Infinite City Spam (ICS) has been the go-to Win Button in the Civilization series for some time. In short, the idea is to build as many cities as humanly possible; even if some of those cities aren't much good, they're still better than not having the city. In Civ I, II, and III, there wasn't any reason not to build a hundred cities as quickly as possible. Civ IV introduced a per-city "tax", which increased with the number of cities in your empire; this stopped ICS, because a low-value city would damage your empire.

Civ V tried to prevent ICS via the Global Happiness mechanic. The idea was to make it harder to build extra cities by adding a per-city penalty to Global Happiness. Unfortunately, Civ V also has a goodly collection of per-city bonuses, making ICS workable again; it's telling that the answer to "How do I beat Civ5 on deity?" is Infinite City Spam. (Per-city bonuses include Martitime City-States and a wide variety of social policies.) Clever players found ways to do ICS despite the Global Happiness mechanic (mostly via the happiness-producing buildings).

Civ V has had several patches and expansions since its initial release, in an attempt to reduce the efficiency of ICS:

  1. Maritime City-State allies only give +1 food per city, not +2.
  2. Happiness buildings now produce Local Happiness, which cannot be used outside of the city that produces it. Tiny cities with all of the happiness-producing buildings no longer create a net-positive-happiness city (unless there are luxury resources or world wonders there, which are limited in supply).
  3. Happiness buildings produce less Happiness. (Typically +2 instead of +3.)
  4. The Social Policies have been overhauled; several of them no longer give per-city bonuses, or delay those bonuses until all 6 policies in a tree have been filled (to make it harder to accumulate a large number of these bonuses).
  5. Research costs now increase 5% per city (including puppets), and Libraries no longer have specialist slots; small cities will be a net penalty to Science production.
  6. Gold production was overhauled in Brave New World, reducing the power of improvements like Market and Bank while granting limited-number-per-civilization Trade Routes.

So, given the above changes, is Infinite City Spam still a good strategy as of the Brave New World expansion, in games on Immortal or Deity? Is it still viable, but now much weaker? If it's still possible, how is it done? (I'm assuming the guides from 2010 are obsolete.)

  • How does localizing happiness prevent ics, if you can make sure that each city is break-even on happiness, then you have your plus from luxuries, and since with ICS you're building a wide empire, if you need to dump a bunch of production/food into your main production cities, you'll have a bunch to choose from to do internal trade early, or late for that matter, since a good chunk of the time if you build super wide you end up making a bunch of enemies out of the AI. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 21:25
  • It doesn't prevent ICS, but it does discourage it somewhat; it prevents net-positive-happiness cities, unless luxuries or wonders are involved. And both wonders and luxuries are limited. Thanks for reminding me of another tweak: happiness from buildings was reduced with patches. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 21:30
  • There are still zero maintenance happiness buildings as well, which still makes it viable, since part of the discouragement comes from cost to make it viable in the cities, religious buildings are a great example (i usually try to unlock 2 of them for my religion if I can get enough faith early). It isn't so much discouraged, as there's now a very specific tech path that needs to be taken. I should probably turn these into an answer here at some point. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 21:36
  • I made about 33 cities in one game for an achievement about this weird celtic city name (Llanfairpwllgwyngyll) and even made more cities after just for the lulz and to complete my match on the large map with only 2 other AI, I didn't really notice and downside on King Difficulty. Don't know how it works out on Emperor though. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 22:01

5 Answers 5


This comes down to the meaning of "Viable", so in this case, I am going to define viable as "Is this a good strategy on a typical Immortal or Diety game"?

ICS is not a good strategy on Immortal/Diety. You described several factors contributing to the decline of ICS, but most of them are managable. Happiness can be dealt with relatively easily using a combination of religious buildings, circuses, the liberty policy granting +1 happiness from city connections, and normal city buildings to spam an arbitrary number of happy-neutral cities fairly early on, so long as you limit their size when needed. So ICS is possible. However, its not viable.

However, while ICS is possible, its not a good strategy. One thing has shut down ICS, The fact that the incremental value of cities beyond the 4th has been decreased over and over again, until it becomes a dubious proposition to keep any city without excellent positioning or wonders.

This decrease in value has come in at least three separate places. The first is the science penalty per city, which is a very serious problem. On harder difficulties you spend most of the game behind on science anyway, so you don't want to take even more penalties. The second is the significant decrease in power for cities that don't have good resources. Resources are more important to making a city worthwhile than they were in civ 4, and the removal of bonus gold from river tiles has compounded that in BNW's new economy. The third is the tradition tree which is a very strong strategy that rewards you for the 4 city start.

The removal of whipping is probably a separate issue that also hurt ICS relative to Civ4 by ensuring that you have to halt production on something to build settlers, instead of "paying" hammers and gold over time (in the form of lost income)

  • Thanks for clarifying "viable"; your definition of "works great against deity" was what I meant. Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 17:24

Apparently this depends on map size and who you are play against. ICS is not a popular strategy on standard or smaller maps (for good reasons), but is almost an imperative for huge map. Because the AI gets huge bonuses on higher difficulties, especially happiness bonuses on King and above, they tend to expand aggressively if left unchecked (this can be really terrifying combined with their advantages in terms of production, science, and policy costs). The only way to (hopefully) offset this is to have as many cities as possible yourself. Having many cities equals a large science output/GNP (the increase in science cost per city is reduced on larger maps, which also renders ICS viable). It also equals more diverse luxury resources, and more strategic resources. Having cities on strategic positions is also going to be a big advantage in later-game wars, especially when air forces are in play. The AIs are really good at continuous expansion in later-games. So should you be.

The only real challenge for ICS is unhappiness. Luckily, I think BNW actually provides many great ways to reduce unhappiness. There are two first-tier ideology tenets for each ideology that promote local happiness. More is to follow in the second tier. Therefore, a large empire with 10+ cities can get 50+ happiness through ideology adoption alone.

To spam more cities without suffering unhappiness, you definitely need to consider getting some happiness related world wonders (e.g., Notre Dame, Chitchen Itza, Forbidden Palace, and Taj Mahal). Even if you don't want to expand too early, getting Notre Dame should still be a priority, not only because of the useful +10 happiness and +4 faith, but also because the AIs getting this wonder tend to expand very aggressively in the late medieval and early renaissance era, so rushing for physics and preventing them from getting this is probably a good idea. The Forbidden Palace is also a good one to have. The -10% unhappiness might not amount to much if you only have 3 or 4 cities, but it is a big deal when you grow to 10+ cities. Do note that the Forbidden Palace needs patronage. Given that patronage is not a popular policy tree, some would consider this a waste of policy point. However, this should also reduce competition in terms of wonder-building.

I would also consider the liberty social policy tree a must for a "wide" empire. On standard maps, people going for higher difficulties will usually favor tradition over liberty, since 60% of the time you will be holding on to 4 or less cities anyway. But this changes with larger maps. The +1 happiness from city connections (even with a city of population 1) is quite useful in offsetting the cost of expansion. Apart from the liberty tree, you can still devote 1 or 2 points to tradition and other trees. Grab the traditional opener for a handsome amount of early culture and Aristocracy to further boost happiness and wonder-building, for example.

If you manage to do well on all of these, then I guarantee that you will find ICS not only viable but also quite useful on larger maps. Sometimes, a wide empire with dozens of cities can actually end up with higher happiness than a tall one with only a few cities (with the help of ideology and other social policies).


Respectfully, I'd disagree here. From my experience ICS works well enough on Immortal and especially on archipelago, even on Deity. At least with civs who can found a fast religion or mostly any civ on archipelago.

First off, although there is a culture penalty, the culture bonus from religious buildings in cities is huge - with just monument, two buildings and liberty policy, you get +7 culture from every city. This is a bonus up till 140 culture production in your capital on a huge map - meaning early on it is monstrous.

Second - is the tradition opener really so cool? Yes, the first policy is much better than liberty's in the beginning. But then you have to place two policies which do virtually nothing, while liberty gets a production boost and a free settler. I'd say that at least there liberty is hugely faster than tradition.

As for hapiness, with two religious buildings, placing on a lux and city connection - any city can support 5 citizens without any hapiness building. On archipelago, this can be another +3 pretty soon from naval tradition.

With church property, market and at least 1-2 gold producing tiles, each city easily covers itself in gold, giving extra production for military units, culture and tourism.

The only problem is science, in which you will likely lag behind compared to pure tradition civ BUT on archi this is easily negated by getting cities with fish, which are plentiful. On a huge map the penalty is 2%, which means your capital would have to have 50 times the output of your next city for it to be negative. Even with cities of 5 people, this is unlikely.

On archi, new cities get a huge production boost. Combine this with order and the late game improvements and each city is a huge boon almost no matter to where it is located.

TLDR - on standard map, with say Denmark, Deity, no sea and no possibility od starting religion ICS sucks hard. However as it gets more sea, more religion and bigger map, I'd say ICS is MUCH stronger than purely wide empire. That is at least going for military or culture. I'd say on par in science and a little slower in diplo.

  • 2
    How does the existence of fish (+food, +gold) fix the science deficiency? Or are you saying that the extra food & gold mean that you have enough extra resources to still be powerful while lagging in science? Commented May 28, 2015 at 2:41

ICS has not worked in my experience (I play on quick, emperor online, immortal or deity in single player). It seems like a little before the time you can get factories your happiness will always go negative (without a religion), even if you have as few as 7-8 cities. If your empire gets unhappy it is definitely not worth it, so you get thrown into a massive crisis where you have to many cities growing at the same time and not enough happiness buildings to cover it.

If you want to get 7+ cities you DEFINITELY need to invest in religion! It's the only way! Early on for happiness since buildings cannot provide enough once your cities get around 12 population. If you want a large amount of cities you should get the belief that allow you to get one happiness for every 8 followers and try to spread it like crazy. Pagodas is good, but I sometimes find it more useful to get the follower belief that allows you to get two happiness for every temple since you can use the faith you would have used to build pagodas to instead get out some early missionaries.

Unfortunately, if you get the +1 happiness for every 8 followers belief you sacrifice tithe which can be extremely powerful. I've been able to get 70 gold per turn from it on immortal before. I know the Celts and Egyptians get unique buildings that give happiness so they might work out well for this.

If your happiness ever goes into negatives try to trade lux resources you have two or more copies of, but don't rely on this since the AI will typically demand multiple lux resources for any one they will give you. An important thing to keep in mind when founding cities is to look not only for lux resources but also horses and elephants as they allow you to build circuses (+2 happiness). Marble and stone let you build stone works (+1 happiness).


ICS is always a religious game. Faith generation is linear and there are some pretty faith demanding reformation beliefs. Happiness is managable, as long as you do not overextend and keep your count of satellite cities < ((global happiness - some spare happiness for bigger capitol + maybe a second big city) / (2 with meritocracy, 3 without).

Satellites should not grow beyond their manageable local unhappiness. So in the beginning with pagoda, mosque and colliseum that would be size 5. Later with zoos and stadiums it would be size 9. Even more with circuses, stoneworks, social policies and ideologies. Then your empire begins to shine and thrive in gold generation and even begins catching up in the science race.

Setting up the beehive is the hard part, though. Without proper happiness and gold management it's doomed. Without luck on friendly neighbors for worker steals, traderoutes and lux selling it still is barely manageable.

But it is a very fun aproach to victory, if you are into the whole micromaniging-vast-empires-thing, that is.... :)

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