Sid Meier's Civilization IV

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  • Build a worker first. In 90% of starts this is the quickest way to grow, particularly if there are good local resources.
  • Don't neglect your military. The AI can smell weakness and will attack you if you don't have a lot of troops, even if you are relatively friendly. Try to keep at least one city pumping out units.
  • The early game is about expansion and the management of expansion. Make settlements until your research slider is at 50-60%, then stop and grow and then expand again when your finances allow it.
  • Specialize your cities. Have one with the intention of pumping out great people, a couple for commerce and a couple for production. Don't create 'jack of all trades' cities, they are for scrubs.
  • Stay strong and keep ahead of the power curve. As soon as you neighbours military hits above yours they are going to be eyeing your cities. Stay strong even if you want to play peacefully. One city should be churning out units at all times.
  • You think you are done? You never have enough units. This is the most important rule, don't forget it.
  • Jihad is fun. Use religions to form power blocks and don't be afraid of changing yours if it suits the environment. If you are on a hard difficulty with a double Buddhist Izzy + Monty or something on your borders you will want to be the same religion as them to stand any chance.
  • Be a bastard to your people. Whip early in the game, whip until thier backs are bleeding. Especially effective if combined with chopping forests/jungle. Also as there is no effective way of keeping large populations happy in the early game just whip them down to keep them manageable. Slavery is hands down the best civic in the game if used correctly.
  • Don't put workers on automate. You are better than the AI.
  • Be a wonder killer. When the enemy gets a useful wonder that expires with a particular tech then tech it and trade it to them. Also don't get wonder-blindness yourself. Many of the wonders in Civ4 are not worth the effort in building.
  • Boundary wars. Use your cultural borders to your advantage. Rush to grab areas of land cutting off enemy expansion and using oceans/mountains to create strong defensive areas.
  • Rapid Expansion. Lots of cities look great and make you feel really important but the corruption will cripple you. Keep it small until you have a good supply of money and the ability to build courthouses. Try to keep above 60% science at all times. If you are warring you do not need to capture bad cities, just raze them.
  • Play on harder difficulty. If you are beating settler/chieftain easily then you have pretty much picked up the basics and it is time to start playing the game for real.
  • If you're playing on Noble difficulty or higher, you will be under constant barbarian attacks, enemies will be able to research significantly faster than you, and you'll get beaten to the punch with a lot of world wonders.
  • Be really careful about overexpanding too early. Maintenance fees in your cities can escalate really quickly, especially if you're racing to place cities around strategic resources like stone, bronze, horses, iron, coal, oil, etc. Ideally, you want your cities to radiate around your capital, but this isn't always possible. If maintenance fees become to excessive you can: (1) build courthouses, (2) build the Forbidden Palace in the city furthest from your capital, (3) research Communism and adopt the State Property civic.
  • Your strategy should change based on what kind of map you play. Most of them will be pretty obvious in what they demand (archipelago maps require competent navies, while Ice Age maps require lots of planning and ground combat). The really tricky map is the Terra map. All teams start on one continent, and there's a second across the ocean filled with barbarians. The first civ to reach the second continent has a huge advantage, and can make a pretty rapid rise to power by taking over the barbarian cities.
  • One of the biggest problems you'll deal with is overcrowding in your cities. It's a constant problem with no real solution, other than making sure that the amount of happiness your cities have from resources and structures exceeds the amount of unhappiness incurred by the overcrowding. Make sure to plan ahead, and build things like temples, colosseums, and theatres when you get the chance, and not when half your population is on strike.
  • Remember that land within cultural borders does not necessarily produce any returns for your cities. Cities only reap rewards from the tiles in a specific radius around the city, and those tiles can only be worked by free citizens (not specialists, and not angry citizens). The workable tiles look kind of like this wonky cross (with your city in the centre tile):
   _____
 _|_|_|_|_
|_|_|_|_|_|
|_|_|C|_|_|
|_|_|_|_|_|
  |_|_|_|

So even if the cultural borders of your city go beyond that tile layout, ONLY those tiles will produce anything in your city, and only then if you direct a citizen to work the tile (which you can see on the city scree - he white circle around a tile means it's being worked and producing something for the city). Note that resources don't need to be in that wonky cross to be harvested.

  • And yeah, just get the Warlords/BtS expansions, as they add a lot to the game.
  • Place new cities next to food resources or flood plains.
  • Specialize your cities for production/commerce/gp farm/etc.
  • Try to obtain or build 8-10 cities by 1 AD, beeline currency and code of laws to maintain them.
  • Don't declare until you have roughly 3 axemen for every 1 enemy archer.
  • Use at least one city as a dedicated unit pump and don't ever stop building units unless you are building something to assist production.
  • Always send a military unit with Workers and Settlers when they're moving around in areas near another civilisation's borders. The AI tends to be highly tempted to steal them if they're unprotected.
  • If you're not above cheesing, always save one or two turns before you send someone to a barbarian village. Reloading will change the outcome of making contact, and this can make all the difference early on. I find Settlers and Workers to be the most valuable gifts, followed by technology.
  • Try to diversify your resources, in particular sources of food and luxury items. Each is effectively available in unlimited quantities, so your entire empire will benefit from their effects. This does require you to connect all your cities to your global trade network, so be sure to build roads between them as early as possible!
  • Removing all forests may seem tempting early on, but it's a good idea to save some for later. Once you get access to timber mills, they become very productive.
  • Being the first to sail around the world gives all your ships a nice +1 movement bonus. If nobody's beaten you to the punch yet, build a Caravel and send it in a horizontal line to the other side of the screen. Better yet, build two and make them go in opposite directions.
  • If you're not quite the warmongering type, you may find it useful to make friends - not just to prevent war, but to open the possibility of less successful neighbouring civilisations offering to become vassals. They will operate more or less on their own, but will function as subordinate allies. Having vassal states will significantly raise your Civ score.
  • Culture is very very useful. The range of your borders is determined not just by the location of your cities, but by your cultural influence; the greater it is, the farther your borders extend. This also translates into a peaceful way of acquiring another civilisation's land, as cultural dominance ultimately determines to whom any tile belongs. Eventually, other civs' cities may even decide to join your empire if you're enough of a cultural heavyweight.
  • Get Beyond the Sword if you don't already.
  • Start on Settler. You will have your best rate on researching, building, and other stuff the RNG will find favorable to you.
  • Workers don't have much to do early on and the other civs have no problem making them for you to take. One per city might be much if you make them yourself. Only with hooking up new resources or connecting cities, do they work for their pay. Workers and Settlers also prevent growth in that city and are helpless.
  • Cities cost more the farther they are from you. You don't need research rates over 60% and Settler allows you to save the most money.
  • Find a close and weak neighbor and plan to conquer. Start by building cities near him so he won't expand there. Have one city dedicated to producing units all the time and sometimes production buildings.
  • Turn off tech trading so you will have all the techs first and the AI won't go crazy with trading away your advantage.
  • Every civ also has an innate +10 gold per turn, but you can't trade for that.
  • Give every city a Granary when you can.
  • Research Bronze Working, switch to Slavery, and sparingly whip away your population to produce much faster.
  • Create cities on hills and drop archers on them if you are very afraid of losing them to barbarians or enemies.
  • Build stacks of siege weapons and regular units to occupy. Expect to lose 90% of all siege weapons for each city you attack.
  • Never pillage without units over one movement and only if you can spare them to countering. Pillaging works best to sever military resources like Bronze or Iron. DO NOT LET THE AI GET BRONZE OR IRON. Don't wage any early wars with them if they have Axmen or Swordsman.
  • Pick the Romans at the beginning and unlock Iron, if you want to try out the warfare aspect. Don't stop building Praetorian's until every empire is removed from the continent. Other civs has broken units, just not so early and overwhelmingly powerful.
  • Religion isn't very important until a few hundred turns. You can proceed to occupy any city with a star by their religious icon. Such founding cities are valuable.