Frequent readers of course know that I had something of an obsession with speedy culture wins in Civ 4 and even back in Civ 3. I'd be severely amiss if I didn't go for one in Civ 5. (This is vanilla Civ 5, not Gods & Kings.)
I'm not playing for the Civfanatics Hall of Fame, but they do have a set of rules that establish reasonable borders for gameplay. The number of civs and city-states must be the standard for the map size. Standard resources only, not abundant or legendary. Not allowed are policy saving and no barbarians. Only some map scripts are allowed (notably Oval is out). And there is a list of banned exploits that rules out the worst abuses of buying on credit.
For my map, I chose Inland Sea, with wet rainfall. Mostly because Inland Sea seems to be the best map for consistently spawning lots of rivers. So far, every map I've played of Civ 5 with much river coverage has yielded ample amounts of cash, while drier maps leave me hurting for money. (Yet another piece of Civ 5 design that didn't work out quite right. The river bonus in Civ 4 gets swamped under 7-commerce towns; and even in Civ 3 it wasn't so important where every tile made 2 commerce with a road. But in Civ 5 where trading posts and merchant specialists are underpowered and uncommonly used, the river bonus sticks out a lot brighter in comparison. Rivers are the one part of Civ 5 tile yields that went unnerfed.)
It's a large map. I'm pretty sure the additional research agreement partners and buyable city-states outweigh the tech costs of the larger map. And I picked Emperor difficulty. I'm not sure if that's the fastest (especially compared to the stupid-easy bottom of the scale), but Emperor does feel like it hits the sweet spot where the AIs will have decent amounts of gold to feed and research with me but not beat me to key wonders.
This report is my second serious attempt at fast culture. The previous game was as France, which lucked into an El Dorado in the first few turns. From there, I decided not to play a crippled version of Civ 5 with the Realms Beyond rule against taking gold from AIs. Rather, I pushed ahead with all the money the AIs could throw at me. Of course, that makes Civ 5 a much different game, as we'll cover in this report.
In the France game (won culture on turn 249), I found that most of my gold in the early and middle game went towards city-states. So I took Greece this time around. Greece's ability functionally doubles the value of spending gold on city-states. And like any selective doubler, that can have enormous effects. If city-states are the only thing you spend gold on, the Greek ability functionally doubles your entire gold production. That's massive, and even accidental influence from quests or barbarians is functionally doubled too. And as a bonus, picking Greece for myself guarantees not having to compete against an AI Greece on the map.