I haven’t played any of the Civilization games, but I do have a fair amount of experience with strategy/war games of various stripes. And while they obviously differ greatly in theme, presentation, scope, purpose, etc., there’s one thing that they all, ALL have in common: You cannot do your own thing. No matter how much leeway you have in your decisions, the game invariably has strict parameters as to what helps you or what hurts you, and if you want to accomplish anything at all, you will do what helps you. Buck the system (or impose your real-world ethos on it, which is sometimes even worse), and you’ll soon see the foolishness of your ignorance.
Here, examples. Dynasty Warriors 4, Battle of Shi Ting. Two principals, Cao Xiu on the Wei side and Zhou Fang on the Wu side. Wu is running a defection ploy. On the Wu side, you must protect Zhou Fang and make the plan succeed. As Wei, you must expose Zhou Fang and prevent Cao Xiu from dying. If you think for a second that you can ignore this plot, that all you need to do is follow the usual strategy of knocking off officers one by one, you’d best get used to endless catastrophic morale hits and your forces getting slaughtered like rats.
Or Robin Hood: Defender of the Crown, where you play the titular character and attempt to wrest Engling from the iron fist of Prince John. Without even looking up a description of the game, see if you can identify which of these is the best strategy.
a) Raid caravan routes for gold, build your forces, then pick off the opposing leaders one by one before going after John.
b) Participate in jousts to build gold, land, and prestige (maybe raiding a caravan route every now and then) and gradually expand your influence until you’re powerful enough to take on John.
c) Raid only rich castles, get lots of gold, and build an army consisting of only knights (the most powerful troops) and a few catapults for sieges, then take England by storm.
d) Get the special items. They’re the key to everything.
e) Focus on taking castles, which are much easier to defend than unstructured territories, and keep them well-stocked with troops to make them virtually impossible to capture.
f) Focus on the special areas that reduce building costs, and also take over and fortifying the ports to protect you from John’s naval attacks.
g) Start out by attacking John and only John, immediately building the biggest possible castle on every one you gain and cramming it to the gills with every troop imaginable, until he has just his home castle left, then take the remaining territories one by one, fortifying them exactly the same as John’s former territories, making sure to retake the ports every time John launches a naval attack (don’t bother trying to protect them; it’s useless), and taking over each and every territory except John’s home castle, then sending the most titanic force possible (with 15 catapults minimum) to invade his home, and oh yeah, hope you’re really good with a sword, too.
I’m sorry…g isn’t the best strategy. It’s the ONLY STRATEGY THAT HAS THE SLIGHTEST CHANCE OF SUCCESS. You must keep John completely contained, and you must stay strong. Any tack that does not explicitly include keeping John as weak and helpless as possible is suicidal. He will attack you, and he will win and win and win until he has everything, and the moment this begins, nothing will stop him. Not enormous, impregnable castles crammed with ferocious crack troops. Not a dozen triumphs on the jousting field. Not bleeding him dry and taking out a hundred of his finest castle guards with raids. You keep him down for the entire game or you lose. There are no other possibilities.
So if the game wants to have religion, there will be religion. My suggestion is to let it happen and then figure out what its purpose is. Money-making venture? Prestige? More content populace? More leverage in negotiations? Culture? Find out what it’s good for, and when you do, USE it! I mean, if it bothers you that much, you can pretend that you’re humoring a bunch of pitiful fools who don’t even realize they’re getting played.
“I am eternally grateful for the share of the tithes you give me. Rest assured that I will use this funding only for virtuoso…virtua…vertical…virt…nicey-nice purposes. What? Oh, don’t be silly, how the heck am I going to wage a bloody, destructive war with a bunch of camels? Ah, glad you understand. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster bless you too.”