Explaining the Vassal System

I’ve written the following in an attempt to help explain the Vassal System in the CIV: Warlords expansion. It may not be the most comprehensive explanation possible, but I hope it helps answer some of the many recurring questions which pop up in threads throughout the forums. Please feel free to add to or whatever in posts following.
Good Hunting.

The Warlords expansion introduces a new diplomatic option called Vassal State. Vassal states are like an “asymmetric alliance” between two Civs. Basically, one civilization serves as the master in the relationship and collects tribute from the weaker, vassal nation. After the discovery of Feudalism the Vassal State option becomes available in the Diplomacy menu.

There are two ways to acquire a vassal state, [B]voluntary[/B] Vassal-ing, and [B]Non-voluntary ([I]Capitulated[/I])[/B] Vassal-ing. The second acquisition method is more common, basically consisting of skull-thumping another Civ until it cries “uncle” and begs for mercy. At which point the losing Civ Capitulates to the winning Civ sacrificing it’s independence for mere survival and a chance (usually small) at one day regaining independence. A Vassal State that has [B]Capitulated[/B] does not get the option to voluntarily end the Vassal agreement unless certain conditions are met.

The less common method occurs during peacetime where a relatively small and weak Civ tries to partner up with a much more powerful Civ, and in exchange for protection agrees to become a Vassal State. A Civ which becomes a Vassal State during peace time is given the opportunity every 10 turns to end the agreement. Throughout long and turbulent games some states may routinely enter into and out of being a Vassal State frequently. When a Voluntary Vassal decides to secede the Master Civ is given the option of simply allowing the Vassal State to become independent, or can choose to protest this decision, in which case both states then become locked in a state of war.

In both cases, a Vassal State may choose to break the Vassal agreement when any of the three following conditions occur:
[INDENT][B]Condition 1[/B]: The Vassal State looses more than half of it’s territory that it owned at the time it became a Vassal State. For example: Monty become your Vassal and has 4 cities when he becomes your Vassal. Over time Monty grows his Civ to 8 cities total. If Monty looses 4 of his cities through war or culture flipping, he still has 4 cities left and cannot break the agreement. If he lost 6 of his 8 cities he will then have lost 50% of his original lands and can then choose to end the agreement (usually with some terse statement about “not being able to protect us.”) [I]It should also be noted that if your Vassal looses cities, etc. to [B]YOU[/B] through culture flipping [B]THAT[/B] also counts towards the loss of territory condition[/I].

[B]Condition 2[/B]: The Vassal State grows in size [B]AND[/B] population to a point where it has more than [I]50% of the Master Civ’s size AND population[/I]. It’s important to reiterate that this is a two part condition. [B]BOTH[/B] have to be met in order for this option to become available to the Vassal.

[B]Condition 3:[/B] This is a minor possibility which can occur, where the Master demands a particular resource and the Vassal refuses the Masters request, in which case the two states are at war. This does happen, but it hasn’t happened to me since I try to eliminate any potential escape route for my new pets. Since the Master can demand any single resource from the Vassal and the Vassal can’t refuse this single / first demand it’s best to choose the resource carefully, i.e. a strategic resource of some sort. Let’s say you’re in the classical or medieval era and need your Vassal’s horse resource so you demand and take. But later on you somehow lose your source of iron and demand it from your Vassal, he can refuse and break the Vassal agreement. So plan ahead when it comes to your resource requests. And by the way there is nothing to stop you from selling the horse back to your Vassal.[/INDENT]

Should a Vassal choose to break the agreement due to the above conditions listed above, the Vassals Master may not agree to peaceably allow the Vassal to become independent, in which case a state of war exists between the two Civs.

Regrettably, [B]there is currently no method to Release a Vassal from your control[/B], so weigh your decision carefully before accepting a Vassal. [This statement is true as of and up to the v2.08 patch, you’d think this would be an obvious feature to include in the game considering it would make things more logically consistent AND reflect actual history, but whatever]. Theoretically it is possible to actually aggravate your vassal into refusing a resource demand at which point the Master could then decide to let the Vassal go or go to war with the now ex-Vassal IF the Vassal refuses the resource demand.

[B][U]Some basic pro’s of acquiring a Vassal:[/U][/B]

[INDENT]*The master enjoys complete freedom of movement in the vassal’s territory, including the ability to heal normally in the vassal’s territory and use fortifications owned by the vassal. The master can also investigate any vassal city. And as of the v2.08 patch the Master can now Airlift units directly into a Vassal’s cities. The Master no longer has to pay supply costs for units inside of the Vassal’s lands. However, the Master must agree to an Open Borders agreement with the Vassal in order for the Vassal to move units into and out of the Master’s territory.

*The master can demand any [B]SINGLE[/B] resource from a vassal, even one that the vassal is using. The vassal has the right to refuse the [B]SECOND[/B] demand but if they do the two states are immediately at war. This can come in handy if your Vassal has the only strategic resource available to you: i.e. Copper, Iron, Horses, Oil, Aluminum, etc. Just remember to plan ahead if the resource will lose it’s strategic value (cough horses cough).

*The master’s people enjoy increased happiness. Those in the vassal empire suffer decreased happiness (but frankly who cares about that bit, it only acts as an incentive for the Vassal to purchase luxury goods from the Master to placate the populace and so long as you keep your Vassal under heel then it’s his problem).

*The vassal can’t make war or peace on its own. It immediately adopts the master’s war and peace relationships.

*Half of the vassal’s territory and population count towards the master’s domination victory AND score. Which can truly speed up a Domination or Conquest win.

*You can rehabilitate your relationship over time with the Vassal Civ through normal diplomatic means, i.e. Open borders, Shared State Religions, Mutual Military Struggle (if battling another Civ), occasional gifts, etc. Also, after the v2.08 patch the Mutual Defense Pact bonus is now added into the diplomatic modifier between you and your vassal.[/INDENT]

[B][U]The Downside of having a Vassal(s):[/U][/B]

[INDENT]*Having vassal cities will incur higher maintenance cost for your own cities. And if someone could find me the actual formula so I can provide a clear example of this I (and anyone else who reads this) would greatly appreciate it. Regardless of what the formula is put some extra thought into your economy to counter any uptick in maintenance costs.

*Other civs may like you a little less when you have a vassal. You will most likely see a [B]-1[/B] Diplomacy Penalty in you relations with other Civ’s as they “Fear their Rivals becoming your Vassal.” This penalty is somewhat relative to the power of the Vassal-ed Civ. But regardless, if you have 3 Vassal’s of even modest power expect a [B]-3[/B] penalty with every other Civ left.

*Similarly, a Vassal who has gone around the continent stirring up trouble is not going to be a good choice to become a Voluntary Vassal as the other Civ’s will view your patronage as if you were allies. The AI hatred of your Vassal may override their friendly feelings towards you.

*Although you can direct what your Vassal researches the Vassal’s Master doesn’t share in the discovery. So if your vassal somehow manages to acquire some technology you don’t have, he doesn’t have to share it with you, nor can you compel the Vassal into sharing the tech. This is the complete opposite of the same occurrence during a Permanent Alliance, where the two allies can research different techs and the discoveries are shared between the two.[/INDENT]

[U][B]Your Economy: The ONLY thing that Matters:[/B][/U]

Before you consider whether or not take on a Vassal make sure your house is in order first. Other threads have and will explain the specifics how best to manage or to help guide your economic advancement. I will simply sum things up thusly: If you don’t have a strong economy you can’t afford to do anything with your empire, let alone acquire someone else’s.

That being said, the increased maintenance costs to your cities can be negated by a strong economy. Which means you need to develop both your cities and your newly acquire cities as quickly and as best as possible. This also means not going pillaging happy during the conquest. You want the war to be as efficient as possible, end as quickly as possible, and the reconstruction to be just as quick. You want those new cities to become profitable to help further expansion of the empire.

The maintenance cost is most pronounced if you acquire Vassal’s early (like right after discovery of Feudalism) and when the freshly conquered cities aren’t quite back online to being profitable for you. Later wars do tend to negate the increase mainly because both you and your Vassal have stronger economies (usually).

Some Civ’s are a bit more suited to this than others due to their leader traits, Creative (+2 Culture in each city), Financial (+1 Commerce on 2 Commerce plots) and Organized (-50% Empire Maintenance) being the more obvious traits. I mention the Creative trait specifically because it will help push the cultural borders out further & quicker thereby getting cities up to their fat cross potential earlier, very handy when subjugating neighbors.

The downside of the creative trait is that it probably won’t be the best idea to Vassal-ize a Creative Civ. Although the Vassal cannot take your city from you, he can surround and overwhelm the city culturally, with near constant riots being the result. The Financial & Organized traits should really speak for themselves on this point.

[U][B]Thoughts on the Acquisition of Vassals:[/B][/U]

[INDENT]*The more vastly more preferable situation is to acquire a Vassal through [B]Capitulation[/B]. A Voluntary Vassal will simply leave you at the earliest convenient time, usually the most inconvenient time for you after having driven up your maintenance cost and enjoyed your protection. There may good short term advantages to accepting a voluntary Vassal such as beefing up a combined front to stave off more powerful Civs.

*A [B]Capitulated Vassal [/B]is going to have one heck of an uphill challenge to get out from under your thumb. For example; let us assume a situation where all things are equal. Both you and your rival have six cities each, each city has 10 population, all cities are growing at roughly the same population rate. You declare war and conquer three of his cities (including the original capital since it is most likely the choicest morsel in his empire). You now have nine cities under your control to his three. Preferably you have taken what I call his core cities, which are the ones that have been founded the earliest and have since been grown and developed, usually the heart of the empire. In the current example your opponent will most likely have three good and three average cities he’s working with, which means it’s probably going to be beyond his capabilities to ever breach the 50% of Masters Land AND 50% of Maters Population to be able to break away, especially when you keep the war machine rolling, as illustrated below:

………….You………………..Vassal 1
Start……6……………………6……………………Vassal 2
War 1…..9……………………3……………………6……………………Vassal 3
War 2…..12………………….3……………………3…………………….6
War 3…..15………………….3……………………3…………………….3

** This example only shows a static situation, if you acquire the Vassals early enough they can expand over time (preferably filling in scrub areas that you yourself don’t want to settle, yet you don’t want a rival to settle the area as well.

………….You…….Vassal 1
Start……60……….60………………….Vassal 2
War 1…..90***….30…………………..60…………………Vassal 3
War 2…..120***…30………………….30…………………..60
War 3…..150***…30………………….30…………………..30

***This wouldn’t be exact since cities lose population after conquest but the concept should be clear at this point. Plus if running the slavery civic you can whip away the unhappiness and crank out some buildings which may have been destroyed during the conquest.

And what do you think the odds are that any of the Vassals are going to be able to break away? Slim to none. [/INDENT]

[U][B]Leveraging Your Vassal’s Properly And Making the Most of Them:[/B][/U]

[INDENT]*Prior to the v2.08 patch it was possible to simply sell your excess resources to your Vassal(s) even when the Vassal in question had no Gold Per Turn available. The Vassal would come up with the GPT by lowering it’s discretionary spending (on such things as Research or Culture). This created a very lucrative (and historically accurate, I might add) incentive for acquiring Vassals and then basically pimping them out into cash cows. . . . ah the good old days. Anyhoo, since the patch this is no longer a real option, a similar effect can be created using the Aggressive Trading / Subsidies Tactic discussed elsewhere. Regardless, Vassals can still be lucrative in the long run (discussed later).

*To reiterate an earlier point: when acquiring the Vassal [B]DO NOT [/B]pillage the guy to hell and back, the resources will only have to be re-developed and that takes time you wouldn’t otherwise have to spend. Pillage the guy to hell and back when you don’t think you can take his cities and you want to just punish the guy for your troubles.

*When it comes to the [B]Voluntary Vassals[/B], don’t gift them any military techs unless you absolutely have to, and at the same time direct their research away from the military techs. Preferably to some mutually beneficial technology which grants the Vassal the ability to harvest some resource (which if necessary you can then demand the resource from the Vassal at a later time). It’s very likely that the Voluntary Vassal will forgo your benevolent leadership and managerial skills at some time and break away in the near future. You don’t want to create a situation where you’ve just helped your now rival leap frog up to military parity with you.

*What you [B]DO[/B] want to do is get a properly [B]Capitulated[/B] Civ up to speed so it can be the greatest assistance to you, which may include bestowing some military techs to your new Vassal. Thereby allowing him to jump up militarily (though there is a good argument for quantity rather than quality for the Vassal’s military, constantly feeding the enemy Great General points and experience points may serve to come back to haunt you).

*After acquiring your new pet you need to get him on your side, you’ve already shown him the stick now show him the carrot and try to rehabilitate your relationship with the Vassal. Spread your religion to all his remaining cities and cajole him to convert (We Care For Our Brothers & Sisters of Faith), open up the borders, gift him some defunct resource (preferably a defunct resource like Copper when you have Iron, if he doesn’t have either he WILL appreciate the Copper, “Our Trade Relations Have Been . . . “). When you go for your next Vassal you’ll get a “Mutual Military Struggle” bonus with the current Vassal.

*It’s not important that your Vassal like you, some never will (Monty can really hold a grudge). What [B]IS[/B] important is that he become and remain useful to you. So why try to cozy up to him? Simple, the earlier you acquire the Vassal the more time he has to spread out and stake claims of his own, which can be a double edged sword. It is entirely possible for the Vassal to become pleased with his master, meet the criteria to break away and yet not do so (in this possible, though low probability example, it is important to remember the sage advice: “[I]You can get farther with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word[/I].” So have some weight to back up your dominance). The AI will take into account your, and your remaining Vassals, strength into account when decision times come around. You can never go wrong with having the largest army you can afford.

Anyway, as your Vassal’s spread out they develop resources which you otherwise would not, I for instance am not sticking some poor settler out BFA (Alaska) just to get some dang fur or deer resource, let the Vassals do that, anyway, more resources your Vassal has the more he can trade with you mutually benefiting both empires. And if your Vassal is of the same faith as ye he will help spread the Word amongst the heathens, spreading the gospel (and your line of sight and your shrine income and potentially laying the seeds for an easier invasion some turns down the road).

*The aggressive Civ’s tend to make for your better pets, Monty, Alex, etc. especially since once brought to heel tend maintain high military strength even when not ramping up for war, which means they’re usually ready to help skullthump on your behalf. Which can soften up or even better create a second front against your next conquest, keeping enemy resources tied up can be an excellent tactic especially if you ask the Vassal to focus on attacking one specific enemy city.

*In general terms you are probably going to acquire what’s closest to you rather than on the far side of the world. Which is usually for the better since it’s easier for someone else to pick off something that’s closer to them. Which leads to the next two points on Vassal Strategy:
[INDENT][B]*1*[/B] Vassals can be used as excellent staging platforms for further invasions. For example: pretend there are three Civs: A,B, and C. All three occupy the same continent and border each other in the same alphabetical order. For the moment lets say Civ B is on good terms with both A and C, A and C however don’t like each other and soon go to war, with Civ C capitulating and becoming the Vassal of Civ A. Civ B now has a bigger problem than he did before with two neighbors because now he has no hope of any balance of power to maintain his existence. Civ A now has the ability to launch invasions from both sides of Civ B’s empire simultaneously, a tactic the AI does not deal with well.

[B]*2*[/B] In the same example above Civ B is as likely to attack Civ A’s territory as it to attack Civ A’s Vassal (the Old Civ C). This leaves the field wide open for Civ A to invade while Civ B concentrates on Civ C and any Civ A cities conquered from Civ C. Here’s the great part, if B does manage to make headway on the Vassal and knock out enough territory to break the Vassal agreement, who cares if the Vassal’s cities are getting raised or captured? It’s better that the losses consume and distract Civ B’s military resources while Civ A rolls on in from the opposite side and forces Civ B to capitulate. All in all Civ A is sitting pretty with all of it’s territory and a chunk of Civ B and Civ C’s territory, plus some vassals to kick around. [/INDENT]

*To summarize the above, it’s better for your Vassal(s) to take a beating than you. In which case if you’re Civ A and Civ B becomes your Vassal keep the fighting in either the occupied territories of Civ B or on Civ C’s doorstep. Let Vassal Civ B be both your doormat and your buffer zone. Because remember, that’s what Civ B is there for, to eat the bullet so you don’t have to. This particular point also illustrates my only successful use of the Machine Gunner, I stuck Combat One and Medic One promoted MG in my Vassal’s border cities, I still pity those poor Egyptian Cavalrymen who generously donated 32 units to theGreat General fund. [/INDENT]

[U][B]Other Fine Points:[/B][/U]

[INDENT]*A general piece of Warmongering Advice: the first Civ you meet isn’t going to be the best candidate for Vassal-ing. Generally speaking the first Civ you run across is probably going to be your best bet for early elimination and/or outright acquisition. If you’re skullthumping your neighbor with early swordsman (or earlier with axmen, warriors, etc.) then you aren’t going to be Vassal-ing anybody anyway since you probably haven’t got Feudalism. Therefore, if you do go to war finish the other guy off completely, no sense of having some enemy out on the field for the better part of eternity with a grudge just waiting to come back to haunt you.

*One of the major points about Vassal’s is that an attack on the Vassal is an attack on the Master, which can be quite a disincentive to attack either. The flip side to this is that you can be at peace minding your business when chuckles knocks on your door begging to be your Vassal, and maybe you’ve been a bit inattentive in monitoring the current state of relations and decided to accept the Vassal. At which point his enemies are now [B]YOUR[/B] enemies thus dragging you into some conflagration you weren’t prepared for or desired (of course this could just be the pretext you want for war with the other Civ’s being the aggressors instead of you, thereby keeping the old War Weariness down by fighting on home turf as opposed to foreign lands).

*Prior to the v2.08 patch there was a tendency by the AI that when losing a war with the player, the AI would align itself with a Player-“friendly” Civ by becoming a Vassal and then drag a Civ, which the player may have been closely “allied” with, into war against the player. [I]The v2.08 patch did not create some magic rule saying this can no longer happen just that the decision would be more thoughtfully evaluated by the AI[/I]. A good quick, rule of thumb is that one of the factors the AI is going to judge this decision by is: is your military power equal to, less than or significantly greater then, his and his new Vassal’s military power. If your “Ally” thinks he could otherwise take you on and come out the better he is going to do it ([B]and let’s be blunt, so would you[/B]). Your “[B]Ally[/B]” basically weights the decision like this: “[I]Yeah, I’m friendly with the player, but is this too good an opportunity to pass up[/I]?”

*It may not be necessary or prudent to accept a Civ’s offer of Capitulation the first time it’s offered. For example, say you invade an island and take two of three cities, the remaining city being the enemy capital. And the other civ knows he’s beat will offer to Capitulate. Don’t vassal the civ until AFTER you’ve taken the capital otherwise the culture war will be a constant irritation in later turns (“[I]An Indian revolt is taking place in Madras . . .[/I] “).

*Having and acquiring Vassals allows you to run a more precise offense allowing you to cut down dramatically on Domination and Conquest wins. Taking the same six city example from above, let us simply score 1 city as one point and 1 population as 1 point. The first war takes your base of six to nine, a 50% increase in lands directly held to you, plus you get half of your Vassal points (1.5), which in this grossly simplified score gets you a total point score of 10.5 as opposed to 9. The second Vassal would take your base score to 12 points with an additional 3 coming from your Vassals, totaling 15. The third Vassal war would take you to a 15 point base with an additional 4.5 from your Vassals bring the total up to: 19.5. In this case your Vassals are increasing your score by about 30%.

………….You………………..Vassal 1……………Vassal 2…………..Vassal 3……………Total pts.
Start……6 / 6pts……………6 /-………………..6 /-…………………6 /-………………..6 pts (+0%)
War 1…..9 / 9pts……………3 / 1.5pts…………6 /-…………………6 /-………………..10.5 pts (+16%)
War 2…..12 / 12pts…………3 / 1.5pts…………3 / 1.5pts………….6 /-………………..15 pts (+25%)
War 3…..15 / 15pts…………3 / 1.5pts…………3 / 1.5pts………….3 / 1.5pt………….19.5 pts (+30%)

Not to shabby in my opinion. And this of course neglects any expansion done by the Vassals after Vassalization.

*To follow up on the preceding point about running a precise offense. The strategy is that if one is able and willing to accept Vassals then the volume of necessary fighting that you’ll have to do will be reduced, therefore lowering the costs of the war in time and material. Why waste time conquering an empire of 20 cities if you only have to take the six best ones to impose a favorable peace? [/INDENT]

[B][U]Superpowers and Hyperpowers and General Compaints:[/U][/B]

With the Vassal system turned on, the larger the map and the more Civs in the game, there is a much greater tendency for the formations of [B]Super[/B] and [B]Hyper-powers[/B]. Without the Vassal system you could expect to see a web of Mutual Defense Pacts, even occasionally some Permanent Alliances, for a real life example think back to pre-World War One days with the complicated networking of treaties. But, with the Vassal system you can expect the AI’s to cluster together with a strong Civ achieving dominance over one, or several, rival Civs which can be aligned against you. A real life example, the Soviet Union and it’s client states during the Cold War. With the Vassal system the same advantages which the player can exploit, can also be exploited by the AI, with the results being a patchwork of regional and super powers developing on the map. Which probably bears some relation to Medieval Europe in history.

In the [B]Hyperpower[/B] situation, you have one Civ with a relatively large expansion of it’s own, coupled with not just one or several Vassals, but with a great many Vassal client states, each sufficiently developed in their own right. Hopefully, this is the player being the Hyperpower and not the AI. One can be forgiven for thinking that this would have a chilling effect on wars breaking out, or at least if war did break out it would be the Hyperpower looking to expand. However, this isn’t always the case. A regional superpower or even separate (yet diplomatically close) Civs may try to break up the emerging or developing Hyperpower by launching a Pre-Emptive attack. Usually you can expect to see this happen once you start seeing the “You’ve grown too powerful for us” diplomatic response to even the simplest of trades.

One of the many frequent complaints about the Vassal system is that it can be a deterrent for warmongering, “I can’t attack him without declaring war on his master and other Vassals” etc. etc., usually followed by some comment about the system being “broken.” [I]It’s not broken, you just don’t like the result[/I]. I can attest to the aggravation of being sidled up next to an emerging hyper power and not being able to have done anything about it.

What feels eminently worse though, is when you attack another Civ, take a chunk and declare peace with the intent of re-declaring war after a short respite and chucklehead has gone off and Voluntarily become a Vassal of someone you don’t really want to tangle with. [I]Again, it’s aggravating but the system isn’t broke, we just don’t like the outcome[/I]. If anything it’s working perfectly when your victim does this as he maintains a chance at independence and keeps you from gobbling him up. Cheeky monkey.

The other major complaint I see cropping up from the Vassal system is that it encourages a Warmongering Strategy at the expense of a “Builder’s” strategy (i.e., Cultural, Diplomatic and Space Race Victories). Ironically this is pretty much the exact opposite of the above complaint but whatever. If anything it is equally likely that a network of known treaties and Vassals would encourage peacefully strategies, especially if no Civ groupings can think they can take on and prevail against it’s rival Civ groupings, thus creating a Cold War situation. As always, you must be prepared for war in order to secure peace.

An aside: it is the scoring system that is nerfed, not the Vassal system. The scoring system heavily factors Time / Turns Elapsed over Type of victory. Since Cultural, Diplomatic and Space Race Victories only become possible in the late game the higher scoring games will come about primarily through War Mongering, a great great many game will end before even the option to score a Diplomatic win becomes available (let alone Space Race). A retuning of the scoring system would clear up most of the “balancing issues” in terms of strategy.

[B][U]Outsanding Questions:[/U][/B]
(For which if someone could locate in the xml’s or wherever I would be gratefull to know the answers to)

What is the formula for Vassal Maintenance?

What is the formula for Vassal Happiness boost to Master?

The Civilopedia
v2.08 Patch info by Thunderfall

[url=http://forums.civfanatics.com/showthread.php?t=193747]Discuss this article on the forum[/url]