Presently the culture victory started to seriously ramp up. Within a short span came the Sistine Chapel, Opera Houses, the Hermitage, the Reformation Piety policy, and three golden ages from happiness, Reformation, and Representation which gave enough money to start buying cultured city states. Now my empire's culture production hit over 200, ripping through policies in under 10 turns.
By the way, I was still playing by the variant rule defined in Adventure One and this SG about not taking gold from AIs. I'm starting to think and agree that this has to remain permanently out of bounds for the game to be playably balanced. 3400 gold on hand? First, where in the world did he even get that? Second, why hasn't he spent it on something useful? It's just there for my taking in exchange for surplus luxuries.
I finished Tradition, although then noted that the percentage food bonus really isn't much. Even if you have +10 surplus food, 15% of that is only 1.5 per turn, less than a maritime city-state. We Love The King Day is easier to trigger and worth more.
Now Piety, Liberty, and Tradition were finished. Two to go, with Freedom obviously next. With the specialist food and anger reductions in place, now my cities ran all their available artist slots all the time. Great Artists spawned at a steady pace, all of them going for Landmarks at Kyoto. You can see five in the picture above, and I'd get up to twelve by the end of the game, all doubled by the Freedom finisher bonus.
I looked up exactly what the Utopia Project is... my goodness, 1500 hammers? Well, okay, the United Nations is also that expensive, as are two spaceship parts, and the Ascent to Transcendence was 2000 not that anyone ever slow-built it. Anyway, I presently started grooming Osaka for hammer production for it (Ironworks). This meant harbor and seaport, each +3 hammers with the three fish. Mostly those buildings aren't worth it, taking 40 and 83 turns to pay back even with three fish, before considering maintenance. But the point here is to shift production from the present into the future after the target project is available. Forges and factories have always had a similar effect in Civ games, letting you shift production from swordsmen into the maceman era instead, or from cavalry to tanks.
I was surprised how well my research continued, with only three cities! But they were well stocked up to universities and then public schools, and of course at very high population levels, so the beakers just kind of kept flowing. I aimed for Steam Power since we'd want at least the one factory, then for Radio for broadcast towers and Mass Media for the Sydney Opera House. Kyoto had been trickling scientist GPP from a couple wonders, so now I ran full scientists there, popping one Great Scientist to bulb Mass Media itself.
I was still at war with the Songhai, and in came another bad naval invasion, easily gibbed by shooty units. Although I definitely don't get this - the strength of an embarked pikeman is 5, but that of an embarked catapult is 13. A couple more invasions like these came later, easily fended off with the two crossbows and Oligarchy-enhanced Tokyo itself.
China also declared war on me, but made peace for a fairly cheap price.
This was also amusing. Tokyo's culture grew far enough to claim this tile, five hexes away from the city. It was actually kind of useful for the visibility to see Songhai units. I toyed with the idea of culture bombing next to it to take the coal and horse from Dublin, but that was silly.
Actually, that hex might have been very useful. I think it confused the AI pretty badly - after that happened I never faced another serious Songhai invasion. One or two units trickled towards Tokyo every now and then, but I saw Songhai units wandering around that hex very often, apparently unable to figure out how to invade my actual city.
I ran into one bottleneck that, after a couple got conquered, there were only three cultured city-states left on the map. (I think there were some I never contacted, but I was limiting exploration on purpose so as not to spoil myself on the map for the actual succession game.) Nothing else to do with the gold so I picked up a maritime CS too.
This move was silly as heck: I was nearing my second happiness Golden Age, but it was coming a bit too fast. I wanted the timing to sync with research to Radio and the bulb to Mass Media, to build Broadcast Towers and the Sydney Opera House. So I sold off some colosseums to delay it.
Terminal velocity for culture turned out to be a bit over 800/turn, 500 of that coming from my capital. That's twelve Landmark tile improvements accounting for almost half the empire total. Every one of my Great People had gone for those except for two engineers and one lightbulb. Amusingly, I overflowed the "next border growth" number, producing more every turn than the added tile consumed (not that there were any more tiles for Kyoto to reach anyway.)
I think the list of wonders there is pretty standard for a culture game. (Sistine Chapel was in another city.) Especially the Hanging Gardens of course, and I think that comboed pretty well with the underrated Colossus. I'm not sure whether Stonehenge was a good play or not. It seemed automatic to build the biggest culture wonder for a culture game, but maybe that +6 just gets lost in the noise and another priority would be better (like how the Creative trait in Civ 4 means nothing towards a culture win.)
The major strategic note to make here is the behavior of "tall" cities. They can do well, but require truly dedicated focus on food. You need everything you can get: aqueducts, granaries, maritime CS, hospitals, farm every tile, and the surplus multipliers from Tradition and WLTKD. With all of those in place, you can satisfy the enormous growth costs and keep growing around 10 turn intervals even up to size 30. But neglect any, and you're stuck in Gap land, with food surpluses that will never convert into actual citizens before the end of the game.
After Freedom, the only remaining choice for the fifth and final policy tree was Commerce. Honor wasn't useful; Rationalism and Autocracy and Order were all locked by conflicting choices. Patronage could be a possibility for culture games when more cultural city-states are accessible, but I already had all the available ones as allies here. The +3 hammer policy in Commerce was of course useful, although the rest was basically filler.
End game: I hit my last policy on T327 1907 AD, just after Sydney Opera House completed to get one for free. I researched Railroad for the production boost for the Utopia Project, also building extra workers to complete the four tiles of railroad construction right away. And I used my lingering Great General for a Golden Age. (By the way, the production bonuses from Marble and the Windmill don't apply towards the Utopia Project.) That all got the Utopia Project going at 90 hammers/turn, finishing in 17 turns.
Cultural Victory in 1924 AD. Well, there you have it, my first culture victory in Civ 5. That was mostly a first run-through to get the hang of it and establish a baseline. Tune in someday to see a sub-1800-AD culture win, I hope.