YouTube Video Playthrough: The Book of Kells, Religious Celts

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This is a quick writeup for my Religious Celts game that took place on Livestream during the final months of 2020. After featuring a cultural game and a naval game for my last two ventures into Civ4, I decided to emphasize religion since it was an area of the gameplay that I had largely ignored for the wider audience. There were several requests to do a religious game and I thought it would be a nice change of pace. Pushing for an early religion is suboptimal in Civ4 but that was fine and this would be more of a fun game than a challenge game. I thought about which civilization and leader combination to pick for this game and ultimately ended up with Brennus of the Celts. I had to pick a civ that began with Mysticism as one of its starting techs and then I liked Brennus the most out of the available leader options. Spiritual trait would be perfect for a religious game and Charismatic would be handy if I ended up being shafted on early happiness resources. This also allowed me to name this venture "The Book of Kells" and whip up this little Photoshop image for the YouTube title cards. We would be playing as Celtic Christians in this game thanks to the Choose Religions option.

I try to mix things up in terms of the map settings so that these Livestream games showcase the variety of different options that exist in Civ4. I ended up picking the Global Highlands map with clusters of thin peaks on the massive continents setting. The result was a very hilly map with large ranges of peaks that formed bizarre mountain ranges and blocked off access to certain areas. It was a unique setup and made for a memorable game in this one. I also increased the world size to Standard with the default six AI opponents in the hopes of allowing more opportunities for diplomacy. I wanted to see if I could use religion to score a Diplomatic victory of some kind since that was one of the victory types that I hadn't won on Livestream. This could mean more micromanagement since a Standard map size is notably larger than the Small maps that I tend to use but we'd deal with that as it developed. I used my default settings of no tech trading or vassals or events and we were off.

Like the rest of the map, the capital was high on production with hill tiles everywhere but severely lacking in commerce potential. We named it Animal Farm after finding double pigs and a sheep resource, and this would be an excellent production center for the whole game. The obvious problem was a lack of any tiles to cottage as there wasn't even a single non-hill tile; this would be a challenge that I'd have to work around as best I could. I opened the game by researching Polytheism and did land Christianity as desired (this would have been a restart otherwise) and then went into Animal Husbandry, with the Celtic starting techs of Mysticism/Hunting both coming in handy. Unfortunately I couldn't open with a worker as it would be unable to improve any tiles and this would mean a slower start than I wanted. (This why opening with a religion tends to be a poor choice on higher difficulty in Civ4, you simply fall too far behind on the growth curve as compared to opening with a worker build and researching worker techs.)

I found Rome almost immediately off to the east and had the good fortune to roll Augustus instead of Julius Caesar as its leader. This gave me the chance to establish peaceful relations if I could spread my religion over to Rome and make an ally. On the other hand, Augustus had a capital that was roughly 15 tiles away and that didn't leave much space for the two of us. I had already discovered that my capital wasn't far away from the northern tundra and there was a narrow isthmus followed by a range of inhospitable mountain peaks to the south. Flatland green tiles were basically nonexistent, it was all hills of some kind and brown plains tiles - horrible countryside for cottages. With heavy production capacity at the capital and a Charismatic leader on hand, it made sense to push for Stonehenge which I was able to knock out in about 10 turns. This would allow my cities to pop their borders on their own with the free monuments, plus generate a Great Prophet for the Christian shrine 50 turns down the road, plus add an extra happy face in every city thansk to Charismatic. Happiness would never be an issue in this game as I would have ample luxuries on hand along with that Charismatic bonus.

However, there was a major tradeoff for the Stonehenge build and that came in the form of slower expansion. In the picture above, I still didn't have a second city established on Turn 47 and I only had a single worker completed as well. (Not that more workers would have been able to do much given this terrain and the Celtic opening techs; no Mining tech and no Wheel tech really slowed things down.) It felt a bit like some of those reports I wrote back in 2006 when Civ4 first game out and we didn't know how to optimize for fast openings yet. Augustus plopped down a city at an early date and fortunately left the corn and cows resources out in the second ring so that I could claim them with a Stonehenge-powered settlement of my own. I raced out settlers to the two indicated "X" marks and managed to establish cities on both spots. With this being Augustus and not Julius Caesar, I had to cross my fingers and hope that my intruding cities wouldn't be swatted away by the AI at this early date before shared religions could make us friends.

In the end though, it wasn't Augustus who was the problem. It was the barbarians:

Barb archers started showing up when I had nothing but warriors for defense and that was a problem. Unfortunately there were no copper or horse resources located anywhere in the area (Augustus had sniped the only copper with his city) and this left me vulnerable to the barbarians. Now I could have researched Archery tech myself, true, but my early research rate was underwhelming due to this commerce-poor terrain and the investment into religion had put me behind from a developmental perspective. For example, my second city was settled at a corn resource and I still lacked Agriculture tech to improve the tile. As a result, I was desperately trying to research my way to Bronze Working and then Pottery and Agriculture which left me trying to juggle barbarian defense with only warriors on hand. This still would have been enough except that I was hit with three barbarian archers in short sequence and suffered several terrible dice rolls one after the other. A barb archer killed a defending warrior at 36% odds, then I was forced to attack out of a city to kill that unit or else it would promote back to full strength. The followup barb archer killed that warrior without taking a single hit, then attacked and razed the city of Dun Brigid with another flawless victory. This monster barbarian would proceed to kill *FOUR* warriors in total and promote all the way up to Combat II before it could finally be defeated. I nearly lost my capital to the darn thing because it just wouldn't die.

This was a low point for the game and I considered quitting and starting up a new game. Ultimately I decided to keep going though and I'm glad that I did; I think it's helpful to showcase games where not everything goes perfectly and I certainly make my share of mistakes at Civ4. This did mean that I would be playing from behind in this game though and several of the AI civs would be well ahead of me on the scoreboard for a long time. Even on "only" Emperor difficulty this would not be an easy game given the rough terrain, the nasty barbarians, and the pseudo-variant with religion that I was embracing.

I spent the next few dozen turns replacing the razed city on the same location and then filling out the rest of the starting area with more cities. The fourth city went down to the south where there was a fish resource for food and a narrow pass beyond which Frederick of Germany was located. It was a relief to have another peaceful leader in that direction; Alexander was fortunately located to the southeast across a body of water that made it impossible for him to cause any problems. City #5 went to the northern coast to where there was another fish and a silver resource, followed by a backfilled city #6 to split off one of the pigs from the capital and have another location that could work water tiles and hills. Every city had great production but food and especially commerce were huge problems. I was bankrupt after establishing half a dozen cities and limping along to the next tech at 20% break-even research since I had exactly one river in my territory and nowhere to place cottages. I had three or four plains cottages along that one little river just for a lack of any source of income. Writing tech would provide a significant boost just because it allowed Open Borders trade income and then Sailing let me build lighthouses and work water tiles for their 2 commerce yield. This was the exact opposite of my Roman Seafarers game which had commerce out the wazoo from the Great Lighthouse, instead a game where I was having to scratch and claw for everything from a harsh landscape.

One thing that I was doing well in this game was exploring the rest of the map. I had a warrior and a scout (for lack of horses to train chariots) and a work boat who were slowly defogging the rest of this large starting continent. They revealed that there were five total AI leaders on this landmass, with Joao and Tokugawa tucked into the deep south, and it was clear from an early date that Portugal was going to be a monster down the road. Joao had far more space than anyone else and lush, fertile lands overflowing with resources and grassland tiles. He would eventually end up with close to 20 self-founded cities and he never lacked for health or happiness resources. Thank goodness it wasn't a more dangerous AI leader who had randomed into that starting location but this was still plenty bad. I had been building some monasteries in my cities (in part because I lacked enough research to unlock other buildings on the tech tree) and they trained enough missionaries to start converting the other AI leaders to Christianity. First I converted my neighbors Augustus and Frederick, then I worked on Alexander and Joao. Tokugawa had founded the Code of Laws religion as Buddhism and that was perfect since he wouldn't sign Open Borders with anyone and his religion would have limited spread. With some effort, I was able to get everyone else to flip into Christianity and started building strong relations with them. This also ensured that Augustus and Frederick would never declare war on me since we know from AI Survivor that they don't plot war at "Pleased" relations. My religious strategy was slowly starting to bear fruit.

The other big advantage from exploring the map came in the form of discovering unclaimed land in some odd places. This weidly shaped valley had room for a surprisingly good city on the indicated "X" marker. It was blocked on three sides by peaks and therefore had been ignored by the AI leaders. We named the city "Valley of Kells" and it would eventually become arguably the best city in the whole Celtic nation. At the same time, I finally had enough research to unlock Iron Working tech and that revealed an iron resource south of the capital. This was important because it enabled units better than an archers and allowed me to train Gallic Warriors for the first time. I whipped out half a dozen of them and captured two barbarian cities, the one pictured next to Valley of Kells and a weaker spot in the extreme north along the Roman border. This took me from six cities to eight cities and that was a big deal given how the map was rapidly filling up.

Another big find was this island directly to the south of Germany. My exploring work boat had discovered this location right around the time that I was settling the Valley of Kells and I raced to get a galley and some settlers down to the juicy terrain. Look at that, land that is not covered with a hill and produces more than 1 food, amazing! Freddie was generous enough to let me continue using his Open Borders to move a series of settlers and workers through his territory down to the island. I would end up getting two of the three spots that I wanted here, with Germany invalidating my last "X" by claiming the fish resource in the southeast. I would end up planting a filler city a tile to the north in the hopes of flipping that spot down the road. Even though I missed out on that one spot, these additional cities were still a major asset in providing intercontinental trade routes to the rest of the empire. Jamesontown on the northwest corner of the island became a particularly strong city after it developed and I was very happy to have it.

These were peaceful turns of development for my civ and they were badly needed after a rough opening to this game. The most noteworthy action that I took was pushing for Theology tech at an early date and using it to build the Apostolic Palace in my capital. This buried another religion that could have caused problems for me diplomatically while also unlocking the bonus +2 production for Christian buildings in all cities. (By the way, the Meditation and Monotheism religions had both been founded by the last remaining mystery AI leader who was somewhere off on another continent. This made it easy for Christianity to dominate with only Tokugawa's Buddhism as a competitor.) The Apostolic Palace wasn't doing a whole lot in terms of diplomacy at the moment, as it turned out that I actually lost the AP leader election to Augustus! Sheesh. At least the AI wasn't able to do anything too crazy with that position. But the production from Christian temples/monasteries was still handy even if this was one game where I had production in ample supply. I went ahead and built cheap Spiritual temples and normal priced monasteries in every city with the intention of adding Sankore and Spiral Minaret down the road for the full monk economy trio. The first Great Prophet had already been used for the Christian Shrine and it was slowly pumping more gold into the economy as the religion continued to spread.

By about Turn 180 things were starting to swing decisively in my favor. I had managed to solve my economic woes thanks to a huge assist on the part of religion. I used the second Great Prophet for a Divine Right lightbulb, typically an inefficient play but something that allowed me to construct Spiral Minaret at an early date. When Sankore also finished on the pictured Turn 183 (both wonders helpfully boosted by my stone resource), it completed the set of monk wonders and powered up the temples and monasteries scattered throughout my terrain. Getting 2 production, 2 science, and 2 gold for an effective 40 production Spiritual temple was an insanely good rate of return. It was too bad that I couldn't have built Sistine for 5 culture as well, though that wasn't going to happen in this game as I lacked marble and had skipped the Aesthetics portion of the tech tree. Christianity had already spread to 44 cities (!) and that was also providing a lot of income via the Church of the Nativity. My break-even rate on research was up to about 70% and all of those free beakers from the Sankore religious buildings were helping me catch up to the AI leaders in tech.

I was also reaping huge rewards from windmills which I built in spades throughout my territory. Windmills are a poor choice of tile improvement when there's lots of flatground tiles for farming and cottaging but here on this food-poor map they were exactly what I needed in many areas. The Valley of Kells in particular ended up placing a windmill on nearly every tile and the two cities there both ended up as strong contributors. I was finally beginning to get some real value out of the Spiritual trait as well, popping into Caste System to pop the borders instantly at new cities (even faster than Stonehenge would allow) and dipping into Mercantilism as well without needing to pay a turn of Anarchy. Spiritual would become even more powerful when I researched Nationalism and unlocked Nationhood civic since there was plenty of drafting to be done and Theocracy civic available to allow every conscript to pop out with a promotion in hand.

Close observation of the trading screen with Frederick had revealed that there was a German city offshore to the west of his homeland. This caused me to emphasize Optics tech in the hopes of finding additional land and I whipped out a series of caravels to start exploring the oceans once it completed. Celtic caravels did indeed find a small island to the west of Germany where I would plant another city and capture a resourceless barbarian output, but more importantly they fanned out to claim the circumnavigation bonus and found two small continents hidden in the fog. One of them contained the missing AI leader in the form of Sitting Bull, the head of a backwards nation severely lacking in happiness resources who had founded the game's other two religions. I signed Open Borders with Sitting Bull for now while keeping in mind the potential to annex his lands down the road. No one else would particularly care if the Native Americans were wiped out given their unpopular religious status.

The other discovery was a barbarian-ridden island in the far northwestern corner of the world. Although the quality of the land wasn't exactly stellar, there was room for half a dozen cities and that would be another significant boost on a map that was otherwise completely claimed. I sent some of my veteran swordsmen to this farflung location after researching Astronomy tech only to find that the barbarian archers had been magically upgraded to barbarian longbows. This was going to make Scythian a difficult location to capture (longbows behind walls in a city on a hill, ouch!) and I ended up fighting a lengthy campaign to take control of this island. Barbarian galleys sank ship after ship (at outrageously low odds) and the settlement of Mayflower was nearly captured at one point. Ultimately the mini continent was only pacified due to the use of drafted muskets over the course of two dozen turns. I would capture Scythian and use it as the regional capital of this island, eventually winding up with seven cities in total. This still wasn't enough to catch Joao on the scoreboard, the clear runaway AI leader, but my ongoing expansion did establish separation from the rest of the pack.

With the whole map settled, I needed to start thinking about how I wanted to finish this game. My goal remained achieving a Diplomatic victory in some fashion and that meant stacking up more population to use in the voting down the road. The easiest way to snowball myself ahead looked to be a conquest of Germany. Frederick's territory was a strategic nightmare for my civilization with Celtic cities situated on every side of the German domains. I had my core to the north, the Valley of Kells to the east, the small contested island to the south, and then an even smaller island to the west. Even though Frederick had been a wonderful ally throughout the game and would never attack me under any circumstances, I still didn't like having my territory intertwined to this degree with an AI leader. Frederick had also been a real pain in terms of his research, as he snagged the Liberalism free tech and the Economics Great Merchant and the Physics Great Scientist. He had built the Great Lighthouse and half a dozen other useful wonders and his commerce was outstanding thanks to having so many coastal cities. However, Frederick had been his usual self in terms of tech preferences and he had neglected to pick up Rifling tech or anything else more contemporary from a military perspective. He might as well have been daring me to attack with all of his economically powerful and nearly undefended cities sitting right on the border.

So the decision was made to run over Frederick and take his territory for myself. I did feel bad about this but not bad enough to avoid doing it. I had been using Spiritual trait to pop into Nationhood + Theocracy civics for repeated draft cycles and pulled out two rounds of muskets followed by several rounds of rifles. I took the time to research Military Tradition as well and then set every city with decent production to cranking out cavalry, and on a map with this many hill tiles that was a lot of them. When the hammer fell on Frederick, I had a core of drafted rifles supplemented by a growing number of cavalry along with frigates and galleons and cannons for logistical support. The main thrust went overland across our shared border while my navy ferried units around the coasts and removed city defenses with frigates and my island colonies surgically removed Freddie's island possessions. I was hitting Frederick just before he managed to upgrade to rifles (passive espionage showed him researching Rifling tech as his civ collapsed) and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. I conquered all eight Germany cities and brought the war to a conclusion in a mere half a dozen turns. This was a slick operation from a tactical perspective and I'd encourage watching it as an example of combined arms in action. The rifles, cavalry, cannons, frigates, and galleons were all needed and contributed to the rapid execution of this war.

After successfully unifying with the German lands, the Celtic nation now turned its attention overseas. The obvious next target was Sitting Bull who happened to be diplomatically isolated and would never vote for me in the AP or UN elections. The Native Americans were also technologically behind and couldn't field anything better than medieval units, and we had just seen how badly the German version of those same units had performed in the last war. The biggest issue in this campaign was the sheer logistics of moving an army part of the way around the world to an isolated island nation. This has always been one of my strengths in the Civilization series and I assembled a host of galleons to ferry over the dozens of units needed to pull off this conquest. Even the former barbarian island was able to contribute by taking part in the last round of drafted rifles before I discovered Assembly Line and switched over to factory production.

The conquest of Sitting Bull was made somewhat more difficult by the rugged terrain of his island. Like most of the rest of the map it was heavily dotted with hills and that slowed down the movement of my cavalry in the mountainous interior. Frigates could remove the city defenses of all the coastal cities and they were relatively easy to capture one after another, however the Native Americans put up a sturdy defense at Chaco Canyon where I was forced to attack up a hill through the 60% cultural defenses. The initial assault was forced to pause for a few additional turns as I brought in some infantry units to help in capturing the place. It was all a doomed effort, of course, as Sitting Bull was too far behind to stop this attack but he did make me work for it. These turns were lengthy from a real-world time perspective without lasting very long from an in-game setting. I think it took something like four hours to play out the ten turns of conquest needed to eliminate Sitting Bull. Overall that was six turns to conquer Germany and ten turns to conquer the Native Americans, not too shabby even if I was working with a big tech lead.

Sitting Bull's island was almost completely lacking in resources and he had been stunted due to a lack of luxuries. (I would not have wanted his starting position in this game, yikes.) I had been avoiding Scientific Method tech since it would obsolete my powered up monasteries, but when I finally had to research it, I rushed to pick up State Property civic at Communism and then the boosted farms at Biology tech. The former was a no-brainer with this far-flung empire and allowed me to make extensive use of workshops and watermills, even spending a lot of time in Caste System to get the extra production on the workshops. Biology tech was a huge pickup for my food-challenged civ as it finally allowed plains tiles to get up to 3 food with a farm. This allowed me to wring a decent food surplus out of Sitting Bull's impoverished cities and start growing population for use in future elections. One of the fun things about Civ4 is that advanced technology eventually allows almost any part of the map to become productive, much as it has in real life. This was a game where I needed to lean on those Biology farms and Replaceable Parts / Electricity windmills to make lemonade out of the lemons that I'd been finding. I really enjoyed how this map forced me to be creative instead of tossing cottages everywhere and relying on Slavery for production. (Slavery civic wasn't even that great on this map since most cities had production and lacked food; I didn't use it nearly as much as normal.)

At this point I was focused on how I could best win the game without needing to play things out to a long spaceship ending. I had about 50% of the global population and strong relations with both Augustus and Alexander, high enough that I had good odds of securing their votes if it came down to an election. Joao would be my opponent in the United Nations but I was hoping to cash out with an earlier win by using the Apostolic Palace's Diplomatic victory condition instead. For once it would be thematically appropriate given how dominant Christianity had been in this world. I was spreading my religion to every captured spot and the shrine would hit 75 Christian cities by the end of the game. The easiest way to gain more votes was again to whack a non-Christian opponent in the form of Tokugawa. He hated everyone else as usual and would never vote for me under any conditions. As I was building up a force of tanks to attack Japan, Tokugawa sealed the deal by invading Greece followed by Alex asking for my help in the war. That made things easy and the invasion was on.

Tokugawa did have rifles and machine guns but I had already advanced beyond them by unlocking tanks and air power. Tanks completely destroy rifles and I was able to overrun the northern plains and coastal cities of Japan in short order. That's when I ran into two problems. The first was that Alexander didn't vote for me in the Apostolic Palace victory election even though we had +9 relations and we were actively fighting a war together. What the heck, man! His votes would have been exactly enough for a win and this was highly frustrating. I eventually tossed him 2000 gold as a bribe and that sent Greece to "Friendly" relations. One problem down. The other issue was the nature of the Apostolic Palace itself: all leaders must have the AP religion present in at least one city or the victory election cannot be held. This was an issue because Toku only had Christianity present in his northern border cities of Libyan and Osaka. I held off on capturing Osaka but Alex moved a big stack towards it and was clearly about to capture the city sooner or later. This was annoying enough that I flipped into debug mode and put Christianity in one of Toku's southern holdings just to keep the victory condition open. Yes, that wasn't exactly fair but I had over 50% of the world's population and just wanted to finish things off. I also could have researched Mass Media and built the United Nations where I would be up against Joao and would have been almost certain to pull votes from Alex and Augustus. This game was finished, let's just put it to bed and move on to something new.

In one last bizarre interlude, Portugal declared war on the final turn and ironically captured the city of Vae Victus from its warrior defender. This wasn't enough to stop the Apostolic Palace Diplomatic victory from triggering though and finishing off the game:

What a weird ending. I'd been fortifying all my units and building Wealth in all cities for the last few turns of the game and I was happy to see this one draw to a close. It had been a ton of fun but it was also time for this one to conclude. Overall, this was a pretty rough starting position and the early investment into religion put me into a hole that I had to spend most of the game digging out of. That's not to say that the religious aspects of the game didn't have their benefits, as the monk economy proved to be powerful and the shared Christian faith helped me make friends with many of the AI leaders. However, I think this game also showcased why researching an early religion and building Stonehenge instead of settlers and workers puts your civ behind the curve in terms of growth. There's no room for that in a truly competitive game against high level AI leaders or human opponents. I tended to think of this game as a variant of sorts and it ended up being very successful in that metric. I think that 75 cities is the most I've ever had following a single faith and I've played an awful lot of Civ4 games. I don't think even Cuban Isolationists had that many and we finished the tech tree in that game.

Thanks as always for watching and reading along!

Diplomatic (AP) Victory
Turn 309
Hall of Fame Score 89,490
In-Game Score 5,899