YouTube Video Playthrough: William's Cultural Challenge

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This is a quick writeup for the William's Cultural Challenge game that took place on Livestream in September and October 2022. This was a game that I set up to celebrate the birth of our first child William, who ended up being born on the exact same day as his father 40 years apart. The demands of taking care of a newborn infant wrecked havoc on my normal streaming schedule, causing these Livestream sessions to take place at varying times from week to week, but I was still able to find a couple of hours here and there to play through the course of a Civ4 game. (William immediately turned into a meme for the Livestream when we captured this picture of him staring daggers at me during a bottle feeding.) I decided that I would play a Cultural game since I hadn't featured one of those on Livestream and that I would choose Willem of the Dutch as my leader due to sharing the same name as our son. As a simple variant, I would play a Cultural game without running the cultural slider which was always the way that the victory condition was intended to function.

Willem is an above-average choice to pick for a Cultural victory in Civ4, but only because Willem is an amazing leader for pretty much anything in the unmodded game. Financial is the game's best trait and Creative is excellent in its own right for early game expansion and cheap libraries. I would be lacking the best trait for a Cultural game (Spiritual due to the need to build lots of temples) and Industrious would have been very strong as well given how many wonders I planned to be building. Still, it could have been a lot worse: our child could have shared the same name with a Civ4 leader sporting Protective or Aggressive or Charismatic traits! Good thing we didn't name him Tokugawa, heh. Anyway, I picked out a Small map on the Tilted Axis setting and chose the default continents option along with turning off tech trading, huts, events, and vassal states as usual for my games. I hoped that I'd be able to play a relaxing and peaceful game where I could sit around building wonders and doing cultural stuff.

The starting position that I rolled was perfect for Willem's starting tech pair of Agriculture and Fishing (well not the Fishing part I guess!) There was a dry corn resource one tile off a river and then ivory + sheep which made the opening research path an obvious Hunting into Animal Husbandry into Bronze Working into Pottery. The corn and the sheep were enough to reach +7 food surplus between them and there was even an oasis tile that could be worked for 3/0/3 yield (with the Financial bonus) while training the first worker. Even better, the ivory camp and the sheep pasture were also riverside which would make them BOTH trigger the Financial commerce bonus as well once they were improved! The local terrain gave me four outstanding tiles to work out of the gate along with room for half a dozen riverside cottages, plus forests everywhere for chopping and additional hill tiles to work for production down the road. I couldn't have asked for much better than this.

As a result, research was absolutely flying along in the early turns with the Financial trait kicking in 3 commerce yield on three different tiles. The starting warrior headed east at first which turned out to be a dead end tundra wasteland; the East Pole was off in that direction and it was clearly a safe backlines region. The west held more interesting stuff with two more corn resources in the nearby vicinity. I also ran into Wang Kon of Korea who had to be my neighbor to the west. As more and more turns went by without meeting anyone else, it became clear that the two of us were alone on a medium-sized continent. Wang Kon had substantial backlines of his own to expand into which meant that we'd be contesting one another for the riverside area that ran between our starting positions. Wang Kon also founded Hinduism while Buddhism was taken by an unknown civilization out in the fog. I figured that I would get a spread of Wang Kon's religion at some point and then I hoped to use my powerful commerce to clean up all of the later religions starting with Judaism.

The early turns went about as well as I could have hoped. I was able to found my second city at the northwestern "X" at a spot that we named Paradise. The second city was established on top of a plains hill tile and had its own wet corn for food along with several floodplains and about a dozen different riverside tiles. Due west of the capital was another highly desirable spot in the contested region with its own dry corn and a plains horse tile. That location was weaker on food but an outstanding production city, something which would be better than normal for this variant where we were targeting lots of wonder builds. I chopped a number of different forests at the capital with my workers to help speed up the next settler before Wang Kon could take this territory for himself. It all worked out as planned with the city of East Korea founded on Turn 54. These were the best city locations in the immediate area around my capital and they were a natural fit to be the three legendary cities for the game's cultural direction.

I landed my first big target of the game upon discovering Monotheism and establishing the Jewish Holy City in Paradise. Given the amount of commerce my cities were pumping out, I was reasonably confident that I would be able to claim all of the remaining religions since they were located further down the tech tree. The following turns were pretty straightforward in terms of accelerating the growth curve by pumping out more settlers and workers as quickly as possible. There was an incursion of barbarian units around Turns 65-75 which forced some emergency whipping and I was glad that I'd been able to reach the horse resource at East Korea to have some chariots on hand to combat barb archers. This was a bit tricky to do since I was also double expanding at the same time to a copper location on the south coast and a floodplains city directly north of Paradise which were both menaced by barbarians. I managed to avoid any horribly unlucky dice rolls in the combats and brought the barbs under control, outside of an annoying barb city which had popped up in my backlines and which would have to wait until later.

With the initial expansion off to a rolling start, I was able to divert my best production city of East Korea onto wonder duty while the capital and Paradise kept cranking out more workers and settlers. I decided that Stonehenge was too likely to fall to an AI empire and went after the Oracle instead, both for its hefty culture and its free tech. The Oracle landed on schedule on Turn 84 and I took Code of Laws with the intention of locking down Confucianism; the courthouses were also useful to have when my cities lacked anything else in their build queues. I would run some Priest specialists in East Korea to force a Great Prophet for the initial Great Person which would turn into the Jewish Shrine over at Paradise. Mostly though I was concentrating on filling out the remaining unclaimed lands with more cities along the northern and southern seaboards. I had virtually no military but my scouting had revealed that Wang Kon lacked any copper or horses which meant that he would never declare war on me. (The AI won't ever attack if it lacks strategic resources.) Thus I was happily able to run a virtual farmer's gambit in peace.

By Turn 100, I had settled most of the available territory and was sporting half again Wang Kon's score in the global rankings. There had been very few wonders constructed to this point in time and it appeared as though I had rolled a group of AI leaders who didn't care much about wonder building. My finances were in solid enough shape to place a city on the southwest Korean border where there was a stone resource but no food resources at all. This otherwise dead city was strategically important for discounting all of the stone-based wonders, most of which I would go on to build over the rest of the game. I started out by constructing a late Pyramids at the capital with the help of a bunch of forest chops which I somewhat surprisingly landed on Turn 112. I made sure to push for early Theology tech which delivered the Christian Holy City as expected and cleaning up the last two religions was a cakewalk afterwards. I built the Hanging Gardens with the help of the stone resource in East Korea and the Great Lighthouse in my coastal copper city of Beach Episode. Everything was going as smoothly as I could possibly want as the langrab phase came to a close.

One small annoyance was the presence of that barbarian city in my backlines. It was situated on top of a hill (placed on top of a gold resource actually) and managed to build city walls, which made capturing the place impossible without having catapults or more advanced units on hand. I hadn't exactly prioritized Construction tech in this game given its peaceful bent but eventually got around to picking it up and training some cats to take down the walls and finally capture the place. It was right at this moment, with my tiny army sieging the barb city and my best cities working on wonders, that Wang Kon decided to get frisky and declare war against my civ. He had finally connected an iron resource off in the west and he also had ivory available which meant that he was mostly fielding war elephants, swords, and his unique unit hwachas. The timing here was putrid as my military was caught completely out of position and needed to finish the conquest of the barb city before they could do anything. It was time to start whipping a real army out of thin air through the magic of Slavery civic.

My northern fishing village of Goldfish looked like it was doomed and surely would have fallen if Wang Kon had simply attacked immediately with everything that he had. Fortunately we have an excellent understanding of how the AI behaves thanks to watching so many seasons of AI Survivor, and I knew that Wang Kon would pause to bombard down the defenses of the city before sending in his units. I was aided here by the completion of Chichen Itza which East Korea had been building solely for its culture but turned out to be helpful for its actual defensive abilities. Wang paused his attack to chip away at the defenses and that gave me time to research Horseback Riding and start gathering together a countering force of elephants. I didn't have time to construct barracks ahead of time which meant that many of these units were coming out with no promotions, ugh! Better warm bodies than nothing though. On several different turns Goldfish was down to one or two defending units and I was certain that it would fall and then have to be recaptured.

That did not end up happening, however. What took place instead was a series of incredibly fortunate combat results which allowed me to clean up the Korean invaders without the city ever being lost. While defending, I won a 50% combat and then a 15% combat in a chariot vs chariot matchup which would have taken the city if it had gone according to the odds. Goldfish held with a single defender remaining alive inside and that was after winning several previous battles at sub-50% odds. This allowed me to counterattack and clean up the surviving injured Korean units while also generating enough Great General points for a Medic III chariot to heal up the victorious Dutch units. I could have easily gone into fulltime war mode here and wiped Wang Kon off the map but that wasn't my goal for the game. I wanted to play peacefully - I would have happily left him alone for the whole game! Instead, I marshalled my units and captured a single Korean city for the purpose of teaching Wang Kon a lesson. I actually attacked too early here and should have come up short of taking the city, only to pull the Civ4 equivalent of hitting an inside straight draw by winning several additional low-odds combats. Pyongyang was mine and I signed a treaty afterwards to bring this unwanted conflict to its conclusion.

Part of the reason why the war had been a bit of struggle was the fact that my best cities had remained on wonder duty the whole time. (It was almost as if I were role playing the actual Willem AI who has been known to do this over and over again in AI Survivor.) While the Korean conflict was taking place, the capital city of Cradle managed to build the Great Library and East Korea landed the most important wonder for a cultural game in the form of Sistine Chapel. I lacked marble on hand for both of them and this would also cost me the Mausoleum which would have been very nice to build. On the other hand, the presence of those ivory resources allowed me to build Statue of Zeus in Paradise (which lacked much production of its own for wonder building) and a Great Engineer turned into a rushed Hagia Sophia in the same city. I was doing my best to spread out the cultural stuff across all three cities and I tried to emphasize getting additional wonders in Paradise due to its riverside location that lacked hills for production. I was of course building lots of temples and monasteries for my half dozen religions and working on the lengthy process of getting six cathedrals in each of the 50k culture cities.

I was able to use an unwanted Great Prophet for a Golden Age starting on Turn 168 for the civic swap into Bureaucracy, running Pacifism for the next seven turns before flipping back into Organized Religion and picking up Mercantilism which had just unlocked at Banking tech. The extra Golden Age production allowed East Korea to finish Sistine Chapel followed by Angkor Wat and the other two cities to start the process of building their first cathedrals. I was cruising along in the aftermath of the Golden Age finishing when Wang Kon attacked a second time, landing his sneak attack at the former Pyongyang which still didn't control its own first ring tiles. I rechristened the city Spud World before it fell and then began working to take it back with a combination of pikes and knights. Wang Kon obviously couldn't win a war against an opponent who had double his score and it didn't take long before I was able to recapture the city once again. As before, I took a city from Wang Kon as punishment for his war declaration before stopping to return to peaceful building.

Elsewhere, I had discovered Optics tech and built four caravels with the intention of defogging the rest of the map. I hoped to find some unsettled territory overseas, however it turned out that there was only one additional continent to the north which had been completely claimed by this point. The other three AI leaders were located there: Churchill, Suryavarman, and Sitting Bull. They were all running Buddhism as their religion (the only one of the seven faiths that I didn't have in my territory) and none of them thought particularly highly of my Judaism. One of them would end up sniping away University of Sankore at the last minute which was definitely annoying; I'd have to be content with Spiral Minaret. (The Apostolic Palace was turned off for this game as usual for me.)

Another Great Engineer popping out of the capital allowed me to rush Taj Mahal on the turn immediately after pulling the standard Liberalism into Nationalism move. This was important so that I could get into Free Speech and its +100% culture as soon as possible to speed along the Cultural victory date. I was carefully managing my religious spreads, making sure that I could get all six of my religions into each of the three 50k cities and then ensure that there were six temples built somewhere to unlock the cathedral for each. This kind of stuff is a lot of fun and it helped that the Small map size in Civ4 only requires two temples per cathedral instead of the normal three. In terms of the tech tree, I had enough monasteries built that Scientific Method needed to be avoided for as long as possible. Instead I hit the top of the tech tree for Democracy and Statue of Liberty, then made sure that I had Military Tradition / Rifling for safety, followed by Steam Power to unlock the amazing Dutch Dike unique building. I was still outresearching the rest of the field by a decent margin, if not by as much as I would like. Churchill and Suryavarman weren't that far behind me and even claimed some of the first-to-reach bonuses like the Great Merchant at Economics and the Great Scientist at Physics.

Those military techs proved to be a good investment when Suryavarman inexplicably declared war out of the blue and landed a small stack of knights on my northern coastline, followed by Wang Kon declaring war for a third time immediately thereafter. I don't know if he was bought into the war by the Khmer or if he had been plotting on his own and it didn't particularly matter. Suryavarman's landing was immediately cleaned up and the only thing that he managed to accomplish was pillaging a few fishing nets on the north shore. As for Wang Kon, he had the terrible luck of attacking right as I was about to discover Rifling tech and upgrade my knights into cavalry. The Koreans were still fielding medieval units and longtime readers should be well aware by now of the slaughter that ensues when cavalry meet outdated units. He walked a couple of stacks into my territory (where my workers had previously chopped down all the trees to create a clear killing field) where they were unceremoniously wiped out. Once again I captured a third Korean city on the border to punish Wang Kon for his invasion; the next Korean city in line was the capital so any further war declarations would essentially be suicide.

I had popped a final Golden Age with two unwanted Great People to help me build the remaining temples and cathedrals faster. This also allowed me to make one final civics swap into a civic that rarely sees much use: Universal Suffrage. It was very helpful in speeding along the cultural push, both for the +1 production on towns (even better in the Golden Age where they all picked up a second hammer) and also for the chance to cash-rush buildings with gold. Normally this isn't practical in Civ4 because money needs to be invested into researching as quickly as possible or else the player will fall behind. However, in a game like this where beakers were a secondary concern and running the cultural slider was disallowed, I could convert gold into production by rush-buying some of the remaining cathedrals. This was particularly useful for the Hindu and Islamic cathedrals where I lacked the doubling resource (marble) which I'd had for the other four cathedral types. I also left Slavery for Caste System during the closing turns so that I could run more Artist specialists in my three 50k cities. When there was nothing for them to build, they might as well drop all their production tiles and run more Artists which would get boosted by Sistine Chapel and fed through all of the cathedral multipliers. I think each Artist was worth about 30 culture/turn and cities like Cradel could run six or seven of them at once.

The net result was that my three key cities all exploded in culture over the remaining turns of the game as they accelerated towards the finish line. Cradle wound up being the weakest of the bunch as it capped out at about 750 culture/turn; I should have put one more wonder in there instead of East Korea. Paradise was a bit better at 850 culture/turn thanks to having so many religious multipliers and then East Korea turned out to be the best of the lot as it maxed out at 1045 culture/turn. Given the variant restrictions of not being able to run the culture slider or make use of corporations, I was extremely pleased at that result. I could have been even faster if Wang Kon hadn't kept attacking me every two dozen turns! I was able to get all three of the 50k cities to reach their goal within about five turns of one another which was also quite good for back-of-the-envelope planning. A late Great Artist for a 4000 culture bomb in Cradle helped a good bit here since it otherwise would have been almost a dozen turns behind the other cities.

Nothing surprising took place as the final turns counted down and the Cultural victory arrived smoothly on Turn 270:

I was able to cash-rush Eiffel Tower to completion in East Korea on the same turn that the victory arrived which is why the winning popup icon appeared in such a weird zoomed-in fashion. Overall, this was a nice relaxing game which was a good fit for a point in time where I couldn't stick to a regular weekly streaming session. My only regret is that I didn't do a better job of setting up a dedicated Great Person farm elsewhere to produce additional Great Artistts; I was mostly relying on the random Great People that popped up along the way and I think that I made very good use of the ones that I did get. I always enjoy playing Cultural games of different types in Civ4 and the in-game Willem was able to do the real life William proud in this one. Here's to many more gaming experiences down the road for little William!

Cultural Victory
Turn 270
Hall of Fame Score 71,487
In-Game Score 3816