Civilization V 3-Years Later ReviewGuest_Jim_* - November 27, 2013
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Research, Social Policies, and Economy:
Technically speaking, Civilization V has three national economies (and both expansions add one more each) and more local economies. The three national economies are for gold, research points, and culture points. Gold naturally can be used to purchase things, such as units and buildings, but is also a necessity for a thriving nation, as a nation in the red will be punished. Research points are used to conduct research into a long, complex tech tree, and are earned from buildings you build in your cities, and some other sources I will get to later. Culture points are spent unlocking social policies, which can be very powerful, and are accumulated like research points are, but from different buildings.
Careful exploitation of resources will leave you with more than enough gold income each turn. On many occasions I have found myself with many thousands of gold because there is not always much use for it. I tend to only purchase units when I am impatient or need to raise an army immediately, and impatience again is why I will purchase buildings instead of letting them be built normally. However, spending gold is the only way to upgrade units to something more powerful, preserving their earned bonuses. Purchasing tiles to extend my border, though, can be very strategic and is something to be mindful of. You do not want to have a road built outside of your border that an enemy can grab, and those prevent you from using without an Open Borders treaty. Conversely, you can use your borders to limit the movement of your enemies or to snatch up resources you would rather they not get (uranium, for example).
Of course, sometimes you are not so lucky and do find yourself losing money each turn, but there are often ways to turn that around. For example, setting your cities to focus on generating money, instead of production, research, culture, etc., will at least reduce your deficit spending. This leaves me with two minds about the gold economy. On the one hand, it does not seem very powerful on its own, because it is not particularly difficult to obtain. On the other hand, there are instances when you may come close to emptying your coffers to give yourself a necessary strategic advantage.
The research economy, however, you can never forget about. Part of that is because you must always be researching something, but also because research is necessary to unlock all but the most basic units and buildings, and I do mean most basic. Your civilization begins at prehistoric times when all you know is how to build farms and monuments. Pottery, mining, bronze working, and even a calendar have to be researched. As you advance through the technology tiers, you also advance through the eras of humanity, such as the Renaissance and Atomic eras, and unlock the ability to build world wonders. The Pyramids, Great Wall, Statue of Liberty, and more can be unlocked and built in your cities, granting some kind of bonus. (The expansions add more wonders and modify the effects of some.)
'Standing on the shoulders of giants,' is very true for research in Civilization V, which may or may not be welcome by some. You see, the paths of the tech tree cross multiple times, so you cannot focus on one branch for long before hitting a dead end.
Unlike gold, research cannot be stored up; it is just a constant income that must be dedicated to a single project, which will be completed in so many turns. That is certainly realistic as you cannot store up creativity, but it would be nice if you could at least queue up the next technology to research.
The culture economy may be the most powerful of the three, as adopting a single social policy can cause a large swing in numbers. Happiness is one of the more important numbers concerning your nation, as a happy nation grows and eventually starts a Golden Age, which boosts all kinds of output. Many social policies can affect happiness and I have seen single policies swing happiness from a negative value to double digits in the positive. Though perhaps not as extreme with gold or science, other social policies can have a similar effect on them, too.
Social policies fall into certain domains that each have their own focus. Rationalism, for example, has a strong focus on science while Honor affects combat. Within these domains the policies are arrayed in a tree, with some requiring others be explored first. Completing an entire domain will unlock bonuses that can be more powerful than any one social policy offers.
The culture economy is more like the gold economy in how it is grown. You gather up culture points and spend them on new policies, similar to how you gather gold, but you cannot lose culture points, unlike gold. Unlocking social policies and adding cities does increase the cost of purchasing social policies though, so it is not as simple as having a constant income to spend.
To put it simply, if you want to win, you must exploit the social policies. Something that helps with that is an option when you set up a game to allow policy saving. This means you can wait to purchase a policy after acquiring enough points to do so, and gain its benefits at the exact moment you want it.
The Brave New World expansion brought with it significant changes, and in some ways fundamental changes to the policy system. That will be covered later.
That covers the national economies, but there are still the production and food economies that exist for each city to discuss. Production is what you need to build anything within a city and comes from tile enhancements, such as mines and lumber mills, as well as some buildings, such as factories. Food comes from farms and some buildings, and, as you would guess, is necessary for the population of a city to grow.
Each city can be told to focus on any one of these economies, and an AI will try to achieve the greatest results with the city's population. Sadly, while this AI tries, it does not always succeed. For example, when set to production, a city may have some unemployed citizens not because there is nowhere for them to work, but because they are simply not being assigned to work. I have never noticed this happening when setting a city to maximize the output of any other resource.
Altogether, the economies of Civilization V are quite deep, which may make them somewhat intimidating to a new player, especially the science and culture economies. Fortunately parts of them are restricted until you achieve the proper era, so you do not have to read everything the moment you start a game. Just examine what you have access to immediately or soon, and read more as things become available. If you are not interested in studying the complexities of these economies though, you will probably want to stay away from the game.