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I haven't gotten very far in Civ 5, but it seems impossible to keep city states friendly to me. Buying their favor seems too expensive, and gifting them units doesn't seem to improve relations very much.

Some of the quests they give are easy (kill barbarians), but then eventually they seem to always give me one that's impractical (build a road to my capital, destroy my enemy) and relations peter out.

Is there a way to keep them happy that I'm missing? Or is this just how the early game is supposed to go?

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The road needs to connect them to your trade network, not necessarily go to your capital. –  Toast Aug 13 '13 at 19:50

6 Answers 6

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I recommend not "investing" in a city-state unless you can get some influence for free to start out. Killing Barbarians or doing another quest for them will get your foot in the door, and let the $250 you have to spend periodically give you a lot more value. For instance, that $250 will be keeping you above the "Allied" line instead of just barely making you friends with the city-state.

Likewise, as mentioned above, the Patronage tree will give you significant bonuses to your influence over city-states.

It seems that the design is such that in the early game you won't be able to guarantee a city-state ally without committing a lot of cash.

To elaborate (not 100% sure on all these numbers but the overall point is still valid):

If you spend $250 to become Friends with a city-state, starting from 0 influence, you'll get 35 influence, making you barely Friends (30 influence). This means you'll be friends for 5 turns, at which point you'll need to spend another $250 to be friends again. You probably don't have another $250 that soon, though, so the influence runs all the way down close to zero before you're able to spend another $250, which again only gives you a few turns of friendship. This is obviously unsustainable.

If instead you perform a mission for the city-state and get 30 or 40 influence to start with, every time you spend $250 you'll get to use all 35 points of that influence before needing to spend another $250.

Similarly, you'd be better off saving your money to start with $500 worth of influence than buying $250 and not being able to afford more right away.

Long story short: if you're already friends, you get more value for your money. Likewise, if you're already allies, you get even MORE value for money you spend to sustain at that level.

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Also, spending higher amounts of money at once will get you more free influence, a tactic is to get Friends without spending any money, and only then to spend the full $1000. This will keep you Allied for a significant time. (or nearly forever when playing as Alexander the Great of Greece and abusing the Patronage Social Policy Tree) –  alexanderpas Sep 30 '10 at 17:19

Play as Alexander the Great of Greece

Unique Trait Hellenic League: City-State influence degrades half as slowly as normal, and it recovers at twice the speed as for other civilizations.

I feel this option is important to mention, but it is obviously a very extreme option. As such, I recommend trying the options suggested in other answers here first. If you get the same effect of happy city-states using this or other options, the other options are better:

  • Civilizations are chosen before the game, so you can't react in the middle of the game when you realize you want a certain city-state to like you.
  • You lose the benefits of your other favorite civilization.

Still, I believe its important to mention.

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Ways to Keep/Improve Favor with a city-state:

  1. The Patronage Social Policy Tree - this tree has can help improve the amount of influence gained with cash donations, slow the decrease of influence over time, and improve the "default" influence level on all city-states. These policies make a huge difference.

  2. Playing as Alexander the Great of Greece gets you the "Hellenic League" bonus: "City-State influence degrades half as slowly as normal, and it recovers at twice the speed as for other civilizations." Also, Alexander has an undocumented bonus that trespassing in the territory of another city-state does not cause you to lose influence with them.

  3. Pay attention to the disposition of the city-states you ally with. "Friendly" nations will lose influence slower, and "Hostile" nations lose influence faster. Favor Friendly allies to save money.

  4. Do Quests offered by the city-state.

  5. Liberate a conquered city-state. Liberating a conquered city-state will greatly increase your favor with them. City-State must have been conquered by an opposing nation first. Liberated City-States will also Always vote for you for Diplomatic Victory.

  6. Free stolen workers - if another player has stolen a worker from a city-state, capturing the worker will give you an option to give it back to the city-state it originated from. I only had this happen once, but I think it gave me more influence than gifting my own units to them, if I'm recalling correctly. (Please correct me in the comments if this is wrong)

  7. Gift Units to the city-state.

  8. Gift Money to the City-State.

(Edited to summarize a number of good points made by other posters)

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The policies in the Patronage tree will help, but I think that is basically just how it is supposed to go. So far my strategy has been to not try to keep city states friendly unless I need them. I will do a quest if it is convenient, and if I need a particular bonus, I'll pay them money to get it, but once that relationship wears out, I'll let it go.

Once you start meeting more other civs and acquiring excess resources, you can augment your income by trading the resouces to the other civs. Between this and quests, I've been able to keep a few city states friendly for quite a while.

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I think the best starting formula for city states is to basically ignore them until you can unlock Patronage. Once that's unlocked, if you've been focusing your economy towards gold production, you should be in a good position to have cash to bring a city up to allied status, gaining double bonus and their resources. At that point, hopefully you're on good enough terms with an AI or two that you can trade your spare resources for extra cash.

I find it's best to start with a Maritime City State, getting extra food. This way you can let them feed you, and up your gold income, sustaining the relationship. Military states I find the least helpful, because unless they out tech you, their extra units usually aren't worth the cost of their upkeep.

The other thing to pay attention to is the disposition. Neutral tend to be the majority of city states; average. Friendly states will ask you to build a road to them, or generate a great person, peaceful type stuff. Their influence also decays slower. Hostile ones both ask you to get into fights, and their influence decays more quickly then normal. Avoid those.

And a general economy point; Many players are building too many units and buildings, and are getting killed by upkeep without realizing it.

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+1 for Disposition. I don't know why I'd been missing that. –  WillfulWizard Sep 25 '10 at 16:39

After the Gods and King's Expansion one of the best way is rigging elections with Spies. Can set a spy and usually forget about it and still constantly receive enough influence to stay ally without any issue.

Your mileage may vary but I find with a Military state the constant influx of free military units worth the spy. You can then sell them and get a decent amount of gold. The other option is just to return the military unit back to them. Making them a deadly force when you declare war on them having your city state do the dirty work for you.

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