Realms Beyond Pitboss #2: Taj Mahal Monk Economy

When we discovered Paper tech, it opened up map trading with the other teams for the first time. Getting maps from Korea and Romali was no problem, but that still left much of the map uncovered. Although Nakor, Whosit, and slaze were not interested in dealing with our team, athlete was willing to trade us his world map in a gesture of friendship, and since he had already traded maps with Nakor (who had possessed Paper tech for some time already), we were in business! Thanks for the map information, athlete - we may have cause to use those maps for some military operations later...

This allowed me to do a "State of the Empire" type post going over the core territory of each competing nation:


We need to "slow down" Spartansburg so that it doesn't produce a Great Person before St. Albans. I have it set up so that St. Albans gets us a Great Person in 5 turns, Spartansburg timed to be just behind that at 6 turns. Hopefully we'll get a Great Engineer from the first, and either a Scientist or Merchant from the second. (Although we can put even an Artist to use, I have some ideas on that.)

- Nakor was the only one to discover a tech, finishing Engineering as expected. He switched over to Liberalism, which was showing 8t initially (at what I believe is the break-even science rate) but Nakor logged into the game and it changed to 4t, which is probably the 100% deficit research rate. We'll watch and see how long it takes him to discover that tech.

That out of the way, let's start looking at the new world map. Here's the F5 military screen, providing an overview and showing our own forces:

I guess this isn't a surprise, confirming the Donut map script shape along with a center island and a scattered outer rim of islands. Our military is fairly well balanced between different types of units, although we're going to lean heavily on knights in the immediate future since they're by far the strongest units on the board at the moment.

Here's Kathlete's land:

The biggest surprise was that he moved his Palace, from Coruscant to Endor, which was a pretty nice idea to reduce maintenance costs. I believe that Endor was the former Byzantine aggressive city that regoarrarr and sunrise planted way back when. All I can say about that is... really, guys? What were you thinking, planting THAT far away from your capital?!? And with WARRIOR defenders?!? I hate to say it, but that kind of move deserved to be punished. You can't pull off something like this unless you're up against the Templars.

Hoth is the former Byzantine capital, and so you can see how the current Ottoman domains mostly take up the space of what should have been Ottomans + Byzantine land, just as we take up the space of what should have been India + Greece. With all of these cities (14 total) and space for more expansion on the northern island and central island, Kathlete has excellent long term potential here. In fact, Kathlete and Nakor are pretty much the only two teams that have a realistic shot to win the game besides us. I think it's inevitable that we will have to attack and cripple or eliminate Kathlete before all is said and done. But hey, they *GAVE* us their map, so that will be a whole lot easier to do!

Moving further along the Donut, this is slaze's 13 cities. It's clear immediately that despite having a comparable amount of land, slaze's empire sits at a much lower level of development than Kathlete. There are no cities above size 8, jungle tiles abound because slaze doesn't have Iron Working and can't cut them down, and his cities lack much infrastructure. They each have terraces and courthouses (both benefitting from Mehmed's traits), and that's pretty much it. With a much better picture of events here now, we can safely say that slaze is not a real threat. He's got land, but he's just too far behind. Thank goodness that there's no tech trading, or he would be a major player.

Here's Whosit, who is in a world of trouble right now. Rome is down to just 6 cities, the last one offscreen in the dead center of the Donut. Nar Shaadaa, which was one of Whosit's best cities, just fell to Korea in a very bloody battle on both sides. (plako really should have razed this city, because they don't know if they can hold it.) There's a chunk of open territory to the northeast where slaze razed some Whosit cities earlier, and neither side has had the economy to settle since. Overall, Whosit will probably be able to survive the current round of wars (due to his protected inner island cities), but he's just about been reduced to a Jowy position of backwardness. Sooner or late he will be snapped up and eliminated by stronger, technologically advanced civs.

Korea's island empire; the island we want them to settle (north of Atlanta) is located in the southwest corner of this picture. Korea's 10 cities are strong economically, thanks to Great Lighthouse trade routes, but weak in terms of production. Given this paltry amount of territory, it's impressive how well they've managed to do. plako is worried that Nakor is about to declare war on them (well OK, technically they were already at war, but you know what I mean!) and start invading. If that happens, we may have to get involved. Hopefully not - we'll have to wait and see.

Nakor's core of cities, 8 on the main Donut, 2 on the outer island, 3 on the central island. The big difference that immediately strikes me comparing Nakor's territory to ours is the smaller sizes of his cities. The capital of Rolan is the only city above size 10! (Excluding Gettysburg, we have cities of size 16, 14, 14, 13, 12, and 12.) Smaller cities of course means fewer tiles in play, and overall fewer productivity from what territory you have.

Secondly - and this is not Nakor's fault - his territory is pretty much devoid of rivers, which is another stark contrast to the lush river valleys that dot our core. Dantski and Nakor were both pretty unlucky here. Because of the constrained spaces, Nakor has had to carry out expansion overseas, where he only has one city of any size or consequence (Queg, size 6). His other offshore cities really stink! We don't understand why Nakor didn't just whip out an army of maces earlier and crush Dantski, taking that land for himself. It wouldn't have been that hard to do, especially when our army was off fighting Jowy. Just teching and building up isn't going to work forever...

To complete the circle, here's Dantski's cramped territory. You know, he doesn't have much land, but he's actually done a pretty good job with what he does have. The original core of five cities (Timbuktu, Djenne, Kumbi Salah, Gao, and Walata) are all grown up to good sizes thanks to extensive use of Hereditary Rule - and resources that we have gifted to Dantski. (If we ever cut off our extra resource gifts to plako and Dantski, they would really be crippled; they are pretty much tied to us whether they like it or not!)

Dantski has also done really well with that island off to the west, although his city spots are very exposed to attack from slaze if Inca chose to get aggressive. The problem is that Dantski can't really go anywhere from here, except across to the central island... but he's blocked there pretty good by our cities and Nakor's. I'm not sure where he goes from here. The logical path of advance is through Nakor, but Nakor is way ahead in tech, making that difficult. Dantski should have attacked earlier, when he had a big advantage in military. Too late now though!

Finally, here's the central island revealed in full. We'll be planting our own toehold in the northwest starting next turn, to go along with the Nakor and Whosit colonies in the south. We would have been here dozens and dozens of turns earlier, if we hadn't lost Shiloh in the great fiveway war previously. Because of that, Nakor and Whosit had this area all to themselves for a very long time. But no more! Once we get our new city established, we'll have the option to go rough up Nakor and exercise some leverage over here. I doubt there's anything in Rillanon or Land's End that four or five knights wouldn't be able to run over!

Having the revealed world map made our planning much easier, and allowed us to make more informed decisions based on what the other teams were doing. We could see how the other teams had settled their land, and what level of infrastructure each city possessed inside. Based on what we saw, I believed that Kathlete was the greater danger than Nakor longterm. His land was just better, and his leader traits (Willem: Creative/Financial) were stronger too. In an equal opportunity world it might be better to face off against Holy Rome, but with the Ottomans right there on our border and Nakor separated from us by Dantski, it was pretty clear that attacking the Ottomans first would be more beneficial. Knowledge is power in this game - nothing's worse than having a black map full of fog with no idea what's going on!

Lost in that last post was the crucial tidbit that we had set up our cities so that St. Albans would produce one more Great Person before our National Epic city of Spartansburg started pumping them out in rapid assembly line fashion. We had about 80% odds to get a Great Engineer from St. Albans, which would hopefully allow us to research Nationalism and then steal the Taj Mahal away from Holy Rome. Even though they would almost certainly get to Nationalism tech before us, via a Liberalism slingshot, hopefully our Great Person would give us the edge in terms of the actual wonder itself.

The founding of Malvern Hill gave us a presence on the central island, making us the third team to arrive there. We actually narrowly beat Dantski to this area; his galley in the bottom left corner of this picture was preparing to ferry over a settler to the island. Malvern Hill was a very important location for stratgic purposes, although it also stretched our defenses. Very tough to hold those island cities against a determined attack. This is one reason why we waited to plant island cities until after we had eliminated Greece: we felt we had to secure our core first before going off on island adventures. Now we had a decent navy of triremes, and were in a position to make good on our new claims.

With our new map information, I went on to do some further analysis comparing our civilization to that of the other teams. I would go through and look at each of our opponents, but for brevity's sake I'll concentrate here on our two main rivals, Kathlete and then Nakor:


Overall Stuff
Total Population: 134 (#2) -> 148 (us)
Food: 309 (#2) -> 371 (us)
Production: 180 (#1) -> 165 (us)
Total Beakers: 6334 (#4) -> 10,522 (us)
Soldier Count: 602k (#2) -> 656k (us)

Soldier Count Breakdown
Population: 67k
Technology: 68k
City Improvements: 38k
Units: 429k

These numbers show that Kathlete is our biggest rival at the moment. They have the second-most cities, the second-most food, the second-most land, and the second-largest army. Our one advantage lies in technology, so the right play would appear to be leveraging that window into a position of military dominance. This team is simply too dangerous to leave alone. Nakor might have the tech, but he's not going anywhere with his level of food and production. I don't see how he could win a Cultural or Space victory without us seeing it coming a mile away and invading to remove the threat.

Interestingly, Kathlete's army is actually rated equal to ours in unit count, 427k (us) to 429k (them). The overall advantage is entirely due to population, technology, and especially city infrastructure. Looking more closely at that...

City Improvements Breakdown [our team]
13 Granaries [14]
13 Libraries [7]
9 Forges [9]
6 Barracks [7]
6 Courthouses [6]
3 Hammans [1]
3 Markets [5]
1 Buddhist Monastery [0]
1 Lighthouse [4]
1 Walls [5]
0 Theatres [6]
0 Monuments [5]
0 Stables [4]
0 Grocers [3]
0 Castles [1]
0 Academies [1]

1 National Wonder (Palace)
2 World Wonders (Buddhist Shrine, Oracle)

What are the major differences here? We're virtually identical in building granaries, barracks, and courthouses. But Kathlete has a big edge in the number of libraries, thanks to their cheap cost from Creative trait. We have had to build theatres and earlier monuments to compensate - this is part of the reason why Creative is such a powerful trait! Kathlete also built more hammans than we built aqueducts, for obvious reasons, although they haven't really done much with their unique building, all things considered.

Leaving aside techs that Kathlete simply lacks (like Guilds for grocers), there are three puzzling gaps in their infrastructure:

- No stables. Remember, this is the team that raced to Horseback Riding early in the game. They've had the tech for over 100 turns now. Not a single stables?!? Big mistake.

- Kathlete has only one lighthouse, at Clakdor. This despite the fact that they have many more coastal cities than we do! Giving up that extra food from your seafood resources, turn after turn after turn, makes a large difference in the long run. Even with just a single seafood tile, the lighthouse gives you the equivalent of a grassland farm (+1 food/turn) for free. Another puzzling decision.

- Finally, and this is the biggest omission, Kathlete hasn't built a single national wonder anywhere in their territory!!! Maximizing the use of the national wonders is one of the keys to success in this game. Their lack of Moai this late is just baffling; Kashyyyk or Hoth would be excellent candidates - and Kathlete has stone, for crying out loud! Similarly, although most people think of the Great Library when they think of Literature tech, the two Epics are very powerful when leveraged properly. Kathlete almost certainly has a unit with 10 XP from their various wars - they really should have gone to Literature tech and built Heroic Epic in Hoth.

With Moai and Heroic Epic in Hoth, it could be getting 30 shields/turn BASE right now at its current size of 13. Add in a forge and Heroic Epic for military production of 67 shields/turn. That's nearly 1t maces, or 2 knights every 3 turns! Yeah, it's a damn good thing for us they haven't planned that well!

Overall Stuff
Total Population: 90 (#3?) -> 148 (us)
Food: 240 (#3) -> 371 (us)
Production: 120 (#3) -> 165 (us)
Total Beakers: 10,061 (#2) -> 10,522 (us)
Soldier Count: 463k (#5) -> 656k (us)

Soldier Count Breakdown
Population: 45k
Technology: 62k
City Improvements: 18k
Units: 338k

The overall breakdown tends to show what we already knew (that Nakor has focused on research and not much else) but adds some nice details. Nakor appears to be third in Total Population, although he and slaze are pretty close to one another there. The fact that we have half again his Total Population (148 to 90), and Nakor is in THIRD place, tells you something about the rest of the field...

Nakor also sits in third place in Production, although the disparity is a little smaller there. His real strength lies in research, where Nakor is just a bit behind in Total Beakers, and of course he'll jump ahead when he slingshots something with Liberalism. Of course he got "ahead" by skipping a lot of important side techs (no Horseback Riding, no Guilds, none of the techs at the top of the Classical tree, etc.) and by popping some techs with Great People. With what we're doing at Spartansburg and upcoming universities/Oxford, I don't think Nakor will remain in first for long.

Nakor's army is middle of the road. He's built few units and basically never fought anyone, aside from the six units we slaughtered earlier. This is extremely obvious from the "City Improvements" part of the Soldier count score, so let me expand on that in more detail. Watch this fun comparison:

City Improvements Breakdown [our team]
11 Granaries [14]
8 Rathauses [6]
8 Monuments [5]
6 Lighthouse [4]
5 Libraries [7]
4 Barracks [7]
3 Forges [9]
3 Confucian Monasteries [0]
1 Confucian Temple [0]
1 Buddhist Monastery [0]
1 University [0]
1 Academy [1]
0 Theatres [6]
0 Walls [5]
0 Markets [5]
0 Stables [4]
0 Grocers [3]
0 Aqueducts [1]
0 Castles [1]

1 National Wonder (Palace)
1 World Wonder (Mausolleum)

Where do we even begin here? I'll start with the monuments, which Nakor has way over-built in this game. He has a self-founded religion (Confucianism) which he's had since early in the game, Turn 91. Nakor had 5 cities when he founded the religion. Yet instead of expanding borders with missionary spread, Nakor continued to build monument after monument in each new city. You never want to build monuments unless you have to - they're an early game necessity to be avoided if at all possible. Certainly you shouldn't ever be building 8 of them unless you're Charismatic. And doubly, no triply so if you have a self-founded religion!!!

Next, despite having spent nearly the entire game at peace and concentrating on research, Nakor only has 5 libraries throughout his 13 cities. That's hard to believe for someone in his situation! It's great news for us though, because Oxford University is about a million years away. Nakor doesn't even have 6 library, much less 6 universities, and for his non-Philosophic civ those things are gonna be expensive! This is a curious omission.

Furthermore, Nakor only has 3 forges - I mean, come on, dude! Forges are so, so important for speeding up the growth curve of new cities. We've been hammering home this point over and over again with our own territory, and the absence here really makes for a nice contrast. Compare to Kathlete, who has 9 forges and 13 (cheap) libraries - it's pretty obvious to me which one has been doing a better job of running their empire!

Despite having had Currency for about 80 turns now, Nakor hasn't built a single marketplace. Zero. Again, what?!? I know his costs are lower, and he likely can run a much higher percentage on the science slider, but I've seen Holy Rome doing min science, 0% research, to build cash over and over again. Markets in some core economic cities would make a big difference there.

Zero national wonders again other than the palace. You'd think with all these coastal capitals, people would have at least built Moai Statues!

Finally, it's blatantly obvious that Nakor's not been paying much attention to military stuff. Only 4 barracks, no stables (no HBR tech), no city walls, no castles. He's basically been playing a game of SimCity thus far. Given that no one has ever shown much aggression towards Nakor, his infrastructure is just not good enough. He should have better stuff than this. About the only thing that Nakor's been good at building has been cheap Organized Rathauses, which to his credit he leveraged everywhere. But that doesn't require much skill or planning, to spam a brokenly-powerful building on this map all over the place.

After looking at Kathlete and Nakor, I'm strangely much MORE impressed at the job the Ottomans have done, and much LESS impressed with Holy Rome. Kathlete's infrastructure is simply better. They are the more dangerous team, hands down. Frankly, Nakor just lucked into an extremely strong leader/civ pairing and had the good fortune to avoid aggression from every other team. There's little evidence of any real strategic planning here, just Rathaus spam taking advantage of cheap maintenance costs.

I think we'd do much better to worry about Kathlete and even slaze than Nakor; Dantski and plako can probably handle Nakor themselves. I honestly think he'll collapse very quickly if we can ever convince our two friends to go on the offensive together!

This information confirmed that we would be focusing on Kathlete as the greater threat to win the game. Although Nakor presented the challenge of a tech rival, we didn't think Holy Rome had the land or military to be competitive in a lategame showdown, if it would come to that. Meanwhile, while this was going on, the Decline and Fall of the Rome Empire continued:

The capture of Kuat by slaze caused the city to disappear from our now-outdated maps, however we knew from previous information that Kuat was located on the yellow dot. This meant that Whosit now had only three core cities remaining on the mainland (plus two cities on the central island), and he appeared not long to remain in this world. With our newfound access to the central island, we began drawing up plans to ferry some knights over to capture the Roman cities there for ourselves:

Nal Hutta would be a very useful location to hold, placing a ton of pressure on the nearby Holy Roman city of Rillanon. We could have four knights here in a hurry, and it was highly doubtful that Whosit's isolated size 3 jungle city would be able to stop that kind of force. But then:

In a repeat of Jowy in our Greek war, Whosit has gifted several cities to his "ally" (who didn't lift a finger to help him), to deny them as rightful conquests to his enemies. Sorry, but I think this is uber cheese. As far as I can tell, he gifted all the cities on the central island to Holy Rome, Sullla.

Whosit has just 2 cities left, and is not long for this world.

Just as Speaker said, Whosit essentially threw in the towel and gifted away his two island cities to Holy Rome. We again saw this as a display of terrible sportsmanship, and were livid at how one of our main competitors was simply handed two cities for free. Nal Hutta would have been captured by our units in the next four to five turns, without a doubt, and thus we were once again denied a city conquest by means of cheese plays on the part of other teams. Yes, it kind of made a big difference having a city transfer from hopelessly backwards Whosit to state-of-the-art Nakor and DMOC! Furthermore, the city of Dathomir was an extremely strong location, with five different resources: double fish + bananas + iron + dyes + silver. It was probably Whosit's overall best city, size 8 at the time, and Holy Rome was getting it one hundred percent for free without doing a damn thing. Thanks to the gifts, Holy Rome now had five cities and a virtual stranglehold over the center island!

That would have been bad enough, but oh no, Whosit didn't stop there. Viewing himself as finished now, Whosit turned off science and ran 100% gold, proceeding to gift all of his income every turn over to Holy Rome. Nakor and DMOC would then use this free gold to run 100% deficit research in their push towards Liberalism. Needless to say, this was ridiculously unfair in a No Tech Trading game, as Whosit's largesse on death's door artificially inflated the position of Holy Rome, granting them benefits that they did not deserve and should not have received. Whether or not there was an official "rule" against this, it was an appallingly poor display of sportsmanship and should not have been allowed by the game moderator. We were told to suck it up and play on, that because we were winning we had no right to complain. We had no choice in the matter about this, but Speaker and I were not at *ALL* happy about this course of events, and the precedent that allowing cheese gifting was setting.

As the Roman army collapsed and began Whosit's cheese-fest, Kathlete renewed the war between the Ottomans and the Inca. What made this war so devastating was the fact that slaze had gifted most of his army over to the Ottomans, to be used against our India. Then athlete stabbed slaze in the back by redeclaring war on Inca, attacking slaze with his own army that he just gifted away!!!

Without getting too much into moralizing here, I'll just say that this was one of the most brutal backstabs I have ever seen in an online game, and I did not like the way that athlete played this out in the least. It would be very difficult for me to trust athlete in future Multiplayer games based on the way he acted in this one. The reaction from slaze was entirely understandable [warning for language]:

slaze to Ottomans:
Looking at the chat in full context, we agreed to go after sulla ... together. What, you need the magical words NAP for it to mean anything? This is bullshit. I gave you units for that purpose and now you're going against your own words: few turns notice. You're a fucking cheat and I hope you burn in hell. Fuck you.

Which is more or less the same way I would have reacted, and I don't blame slaze in the least for feeling that way. It was a horrific betrayal any way that you looked at the situation, with even athlete admitting as much. slaze initially wanted to quit the game, but changed his mind and decided he would play things out to try to inflict as much pain as humanly possible on the invading Ottoman armies. That meant another round of massive whippings, which decimated the Incan economy just as it was starting to recover from the previous attack. The lurkers predicted doom for slaze in this second attack, but once again we weren't so sure, since athlete was still attacking with longbows and horse archers against defensive longbows. Nevertheless, any chance of slaze winning the game was effectively finished by this second round of warfare. As far as how we felt about the situation overall:

It's worth pointing out just how badly the various Incan players have bungled their position. Inca had the fortune to eliminate their neighbor (Mortius) by walking into an empty capital ten turns into the game. Their neighbor to the north, Ottomans/Kathlete, spent the first 120 turns of the game rushing in the opposite direction to attack Byzantium and India, providing no competition for land or military hostitility. Inca's neighbor to the south, Rome/Whosit, spent the first 100 turns of the game rushing in the opposite direction to attack Korea, even moving their capital south before settling.

Inca had the first 150 turns of the game all to themselves; no competition for land, no military pressure, a perfect builder's game scenario while every other team fought its way through at least one major war. They should have been far and away the dominant team in the game. Instead, the various leaders squandered that position and left themselves militarily vulnerable, forcing slaze to do his emergency whipping to save himself and destroy his economy in the process.

OK, bad enough. Then slaze, having survived that nasty attack, doesn't pause to consolidate and recover his economy (you know, like we suggested he should be doing?) but instead gifts half his army to Kathlete - the team that just attacked him!!! - and sends the other half off to fight Whosit, capturing more cities that he can't afford to keep economically. He spurns our offers, tries to play off two opposing sides at once diplomatically, and then has it blow up in his face. Finally, slaze threatens to quit the game when things look bad.

Wow. No offense intended, but that is some terrible play from start to finish. And again, why do people sign up for these games if they don't intend to finish them out? We had some absolutely horrible situations earlier, when I honestly hated this game and didn't even want to touch it - but we still played things out.

Finally, slaze's situation isn't *THAT* bad, at least militarily. Kathlete is going to be attacking with maces and horse archers and catapults against longbows. While he'll definitely be able to take cities, keep in mind that slaze has 16 whole cities (as many as we do!), so he can afford to lose some. slaze can whip and train up enough longbows to ensure his survival and keep most of his core intact. Recall that slaze did this whole dramatic performance thing earlier, where he said that he was on the verge of total destruction. Well, that attack didn't even manage to capture a single city and got totally butchered in the fighting. Exaggerate much?

As far Kathlete backstabbing him, yeah, it's brutal. But entirely deserved for playing both sides of the fence. Double agents have a short life and are hated by all. Go ask Imperio.

Also, if you gift away half your army to the person who just attacked you, you deserve to die.

While the Ottomans, Inca, Korea, and Rome continued to fight their various wars, we were engaged in the peaceful struggle with Holy Rome for Liberalism and the Taj Mahal. We did indeed get our Great Engineer at roughly 80% odds out of St. Albans, and our research pushed towards Education. Technically we could have gone straight to Nationalism, however by going for Education first we forced Holy Rome to cash in their Liberalism free tech right away, rather than saving it for something more valuable. Secondly, Education was a key tech for us as a Philosophical civ, so that we could get started on those half-cost universities and then parlay that into a fast Oxford in our (Bureaucracy) capital city. Oxford is one of the most crucial national wonders in the game - delay it at your own peril!

Holy Rome went ahead and claimed the Liberalism prize first, taking the expected Nationalism tech. We were now in a race to see whether Holy Rome could build Taj Mahal before we could discover Nationalism and rush the wonder with our Great Engineer. Unfortunately Nakor and DMOC had marble within their territory, which would make this a legitimate competition. We were able to secure a loan of 400 gold from Korea to help fund some deficit research; this was going to be close! I went back to the old C&D tracking of builds to see which of the Holy Roman cities was building the wonder, which quickly confirmed that it was under construction in the capital of Rolan:

Rolan: 366 shields (+117)

Where does the 117 come from? There was one forest chop remaining in Rolan's third ring, which gives 24 shields, for a net result of (15 + 24) * 3 [200% total production modifier) = 117 shields. That should be it for chops, but Rolan is now more than halfway there on Taj. Nakor still can't outbuild us to Taj, which will take another 8 turns to finish, but he may well be able to whip Taj to completion before we can rush it. We'll have to wait and see what he does. At least we don't have to worry about wasting a Great Engineer, since we can wait until the very end of the turn to rush Taj or not (if it's still available).

Nationalism tech is due in 3 turns, with the inclusion of 100% research on the last turn. Shame we can't speed it up any further, but that would have required like 1000 gold in deficit spending (which we simply don't have). I will probably set Gettysburg or another city to Wealth for this one current turn, so that we avoid running out of cash.

Nakor and DMOC were doing an excellent job of funneling forest chops into their capital, turning this into a race that would come down to the wire. When we generated a Great Artist as our first Great Person from Spartansburg, we had a major decision on our hands:

This was an unlucky break, as we only had 18% odds to get a Great Artist and any of the other options (Merchant, Scientist, or Prophet) would have been a lot more useful. Nevertheless, now we had two Great Artists via the free one from Music tech earlier. One possibility was popping off a Golden Age to speed along our Nationalism research. The downside was that if we missed out on Taj Mahal nonetheless, we would have effectively wasted a Golden Age at a time when we didn't particularly need it. Speaker and I discussed the situation, and ultimately decided to hold off on using one of those Artists. Was it the right decision? I still don't know, to be perfectly honest.

As it turns out, we would finish our Nationalism research on Turn 188:

However, thanks to some very nice lumberjacking work - including chopping their own forest deer tile in a reprise of the move we had done earlier at Chancellorsville - Nakor and DMOC managed to complete the Taj Mahal on the very same turn:

What else can I say, other than well done Holy Rome. They had the lead on us, thanks in part to that extra gold they received from Whosit, and then successfully turned that lead into a very productive wonder. Combined with the Mausoleum, and the burning of a Great Person a few turns later, Holy Rome would enjoy 24 straight turns of Golden Age research and production, strengthening their position enormously. We were beaten fair and square, and this would be a significant setback.

So why did we fail to get the Taj Mahal? It was another case of competing priorities. We felt compelled for reasons of military security to have the most advanced units at all points in time (playing against many enemy teams and with a huge target on our backs). That meant researching all the way up to Guilds for knights, whereas Holy Rome ignored these technologies. We also pushed for the top of the tree, the Aesthetics/Literature/Drama/Music group of techs, which were ignored by Holy Rome in their push for Education and Liberalism. Now this did ultimately cost us the Taj Mahal, but in turn we received some other major benefits in return. First, we used those superior military units to eliminate Jowy and drastically improve our strategic position. Secondly, we used Literature for the Epics and Drama for the Globe Theatre. Holy Rome would also open up these national wonders eventually, but we would have them up and benefitting us some 25 turns sooner, which made a real difference. We also parlayed Music tech into a free Great Artist and into the Notre Dame wonder:

Two additional happiness in all of our mainland cities was no mean benefit, as we expected that we would be doing more warring, slaving, and drafting before this game was over. Building up a large happy surplus now would only benefit us later on. Thus while this was indeed a setback, and Holy Rome would benefit enormously from their triple Golden Age of 24 turns, we reaped other benefits from the choices we made. Just trying to juggle too many balls at once, and not being able to keep them all in the air!

One such example of other balancing acts was the race towards Oxford University:

Thanks to some whip overflow, we already had half of Oxford completed. Along with a forest chop on the single remaining plains tile, we would complete Oxford here in just three more turns (Turn 191). Now we had only discovered Education tech itself on Turn 182, which meant that we churned out six universities and Oxford itself in the span of just nine total turns. Compare that to Nakor and DMOC, who discovered Education much earlier but still only had a single university completed. Yes, it helps sometimes to be Philosophical in this game!

We also finished the Globe Theatre in Chikamauga, intended for use later on as a massive draft camp. Chikamauga was an ideal location for Globe Theatre due to its triple food bonuses (fish + rice + sugar) which combined with grassland farms to grant the city a food surplus of +13 at size 5, good enough to draft almost every turn. Notice how we were working a grassland hill mine and even two workshop tiles to speed along the Globe Theatre, after which the city would go back to all farms again. Always try to make use of the local terrain, and don't hesitate to plant some temporary improvements as necessary. (You do have a surplus of worker labor, right?)

Finally, as far as that extra Great Engineer was concerned:

We used him to rush the Apostolic Palace in Spartansburg, adding some free Great Prophet points in our National Epic city to go along with the wonder. Yes, the Apostolic Palace! We had our own self-founded religion, now it was time to start making use of the Monk economy. Although we had no temples or monasteries worth mentioning, that was about to change in a hurry. They would all produce 2 shields/turn with Judaism as the Apostolic faith, and then we could further layer an extra two beakers on top of that via Sankore University (and maybe even two more gold from Spiral Minaret, if we were ever to research Divine Right tech). For 80 shields, a Jewish temple producing +1 happy, 2 shields, 2 beakers, and 1 culture was a pretty good deal!

We further triggered a Golden Age to speed along our development at this point, finally making use of that extra Great Artist. The idea was to use the Golden Age to research Banking, Theology, Constitution, and Gunpowder technologies. Afterwards, we could then swap on the final turn of the Golden Age into Representation, Nationhood, Mercantilism, and Theocracy civics - changing everything except Slavery! That would deny all our trade routes to other civs (useful when you're the biggest empire), pair up the very strong Representation/Mercantilism combo, and also allow us to draft units with Theocracy experience. 2 XP on conscripts, 5 XP on normal units. Train up some experienced units, keep researching towards Rifling/Military Tradition for rifles and cavs, then go smash the Ottomans.

Speaking of the Ottomans, athlete was not faring as well as he expected in his war against slaze:

Neither athlete nor slaze posted much of anything on what happened in this war, but I think I have a reasonable grasp of the fighting. The Ottoman army managed to capture the two Incan cities on the border (Ollantaytambo = Raithal and DINA = Theed Palace), and then was counter-attacked by slaze's own units returning from the Roman front. Both sides had mass longbows, horse archers, and catapults, which meant a bloody war of attrition with horrible losses on both sides. Think Russia 1941-1945, with slaze's ability to use local roads and reinforce quickly giving him the edge. The Ottomans were never able to penetrate beyond those two border cities, and athlete began a slow retreat backwards which continued into his own territory. Despite fighting with badly outdated units, the Incan horse archers were able to slip past athlete and carry out a daring raid into Ottoman territory, razing the core city of Corellia to the ground!

Corellia had been a size 12 city, and its loss was a major blow against athlete. Well done, slaze! It was remarkable how well he had managed to do in this war, and how poorly the Ottomans had fared despite their great numerical and technological advantages. Of course, all of this fighting had other effects, as the Power chart demonstrates:

The Ottoman and Incan armies were tearing one another to pieces, and damaging the economies of both sides in the process as well. Now Holy Rome was clearly the only rival to our India in research power, as the Ottomans were wasting their excellent potential through these terrible wars against Inca. And as for Rome, it was obvious that Whosit's days were numbered, with Korea finishing the job a few turns later:

Great work, Broker and plako! I don't think anyone could have seen that particular turnaround coming back when Whosit made peace with Korea. Ironically, Whosit signed peace with Korea so that he could send his Praetorians over to attack India - what a mistake in retrospect! It would have been a very different game if Whosit had eliminated Korea early on, rather than charging halfway across the world to lead a (failed) attack against Speaker and myself. After that, Whosit simply took on too many opponents at once and wasn't ever able to get his economy on track. Once the Aggressive Praetorians were outdated, that was effectively the end. In any case, we were now down to just six remaining teams in the game... and only two remaining members of the former Coalition of the Willing.

What a dramatic change from just 30 turns earlier. Rome and Greece were completely eliminated, and the Ottomans badly damaged by constant fighting. Holy Rome was rapidly turning into the only credible opponent still standing.

Of course, we were using our Golden Age to boost our production capability with all of those Apostolic Palace temples/monasteries, plus train an unending supply of knights out of our Heroic Epic city. St. Albans could produce 85 shields/turn in Golden Age mode, almost enough for a knight every turn! It still reached 65 shields/turn even under normal conditions, which was enough for 2 knights every 3 turns. Excellent. Even before entering the Golden Age, we had cracked the 500 beaker/turn mark at break-even science, something that no other team could do. Many thanks to the fast Oxford University there. Finally, note the Gunpowder research. From there it would be on to Military Tradition (cuirassiers) and a whole lot of trouble for the Ottomans.

We were putting ourselves in excellent position for some more military action when our Non-Aggression Pact wore off on Turn 205. How would athlete respond, and would Nakor choose to do anything as his remaining allies were picked off one by one? This game continued to bring exciting times...