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I'm 450 turns into a game on Immortal on Civ 5. It's a scenario I set up where it's a giant continents map, with me versus one Immortal AI. The only victory allowed is domination.

The whole time, I've been having a huge amount of difficulty with barbarians and happiness. (I do not have Raging Barbarians turned on.) The barbarians have been hammering me, often getting more advanced units way before I do. (Now that I have artillery, it's largely under control.) However, at no point in the game has it been safe to scout around, and for most of the game it wasn't safe to be on any of my borders. (I'd have to constantly pull workers away from their projects to prevent them from being captured.) Building a new base requires a large push to secure a new area.

Happiness has been difficult, too. I got the social policies that let defensive buildings and science buildings add +1, as well as garrisoned units, and I'm building all the other +happiness buildings I can find, but I can never get a surplus of more than 6. Most of the time I'm hovering around 0 or 1, which means that if the pop goes up I'll be negative for a while until the next +happiness building completes. This has put a huge damper on my expansion. Am I managing the happiness wrong? Or is it just very difficult to stay positive on Immortal? (It would be easier if there were friendly AI, I suppose, with whom I could trade for luxury resources.)

These two factors combined mean that I'm barely to the Industrial era in year 2025. Am I doing something catastrophically wrong in handling barbarians and happiness?

Update: I've expanded to around 10 cities, and my social policies have been all of Honor, most of Liberty, some of Rationalism and one Commerce. (Really, without Honor, I would have been completely overrun by barbarians.)

How many cities do you want for a "small, focused empire"? 3-4?

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I could give a better answer if you mention how much you've expanded and where you've gone with social policies. –  shanodin Sep 2 '12 at 16:43
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Regarding barbarians - I think you just over-expanded too much. Barbarians spawn in uncontrolled areas, and if there are a lot of these near your borders then they are going to give you a lot of pain. Concentrate on eliminating these areas. By the way, barbarians camps are only created on unseen tiles - so you could actually send scouts to camp around these dark corners to provide visibility and thus prevent the barbarians from spawning there.

Regarding happiness - I think the main reason you face such a problem (besides the fact you chose a very high difficulty, of course) is that you have nobody to trade with; that means that the only luxury resources you have are the ones you obtain yourself, which forces you to expand over huge territory to get these resources - and of course, every city you create costs you happiness, so the net gain is very small!

The only solution I can think of, at this stage of the game, is to:

  1. Stop growing your cities - change the citizen allocation in your cities to stop further growth.
  2. Focus on culture in order to afford policies that could help you with your happiness - in particular the freedom tree is very good for it, especially if you manually force your citizens to be specialists.
  3. It goes without saying but be sure to get all possible happiness buildings and try to get happiness wonders.
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Immortal difficulty is one of the hardest for a reason. Happiness is very hard to keep under control, and having no-one to trade with has really shot you in the foot somewhat. Trading with the AI is the best way to get additional happiness, as well as nice amounts of gold. Research agreements are also very important to keep up with AI tech leads - since there are no 'trailing' AI here, there isn't anyone for you to make these important trades and agreements with.

Barbarians will be very hard to deal with because there will be large swathes of land that's unoccupied and unseen for them to spawn on (if there are just two of you on a giant map). Ordinarily the land they can spawn on is limited because most of the land will be taken up with AI and player cities so there'd be much less land covered by 'fog-of-war' for camps to pop up in. Also, there obviously aren't any other AI on your continent also dealing with the barbarians as there'd be in a game with more nations.

Your empire, being quite large, will have edges that need protecting - the larger an empire (or entity of any kind) gets, the larger the surface area to volume ratio gets, which means basically that you have more outlying areas that need to be protected by military units, but the number of cities does not match up to this, so you need extra units to cover the areas not covered by garrisoned units (where covered by means 'within one turn's movement').

http://www.civfanatics.com/civ5/difficulties That link shows the bonuses AI get against you on each difficulty. Barbarians having tech far ahead of you is because the other AI has advanced much faster without any opposition, and barbarians and city states have tech equivalent to the highest tech level AI/player.

With a large, expanded empire like yours, taking the liberty social policy tree early on is very important, far more so than honour. During the early game eras, a few units should be enough to hold off the majority of barbarian attacks, because you're covering a smaller surface area.

You're not neccessarily doing anything wrong, you've just made life very difficult for yourself.

For a 'small, focused empire' you're looking at between three and four cities. For a cultural mission, I find three is a good number but an extra fourth city can help with building military units to keep others at bay. For a scientific empire, if you have five or so very heavily production focussed cities, you can often end up in a good position, as you can earn a lot of gold to buy units to protect yourself.

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A minor point of order: the larger the area to protect, the easier it is, in relative power, to protect it. You only need to guard the edges, not the center. If each border city needs one garrison unit to protect it, and you have six border cities surrounding two "inner" cities, then you need six garrison units: each city needs (on average) 3/4 of a unit. But if you have three cities total, then each one needs a garrison unit. (Surface area vs. volume applies to three dimensions, not two.) –  Paul Marshall Sep 5 '12 at 2:02
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