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The Great Artist, Scientist, Engineer, Merchant can build tile improvements that generate additional culture/science/production/gold. The Great General can build the citadel.

These always feel like a bad tradeoff, as:

  • I tend to save my Engineers for wonders (I like to think worth a lot more that a few added production).
  • Putting culture and science on a tile makes most sense in cities that already are larger (more buildings means more bonuses to the base values), but for larger cities I am already hard-pressed to squeeze food and production out of them and adding a Gerat Person tile improvement will diminish the return in food and/or production of the tile or I have to add it to a tile I wouldn't normally work with this city.
  • Using a great general for a citadel will also ruin any tile improvement, so I have never used it up to now.

Are the bonuses worth it?

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Note that as of the June 2011 patch, great person improvements will link a resource they are built on, making them a bit stronger (though not significantly so). –  bwarner Jun 30 '11 at 1:14
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Wrt. to resource linking: They will (May 2012) only link strategical resources, but not luxury resources. Now that caused some confusion :-) –  Martin May 15 '12 at 5:01

6 Answers 6

up vote 29 down vote accepted

Let me rephrase the question:

When are Great Person tile improvement bonuses worth it?

Basically the rule of the thumb for all of them is the earlier you build the improvement the more profit it would bring during the course of the game. This is especially noticeable when you play for babylonians and get a Great Scientist from Writing. Such an early academy would increase your science output about two times and would really help to zoom out those early technologies.

Generally I like to build Academies. Let's do some calculations. Before University it gives you 5 science. Technologies till Education cost from 35 to 440 beakers, so roughly 237.5 in average. So your Academy would pay off in about 47.5 turns and later it would be just plain profit. So I think that's just great. Technologies from Education to Scientific Theory cost from 440 to 1300 beakers, so 870 in average. Academy with University gives you 7.5 beakers, so it would pay off in 116 turns, so that is still quite good. And if a city is dedicated to science and has a National College, then Academy would give you 10 beakers, so would pay off in 87 turns, which is even better. Later technologies seem very expensive and definitely worth using Great Scientist to discover. But the problem with them is that in modern era they almost stop increasing in value. And you obviously want to use your Great Scientist to discover later and more expensive technologies. So it kind of stops me from doing so when I see that 3rd tier modern technology would take me just 1 or 2 more turns to discover then 1st tier modern one. So IMHO you can get the best deal from your GC discovering late renaissance / industrial era technologies.

Another thing is then you are beelining tech tree to a specific unit, wonder or even era (for opening a SP branch). In that case its definitily worth using GC for instant discoveries.

I also almost always use Great Engineers for rushing wonders, but let's do some maths anyway. Lets say your best city before Steam Power could grow from 5 to 15 in size, so (very) roughly 10 in average. So rushing a wonder gives you about 300+10*30=600 hammers. A Manufactory without Factory would give you 5 hammers, so would pay off in about 120 turns. If you build buildings a Manufactory with workshop would give you 7.5 hammers, so would pay off in 80 turns. Actually its not such a bad deal when you think about it. So if you don't have any important wonders in sight it might just be worth building a Manufactory. The problem is that you always do :).

Using a Great Merchant for a trade mission would give you from 350 to 650 gold depending on era, so 500 in average. Add to that influence worth about 250 gold (I think you get about 30 points of influence, but I might be wrong) and you have 750 gold from a trade mission. A Customs House gives you 5 gold with no buildings and about 12 gold with stock exchange, so its 8.5 gold in average, which would make it to pay off in about 88 turns. Not such a bad deal. I'd say use it for trade missions when you desperately need some cash (lets say for unit upgrades) or CS influence. The economy of using Great Merchant for Golden Age inflicted gold output is explained in this answer.

The last two Great People are mostly situational. I only used Great Artist once ever for culture bombing when I needed access to coal and couldn't settle another city as I was going for culture victory. It might well be used to access some valuable resource tile, which is on that useless one tile piece of land off the coast more than 3 tiles away from a city. It might also be used in some stalemate war situation, when pushing a cultural front line just one tile is such a big deal, I've seen AI doing that once. In other cases I find it more effective to settle that land, take it by force, or if it is CS land - just ally with it.

I really like using Great Generals for building Citadels. Just put it in front of the city (for friendly lands and easy unit exchange), build a road to it, make sure there is enough room for enemy units to surround you citadel on other 3 sides (for -3 damage) and you can pretty much fend off any attack. In one game I was controlling about 1/4 of the pangaea map, and Mr Askia was controlling the rest, we were at never ending war and he was sending swarms of units at me. I successfully held the mountain range position using just several units, several forts and a citadel.

I usually use Great People for Golden Ages when I "need them". That is if I need a cash injection for unit upgrades or to bribe some CS's. Or if I'm falling behind in producing buildings. I also like to zoom through the phase of building workshops and factories using golden age, as the faster you get those buildings the more production you will have overall.

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Great, "different", answer! –  Martin Nov 5 '10 at 18:42
    
This seems a little bit simplicistic. While it's somewhat true that an early improvement will eventually pay off, you are losing all the benefits you could acquire by bulbing a technology, for example. If a new technology requires 10 turns to complete and you build an academy, it most certainly still require 10 turns to complete or 9, at most. If you use the GS to discover it, it will save 9 turns, while enjoying the benefit of the one just acquired. Plus your acquired technology can't be pillaged like a tile improvement can and can't benefit an enemy if you lose that city. –  Geeo Dec 27 '13 at 10:58

The great person improvements replace any other improvement on that tile, that weakens them already.

Great Scientist

You can instantly get any researchable technology with one Great Scientist, you can also save some Great Scientist and perform a slingshot to some advanced technology. The Academy provides 5 Science/turn (affected by city modifiers).

Discovering technologies is IMHO the most powerful ability of any Great Person, I never use a Great Scientist for anything else. You'll want to use them on the most expensive technologies you can research (e.g Civil Service).

Great Engineer

The Great Engineer provides 300 + 30 * city population (See this answer by me) hammers to any production. The Manufactory provides 3 Production/turn.

The engineer can finish all early game wonders, and many mid-to-late game wonders in high-population cities. That is much more useful to me than the +3 Production.

Great Artist

You can use the culture bomb to obtain luxuries/strategic resources outside your city limits. The Landmark provides 4 Culture/turn.

The culture bomb is very situational, the landmark is pretty useless in my opinion.

Great Merchant

The Trade Mission provides 350 + 50 * Era Gold (See this answer from Oak) and 30 influence with that city state. The Customs House provides 4 Gold/turn.

I always use them for Golden ages. They might be worth it in the early- to mid-game. Later the increased income from Golden ages is most likely higher.

Great General

The combat bonus (+25%) is very significant, even if you're not China (for China it is +45%). I keep one general for each army I have and use the rest of them for Golden Ages.

The Citadel is very situational, if you have a choke point and a superior enemy on the other side it may be useful.

Golden Ages

Golden Ages are very powerful in Civilization 5, I use most artists and merchants for them. Golden Ages from Great Persons last 8 turns the first time, and decrease each time you use a Great Person for a Golden Age by 1, with a minimum of 3 turns. Golden Ages can vastly increase your production, which is hard to come by any other way, and you income.

Summary

I never use the tile improvements, the other functions of the Great Persons are just much more powerful.

The earlier parts of the game are much more important than the later game. Any advantage that I gain right now is worth more than if it was split up over 100 turns.

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The Great Merchant's trade missions is useful for boosting relations with a city state - you do the trade mission with the CS (earning you influence and gold) and then spend the money earn from that to bride them (earning you more influence). –  DMA57361 Nov 5 '10 at 8:58
    
I haven't had many Great Merchants, I mostly go for Scientists. Depending on the amount of money and influence a Merchant could be useful. –  Mad Scientist Nov 5 '10 at 9:03
    
Golden Ages are even more powerful if you're playing as Darius. Throw in a few wonders and policies and you can squeeze a 15 or more turn Golden Age out of a few Great people. –  deceze Nov 6 '10 at 0:53
    
You don't have to rush the most expensive technologies. The Great Scientist gives you a number of beakers. Any beakers given above the cost of the first technology will be applied to the second technology you select. –  Joshua Shane Liberman Jan 29 '13 at 17:50

To add one answer myself: I used the Great Artist for a Landmark while aiming for a cultural victory in a resource-rich map where it didn't make sense to anger any neighbor by culture-bombing them. So if aiming for culture, I actually think the landmark might make sense.

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I've used it for that too. And if you can, put it outside the 3-hex radius where you can't use the tile anyways. –  GoatRider Nov 5 '10 at 15:53
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@GoatRider : I'm really confused now -- I thought you get the bonuses from these tile improvements only if a city is working it? –  Martin Nov 5 '10 at 18:37
    
Hmm, maybe. I've assumed they worked like resources. I could be wrong, it's happened before! –  GoatRider Nov 5 '10 at 21:42
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Yeah, a city has to be working that tile. You even get the funny unusual icons for working tiles for science or culture in a city screen. –  Adj Nov 6 '10 at 0:32

I agree with everyone's input, but I do want to say that I find the Great General's Citadel tile to be extremely useful, especially for defending a city that is under heavy attack. Or a border city under constant threat. When positioned properly to deal damage to attackers on each of it's sides you can creat a major roadblock and pick off the enemy as they try to get around it to your city. You can hold the city and citidel with very little troops.

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In my opinion, the only special improvement that is worth buildning is the landmark, but only if you're aiming for a cultural victory. Landmarks can be just marvellous. Late game (complete freedom), the base value of the landmark is 12 culture. Compare that to the 3 culture base value from the artist speicalist and you quicly realize the value of this improvement. With correct buildings/wonders, you can approximately triple that and get 30 something culture per turn. Then add 10 or so landmarks around your culture city and you'll be pumping out new policies in ultra-rapid! (in my last game, Delhi at size 25 was producing 500 culture/turn)

Note: I always try to put the landmarks between two cities, so if one city has to focus on production for a while, the other one can work the landmarks instead.

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In regards to using Great Engineers for wonder construction, i find its best to only do that for the first few wonders in the game, because the only lead you really have at this time is from Ancient ruins. Whatever your production city is, its going to have finished all the buildings you want there anyway so it has the time to work on wonders. If your always only just finishing wonders before your rivals it will set them back all those turns, and if they war you because u keep doing it...Great, its easy to defend and peace brings riches.

The only Great people i turn into tiles are Engineers, Scientists & generals if you need or have to many. I would never make a culture tile unless my aim was a culture victory, simply because the improvement would use room that could be better used to maintain my food or other areas of my city. The same goes for the Prophet.

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