You , Yourself, and Your Shadow: Some lessons on isolated starts

You , Yourself and your shadow : Some lessons on isolated starts
( or a small summulae based on the results of the Lonely Hearts Club Games )

Isolated starts ( by isolated I mean the ones in which you have at least one tile of Ocean between the land mass where you’re standing and the one where your nearest neighbor is ) are one of the most dreaded kinds of starts in Civ IV ( It is rare the week where some poster don’t make a allusion of how “it sucks” to start in isolation )… in fact I’m pretty sure that a lot of people simply regen when he/she notices that he’s alone in that land mass.

And why that happens? Basically because most of the players developed a game strategy that requires neighbours , like the famous early rushes of all shapes and colors. In fact isolated starts are exactly the opposite of the early rushes: you normally have more than enough space and can plan the city sites without urgency ( in early rushes it’s the exact opposite: normally you don’t have neither space and time for cities and your second city normally is designed to grab a crucial resource ASAP ) .

Another issue is the diplomacy : for good or bad you are casted away from the diplomacy nets that will flourish in the Autre Mer… this means you can’t trade tech , bribe or be a religious pal before first contact. But it also means that there will be not hated until first contact, that you can’t lose or be forced to anything via AP ( BtS ) and that you can trade more valuable techs because you haven’t touched the WFYBTA limit…..

In this article I’ll try to make a catch up of what I learned in the Lonely Hearts Club games, from my games and from others ( will try to use game examples as possible ) . All of the points are personal ( I’ll try to be the more objective that I can ) and open to discussion. I’ll try to be not specific to any of the Civ versions and when it happens , I’ll try to be explicit

Index of contents

[*]Definition of isolated start. Degrees of isolation

[*]Brief Comparison between normal starts and isolated starts

[*]How can I get/not get a isolated start?

[*]What not to do in isolated starts

[*]Some approaches to the isolated starts: tech paths and some economy hints

[*]What type of economy should I use in isolation?

[*]Contact and late game

[*]Victory types: some rough guidelines
-AP ( BtS… pre and post 3.13 )
-UN ( pre and post BtS 3.13 )

[*]Some ideas and gambits ( examples from games )


Definition of isolated start. Degrees of isolation

A start can be said isolated when you have at least one tile of Ocean between the land mass where you’re standing and the one where your nearest neighbor is. Said this there can be various levels of isolation ( P.S some of the things below are version dependant ):

[*]Really isolated start: in the nearest point you have 3 ocean tiles between your land and the nearest civ. This is the classic isolated start, no contact or trades before Astro. You’re by yourself….

[*]Skin contact: there is a place between your land and other civs land with only 2 ocean tiles ( and 2 coastal, of course ) and your city got contact with a civ by cultural border contact. This is rare ( IIRC never happened in the LHC history ) and the results would vary a lot with the civ version… In BtS you will get espionage access to your neighbor and ability to trade techs, but no unit or trade route pass through the ocean ( and by consequence no religion spreading as well )

[*]Trade route available: you only have one tile of ocean separating you from the nearest civ. This means that you or your neighbor can control that tile culturally … this ( in BtS again … must check Vanilla and Warlords on this ) grants unit and trade route access ( and religion )to the civ that controls the ocean tile.
Why are this definitions important ? Because you can get situations where you can use the last item for a strong Trade route economy, for a early AP win or for a pre Astro invasion. Besides that , in the two last situations you can start tech trading and entering in the diplo game far earlier….. for good and for bad.

Brief Comparison between normal starts and isolated starts

Why do people shun isolated starts ( I do not particularly love them, but they help us to sharp some skills )? Mainly because they are pretty different of the usual starts, where you can start warring ASAP ( in fact it is better to start hammering your foes fast if you can ) , you can tech trade pretty early and you can start your diplomatic games early as well. In isolation things are exactly the opposite…..

As a personal note ( and made me understand why a lot of players shun isolation ) , I can remember pretty well my first isolated start… Vanilla, Noble… one of my first games. Wanted to try new and shiny Preatorians ( yup… made me want to wallbash ) . Discovered that I was in a Australia like island ( a little colder )…. Bye bye Preat rush, hello economical buildup ( That game teached me a lot about Civ IV… )

I suppose that a lot of Civ IV players hate isolation because of that: no one to rush ….. More seriously: in isolation you need to build your own settlers, to improve all of the land you use, you can’t count with the other AI for anything ( not even for fogbusting…. Isolation with raging barbs can be pretty intense stuff )… you can’t simply build units and take what you need from the cold dead hands of a AI. That can be pretty overwhelming if you don’t use your cards right…. And of course, you can be pretty limited in terms of resources….

On the other hand you have some advantages when you start in isolation: You don’t have to compete for land (you can place your cities exactly where you want them ), you’ll be not bored by AI requests for a long time ( that can be a big blessing ) and you be able to control your diplo in a more planned way after you made contact ( you can choose your side easier… if you want to choose sides ) .And of course ( BtS ), no problems with foreign AP stuff.

Which is better? I think that none is better per se … they simply push you in different directions . Isolated starts are pretty much focused in your development and in the day you finally meet the other AI…. Non isolated start… it depends a lot of the player’s style ,but the AI will be always a shadow in your game ( for good and for bad )

How can I get/not get a isolated start?

There is no Firaxis script that creates automatically isolated starts. Putting high sea level will make them more likely…. Archipelago, custom continents with high continents number, Hemispheres with islands, varied and high number of continents are settings that will create isolated starts often. Fractal creates a isolated civ in a high number of occasions as well

If you don’t want a isolated start, the solution is simple: play Pangea, Continents, hemispheres with 2 or a little more continents. Lowering the sea level also helps.

And a reference to another situation ( a very common one ) : the post rush isolation 😉 , where you killed all of the civs in your mainland. Not all of the things that appear here will be applicable but I think most of the things written here can be useful for that kind of common situations .

What not to do in isolated starts

Before we enter in the really important issues, I wanted to focus some of the things that will surely make you lose the game when you start in isolation. Some of them are common to all to the games but are more acute in this situation:
[*]Don’t have a clear plan: In isolation you can only count with yourself. If you want a city in the x spot ,you need to make the settler, escort it there and found the city. If you want a tech you have to research it…. If you want a wonder you have to build it. This means you need to have a clear idea of want you want for that game ( far more than non isolated starts ), because you can’t rely in tech trades or in conquering anything for a long while.

[*]Inefficient fog bust / insufficient anti barb forces : This could be included in the previous point ,but IMHO this was why Sisiutil lost the ALC 15. If you are isolated you need to do all the fogbusting you need ( normally humans outsource this partly to the AI ). This means you can’t fall in the the attractive temptation of neglecting early military build up…at least you’ll need sufficient fogbusting and a adequate anti barb protection.

[*]Bad city placement.: You need to squeeze all the possible profit from your land and your dotmap must be done accordingly

[*]Too fast/slow empire growth: This is one of the points that would fit in any game… but in isolation the risk is somewhat higher. Players can lose their references without AI in sight….

[*]Be the best friend of the first guy that drops by: This is a serious nono most of the times. Committing to a AI without having a decent grasp of how the big diplomatic picture looks may put you in the dreaded position of the world most hated guy.

[*]Collect religions without any particular reason: This is a very common mistake. And why this is a mistake? Because any religion you found in isolation is one that the AI will not have access, restricting the possibility of inter AI religious hates. If you want to get religions , at least have a good reason for that….


This are only some of the issues I can remember … surely I could put some more others with ease….

Some approaches to the isolated starts: tech paths and some economy hints

Most of the players , when confronted with a isolated start, have only one thought: getting out of there. This usually means going to Optics and astronomy with all the possible strengths. But it is that the best way in all times?

My personal experience is that bee lining optics most of the times is a subpar tech path. Why? Mainly because of the techs you need to lay behind to get Optics and astro in usable time ( unless you bulb astro like Sisiutil made in the Ragnar ALC and some of the LHC players did in the Elizabeth LHC ( warlords ). I’ll discuss that later ). To get astro you need to go IW, Machinery, Compass, Optics, Calendar…. And this lets techs like Currency ,Code of Laws, Civil Service and Philosophy behind…. Most of them strong economical techs and on the path to Liberalism. This can lead to a early contact without anything to trade with the AI besides Optics and Astro ( things that you don’t want to trade, obviously ) and a subpar economy, clearly not the best scenario. But if you can get 2 GS and avoid theology and Civil service, you can bulb Astro if you have calendar and Optics… This is a strong move, because you’ll have Astronomy in very early dates and lots of money from intercontinental trade routes pretty early.

Other option is letting the AI get to you and spend your precious beakers in the middle economical techs, Currency, Code of Laws, Civil service…. This strategy has the merit of focusing on your economical development , but has the great demerit of letting you somewhat of the AI hands in terms of first contacts and in danger of being invaded without having how to counter that in sea or even to know it until it is too late

A third option is going by the religious path: focus on the religious wonders and techs. Apostolic Palace(BtS ),University of Sankore, Spiral Minaret, Ankgor Wat ,Sistine Chapel ( BtS one has a different flavor )…. This economy can be pretty robust , but the heavy hammer spending in wonders restricts it pretty much to Industrious leaders. And has the downside of forcing you to have a different religion from the rest of the world , with the possible diplomatic backfire….

And one of my favorites ( that links pretty well with the Astronomy path ), the Collosus /Great Lighthouse combo. This combo makes your coastal cities to have a profitable position almost from the beginning . The big downside is that the Great Lighthouse is a pretty early wonder and this means you have to commit a lot of early efforts to put this up ( same to the Collosus is a lesser scale ). And this wonders get merchant GPP , a thing that can make getting 2 GS in usable time problematic……

Of course there are other possibilities , but this one’s are the more seen in the LHC games

And the million dollar question: which one to use? It depends strongly of your traits , starting position and general landscape. If I start in a coastal city in isolation, my first thought is to make the great Lighthouse….. If I’m Industrious and have a shot in a religion, I may think in going by the religious path.

But the big decision is between the economical path and the “get away from here” path: from my experience it depends strongly of the land you have in hands and from the perceived AI tech pace ( religions, wonders,… ). If I have a decent / good land and / or the AI is teching reasonably ( compared to me, of course ) , I prefer to stick with improving my economy. If the AI is teching slowly and or / I have lots of desert and tundra ( it happens ) going to the Astro path may be the best idea.

What type of economy should I use in isolation?

Economy types in Civ IV always have been subject of acrimonious and bitter discussion… I’ll not enter in that kind of discussions here …. But this is a question that arises to all players that face this game ( regardless of starting isolated or not ) and as isolated starts have special constritements, I think that saying a word of two about it would be useful…

In hindsight, isolated starts seem to be the cottage heaven: no enemies, resolution of the game relegated to Industrial age most of the times ( or even later ) that gives time to mature cottages. That is surely truth and cottage approach is clearly a valid and normally strong option ( most of the games posted in LHC are cottage based games ). Combined with Hereditary rule , you can get really big cities early with lots of advanced cottage improvements pretty early and offset the fact of tech trading being impossible until Optics.

Basing in specialists may not be as attractive in first sight: GP are weaker in bulbing techs as the game progresses , towns normally are much better than specialists (in a food basis comparison ) in the late game with all the town enhancer civics in game and the cherished Caste system civic may put you under serious emancipation anger in the late game. That is true to a certain extent, but it hurts especially the bulbing versions of specialist based economies ( that assume implicitely that you’ll be able to trade the bubled tech ).

But Specialist economies have two big points in favor in isolated starts: first they don’t need much land per city ( allowing you to put more useful cities in the same map, a crucial thing in isolation ) and second , the simple shape of isolated starts force you to have more contact with the sea and normally have more access to seafood than the average map… and seafood is good for a specialist based economy. And if you settle most of the obtained GP ( bulbing in isolation IMHO is a waste , except for some exceptional cases: Theology ( aiming for the AP), Divine right ( for the Spiral Minaret ), Education ( universities … a big plus in isolation ) and astronomy ( already hinted why: early access to intercontinental trade routes ) ) You may have the equivalent to one or two more cities ( especially with a Bureaucratic capital ), a thing that in confined environments can be huge.

Other option, that can be used with both cottages and specialists ( it is debatable to which one it links better ) is simply growing your cities to the highest population possible, get access to foreign intercontinental (BtS )trade routes ( they are very profitable, especially considering the distance bonus and the ( BtS ) prolonged peace modifiers as well ) as early as possible. Called by many as Trade route economies, this links extremely well with the Great Lighthouse and with some UB ( the Carthaginian Cothon ), but implies trade route access ,either by Astronomy ( bulbing is the best choice ) or by intelligent use of the cultural borders in some maps. This restricts the use of this approach somehow, but it is a strong move if you can pull it. And it suffers a lot in warring times as well…..

Other option is using the bonus that some wonders give to religious buildings and combine it with a shrine, the so called religious economy. Based in the use of wonders like Sankore, Minaret, A. Wat, Apostolic Palace ( BtS ) and Sistine ( BtS version has a different flavor ), it has a strong link with the use of priest specialists…. Its resilience is really astonishing and makes almost any city profitable from the beginning ( if you have free specialist providers even better ) with a really small need of land. The biggest drawback is that it forces you to use a religion that will be hated by everyone else in the world, making you automatically the world’s worst enemy most of the times ( at least you’ll have serious diplomatic problems until most of the AI get to Free religion ). And the high spending of hammers in wonders makes them only a option for industrious leaders or for heavy forested maps….

A option of water maps like this isolated maps normally are is using the Colossus wonder as basis of the economy. It can be a strong move if you have a great quantity of seafood 8 allowing to work a lot of sea tiles, but it has two big drawbacks: first is that it obsoletes early and second is that you need to work extensively sea tiles to get profit… and we must reckon that ,besides fresh water lakes and seafood , sea tiles are not exactly attractive.

Of course that this can be combined in all possible ways ( no reason to not have the great Lighthouse coupled with a heavy cottage economy ,for a example ), but the big mantra here is to use the hand that it is given to you wisely, and that implies to maximize the leader/civ/map combo as much as you can. No one ( I think ) would try to use a cottage approach with a map where more than half of the terrain is tundra and desert and where there is only one small river…… No one would try a wonder heavy approach in a map with few hills and forests…..

Civ IV is a game where you should play heavily in your strengths…. Isolation, with its forced egocentric approach , simply magnifies that.

Contact and late game

Regardless of how you fueled your economy or what tech path you had chosen, you finally got your first diplomatic contacts. And it this moment there is one big temptation: finally you can trade techs….. and the guy has some juicy ones that you would love to have. Giving in to that is a big mistake most of the times. Why? Because:
[*]You don’t know how the diplomatic matrix is in the faraway lands and you may be trading with the the worst enemy of a lot of people. That kind of diplo backfire doesn’t go away and should be avoided at all cost
[*]Most likely that AI will broker the tech(s) you sold them to the other AI and you’ll not gain anything with it… some turns more of waiting could give you a much bigger revenue.

Other issue is the Open borders agreements. You should only make that kind of deals if you really need them or if there is no way it can backfire on you. OB are only useful for you in three ways:
[*]Diplo bonus
[*]Trade route access ( hint: avoid OB with civs that have astro when you don’t have it… no need to give them access to trade routes with you when you can’t do it )
[*]Religion spreading ( for AP victories or for you to acquire the big guys religion )
The first times after the contacting most or all the civs are the ones of big diplomatic decisions ( in fact I think that this the critical part of the game in isolation ). Normally you can devise quickly the big blocks, the AI that have chances to win the game, the ones that can be easy targets, the ones that will get most of the late wonders, even the ones that will attack you sooner or later ( some civs , like Shaka or Alexander ,can start thinking on attacking since first contact and even to wait ages until they can get a way to do it. Check for “ hands full” status religiously ). It is time for deciding how you’ll fit in the world and how are you going to manipulate the AI to your profit.

Before all that , some warnings. There are two things that normally happen in isolation:
[*]First , you normally are one of the weakest civs in game. That is normal: besides barbs and military police, there are no incentives to military buildup and normally is wiser to spend the hammers in buildings and wonders. This can put a bullseye target in you if you trash your diplo, so be very careful with diplomacy until you are strong enough to not fear reprisals. This may mean humiliating caving in to demands…. Normally it is wise to swallow up the pride. You can repay them later, if you want….
[*]Second, identify the worst enemy of the world and simply ignore him. Unless he’s useful for your schemes, trading with him will only give you widespread problems.

And now some words on laying diplo plans:

Finally you got a decent picture of the world diplomatic plan… you know who is strong and who is weak, the blocks, who hates who and who loves who, the geographical disposition ( a isolated Ai is always a good first target option for a military action ). Now is time to think on how you are going to use this knowledge.
The safest and more simple plan is to buddy with one of the blocs, probably the strongest: cave in to their demands, fight a token war or two with their enemies,… This has the big bonus of diverting one of the big dogs out of you back and of getting useful helps. On the other hand, this may gain you the hate of the other bloc and mark you as a target. I recommend this kind of strategy where are a small number of blocs in the world with trustworthy leaders.

Other is to identify the big dog and simply divert his attention to other targets while you work on your choosed victory. This is probably the best way of dealing with that kind of situations where there is a well defined top dog ( Shaka can become this easily if he gets a useful vassal ), but is a risky game… he may win before you and this situations normally cascade: as you get stronger, the AI will vassal easier, that makes you even stronger….

A interesting way is to work the diplo in a way that you make the world to hate your next target, save the world of them, rinse and repeat. This is a good idea when you have some other isolated civs in the maps with shunned religions ( AI normally are not smart enough to change religion because of diplo ). This will give you more land and power and to even win some diplo bonus , but unfortunately you can’t use it all the times. And of course, another AI may be interested in dividing the spoils…..

A final ( and pretty hard ) approach is to play with the inter AI hates and launch them one against each other, making everyone hate someone more than to you. This is a risky and hard path ( it can backfire on you easily ) , but it is probably the best way of dealing with a game with lots of backstabber AI ( Alexander ,Catherine,… ) where they are both untrustworthy for you as to their neighbors…

A final note on this: normally there is a AI or two that tries to keep it self away of the wars and to beeline of a peaceful victory. That can’t be allowed 😉 Identify it and get a way of forcing it to war with someone. That will divert part of his efforts for a peaceful victory to units and will provoke hates ( and hate generates hate )… I bet that particular AI will start brewing war plans from that day on.

About war:

War in isolation is clearly more sea and air based than the war in other map types…. And it comes later too: rarely musket and earlier units will be involved in wars, unless you become seriously backward. This means that war must be thinked in different molds …

First of all you should think defensively: you should not look as a sitting duck. This means that you need to get military tech parity as soon as possible ( do not expect that AI will trade them with you unless you want to be ripped out ) and to get enough naval units to at least protect you seafood. Build enough siege units to soften technically superior military if needed and maintain a eye in the AI naval gathering points to spot possible naval SoD launches on you. This is very important: normally you have the game in the bag when you can assure that no AI stack can land on your island and survive more than 2 turns.

After having enough defense ( this depends obviously of you diplo ), you may start thinking in offense if you want to win in a more militarized fashion. There are some well defined ages for that:
[*]Galleons + frigates + (Ships of the line ( BtS ) )+ Riflemen + Grenadiers +cannons +Cavalry
[*]Transports + destroyers +infantry +artillery
[*]Transports + Battleships + marines + tanks + carriers +air support
[*]Same as above , but with Modernized versions ( mechs ,modern armor,…. )
The first of them is clearly a logistical nightmare, but if you can draft the rifles it can be used against a crippled or isolated AI. Good to get a beachhead in another continent before the railroads can force you to fight all the enemy army vs your landing spearhead.

The advent of Oil based navy and of oil based air units and airports make two pretty noticeable jump points in your ability to wage war in other lands and if you have them first than your enemy and you have a chance of using it, you should strongly consider it. The ability of putting your navy with a high cargo capability where you want it or airlifting units are huge assets and should be treated that way. And of course, if you want to wage war against a powerful foe, maybe it is better to divert his troops elsewhere….. war allies are always useful for that.
And of course, try to have better troop producing ability them your foe…. This makes Factories, HE, power plants and IW crucial, especially if you can get them in front of your foes.

Other option you have is to simply cripple your foe. This will require less investment and can be more useful than a full war assault. Normally it requires a missile approach ( nuclear or ( BtS ) conventional ) or , if your foes don’t have rocketry or flight, planes ( even based in friendly cities ( with escort… remember this ) ) and to destroy crucial improvements ( or simply put his towns in rubble ). Spies ( pre and post BtS ) can also be used for that.

Another issue we can talk about is the diplo providing buildings, UN and ( BtS ) AP .You should always be very careful with those and with who controls it. You should almost always aim to have at least a minority block vote in them, to block certain nocive votes , like the diplo wins ( with AP you can simply avoid the AP religion like the plague as alternative ). UN votes can be pretty bad to you, even with the ( BtS ) ability of defying them ( they can force you into civics you don’t want ,for a quick example ), so having a good idea of who are going to be the UN contenders far before the UN is built is a good asset to have ( normally is the Ind civ that builds it and the top pop dog ), because it allows you to have a rough idea of how to use the UN to your benefit.

And finally wonders… In late game you’ll regain the ability of competing in wonder making ( because of you achieving real tech parity or even superiority ), but it is always better to have some parcimony and build only the wonders that will do good to you…. Don’t build the Pentagon if you’re planning to win by space or UN if you think that you’ll be overthrown of the Sec general seat….. Common sense applies here pretty well

Corporations ( BtS)

Corporations can be used to give some extra life to your late game: they put you in a plan B cultural win ( consult OKATU guide on that ) or to give extra food ( for a UN win ) and hammers ( space , Conquest, Domination ) . They can also provide you with resources you don’t have in your land ( like oil or aluminum ), a acute problem in some isolated starts ( not having oil can kill you and not having aluminum can simply take a Space victory out of sight ). On the other hand, normally Mercantilism and State property are not strong enough competitors to them in isolation….. simply not enough cities to make it worth. The only big competidor to corps is Golden ages in terms of GP usage, but that is clearly specific of each situation….

But what corps to use? .Given the map nature of isolated starts ,sushi is a big competidor due to the sea food. The others are more blury and depend strongly of the particular situation: Ethanol for Oil, Al co for a space win ( aluminum ), Creative + Jewels +Al co +sushi for a win by culture…. All map dependant

Other way to use corps is as cash collector and AI crippler. This will require a corp that can’t do too good to them ( Jewels is a good candidate if the AI is not aiming to a cultural win ) and spread it aggressively in their land to raise the maintenance fees. This works particularly well with forced UN environmentalism and it can drag a AI enough to give you a win in a tight SS race… the corporation money normally cover the executive expenses, so you don’t suffer much harm. It worked in a very noticeable way in pre 3.13, but it is still a useful tactic.

Victory types: some rough guidelines
AP ( BtS… pre and post 3.13 )

Apostolic Palace victories were probably the easiest way of winning in isolation ever before patch 3.13 …. It consisted mainly in:
[*]Found a religion ( Christian is a good choice… you’ll need theocracy anyway )
[*]Build the AP
[*]Spread religion to all of your cities
[*]Beeline optics
[*]Spread the word to one of every civs cities
[*]Grow your pop as much as you can ( unhappy or not , they will still count for your votes )
[*]Call the vote

I done it this way in the De Gaulle LHC … Cheffster done a really good road guide on this in the João LHC, including some ways to work around the Theocratic civs
With patch 3.13 the diplo wins have a security valve that disallows a civ to call a vote if it can win solely with their votes ( I really don’t like this solution , but I must reckon that calling a victory diplomatic when the only guy that voted for you was yourself is somewhat stupid ). This made both UN and AP more difficult, because:
[*]You need to not pass the victory limit ( 75 % in AP )
[*]You need to get someone to vote for you ( and that your votes + their yotes > 75 % )

In terms of isolation you have two main ways of getting a extra AI to vote for you:
[*]Heavy buttering of a weak AI

The first option is somewhat complicated but it is doable if you can wait for the positive diplo modifiers to jump in, and as in AP there is the possibility of only having one candidate the danger of divided loyalties does not arise. In my experience you normally need to have a +10
Global diplo to make a AI vote for you, if there are not candidates to the AP win ( otherwise they will vote for themselves ). This almost surely means that you will need to cave in to some requests, that you and them are both running their favorite civic and that you gave them a lot of stuff ( to kick in the “fair deal” and the “shared technological” modifiers ). For that you need to be picky about the civ you choose: it has to be a easy to please one, that does not beg too much and with a easily achievable favorite civic ( Nothing like State property ,that only is achievable pretty late ).

The other option is vassals…. Vassals are forced to vote to you if they are not candidates to the AP win. Capitulated vassals will have most surely another religion, so you only need to spread your AP religion until you + vassal have more than 75 % of the votes ( with the obvious caution to avoid that he’ll flip to your religion ). Colonies work pretty much equally, but as you create them ,you need to warrant that they will not have the AP religion as the state one…. This means most likely that you need to have access to other religion to force the colony to adopt it….. It can be very tricky.

How to spread the AP religion to maximize the AP effect?

I normally follow this rough guide ( copied from a response to pawelo about how to optimize a AP win in isolation ) :

Following this guide will give you normally something between 60 -80 % of the AP votes at first vote call opportunity. After that you just need to do the necessary adjustments ( to spread more the religion to lower your % or to fatten yourself or one of the voters in you )

All of the written above assumes that you had built the AP. Trying to win via a foreign AP in isolation is extremely difficult , because you need to acquire the AP religion, to spread it in your lands and to get another person to vote for you ( like in above )… and the AP owner will always be a contender….. Besides that you can be caught in the between having religion in one city and to have enough votes to block a AP win with a AP win vote , it is a big amount of work…. Not sure if it would be worthy in most cases

UN ( pre and post BtS 3.13 )

I’ll not talk much about this , mainly because Invisiblestalke made a pretty good article ( available in the war academy exactly about how to win via UN in isolation ( click here ), in spite of the article being of Warlords time ( It would need to include the possible effects of corporations in fattening the UN votes and the use of espionage to lower the enemy population ,that in BtS is very different of Vanilla and warlords )….

The principle is exactly the same described above: you need to get someone else to vote for you ( unless you start conquering , it will be extremely improbable that a isolated civ will get enough pop to have more than the UN win threshold ) …. Colonies ( BtS )won’t help much in here, but capitulated vassals will. If you can’t/ don’t want to get a vassal, you’ll need to butter a AI to get the necessary votes ( same as above )

Victory types: some rough guidelines ( continued )


I joined this two victories because they will need pretty much the same home base improvements… just the final touch can differentiate them.

For you to win by conquest or domination, you’ll need first of all of tech parity with the targets. That and logistical considerations rarely let that you start a intercontinental invasion before the age of galleons and rifles. If you have a riflemen UU ( redcoat ) and you want to win the world via war, you should consider starting the hostilities with them … they are draftable and your foes most likely will not have railroads , allowing you to get a less virulent counter strike.

But the golden age to start the wars is with the infantry + artillery + destroyers +transports combo…. Infantries are very resilient units and can be used for a lot of roles ( anti cavalry, anti gunpowder, city taking ( some leftover CR promo ) ,specialized tile defense…. ). Artileries are good both to wear down the defenses as to grind the AI units in city and in field and can even be useful as stack defenders if you suffer a lot of collateral damage from AI siege ( machine guns are good for that ,but you may not want to divert too much production to them…. )

The entering of the air borne units bring a intense advantage to the one that gets there first, both because of the pure air power as because of logistical considerations ( airlift and ( BtS ) paratroopers ). This means that you should aim to get Flight ASAP, because it multiplies your capability of waging war and the damage to the enemy …

Industrialism opens another set of war waging units, with the advent of other strong duo in a isolated start: marines and tanks. Tanks are superb attacking units with their blitz promotion and can even replace most of the artillery in terms of wearing down city garrisons ( with a little help from the sky to wear down the cultural defenses ) and can also take care of them self on field ( except against dedicated tank counters , like gunships or ( BtS ) Anti Tank infantry ). Marines are stronger than infantries ( but also bring the infantry units: marines don’t have anti gunpowder bonuses ) and have a natural anti siege bonus on attack, making them good to fend both artillery stacks and entrenched machine gunners. They can also be airlifted as needed to protect newly conquered cities ( in this days you should be running Universal Suffrage or Police State … $ rushing airports is a strong move, as the extra military production ( and above all , no war weariness )…. Both have their uses. I personally love lowering all sliders to the minimum and complement production with cashrush… has serious logistical advantages ( you can cashrush needed buildings and you can cash rush near the front , instead of having to airlift or even to transport by sea ) )

The last era of military units is basically a enhanced version of the tanks era: better bombers ( stealth ) , better infantry ( mechanized ) , better tanks ( modern armor )… it does not bring a big jump in terms of new tactics ( except the missiles ( especially the (BtS )cruise missiles…. They are possibly the more overpowered unit in the game, because they simply don’t have any kind of possible counter…. They are exceptionally good to cripple a foe )

The choice of target of your actions is pretty important. Normally it is better to start by shunned and/ or weak civs ( nobody will cry for them… maybe you’ll even win some extra diplo because of that ). Other consideration to have is the geography…
Combining both, we can draw a nice list of good targets for first attack:
[*]Isolated civs… no risk of a neighbor SoD to intervene and possibly you’ll erase a shunned civ ( AI in isolation beeline religion with utter vigor and tend to stick with their religion… not good for their diplo )
[*]Two civs continents… much alike the above ,but you may even be invited by one of the civs. And after finishing erasing one, you may turn to the another….
[*]Blocked and crippled AI in a corner of a big continent… perfect beachhead for the assault to the big guys
[*]Religious black sheep… self explanatory

Now comes a big problem… in isolated starts your first cities are normally designed to maximize or food ( to specialists ) or commerce. Now you need production…. You have some options: convert some of the cities to production, use food cities to whip or draft or simply make new cities as production centers.
My personal favorite is to make new cities geared to production: reconversion of cities is always a hard thing to do well, whip becomes extremely inefficient, draft is very cost effective, but very inelastic ( only 3 units/turn and only from a very restricted lot of units ) and costly in terms of happiness. Making a production geared city is quite fast ( you only need barracks ,granary, production multipliers ( forge ,factory ,plants ,Ironworks ) and health buildings to counteract the heavy unhealthiness…. If you do it right it is fully functional in 40 turns… ) and in that era you can choose between various models ( farm + mine , farm + workshop , farm + watermill , farm + lumber mill, …). BtS levees and corps can also help a good production city ( either by hammers of by food to feed the working citizens ).
This cities should receive the military production enhancers as soon as possible ( HE if still available , military academies as soon as GG start to appear , drydocks… ) and at least one of them should be able to produce naval units

There is a fact that you should always take in account when you think in attacking a faraway civ before you have a solid pont de apuis there: your spearhead runs the serious danger of having to face a big SoD…. There are some ways of dealing with it:
[*]You make a roundup stack with lots of anti promos ( pinch, formation, guerrilla , woodsman, drill ( to survive better to siege ) , march ) and land him in a convenient hill to attract the enemy SoD ( that normally has a lot of CR promos ) to them, while the real expeditionary force lands elsewhere.
[*]Attack after the AI had moved their SoD elsewhere due to another war ( provoked by your bribes or not )
The second option is normally the best , but is not always in hand…..

After you take some cities in other lands you need to decide how are you going to deal with your newly acquired domains:
[*]You vassal your former foe
[*]You create a colony
[*]You keep it all
[*]You raze as a mad man and move on
All of this options can be useful, depending of your objectives, but they lead to different paths: vassals are better to Conquest and diplo wins, keeping all is more directed for a true dom win. It also has effects in the civics: the increased maintenance costs of overseas possessions point directly to State Property as the solution… with the inevitable consequences of (BtS ) lost of corporations effects and of Free Market ,mercantilism and environmentalism benefits . This is a important decision and should not be taken lightly….


Before I start to talk about going to space in isolation, I must warn you that I love space races and I do not consider that I master a level until I win by space ( my dream would be to win a Space race in deity… Then I would consider that I had mastered fully the game )… and that most of my LHC wins were by space. So forgive me a little of over enthusiasm….

Space is a nice and viable option for almost all the isolated starts, mainly because you have time to put a economical structure to work before you are in the middle of the diplomatic mess of the world. But normally in isolation you have the handicap of being land limited ( I consider that normally a viable SS race needs 8 decent cities and sometimes you simply don’t have room for that in your island ) and the possible lack of resources ( the lack of coal and Aluminum is pretty handicapping … trying a SS race without access to those resources is worse than upping a level IMHO ).

So what you need to try a good SS win in isolation?

Before anything, winning by space in isolation rarely is a good last chance option if the military path goes bad ( unlike it happens so much in non isolated games ). In isolation you are confined to a island unless you conquer something outside and for that you’ll need a lot more of hammer effort than for a non isolated game (at least you’ll have to build a decent navy and to make a SoD good enough to hold the first counterstrike with no big chances of fast reinforcements) and you have less time. This means that you most surely will have to choose between units and universities pretty soon simply because you don’t have enough hammers per turn for both. Space normally it isn’t a last resort option for a isolated start ( in fact I must say that my LHC experience ( both as player and as lurker of other players games ) makes me to think that in isolation you sort out a lot of possible options for a in far sooner than in other games….. the simple fact that you are isolated pruns some options pretty badly )

Any SS race (isolated or not) has two main phases: a big science thrust and a late prod twisted era to build the SS. The first phase is normally a nice builder paradise in isolation: most of cities getting beaker enhancers ( libraries, universities , observatories… ) and focusing on getting beakers to the research ,while your diplo is geared towards getting filler techs ( as the levels go up, the necessity of getting good tech trades increases for a SS win: you simply can’t win a SS race vs the AI using your own beakers in a equal soil basis ) and maintaining peace ( you really don’t need a to divert your precious hammers from universities to units…. And having a enemy SoD in your lands is not exactly helpful ) as possible and helpful ( peace in Civ IV is not always the best option, even if you are in the losing side…. ) . The last phase normally means a complete shift of the focus to maximizing production, mainly because SS parts are a big hammer investment and in the late years you normally can get the techs faster than the SS parts that it enables. Some players get to extremes for that and even make radical landscape changes (watermills over towns, for a quick example )….

The first phase, as said before, revolves around techs. As you can imagine, there are some techs that are crucial in a SS race… in isolation the first big ones are Education and Astronomy: both unlock beaker multipliers ( the first after libraries and the possible academies ) and astronomy unlocks foreign intercontinental ( BtS ) trade routes, that gives a huge boost to a isolated civ economy. Biology is a nice tech booster as well, via the extra pop ( be sure you have enough happiness to take full advantage of that ). Printing Press and democracy are also good techs to have, but they are more economy type related ( in spite of SoL being a nice wonder to have/deny to the AI )… and as I already won SS races with CE, SE , religious and trade route economies in isolation , I let to the player choice which economy to use for a SS win. Regardless of all that, you should have a decent idea of what tech paths the AI in your game are following, to maximize trade opportunities ( and that is one of the reasons I didn’t talked about some techs, like Physics.. as AI loves it so bad, rarely it is worthy to beeline directly for it )… this will multiply your real teching ability.

The first tech that opens the late prod phase is Replaceable parts, that allow you to transform forests in something more useful than a unmined grassland hill….If you haven’t chopped as a mad man this will help you a lot. But the real deal is the duo Steam Power – Assembly Line, because both unlock two heavy prod boosters, Factories ,Coal Plants and (BtS) levees( and the coal for the second one ). Steel , with Ironworks ,should be considered as well. By this time you should start worrying in making at least 3 strong prod cities to chunk out the more hammer intensive SS parts…. I normally use new cities for this ( I already explained why in the Conquest/Dom item: I don’t like to reconvert cities ), at least for the IW and (BtS ) NP city ( this normally can be made a strong prod city by a combination of priests and engineers and the hammers from the preserve forests ). You can make a prod city very easily and with various designs ( my favorite is the heavy lumbermill IW … this heavy prod cities are very unhealthy especially the BtS ones , and the simple presence of forests helps a lot with that ) in a short amount of turns: a pure prod city for a SS race only really needs: granary , forge, factory, plant ( which one you prefer ), observatory and lab ( a levee or Moai ( BtS ) ( if by accident you haven’t done it yet ) if possible is a no brainer … and of course the food, happy and health enough to run the show ( the last one most surely means some extra buildings, like aqueducts and hospitals ) ) and can be assembled pretty fast in the late game.

The diplo should never be disregarded if you go to space… you should identifty the AI that can steal the win from you ( the crazy techer, the guy that eaten 2 civs and vassaled another and that says that he prefers to win the game if you try to bribe him out of war, the Ind guy with 6 religions and with a high culture account in the big 3 ,the AP owner….. ) and to work accordingly… the more dangerous for me is the midly loved AI that is in a corner of a big continent and that had the bright idea of not messing in wars. Of course that it has a good infrastructure and decent army ( never lost units ), probably good access to religions ( more cathedrals ) and will be hard to turn someone against him. I’ll put some examples of how to isolate a possible threat in the “Some ideas and gambits (examples from games)” section.

And now the really important issue: you teched until the beginning of the modern age and have 2 -3 good prod cities ready to chunk out SS parts. Probably you have 2 or 3 AI that are roughly on the same level as you and that can become contenders ( I suppose that you already identified possible culture winners and that took care of the issue ). Now you can’t rely on tech trades (AI will never sell SS techs… it is hardcoded) to get the techs you need: which path to follow?

About that a thing must be said: all of the Civ IV AI versions are pretty poor in terms of SS races. Warlords and Vanilla one simply piled techs for order of beaker price (making them extremely predictable and easy to outpace by good beelining) … BtS one makes more conscious efforts for a win ( sometimes I saw a AI beelining genetics , that is one of the possible good moves ) but the new tech tree and the fact that SS can have different speeds and components didn’t allowed a better optimizing of AI tech path … and it continues to be extremely predictable.

AI, when starts thinking about a SS win, makes a pretty distinctive path: Rocketry ( either via flight or artillery ), Radio , Industrialism , Plastics… then it wanders around refrigeration or Fission, maybe it will take Advanced flight or Laser, some will try a stab on robotics…. Have you noticed the pattern? They don’t beeline the heavy techs : Fusion and Genetics Besides that the AI research path does not take in account the necessary/optional requirements for a SS launch in BtS. In that regard the AI needs to be tweaked: they beeline the tech that gives SS casings and build them all and then they go to Fusion for engines. That disallows AI of trying a hasty launch with less casings, just letting them to decide between a slower SS now ( 1 engine ) or a faster one in a few turns ( 2 engines ), not between a slow but safe ship ( complete SS ) and a faster ( to get there earlier than a already launched SS ) but riskier SS ( with less than the max number of casings ) , like humans do in tight SS races. And that gives a huge advantage to the human.

Other issue that should be taken in account is that the BtS AI sometimes tries to stop a SS success via military invasion …. This means that the Human player should always try to build the SS parts in the minimum amount of time possible ( this is good advice for pre-BtS as well )

All of this leads to one conclusion: You should aim to Fusion and Genetics as fast as possible ( they unlock the heaviest SS parts hammerwise and ( BtS ) launching with one extra engine may be the difference between winning and losing )…. This means to beeline Computers or (BtS ) Superconductors to get the labs on ( you still need to tech a lot of beakers… and they give a huge discount in SS parts … and the Internet may still be useful for 1 or 2 free SS techs ), Industrialism -> Plastics ( aluminum and the three gorges dam… besides that both open a lot of techs and units in the late era ), Rocketry and Fission ( the last one can still be traded… ), then a determined beeline to Fusion and to Genetics ( I prefer fusion first, then Genetics …. We have to build 2 engines ( BtS ) and there is a free engineer for the first one to get there ). Refrigeration can enter here or sooner and to end Ecology, Satellites and Composites ( the cheapest parts … and (BtS ) if you need to do a hasty launch you can do it sooner cutting some casings ). Using this scheme ( it will depend of the game ) you can easily launch a full SS 8 turns after you had finished your first SS part and 20 – 25 turns after you made Apollo ( normal speed… ) ,most likely preventing a AI of attacking you due to the sheer lack of time to prepare the naval invasion. Of course this is the barebone path and it can cause you some trouble due to the possible late wars… missile cruisers eat battleships and even more with guided missiles on deck. Feel free to divert research to/steal/trade for some military techs if you sense danger….

There is still one last thing to say: you should avoid to run a SS against only one contender at all costs…. My experience with it is that facing 2 SS contenders is far easier, probably due to the fact that when you’re facing one SS contender probably he smashed the other AI enough. And this is always a dangerous AI type to face… work early against this AI ( isolate him diplowise ,bribe a backstabber AI to attack it,.. ) and you will not have to work hard.

P.S I sincerely hope that the next patch brings a more SS competent AI. If that happens I reserve myself the right of withrawing my low regard comments on the AI SS ability 😉


Before I start , I must reckon that I’m not a big fan of cultural wins… it is a matter of personal taste. I could count by the fingers of one hand the cultural victories I had in this game and that does not make me the best person to talk about cultural victories.

Before all, let’s look to the definition of cultural victory. To win a cultural victory you need 3 cities with 50000 culture (normal speed ) … given that besides wonders, most of buildings give 4 culture per turn or less and that a settled artist gives 12 , it forces you to think about the culture multipliers ( cathedrals, Hermitage , the Hits wonders (Rock n’ Roll , Broadway , Hollywood ), Broadcast towers ( or Eiffel ) and some UB ( Chinese and Ethiopian one ) ). There is also the culture slider, unlocked by Music ( that gives a free Great artist as well ). Some civics can also add to your cultural slider ( Free religion, by allowing every religion in a city to produce culture ) or Multiply it ( Free Speech ).

The ways of winning a cultural victory in isolation are basically the same that in non isolation:

[*]The good all beaten path of founding a good number of religions, beeline Music , make cathedrals in the big 3, research Liberalism and democracy, adopt Free religion and free speech ( along with caste system ( to allow unlimited artists ) and Pacifism instead of Free religion ( to boost Great artist generation ) ) and put culture in the highest possible level ( and bite nails until the end while pressing enter ).

This was the stand art way of winning by culture in pre BtS times and it has a apparent synergy with isolation, because it implies a good focus in infrastructure and because isolation meant a great deal of security in terms of AI invasions (pre -BtS AI was absolutely dreadful in intercontinental invasions ) compensating the fact that your military would get obsolete pretty fast. It works, but has some dangers: the first being the fact that you’re denying religions to the AI ( I can’t stress this point enough: Isolation gives the human a big power in religion manipulation… but it presents big risks if you misuse it ), that can complicate things to you pretty badly…. And that BtS AI is far more competent in terms of naval invasions, making this approach extremely shaky sometimes. Other issue (not one of the minors ) is that you may not have room for the 9 cities that are needed for this ( assuming stand art map ) besides cramping some pretty badly.

[*]The way that Sisiutil describes in his Intermediate Tactics and Gambits article in point 7: resumed in a nutshell refers to tech normally while pilling artists in the big 3 without lowering the beaker slider ( using Caste and Pacifism, and bombing/settling the Artists that you get in the weaker of the Big 3 ). I believe that this approach is the best in pre-BtS times ,because it allows you to maintain some tech parity with the AI, thus helping to maintain a decent defense technology. It also allows to get the late game culture multipliers, a thing that the previous approach does not. It is a safer bet, in spite of not allowing sooner wins than the previous.

[*]BtS revamped completely the culture win scenarios, by changing the Sistine Wonder ( now much more powerful in terms of culture generation ) and by the introduction of Corporations. OTAKUjbski has a good article on corps use for cultural wins…. Basically you found Sushi , Jewels, Creative Constructions and Aluminum and spread it to the big 3, while trading for the corps resources. This synergize well with Sisiutil’s idea, especially considering that Sushi , besides giving culture it also gives food for more artist specialists.. I’ve seen games with corps giving 100 raw culture per turn… this combined with Sistine artists and temples, wonders and some culture multipliers, can give easily 1000 culture per turn, allowing the game to finish pretty fast.

A warning sign for BtS players: AI understands cultural victories and it is not uncommon to see a invasion aimed at you to stop you from winning ( you would do the same …. ). This means that or you win before that or you need to prevent it, either via pure military power or via the subtle ways of diplomacy. A lot of what is said about manipulating civs diplomatically above can and should be applied here… and that is one of the reasons I discourage the use of the first option for culture wins, besides the obvious case that you can win in the 1600ishs or under: it relies too much on luck, because you don’t have time to manipulate diplomacy and you have no army to speak for…. A mix of the second and the third options makes less spectacular wins ,but much more safer ones…..

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