How to Pop your Borders Quickly

[B]Applicability[/B]: This is for low- to mid-level players looking to figure out how to stave off starvation, or grab resources quickly; high-level players should already be familiar with this. All information is intended to be relevant as of Civ4 BtS 3.13 +Bhruic patch (the most recent, as of Dec24, 2007). Most of the information will be usable for other versions of Civ4, but the rules have changed a number of times and this doc would double in size to account for all changes. Additionally, mods may change much of this.

Please PM me with any errors, corrections, additions, spelling errors, or to suggest better wording (probably to avoid my natural tendency to meander from the actual topic). Use the thread for arguing the merits of this guide.

We’ve all had the problem of acquiring a city – through founding or conquest – and needed to get its borders to pop quickly, to allow the city to feed itself, to grab a resource 2 (or more) squares away, to reduce revolt or culture-flipping chances, or simply to deny an area to AI explorers or settlers. Your first few cities in the game may suffer from not being able to get its borders popped in a reasonable amount of time, often stifling the city and your empire. What we need to do is increase the amount of culture in the city, but you may not be aware of how many options you have at your disposal.

I didn’t see anything like this on the forum, and I kept having problems remembering when I could use a given method to get my borders to pop, so I started making a list. Eventually the list grew large, until I decided to make it into a strategy article and post it for all to use. I hope it proves useful to you.

[B]City acquisition methods[/B] (Where are all these cities coming from?):
• Founding (settler, village result)
• Cultural flip
• Military conquest
• Treaty result

[B]Border pop reasons[/B] (Why should I jack up the culture in this place?):
• Starvation avoidance
• Resource grabbing
• Reduce revolt chances
• Reduce culture-flipping chances
• Reduce culture-based unhappiness (usually from conquest)
• Area denial or land theft from other civs

[B]Tools at your disposal[/B] (What gives culture?):
• Traits
• Civics
• Wonders
• Buildings
• Specialists
• Units
• Miscellaneous

[U][B]Methods of increasing culture[/B][/U] (How do I use these tools?):

Right from the very start of the game, the leader you choose can make a difference in how quickly you get culture. Most Traits can be used in some fashion to indirectly boost culture, but these give the most immediate results.

The Creative Trait gives you +2 Culture in all your cities, and provides a +100% bonus to your Library production – see the Buildings section, below, for further information. A free +2 culture in all your cities means you don’t have to do anything at all to get your first border pop. This is killer in the earliest stages of the game, before you can build things that will do this for you, but as the game progresses, its value slowly wanes until it’s almost useless.

The Industrious Trait gives you a +50% production bonus for Wonders. This is a very indirect effect, because you’re not going to build a Wonder in a newly acquired city late in the game just to pop the borders. No, instead, this trait’s usefulness comes from building Wonders that give you culture in all your cities; see the Wonders list, below.

The Spiritual Trait gives you a +100% production bonus to build Temples, and allows you to switch Civics often. See the appropriate sections (Buildings and Civics) below for further information. For late-start games, Spiritual is really only a hedge against getting Cristo Redentor.

In late-start games, you get the opportunity to choose from among the available civics immediately. Choosing wisely can get your city borders popped immediately, where starvation and loss of a few free population points is a real possibility.

[U]Caste System (Labor)[/U]
Caste System allows you to have an unlimited number of merchants, scientists, and artists, of which the artists are the most important, because they give you culture. See the Specialists section, below, for further information. With the Sistine Chapel, any specialist can produce 2 culture.

[U]Free Religion (Religion)[/U]
Free Religion is a double-edged sword because many culture effects depend on having a state religion for culture and culture-boosts, but on the other hand, each religion’s buildings will generate culture instead of only those of the state religion. Overall, though, I’d consider Free Religion detrimental to culture until the late game when you have lots of religions in your cities and the best religious Wonders are expired or someone else has them.

[U]Free Speech (Legal)[/U]
Free Speech gives you a +100% culture production boost in all cities. This won’t help if you don’t have any culture in the city in the first place, but it makes use of other culture production all the more effective.

[U]Mercantilism (Economy)[/U]
Mercantilism gives all your cities a free Specialist. By itself, this isn’t useful, because most new cities won’t let you use him for anything but a Citizen, but if you have Caste System enabled, you can make this free Specialist into an artist. You could also rush a building that allows artists, theaters usually being the best choice, but if you have Eiffel Tower, then you have a broadcast tower itching to get an artist assigned to it. Combine this with Statue of Liberty, and you could have 2 free artists.

[U]Slavery (Labor)[/U] and [U]Universal Suffrage (Government)[/U]
Both of these allow you to rush production of things. Usually, you will use one to rush a culture-producing building, the Theater being the most likely because of it’s cheapness and large amount of culture (but see the Buildings section, below), but you might also rush a missionary or executive in a different city and get it to the city in need.

Building any Wonder will give you culture, but it’s almost impossible for it to make a difference on your first border pop. It could happen that it’s early in the game and you’re building the Wonder before anything else, or it could happen that you have a Great Engineer standing by to insta-build something in an important place, or it could even happen that you can build a Shrine in a Holy city that you just acquired which didn’t have one yet (and you’ll need a Great Prophet standing by too). No, the important thing is that a few Wonders, when built elsewhere, will provide benefits to newly acquired cities.

[U]Cristo Redentor[/U]
Cristo Redentor allows you to change Civics every turn, giving you all the advantages of being Spiritual without having to wait 5 turns between changes, although you do have to wait until the game is mostly over to build it. See the Civics section, above, for further details.

Stonehenge gives you a monument in every city, each of which gives you a culture point. (This is also good enough to qualify for the Statue of Zeus.) Unfortunately, these Monuments aren’t actually built, and so will not get doubled culture, nor will they stick around in your cities when Stonehenge becomes obsolete, but until that time, they are the poor man’s Creative Trait.

[U]The Eiffel Tower[/U]
The Eiffel Tower gives you a broadcast tower in every city, each of which is worth a 50% culture boost. By itself, the broadcast tower is as useful as the Free Speech Civic – that is, by itself, it’s useless, but when combined with something else that gives culture, it means you’ll pop your city faster. Like Stonehenge’s relationship with monuments, you don’t get actual broadcast towers, so if you should happen to lose the Tower, your towers will also disappear.

[U]The Pyramids[/U]
The Pyramids’ contribution is that they allow you to switch your government to Universal Suffrage, which in turn allows you to rush-buy buildings. Being Spiritual will improve the value of this, as will going into Golden Ages, but on its own, it’s not your best tool.

[U]The Sistine Chapel[/U]
This is the big one, the motherlode. With the Sistine Chapel, your Specialists and your state religion buildings produce extra culture points – +2 and +5 respectively. This means that any Specialist, even an ordinary Citizen, can now help pop your borders out. This also means that the Temple gives a much larger bang for the hammer than the theater. This Wonder combines extra well with Mercantilism and Statue of Liberty, because of their free Specialists.

[U]The Statue of Liberty[/U]
Almost as useful as Mercantilism, but without the massive foreign trade penalty, the Statue of Liberty gives all cities on the same continent an extra Specialist, which can be an artist if you have the ability to designate them (best used with Caste System, Eiffel Tower, or Sistine Chapel). The Statue is useless on other land masses, so you’ll have to be careful about relying on it.

There are a handful of cheap buildings that you can build or rush to get a quick border pop, and various buildings may become more or less valuable depending on Traits, Civics, and other circumstances. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of culture buildings; additionally, when a Unique Building gives the same amount of culture as its base building, I didn’t bother to mention it. Obviously, if you value a given building, then its UB will probably be more valuable to you.

In the Wonders section, above, I mentioned that you could potentially build a Shrine for a culture boost. In the same vein, and much less rare circumstances, you can build an Academy, Military Academy, or Corporate HQ, you just need an appropriate Great Person lying around unused. (Note that Scotland Yard produces no culture, so it can’t be used in this manner.) Is this the best way to use these things? Probably not, but if I’m trying to dig a conquered city out of enemy borders to keep it from starving, every culture point counts.

If you have the Sistine Chapel, any Specialist gives you 2 culture points; therefore, any building that allows you to have Specialists (frex, the market allows 2 merchants) can indirectly allow you to have culture if you capture a city that has one of these. Additionally, any building that gives you free Specialists (frex, the industrial park gives a free engineer) would also give culture. Below, I’ve listed several buildings and also listed the amount of culture you get and for how many hammers in the Standard/Standard game. Listing buildings that provide Specialists is too indirect of a means to list them.

[U]French Salon[/U] (4 for 150)
The French have a secret weapon in the Salon – though it’s an observatory, and expensive, if you build one, not only will you get a free artist who provides 4 culture points, you’ll also get 3 GPPs, a beaker, and a +25% science boost. (It is, after all, an observatory with a free artist!) While I wouldn’t make it my first build, if you’ve got a lot of angry peasants to get rid of, or plenty of cash to burn around the time you first get them, getting one of these will give you a good boost. Since it doesn’t directly produce culture, taking over cities with observatories may yield free Salons, with nothing more needed by you to get your border popped quickly.

[U]Greek Odeon[/U] (3 for 80)
This coliseum replacement gives a good ratio for the Greeks, and it also allows designating 2 artists. For other civs, though, the coliseum itself has no culture, nor artist designation, so this is a good, cheap culture bonus for the Greeks.

[U]Incan Terrace[/U] (2 for 60)
This granary replacement is almost as good as a theater, plus it acts like a granary and you get it a lot sooner. It’s a tossup between getting these and monuments – I would probably do without the monument, myself, since they go away, and these are available fairly early. For other civs, though, the granary itself has no culture.

[U]Library[/U] (2 for 90) and Arabian Madrassa (4 for 90)
For pure culture, the Madrassa is your best bet, but it’s an expensive investment in something that you otherwise don’t really need in most cities. If you need libraries anyway, then it’s nice to have double the culture if you’re Arabian, but otherwise, building a library to get culture should be reserved for when you have to whip angry citizens to keep the city from starving.

[U]Monument[/U] (1 for 30)
Probably the first and cheapest culture building you can get, its single culture point will eventually get your first border pop. If you have Stonehenge, you get these in all your cities for free. The Ethiopian Stele provides a small +25% culture bonus that makes it slightly more valuable at the beginning, and more valuable as the game goes on. In fact, you may want to forgo building Stonehenge and manually build Steles so you can retain their culture bonus when Stonehenge expires.

[U]Monastery[/U] (2 for 60, requires religion, 1 per religion. 7 for 60 with Sistine Chapel)
Monasteries are nice, cheap, and effective, especially since they give you a small science boost. Before you get theaters, they beat monuments and temples hands down for culture. The promise of being able to build missionaries without having to resort to Organized Religion in the late game is usually too much for me to resist building them. If you have the Sistine Chapel, then the extra culture seals the deal. Since you’ve already got a religion in your city, a monastery isn’t strictly necessary.

[U]Temple[/U] (1 for 80, requires religion, 1 per religion. 6 for 80 with Sistine Chapel)
Temples are too expensive to use to pop your borders, unless you’re Spiritual, in which case, it’s 1 or 6 culture for 40 hammers. The Sistine Chapel makes this an extremely attractive option, and especially if you need the happiness boost (which you probably will), you’ll tend to build temples instead of other buildings. It’s the happiness boost that tends to give this a fight with the Monastery, especially when you have the Chapel. Since you’ve already got a religion in your city, a temple isn’t strictly necessary.

[U]Theater[/U] (3 for 50. 3 for 25 if Creative)
In most games, in most circumstances, once you get theaters, they will almost always be the first thing you build if you have no other way to quickly get culture, because their culture-per-hammer is almost unparalleled. The Chinese Pavilion takes it a step further with a +25% boost. If you’re Creative, you even get it for half price, beating out even a Monastery/Sistine Chapel combo, and being Chinese seals the deal that much more! Thanks to their cheapness, you can almost always afford to rush one and get your border popped in a hurry.

[U]University[/U] (3 for 200. 3 for 100 if Philosophical)
Because the university requires a library to build it, you should rarely see these used in the role of border poppers. However, if you’re Philosophical, and you need to overcome enemy culture (typically from a captured city buried in enemy culture) then a university may help you dig out more quickly than otherwise – every point counts in that situation.

[U]Palace[/U] (2 for 160)
Most people take the Palace for granted, and few indeed would build it for the purpose of popping a border in a new city, but it bears mentioning that the Palace generates some culture, and so you can rely on your capital to have its borders pop after a few turns. Unless you just got kicked out of your capital.

There’s really only one Specialist that gives you culture, and that’s the artist. Getting artists, however, is another matter.

[U]Caste System Civic[/U]
Unlimited artists, so long as you’ve got the population. A newly founded city with a population of 1 can use this one citizen as an artist. Late-start games that give you more than one starting citizen may see them all needed elsewhere – it’s entirely possible to found a city in a place that can’t yet support its founding population because you couldn’t improve the land until the city was founded. Not a bad idea to bring some workers along when founding such cities, to perform emergency irrigation, but even this isn’t always sufficient or possible.

[U]Wonders and Buildings[/U]
• Globe Theater
• Theater
• Broadcast Tower
• Greek Odeon (not coliseum)
• French Salon (not observatory)

These buildings give you 2 artist slots each, except the Globe, which gives you 3. The Salon instead gives a single free artist. Obviously, the theater, and possibly the Odeon, are going to be your primary weapons, but in the late game, if you have the Eiffel Tower, your free broadcast tower doesn’t produce culture itself, but it does allow you to assign 2 artists, and this can save you from having to build a theater.

[U]Great Artist[/U]
A Great Artist settled into a city makes for a huge amount of culture – normally 12 points. Fortunately, they also produce a little gold, and if you have Representation, a little science too. Great Artists are good for pushing out borders in the first half or so of the game, to push foreign culture away. Otherwise, it’d probably be better to have him create a Great Work, but those are best used to bring large cities out of long revolts.

Some units are capable of delivering culture to a city, meaning you can use the production of some other city to bring culture to a newly acquired one, but it’s best if you’ve already made the expenditure when you gained the city so you don’t have to wait. If you have the Sistine Chapel, any settled Great Person will generate culture.

[U]Great Artist[/U]
The most obvious source of culture, settling one will give you about 12 culture (and 3 gold) each turn, which may pop the border in a single turn. Using him for a Great Work gives an instant boost to existing culture, popping your borders 2 or 3 times without even having to wait for the turn to end, making this the fastest way to lay claim to land. Using a Great Work also brings a city out of revolt instantly, and the culture boost often reduces or eliminates cultural unhappiness, so it’s probably best used for this than for boosting newly built cities.

One of the earliest ways to quickly get culture is to bring along a missionary with the settler. If you’ve got a religion in a city, you don’t need anything else, but on Marathon games, the wait is 30 turns. Occasionally, some other civ will send a missionary to your city.

If you have chosen a state religion, then not just any missionary will do; you must bring a missionary of your state’s religion. But, if you have no state religion, either because you’re still in Paganism or because you’ve chosen Free Religion, then you can use any missionary. It should also be noted that since missionaries are considered a National Unit that you can only have a limited number for a given religion; currently this is 3. Normally, this isn’t a big deal, but if you’re trying to get your religion spammed out, you might not be able to spare a missionary for a new city.

[U]Corporate Executive[/U]
Some corporations have culture as one of their benefits. The culture gained in this way can be absolutely HUGE if you have a lot of the demanded resources and the city is connected to the Trade Network. Don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the culture-per-resource; I often find Sid’s Sushi outperforming Civilized Jewelers. Creative Constructions is the third culture-producing corp. The Aluminum Company has a minor synergistic effect in that it converts 1 coal into 1 aluminum, which can be consumed by Creative Constructions, but it doesn’t produce culture on its own.

You probably didn’t realize this, especially since this is a new ability in BtS, but a spy is capable of sowing your culture in cities you don’t own yet. The amount sewn isn’t a lot, but it can make the difference between having a city with its borders already popped or not. This ability was probably intended to make it easier to flip a city, but this is a nice side effect. It costs espionage points to do this, and each successive spy contributes less and less culture. Spies can’t always perform this mission, even if you have sufficient EPs to spend; I haven’t figured out why yet.

Lastly, there are several methods that don’t fit neatly into the above categories.

[U]Culture Slider[/U]
Activated when you get theaters (the Drama technology), you can use this to divert some of your commerce into culture. I generally dislike doing this because I have better uses for those coins, and newly founded cities often don’t have much in the way of coins, requiring a setting of 20% or more to be effective. This reduces the efficiency of your entire empire. However, if you’ve got a lot of unhappiness (typically from war weariness), or you’re trying to push the borders back all over the empire, you’ve probably already got the culture slider set above 0, and if so, then there’s no need for newly gained cities to go through any hassle at all – they can merrily get on their way to building themselves up, saving you missionaries, gold, citizens, or whatever else.

[U]Religious Spread[/U]
If a city has no religion, and it’s connected to the trade network, any holy city which is also connected to the trade network has a chance to spread its religion to that city. This chance doubles if the Shrine for that religion is built. This requires no effort at all on your part, but the chances of getting a free religion on a given turn are small, and if there are a lot of them founded, then you’ve got like a 1 in 7 chance of getting the one you want. As an interesting side note, if you want to maximize your chances of getting the target city to take your state religion, and you also have your Holy City, then if you switch to Mercantilism, this should sever foreign trade lanes and you’re left with your religion as the only source. Alternately, you can use the Theocracy Civic to prevent non-state religion spread, but I don’t use it for anything but the XP bonus.

[U]Build Culture[/U]
You can simply convert hammers straight to culture once you’ve got the Music technology; all cities have at least one hammer, and some have several. This is a relatively cheap and quick way to do your first border pop, but you can’t build anything else while you’re doing it, and you haven’t got anything but a popped border to show for your effort. Building culture is generally better used to try and push back foreign borders when you have lots of production and nothing better to do with it.

[U]Game Speed, Map Size, and Number of Players (corrected for real this time!)[/U]
The speed of the game affects how much culture is required to get the borders to pop, as you can see by the bullet list below. In a Quick game, you only need 5 culture to pop the first border, and most of the time, you should see your borders pop in a single turn. However, in a Marathon game, you need 30 culture, and single-turn border pops are dramatically less likely (but still possible).
[*] 5 – Quick
[*]10 – Standard
[*]15 – Epic
[*]30 – Marathon
While there are a lot of things affected by Map Size and the Number of Players, culture requirements aren’t among them, which our fellow forumite [B]jesusin[/B] pointed out to me – twice. :wallbash: (Thanks for the help!)

[U]Late Start Effects[/U]
With later starts, you get some free buildings and free population points. At some point, some of these free buildings will give culture, and that means new cities have no need to do anything to get the borders eventually popped. Additionally, later starts will see religions getting handed out, and you may be the lucky recipient of one. If so, the Holy City will produce a lot of culture, and you’ll have a good chance of getting your religion spread to one or two of your other cities quickly.

[U]Advanced Start[/U]
Advanced Start gives you the option to buy buildings for your first cities, or to pop your culture border immediately, so your pre-built cities can be pre-popped and have pre-built culture-producing buildings. In general, it’s very cheap to buy the first border pop, expensive to do a second, and downright dangerously expensive to do a third (as in, endangering your ability to have a decent start). Just because you’ve popped your borders doesn’t mean you’re going to have culture produced in that city; for that, you need a culture-producing building to be pre-built in the city.

[U][B]Final Words[/B][/U]
You probably started to think this point would never come. Well here it is at last.

As you can see, there are a staggering number of ways to get your borders to pop, and many possible combinations. Most of the time, you don’t have to worry about having your city surrounded by foreign culture, but every now and then it’s a concern, and for those reasons, I tried to be as complete as I could. Most of the time, however, your best choices are going to be one or more of the following:
• Bring along a missionary
• Use Caste System, possibly also Mercantilism and/or Statue of Liberty, and assign a citizen as artist
• Build a theater, monastery, or if you have a better UB or Trait build bonus for a culture-producing building, use that, possibly rushing it after 0-2 turns of building
• Be Creative (have that Trait)
• Use Stonehenge for the free monuments
• Pray for religion spread
• Build culture when you finally get that tech

Thanks for reading.

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