Playing Civilization V, Part 9

City States

This was a newly introduced feature in Civ 5, and they play an important role in the game. They represent the small countries that are not running the world. They do not produce Settlers, so they do not expand beyond the one city, though that city can, and will expand its borders in a similar way to how your cities can grow. They do not start with a military unit, but they can produce military units and defend themselves. They can also build buildings in the city, but not Wonders. They do have a single vote each in the World Congress (or later the United Nations), making them a key to a Diplomatic victory.

City States start out neutral with regards to the players, but your interactions with them can affect how they feel about you. For example, if you send units through their territory they will get hostile, but if you give them gifts they will get friendly. And if you wish you can go to war with them and take them over. This will affect your diplomatic relations with other players and other city states, but if you have decided on a war of conquest as your victory type, that won’t matter to you, right? As mentioned, if you want to go for a Diplomatic victory you want to be allied with as many of them as possible to get their votes in the World Congress or the United Nations. But even if you don’t need their votes, there are other benefits from friendly relations. There are two levels to friendly relations: Friendly, and Allied, and the benefits get better as the relations improve.

City State Types

With the expansions there are 5 types of City State: Militaristic, Maritime, Cultured, Mercantile, and Religious. The benefits you get are:

  • Militaristic – If you are friends the city state will periodically gift you a unit, which will appear in your city which is closest to the city state. If you are allies the units will show up more often.
  • Maritime – If you are friends they will add two food to your Capital city. If you are allies they will add one more food to every city you have.
  • Cultured city states share their culture with you, at one rate if you are friends and at double the rate if you are allies.
  • Mercantile city states give you an added 3 Happiness when you are friends. If you are allies you keep the added happiness, but in addition get access to a luxury resource that cannot be obtained any other way, and that also adds Happiness.
  • Religious city states give you a one-time bonus of Faith when you first meet them, then provide added Faith per turn.

Note that Cultured and Religious city states increase the amount of Culture or Faith they provide with each new era, so the earlier you develop your relations with them the better the benefit.

Managing Relations With City States

There is a mechanism in the game which keeps track of points to define your relations with city states. On this numerical scale, Neutral has a value of 0, Friendly 30 or above, and Allied 60 or above. In the other direction, once you go into negative numbers they become Angry, if if you go negative enough it becomes War. A city state can only ever have one ally. If only one player has more than 60 influence points, that player will become the patron of the city state and they will ally to that player. If two or more players have more than 60 influence points, the player with the most points gets the ally. As the game goes on, you may get a message that a city state you had as an ally has suddenly allied to someone else. This is the result of the other player gaining influence points in some way, often by gifts. You can also gain influence points by promising to protect a city state, but do this with your eyes open. If you do not follow through on your promise it will enrage the city state and you will lose a lot of influence with them.

Your influence with a city state has a natural resting point at 0, or Neutral. That means that barring other factors, a positive number will fall over time, and a negative number will rise over time. So if you sent one of your units through their territory they will be angry for a period, but if nothing else happens they will return to Neutral. But on the other side, you don’t stay allied with them forever unless you find ways to keep adding influence points. One way is to eliminate barbarian camps near to the city state. In fact, this is one exception to the rule about sending units through their territory. If you are doing it to attack the barbarians, you are seen as a protector, not an invader, and there is no penalty. Another way to gain influence is by completing a quest from a city state. Each city state you are in contact with will periodically give you a quest, and if you fulfill it you will gain influence points. This can include killing a barbarian camp or killing nearby barbarian units (though you can do that at any time, you don’t need a quest). Some others include acquiring a Great Person of a certain kind, building a certain World Wonder, bullying another city state, finding a Natural Wonder, and so on. You do not need to fulfill a quest. For example, if your strategy calls for allying with other city states, you might want to pass on bullying another city state. There is no penalty for not fulfilling a quest, just a bonus when you do fulfill one.

Another way to gain influence is with gifts. The most effective is Gold, and one large sum is more effective than several small ones. For a Diplomatic victory strategy, you should plan on having a large Treasury as you approach the end game so that you can buy allies in time for the crucial vote. You can also gain a small amount of influence points by gifting units. I make it a practice to do this whenever I have units that I don’t want any longer. These could be obsolete units that have no upgrade path, for instance. I don’t want to pay maintenance on them as that is a drain on my Treasury, and I could just delete them, but gifting them to a city state gives me a small amount of influence. Another way to get a big jump in your influence with a city state is to capture and then a return one of their Workers. Most often this happens when a barbarian has captured the Worker, and then you capture it. You have the option of keeping the Worker for yourself, and in the early game I would probably do that because the Worker is so valuable. But at a certain point I have enough Workers, and getting the 45 influence points for returning it starts to be more effective. Remember that you have to keep earning influence points to keep up your relations, so even if you get an ally of a city state for a few turns. it will naturally decay back to Neutral. By around the middle of the game if you playing well you can start to invest the resources needed to maintain your relationships.

City States and War

If you are allied with a city state and you get into a war with another player, a city state you are allied with will join you in the war. Of course, the same is true for the other player, so the war between the two players could also involve 3-4 city states dragged in as allies. You cannot make peace with a city state while it is allied to a player you are at war with. You have to first make peace with that player (or wipe them out if that suits you). However, if you can get more influence with that city state and supplant the other player you can get that city state to ally with you can turn around and attack your enemy. Generally a large cash gift can do this, once again showing the utility of a fat Treasury.


You cannot have diplomatic relations with a city state you haven’t met, so this reinforces the idea that you have to explore the map as soon as possible. Of course, you have to balance this with other priorities, such as expanding your cities and defending them, but finding the right balance is what all the Civilization games are about. On most maps this means you should be giving some attention to developing your naval power and technologies. There seems to be a bias to city states being coastal, and in many cases they are on small islands. Of course there are a number of motivations for exploring the map. First of all, you need intelligence of what you are up against with the other players. And unless you are on a very large land mass, you will want to find added lands for settlement. Finding Natural Wonders adds to Happiness in your Empire, so finding them all is important. And last, the unexplored sections of the map have a strong tendency to spawn barbarian units against you.

Early on you cannot traverse Ocean tiles and need to stick to Coastal tiles. The unit here is the Trireme, which you can build once you discover Sailing. I will usually build 1-2 Triremes in a coastal city to go around the coast of the land mass I am on and scout out the situation. If another land mass or island is sufficiently close I can cross to it without entering an Ocean tile and extend my exploration. But to really explore the whole map you need to get to Caravels. This Renaissance Era unit becomes available when you discover Astronomy, and is essentially a naval scouting unit. It can enter Ocean tiles.

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