City States are one of the major additions to Civilization V, and during my initial playthrough I found them to be slightly more than gimmicks used to ‘populate’ the world. In my current game they are invaluable, and really add a huge new element to the game. They also fit well with how Civ V truly splits economy, culture, and science, rather than having them all interdependent like in previous games.
I’ll start with my first game. In that game I played Civ V like I played Civ IV, focusing on getting ahead in technology in order to get better units to eventually crush my enemies. In Civ IV that meant keeping your science slider as close to 100% as possible, and your bank account at a constant minimum. This resulted in everything gold-related being minimized, at least for the most part. You could still do goofy stuff like, for just a few turns, go 100% income and get a massive amount of gold, then immediately switch back to science.
So in my first Civ V game, I had very limited gold, which meant I could not give the various city states gifts to keep them friendly or allied. And when I finally did have the 250 gold needed, I would only be able to bump one city state to friendly for a few turns before it went back to neutral, which seemed rather pointless to me. After all, I could just conquer the city if I wanted its land and resources. So in that game city states were just blobs of ‘useless’ terrain, or something for my enemies to use as an additional source of trouble. They never heavily factored into anything I was doing directly (this was on Prince difficulty), and I never noticed them being major factors between the other AI-controlled civilizations.
In my current game (King difficulty), I set out to better control the economic side of things, which meant only getting the buildings I truly needed in each city, not going crazy with infrastructure, and focusing more on trading posts to generate extra gold per hex, all to keep the gold flowing. In this game I’ve managed to have a steady income of around 40 gold per turn, which made paying the 250 gold to get on good terms with a city state much easier. I also more actively completed various missions for them, the result of which sometimes put me at 150+ favor with them, meaning they would stay allied for a long, long time without further investment.
The current result is that I occasionally get free military units from some city states, get increased food production in my cities (especially the capital, which is huge for my Roman civ), and my culture rate is increasing much faster than in the previous game, allowing me to pick up civics earlier (and by spending some of those points in the Piety tree, I get even better results from city states). It’s a very rewarding snowball effect overall, plus seeing my allied city states join in against my enemies is a nice bonus, and at times very helpful to the overall war effort.
City States highlight the fundamental shift in Civ V, that although on the surface it’s a ‘simpler’ game, the actual decisions you make are not only more profound, but lead to a wide variety of strategies. It’s perfectly viable to ignore City States, just like it’s perfectly viable to focus on them and propel your civilization through them. I get the feeling the same can be said for focusing on economy, science, or culture. I’ve yet to try it, but I also suspect that growing the absolute biggest empire is also no longer the only viable strategy, as a smaller, hyper-focused empire could work thanks to the various systems and civics.
The funny thing about Civ V is that although the real core of the game is similar to Civ IV, enough has been changed to really make it a completely different game in terms of the decisions you make, and that ultimately is what makes it brilliant.
Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.