If you play Civilization V (I do, but nowhere near as much as I played the games in the Civilization II line), you’ll recognize this argument right away:
“What?! Are you crazy?! You never do that! You fool!”
People got a little crazy during a routine design meeting in the Firaxis Games offices, where the developers of Civilization V take strategy very seriously. A designer talking about his recent playthrough to a large group of his gathered colleagues casually mentioned he didn’t like the starting position of his settler so he moved it that turn to look for greener pastures. The reaction was immediate. Half the designers in the room erupted in anger and disbelief — while the other half vehemently defended the move. They ditched what the meeting was supposed to be about, and instead argued for or against a specific move in the first turn of a Civ game. Clearly, this issue was very important. Sid Meier once said that all good games were a series of interesting decisions, and it’s a testament to the power of Civilization that even the first decision could evoke such a strong reaction in the current Civ team at Firaxis.
But why? Why is moving your settler or not so important? It’s a question I’ve struggled with in my own time with the series. I spoke to Firaxis to figure that out, and maybe discover if there’s empirical evidence to support either decision beyond individual play style. The three developers I spoke to were Ed Beach, lead designer on the last two Civ V expansions, Peter Murray and Dennis Shirk, and they all had very different positions on the Settler Dilemma.
On that particular question, I’m agnostic. I usually build a city on my first turn, unless the starting location is so terrible that the game looks to be lost right from the start (and if it really was that bad — all desert or all tundra — restarting is probably the smarter move).