After having actually PLAYED the civilization many times, explored a multitude of different options, I can say that the USA, even when played highly optimally, is slightly underpowered compared to the top tier civs right now. In addition, many of the mechanics of the USA are hugely underpowered.
Let’s go over why:
Weak early game eco: No settler cards is a huge price to pay for these “immigration” cards that have questionable benefits. Your options in age 1 are basically the gold trickle (which does not help an age 2 rush, given that your best unit is the wood-costing state militia), 2 settlers from the Irish immigrants (underpowered), or 3 coureurs from French immigrants, but using up your 200 wood. You have NO age 1 advantage (native/asian explorer, spanish war dog, etc.) to truly make up for this, other than your crate of books for a bit of extra starting XP. I would give up ALL immigration cards and the XP crate just to have 3 settlers in age 1.
Weak mid-game eco: Barely any immediate benefit from ageing up. You have to dump a shipment into your age-up bonuses, which, by and large, do not actually give any immediate benefit in and of themselves (i.e., units). Most of them simply unlock further improvements that might benefit your economy or military 5 minutes later, but not at the moment.
Below average late game eco: At least compared with the “average” European civ such as Spain or Russia. Definitely weaker than Germany, France, or India, although better than the natives with the exception of the Inca. Due to fewer late game eco cards than most European factions, although this is admittedly mitigated somewhat by several economic age-up choices. Currently with the California bug removing the settler cap, this isn’t an issue, but once that bug is fixed, USA will be closer to the likes to Spain than that of Germany.
Several extraordinarily weak units: Carbine Cavalry (one of the worst unique units; closer to a Musket Rider than a Dragoon), Sharpshooter (poor stats, even without the animation “bug”), Regulars (very poor stats for its cost, I would take vanilla musketeers over it at least until age 4).
Usually, there is a way to compensate for specific weaknesses, which are meant to be part of the game. For example, Lakota compensates for its weak economy by raiding, Ottoman can compensate for its weak economy through increased flexibility to rush/FF/FI/boom, Britain compensates for its very predictable and easily-countered army through its eco, France compensates for its predictability with sheer economic and military strength, India compensates for its awkward eco through its highly flexible military, etc. etc.
The USA, on the other hand, is best characterized as a mid-late game booming civ with a powerful military IF left unchecked. State militia and gatling guns are their best units. But with a poor early game economy requiring a significant number of shipments to develop, the USA is incredibly vulnerable to raiding and disruption. The USA as its stands right now has NO way to compensate for its weak early game economy. You don’t age particularly quickly. You don’t have an “unraidable” eco like Japan, Sweden, Inca, or Dutch. Offensively, you can’t make enough state militia to commit to an all-in rush; regardless, this is extraordinarily risky as even a slightly unfavorable battle will keep your economy miles behind.
Early defense is possible and certainly the meta strat for now, but you will be out-eco’d by not only the likes of Britain, Sweden, Japan, and Dutch, but also even by second-tier eco civs such as France or Aztec. This forces you to rely solely on your State Militia and/or gatling guns to trade favorably in the very first pitched battle that occurs. You don’t have the economy to commit to making a ton of Regulars or Carbine Cavalry for anticav, but you’re going to have to make some anyway, if only to fend off raids. I emphasize that the USA is the one being raided, not the other way around - because your early game economy is weak, and you cannot take offensive risks.
The final straw is that the USA is somewhat lackluster in the post-imperial age. The economy is decent - if you trade favorably. The army is decent, but not spectacular. State militia and gatling guns remain the best units, but both are countered by the same thing: heavy cannons, horse artillery, and even falconets. Regulars, hussars, carbine cavalry, etc. are not cost effective. You can win an age 5 war against civs with a weaker imperial age army/economy - Britain, Dutch, Iroquois, etc. But you will not beat the likes of Germany, France, and India. For a civ that is decidedly on the back foot for at least the first 10 minutes of the game (and I would personally argue for the first 15-20 minutes, until your industrial age age-up cards kick in), the average-at-best imperial age is a significant disappointment.
I will also note that a few of the much-hyped unit shipments, such as Kovat’s Legion (Magyar Hussars), Washington’s Legion (grenadiers), Armand’s Legion (Dragoons) present a considerable expense to unlock and can only be trained slowly in forts, which is not a practical setup in a close battle where lots of pressure is being applied on each side.
As a final addendum, I will note that there are a HUGE number of trash tier home city cards, immigration cards, and age-up cards that are too numerous to list comprehensively. These are so bad that it would literally be better to send a resource crate for the corresponding age in almost ANY scenario. But a few select examples below:
- Spanish, German, Russian immigrants
- Unlocking Napoleon guns (weak and pop-inefficient leather cannon)
- Allowing forts to slowly train units for free (literally a negative bonus)
- Unlocking quaker guns (total waste of population space)
- Allowing shipments to arrive faster
- Bear Flag Revolt (joke tier revolution card for its cost; if it converted all gatling guns to maxims, then maybe)