Isolated Start – Strategy for Diplomacy Win

Isolated starts can be a lot of fun. This article examines them for a diplomatic win – which I think is the best opportunity for an isolated start because the isolation actually helps:
– When you meet the AIs the main religions are all founded and battle lines should be drawn, so you are able to plan the diplomacy. With non isolated starts you may find the allies you have been nurturing fall out with each other due to a new religion forming or a surprise attack.

– You aren’t going to incur negatives with early war. Often its hard to get the space you need without early war, which accumulates “you attacked our friend” penalties.

I am going to refer to an actual game during the article. The actual game was on Monarch with Ragnar. Ragnar has the financial trait and a UU and UB that added a lot of fun to the game. The game wasn’t truly an isolated start because I started with Asoka on the same continent. But he was axe rushed in the early game just after establishing his second city and wasn’t really a factor. The same hammers used to build the axes could have built the two cities I got out of it easily enough and I don’t think it changed the game significantly – from then on I was truly isolated.

Phase 1 – Early scouting and teching.

At this point you don’t know that you have an isolated start. You need to scout out the map and tech as you normally would.

At some point you become aware that the start is isolated and need to do a few things:

1) Check that it is truly isolated – sometimes you can reach the other AIs by workboats and it is worthwhile to do this if you can.

2) Assess the resources you have on the island. Make sure you can see places for some good cities. You have the luxury of being able to dotmap the island and plan your city locations carefully. Your early teching should concentrate on the worker techs you are going to immediately need, with later teching including the additional worker techs that you will need in
subsequent cities.

3) Make sure you have a plan for dealing with the barbarians. If you can secure horses or copper with your second city you should be fine. Build a lot of them – you will need them later for HR anyway. Note the barbs will start coming when you found your second city, so accompany your settler with a worker and plant your city right next to the resource. Don’t wait for borders to expand.

Barbarians are your friends too. They can build cities for you and let you promote your military. As long as you have a secure military, I wouldn’t try to fog bust the whole continent. Let them build a couple of cities. And you really want to get a level 4 unit to build Heroic Epic.

In my game I was able to get level 3 units from the initial war with Asoka. My level 4 units came from assaulting a barbarian city. The same axeman would attack, kill an archer and then retire to rest and repeat. Doing it this way concentrated my XP to get to level 4.

Phase 2 – Economic strength and REX

You need to remain competitive with the AIs so you are not too far behind when you find them. To do this involves expanding to fill the continent but doing it at a pace that doesn’t ruin your economy. I target around 50% science as providing a balance between early research and REX. Once my tech rate recovers I build the next wave of settlers to expand.

Priority teching (after worker techs) is:

1) Priesthood for Oracle – you can’t pass up the chance for a big free tech. Code of laws or Monarchy are both excellent choices. Code of Laws wins slightly for me as you found Confucianism which can help with borders and expansion if you don’t have another religion.

2) Writing->Monarch, switch to Hereditary rule. This is how you can deal with happiness and is absolutely critical. There is an alternative approach where a specialist economy could use drama instead, but if you are going to run cottages you need HR.

3) Alphabet->Literature, if you think you can get the great library. This is a bit of a risk and not essential but has a big payback. You are going to have to guess the AI progress from the wonders being built and religions founded. Normally I am able to get the great library on Monarch in a non isolated start and at this point your teching isn’t too different as you can’t trade until Alphabet anyway. The one main difference is that you prioritized Monarchy before Alphabet so you will have less time. If you have marble or are industrious then that should make up for it. If you have a good choppable GP farm location that would also make it worthwhile.

4) Mathematics->Currency->Civil Service. You want to get bureaucracy ASAP because your capital is going to be a monster and you need to finance all your teching yourself. Currency helps pay for your REX.

While you are expanding you have two key issues to manage – health and happiness. Normally you would be able to get additional resources through conquest and trade. Now you can’t – you must manage with what you have got. And you must manage well to get your cities large, otherwise you will fall too far behind.

Happiness is easily managed. Once you get HR your problems are essentially solved. Just add cheap troops to any city that needs them. Unit costs will go up, but your commerce income will go up faster. You may want to have a production city that you don’t hook up to the rest of the empire so you can keep building warriors. Chariots are great too as they can deal with any barbarians and are cheap to build.

Health is less easily managed. You have a finite number of health resources. To manage health you should:

1) Avoid chopping forests. I chop a lot less with an isolated start. The forests you leave are health resources too.

2) Prioritize health buildings such as aqueduct, harbour and granaries.

3) Build coastal cities. Due to the benefits of harbours your coastal cities will have a lot more health easily. The Great Lighthouse might be worth building as you will have a lot of coastal cities, but its not essential.

In my game I had my capital at size 18 by the time I had civil service. There were 6 forests which I left, plus it had an aqueduct and granary, and enough troops to keep happiness at this level. I was losing health at this point, but could support 15 cottages which was giving me a lot of commerce. In addition to this I had 5-6 other cities of 10 pop or more.

Things not to do:

1) Do not found any more religions. You want religious conflict to occur. Other religious techs take you from your beeline too.

2) Do not pursue feudalism or other miliary techs. You don’t need them at this point.

3) Don’t expand so fast that your research bogs down. Keep science at 50% or higher.

4) Don’t overwhip your population. You want big cities even if the infrastructure isn’t so developed. Only start whipping for a granary immediately and then once you reach your health cap later. Your happy cap should not be a problem.

Phase 3 – Optics beeline and meet the neighbours

Now your economy is strong and you have probably built in all the good sites, its time to see who is out there. Metal Casting, Machinery, Compass and Optics need to be researched. Built at least two caravels quickly – one on each side of the empire and send them off in opposite directions.

When you first meet your neighbours do not trade anything until you have met them all and decided who will be allies and who will be enemies. You are in trouble if everyone is one big happy family, but that is unlikely if you have avoided founding more than one religion.

You need to identify:

– Largest population opponent – this will probably be your opposition for a diplomatic win.

– Coalition of friends – these will be AIs you plan to befriend. They must like each other enough that there are no “worst enemies” in the mix. In general you are better choosing a coalition where the AI’s aren’t likely to turn on each other. That means all peaceful civs or all warlike civs. I prefer all peaceful civs as they don’t start irrational wars that might spoil your diplomacy chances.

You will always agree to the requests of your friends and try not to accumulate any negatives with them at all. If they beg for your last tech – they get it. If they want you to assist them in war, jump at the chance. You don’t have to accept their proposed trades though – just any request where they offer nothing in return.

Unless all your friends share the same state religion, you will run with no state religion. If they all share the same, then you will try and adopt their state religion if you are able to.

– Coalition of enemies including your largest population opponent. Ultimately you want your coalition hating theirs, which you will achieve through planned world wars.

You will never trade with your enemies at all. You will never accept their demands. You will raze their cities, burn their holy places to the ground and laugh in their faces while you do it.

In my game I had the following:

Cathy/Russia – largest and equal tech leader. Had fought a past war with Mansa. Buddist.
Mansa/Mali – equal tech leader. Tao.
Wang Kon/Korea – tech competitor. Jewish.
Saladin/Arabia – a little behind. Jewish. Worst enemy was Mansa.
Montezuma/Aztec – a little behind. Buddist.

I didn’t trust Cathy and Monte as friends, so Mansa and Wang Kon looked the best combination. They had different religions but were happy with each other. Saladin I would try and work on later and Cathy and Monte would be my enemies.

Phase 4 – Tech Catchup

Once you worked out the diplomatic situation, your priority is to start trading resources with your friends and catch up to the pack. This means getting Astronomy, researching techs that the AI’s don’t have and trading your way back to equality. You will probably not completely catch up to the late game in terms of breadth of techs, but you should be able to be researching equal worth techs as soon as possible.

You also need to decide if liberalism is on at this point. You have detoured from the usual beeline to get Optics. If it is on, then paper/Education/Philosophy as soon as possible, burning any great scientists you have. Then take Astronomy as your tech. If you were able to do this you are probably caught up to the AI on Monarch.

If liberalism isn’t on, then I would research Astronomy as a trading tech and to get intercontinental trade going as soon as possible to get your cities larger. Then work on trading your way back into the game. Since you are going to have extremely trustworthy friends and they will have clear enemies, you can afford to trade techs as soon as you get them. It doesn’t matter if your friends are more advanced than you are – as long as your are in the running enough to trade with them and keep your research moving quickly.

Key techs are:

Education – you need those universities
Astronomy – for trade
Economics – you may want this to get free trade going – the AIs probably have Mercantilism at this point.
Liberalism – get free religion and free speech going
Democracy – if you are running a cottage economy this can give a huge boost to your economy and is a good trade tech. You will have to have acquired additional happiness sources though to balance out the loss of HR.
Military Tradition – high value trade tech and gives you defensive pacts

Phase 5 – Start World War One

Once you know who your friends and enemies will be, you want to start them fighting each other. Probably you can’t do this until you build up your relations. In fact you may need to wait until they are attacked. Then you want to start the dogpile.

The goal is to crystalize the relations. Your allies join with you and gain mutual struggle points with you and with each other. Your enemies refuse to trade with your allies in the future.

A secondary goal is to help manage populations. You want the enemies who are not your main competitor to get weaker so they can add fewer votes to your competitor.

A third goal is that periodic wars on the mainland keep the AI’s focussed away from research, which helps you become the tech leader. And when you are the tech leader, your allies also get ahead in tech which makes them stronger and better able to protect you.

In my game Cathy launched an attack on Wang Kon. I immediately sent off a raiding force of beserkers in galleons, and waited for WK to ask for help which he did shortly afterwards. I agreed to help and then bribed Mansa to join in. Saladin could not be bribed to help.

My beserkers made an annoyance of themselves by raiding the coastal cities and burning a couple of small cities. I didn’t want to do anything major to depopulate Cathy though. Eventually Cathy sued for peace with Mansa and WK. I had captured a small city of Cathy’s that I held to encourage future war. Soon after Montezuma attacked me and captured the city, killing its defenders. My remaining beserkers abandoned the mainland onto their galleons. Tech bribes to Mansa and WK had them join me at war with Monte for the next dogpile.

I love the UB/UU combination of Ragnar. The city raider beserkers sped back to my island, got reinforced with cannon and issued with grenades, then sped to the other side of the world to attack Monte from behind. My galleons all had +2 movement.

The army included a great general grenadier with CR3. amphibious and Combat 2. They could use frigates to drop the defenses of a city and the upgraded beserkers could take out all the defenders without landing and risking counter attacks. I razed several of Monte’s coastal cities, including the size 18 capital which was also the buddist holy city. He wasn’t expecting

Net result is that my allies are all friendly, Saladin is warming to me and my enemies hate me and them with a passion. Monte has massively dropped population but Cathy is still the population leader. The war ended and I was able to sign a defensive pact with Mansa, WangKon and eventually Saladin. I have never had three defensive pacts before. Cathy vassalizes Monte.

Phase 6 – Race to Mass Media

Once you have democracy, key techs are chemistry, steel, railroad and assembly line. Getting through these greatly increases your production and defense. They aren’t on the beeline, but I think they are essential for survival and quickly building the UN. They are also good trade techs – the AI will prioritize rifling and explore scientific method and other techs you will want to trade for.

Then you can beef up your production and build ironworks. After that its a straight beeline to Mass Media with one detour for Biology (to increase your population – share this with your friends ASAP). Scientific Method->Physics->Electricity->Radio->Mass Media. You are likely to beat the AI – they will normally get side tracked with Artillery and Rocketry.

Then build UN as quickly as possible and vote yourself in. Game won.

You may need to engage in a second round of wars to control the populations of the AI. In my game a problem occurred when Cathy decided to invade me shortly before I had researched Mass Media. It was crazy – she had rifles and cossacks and I had Infantry plus three highly teched up allies. This was totally world war two – every civ was fighting in two massive alliances.

The problem occurred when Cathy started to lose badly. Her invasion force that attacked once of my islands was easily wiped out when the local ceremonial axemen were issued with brand new uniforms and combat rifles, and a quick army of mercenaries was raised. Having ultra fast destroyers meant any reinforcements had to swim. On the mainland, cathy’s power dropped nearly in half in a couple of turns as Mansa’s artillery made short work of her riflemen and she started losing cities and Mansa became the population leader.

The solution was to send my troops to the other side of the world again – nice to have very fast ships. Research flight quickly, launch bombers from Mansa’s homeland against Monte and quickly take over several of Monte’s cities. Monte broke with Cathy and quickly capitulated to me. That cost me a point of diplomacy but gained me a guaranteed voter to counter the loss of Mansa’s votes.

Then the UN vote vs Mansa went my way as everyone except Mansa and Cathy voted for me. I had near perfect relations with Wang Kon and Saladin by then. If they weren’t so perfect the votes could have easily gone to Mansa instead. The deciding factor in this case was that he had retained his state religion.

If that had failed I would have had to vassalize Cathy – which was definitely possible as I was producing tanks by then and had airports to the mainland.


I believe this offers a very good win opportunity on an isolated start – at least up to Emperor level. I don’t presume to offer advice for Diety or Immortal as my wins have all been at Emperor or below. I think it is easier than a Cultural win in these circumstances for most leaders, and definitely more fun. If the diplomatic situation takes a surprise turn then a Space Race win is a good backup plan and the tech path can easily be changed to an Internet beeline by going for Computers instead of Mass Media.

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