How to Maximize the Number of Social Policies



Welcome to the inaugural post from the Civ Science project! Here we will dive into the dataset (see the about page for more information) for the first time and see what we can learn about unlocking social policies in Civ V. The data we are using includes the number of social policies unlocked in 180 multiplayer Civ V games played by FilthyRobot. This number includes ideological tenets.

Multiplayer games can end at different times. Sometimes they go all the way to spaceships, whereas other games end in a Medieval bloodbath. For this reason looking at the final number of social policies unlocked is not fair. Instead we shall examine the number of social  policies unlocked per era. This is a way of normalizing the rate of unlocking policies over the length of the game.

DISCLAIMER: This is my first dive into the data, so most of what I show here is not complicated. In fact, we will be looking almost entirely at correlations, and as all good skeptics should know, correlation does not mean causation! So bear that in mind, that this post is showing associations between things, not necessarily mechanisms.

Wonders, City States, Religion… and Poland!

First let’s look at which civilizations are associated with an increased number of social policies. Before we look at the data, are there any predictions we can make? The most obvious is that we expect Poland to come out on top. The Polish civilization has an ability that gives a free social policy each time you advance to the next era. This guarantees 7 extra social policies for a full-length game! We might also expect civilizations with bonuses to culture to obtain more social policies than others. Civilizations like Polynesia or Brazil have tile improvements that give extra culture for example, whereas Siam has a unique building that provides extra culture, as well as an ability that provides additional culture from city states. But predictions are ultimately futile, and data is real, so let’s take a look.


DARKEST GREEN = 5 or more games, MIDDLE GREEN = 3-5 games, LIGHTEST GREEN = 1-2 games

The above graph shows the number of policies obtained per era, for each civilization in the game. The civs are ordered by their performance in this test, from highest to lowest. The bars are shaded according to how many games are in the sample size. This means that the darker the bar, the more reliable the estimate. The horizontal line represents the median policies per era game (i.e. a measure of the average). The grey bars represent the standard error, which is basically a way of showing the variation between the games for each civ.

There’s a lot to look at in the above graph so let’s list some key observations:

  • As we predicted, Poland does very well, scoring well above the median.
  • The Civilizations at the bottom of the list are civilizations with no bonuses to culture.
  • Civilizations that get a strong religion perform well, such as Spain, the Celts, The Mayans and Ethiopia.
  • Civilizations that have bonuses to city state alliances (Siam & Sweden) also perform well.
  • Egypt comes out top, performing better than Poland!

What does this all mean? One observation is that while Poland is obviously associated with more social policies, a strong culture game can match, or even surpass Poland’s UA (unique ability). Looking at Egypt, it’s tempting to suggest that building lots of wonders (which Egypt’s UA encourages) is the most potent source of culture in the game. It’s also no surprise to see Siam performing well, as Siam can receive huge culture yields from city state alliances. Religion is also a great source of culture, with buildings like Mosques and Pagodas providing added culture per city. It’s worth noting that in two out of the three Spain games in our dataset, FilthyRobot had a faith-yielding natural wonder, so these games would have had an extremely strong religion.

One of my predictions isn’t reflected in the data at all. I anticipated that civilizations like Brazil and Polynesia, which have tile improvements that yield culture would have more social policies. It turns out that these two civilizations perform similarly to average. Perhaps the bonus from these improvements is too mediocre, or too situational to really change the number of policies obtained in the game?

Another fun observation is that Venice does well (although there is only one Venice game in our dataset), which also makes sense! Founding cities increases the culture cost of new cities, and Venice cannot found cities! It therefore makes sense that the cheaper culture cost of policies might translate to an advantage in how many policies Venice can unlock.

Note that there are probably some red herrings in here, Portugal has no culture bonuses at all, and yet is high on the list. This is probably down to random chance, that FilthyRobot focused on his Culture output in those games, without having anything to do with the civilization’s bonuses in particular. This can happen in datasets, and it’s not really a surprise.

But what do these numbers ultimately mean? Can we translate “policies per era” into the number of policies enacted in a real game? To work this out, let’s assume that the civ at the bottom of the list represents the bare minimum number of policies. For the sake of argument this value is the consequence of playing a game with no focus on culture whatsoever, and no bonuses to help culture output. We then calculate how each civ deviates from this minimum, and multiply by 8 (the number of eras) to predict how many extra policies each civ would get from a full-length game.


This graph looks very similar to the one before, but actually serves as a really useful sanity check! As you can see, Poland gets 7.5 more policies than minimum, and this is exactly what we’d expect! Their UA guarantees 7 for a full-length game, which suggests our analysis is probably reflecting something close to the truth.

The important thing to note about Poland is the tiny spread of the error bars. While there is more variation in the number of policies obtained by Spain or Egypt, Poland is completely consistent. When you play as Poland, you get those policies guaranteed, which is of course why Poland is considered one of the best civs in the game!

Which policies are the most culture efficient?

Social policies cost culture to unlock, it’s a basic mechanic of the game. However, several policies provide culture, such as the Legalism policy in the Tradition tree, which provides a free culture building in 4 cities. There is also the Representation policy in Liberty, which reduces the culture cost of future policies. I wanted to examine which social policy trees were associated with an increased number of policies unlocked throughout the game. That is to say, which trees are the best at paying for themselves by providing enough culture to unlock further policies.

To address this, let’s split the policies into two broad groups: opening policies and “filler” policies. In competitive multiplayer (based on the unmodded civ V experience), the opening policy options are Tradition and Liberty. Honor and Piety are available to players, but almost never chosen because they don’t provide good enough bonuses to get ahead in the game. Rationalism is such a strong policy tree that players unlock policies in that tree almost every game. For that reason it’s not considered here. “Filler policies” are therefore the social policies that are unlocked after completing Tradition or Liberty, but before opening Rationalism (which is essential to remain competitive). Although available from the start, Honor and Piety are considered filler policies, because they are only ever taken after Tradition or Liberty in competitive multiplayer.


The horizontal line equals the mean number of policies per era across all games

The first thing to note is that Tradition and Liberty come out as roughly equal when it comes to the number of policies each seems to enable in a full-length game. This surprised me a bit, as I had a hunch that the culture and wonder-building bonuses of Tradition would outperform Liberty, but it appears I was wrong!

It’s not a surprise that Aesthetics comes out ahead in the filler policy group, providing roughly one extra policy per game. This makes sense as Aesthetics is the primary culture-boosting tree. Remember that correlation is not causation though! This data might also be telling us that FilthyRobot takes policies in Aesthetics when he has a strong culture game (and uses Aesthetics to maximize that advantage), and so this policy tree might not be causing that policy advantage.

Some policy trees appear to be associated with fewer policies, notably Honor and Exploration. Both of these trees are quite culture-poor, not providing any culture bonuses to pay back their cost. The Honor tree is also the tree that FilthyRobot likely opens when he is fighting a war. During war, all his production will be focuses on military for defense and so building guilds, wonders and culture buildings will be extremely low priority. This might also explain why Honor is associated with more culture-poor games.

I then looked for all possible interactions, that is to say combinations of policy trees that particularly stand out as yielding fewer or more policies. Only one is worth reporting here, which is the big culture boost that seems to be unlocked by combining liberty and piety. Opening Tradition and Piety is associated with no more social policies than average. On the other hand Liberty + piety gives a big increase in number of policies per era, equivalent to 2-3 extra policies per game!

So, if you are worried completing liberty and piety might prevent you from gaining other policies later in the game, perhaps the trade-off isn’t as bad as you thought! Another explanation however is that it’s not the piety tree itself that is boosting culture, but the strong religion (as we see with the high number of policies unlocked in Spain and Celts games). The liberty + piety combination might just be an indicator of when FilthyRobot is employing this wide religious strategy.

To examine the effect of founding a religion, I looked at the games where FilthyRobot founded versus didn’t found a religion. Games with a founded religion did provide a small increase in social policies, equivalent to one extra policy a game. However, it’s worth noting that if we randomly generated datasets of the same size, we would expect to see this difference purely by chance 8% of the time (the p-value), so this might not be meaningful. Besides, founding a religion doesn’t mean you don’t get any religious bonuses, as you can still benefit from religions founded by other players in the game. What the data really suggest, is that strong religions, with high faith output are likely to provide a culture boost. In fact, Liberty + Piety strategies are predicted to gain as many social policies as the Polish UA! This is likely through the purchasing of multiple culture-producing buildings like Mosques and Pagodas, or perhaps even culture from Holy Sites after completing the Piety tree.

Does any of this matter?

This analysis of social policy numbers has been fun, but one key question hasn’t been looked at at all. Does unlocking more social policies increase the likelihood of winning? After all, winning is what it’s all about! It’s hard to test this directly without separating policies from all the other advantages in the game. For example, building wonders will boost culture, but also provide many other advantages towards winning. However, we can look at how many social policies were enacted in the games FilthyRobot won, versus the ones he lost:

Games won: 2.50 social policies per era

Games lost: 2.28 social policies per era

This difference might not sound like much at all, insignificant even, but bear in mind that this difference approximates to nearly 2 extra social policies per game. Think about how some of the strongest social policies are the hardest to unlock at the end of policy trees (Purchasing great scientists with faith, or purchasing spaceship parts with gold for example), and the magnitude of this difference becomes more obvious.

It is also worth noting that we only expect to see such a big difference purely by chance in 0.03% of datasets of the same size, which strongly suggests this difference is not down to luck.

Congratulations to making it to the end! Please do leave feedback, comments, questions, and suggestions for other things you’d like to see addressed with real data and statistics!


9 thoughts on “How to Maximize the Number of Social Policies

  1. Nice work! I’m an engineering PhD student, so I enjoy this! 😀

    I suggest you split your data by map size as well even though this may reduce the significance. As it is known that the map size directly affects the founding penalties for science and culture. A huge map for instance will have much lower penalties for expanding and punish tradition/small builds more than wide ones. If filthyrobot plays large maps more often the data is definitely biased towards liberty/commerce/piety. If smaller games more often, the penalties for expanding are harsher and liberty will be punished more. I know this from my own gameplay experience.

    Great breakdown though! Enjoyed your first post!


    1. Thanks for your feedback! I should perhaps have added this in the intro, but the dataset is already standardized such that every game has the same set up (quick speed, small map, 6 players, pangaea).

      The nice thing about the competitive multiplayer community, is that they tend to stick to the same rules and game set up each time.


  2. Did you keep track of how many policies were earned in each era? And more specifically, when each policy was earned in terms of turn number? I think that might have a bit more predictive power than the overall number of policies that a civ earns over the course of a game. Take the Egypt vs Poland example.

    I wouldn’t have predicted that stacking the culture wonders would actually overpower the sheer bonus policies of Poland, but it makes sense when you average it out over the course of a game.

    However more policies may not be the primary driver of “Social Policies = Victory” that you found at the end. It may be “policies at the right time,” or more policies earning. The way the game generally works I would suspect that Poland’s real ability is being able to compound lots of social policies early, and games where the culture train starts quickly are the ones that lead to victory.

    Basically, it might be the distribution of the social policies over the course of the game that matter more than the sheer numbers. Moreover, Egypt wonder-spamming may be throwing the sample out of wack because they are just generally strong enough to last a long time into the game and let their long-term culture bonus build up. However Poland’s ability may in fact be stronger than its given credit for here, because it may be that the policies, although fewer in number, occur at better times to affect the progression of the game (A few social policies early to get that critical tree-finish before the other players can, and then later when you tech-blitz through the last few eras to get your second tree finished/get to the ideological tenants you need for the final push through the end game).

    Nice work on gathering this data though, it’s super interesting.


  3. Not sure if my last reply went through or not.

    Did you keep a tally of turn numbers when each policy got adopted, or at least which era each policy got adopted?

    My guess would be that the aggregate numbers over a whole game are only part of the story when you’re talking about “do social policies = victory” questions. I would wager that it isn’t so much the overall number of policies as the timing on them. That is to say, being the first to finish Liberty or Honor gives major advantages that can cascade through the rest of the game. That’s part of why I think Poland’s UA is getting a bit under-sold here. They may not get the most social policies overall but the timing of when they get them is superior (a few early to get ahead of the culture curve, and then a large number late when you start blitzing through the tech-compression eras). Conversely, I would wager that the high number of Egypt policies is biased outward because Egypt is generally strong enough to last into the late game and take advantage of all the +% culture wonders over the course of a game.

    It’s also why Brazil and Polynesia are likely below average despite ostensibly being culture-focused civs. They are culture focused, but their abilities take time to set up and require the game to keep going for the Brazilwood/Maoi to really make a difference. However they aren’t generally strong enough to last that long into the game.

    Basically, I’d like to see the graphs you’ve done but by era, and compare the impact of the number of social policies on each era to overall victory. I highly expect policies in Ancient/Classical to contribute more to victory than later ones do.


    1. Hi, Sorry it took me a while to approve your comments, was out yesterday.

      Unfortunately no, I don’t have a record of when policies were adopted. To get the data from 180 games in a relatively time-efficient way, I collected data on policies just at the end (e.g. the final count). Tracking them throughout the game would be a Herculean task!

      I find myself agreeing with all of your points really. I think Poland probably is stronger still for the reasons you mention. I already find them very strong for the ability to open Rationalism as soon as the Renaissance is reached.

      So you’re probably right, but I don’t have the data to actually address your points statistically 😦

      One point I would make is that FilthyRobot is a very strong player, and there is nothing in my data to suggest that he reaches the end game any less with weaker civs (his Brazil games were both late game wins!) . This will actually be the topic of my next post I think, so stay tuned for that!


  4. mp players use the “NQmod” right? (or whatever its called) It changes some policy mechanics I believe. Also, if the games are spread out over a period, some patches slightly alter the results (e.g. free cultural building policy was moved in the trad-tree, slowing down cult acquisition).


    1. So something I didn’t actually specify, that perhaps I should have is that the 180 games are the non-modded ones on Filthy’s channel. So everything in this should apply to the base game.

      The NQmod has been a frequently-changing beast so I decided to leave it out.


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