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The Art of Attacking in Civilization Multiplayer

The Art of Attacking

Civ Multiplayer is different to Single Player in many aspects. One of those aspects is the concept of city elimination thresholds. In most teamer and CTON type games the city elimination threshold is set to 2, meaning if a player loses two cities, he is entirely eliminated from the game. In other formats – such as the duel played in the CCC – the elimination threshold is even set to 1 city. This results in very exciting and care demanding play.

Now Civ is a game designed in a way which makes it easier for the defender – there are bonuses for defensive terrain (+75% for most units on forested hill tiles, +50% for forest or djungle tiles, +25% for hill tiles). And of course there is the whole concept of culture which makes the task for the defender easier (culture defense bonus for cities and slower movement for enemy units through the defender’s culture). The city elimination concept in Multiplayer is there for one specific reason: To balance out the extreme advantages for the defender a little bit and of course to shorten the game duration.

Any attack should follow a plan. Much like in Chess it is better to have a bad attack plan than none. City elimination thresholds play a big role in choosing a good attack plan. But of course there are a lot more things to take into account when attacking. I’ll try to put a spotlight on some of them.

A. Terrain

Terrain defense bonuses are one major factor in choosing attack targets. In general all units which are able to defend profit from the bonus, but there are exceptions: Mounted and Armoured Units don’t get the bonus (with the exception of the Persian Immortal UU and the Spanish Conquistador UU). If you attack a unit which receives terrain defense bonus you should therefore do it either on flat tiles (no bonus) or, if you can’t hit on flat but have to hit, on hill tiles (lowest terrain defense bonus).

A special case in that regard are all units of archer type. These units receive an additional +25% on hills and are therefore hard to kill on defensive terrain. That is one reason why cities should be placed on hills if possible (meaning if the player doesn’t lose out on food or viable strategic resources by doing so): The Archer in such a city gains +50% for city defense, +25% for being on a hill, and +25% for the terrain defense bonus itself. That results in a +100% defense bonus before cultural bonuses kick in: The Archer has good chances of killing a strength 6 Swordsman then (the defense bonuses get subtracted from the attacker’s strength, resulting in a strength 3 Swordsman attacking).

The consequences for your attack plan are clear: If possible, always target cities on flat terrain, as the units in there are much easier to kill (the Archer in the example has 50 percentage points less defense bonuses). And if you are in enemy land, use the terrain defense bonus to your advantage by moving your units on it.

B. Culture

The impact of terrain on attacking is rather straightforward. Culture on the other hand affects attacking in several ways. First of all there is the culture bonus cities have: The first culture expansion at 5 culture points (quick speed) yields 20% bonus, the second expansion at 50 culture points yields 40% bonus, the third culture expansion at 250 culture points yields 60% bonus, and the fourth adds 80% bonus to a city. The 80% bonus is – at least on quick speed and with games limited to 120 turns – only possible with culture bombing with a Great Artist. We will get to that later at the advanced attacking strategies, because a Great Artist can be an excellent tool of attacking.

Just like with terrain defense bonuses all units who can defend get the bonus, and the same exceptions apply. The culture defense bonus can be eliminated however, through bombarding the city with siege units. Depending on the siege unit the bombard command takes away a certain percentage of the defense bonus of the city until zero bonus is reached. Note that the construction of walls or a castle in a city lessens this bombard percentage (at least for Catapults and Trebuchets, Cannons, Artillery and Mobile Artillery are not effected by it).

The consequence for the attack plan is clear: If possible, attack cities with low cultural defense bonus (best case: a freshly founded city) and with no walls/castles in it.

Culture however affects attacking in another way: Once the attacker enters enemy culture he cannot use roads any longer (the only exception are units with the Commando promotion), and thus the defender has one big advantage: Mobility. The goal for the attacker therefore is to avoid that effect of culture as long as possible. This can be achieved by various ways: 1) Attacking cities with 0 or only the 1st cultural expansion instead of culturally more developed cities, 2) intelligent use of roads, 3) choosing the correct route to move into enemy terrain. Point 1) is obvious, but points 2) and 3) need some explanation.

B.1. The use of roads in your attack

Short and simple: Intelligent roading is one of THE keys to successful attacking. Of course roading can only be used in a later stage of the game when the initial buildup phase is over – using valuable worker turns for roading is simply not worth delaying the improvement of tiles most times. Let’s assume you are in the middle of an ancient teamer, and you have 2 workers you can spare for roading. Also you have a stack of 10 Swordsmen, 5 Axemen and 2 Spears. You are ahead in power and you want to attack your neighbour, whose culture is 6 tiles distant from your culture (see illustration in picture 1).


Now obviously you could just move your units until they reach your neighbour. But that’s not optimal, because your units will only advance 1 tile per turn, meaning it will take 6 turns until they reach enemy culture. A road cuts the necessary movement points for travelling a tile by ½ (the railroad – available in the later eras from Industrial onwards – cuts this to 1/10). This means your stack of units (which all have only 1 movement point and thus are often called “slow stack” compared to the 2 movement points of mounted and armoured units) can travel 2 tiles instead of one when they use a road. This means your units reach enemy culture in 3 turns instead of 6 – a significant advantage because those are 3 turns less your enemy can use for building defense units. When roading you have to make sure your enemy only gets to know it on the latest possible point of time, ideally the instant you move into his terrain. Surprise is everything. And of course, you should road in a way that ensures optimal movement, meaning your workers should always construct the road ahead of your units. The use of roading to its full effect is connected with the ideal way to move in too. Therefore we’ll take a look at that now.

B.2. The ideal way to move into enemy culture

The goal is: Moving into the enemy’s domain in a way that he sees it at the latest possible moment. The way the culture of a city expands is pretty unique, and can be exploited for our purpose. Take a look at that situation:


Here we have a city with the 2nd culture expansion, as it is the case most commonly with capitals early in the game. Please note the little nooks to the upper left and right, and the lower left and right. If you have not read the article about unit visibility yet, you might want to do that now ;). Culture basically confers visibility of all tiles adjacent to a culturally controlled tile (with a few exceptions). Let’s take a look on how this city looks for the defender:


He can see all tiles adjacent to tiles he culturally owns, including the nooks. But he cannot see the tile diagonally next to the nook (just look at the city borders on the right side, on the left side the diagonal tile is covered by fog of war and thus it’s harder to see that the player can’t see it). We can exploit that for attacking. The moment a unit enters the nook the enemy can see it. At that moment however the unit is only 1 tile away from the city already. Combined with the turn timer used in MP games this has lead to a lot of kills in ancient games: The unit enters the tile next to the nook without being seen. Next turn, with 00:00 left on the timer (basically just an instant before the turn shifts) the unit moves into the nook. After the 8 second delay the unit moves in front of the city, and can attack it next turn. Compared to moving into the enemy’s terrain from another tile than the nooks you have gained a full turn – because the enemy would see you the turn you step on a tile adjacent to his culture (and you need 2 turns more to travel to his city).

Now we can combine this attack pattern with roading. Remember you had those 2 workers and your stack of units? Well, you now have roaded and moved your units to a spot one tile away from the nook. Next turn your workers road into the nook with 4 or 3 seconds left on the turn timer (depending on how fast you can select your stack again and move).


The road is constructed, and you move your units over it into enemy terrain – basically right in front of the city without him seeing you! The turn shifts, and after the 8 seconds delay you can hit the city – and kill maybe. This works with every level of cultural expansion, but of course it is most effective with low levels – because the enemy has less time to react. This attack pattern is most devastating in a specific situation: The direct hit.

C. Attack Patterns

C.1. The direct hit

We have seen that we can reduce travel time of units drastically through intelligent roading. Now we will go one step further and add units with 2 movement points to the picture. Let’s assume the same situation as before, only now you have a stack of 15 Horse Archers instead of the “slow stack”. You road as before, and you move your units. And now you’ll find out that you can hit the city directly without waiting another turn!


The reason for it is simple: Between your stack’s initial starting point and the city itself are 2 tiles (excluding the city). Your units have 2 movement points. Normally this wouldn’t suffice for hitting the city instantly. But with roading the starting point and the nook your units now only need half a movement point for crossing the nook (half movement points are not displayed, therefore it still shows full 2 movement points), leaving 1 ½ movement points for the rest – enough for hitting the city. You don’t have to do calculations in game though because there is a simple rule:

Whenever a city culturally controls only 1 tile next to it, it is vulnerable to a direct hit over that tile.

The only exception to this: The enemy is able to use Gunships, because those have 4 movement points. Then the city is vulnerable in most cases, at least if it’s a city at the front. But luckily Gunships cannot capture a city – that’s where the Commando promotion comes into play (see C.5.).

The direct hit is an important attack pattern in every game type and every era (it becomes a dominating one in the later eras, especially Modern and Future). There is no other way of defending a direct hit than putting a lot of units into the city, and to try getting the vulnerable tile under cultural control again as fast as possible. It’s important to know about it – either to seize the opportunity of a cheap kill or to defend against it.

C.2. The fork

This attack pattern (also called “double hit position”) needs some knowledge about the lay of the enemy land. It works best when you know where he planted his cities, so proper scouting is always a good idea. The core element of this attack are units with 2 movement points (so called “Two-movers”). Now look at the land of your opponent. Some players are not that good in planting their cities in a way which is best for defense, and sometimes, even with excellent players, the land does not yield other choices too. Certainly you can spot a tile in his land where you could target two cities at the same time, if your units were standing on it.


That spot is ideal for attacking – because the defender doesn’t know which city you attack, he can either a) leave insufficient garrison in both cities or b) give one city up to defend the other. Either way will lead to a city kill if the player does not get support from elsewhere.

C.3. The trans-sibiric railroad

This attack pattern is of rather limited use, but when applicable, of devastating nature. The basic component is roading again. Sometimes the land of the enemy has a long, stretched, rather oval shape. There are unused margins at the top or bottom of the map (hence the name: there is often ice or tundra at the edges of the map, making the road/railroad a trans-sibiric one indeed). The idea now is that you don’t road and attack the enemy’s front city – where he has most likely concentrated all his units – but rather go for his back cities (in teamer games those are next to another teammate most of the times and thus sparsely garrisoned). The downside of course is you need a rather long road for this, and chances are higher the enemy can spot your units or your road. Again, it works best with 2-movers because they travel faster. If you achieve roading and entering the back, a city kill is guaranteed most of the times.

C.4. The double woodsman

This is not really an attack pattern in the sense of a strategic use of game mechanics, but just a nifty little trick. It’s in the same category than using the Commando promotion (see C.5). The Woodsman II promotion enables double movement on forest or djungle tiles (including hills with that terrain on them). This basically results in a 2-mover unit where you don’t expect it at first glance. Especially in ancient games defending often hangs on a thread – the expected arrival of a unit in enemy land is often tied to the production of a defending unit just in time, because production is short in the early stages of an ancient game. A Woodsman II promoted unit disturbs the calculation drastically, often to the point where the defender is 1 turn short of producing the saving defensive unit just because the Woodsman II unit moved faster than he had calculated. So, if you have a warrior with 5 XP (or 4 XP with the charismatic trait) in an ancient game – don’t promote blindly, but weigh your options and check if you can’t do something with a Woody!

C.5. The Commando

Using the Commando promotion is an advanced attack option in the later eras. The Commando promotion is enabled if a unit has the Combat IV promotion and is eligible for another promotion (so basically it’s enabled at 26 XP for non-aggressive and non-charismatic leaders/ at 17 XP for aggressive leaders / at 13 XP for aggressive and charismatic leaders). The Commando promotion allows the unit to use the roads/railroads in enemy terrain. This is used a lot in Modern and Future era games – you can either direct hit a city with Gunships and then use the Commando unit to kill the empty city (of course the Commando needs enemy roads leading to the city for that) or you can aim for the back cities which often are empty or only garrisoned with 1 or 2 units. To see how this works I’d suggest creating a Commando unit and toy around with it in Single Player mode using WorldBuilder. A Commando in action:


D. Advanced Attacking: The Culture Bomb

Earlier I have talked about expanding the culture of a city and thus increasing the defense bonus with a Great Artist. But the Great Artist can also be used as a great offensive weapon. To see how this works let’s have a look at a situation of a Modern Era game:

Modern Era Teamers are played with three leader/civilization combinations (using the unrestricted leaders option in the game menu) mostly: Gandhi of India, Brennus or Boudica of Germany, and Montezuma of America. Here we see the land of a player who plays Brennus of Germany. Unfortunately he has planted his cities in a bad way (note the big chunk of land between those cities). And even greater bad luck is that he has the Gandhi player of his opponent team against him. What happens:

1) The Gandhi player roads with Fast Workers (the best UU in the game btw) towards his enemy. He has a Settler and some units with him – and a Great Artist (remember Gandhi is philosophical!).


2) Next turn, the Gandhi player plants his city and creates a Great Work in the new city with his Great Artist – this leads to 4,000 culture points immediately applied to the surrounding area of the city. As a result the two German cities are cut off from each other and from support.


3) The Gandhi player roads and kills one city (most of the times even both) at his leisure.


This is a perfect example of the offensive use of a Great Artist. This pattern is applicable in any era, but especially in Medieval upwards. It combines the basic attack ideas: 1) gaining land and thus lessening the value of enemy cultural defense, 2) extended options for roading and thus faster unit movement, 3) enabling attack patterns like the fork because support is harder for the enemy.

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  1. December 1, 2009 at 00:26
  2. December 5, 2009 at 22:37

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