I founded a religion last night. We worship trees and stone. Unsurprisingly, my cities are surrounded by forests and stone quarries. By shaping my religion based on my surroundings, I’ve gained bonus happiness for my people and improved their faith. This is the Gods portion of the new Civilization V expansion Gods & Kings, and it is a rather cynical look at how rulers form religions to benefit themselves.
The return of the religion mechanic to Civilization in Gods & Kings brings a new currency called “faith,” a new perk tree to explore, and new religious units to spread the word. In the early game, when a player collects enough faith, a great prophet will be born who can use his ability to start a belief system involving a pantheon of gods. Later, after accumulating more faith, another great prophet will allow the player to select an official religion that evolves out of the pantheon.
Creating a religion consists of selecting an icon/name from a historic religion like Islam or Christianity and then selecting a Founder Belief and a Follower Belief. These are religious perks that will benefit your civilization, and they are primarily based on geography.
Players can select any belief that they want from an extensive list, but if you choose a perk that benefits cities that border a desert and all of your cities lay on the outskirts of mountains and jungles, then you won’t see any return on that choice.
This makes sense, but it is also a dig at religion. Most monotheistic faiths believe in an infallible creator who sets out down a set of rules in stone. If religion is an invention of man, as it is in Civ V, then the tenets of the faith would be formed in relation to how to best serve the ruling class who controls the church and the population.
“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful,” said Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger. The subtext of Civilization V: Gods & Kings says it as well. As time marches on in the lands of Civ V and enlightenment washes away ignorance, faith is harder to come by.
Before that, however, players can spend millennia defining a belief structure around what would make it easiest to expand. I don’t care that my people think my stone quarry is magic. I just love the bonus happiness it brings to them, which in turn allows for further expansion.
As the Celts, the civ I was playing with, I had a special unit called the Pictish Warrior who earned me faith for each victory in battle. Naturally, this led to many crusades. Typically, you lose a lot in war, but by making it a religious cause, my nation was profiting from clashes with other countries. The more blood that was lost, the more certain my people became about our righteousness.
Like I said, it’s cynical.