Happiness as the fundamental resource in Civ 5
One thing that is very different in Civ 5 from previous Civilization games is that happiness is the fundamental resource. This is a departure from Civ 3 and Civ 4, where the fundamental resource is cities. All three games have had a rate limiter on expansion, Civ 3 having diminishing returns from cities (through corruption and waste) and Civ 4 having city maintenance, which required you to maintain a certain level of average development among your cities in order to build more. In all three games, luxury resources and happiness have been present, but Civ 5 made two substantial departures from the previous games that have caused a radical shift in terms of how the game behaves in the limit:
Cities cost happiness. In Civ 3 and 4, only population cost happiness. In Civ 5, population and cities cost happiness.
Luxuries count towards the empire, not towards each city. In Civ 3 and 4, each luxury gave 1 happiness to each city. In Civ 5, luxuries give 4 happiness to your empire (5 on the Settler and Chieftain difficulty levels).
In addition, Civ 5 maintained the invariant that happiness produced by buildings only affects the happiness of the population of that city, through the local happiness mechanic. Local happiness produced by a city, which is mainly happiness produced by buildings, is caped at the population of the city. Given each population produces one unhappiness, the effect of this is that buildings just offset the happiness cost of population in that city, and don't add to your global happiness budget.
The Global Happiness Budget
The result of this is that your Global Happiness is a limit on the total number of cities and excess population you can have. "Excess population" is the population in any city that exceeds the Local Happiness production of that city. Happiness here now creates a very real tradeoff between going "wide" (many cities) vs "tall" (highly developed cities) in that having super large cities (at least in terms of population) is eating into the same budget as additional cities. While this is an interesting tradeoff, it also means there is a hard limit on the number of cities you can have on a map, limited by the total sources of Global Happiness you can get. This, combined with the lack of vassals and the change in the way borders spread (which is much slower), is why Civ 5 doesn't have the domination victory present in Civ 3 and Civ 4; controlling 2/3 of the land on the map is quite difficult in Civ 5.
Let's do an example. Numbers from here on out are all for post Brave New World, which substantially cut down on the sources of happiness in the game (presumably to make happiness matter more).
Base Global Happiness by Difficulty Level:
- Settler: 15
- Chieftain: 12
- Warlord: 12
- Prince and harder: 9
Global Happiness per Luxury resource by Difficulty Level:
- Settler: 5
- Chieftain: 5
- Warlord: 4
- Prince and harder: 4
Unhappiness cost per city by world size:
- Duel: 3 Unhappiness
- Tiny: 3 Unhappiness
- Small: 3 Unhappiness
- Standard: 3 Unhappiness
- Large: 2.4 Unhappiness
- Huge: 1.8 Unhappiness
Unhappiness per citizen in any city: 1
Core Local Happiness sources:
- Colosseum (building): +2 Local Happiness.
- Zoo (building): +2 Local Happiness.
- Stadium (building): +2 Local Happiness.
- Circus (building, requires horses or ivory near the city): +2 Local Happiness.
- Stone Works (building, requires stone near the city): +1 Local Happiness
On a standard map, each city produces 3 unhappiness. If you're playing on Prince or harder (difficulty level 4+), you start with 9 global happiness. The basic happiness buildings (Colosseum, Zoo, and Stadium) produce 6 Local Happiness total. If you have 5 luxuries, you have 29 global happiness. This means you could have 9 cities of population up to 6, with two extra people somewhere. Any city with horses or ivory gets +2 population from the Circus, and any city with stone gets +1 population from the Stone Works. Any extra population beyond that eats into your city budget. To get more, you need more Global Happiness, or another way to get Local Happiness per city.
What this means is that, at least initially, sources of Global Happiness are the most important things to acquire to enable you to have a global empire. Any city that you get that gives you access to a new luxury is profitable; it pays for itself on any world size and then gives you at least one global happiness beyond that. Any other city you get (either by founding or by conquering) is going to eat into your budget.
Getting More Global Happiness
Beyond starting Global Happiness and Luxuries, each Natural Wonder you discover gives you 1 Global Happiness. The number available depends on map size:
- Duel: 2
- Tiny: 3
- small: 4
- Standard: 5
- Large: 6
- Huge: 7
You will eventually get all of this by exploring, so you can count on having these long-term.
Some natural wonders all produce Global Happiness if you can get them in your borders and work them. These are:
- Old Faithful: +2 Global Happiness.
- Mt. Kailash: +2 Global Happiness.
- Sri Pada: +2 Global Happiness.
- Fountain of Youth (requires a DLC): +10 Global Happiness (and doesn't require tile to be worked; it just needs to be within your borders).
There are several other one-shot sources of Global Happiness:
- Circus Maximus (national wonder): +5 Global Happiness.
- Notre Dame (world wonder): +10 Global Happiness.
- Eiffel Tower (world wonder): +5 Global Happiness.
- Prora (world wonder, requires Autocracy): +2 Global Happiness, +1 Global Happiness per two social policies you have adopted.
- Protectionism (Commerce social policy): +1 Global Happiness per Luxury Resource.
- Monarchy (Tradition social policy): -1 Unhappiness for every 2 citizens in the capital. [this effectively gives you a global happiness boon equal to half the population of your capital]
- Allying with a City State with Jewelry or Porcelain: these are luxuries you can only get from city states (these may not be available in every game).
- Indonesia has a special ability that produces three extra luxury resources when they settle on another land mass, giving them the ability to get 12 extra Global Happiness (15 with the Protectionism social policy). If you are playing with Indonesia but not as Indonesia, you can trade with them or conquer these cities to get these resources.
Getting Local Happiness
As mentioned earlier, any city can get to 6 Local Happiness, and some can get to 7 or 8. If you can found and reform a religion early, you can get +4 Local Happiness per city from Pagodas and Religious Center. If you're playing a coastal map, the Naval Tradition social policy can give you +3 per coastal city. The Military Caste social policy can give one per city. Beyond that, you need an ideology or a civilization-specific bonus.
One of the big things you need to do to manage happiness in a large empire is manage population against your Local Happiness sources. This means being careful about what improvements your build, what food generating buildings you build, and what focuses you give your cities. While you want your cities to grow fast in the beginning, you don't want too many cities to grow too large until you have ways to generate enough Local Happiness to cover their population, or else you're eating into your Global Happiness budget. One of the hardest parts of the game for this is the trough between the discovery of Fertilizer and entry into the Modern Era. This is because Fertilizer increases the food production of many of your farms, potentially sending your cities on a growth tear, and you need to hit the Modern Era (or build 3 factories) to be able to adopt an ideology, which is one of the biggest sources of local happiness.
Note that the following lists are exclusively per-city local happiness sources (that is to say repeatable sources you can use in each city). There are a couple of other sources of Local Happiness in the game, but they are single-city and thus not included.
Obtainable Local Happiness bonuses:
- Naval Tradition (Exploration social policy): +1 Local Happiness for each Harbor, Seaport, or Lighthouse.
- Military Caste (Honor social policy): +1 Local Happiness for a garrison in a city.
- Capitalism (Freedom ideological tenet): +1 Local Happiness per Mint, Bank and Stock Exchange.
- Urbanization (Freedom ideological tenet): +1 Local Happiness per Water Mill, Hospital and Medical Lab.
- Socialist Realism (Order ideological tenet): +2 Local Happiness from each Monument.
- Young Pioneers (Order ideological tenet): +1 Local Happiness per Workshop, Factory and Solar/Nuclear/Hydro Plant.
- Academy of Sciences (Order ideological tenet): +1 Local Happiness per Observatory, Public School and Research Lab.
- Fortified Borders (Autocracy ideological tenet): +1 Local Happiness per Castle, Arsenal and Military Base.
- Militarism (Autocracy ideological tenet): +2 Local Happiness per Barracks, Armory and Military Academy.
- Police State (Autocracy ideological tenet): +3 Local Happiness from each Courthouse.
- Cathedrals (religious belief + building): +1 Local Happiness.
- Mosques (religious belief + building): +1 Local Happiness.
- Pagodas (religious belief + building): +2 Local Happiness.
- Asceticism (religious belief): Shrines provide +1 Local Happiness in cities with 3 followers.
- Peace Gardens (religious belief): +2 Local Happiness per garden.
- Religious Center (religious belief): Temples provide +2 Local Happiness in cities with 5 followers.
- G-ddess of Love (pantheon belief): +1 Local Happiness in cities with Population of 6+
- Sacred Waters (pantheon belief): +1 Local Happiness in cities on rivers
Note that the maximum Local Happiness bonus per ideology is:
- Freedom: +5 Local Happiness (+1 extra for cities on rivers via Water Mill)
- Order: +5 Local Happiness (up to +3 extra with resources and/or terrain for Factories, Power Plants, and Observatories)
- Autocracy: +9 Local Happiness (+3 extra for conquered cities via Courthouse)
Civilization-specific Local Happiness bonuses:
- Egypt, Burial Tomb special building: +2 Local Happiness.
- Persia, Starap's Court special building: +2 Local Happiness.
- Celts, Ceilidh Hall special building: +3 Local Happiness.
Note that to use any of the religion based abilities, you need to spread the religion to the appropriate cities. While pantheon beliefs spread automatically to your new cities and you could theoretically use a pantheon belief without a religion, this isn't long-term viable as religions from other players will replace it in your cities and there will be no way to get it back. Thus, if using a pantheon belief, make sure to get a religion, which will include the pantheon belief as one of its bonuses.
A lot of people talk about annexing vs puppeting cities with regards to happiness, but it turns out it doesn't really matter for happiness long-term.
To understand why, we need to dig into the mechanics. The unhappiness penalty of an annexed city is 2 on standard and smaller maps, 1.6 on large maps, and 1.2 on huge maps. Additionally, annexed cities produce an extra 0.34 per citizen. However, this extra unhappiness penalty completely goes away when you build a courthouse in the city. Meanwhile, a puppeted city behaves the same for unhappiness as a city you own, but you can't choose what it builds or buy units/buildings in it.
While puppeting is better for short term-happiness, annexing is actually much better mid-term, and is equivalent (or slightly better) long-term. While a courthouse costs 4 gold per turn, gold is a bountiful resource compared to happiness. The unhappiness penalty from population in puppeted cities is the real problem, and puppeted cities rarely prioritize happiness buildings. Annexing a city lets you focus it's production and/or outright buy local happiness buildings to negate the unhappiness generated by population. Long-term, this all comes out in the wash, as puppeted cities will eventually build all of the buildings that they can. The only long-term advantage of an annexed city is that it can have the religious happiness boosting buildings purchased in them where puppeted cities cannot (such as pagodas).
The real advantage of puppeted cities is that they don't count for the cost of social policies or national wonders. Additionally, since puppeted cities can always be annexed later, there's very little downside (aside from the attentional cost of remembering to annex them) to puppeting a city during the resistance period to avoid the short-term happiness hit.
The bigger choice when conquering is whether to keep or raze. The thing to think about when conquering is "would I have built a city here?" If the answer is no, burn it to the ground. Note that you can raze a captured city later (provided you annex it first), so the only permanent liens against your happiness are the unrazable cities you conquer, which are primarily capitals and holy cities. Note that razing a city will create short term unhappiness (the same as if you annexed it), but this goes away once the razing is done. Alternatively, read on; if you can fulfill the conditons in the next section, you can keep everything.
With enough Local Happiness, you can grow an empire quite tall without touching your Global Happiness budget. The limit on your empire then becomes just your number of cities. The next step, the magical step, comes when you can get per-city sources of Global Happiness, because you can then grow an empire arbitrarily wide.
Playing on Warlord or easier (difficulty levels 1 - 3), this can be done quite easily by hacking Local Happiness. To understand how this works, you need to understand Local Happiness. The key here is that Local Happiness is limited by the population of the city. Normally each citizen generates one unhappiness, so Local Happiness will only offset the happiness of that population. But, if the unhappiness from citizens is (for whatever reason) less than the number of citizens, there is the possibility to create "overflow" local happiness. Overflow local happiness effectively converts Global Happiness: it is added to your happiness pool, from which it can pay for the unhappiness of the city itself, pay for unhappiness from other cities or population in other cities, or add to golden age points. Note that you are limited in overflow happiness per city to the difference between the population of the city and the unhappiness cost of that population.
On the lowest three difficulties of the game (Settler, Chieftain, and Warlord), population and city unhappiness penalties are reduced game-wide:
- Settler: all unhappiness is 40% of it's normal value
- Chieftain: all unhappiness is 60% of it's normal value
- Warlord: all unhappiness is 75% of it's normal value
On Warlord, if you max out Local Happiness in your cities, you can have cities be break-even or profitable on happiness with enough population. For example, a city with 9 population on a standard map (3 unhappiness per city) on Warlord (75% unhappiness cost of cities and population) with 9 local happiness is break-even; a city with 10+ people and maximum Local Happiness is happiness profitable. Note that Warlord and below give you other unfair advantages over the AI, so this isn't a "fair" game. If you want that, you need to play on Prince or harder.
On Prince and harder (difficulty level 4+), it's about getting enough things that produce Global Happiness per city and/or the rare abilities that reduce unhappiness for population. Here's the list:
- Meritocracy (Liberty social policy): +1 Global Happiness for each City you own connected to the Capital and -5% Unhappiness from Citizens in non-occupied Cities. [This does double-duty; if Local Happiness of the city is maxed out in a non-occupied city, you effectively get +0.05 Global happiness per citizen.]
- Aristocracy (Tradition social policy): +1 Global Happiness for every 10 Citizens in a City.
- Universal Suffrage (Freedom ideological tenet): Unhappiness from Specialists is halved. [If local happiness of the city is maxed out, you effectively get +0.5 Global Happiness per specialist.]
- Ceremonial Burial (religion founder bonus): +1 Global Happiness for every 2 Cities following this religion.
- Neuschwanstein (world wonder): +1 Global Happiness per Castle.
- CN Tower (world wonder): +1 Population in every city and +1 Global Happiness per city.
- Forbidden Palace (world wonder, requires Patronage): -10% unhappiness from citizens in non-occupied cities. [If local happiness of the city is maxed out, you effectively get +0.1 Global Happiness per citizen in non-occupied cities.]
Note that several of the above refer to "non-occupied cities". Importantly, cities you have annexed do count as non-occupied once you have built a courthouse. Also, puppeted cities count as non-occupied.
Note again that to use any of the religion based ones, you need to spread the religion to the appropriate cities.
Happiness break-even is easiest when playing on Huge, where the unhappiness penalty per city is only 1.8. For example, with Meritocracy and Aristocracy on a huge map, a city connected to your capital with 10 population and 10 Local Happiness will produce a profit of 0.7 happiness. The same city on a large map (unhappiness per city of 2.4) is still barely profitable, producing 0.1 excess happiness. This combo doesn't work as well on standard and smaller maps (unhappiness per city of 3) because Aristocracy doesn't give fractional happiness, so you need 20 population and 20 Local Happiness to break even on a standard or smaller map.
Meritocracy plus the Forbidden Palace means your cities with maxed out Local Happiness break even at 6 population on a huge map, at 10 population on a large map, and at 14 population on standard and smaller maps.
Meritocracy plus the Neuschwanstein or the CN Tower means your cities with maxed out Local Happiness break even at any population on a huge map, 8 population on a large map, and 20 on standard and smaller maps.
India is a special case. India's ability doubles the unhappiness from number of cities but halves the happiness from population. This means that India has the native ability to be happiness profitable (with sufficient local happiness). On a huge map on Prince or harder, a city with 8 citizens and 8 Local Happiness is happiness profitable (generating 0.4 excess happiness). You need 10 citizens and Local Happiness per city on a large map or 12 citizens and Local Happiness per city on a standard or smaller map to break even. This can be combined with any of the sources above.
Note: there are also two pantheon beliefs that can generate per-city Global Happiness, but these aren't long-term sustainable as they get overridden by any religion in the city.