civ2 screenshot

How to take over the world in Civ2

A shout-out to Thunderfall and the folks at Civilization Fanatics Center, where I learned most of these techniques... especially Smash, whose annotated tech tree outlined the winning strategy.

The problem

Having just won my first game on Deity level-- and being short on content for this month because of a bad cold-- I thought I'd set down some thoughts on winning in Civilization II.

Real gurus are not going to find anything new here; I'm focussing on the player who knows and likes the game, but just can't seem to win on the higher levels.

That's where I was, a couple of months after getting the game. The first few levels were easy enough, but on King, I'd struggle to get eight or so cities going, and before I knew it, it was 1875, everyone else had twenty cities and I was way behind in tech. The strategies that let me dominate the game on Prince didn't scale up to the next level.

The answer: The SSC

What the doctor ordered turned out to be the Super Science City, or SSC. In a nutshell, you want to get the Colossus, Copernicus's Observatory, Isaac Newton's College, and Shakespeare's Theater, all in one city. Then develop it out the wazoo. This will give you a truly formidable amount of science... late in the game, you can easily get 600 beakers per turn.

Let's go over that in more detail...

Site planning

You want your SSC to have the best possible special resources-- high trade and shields. Best overall are gold, whales, ivory, and silk, which offer some of both. The others should be a mixture of high trade (gems, spice, wine) or high shields (buffalo, iron, oil, peat).

The other squares should be mostly grassland-- if there's a river running through them, all the better. Too much forest or hills will make it hard to generate enough food and trade later on, but a few squares are good-- you can use the production. Water is OK, since you can use Harbors to get food and trade (and later, Offshore Platforms to boost production).

You can't spend too much time looking for a choice spot, or other civs will get the Colossus. Frankly, I cheat and look at the entire map to see if there's a nearby spot, and if there's not, quit and start over. If you don't like the map idea, poke around, preferably with a fast mover like a Horseman, and start over if you find nothing.

Initial moves

The SSC is usually the second city I start. You're going for size in the SSC, so it should never produce a settler of its own. My initial moves are, ideally:

Of course, you want to adapt to circumstances. If you get two settlers, use the second for the SSC. Search avidly for goodie huts; you can use all the gold, settlers, cities, and mercenaries you get. Plus, the more you know about the world the better.

If you're lucky, barbarians and other civs won't give you much trouble at this point. You just don't want to waste your initial effort on defense, much less offense. (But if the huts give you some powerful mercenaries in the same general area, feel free to take over a foreign city, if you can. More cities can only help you, and it's never too early to get rid of another civilization.)

Annotated tech tree

I don't follow this tree slavishly, since every game is a little different. It depends on what techs you start with, what you get from huts, what wonders are available, what techs you can trade for, what civs are nearby, your physical placement, and so on.

The key techs are in boldface in the table below; the others are needed because they're prerequisites.

You want to keep your SSC producing the items noted-- it should never produce units, except for the occasional caravan, until the endgame. Its defenders and settlers should come from elsewhere.

Ceremonial Burial You need temples before you can start on Wonders.
Bronze Working Needed for the Colossus, whose trade (and thus science) bonus is essential to the SSC. For it to do any good, you must put roads on every square you can (well, except for forest squares).
Code of Laws
Monarchy You want to get away from the production penalties of Despotism ASAP.
Masonry Needed for the game's best Wonder, the Pyramids. Your cities will grow twice as slowly without it. At your leisure, build some city walls.
Writing Build a Library in the SSC. Writing also gives you Diplomats, which are best used at this point to steal entire cities.
Mysticism Mostly a steppingstone; but everything that helps keep your citizens happy is a Good Thing.
Literacy Needed for...
Philosophy If you can get to it first, go for it... if not, go for Trade. I usually treat the free advance as an opportunity to get useful techs like Bridge Building and Mapmaking that aren't stricly necessary for the SSC.
Currency The SSC is probably big enough by now to use a marketplace. Don't build marketplaces if a city is generating less than 2 gold.
Trade I find caravan-mongering tedious; but you can't thrive without it. At the very least, get a few trade routes going to the SSC: more trade means more science. And remember, besides the gold pieces and the ongoing trade benefit, there's an equivalent science bonus-- enough to fuel most of your science needs, if you trade enough. As a Civ2 guru put it, if you're not sure what to build in a city, build a caravan.
Mathematics Needed for Astronomy; and since this tech path is weak on the military, you'll want some catapults for defense. (The AI loves to move a unit right up to your city, where you can pick it off with a catapult.)
Construction You want to build an aqueduct as your SSC reaches size 8. If you're having trouble keeping it happy, build a Colosseum; but I find that this is not always necessary.
Astronomy Build Copernicus's Observatory in the SSC; it doubles science output. (The Civilopedia has this and Sir Ike's backwards.) I put this before Republic because the AIs try pretty hard for Cope's.
Republic We'll talk about government types below. Switching to Republic, you can use We Love days to build quickly to size 12. Not always necessary, though.
Medicine Build Shakespeare's Theater in the SSC. There usually isn't much competition for this Wonder, but it's really very neat: no unhappy citizens in your SSC ever. Besides eliminating a big headache, this means the city will keep producing even in periods of anarchy. You can even sell your temple and colosseum.
Horseback Riding
The Wheel
Sanitation Build a sewer system. You can now use We Love days to build up to size 21. That should give you some pretty phenomenal science.
University Build a university in the SSC.
Banking By this time the SSC will be more than large enough to benefit from a bank. Don't build a bank in a city that generates less than 6 gold. Well, unless there's not much else to build and it's growing quickly.
Theory of Gravity Build Isaac Newton's College in the SSC; increases science another 50%.
Democracy Build the Statue of Liberty in whatever city can produce it fastest. Build caravans all over to hurry it along. See Government Types for why.
Economics Build a stock exchange in the SSC and any city with at least 9 gold. And build Adam Smith's Trading Co. (not necessarily in the SSC) if you can; the cost savings is a big boost.
Iron Working
Gunpowder At high game levels, this is for defense as much as anything else. For other civs to have it when you don't is a Bad Thing.

That's the important bits. You are now in range of quite a few important techs, and you'll have to decide which is more important. Try to get some of these from other civs, or pursue them when the damn game is hiding the tech you want.

Bridge Building It's a bit embarrassing to get this far without being able to put roads on river squares. But, first things first.
Mapmaking, Seafaring, Navigation You may go for the first of these early, since it's so useful to explore beyond your continent-- and lucrative, when it comes to trade. Seafaring also gives you the Harbor, which you'll want in your SSC if it has any sea squares... and to boost other cities when you can't be bothered to irrigate them.
Chemistry, Explosives For Engineers.
Physics, Steam Engine, Railroad, Industrialization You want railways for quick troop and caravan movement. And you need industry for the production boost. Build a factory in the SSC, and for God's sake keep on top of pollution. Global warming is a Bad Thing.
Industrialization, Communism, Espionage So you can build the UN, and for spies. See Foreign Affairs
Feudalism, Chivalry, Conscription, Leadership, Tactics, Amphibious Warfare Man, it took us long enough to get some good offensive units, didn't it? But don't worry, there'll be plenty of time to get some use out of them. See War.
Refining, Combustion, Automobile Superhighways are nice in the SSC, if there's enough road squares with 2 or more trade... a coastal city may not meet this requirement. The Colossus isn't long for the world at this point, so it isn't always worth it. But battleships are nice.
Corporation, Mass Production You'll need Mass Transit to alleviate the pollution from your factories; also the gateway to the spaceship.
Magnetism, Electronics You would really, really like to build Hoover Dam, which provides a nonpolluting 50% production boost to all your factories.
Metallurgy, Electricity, Refrigeration Build a supermarket and re-irrigate-- you want the SSC as big as possible.
Steel, Machine Tools, Miniaturization, Computers Try for SETI, which doubles your civ's science output (for the last remaining techs). If you can't get it, at least put a Research Lab in the SSC. The Offshore Platform is a nice production boost for coastal cities.
Mobile Warfare, Robotics If you're going for the spaceship, you'll want Manufacturing Plants to goose up production; if you're going for conquest you want Armor and then Howitzers.
Combustion, Flight Put this off as long as possible, because it erases the trade bonus from the Colossus (and with it, very likely, the one from Superhighways). But of course if another civ develops it, you need it.
Guerrilla Warfare, Labor Union How to get Mech. Infantry, the game's best defensive unit.
Advanced Flight, Electronics, Rocketry, Space Flight The minimum path to Space Flight. (Let someone else build the Apollo Program, if possible; everyone benefits, so why should you pay?)
Atomic Theory, Nuke Fission, Plastics, Nuclear Power, Laser, Superconductor The remaining techs needed to finish the spaceship. Add Fusion Power to speed up the bird.
Polytheism, Monotheism, Theology, Fundamentalism, Recycling, Genetic Engineering, Environmentalism, Stealth What I left out... you can usually get through the game without these.

If you're Wondering

If someone else grabs the really good wonders (the SSC ones, Pyramids, the Statue of Liberty, Adam Smith's, Hoover Dam), or if you have some extra production on your hands, here's some comments on the other Wonders.

Leonardo's Workshop I used to build this all the time-- it's awfully nice to have the miscellaneous units you acquire get updated. But be aware that it has a drawback: it replaces veteran units with rookies.
Sun Tzu's War Academy Very nice Wonder, and you won't need so many Barracks (you'll still need some for quick troop recuperation). But the price to pay for getting the SSC wonders is generally that some other civ gets it.
Oracle; Hanging Gardens; Mike's Chapel; J.S. Bach's; Cancer Cure Happy Wonders are always a Good Thing; but again, the other civs will probably get these while you go for the others. It's OK; you can take theirs over.
The Great Library I used to get this all the time. But the SSC strategy will usually keep you ahead in science anyway; and if you depend on the Libes, it poops out just when you really need it, in modern times.
The Great Wall The ancient-times equivalent of the UN. Nice protection, though the AI is such a lousy strategist that you can very easily survive without it.
Marco Polo's Embassy Again, you'll get the same thing when you get the UN; you don't really need to know everything about the other civs in the first part of the game.
Darwin's Voyage If you really need the tech boost, you haven't mastered the SSC strategy. And two Spies will get you the same effect for a whole lot less shields.
Lighthouse; Magellan's Expedition I like the ship movement bonuses; but you'll probably acquire these by conquest-- let someone else produce 'em.
King Richard's Crusade Again, not a bad one to have, but it's just one city, and the AI will probably beat you to it. I'd rather have the science boost.

Size matters

The SSC is usually not enough, at least for me-- you also want some raw size to go along with it.

Rather as in real life, the civ with the production edge generally wins the war. You can beat even a civ with higher tech if you're bigger. And more cities means, in general, more science and more gold. Contrariwise, even with excellent science, you're going to have big problems if you just have six cities and your rivals have 20.

Of course, as a Civ2 guru warns, Civ2 at the higher levels is not just a settler-fest.

This just in: Except when it is. I just got my first spaceship win on Deity, thanks largely to a policy of insane expansion. This worked even though my SSC was so-so and my science was kind of slow. (Curiously, on Deity, at least, it seems that the AI more or less keeps up with your level of science.)
In any case, you need a form of government that accommodates huge empires. Which brings us to...

Government types

Optimally I like to stay in Monarchy right up till I get the Statue of Liberty, then switch to Communism. While you're waiting, examine your pattern of settlement; if it's skewed far away from your capital, build a Palace more in the center. Corruption will be significantly reduced.

Communism has been aptly called a perfected Monarchy: same 3 free troops for martial law; no need to divert taxes to luxuries; no Senate meddling. In addition, no corruption, decent science, and smooth scaling up to world-sized dominions.

Nonetheless it can be very valuable to spend some time in Republic or Democracy. Set the luxury rate scandalously high and build up your cities for free... especially nice for the SSC. Since the focus in the initial half of the game is on development, the Senate's dovishness won't hurt you much... but the production penalties, the uptake cost of units, citizens' resentment of ships, and the difficulty of keeping citizens happy will.

For conquest, there's nothing like Fundamentalism. It almost feels like cheating: no money problems; no happiness problems; no entertainers needed; a little extra tolerance from the other civs. The drawback is the science penalty, but you can get around this using trade routes (which give you as many beakers as gold pieces) and espionage. Also, it gives you bad habits-- i.e. not building Temples-- which can make a switch back to another form of government difficult. (Full disclosure: I've only won at Deity by going fundie for at least some time. The other civs usually follow suit, which at least keeps their science down.)

As a more or less scientific test, I took the same 10-city empire and compared production and science under all six forms of government:

Government Income Cost Discoveries Luxury
Despotism 45 44 9 turns 0%
Monarchy 44 40 7 10%
Communism 53 42 6 0%
Fundamentalism139 33 15 0%
Republic 46 40 5 20%
Democracy 55 42 5 20%

And here's the same test for a 57-city empire, with taxes set to maximize science while keeping us in the black. This time I also counted shield production (with the caveat that republic and democracy are overstated by at least 100 shields, since all military units there require shields to support).

Government Income Cost Discoveries Luxury Shields
Despotism 377 364 18 turns 0% 386
Monarchy 375 364 11 10% 514
Communism 471 364 5 0% 580
Fundamentalism1003 315 11 0% 583
Republic 438 364 4 10% 549
Democracy 404 364 3 10% 568

Finally, here's that same empire, this time maximizing gold:

Government Income Cost Discoveries Luxury Shields
Despotism 377 364 18 turns 0% 386
Monarchy 518 364 20 10% 514
Communism 930 364 13 0% 580
Fundamentalism1339 315 22 0% 583
Republic 1202 364 66 20% 555
Democracy 1792 364 82 10% 568

Foreign Affairs

Should you trade techs? I usually do, if they offer. The other civs will trade among themselves, after all, and you'd might as well get in on the action. It's also a nice way of getting techs that don't fall in the main SSC line but are highly useful nonetheless, such as Seafaring, Bridge Building, and Engineering. But don't give them really dangerous techs (Gunpowder, Industrialization, Espionage, Mobile Warfare). You'd rather keep the advantage there as long as you have it.

Again, caravan-wrangling is tedious, but foreign trade is a Good Thing. Trade with the biggest and farthest cities you can, for the biggest bonus. I tend to avoid trading with the most successful civs, however-- I hate to give them the science and gold bonus.

I always ignore threats and demands. The AI is a lousy general, so it can rarely follow up on its bellicosity. Besides, it's often preferable to be at war with your neighbors... then you can freely pick off the troops they insist on insinuating into your territory and parking next to your cities. In peace and ceasefire you have to let them be.

If you want to start a war, demand some tribute; they often fall for that. Or park troops on their doorstep.

I try not to sign peace treaties-- you'll only have to break them later, and you're free to behave like a complete hoodlum if you've never promised not to. Overall, it's nice to preserve your good name-- you get hassled a little less. But go ahead and ruin it if you like, if your power is Supreme. I also sign treaties if they offer substantial sums. I mean, hey, free money!

In the last part of the game it's good to have the UN, since aggressors have to offer ceasefires and peace-- and if you don't have it, the UN will sometimes force you to accept a ceasefire. Still, it's not that hard to conquer a civ that has the UN. (Better yet, conquer the city that has it!)


Over on the Civ Fanatics site, there's a guy who likes to compare Civ2 to real military strategy. Since I have no acquaintance with real war, I have no idea if he makes sense or not, but it's fascinating to listen to. Kudos to Sid Meier for coming up with a relatively simple set of tricks that effectively simulate several modes and epochs of war.

Me, my favorite strategy is to whomp the enemy with the next higher level of technology. Two or three levels, even better: nothing like Armor for beating down a cityful of Phalanxes.

If you're even in tech, then the game becomes an exercise in knocking down city walls. This is an exercise in frustration with Diplomats; but it really becomes possible with Spies.

If you're behind in tech, don't worry-- use Spies for that, too. Or take over one of the enemy's smaller cities, and take whatever tech you most need.

You soon learn that you want a mixture of the three basic types of land forces-- infantry, cavalry, and artillery-- basically, heavy guys that can hold a city; fast guys that can move and attack in one round; and big but slow bruisers for dealing out heavy damage.

The AI is aggressive, but stupidly so. All it knows how to do is move units at you-- it never learns that a city is well defended. In a sense, it's not easy to lose to the AI, unless you really fall behind in tech, or you're careless with defense. It's easy to burst into a city with your last unit or two, then lose the city to a counterattack.

On the other hand, often it pays to pursue, even at the risk of overextension. There's a sharp point, when about half its empire is lost, when the AI suddenly becomes defensive. It may still have a lot of power left, but now it prefers to preserve its units rather than waste them in its previous suicidal attacks. When the AI asks for a ceasefire, that's usually a sign of weakness.

Once the war stage of the game begins, it pays to be aggressive yourself. The AI will poke at you and try to establish cities near or within your empire-- but it stops that pronto when it's under attack. When you're on a rampage, you hardly have to defend your homeland.

When I started out, it felt like cheating to buy cities. I got over this fast. It's often enough to get that all-important size edge early in the game, it speeds up conquering empires, and it gives you a more usable city. Man, though, do I ever hate it when they do it to me. Don't let your funds get so low that your cities are cheap.

The AI's naval strategy is even worse than its attempts on land. It loves to bunch up ships-- I killed 21 ships with one sub, once. It also loves to put big ships in little lakes. And it rarely mounts what you could call a real naval invasion-- it just sends out each shipful of troops when they're done, instead of sending out an armada. It also likes to hide its fleet somewhere where it does no good at all. (Note that conquering a ship's home city will destroy the ship.)

It's good with submarines, though. The only way to dominate the seas is to have plenty of your own ships out there.

Interestingly, when the tech maxes out, the game is dominated by the air units. I'm not that fond of Bombers, since they can only attack once every two turns; but the AI loves them, and since they can take out just about anything, you need fighters all along the front. (You can build SAM batteries, but that's not usually my priority in a conquered city.) And when there's lots of fighters around, they can make short work of the array of attackers besieging a city.

I've used sub-based cruise missiles effectively, but I've never gotten carriers to work. By the time you get them, Rocketry is at hand, and you can lose an enormous investment to one missile.

I almost never build fortresses... maybe one on a border, to keep the AI from sidling up to my cities. The AI loves these, too, for no good reason. They make nice perches for your cavalry to attack them from.

For more Civ2 fun, see my Almea scenario.