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Civilization 5 - One City Cultural Victory

Game Options

I've been playing Civilization 5 recently, and enjoying every minute of it. All of the core gameplay I know and love is in there, and the new hex system and non-stacking combat units make for much more interesting strategic decisions about combat and city placement (in particular, chokepoints in the terrain, such as mountain ranges and lakes, are much more important as natural borders). After having played several games where I aimed for good 'ole military domination, I decided to branch out and try for the other victory conditions (the associated achievements had nothing to do with the decision, I swear!). The streamlined gameplay makes multiple game runs a much more viable option now, since even late-game empire management does not devolve into the arduous stack management and city micro of previous iterations.

Once my Great and Bountiful British Empire of North America reached the stars before any other civilization, it was time to start up yet another game to try for a cultural victory. And with the one city achievement sitting there taunting me, I decided, why not, I'll go all-in and see if I can pull off the one city cultural victory.

I knew that defense was going to be the most pressing issue while attempting this goal, so I hedged my bets just a bit by picking an archipelago map type. I knew from previous games that a few well-trained naval units could hold-off mass invading armies. Everything else was left standard: standard map size, standard game pace, all civs (including mine) left to random chance, and a difficulty of prince (normal).

The Founding

I spawned as Suleiman of the Ottomans, a choice that was fairly neutral to my goals. The leader bonuses were not particularly helpful for a cultural win, but the barbarian navy could prove helpful for my defensive strategy. My starting placement, however, was fantastically fortuitous for my goal. Though I didn't fully appreciate just how good it was at the time, there were promising indicators early on. With my settler spawning one hex to the north-east of my final city location, and my warrior one hex north-east of that, I could already see snow, tundra, a hill to the west, and furs. The snow and tundra told me that I was near the edge of the map, which would be a great help to remaining unnoticed for as long as possible. The furs meant I would have at least one early luxury for happiness and trading, as well as the gold income I knew would be key. And the hill gave hope that I would not suffer too badly for production.

Starting Position

In a one city game, city placement is crucial, and I was worried that I would have to spend several turns scouting the area to find an ideal spot. Upon moving my warrior to the SE, however, the situation only improved. Another hill, this one with gold, meant even better production and another luxury. In addition, this uncovered ruins across the bay, which meant I could count on at least one early boost. The tundra hex to the SW of my settler looked like a promising spot -- equidistant between the hills I could then see -- and moving my settler there just sealed the deal. Grasslands for farming, coastal waters for gold, food, and the eventual navy I would need, and good access to a decent selection of resources and luxuries. I was able to found my city on the very first turn; the great city of Istanbul. This was a relief, as it meant I could avoid falling behind on the early production and research.

With my city founded I immediately started production on a monument and research on calendar (via pottery). My early goal was simple: I knew I had to be the first to build Stonehenge, both for the massive early cultural boost (+8) and also for the +1 great engineer point that would allow me to hurry production later on. This was the first in my list of overall goals that I knew would be key for a cultural victory:

  • Stonehenge: a wonder that adds +8 to the cultural output of its city.
  • Oracle: a wonder that grants a free social policy.
  • Angkor Wat: a wonder that reduces the culture cost of acquiring new tiles.
  • Sistine Chapel: a wonder that increases city cultural output by 33%.
  • Cristo Redentor: a wonder that reduces policy costs by 33%.
  • Sydney Opera House: a wonder that grants a free social policy.
  • Free Religion: a policy in the Piety social tree that grants two free social policies.
  • Mandate of Heaven: a policy in the Piety social tree that converts 50% of excess happiness into culture.
  • Constitution: a policy in the Freedom social tree that doubles cultural output in cities with a wonder.
  • Free Speech: a policy in the Freedom social tree that reduces policy costs by 25%.
  • Aristocracy: a policy in the Tradition social tree that increases wonder production by 33%.

Based on these goals, I was already committed to the Tradition, Piety, and Freedom trees. Luckily these trees have good synergy with a one city victory; they improve my capital city in many ways, and grant happiness bonuses as well, both of which would be crucial for keeping my empire running smoothly with only one city.

I continued to explore my little island, first by raiding the ruins. They gave me a +30 culture bonus (I swear, I didn't bribe the RNG!), which allowed me to adopt Tradition, which in turn sped the growth of Istanbul. The exploration yielded little else of importance. With the cultural boost from the ruins, I was able to adopt Aristocracy a few turns before calendar finished, so production on Stonehenge would be as fast as possible. After the monument completed I began production on a worker, but switched that to Stonehenge as soon as calendar completed. Research began towards philosophy (for the Oracle), and my warrior tirelessly patrolled my tiny island to seek out and destroy any barbarian encampments that might spawn. By 2140BC Stonehenge was completed, and I switched production back to a worker, which I set to farming.

Once philosophy finished, I immediately begin construction on the Oracle. Since researching philosophy began my Classical Era, I used a social policy I had "saved" to adopt Piety. Likewise, I began research on those technologies that would allow my worker to exploit the nearby resources: the furs, forests, deer, fish, and gold in my immediate vicinity. And another stroke of luck; horses were uncovered right next to my capital once I researched animal husbandry. Finally, as my next social policy came due, I adopted Mandate of Heaven, which converts excess happiness into even more culture.

Starting Position

In 1520BC (turn 62) I completed the Oracle and used my free policy to adopt Legalism, which improved my civilization's happiness. At this point Istanbul had grown to 6 population and was generating 4 gold per turn, 5 happiness, and 14 culture. The fact that I had been able to build both Stonehenge and the Oracle implied that the Egyptians had probably not been one of the random civs spawned in this game (an assumption which turned out to be true); this was another stroke of luck for my starting conditions.

Pax Ottomana

At this point my civilization entered a long and quiet period of peace and prosperity. After researching sailing and exploring the local coastlines further, I discovered just how beneficial my starting position was. My only nearby neighbor was the cultured and friendly city-state of Brussels. This suggested Patronage as a likely fourth social tree, since their allied culture bonuses would help with my final goal, though I wasn't yet at a point where I could leverage this. Most importantly, my little corner of the world was otherwise completely cut off from the rest of society by deep ocean waters. I knew it would be many turns yet before having to worry about any other civ, which freed me to focus my city production on improvements instead of having to maintain a standing army to fight off invasion. To determine my city production, I picked improvements based on a simple set of priorities:

  • 1. Culture (temple, etc.)
  • 2. Growth (granary, etc.)
  • 3. Production (workshop, etc.)
  • 4. Research (library, etc.)
  • 5. Gold (market, etc.)

Once I had researched the technologies needed to tame the local resources, I made my next technological bee-lines for theology (to build Angkor Wat) and acoustics (to build the Sistine Chapel). Thanks to both Stonehenge and the Oracle, Istanbul was turning out the occasional great engineer which could be used to hurry along production. As part of this process, I unlocked Free Religion in the Piety tree but did not adopt it until I finished researching acoustics and entered the renaissance era, so that I could then immediately adopt Freedom and Constitution with my two free policies.

From this point I aimed for archaeology to unlock the additional cultural buildings it allowed, all the while building wonders and improvements in my capital. I had built one worker and some fishing boats, and my only other unit was the warrior I had started with. The single worker was having no problems keeping up with tile improvements to match my pace of research and expanding borders.

Pax Ottomana

By 1330AD (turn 193), Istanbul had a population of 12 and was producing 8 gold, 13 happiness, and 54 culture. I had adopted 14 of the 30 social policies required for a cultural win, and committed to the five social policy branches that must see me through to victory.

  • Tradition
  • Piety
  • Freedom
  • Commerce
  • Patronage

In addition to those branches previously mentioned, I adopted Commerce as a means of improving my navy, my coastal city's production, and increasing my income to help with maintaining city-state relationships.

Social Policies

On the way to researching archaeology I passed through astronomy, which meant I could build a caravel to begin exploring the world. I knew that the moment of truth would soon be upon me: first contact with the rest of the world. What opposition would I face on my path to cultural dominance?

As I began to explore, my very first encounter was with Montezuma of the Aztecs. This gave me pause, as he can be an aggressive leader. I immediately setup a research agreement and traded resources to try and improve the relationship. As I continued to explore, I took this approach with every civilization I encountered. I negotiated for open borders and trade agreements, and agreed to any pact suggested to me short of declaring war against another civ. In fact, I even acquiesced to all demands made of me; I was not hurting for resources, and had plenty of luxuries to keep my citizens happy, so I bent over backwards to stay in the good graces of all the other leaders. Eventually I encountered all seven of the other civs in my world.

  • Montezuma - Aztecs
  • Wu Zetian - China
  • Napoleon - France
  • Ramkhamhaeng - Siam
  • Bismarck - Germany
  • Catherine - Russia
  • Alexander - Greece

The Era of Next Turn

Once I had encountered all of the other civs and knew what I would be dealing with, the Pax Ottomana held strong. I knew I would need some economic improvements in order to keep up the income level necessary for both city-state relationships and to meet the demands and research agreements from other civs. Once archaeology finished, I began researching banking to further this aim.

Istanbul continued to grow and pump out culture, and I kept filling out the five policy trees I had selected in no particular order. Great engineers were used to hurry production of improvements, great scientists to quickly discover new tech, and great artists to start golden ages (though in one case I did have a great artist culture bomb a little deserted island to gain access to iron).

Istanbul Details

Around this time my empire entered the era of the never-ending next turn. From approximately turn 200 to the end of the game, I was simply accepting all demands placed on me by other civs while occasionally slotting in a new building for my production queue. Most of the other civs seemed to be too busy with each other to spend much time bothering me, and while many wars took place in the world, all were beneath me and my tiny but enlightened civilization.

Despite the apparent peace, I was still worried about maintaining my defense. After all, one quick strike from any of the large empires could quickly spell disaster. For this reason, after banking I headed for electricity so that I could use destroyers to defend my island paradise. This also worked nicely with the desire to get radio and telegraph for the cultural buildings enabled there (Cristo Redentor and broadcast towers).

In the end, my good neighbor policy served to keep the other civilizations at bay. I was also the first civ to field destroyers, which may have helped to keep the AI from becoming overtly aggressive. No one ever attacked me, and my cultural domination was finally at hand. It proved unnecessary to even reach radio or telegraph to manage my one city cultural victory, which was achieved in 2034AD, on turn 468.

The Victory