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This is a quick writeup for my Just Win Baby game featuring Mansa Musa that took place on Livestream in the spring of 2022. There was a lot of interest in the community for another Civ4 game to be featured on Livestream and I decided that I'd avoid any variants for a change. This led to the title of "Just Win Baby" in reference to the old Oakland Raiders football team, due in part to the fact that this game began right around the time that the 2022 Super Bowl was played. To make things interesting, I wanted to dial the difficulty up to Immortal and play on a map where the AI leaders would be able to reach my territory, not an archipelago setup as I had run with the Roman Seafarers game earlier. I looked at the various map scripts and eventually chose the Arboria option which would create a small pangaea setup covered with forest and jungle terrain. I had decided earlier that I would feature a Spiritual leader for this game to showcase more civic swapping and then I was left with the decision of what trait to pair with it. Given that Mansa Musa had won the most recent season of Civ4 AI Survivor and I'd be playing on a map with vast stretches of lush green terrain, the Malinese leader seemed like the perfect fit for this game. Mansa's insane economic traits would help cushion the blow of playing on the second-highest difficulty level.
The initial map roll produced the screenshot pictured above for a starting position. My initial thought was that this looked a bit on the rough side with the rice resource trapped underneath a jungle tile and therefore useless for the early stages of the game. However, the more that I looked it over, the more that I found appealing about this location. The salvation of this capital was the forested grassland deer tile which would become a 5/1 food tile once improved, effectively identical to an irrigated wheat resource. That would pair extremely well with the ivory resource which would supply much-needed happiness and also unlock immediately with Hunting tech research. In fact, this was a starting location which would allow me to research Hunting into Bronze Working while skipping both Agriculture and Animal Husbandry for the moment, pushing faster towards Pottery and cottages. Add in all of those forests for chopping and stone for potential wonders down the road and this wasn't bad at all, a start that had a great deal of synergy with Mali's Mining + Wheel techs. I picked Hunting for the initial research and queued up a worker to launch the game for good.
It didn't take long for my exploring warrior to start meeting the neighboring AI civs and their presence would become the defining feature of this game. First I ran into a Brennus scout coming down from the north, followed immediately by a Montezuma unit down in the south. Both of these leaders were extremely close and any game with the Aztecs next door meant that conflict was virtually guaranteed at some point. Later on I would encounter Suryavarman off to the southeast and Kublai Khan to the northeast to round out the full group. That was four different low peace weight AI leaders, all of them known for their aggressive behavior, and if this could have been worse with Shaka or Ragnar in place of Brennus or Kublai, it was still pretty darn bad. I had been hoping that this might be a bit of a relaxing builder game where I could use Mansa's Financial trait to out-research his opponents but that clearly wasn't happening in this scenario. No, the map generator had dropped me directly into the center of the continent with a militaristic AI leader in all four directions. This was not the game that I signed up to play - help!
For the moment there was nothing that I could do aside from try to expand as quickly as possible while doing everything under the sun to make friends with the other AI leaders. I trained a second worker at size 2 and used the pair of them to start chopping down the immense forests and speed up the rest of the civ-wide growth curve. The first settler finished on Turn 36 which wasn't bad for this natural start and with two workers trained before settler. I was targeting two locations for initial cities, one in the south on the marked "X" tile and another in the northwest two tiles east of the marble. It was a tough call as far as which to settle first which was ultimately resolved in favor of the northwest spot when an exploring warrior spotted Celtic culture only two tiles to the north of that deer resource. That had to be Brennus' second city which meant that I was going to lose that spot if it wasn't settled immediately. Venison Villa was founded on Turn 37 and I was able to create an instant trade route thanks to some roading and the nearby rivers. Extra commerce was always nice to have given that planting that second city already cost 4 gold/turn, yikes! Immortal difficulty cost penalties were no joke.
Now I knew that I had to race another settler down to the southern spot only to find that I was too late: Montezuma founded his own Aztec city two tiles to the west of the southern rice. This was a disaster as I was already being crowded by the Celts in the northwest and Khmer borders were also appearing around the location of that eastern lake tile. How crowded was this map?! This prompted some serious discussion and together with the help of the Livestream chat I decided to establish the southern city a tile to the east, northeast of the rice resource instead of north of it. This would be a mere three tiles away from the Aztec city but it should still be able to control the rice tile in the initial city borders and I absolutely had to get some territory down there to be competitive in this game. If I lost that area, there was no way that I'd have enough cities to stand a chance. Thus Gambit Gulch was founded on the nice round number of Turn 50:
This city was indeed a massive gambit and it guaranteed that Montezuma would be coming after me at some point. I was pretty sure that he'd be attacking regardless though and there really wasn't much of an option. Gambit Gulch wasn't located on top of a hill since it needed to have the rice resource in the initial ring or else would lose out to superior Aztec culture. At least any enemy units would have to cross the river or suffer a penalty on the attack. My workers started chopping the forests to the west of Gambit right away to clear out defensive cover for future invaders and to speed along a monument to pop borders quickly. There wasn't much chance of ever controlling the deer resource (and indeed the Aztec city would pop its own borders and take control shortly thereafter) but at least by building a monument and getting the initial border expansion Gambit Gulch was able to retain possession of the rice resource. I had already researched Archery tech since there were no horses or copper resources at my initial cities (a common theme in these Single Player games) and Malinese skrimishers were ordered up to protect this fragile investment on the southern border.
Although my civ was lacking in strategic resources, it was fortunate to have both stone and marble on hand for potential wonder-building. The Livestream chat wanted me to make a run at Stonehenge which would have been a good call in another game but I was too worried that it would fall at an early date in this one. Brennus and Montezuma both started with Mysticism tech and it was too risky to waste limited early game production on something that might get built on any turn. Then there were some suggestions to take a look at the Oracle instead and increasingly that sounded like a good idea. There were about a million forests available for chopping and building the Oracle in Gambit Gulch would essentially function as a mini culture bomb, dominating the culture struggle with the nearby Aztec city while also providing additional cultural defense against an attack. I focused my efforts on connecting the marble tile at Venison Villa and then chopping half a dozen forests at Gambit Gulch to bring this plan to fruition while still expanding elsewhere. It worked exactly as planned and the Oracle finished on Turn 69 with Metal Casting taken as the free tech. That was a BIG tech to grab for Mali as it unlocked the unique Mint building with extra gold in addition to the always-useful production benefit on non-unique forges. There was just one problem: the first session of the Livestream ended on a cliffhanger as Montezuma showed up with "we have enough on our hands already" in the diplomatic window which meant that he was telegraphing an incoming attack. It was time to batten down the hatches and prepare to weather the storm.
I spent the next few turns using the stone resource to build walls in Gambit Gulch while training as many skirmishers as possible from the capital city of Sidney. I still had no copper or horse resources which meant that skirmishers were the only option in terms of units; thank goodness this was a Mali game with a unique unit archer. Even as I prepared for the Aztec attack, the Khmer planted another city only four tiles east of Gambit which cramped my territory even further. Sheesh, what a sardine can of a map! I discovered Writing tech around this time and signed Open Borders with everyone to improve diplomatic relations and start scouting their territory. My hope was that I'd be able to scope out the Aztec cities before the war declaration arrived but it was not to be. Montezuma launched his attack on Turn 79 and booted out my exploring warrior. I was able to get five skirmishers into Gambit to meet his initial stack of half a dozen axes and jaguar warriors which went exactly as poorly for Monty as everyone expected, all the attacking units dying in their city assault without killing anything. I knew that I was safe until Montezuma teched Construction and could use catapults to start dropping the city defenses. Knowing how he prefers militaristic techs, that might not be too far off though.
I was limited during the early stages of the Aztec war by a lack of any strategic resources. That began to change when I founded GetToTheCoppah as my fifth city to the southeast of Gambit Gulch where there was an unclaimed copper resource. This new city was settled at almost the same time that I finished researching Iron Working and discovered that there was indeed an iron resource located at the capital. (I could also finally chop down the jungle on the rice resource at the capital, hooray!) This would allow me to train non-defensive units for the first time once those metals were connected. I also had ivory on hand which meant that elephants were another strong option once I could reach Construction and Horseback Riding techs. My scouting warrior in foreign territory also brought back some critically important information: Brennus turned out to have no metal resources in his territory! That was terrible news for him as he was stuck training a bunch of archers and chariots in his cities. I realized that there was a window here to push to Construction tech, whip out a bunch of elephants and catapults, then hit the Celts before they could reach longbows at the next tier of defensive technology. Elephants would slice through archers and chariots like a hot knife through butter and this would provide me a desperately-needed chance to break out of this confining box of neighboring AI civs.
Monty had continued attacking, of course, sending small stacks across the border periodically which would eventually suicide against the defenses of Gambit. There was no threat of him capturing any of my cities but also little chance for me to make offensive progress against him. It made no sense to try attacking the Aztecs when there was so much softer of a target to the north. I had gotten Brennus all the way up to "Friendly" relations and felt kind of bad for going after my strongest ally (Brennus was the one AI leader in this game that won't declare war at "Pleased" relations) but it was my best chance to make progress in the game. It had to be done. Once Construction was in hand, I signed a treaty with Montezuma on Turn 106 to lock him into enforced peace for the next 10 turns and create a window to hit Brennus while I was safe from Aztec aggression. It took a mere five turns to walk my defensive stack from Gambit Gulch up to the Celtic border at which time I declared war and sent them across the border:
I was relying on speed for this war and had only a handful of elephants available at the outset of the conflict. Fortunately I had easy access to Brennus' border cities thanks to my own nearby culture and I had perfect knowledge of the defending units due to recent Open Borders scouting. Camulodunum had all of one archer and one chariot for defense and fell instantly on the second turn of the war. Vienne was a slower process because I needed to use my catapults to remove the city walls before attacking, however once they were gone it was another easy slaughter and that opened up the core of the Celtic territory to attack. I was pumping out elephants and catapults across my territory and very few of my units were dying in combat since the odds were so heavily in their favor. There's very little that can be done against elephants/cats if the defender hasn't reached longbows or crossbows yet and lacks both copper and iron. Brennus only had horses and those units are directly countered by elephants plus don't get defensive bonuses - whoops. I was hoping that the other AI leaders wouldn't send him a source of metals and benefited here from Brennus running Hinduing as his state religion while everyone else practiced Judaism. The Celts had actually founded both religions only to see their minority faith catch on with everyone else and leave the Celts as a global pariah. (I had of course switched to Judaism myself once it became clear it was the world's most popular religion and forced Monty to adopt it as well in the earlier peace treaty.) This was a major help in preventing anyone else from riding to the resuce of the Celts as they were steadily chopped down one city at a time.
There isn't much more to be said about the fall of the Celts. Elephants and catapults are well known in the Civ4 community for being a powerful option to take down an opponent, especially if they don't have longbows yet, and the Celts were even worse off than normal since they couldn't train axes or spears or swords. One city after another fell every few turns as Malinese borders were pushed up to the northern ocean. I even managed to capture the Jewish holy city and use a Great Prophet generated by the Oracle to establish the shrine which was worth quite a bit of income. The war was enormously successful as it doubled my territory from six cities up to a full dozen and brought me into parity with the AI civs instead of being far behind on the scoreboard. Game, set, and match for Brennus as he was eliminated on Turn 132:
The conquest took just over 20 turns which wasn't bad when using slow-movers during the Medieval portion of the tech tree. All of these cities were a massive boon to the larger Malinese civ and brought a series of additional resources under my control, including horses which I had previously lacked and which would be needed for later knights. However, they were also very expensive thanks to the Immortal difficulty setting and my empire was running at something like 20% break-even research. I was hoping for a period of consolidation to incorporate the Celtic cities and improve their infrastructure before looking for another expansion push. That was not to be, however, as we spotted that Montezuma was plotting war again even before Brennus was finished off. As soon as the last Celtic city was taken, I started racing my units southwards for the inevitable incoming Aztec attack. I had more than enough military on hand to fend him off, it was only a matter of getting the units in position to meet the next invasion. I would get all of five additional turns before Monty sent his units across the border with a fresh war declaration on Turn 137. This wasn't much time and yet it was sufficient to get enough elephants and catapults in position at Gambit to defend against this latest threat.
The good news was that Monty's tech hadn't advanced much since our last clash and he was still fielding an army largely made up of axes and swords plus catapults for collateral damage support. The Aztecs are well known for being a poor economic civ in this game and I was confident that delay was to my advantage thanks to Mansa's Financial trait. While Monty brought a pretty impressive stack of units in terms of quantity, they were lacking in quality and he paused for several turns to bombard the defenses of Gambit Gulch. This gave me all the time needed to collect the veteran units of the Celtic campaign and launch my own counter-attack using catapults to soften up the Aztec stack followed by elephants and axes to maul the survivors. There were only two spears in the Aztec army and the fighting turned into a complete slaughter:
I traded three suicide catapults for the full Aztec stack with 15 of their units going down to defeat. I was using skirmishers to polish off the last few units which the viewers found amusing; we had one comment that "the river by Gambit Gulch will be running red this evening" which had me laughing as well. This ended any real threat that Montezuma might have posed to my territory as he tried to recover from losing yet another army in enemy domains. I thought about turning to the offensive only to discover that Monty had recently finished Feudalism research and stacked his cities full of longbows. That was not a recipe for success as elephants (and maces) fare very poorly against entrenched longbow defenders. You can still capture cities but it's always a slow and bloody process. I decided that I would snipe off Monty's southern border city of Calixtlahuaca and then sign peace with the intention of coming back again once I had the opportunity to train more technologically advanced units. I wasn't far away from knights and they would be vastly better at dealing with longbows. This led to peace on Turn 149 with a single Aztec city captured and Monty left with six more still remaining under his control.
While all of this military stuff had been going on, I had been quietly developing my cities with the basic infrastructure needed for a strong economy: libraries, courthouses, mints, and marketplaces. The Arboria map script produces almost entirely grassland tiles (under all the forests and jungles) which made it ideal for blanketing the landscape with Financial cottages. There aren't a lot of luxuries on this map and there's a real scarcity of health resources aside from the omnipresent deer tiles but my cities were doing whatever they could to work the maximum number of cottages while whipping out their infrastructure. I was somewhat surprised that I wasn't pulling ahead of the two eastern AI leaders in technology - the Immortal difficulty AI bonuses are steep! - but at least I wasn't falling any further behind. I suppose that I was fighting hot war after hot war while they were sitting back and building in peace. Kublai was building a ton of wonders and claiming all of the "first to reach" bonuses on the tech tree while Suryavarman had the most territory and population. I was very glad that they hadn't caused me any trouble thus far; I had maintained "Pleased" relations with both of them for most of the game, however both of them can plot war at "Pleased" which meant that I could never feel totally safe. Things would have been much scarier if they had come piling in while I had my hands full with Montezuma.
The peace treaty with Montezuma was never going to last for long. I could never trust him to refrain from more attacks and the only way to remove his threat was via conquest. I discovered Guilds tech on Turn 153, with a bunch of horse archers auto-upgrading in the production queues into knights, and then aggressively whipped knights out of every city including stacking up multiple whip penalties in a bunch of them. You have to be a bit careful with stacking too much whip unhappiness in Single Player games where there are often fewer happiness resources and weaker overall terrain than what gets custom crafted in most of our Pitboss setups. It was justified here though as I wanted to wipe out the Aztecs as soon as possible before they could reach Engineering tech for pikes and castles. I started the attack as soon as I was able to cancel the previous peace treaty on Turn 159 and the rout was on immediately. Montezuma had not recovered from the previous conflict and lacked anything that could stand up to knights. Their higher base strength and ability to ignore first strikes makes them significantly better at fighting longbows as compared with elephants or maces. I had a slower stack of elephants, maces, and catapults working their way through the most heavily guarded Aztec cities while knights galloped around the edges of the map taking more lightly defended targets. Everything went smoothly and the war took 11 turns to complete with Montezuma eliminated on Turn 170:
This was effectively the end of the game from a competitive standpoint. I had nearly half of the world's territory under my control while playing arguably the best economic leader in all of Civ4. Kublai and Suryavarman certainly weren't going to beat me from this position, not if I'd been able to fight my way out of that cramped starting location to reach this point. I have no doubt that I could have out-teched them to a peaceful victory condition from here but Domination was a much faster ending given how much territory was already flying the Malinese banners. I spent the next dozen turns moving my knights up to the north where Kublai was selected as the next target. He had gone wonder-crazy in this game and had all kinds of culture inflating his GNP to the point where it was even higher than mine. Unfortunately for the Mongol leader, he had neglected to stay current on military technology and I found myself facing nothing but Medieval units when I attacked with a cuirassier-based army on Turn 189. Cuirassiers versus longbows might not be quite as one-sided as cavalry versus longbows... but it was still a pretty massive stomp that Kublai had no answers for. I was also making full use of Spiritual trait to swap into Nationhood civic for 5 turn draft cycles and add more maces and then muskets to the army composition. My units advanced methodically from city to city without meeting much in the way of resistance from the Mongols. Their core cities all fell in a dozen turns and then my cuirassiers had to gallop down to the southern edge of the map to deliver the last blow in a former barb conquest. Kublai was finished off on Turn 206 leaving Suryavarman as the only remaining opponent.
The Mongols were eliminated at roughly the same moment that I discovered Rifling tech to unlock the cuirassiers into cavalry upgrade. Along with the chance to draft rifles across Mali's two dozen cities there wasn't much hope for Suryavarman, not with him foolishly researching up to Physics tech for the free Great Scientist instead of heading to Rifling tech for his own rifles and cavs. I declared war on the very next turn and sent my highly experienced army into Khmer territory via three separate lines of advance. Suryavarman had just finished Taj Mahal and his empire was enjoying a Golden Age; I had enough espionage points invested to see his city production and he was one-turning a unit out of every city every turn. While these units were all technologically outdated and couldn't match up to rifles/cavs individually, there were enough of them to slow down my advance through sheer weight of numbers. Again, for all that we poke fun at the Civ4 AI, it defends itself much better than the AI in nearly all other comparable strategy games (certainly infinitely better than the AI in Civ5 and Civ6). This wasn't enough to stop me, only slow my cavs down a little bit here and there on the march to Domination. The capture of Angkor Thom on Turn 212 freed up a bunch of tiles from Khmer cultural control and tipped me over the Domination limit, with the victory announcement arriving on the next turn:
Despite the routine ending, this was a tough game that easily could have resulted in a loss. The starting location was extremely cramped on this map and the AI doesn't mess around with expansion on the highest difficulties. I was hard pressed to settle even the five cities that I did get while lacking any strategic resources until I could stretch out to claim copper and tech Iron Working for iron. I found myself situated in the dead center of the map with aggressive AI leaders on literally every side; I was honestly fortunate that Montezuma was the only one that launched invasions instead of having to deal with Kublai or Suryavarman as well. This was a game where I was rarely not fighting a war of some kind as I had little choice other than expansion at the hilt of a sword if I was going to stand a chance of winning. The biggest stroke of luck was discovering that Brennus lacked any copper or iron resources which opened him up for an easy conquest. Without that taking place, this would have been a vastly harder game where I would have likely been stuck on limited territory for much longer. Doubling my empire's size at the expense of the Celts was what allowed for the straightforward conquests of the Aztecs and Mongols to put an end to this game. I kind of stacked things in my favor by playing such a strong leader in Mansa Musa and a map script that favored his gameplay style in Arboria. The lesson here is that Immortal difficulty is tough stuff even for an experienced player!
Thanks as always for following along with these games, I hope this one was fun to reach or watch.