounts of commerce. However, these tiles usually produce relatively low amounts of food and production.

In the early game in particular, a single high commerce tile contributes heavily towards research, so it is highly desirable to obtain and work a high commerce tile early on. However, high commerce tiles contribute little towards the building of a Worker or Settler. In those cases, food and hammers matter more.

By having a high commerce tile shared between two cities, you can have one city not work the tile while building a Worker or Settler; meanwhile, its neighbouring city, without either of those items in its build queue, works the tile instead to obtain the financial and research benefits for your civ.

This can also be advantageous with cottages, which must be worked in order to grow. One city can work the cottage while the other works production-rich tiles for a more expensive build such as a wonder. Or you can simply work the cottages to maturity before one of the cities has the population necessary to work those tiles.

Frankly, any shared tile can be flip-flopped this way to match each city’s build queue and other needs (growth, for example). A high-food tile, for example, can be worked by one city with room to grow instead of its neighbour which has reached its health or happiness limit.

Overlapping fat crosses have other advantages, such as allowing Workers and Settlers to travel between your cities without running the risk of encountering any barbarian animals. Shared forest tiles provide their health benefit to all cities that have them within their fat cross; this can allow you to chop more forests while retaining that health bonus.

11. Queue Loading

Just because you have items in a city’s build queue doesn’t mean you have to let them finish in the order listed. You can add and remove items from the queue, and they will retain the hammers they’ve accumulated for several turns (usually 10 at normal speed) before they start to degrade (i.e. lose hammers). You can ctrl+click a different item to add it to the beginning of the queue, delaying the completion of the initial build.

Why would you want to do this? One reason is to better leverage overflow from whipping (i.e. slavery), but that’s not my focus here, as it’s covered in detail in other strategy articles (in Zombie69’s “Micromanagement is Alive and Well in Civilization IV” in particular).

What I want to discuss is how you can use queue loading in combination with Vassalage and Theocracy. These are commonly called the “war civics” because they each contribute additional experience points (XPs) to military units. The problem is that switching to these civics may require you to switch away from civics that are more beneficial to your economy and research, such as Bureaucracy, Free Speech, Organized Religion, Pacifism, or Free Religion. The thing to remember, however, is this: military units gain the war civic XP bonuses simply by coming to completion while the war civics are in effect. It doesn’t matter if most of the units’ hammers were contributed under other civics.

So what you can do is run other, more beneficial civics while building military units in your city’s queues. Then, when the unit is one turn from completion, ctrl-click to insert a different type of military unit into the queue, ahead of the one that requires only one turn to complete. It must be a different type of unit; inserting the same type of unit into the top of the queue doesn’t work, it will just complete on the next turn. Build up several units in this way, and then change to the war civics. Now let the units complete with their additional XPs.

Be careful not to build units in the queues for too long, as their accumulated hammers start to deteriorate after 10 turns. On the turn that you change civics, it’s a good idea to change the queues so the “oldest” units are at the top of the queue rather than the bottom so they will complete first, ensuring that they retain all the hammers previously contributed to their builds. In addition, if your switch away from a civic that provides a production bonus (such as Bureaucracy, with its +50% hammer bonus in the capital), you may find that the some units in the queues now require more than 1 turn for completion. They will, however, retain their accumulated hammers, provided you complete them before the hammers start to degrade.

Once you have enough units built, you can change back to other civics, having spent the minimum number of turns required running Vassalage and Theocracy.

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