As the cities added some theaters and more specialist buildings (half anger via Democracy), I had happy headroom to grow again, so expanded out to three more cities on the western and northern tips. Although they hardly exceeded size 4 by the end of the game, they did seem worthwhile. Settlers are cheap, and each of these cities with the university and two scientists produced 30-some beakers at a fairly low happiness hit. That's exactly what the "efficiency" approach was supposed to do.
I was still at war with the Aztecs, whose peace demands remained insane, varying between three and five cities. Fortunately I was just finally getting Dynamite, so of course as always, artillery broke the war game wide open. I wiped out that invasion, and pressed on and started capturing Aztec cities with the artillery, as usual losing almost no units. Aside from a couple fighters, I didn't have a tech advantage; the Aztecs got infantry and tanks only shortly after I did. But the AI couldn't win this war of course; it just can't tactic worth crap against 3-range shooters.
Wow, that's a bit extreme. Still playing by the RB variant rule about not accepting gold from AIs, I declined that, and instead took some luxuries and OB for the peace payoff.
My northeastern neighbor Babylon had also declared war on me a couple times earlier, and presently did so again. But in the midst of all this fighting, something funny happened. I just won the game.
I had nine freebie techs saved up in my pocket. Four saved Great Scientists with a fifth on the way (the 800 point one); the Scientific Revolution policy for two techs; and Oxford University which would grant a second tech by Korea's boost ability. The science victory requires nine techs in the modern age. So I just bulbed to Rocketry first to build the Apollo Program, then claimed the rest of the techs and built all six spaceship parts together, skipping SS factories and using my two remaining Great Generals for Golden Ages.
(Really, a Forge applies to spaceship parts? SS components are Land Units. Good to know, I guess...)
Science Victory at turn 293, 1846 AD. (By the way, I have absolutely no problem with Civ 5's minimalist victory screens, unlike Sullla's carping about them. There's no need for an elaborate video and tons of statistics. Civ 4 included all that, but such things are nice extras, not something that we have a right to demand from every strategy game ever.)
So, how did my little variant go, ignoring tiles to focus on specialists? Not quite as well as I'd envisioned. Turns out that all those regular tiles are important after all. Especially trading posts; I had no idea my cash economy would crater that dramatically without them. Although that didn't have any meaningful downside at all, just slowed research. And it was simply correct to keep hiring specialists and pushing research anyway rather than trying to fix the economy.
But the bigger problem of ignoring normal tiles was food. This was the problem of Seoul and most other cities by the end of the game: they never grew enough (size 13) and most of the specialist slots remained unfilled and idle. Civil Society does great at supporting specialists at half food cost, but doesn't do anything to grow them in the first place. Maybe I should have aimed for hospitals much sooner; Biology comes midgame with enough time left to use the food. And like I mentioned in my culture game, you really do need to focus on food multipliers to get much above size 12 by the end of history.
Korea's ability was neat to play with, although obviously one-dimensional. 7 beakers +50% per scientist was fun, although not all that meaningful; we all know that science victories are driven more by the tech freebies of bulbing and research agreements. In fact, Korea's tech boost ability probably accounted for more beakers than the specialist bonus. (Particle Physics alone from Oxford in the endgame was worth 9000 beakers, which is over 1000 scientist-turns.)