Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Kid Sure Doesn't Suck!

Sorry it’s taken me a while to write this up. It’s been busy. But what a night! I am so stoked! We beat the Vikings, despite all the hoopla. And most importantly for our future, Aaron Rodgers had a great night—178 yards, 18 completions out of 22 attempts, one passing TD and one rushing TD. He was a busy boy.

Before serious discussion, just as a bit of trivia, it may interest you to know that our acting center, Jason Spitz (C, #72) can actually leg press 1100 pounds thirty times! At least this is what Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. Fuckin’ amazing. There are no photos of his legs on the web. I’d really like to see legs muscular enough to leg press half a ton thirty times.

First quarter was a little dodgy and I’ve got to say that the offensive line had problems. Chad Clifton (LT, #76) and Tony Moll (RG, #75) racked up three penalties each. Darryn Colledge (LG, #73) and Mark Tauscher (RT, #65) racked up one each. Of the total, five of these penalties were levied in the first period. The most heartbreaking penalty nullified Rodgers’ 68-yard touchdown throw to Donald Driver. I thought that Tony Moll would undoubtedly be answering for that one Monday morning, but according to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal, apparently there was a communication problem that led to the penalty:

Neither McCarthy nor offensive coordinator Joe Philbin were excusing the penalties as a first-game issue — “We were just a little bit out of sync,” Philbin said — but the coaches also weren't coming down hard on Tony Moll and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila for two penalties that proved costly.

The second of Moll's two ineligible man downfield penalties wiped out a 68-yard Rodgers-to-Donald Driver touchdown pass, which came on a run-pass check made by Rodgers at the line of scrimmage.

As a result, Moll was unaware of the play change and was run-blocking, so he got upfield about 5.5 yards, just beyond the allowable distance.

So the O-line is rough around the edges, but they held up against the Vikings alleged “doomsday defense” and Rodgers wasn’t sacked the whole evening long. While watching, I felt that this absence of sacks was at least partially due to Rodgers’ own mobility. My initial response was to say, “I’m glad the Kid can dance, but he really shouldn’t have to.” But I just pulled up this interesting interview with LeRoy Butler, who claims

Q. How much can you see them getting out of his running ability? Can they incorporate that into their offense?

A. They do a lot of play-action and bootlegs and a lot of sprint options to get him out of the pocket anyway. They can use that. You have to give McCarthy a lot of credit for moving his quarterback around. He can be a scrambling quarterback, he can be a pocket passer, he can do it all. He can make all the throws. A lot of veterans can't make all the throws. He can throw the ball 56 yards with a tight spiral, he can throw a 25-yard comeback, he can dump it over the middle. But he also knows he's not going to complete 18 of 22 every time. That's why I like him. He's mentally tough.

So, according to Butler at least, this highly mobile quarterback stuff is actually part of the plan. That blows my mind. The Kid is definitely not Favre. Butler couldn’t help selling Rodgers up:

Q. Overall, what did you think of the performance of quarterback Aaron Rodgers?

A. I thought he went through his progressions really well. I wasn't surprised that the offense started slow. I think it was good play-calling by (Mike) McCarthy to get him out of the pocket. People probably didn't know he was that fast. The pass he threw to (Greg) Jennings - the long pass - the pass he hit (Donald) Driver on that was called back and another pass he threw over the middle to Driver, he showed that he can throw with velocity. I was very happy with his overall performance. I think everybody in the stadium was shocked; I wasn't. Aaron has the mind of a golfer. You can hit a bad shot or you can hit a 50-foot birdie putt and it's the same to him. He doesn't get rattled, you can't intimidate him, he's a cool, calm guy. It didn't bother him all those comments the Vikings made during the week. He doesn't care that there are 40 Jets jerseys in the stands. It doesn't bother him. It doesn't bother him if he looks in the stands and see's a sign about Brett. This is one of the mentally toughest guys for someone in his age group I've seen in a long time. You have to be mentally tough to fill Brett Favre's shoes.

There were none of those suspicious drops that plagued our receiver corps during the preseason. That was exciting. They did a great deal to cork the great Adrian Peterson. He was damned fast, that’s for sure.

The defense had two glorious moments. The most important was an Atari Bigby interception at the end of the game that effectively ended the Vikings final drive and clinched the victory. And Aaron Kampman had a sack in the first quarter.

Oh! Let's not forget: Will Blackmon returned a kick-off for a touchdown! All in all, I had a happy Week 1!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Reading Between the Defensive Lines

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently published an interesting article on the education of Aaron Rodgers. I think if we read between the lines, we can see some of the motivations the management had for unloading Favre on the Jets and their strategies for achieving it. Sadly, I can’t analyze football worth a damn, but I can definitely analyze institutional politics.


Silverstein recounts what we all remember—Favre was fairly hostile to Rodgers at first

When Rodgers arrived, Favre made no bones about refusing to be a mentor to him, stating in an interview that it wasn’t his job. Nobody had done it for him, and besides, Favre’s No. 1 responsibility was to win games.

Rodgers had to accept that, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t going to watch Favre.

“The best way to describe it was we were teammates the first year,” Rodgers said. “It was a very business relationship. But I was kind of in his hip pocket. My biggest thing was if we’re not going to be friends yet, which is fine, I’m still going to be in his hip pocket until he tells me to get lost.

“So I’d stick my head in there when he’s talking in the huddle and lean in and listen to what he’s saying and listen to him in practice. I’d watch him like a hawk. This guy is one of the greatest quarterbacks to every [sic] play, so I better figure out what he’s doing.”

As far as I can tell, Brett Favre was the fucking queen of the team during the Sherman years. The problem was that the team was run around Favre’s sensibilities. Well, as any opera manager can tell you, the company will not be a success when the prima donna and not the director and conductor rule the roost. Yes, we may all “ooo” and “ah” to her lilting voice, but an opera is a play with a cast. Like football, opera’s a team effort. After Holmgren packed up and left, there was no one to reign Favre in. He always got his way. The problem was, as talented as Favre is, he needed good coaching to keep him in line. Favre the prima donna was unleashed. He frequently got cocky and was not pulled back into line. Sherman wasn’t tough enough as a coach. When Sherman got his hands on general management, the core of most of the team’s personnel rotted away. The final straw came when the offensive line broke—Rivera and Wahle were lost to free agency before the 2005 season. The team collapsed.

After the 2005 season, Sherman was fired and McCarthy hired.

All of a sudden there were new demands on Rodgers. He was required to attend off-season quarterback school, six hours of it several days a week. Then McCarthy got on him about his weight. Rodgers weighed 228 at the time and measured about 15% body fat. McCarthy wanted the body fat down to 10% to 12%.

“I fought it and I was like, ‘Why?’ ” Rodgers said. “But I think it definitely helped me out. I’m 217 right now, the lightest I’ve been before my sophomore year at Cal, and I’m a lot stronger and more fit. But I fought the system. Change has always been tough. Any type of change in my life I’ve always met with some resistance, so we butted heads the first year a little bit.”

Favre didn’t attend McCarthy’s quarterback school and didn’t make his decision to return for another year until just before the draft. When he showed up, he didn’t know any of the terminology of McCarthy’s system.

With Nall gone to Buffalo, Rodgers was the only familiar face in the quarterback room, and he was able to lean over and tell Favre which plays under the Sherman system corresponded to the ones McCarthy was teaching. It was at that point that Favre and Rodgers started to become close.

I'd always wondered how it was that Favre went from looking at Rodgers like a leper to getting all “shits and giggles” with him, at least in front of the camera. Silverstein has isolated the moment. Favre found a use for the kid when it was clear that the Packers were installing a new system and he had to learn the new terminology. It was either that, or show up to quarterback school. Favre isn’t about to get schooled. Moreover, showing up at quarterback school would undoubtedly contribute more to Rodgers’ education than Favre would like. After all, Rodgers was already spending his days following Favre around with a notepad. Favre wasn’t about to help Rodgers ease him out of his own job!

But apparently, last year, Rodgers had gotten cozy enough for McCarthy to get Favre to actually contribute—

Rodgers’ education continued into ’07. McCarthy urged Favre to spend more time mentoring Rodgers, and Favre responded.

“My first year, he was kind of like, ‘Yeah, he needs to grow up and this and that,’ ” McCarthy said. “I told Brett, ‘You need to give back now. You’re at the point now where you’re older than most the quarterbacks coaches in the league. You can give back, not only to Aaron.’ Brett really embraced that. That’s one of the things you don’t really hear about.”

In my opinion, the fact that McCarthy has gone to lengths to point Favre’s goodwill out shows just how good the Packers are at PR and team-building. It probably helped that, at least according to his retirement speech, Favre was feeling older and older as the season wore on. In his retirement speech he spoke of how little pleasure and how much stress he was feeling. He became more malleable with respect to Rodgers, probably thinking of his legacy. This was a triumph for management.

Besides continuing to study coverages and meeting with Favre on the sideline during games, in ’07 Rodgers was given a scouting assignment. As soon as the game was over, he started working on the next opponent, providing a report on Wednesday morning to the coaches and other quarterbacks.

He would watch tape on Mondays and Tuesdays and write the report Tuesday night. It started out being a report on the cornerbacks Favre would be facing that week, but it advanced into in-depth reports on schemes, tendencies and other players.

Favre used to joke that Rodgers’ presentation was his least favorite part of the week, but Clements said the work was invaluable for Rodgers. Soon he was coming up with the same evaluations as the coaches.

Damn, but they were good. Favre’s outright hostility and refusal has now become passive-aggressive snarkiness vented while providing complete cooperation. That is, of course, if Favre was even being snarky. He may have been simply referring to the pain of having to look at the next week’s challenge. I’d like to think it was the latter. Again, he did mention those feelings in his retirement speech. Either way, by the end, Favre was actively abetting in his own downfall. By November of last year, they knew what they had what they needed:

It wound up being especially valuable when Rodgers got pressed into action against Dallas on Nov. 29. When Favre got knocked out of the game, Rodgers came in and completed 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown, nearly rallying the Packers to victory on the road.

“The touchdown I threw was exactly what we saw on film, the exact defense we were expecting,” Rodgers said. “It was the exact play call we talked about during the week, the play I had seen on film on Tuesday. I said, ‘I hope we get this look during the game.’ And sure of enough we’re on the 8-yard line and they give us that look and I hit Greg (Jennings) and he scores.”

As the season begins, there should be many more opportunities like that one. Rodgers carries with him a Harvard degree in quarterbacking, the kind only a few have the luxury of obtaining. Rodgers won’t outwardly resemble the quarterback Favre was, but there will be subtle similarities that coaches and teammates will recognize.

Indeed, that Cowboys game was the first convincing performance we ever saw from Aaron Rodgers. Unlike his other two ugly debuts, he played beautifully. And now we know why. He studied his ass off. He’s learned to play the pro game.


People have been pissed about the way the Favre retirement was handled, but as far as I can see, Thompson and McCarthy won at the lowest probable cost. They had what they really needed from Favre—time for Rodgers to grow. My instinct was that TT was never going to ask Favre to leave. But the minute he was out the door, there was no way he was going to prevent the installation of his new centerpiece. Think of the lost investment they’d placed in their first round draft pick. They needed this break. Favre is simply too old to build a new team around.

But they’ve treated Favre with kid gloves the entire way. They were deeply aware that the break would have to come at some time and they definitely wanted Favre to initiate it. Once he had crossed to the other side, they promptly closed the door. Management preferred that he stay retired than to return, but if he were to return, they clearly needed to trade him. They managed to trade him to the best possible team that they were unlikely to meet. From the PR perspective, it was a triumph. If the Packers have a good season this year, the bitter fan feelings will fade. Thompson and McCarthy will have won control of their team.

It’s not that they didn’t think Favre was good. Hell, they knew he was good. It was that they stood to lose Rodgers. Rodgers was their last, best chance to have a durable quarterback for the long-haul. Rodgers contract extends to the end of the 2009 season. At that point, they’d lose him and everything they invested in him to some other team who picks up the next hot QB for cheap. They wind up training someone new, who may not be as fine an athlete and who will need a few years to hit his stride. By that time, they may start losing larger parts of the team to free agency. Kirk said it first, and I think he’s right (and should write a fucking football blog, damn it)—the team as a whole would never peak because the quarterback lag would hold the rest of the team back as they reached their peak. When the new QB started to get good, they would be trying to repair the cracks in the rest of the team.

Favre’s extraordinary talent is an article of faith for many. It has been for me. I was a believer back in the aftermath of the 2005 season when lots of people called him a washed-up has-been. And I didn’t even like him very much then, even though I wore his shirt all the time because he was a god and the legendary quarterback of my beloved Green Bay Packers. But Favre, physical god that he still is, is going to retire soon. In my opinion the bottom line is, if you are really a Packers fan, we needed for Favre to leave before they lost Rodgers. In my opinion, management made the correct decision.

Is this ingratitude? Certainly there are many who will argue this, especially those who worship exceptional athletic talent. I have previously argued strongly on this position. I do believe football players should be paid millions of dollars because exceptional athletic talent is far rarer than exceptional business talent. Moreover, it is obscene to me that the bodies of these men should be destroyed to enrich the pockets of others.

That said, I don’t think that Brett Favre has the right to hold back the whole team’s development. I believe the Packers’ rhetoric when they claim that they were okay with him reversing his retirement when he talked about it last spring, But June is too late. The train has already left the station.

It was really clear that Favre wanted to be talked out of retiring. His response was like that of the hurt prima donna. But that drama could be re-enacted on a yearly basis. The bottom line is Favre isn’t going to be a quarterback in this league three years from now. He’s going out. Management had to think of the transition. After that Cowboys game, the Packers weren’t going to try to talk him out of retiring. If he came back, they’d welcome him. There was one more year on Rodgers contract and firing Favre would he a PR disaster. They could afford one more year. But they really wanted Favre to retire. Rodgers was ready to start. And indeed, one has to imagine that they really were ready to have full control of their team again, and that includes a quarterback that they can force to go to quarterback school and who will lose weight on command (although I point out immediately that Favre has been coming to camp leaner and more fit every year—no one can fault him on that count).

Is this a bad deal for football? Actually, I think it’s a great deal for football. Favre was increasingly a bad match for the Packers, because the Packers have been rebuilding and, at this juncture, they need to install the new QB if the rebuild is to have longevity. In contrast, the Jets, while improving their offense, really aren’t engaged in a rebuilding process. They’re simply trying to upgrade the existing team. There’s no reason to think of their approach in that same “investment” framework. They aren’t thinking of the long-term. They seem to just care about winning this year. They didn’t really have any good QB options. Favre, in contrast, will this year remain among the strongest QBs in the league. Moreover, he will rally their fan base and increase merchandising sales. This is a total no-brainer for the Jets. While I’m not a Jets fan per se, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for them. Certainly, I like them way better than the Giants. Moreover, and most importantly, Favre will still play football. It’s definitely in the interest of the sport as a whole that Favre play as long as he’s able.


When this drama began, I overreacted. I was pissed off at Favre because I wanted him to be a personal hero. Seeing him come back last year really helped me as I’ve tried to pull myself back together and learn how to be a researcher again. I wanted him to be noble. Instead, he was a prima donna. But I forgot that I never wore Favre’s shirt because he was a personal hero. I wore it because, not only was he our quarterback, but he was our legendary quarterback. That’ll never change. Sure, no doubt, he isn’t alone. In fact, Bart Starr is a hero to me in many ways that Favre could never be. But I can’t cancel what Favre has meant to me.

Favre was deeply human in the ways we like to forget when we contemplate the ways that human beings can approach perfection. His perfection as an athlete engaged in the game is not the same as is his perfection as a sportman in the sense of the best sportsmanship. Favre did what he did because he combined talent with a love of the game. How many Sundays did he make magic for me and every other Packers fan?

I wore his shirt yesterday, and I’ll probably keep wearing his shirt. Because personal hero or no, I’ll never forget the magic he made every Sunday. I came of age wearing Brett Favre’s jersey. I won’t take it off now.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Have I been yearning for the start of football season? Absolutely. Am I ready, i.e. prepared? Fuck no! I’m a multiple sclerotic with two teaching jobs this summer. I have two fantasy teams that I didn’t pick, one of which my brother-in-law actually signed me up for because I forgot to enter the league. I did, apparently, correctly order the NFL Sunday ticket, so I don’t have to hit any bars this season. Naturally, I ran out of milk, so I used the last of it for my morning coffee, but have eaten no cereal. I may head over the 7-11 to rectify the situation. So am I ready? Fuck no.

Favre has been all over the news this morning, whining but how the Green Bay Packers don’t feel like sucking his cock. Naturally, I’m not strong enough not to be watching his season premiere as a New York Jet. I won’t do this too much, but fuck it, the Pack doesn’t play till Monday afternoon. I don’t hate the guy and have a morbid curiosity. Favre is wearing a black jock strap today, which shows nicely through his football pants. Admittedly, he doesn’t have the greatest ass in the world, but what queer football fan doesn’t love white football pants?

I just noticed that ex-Longhorn prima donna Ricky Williams is back. I guess I should be upbeat on their behalf. I’m a Longhorn, right? The gods know that I spent enough time at UT to qualify, although I have been at the UW longer than any other academic institution, now. I guess I ought to root for the Huskies, but college ball doesn’t float my boat. So far Chad and Ricky aren’t helping the Dolphins much. They seem to punt gloriously. And now Favre has just thrown his first touchdown throw of the year (56 yards to number 89, Jerricho Cotchery).

It looks like that Pats are having a really shitty morning. It looks like Brady is already injured and Randy Moss has already fumbled.

Craig is getting back from his morning meeting. We’re going to get some breakfast. I’m going to watch football, fall asleep on the couch and then get up and grade the last of the Antioch papers. I need to get back to my own stuff this week.

Monday, September 01, 2008

For Simon and Kirk

Both Simon and Kirk have both mentioned that they miss my Civ posts. Over the summer, I realized that I am shitty at academic work at night. I just don’t have the focus left that late in the day. So I try to work in the day. At night, I just accept that I need to rest. As Civ takes very little concentration, I’ve played only at night when I’m tired. The beautiful thing is that when I screw up and have attention problems in Civ, I can always scrap that iteration and start another. The fuck-ups don’t cost me much and I don’t get frustrated the way I do with real work. I just never use good attention for Civ. Bad attention only.

I’ve been keeping random notes since June on my attempts to develop a strategy for winning the cultural victory. Over three months, it has slowly but surely developed into this posting. So, without further ado, my bullshit blog entry for the summer:

Talal’s Guide to the Cultural Victory at Warlord Level for Civ 4 Warlords

Recommended Leader/Civ Combination: Louis XIV, France

There are four keys to the cultural victory. These are: (1) use of the organized religion civic to create intense domestic religious pluralism under a single state religion, (2) very little military formation until after the invention of gunpowder, (3) use of open diplomacy and missionary proselytization to create a broad medieval religious alliance for peace and (4) complementing early wonder construction with diversion of all production to the creation of culture starting roughly in the mid-nineteenth century.

I. The Open Relationship as Paradigm for the Opening Game

In my view, the opening game begins with the first move and ends when you have expanded to “natural borders,” i.e. when there is no convenient empty space into which you can expand and further expansion requires revision of borders with foreign powers.

A. The Dilemma: Being a Peaceful Planet with No Weapons

You seek a cultural victory. This means diverting your economy to the creation of wonders and other cultural edifices. The first thing that you need to do is scrap the idea of a military. To arrive at the highest levels of cultural production, you must found a “peacemonger” civilization. Yours will be a civilization like Alderaan or Naboo. Ideally, you will never go to war for the duration of the game.

Imagine some princess in flowing gowns saying “But we are a peaceful planet! We have no weapons!” That’s you. I mean it. It is particularly important that you not go to war before the advent of gunpowder, because you will really have no weapons and surely go the way of Alderaan in a war. After gunpowder, you’ll invest in hardware. You might then go the way of Naboo in a war, if you play your cards right and you’re lucky. Already quaking in your boots? You ought to be. If Obi-Wan Kenobi is your only hope, you’re fucked. Obi-Wan is not powerful enough to help you. Your help must come from God Who made Heaven and Earth. That is, you must lay extensive religious groundwork that, when combined with diplomatic savvy, will guarantee that Grand Moff Tarkin never arrives with the Death Star. Ideally, you will never fight anyone but barbarians for the whole length of the game.

B. Solution: Taking Spiritual Cock in Every Hole while Maintaining a Special Relationship with Just One Religion

Before going to war, the marine is afforded ample opportunity to order additional dog tags. You are only supposed to order more when you have actually lost a dog tag or a set (there are two dog tags to a set), or you need to change some of the information, and the only information that can possible change is your religion of record. You either have a religion of record or they stamp no preference on your tag, but this still makes it sound as though you want something, in fact, it makes it sound as if you’ll take it in any hole, from any pulpit. They make it hard for a non-believer.

—Anthony Swofford, Jarhead

Your goal in the opening game must be to found the maximum number of religions possible. This has several advantages. First, you will need many cathedrals in the end game, which means you need many temples, as you need three temples per cathedral. Your maximum number of cathedrals is governed by the formula: number of religions x number of cities / 3. Max out on religions. Second, you want to make your neighbors attracted to your state religion. Not having a religion of their own means that they have to acquire one from someone. Why not you, especially if you’ve founded all of them? Many civs like to shift to a religion that they invent themselves. The fewer the other civs that have developed their own religion, the less this problem gets in your way. If you found all the religions, the other civs are less likely to defect. Finally, you always want to max out on wonders. Controlling the maximum number of holy cities by founding all the faiths gives you more wonders in the form of creating the religion’s holy temple. Civ religions are like Pokemon, kids. Gotta get ‘em all.

That said, while your “peaceful planet” civ may be a religion whore that will take spirituality in every hole, you must nonetheless adopt a state religion and move to the organized religion civic as soon as you acquire it. You are officially in an open relationship with that religion. Think of it like being Anglican. You’re spiritually open to everything, but only one church gets to be official. That 25 percent discount on building construction and the possibility of pumping out missionaries for every religion in each of your cities is far too valuable to ever sacrifice in the name of some formal commitment to liberalism. Fuck disestablishmentarianism!

Free religion is a no-no for the cultural victory. Don’t be seduced by that “every religion present in a city produces a point of culture for that city” bullshit. You will produce far more culture points with temples, monasteries and cathedrals than you can ever pick up from free religion. A 25 percent discount on the price of constructing those buildings is worth the sacrifice of a state religion. Moreover, the effects of wonders like Ankor Wat (+1 hammer from each priest in city, obsolete with computers), the Spiral Minaret (+1 gold from each building associated with state religion in city, obsolete with computers) and the University of Sankore (+2 research for each building associated with state religion, obsolete with computers) are too much of an asset to sacrifice by giving up a state religion. Needless to say, you will avoid acquiring computers like the plague.

While you may have de facto free religion, actively spreading each faith and constructing temples, monastaries and cathedrals in honor of each, de jure you will never embrace disestablishmentarianism. Moreover, on the domestic scene, you will focus on spreading your state religion actively and uniformly from the beginning of the game in order to create an efficient empire. While you want to spread the other religions too, that can often wait until the middle or endgame. Your state religion is where you bread is buttered, especially as it is the source of your most important political alliances, through the course of the middle game.

C. Opening Tech Priorities

But equally important, your state religion is central to making the strong alliances that will unburden you of costly military investment and tedious wars. From the very beginning of the game, there is only one truly universal trade rule—open borders with anyone and everyone. The more open your borders are, the more likely other civs will pick up your religion and the more likely you will pick up any religions you didn’t invent. Ideally, everyone adopts your state religion as their own.

Your early tech order should look like:

1. Mysticism (enables monuments and Stonehenge)

2. Polytheism (founds Hinduism)

3. Meditation (founds Buddhism, allows monasteries)

4. Masonry

5. Monotheism (founds Judaism, enables Organized Religion)

6. Priesthood (allows temples)

7. Code of Laws (founds Confucianism)

8. Writing

9. Alphabet (enables tech trading)

10. Theology (founds Christianity)

11. Philosophy (founds Taoism)

12. Monarchy

13. Divine Right (founds Islam, enables Spiral Minaret and Versailles)

Note that I have you aiming to acquire Hinduism and not Buddhism as your first religion, despite the face that Buddhism is the cheapest religion to found in terms of beaker production. You are concerned with securing your first religion early. Your major constraint is that France doesn’t start with mysticism as a tech, so if there any of the AIs are interested in being religious, they are bucking for meditation right out of the gate. If they had mysticism in their starting package, odds are that they’ll beat you to Buddhism. Say they beat you out to Buddhism by a turn or two. Next, you’ll turn to polytheism. Odds are if there’s another AI who wants a religion, they may beat you to that. Before you know it, you’re chasing Judaism and still have no state religion thirty turns into the game. Aiming for polytheism means you are likely to score a religion on your first try. You don’t want to fall behind. If, by the time that you found Hindiusm, no one has invented Buddhism, go for meditation in slot three and try to score Buddhism. If someone already has it, you can delay meditation until later and pursue Judaism. Remember, Civ religions are like Pokemon—gotta get’em all. Be intelligent in your tech order so that you can keep the AI from scoring. Sacrificing Buddhism can often be a good move.

D. Early Diplomacy

Diplomacy runs on a system of penalties and bonuses. Diplomatic success is a matter of maximizing your positive penalties and minimizing your negative penalties. Remember, you have no weapons. You want no enemies and lots of friends. The most influential bonus is “caring for our brothers and sisters of the faith,” which can reach +8 with some AI civs. This bonus can easily offset minor sins and will make for your strongest assets through the end of the middle game. You must take the religious bond very seriously while still maximizing your popularity with those AIs outside your religious group. This requires very careful attention to etiquette.

As best I can tell, the AI views the world the way that many gay male couples in open relationships do. The basic rule is that fucking around (tech trade) is okay, but on-going relationships (multi-turn resource trades or multi-turn alliances) with other guys are not allowed. So trading tech is okay with anyone, but you should assiduously avoid multi-turn trade relationships with those outside your religious group.

Diplomacy is fairly constrained at the start of the game, as few players have a state religion. Remember, the rule is “Don’t have multi-turn trade agreements outside your religion until the onset of secularism.” Just like you want to practice safer sex when fucking around, while acknowledging that it’s only safer and isn’t completely safe, but without it you don’t get much action, so you must start building your religious coalition by opening your borders to everyone you can. This really is the only multi-turn arrangement you can abide until you have co-religionists with whom to trade. The only reason that you will enter into open border relationships is that you need to spread your religion and open borders are more effective than closed borders for spreading religion.

I stress that these initial open borders should be your only multi-turn trade relationship with powers outside your state religion group. Never trade resources with civs outside your state religion group. You will eventually have to drop the open borders after someone from your group decides to war on the recalcitrant power outside your religion. The more trade deals you are forced to break, the less happy the outside power will be with you. Turning down trade deals isn’t offensive, but canceling them is. Likewise, the outside power is going to want to re-open borders later. You mustn’t be too quick to re-open borders. First of all, by the middle game, they aren’t likely to change religion, so the open borders are less important. Moreover, the outside power is likely to get into another tiff with the AI in your religious group. The AI in your religious group will simply ask you to break off relations again. To preserve your close relationships with your brother or sister in the faith, you will of course have to break off the relationship. You will then incur a second penalty with the outside power. These penalties rack up. The outside power will become increasingly resentful the more times you break off relations. Minimize this effect by not reopening borders again.

You want to be careful in selecting your state religion. I usually grab the first religion I found, but sometimes, if your second or third religion spreads more quickly to your other cities and/or to neighboring foreign cities, it can pay to switch. If you are creating most of the world religions, you will obviously have some religion in common with most of the other AIs. I tend to pick the one shared by the most AIs, to generate the most natural allies.

Things spice up after discovering the alphabet, which enables tech trading. Tech trades are one-shot deals. Remember: one-shot deals are like one-night stands. The AIs in your religious group don’t seriously mind if you fuck around as long as there are no lingering ties with outsiders, so trade techs vigorously. My tech order, with its obsession with founding religions, will give you several expensive techs to trade. Most civs want to trade techs widely and are interested in trading packets of techs of equivalent beakers. Pick up lots of cheap practical techs (pottery, archery, mining, iron working, etc.) that you’ve missed this way. Don’t be afraid to sweeten deals with cash. I am pretty successful with a one gold-piece-per-beaker parity. Start trading with those in your religion to maximize brownie points and then work your way to outsiders with lots of tech to trade. Remember, if you are the first to make it to alphabet (very likely) then don’t trade that tech away too quickly, as you are the only tech trader on the block. Prolong that monopoly within reason. Obviously if someone within your religious group asks you for the tech as a favor, give it to them, as that enhances your diplomacy score.

Requests for help and demands for tribute are annoying and, unfortunately, you’ll pretty much cave to most requests. Remember, you are peaceful planet with no weapons. Often, those outside your bloc will ask for help. Unless the help is exceptionally onerous (e.g. Shaka is one of your immediate neighbors and is asking you for military tradition), it pays to grant it, even if it hurts. Likewise, if a foreign power asks for the tech as tribute, it usually pays to give up the tech unless it is a military tech that will likely be used directly against you in the short-term. For some silly reason, they like you after that. Go figure. The only time it’s safe to refuse onerous requests is when they’re offered as trades. So if Cyrus offers you iron working and a hundred gold pieces for radio, for example, feel free to send him packing. Unlike demands for tribute and requests for help, you can always turn down trade requests without fear of insult. At least, this practice hasn’t bitten me in the ass so far.

E. City Management and Expansion

Your goals for the opening game:

(1) Build a territorially large empire, to eventually be packed with cities. You will need many cathedrals to pump up your culture values in your top three cultural cities. This means you will later need oodles of temples.

(a) Remember that you don’t want to build too many cities too quickly, as this will ruin your economy. Note that in Civ 4, there isn’t an effective limit on the number of cities. Rather, your limit centers around adding too many cities at one time. Add them slowly but surely.

(b) Work instead on maximizing territorial acquisition by building cities that are somewhat far apart from one another. One of the nifty things about being Louis XIV is that you start producing culture immediately, just for being you. Build Stonehenge and each city will start life with an extra +1 culture above that. Your high cultural production rate as France will allow your borders to expand quickly, creating a connected, contiguous empire. You can later fill in the unused land within your borders with new cities.

(c) Don’t be timid about getting into pissing matches with the AI over territory. The AI will be quite deliberate about building cities next to yours in order to “box you in.” It will deliberately leave large gaps between their capital and their new cities in order to build a city adjacent to yours. Don’t hesitate to surround their city with new cities of your own. Remember that you will very likely draw adjacent AIs into your religious alliance. They’ll love you as a brother or sister of the faith. If the subjects that they so stupidly planted near your cities desert their cause to bask in the superiority of your culture, how can they really mind? After all, secretly, they themselves yearn to throw in the towel and be ruled by you. That is, they wish to be ruled by you until liberalism. After that, they lose their sense of deferring to their cultural superiors. But by then, the cities will be yours.

(2) I recommend grabbing Stonehenge as your first wonder. Adding a monument to each city will give you the early cultural advantage in seizing territory.

(3) There are two resources you want more than all others: stone and marble. These are vital for building early wonders. Make serious efforts to acquire one if not both of these.

(4) Select a single city to be your great people farm. Ideally it should be built on a desert river with fertile flood plains. You want it to grow to be huge. Typically, this is my capital, but if you find, say, a two- or three-river flood plain, it surely helps to build a city there and make it your great people farm.

(5) Center your wonders in only three cities. Often these will be among your first four cities. Show some flexibility here, but commit by the middle game. This is particularly important for your culture-producing wonders. Later cities can be financial and production powerhouses. These are appropriate places for non-cultural wonders.

(6) Remember, you are George Lucas’ small planet with no weapons. I do create initial warriors to protect my cities against barbarians, but often those warriors will not be upgraded until the discovery of liberalism and gunpowder in the endgame.

II. The Middle Game: Loving and Caring Brother or Sister of the Faith

In my view, the transition from the opening game to the middle game is marked by the expansion of your borders to the ocean or the borders of other states, i.e. the expansion of your state to occupy all the “free” land available to it. I rarely seek to create overseas colonies. Like most other versions of Civ, it rarely seems to pay to be a naval power. Overseas conquest is even more costly in Civ 4 than the other iterations and navies are usually used simply to bombard cities to ease the job for land units or simply to annoy you. I build naval units only as needed. Whole games go by where I don’t build any ships other than workboats. Under our strategy for cultural victory, the middle game is about balancing a building program

A. The Democratic War Theory

The middle game in our particular strategy is a time to build cultural edifices, spread your various religions and lay out economic infrastructure. “But what about war?” you ask. You aren’t telling me that you can continue until gunpowder with nothing garrisoning your cities nothing but fuckin’ warriors, are you? In the words of the immortal Dinur Blum, “Yes. Yes I am.”

Civ 4 seems fairly unique among the other iterations of the game in that you can avoid warfare fairly easily. This is especially true for the Middle Ages. Civ 4 is fundamentally anti-Kantian and neo-conservative. In Civ 4, the medieval religious worldview dominated by monarchies is, ironically, fundamentally peaceful. It is rare that I am forced to make war prior to liberalism. In contrast, the advent of liberalism and free religion is the most likely time one will experience war in our posture as “a small planet with no weapons.” The moral of the story is that in Civ 4, liberalism is for neo-conservative gun-toting types. Religion is the path to perpetual peace.

Your strategy is to cultivate an alliance centering around one of your many religions (remember, following the tech order recommended for the opening game, you probably have most of them). In the transition to the middle game you will typically see an emerging religion. Adopt it. Then look around and see who you want to get on your side. Typically, conversion can be achieved by using missionaries to convert three of their cities. Very few of the civilizations put much effort into uniformly spreading their state religion. With very few exceptions, converting three of their cities will tip the balance in favor of your religion of choice. The AI will change religions in order to reap the benefits of having a state religion that is more present in its cities.

Trade resources with everyone who adopts your religion. Give occasional or even regular bargains. Show you care for your brothers and sisters of the faith. So you’re a soft touch—who cares? On the Last Day, the Good Lord won’t ask you if you gave too much to beggars like Catherine the Great (although I must say that I have a consistent urge to tell the little slut to stow her smile and batting eyelashes, I’m queer and could really care less). And, recalling more worldly concerns, when you’re a small planet with no weapons, face it: it doesn’t pay to be stingy! Remember the most important fact of all: you have no onerous military for which to pay. You can afford generosity. Remember, while the competition is building catapults and duking it out like the primitives that they are, you’re building the Great Civilization of Untold Wealth and Glory! Your population revels in salons, temples and cathedrals while theirs squats in their hovels. Surrounded by such splendor, munificence is an expense you can afford.

The bottom line is the “We care for our brothers and sisters of the faith” bonus typically goes as high as +6 and can even reach +8 with the likes of Isabella. Add to that the +4 bonus for “fair trade relations” (i.e. they rape you and you smile) and the members of your alliance will adore you. If you’re good at spreading your religion, you can become the darling of the world until liberalism. It’s such a pity that you can’t build the United Nations before liberalism. The diplomatic victory would be an easy triumph in the medieval era.

B. Diplomatic Strategy

Now, Talal, I can hear you say. It can’t be that easy. Well, you’ll be shocked to see that it is just that easy in many iterations of Civ 4 at the warlord level. Of the fifteen or so iterations I’ve played while starting to write up this strategy (I’ve played another dozen or so while writing it up), about a dozen have run very smoothly with minimal fuss. In most iterations, I can’t even build the Heroic Epic, because I don’t have any units that are tough enough to qualify. Often my toughest units got that way fighting barbarians. That said, naturally, this strategy isn’t completely foolproof. The moral of the story is not to be a fool and, instead, be a keen diplomat.

Your basic strategy in building an alliance follows the following rules:

(1) Your first priority is to add any warmongers on your borders to your religious alliance. These guys have to be secured before anyone else and are a serious concern in the opening game. They must be secured by the middle game.

(2) Don’t be distracted by the emergence of larger, non-warmonger states in a religious alliance if you haven’t secured your warmongers on the border. You may want to join the alliance of the cool kids, especially when they adopt your current state religion, but you need to secure that warmonger far more urgently, even if it means you can’t be friends with the cool kids. It hurts, I know, when three nifty powers accept your state religion and the bordering warmonger latches onto one of your secondary religions instead, but dump your state religion in favor of the warmonger’s choice. You’ll pay dearly if you don’t.

(3) Don’t offend AIs. Give them gifts and cave regularly on tribute. You can afford to be generous. The only time you really want to be stingy is when you are building a wonder and an AI wants the tech so that they can beat you to it. Be stingy then. No, repeat, no other civilization can be as fabulous as yours. You may never deny yourself a single splendor when pursuing the cultural victory. Remember, you can always make a gift of something else, if they’re asking to trade. If they ask for help and/or tribute and caving means that you’re going to lose the wonder, use your common sense on how much you can afford to offend the AI in question. Losing a wonder sucks, but sometimes it’s needed. But again, try to avoid denying yourself any splendor. Taking a reputation hit sucks, but losing a wonder can suck worse.

(4) By the middle game, you are going to have to cut off the universal open borders. Be prudent in selecting who to annoy. Obviously, you never betray a brother or sister of the faith to a heathen. Those requests you simply rebuff. In the cases of an infidel warmonger demanding a cessation of relations with an infidel non-warmonger, sell out the peacenik. If the infidel peacenik approaches you first about the infidel warmonger, rebuff the peacenik. Your goal is to accommodate warmongers while maintaining your religious alliance. Your worst grief is if you get a rupture within your alliance, i.e. one ally attacks another ally. See Ragnar below.

(5) Don’t get distracted by your hopes of converting a large neighboring non-warmonger country. If someone in your alliance (usually a warmonger) demands you close off the open borders with a non-warmonger infidel, always cave. Give up on expanding the alliance. It’s just not worth it. The warmonger will resent you and you’ll pay later. Moreover, you’ll probably get more than one of these demands in succession and converting an AI takes time. Each rebuffed request lowers your score. Odds are you wind up pissing off your warmonger and never actually get the peacenik infidel converted. This is often true of Hatshesput. She just isn’t worth it.

(5) After you close borders on an infidel, never re-open them. You’ll be asked to cut them off again the next time your warmonger wants to beat up on them. Each cut-off counts against your popularity score. Just cut them off the once and only do one-off trades from then on. One break in trade relations can easily be weathered. Several will bite you in the posterior.

C. The Problem Children of Civ 4

Civ 4 has problem children. Knowing something about the leader personalities is a serious asset. You particularly need to manage what Maltz (gotta love the handle) at calls the “zealots” and rather too optimistically calls the “pet dogs.” The archetypical zealot is, of course, Isabella. The pet dogs are essentially the warmonger leaders like Montezuma, Ragnar, Tokugawa, and Shaka.

(1) Zealots

(a) Isabella—The Biggest Bitch of Them All

In Civ 3 Isabella was this absolutely fabulous, glamorous woman from the Mediterranean who made flamboyant requests, but always said, “You make me so happy, Little Bear!” whenever I gave her what she wanted. I could imagine chatting with her at a streetside café, sipping espresso. In contrast, Civ 4 Isabella is a dour, fanatical, hyper-religious little girl. Many of the denizens of call her “Izzy.” Sadly, the nickname fits. She is undoubtedly Civ 4’s biggest problem child.

Your first problem dealing with Izzy is that she must, repeat, must have a religion. She will reliably beat you to Buddhism. She can often beat you to Hinduism. In fact, I’m beginning to think that she often targets Hinduism first, although I’ve seen her hit Buddhism first a few times. I find in any game where I fail to land Hinduism, odds are that Izzy is in the game. If she lands Hinduism, try for Buddhism. If there isn’t anyone who is particularly religious in the game, then the odds are good that you can pick Buddhism up, as Izzy doesn’t have a Pokemon plan of her own. She is a one-religion-kinda girl.

Once she has a state religion, she rarely changes it and adopts theocracy as soon as possible, closing down conversion possibilities, even if she opens her borders. It will rarely work out that she is forced to pick up one of your religions. As you will be good at spreading your key religion, your religion, not hers will spread globally. Therefore, she is very often going to be outside your religious alliance and will require extensive management.

If you are very successful at building a large, global religious alliance and Izzy falls behind in tech, then you will have fewer problems. She will simply try to bully you for key resources that she lacks, like coal, oil or iron. Believe it or not, if you cave to these demands while she’s weak, she’ll adore you. She just loves her military resources. The trick is to feed her when she can’t afford to bite your hand. She’ll just purr. She doesn’t purr nearly as much when you feed her when she can afford to bite your hand. Moreover, please note that while she may not feel she can attack you, she’ll still attack others where she can. As a result, she’s a costly bitch to keep if you are trying to avoid being dragged into combat.

When she lucky enough to develop an ally or two, she can be a serious irritant. If she’s getting lucky at building a religious alliance, consider joining, if you can pick up her religion. She’s fiercely loyal to her brothers and sisters of the faith and is completely disinterested in free religion. She’ll typically stay loyal to the end if you share a religion, by which time she’s likely to behind in tech and pathetic. If you can pick up her religion, she’ll love you forever.

Likewise, after liberalism and the secularization of the other players (for me, the segue from the middle game into the endgame), it may be worth your while to go to the trouble to convert to her religion if you’ve managed to acquire it by the later stages of the game. Strangely, religious AIs don’t seem to have a bias against secularists at all (can you tell the game was designed by secularists who don’t really understand how religious people think?). The general movement of most AI players to secularism means that, suddenly, Isabella, whose identity is as locked into religion as yours is with this strategy, has lost all targets but you. This effect is especially pronounced when you border Spain. She won’t invest nearly as much in her culture as you will. In the endgame, your cultural production will be so grand that your borders will sweep across what used to be her territory (more on cultural bombardment in the endgame below), as her citizens abandon her due to her obvious cultural inferiority. What can I say? The people have taste. Avoiding war means adopting her religion.

Delightfully, if you border Isabella, this will be quite easy. Her citizens will bring along her religion with them as they flock to join your fabulous culture. Yes, retooling your fabulous culturo-economic research machine to her state religion can be inconvenient and a little costly, but not as costly as war, especially war without an army. Remember to convert to her religion early so that the full +8 bonus has time to manifest. If the bonus isn’t high enough and she’s really having territory sheared away, she will attack you, even if you are her brother or sister of the faith. I have had to arm early in one game to fight her off when I wasn’t able to convert early enough.

(b) GandhiWeird and Irritating Little Fuck

He’s not a warmonger like Isabella but, like Isabella, he must have a religion. If you get beaten out to both Hinduism and Buddhism, the odds are that both Gandhi and Isabella are in the game. Much like Hatshesput below, Gandhi’s always unpopular and I’m not exactly sure why the other AIs hate him. Everyone will want you to break any deal you have with the little fucker. Avoid him in an alliance wherever possible. His unpopularity will make you suffer. Even if you have the same state religion, you might seriously consider only making tech trades. Too many people will want you to break your trade deals with him. What sucks about this is that Gandhi never stops asking for deals. If he’s in your alliance, you may have to trade techs with him just to keep him at the “pleased” level. He definitely loves it if you give him a bargain. His +4 “fair trading” stat crops up quickly.

He’s also a pain in the ass outside of your alliance. Again, he never stops asking for trades. He’ll want to open borders with you every ten minutes or so. He’s irksome. He also refuses to talk for turn upon turn if you break a trade relation with him. Plus, the little shit actually attacked me four or five iterations ago. I really don’t have his psyche down. What’s funny is that after I beat him in the war, I later adopted universal suffrage and he really started to love me. If you adopt his preferred civics, apparently he’ll forgive anything. He’s a weird and irritating little fuck.

(2) The Divas

(a) Hatshesput—The Little Diva

Hatshesput isn’t a zealot, but she can be irritating, due to her lack of popularity and her need to express her terminal uniqueness. First, she’s never popular. There are always players who will want you to break off ties with her. I’m not sure why, exactly. I suspect that this is because she, like your Louis XIV character, has the creative attribute. Her borders will expand rapidly due to the extra cultural production, pressuring her neighbors. Unlike your Louis XIV, however, Hatshepsut probably doesn’t spend as much time finessing her neighbors with diplomacy as you will if you use the strategy outlined here. So you might want to avoid a religious alliance with her if she’s not located on the map in some way that makes it vital that she be part of your alliance. You will pay a price in popularity being loyal to her, especially when she borders many other states.

In the opening game, unless Hatshepsut’s missed out on developing her own religion, she will always abandon your faith for one of her own. Often you’re in luck. She’s not as hell-bent on immediately founding a religion as Izzy, so your Pokemon routine may work and you’ll get ‘em all beforehand. But in some iterations, she’ll develop her own religion. “No problem,” you say to her. “I ain’t too proud. I’ll adopt your religion, baby. Let’s just get our alliance on.”

This is easier said than done. Say you adopt her religion. Unlike Izzy, Hatshepsut is always fond of open borders and rarely seems to adopt theocracy, so it’s likely you can get pick her religion up and transplant yours. “Great,” you’ll say. “We are one big happy fleet.” The problem is, Hatshesput has to be special, so the bitch will then switch again to a different religion, maybe even your old religion, just so she can show her the world she’s unique. “Ha!” you can hear her saying. “I don’t ever take the lead from the human player. He may have an actual brain, but I’m still special!

Worse yet, the fuckin’ bitch has spiritual as one of her attributes, so she can change religions at whim without experiencing anarchy. This guarantees that you’ll never be able to keep up in her game of switching religions to be unique. You’ll ruin any forward momentum in your culturo-economic program and still not get anywhere with her.

Lesson learned: Don’t try to convert to her religion early in the game. If you need Hatshepsut in your alliance, don’t bother with her until the middle game. The only way you can lure her from her own religion is to integrate her into your alliance by converting three of her cities to your state religion. She may need to be special, but like anyone else, she sees the benefit of having more of her cities belong to her state religion than less, i.e. she won’t pay an economic price to be special. Given the importance of focusing on expansion and wonder creation in the opening game, you probably won’t be able to afford the missionary investment before the middle game. Hatshesput cannot be an early ally. If you pick her up later, you pick her up, but she can’t be the cornerstone of an alliance.

(b) Chairman Mao (ironically) is an exception among the leaders in that he will spread his state religion uniformly across his empire. Converting him proved impossible in the last iteration I played with him, i.e. I’ve spread my state religion to seven cities and still no conversion. The logic behind his strange position on the opiate of the masses eludes me. Of course, Gandhi made war on me last game, so the AI, while somewhat in character, obviously is never a total match.

(3) “Pet Dogs” or Warmongers

Your general strategy with warmongers will depend on their location with respect to you. Your first religious priority is to pull the “warmonger next door” into your alliance. Be extra generous. Make them love you. They have claws and you’re a small planet with no weapons. Moreover, if you’re their only neighbor, very often entering a religious alliance with them early will marginalize them for the whole game. Warmongers become powerful by winning wars. If they have no one upon whom to war because they love their only neighbor, they just atrophy.

If you have a buffer zone between you and the warmonger, especially if the buffer zone doesn’t consist of members of your religious alliance, you can often ignore the remote warmonger. One game, Monty was across the continent from me with Saladin and Hatshesput as the buffers. I allied with Saladin early. Naturally, Hatshesput refused to join our alliance. She needed to be special. So Monty comes along and wipes out Hatshesput. My huge cultural production allowed my borders to sweep into her former territory after her culture had been eradicated. Monty likes to destroy cities, but doesn’t have a ready supply of settlers to replace the territory. I quickly founded new cities there and, essentially, took virtually all the territory Monty conquered for myself. And all the people rejoiced!

When warmongers bully me, I usually cave, except for giving military techs to them when they look likely to make war on me next turn. It’s usually not worth the trouble to defy them. The major exception is when they finally get too “annoyed” and start making multiple outrageous demands in a short time period. This means the AI has already decided to go to war with you and is just looking for an excuse.

When they get into that snitty mode, I’ve never managed to buy them off. I don’t even try anymore. If things get that bad, the war is inevitable. You need to make sure that things don’t get that bad by providing a ready supply of gifts. The upshot is that if this happens toward the end of the game, by that point, hopefully you have become a large planet with weapons.

Also, see if you can keep warmongers busy by encouraging them to fight each other (this is Maltz’s “pet dog” idea). As you conduct diplomacy, keep an eye on who they might like to make war on. Pay them to fight the people they want. If they’re fighting the people they want, odds are they aren’t going to be fighting you. I really haven’t made enough use of this strategy yet. I tend to get too relaxed about diplomacy at times. You’ve got to watch the little AIs like a hawk. They have all these irritating foibles that need regular, patient management. You’d think the little shits would learn to just bask in my splendor, but alas, no. They all want their special attention.

Here are the warmongers who typically have shown up in my games:

(a) Saladin—Your Ideal Warmonger

Saladin is the ideal warmonger in your alliance. He loves having a religious ally, is quite reliable and, when it comes to bribes, is a fairly cheap date (unlike Catherine the Great or Gandhi). He’s never attacked me when I’ve been a brother of the faith. The key is to remember that he loves theocracy. If he’s on your border, the trick is to convert him or convert to his religion early. Once’ he’s adopted theocracy, you’ll have to convert to his religion. You won’t be able to spread yours in his territory.

(b) Tokugawa—Generally Manageable If You Nab Him Early

Unless Tokugawa happens to be isolated on a large continent where he can expand, he’s rarely a threat in the middle or endgame, especially in Warlords. He is aggressive and protective in Warlords, which is a sucky combination for winning games. Having a seasoned military is just not that much of an asset in Civ 4. Building an army large enough to facilitate conquest distracts from building infrastructure, which means Tokugawa inevitably falls behind in tech. The only game-dominating Tokugawa I’ve seen had a continent to himself.

If you share borders with him, however, you must, must, must ally with him early in the game (i.e. convert him to your faith or adopt his). The expanding borders created by this cultural victory strategy place him under immediate pressure, as he has no cultural priorities at all in the early game. His early military advantage combined with the weak military advocated this particular cultural victory strategy means that Tokugawa will be at your throat in the early game if you don’t forge an alliance quickly. Your advantage is that he doesn’t really found religions of his own, so if you neighbor him, there’s a good chance that he winds up picking up your religion.

If he doesn’t pick up your religion quickly, the situation can become quite thorny. Tokugawa does seem to have the medieval Japanese isolationism that his real life counterpart had. Getting him to open his borders to your missionaries in the early game is quite difficult. Moreover, he may well pick up someone else’s faith and then, you’re really screwed, because your faith becomes a heathen religion for the guy and he hates your guts. I’ve had one abortive start where Tokugawa picked up someone else’s religion and bordered me. It’s like building an empire next to a hornet’s nest. Not fun at all.

But most games, he’s quite manageable. He likes to adopt a religion. Odds are that he picks one of yours. Just convert to that, no matter the cost in terms of having to spread the religion through your domains. You don’t want to border him and not be a brother or sister of the faith.

(c) Montezuma

Monty is bloody. Having him in your alliance will require extensive management, as he loves making war. His affections don’t come cheaply. If he borders you, convert to his faith ASAP. You need the brother and sister of the faith factor to grow to his max for him to be manageable. That max is fairly low (like +3 or +4), so get in with him early and give him lots of presents to keep him happy.

(d) Ragnar

Ragnar is a rough guy to have in your alliance. He’ll make war on other members of your alliance. I’m not sure about how to deal with this. My instinct at this point is to never have open borders with him after the opening game and never make multi-turn trades with him, i.e. treat him as if he were an infidel, except pepper him with regular once-off gifts. This way, you’ll piss him off by not breaking relations with other members of the alliance, but you won’t piss the rest of the alliance off. I’ll have to see how this works out the next time he crops up in the mix.

(e) Shaka

Shaka is only loyal if he’s been allied with you for a long time. You can have an almost clean milk-bottle with him (no negative penalties) and if he’s only recently converted to your religion, he’ll attack you on a dime if he thinks you’re weak and he can pick up a few cities. He’s the most like a Civ 3 warmonger of the bunch. He can have absolutely no beef with you diplomatically and will attack because you are weak. As far as I can tell, he is the warmonger least mesmerized by diplomacy. If he’s in your game, you need to start taking care of him early. He is guaranteed to be a thorn in your side if he is not a long-standing member of your alliance.

D. Middle Game Tech Order

I’m assuming that in the opening game, you acquired the basic technologies that allow you to set up your economy by trading your high-beaker religious civs, e.g. philosophy, for large packages of common techs. So I’m not going to rank things like iron working on this list. When last we discussed tech, you’d just acquired divine right. Start building Versailles and the Spiral Minaret immediately. Hold back on trading divine right until you’re done with Versailles. Versailles is a popular wonder and AIs will want you to give them Divine Right in order to beat you to it. Unless you estimate that you’ll be in bad diplomatic shape if you don’t cave, this is where to rebuff them. Having Versailles means that, once you’ve built the Forbidden Palace, you can have three capitals. This makes your economy very strong.

1. Paper (this gives you the University of Sankore)

2. Education (enables university, which adds culture and improves tech acquisition)

3. Liberalism (enables free speech, which adds 100% to your culture and, if you get there first you get a free tech—for me this is usually gunpowder)

4. Gunpowder (you can’t be a small planet with no weapons forever, after all)

5. Civil service

6. Nationalism (especially if you have marble—the Taj Mahal has a nifty cultural production per turn)

7. Military Tradition

8. Literature (hopefully you will have traded for this already)

9. Drama (this gives you the theater, plus you now can turn up the culture slider a few notches—again, hopefully you will have traded for this already)

10. Music (this gives you cathedrals, which are critical to the endgame—again, hopefully you will trade for this again)

11. Calendar (this one is complex. You don’t want to pick it up too soon because it cancels the impact of Stonehenge. But you can’t build plantations until you get it. Moreover, you eventually need it if you are going to get to Astronomy and building salons. If you don’t have calendar by this point through tech trades, you need it now)

12. Optics

13. Astronomy (this gives you the salon, a research boost with a free artist)

14. Printing Press (handy for the economy)

15. Replaceable Parts (converts forests into lumbermills, the environmentally sound way to develop your economy)

16. Scientific Method (this one hurts, as it wipes out all your monasteries. But you need it to get to the all-important radio. Just bite the bullet).

17. Physics

18. Electricity (Broadway is another cathedral with tradable fringe benefits)

19. Radio (the Eiffel Tower is central to your efforts, as it gives you a broadcast tower in each city—100% culture production bonus. Moreover, Rock’n Roll is another cathedral with the same sort of nifty trading bonus as Broadway)

20. Mass media (this gives you Hollywood, again a cathedral with a nifty trade bonus and also the United Nations, which is your backup plan to victory)

E. Middle Game Building Priorities

I don’t know if my building priorities in the middle game have really jelled. Rather than develop concrete target lists, I have a few fluid rules.

1. Concentrate culture-producing wonders in your three Cities of Limitless Karma (CLK). Remember the goal is to build three cities with a cultural value of 50,000 points. Avoid wasting culture producing wonders a city that is not destined to have legendary culture. I find I am fairly confident about the identities of my CLKs by the middle game.

2. Focus on making your second-tier cities into economic and production powerhouses. Every empire needs these. Your disadvantage in the opening game is that, beyond building roads to marry your cities to your resources, you won’t really be doing much with your first cities but creating wonders and occasionally generating missionaries. It’s pivotal that your second-tier cities be able to complement the CLKs by being highly productive.

3. Recall that you want three capitals—You need to think about spacing. You should be able to build Versailles early enough that the city where you chose to build it is actually one of your three legendary cities. When it comes to the Forbidden Palace, you may have to build it outside of the CLKs in order to place it where it will have the most economic impact. This is a balancing act.

4. Lavish your whole empire with temples and monasteries, making certain to favor your state religion in building order. Favoring your state religion is always important as the Spiral Minaret and the University of Sankore will make your temples and monasteries generate extra revenue and beakers. Depending on city size and the number of luxuries with which your empire has been blessed, building other religions’ temples before building your state religion’s monastery may be important to keep the people happily at work. But after maxing out state religion buildings, I usually prioritize temples over monasteries.

5. Lavish your whole empire with libraries, theaters, salons and universities. All but theaters are critical to your scientific efforts. Moreover, all but salons directly produce culture. This keeps border pressure up on your irritating neighbors who dare build cities so close to your splendor.

6. Build banks, courthouses, markets and grocers, first in your second-tier cities and then integrate them into the CLKs as gaps come up and you can’t build cultural edifices. Use common sense about the order in which to build them. Start with banks, as they bring this highest bonus. If a city is suffering from health problems, obviously putting in the grocer first makes more sense. If you are at war, obviously churning out cavalry is more important.

7. Keep an eye on health and happiness. The lack of “civil disorder” in Civ 4 means these factors can slip under your radar for extended periods of time. You should rarely have happiness problems with all your religions and their accompanying temples. Health is a more serious challenge. Build aqueducts and granaries promptly. This is a particular weakness of mine. Since Civ 1, where I learned that big cities are stupidly costly cities, I’ve always been bad about city growth. I need to learn to be more lavish with public health investments. Bigger cities are much more helpful in these later iterations of Civ.

8. As the middle game draws to a close and you invent liberalism, begin military industrialization. Now is the time to build barracks and stables. It’s time to replace those damned warriors with musketeers and cavalry units. You will always be the weakest power, but war becomes increasingly defensive as the game progresses. If you have diplomatic savvy, you should be able to hold off the bastards for ten turns until you can buy peace. If you are ahead in tech, you may well be able to build the Pentagon.

III. The Endgame: Dropping the Cultural Atom Bomb

You now have the wherewithal to construct the final wonders of your career: the Eifel Tower, Broadway, Rock ‘n Roll, Hollywood and the United Nations. The first four have significant cultural value and should be constructed in your CLKs. The UN can be built anywhere convenient. By this point, typically one or two of your CLKs have only mediocre productivity, as the industrial cities may now have factories. As it is imperative to construct the cultural wonders in the CLKs, don’t waste that precious production capacity for the UN. Build it anywhere.

A. The Divorce from Science

Once science has given you the mass media, it really has rather little to offer you. You need to make an economic decision now about how much more technology you really need. You may want factories, you may need military equipment—pick up what you need. But really, it is now time to shed the repressive, choking skin of technical empiricism and embrace fully the decadence of unstructured spirituality and unrestrained self-celebration. It is for your people to experience a lifestyle divorced from economic and technical limitations, in which their every libidinal desire is satisfied by participating in a culture of ultimate and intoxicating superiority. Now the time has come to slide the slider to 100 percent culture, zero percent science. Marx’s dream of communism was nothing compared to this. This friends, is the true end of history.

B. Construction

Once the slider slips over to full culture, your CLKs should produce roughly 400-700 units of culture per turn. Your goal is to push this per turn average as high as possible by constructing as many cathedrals as possible in your CLKs. This means you need to spread every religion you have to as many of your cities as possible in order to build at least nine temples for each religion, giving your one cathedral per CLK per religion. This is how you max out cultural production in your CLKs.

If you are at war, you may need to divert non-CLK production to weapons. When not building temples, you can always divert your non-CLK production toward science, if need be. The endgame really is all about the CLKs. When the CLKs are not building wonders or cathedrals, divert their production to culture. After a CLK has reached 50,000 culture points, you can divert its production to whatever else you need.

C. Diplomacy

Now that you have founded the UN, elections will be possible. So much will rest on the identity of your opponent. If it’s Izzy, you may well win the diplomatic victory, as everyone hates her in most iterations. If you have an opponent who is fairly loved and you win the election, you need to sumptuously bribe the AIs with gifts of technologies, luxuries, hit movies, hit songs, and hit musicals. You want to keep them voting for you. Once you are secretary general, never propose free religion or free speech. Free religion drives a stake into the heart of your productive machine. Free speech means AIs who have not adopted free speech will adopt it, and gain a 100 percent bonus to their cultural production, which may serve to limit the spread of your borders across their territory. If another AI is secretary general, oppose free religion and free speech. Usually you can win on free speech. Free religion can be iffy, as few AIs are religious in modernity.

Don’t give away any of the critical cultural techs (electricity, radio and mass media) until you have built the appropriate wonders. You can’t let the AI have these key wonders first.

D. Victory

When your CLKs have all reached 50,000 you win. Life is sweet.