Comments from the Sponsor

Adventure 17: PETA Crusaders

What I'd like to do here in these comments is explain a bit of the thought process that went into the organizing and creation of this particular event. I know I always enjoyed reading Sirian's thoughts for events that he designed, and I'd like to extend that privilege to others who played in scenarios I created. Before delving into PETA Crusaders itself, I need to give a little background on the circumstances that led up to it.

The last few RBCiv events kind of limped to a finish at the end of 2006; I don't know if it was due to a feeling of Civ4 burnout or what, but there was very low turnout for the last few games. Not a single player reported on Warlords 2, for the first time ever in an RBCiv game. (Some of the Civ3 Epics had very low turnout, but all 50 saw at least two reports.) Nevertheless, it was the holiday season, and I think everyone expected that things would be picking up in the new year with all sorts of new events. That had always been the pattern in the past, right?

January arrived, and there were no new events. This was the combination of several unfortunate factors; first and most importantly, Sirian (the founder and lifeblood of the RBCiv community) was enduring a tragic series of family emergencies, far more important than managing the needs of an online gaming group. Real-life needs took priority, and no one could possibly take issue with that. Equally damaging was the lack of one clear version of Civ4; there were at least three different versions floating around (Civ4 1.61, Warlords 2.08, and Blake's AI Mod) all with different rules. The community took no clear response to this situation, and just sort of... drifted in separate directions. Things might have been different if there were games going on to pull everyone together again, but Sirian was not in a position to provide them. And so January came and went, and nothing happened, followed by the same thing in February. Posts and activity at RBCiv fell drastically, with only a handful of succession games keeping things going. With no real reason to visit the forums, who could blame the community for that reaction?

I was keeping an eye on the RBCiv community, but mostly just watching at this point. I hadn't played a game of Civ4 since Epic Eight, back in September of 2006. The last couple of Epics/Adventures didn't interest me, I wasn't sold on the Warlords expansion (having worked on it in testing and gone through a very bad experience behind the scenes), and I simply had too much work going on in my personal life. I did enjoy some other games: working on the Railroads! beta (which confirmed that Firaxis wasn't interested in listening to my opinion anymore), getting in some Master of Orion fun, and thoroughly enjoying Nintendo's new Wii console. Still, it was sad that the RBCiv community seemed to be dying before my eyes. When sooooo brought up the notion of reviving our old RB21 succession game team, I pitched out one of my ideas for a cultural conquest variant. I was quite surprised at the response; there were so many signups that we ended up running 4 teams, an unprecedented level of interest. It seemed as though RBCiv had just been sleeping, and there was a genuine desire to get back to playing competition games as in old times.

Since Sirian was still MIA (working on more important projects), I got in touch with Griselda in mid-March about taking over some of the organizing responsibilities at RBCiv. Believe me, I would much have preferred that Sirian were still around and creating new variants... but he wasn't, and it was time to move forward. As someone who had been around since Civ3's Epic 1, as well as having worked extensively on Civ4 literally down the hall from Soren at Firaxis HQ, I was probably in the best position of anyone to fill in the organizing role. It didn't hurt either that multiple people were pushing me into that role in the RB29 discussion thread! With that in mind, it was time to create a new scenario to kick things off again.

The PETA variant was inspired by a game I had seen played a long time earlier by AWeeMoose over at CivFanatics. I always thought that the rules for that variant could be tweaked into a scoring system that would produce a pretty good game. In setting up the scenario, I wanted to have a couple simple rules that would both fit a role-playing theme and create a unique form of gameplay. For example, you don't realize just how important resources like cattle and pigs are for early expansion until you're forced to play through a game without them! Taking them off the table seemed like a variant that would be simple and fun.

As far as scoring went, the idea was to force a balance between two conflicting goals. The score would be based upon controlling certain key resources - in other words, owning as much territory as possible. To balance that out, I imposed penalties for each player-issued declaration of war, clearly stealing from the rules for Civ3's Epic 36. It's a very basic dichotomy, but hopefully will prove effective (I've always liked simple variants; Charis was the one who would create three pages worth of rules!) I also added on extra bonuses for going the whole game without declaring war and for avoiding certain civics (most notably Slavery civic; expect to see that scoring tradeoff re-appear in future games). I hope that those bonuses will force some careful thought on the part of players, since 10 points is nothing to sneeze at.

The map for this event was lightly customized. I think this was about the third one I rolled. The two things I wanted were:

1) The human civ located in the middle of the map.
2) Some kind of animal resource at the start to taunt the player. (But that cattle tile was there naturally! Not placed in the Worldbuilder.)

One thing I liked about this map in particular was the way that Montezuma was crammed up against the eastern edge of the map and almost sure to cause some problems. That should allow some players the opportunity for expansion without having to declare war, especially if Monty founds a differing religion from the player. With the relatively peaceful Huayna and Hatshepsut on the other sides, however, players probably won't be able to sit and wait for AI war declarations to come their way (but I could be wrong! I'm writing this before seeing any of the reports.) I wanted to make sure that it would be possible for peaceful players to score competitively in this event, so I carefully controlled the number of animal resources on the map. I counted them all up and got a number of about 35; that seemed a bit low (since only roughly 2/3 could be controlled without triggering Domination) so I added about 7 more in various spots around the map. The final count was either 41 or 42, I forget which. It shouldn't be possible to get more than about 30 of those, so a peaceful game that controls 10 resources and gets the full 10 bonus points should be highly competitive. Or at least that was the thought process, we'll have to see how it plays out!

Why the 1800AD scoring date for the resources? Well, I wanted to avoid the possibility for late-game score milking as much as possible, while still balancing that with allowing enough time for plenty of warfare. That's a difficult balancing act, and I'll be interested to hear the opinions of those who played this game. I considered pushing the date back to 1850AD or even 1900AD, but I've seen some of our players launch spaceships at some very impressive dates, and I decided to err on the side of caution for this game. Besides, even if I overshot the mark and no one wins until 1900AD, that should still set up some interesting late-game dynamics: what if you have to declare war on someone in order to win, even though you no longer gain any points for acquiring new resources? Should make for some fun dilemmas if anyone finds themselves in that situation.

Now the one problem was that this game was a mid-difficulty one employing a scoring system. sooooo released his unofficial game a week earlier, which was ALSO a mid-difficulty one with a scoring system. I think that our events largely split participation between the two, because they were similar in many ways. sooooo had a great variant, and it's too bad that we were both unaware of what the other one was going to do. Whoops! Hopefully that won't happen again. I don't expect a lot of people to report on this game, but I hope those who did play it had fun. On a final note though, I want to encourage anyone with an idea for an RBCiv scenario to submit a proposal. There's been very little activity on that front so far, and (as darrelljs is showing with next week's upcoming Adventure) a very real chance to get scenarios approved for official use. I have plenty of ideas still, but I'll welcome any help the community is willing to provide. Those of you who want to see more Warlords events, let me know!

I wanted to play in this game, and I even ran a start up to about 1000BC. However, I hadn't been paying attention and actually built tile improvements all over the animal resources. What an embarassment, the sponsor failing to follow his own variant! Anyway, I needed to study for some very serious post-graduate exams anyway, so it was probably for the best that I didn't try to cram in a full game. I do hope to get in some games in the future though, starting with Epic Ten. We'll see how that goes!

* * * * *

Adventure 18: Mansa Moneybags

Unlike Adventure 17, which I spent a great deal of time thinking about and refining the scoring system, Adventure 18 was the product of a late-night brainstorm I had while getting ready to go to sleep. I wanted to run a Gentle Adventure to try and draw some new faces into the RBCiv community, but I was lacking for a variant idea to inspire a scenario. Then it sort of hit me out of the blue: why not just do a role-playing scenario involving Mansa Musa? He's one of the most learning-friendly leaders in the game, with the powerful Financial/Spiritual combo, and the skirmisher is a great unique unit for staying out of early trouble. A game centered around Mansa and trying to accumulate as much money as possible seemed like a winning route.

From there, the variant practically wrote itself. There would have to be some kind of a reward for piling up a sizable haul of loot, so I drew back upon my recent experience with Sid Meier's Railroads! and decided to have an optional secondary goal of winning the game with at least 10,000 gold in the bank. That might be trivial for some of our expert players (I'm sure some of them could win with 100,000g on Noble), but hopefully would provide a fun goal for our developing newcomers. Even better, it would conflict with one of the other variant restrictions for the game, the need to remain in Universal Suffrage civic! That was the real reason for having civic restrictions listed on the game setup page, but they also served the secondary purpose of providing more of a role-playing flavor to the scenario. Universal Suffrage and Free Speech would favor a cottage-heavy economy, while Free Market would rule out the State Property "conquer the world at no cost to you!" mindset, as well as encouraging the player to sign lots of Open Borders deals (as the AI Mansa always does). It will be fun to see how this plays out in practice.

The other variant rule, the need to beeline immediately on the tech tree to Currency, was another little twist that I really liked. As with all of my favorite variants, a simple change or restriction ends up having a great deal of impact. While it might be clear from the start that the Currency beeline locks out certain key worker techs (most notably Agriculture and Animal Husbandry), there are other subtle aspects as well. The player not only has no chance at founding one of the early religions in this game, he or she is also locked out completely from the powerful early-game wonders. Both Stonehenge and the Oracle should be impossible to get, unless the AI really screws up! I'm sure that some players used to playing on low difficulty pretty much always build Stonehenge for the free border expansions; this should force some fun scrambling, since they won't even be able to build cheap obelisks for cultural expansion! And the final hidden aspect of this variant start is even more insidious: no Bronze Working (for Slavery civic and axemen), no Animal Husbandry (no chariots), and no Archery (no skirmishers). The player will have to defend themselves with warriors until finishing Currency! On the other hand, there are still plenty of tools available to get off to a good start: the player will have access to Mining, cottages, roads, Fishing (work boats), and libraries for SOME kind of early culture. And I made sure to give the player an isolated start too, so that hopefully defense won't be an issue early on.

There's a picture of the start for this game above, taken in debug mode. This was the very first map I rolled for Adventure 18, and I fell in love with it right from the start. For one thing, I've always been a fan of the Archipelago/Snaky Continents/Low sea level combination. That script seems to produce some really interesting combinations of landmasses, and this time was no different. There are basically two major continents on this map, with a number of smaller landmasses of decent size scattered all over the place. There will be plenty of room for players to either stay on the starting continent or expand overseas as they see fit.

Now the exact starting location has all sorts of neat factors in play. I hope that players will found on the starting tile, as it's a very good position, but fortunately they can't get into too much trouble even if they move. Assuming the player remains in place, there is a cattle resource, clams, three floodplains, and three hills, not to mention two invisible resources later on! Also on a river and on the coast. However, the cattle resource can't be hooked up until AFTER Currency is researched, which is the big tease for this start (player also won't discover the horses until that point). With two food resources and three floodplains at the start, plus THREE gold resources and MORE floodplains to the south, there should be plenty of room to go cottage crazy here and reap in the cash. There's also a copper resource (for future security) and marble nearby, to make things easier down the road. In short, the start is designed to be difficult initially (while purusing the Currency beeline), and then have everything open up and become easier as time progresses. I did not make a single alteration to this map, as it looked like it would fulfill everything needed right from the start!

The opponents were not random, but (as I'm sure all the players realized) were composed of Civ4's six other Financial civs. That was done to fit with the variant theme of the game, and I hope that the players will get a kick out of it. Huayna and Washington are on the same continent as the player, so there's potential for some interactions there. Much may depend on how quickly Huayna expands to the north into the jungle above his position. Furthermore, Qin's little continent is only a short hop away by boat, and the players will have the potential to get involved there as well. All in all, there are many different potential paths to be taken with this game; I hope it turns out to be a success for those who played it! There's been a lot of positive feedback in the forums about this game, but we won't have the final verdict until report day. I'm going to read the comments closely and try to incorporate player suggestions into the next Gentle Adventure, which will open in about a month or so.

Thanks to everyone who participated in Adventure 18!

* * * * *

Adventure 20: Desert Domination

In working out the schedule for this spring, I wanted to include another Gentle Adventure to run alongside the Extreme Adventure that turned out to be Epic Twelve. Now in thinking about what kind of scenario to create, I remembered a forum post from the previous Gentle Adventure where someone suggested "doing something with religions and shrine income." That seemed like the basis for a decent idea, especially remembering how much entertainment we got out of the hydra way back in RB1 succession game. What I would need next was some sort of incentive to encourage players to found religions, but in a way that wasn't too unrealistic or gamey.

I spent some time thinking about this, and ultimately decided to work with the economics model that Civ4 uses, rather than force the player's hand. First of all, the object of the game would become Domination, requiring the player to capture or build a lot of cities and drive up maintenance costs. This would also be a nice contrast to the peaceful nature of the previous Gentle Adventure, letting players get some practice in warring. Secondly, I threw most of the ways of producing income into the off-limits category: no courthouses, no use of Merchant specialists, and only very limited access to markets/banks. By disallowing these buildings everywhere except in holy cities, I had the perfect incentive to get players to found religions, and then use religious spread + shrine income to fund their expansive empires. Monk economy indeed.

The rest of the scenario was pretty easy to create from that point. I clearly needed a Spiritual leader, and I decided to go with Saladin for ease of generating Great Prophets to build those shrines. Rather than go with random opponents, I also hand-selected four non-Spiritual civs to give the player free reign on the early religions if desired. (This was mentioned in the scenario description, so players knew this going into the game.) I initially planned to run the game on a Standard-sized map, and even generated a starting save file, but the feedback I received on the forums convinced me to shrink things down to a Small map. I'd be interested to know from those who played if they thought this was the right decision or not, so please tell me your ideas! I also seriously considered making players raze all cities on capture (due to issues with capturing courthouses), but thought that was a little too extreme. Hopefully no one will get abusive with forbidden buildings in captured cities. With Saladin as the leader, I picked the Oasis map script for thematic purposes and came up with the title of the game, "Desert Domination."

There's the starting position for this game. Now the Oasis map script tends to be little-used, but I've had a ton of personal experience with it before, mostly when Sirian was testing it prior to release. The idea was that the player could pick whether to start in the southern jungles or on the northern coast, depending on picking either an odd-numbered player slot (south) or an even-numbered one (north). Well, as it turns out, the game automatically asigns the player to slot #1 if there are no other humans present, so in the release version of the game the human will ALWAYS start in the south! (That is, outside of Multiplayer, but I highly doubt that the MP crowd is playing a map this unbalanced.) Nolan, one of our testers, always used to complain about having to start in the south; I figured I would do something different here and put the player in the north for a change. I'm sure she will never read this, but Nolan, this one was for you.

Now obviously the player doesn't normally start in the north, so I had to move the starting settler and warrior up there manually. (Players could see the original starting position in the south revealed on the minimap; I have since figured out how to correct this in the Worldbuilder, so you won't be getting little "clues" like that again!) Basically, I swapped the position of the player and Napoleon for this particular game. I also spent some time tweaking the resources around each start a bit; the north was disgustingly fertile, because all resources coded for the north have to appear in that little strip of maybe 4-5 tiles between the desert and the coast. I deleted a bunch of them, including no fewer than THREE (!) marble resources right by the player's start. Craziness. I toned the start down to the point that it was still strong, but not ridiculous. There was also a horses resource right at the start initially; I moved that to the east, so that it would take at least a second city to get horses. The copper resource was there naturally, just like the copper one in Epic Eleven. I have not been putting them there, trust me! Aside from that, I added some food resources to the southern AI starting positions (which were all on the weak side) and made sure that Cathy had horses readily at hand.

I'm not sure exactly what will happen with this game. I hope that the economics work in practice the way I expected, and the need to found a lot of junk desert cities will force the need for a lot of missionary spread. I'm sure at least one of our vets will play this game and easily crush the Noble AIs to "win" the fastest finish, but this game is really not designed with them in mind. I'm hoping to read some of the reports of new players, and especially those winning by Domination for the first time. Should be some fun reports.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

* * * * *

Epic 12: The Gauntlet

I have fond memories of Civ3's Epic 12, a game that also went by the same name. "The Gauntlet" was Sirian's fiendish creation, a Deity variant in which two of the most common tactics (project swapping and unit upgrading) were taken off the table, with a brutal starting position kicked in to boot. It was the first and only Conquest loss I ever suffered in Civ3, and I actually outplayed most of the field. (I was close to achieving a safe position, until a nasty sneak-attack by Elizabeth caught me off guard.) Urugharakh was the only won who actually won that game, and then only by resorting to extreme ICS spacing of his cities, placing THREE of them on the starting one-tile lake to take advantage of Civ3's enormous freshwater bonus. As our final game reprising the Civ3 Epics (at least in order), and the final Epic before the release of Beyond the Sword, I wanted to pay homage to what was one of my favorite games.

Crafting the rules for this Epic were very easy. Changes made to the gameplay between Civ3 and Civ4 rendered the project swapping rule a non-factor, so a new handicap would have to be found with similar effects. Fortunately, since high-level play in Civ4 is so often based around using nonstop Slavery civic, a similar effect could be achieved by taking it out of bounds. Some of our players did rather well without using Slavery in Epic Fourteen (King of India, also on Emperor) but after most of the field fell on their own swords in Adventure Seventeen (PETA Crusaders) when they abstained from using the whip, I knew it was just the thing to bring back. While I was at it, I pulled Nationhood civic into the verboten column as well; although less understood by most players, the draft is equally as strong as Slavery when used properly. And the last thing I wanted was someone running over the world with one of those Globe Theatre/endless draft camp cheese exploits! From there, it was a simple addition to keep the prohibition against upgrading units a part of the game. This will probably have less of an effect than in Civ3, but it does make early aggression at least slightly less attractive, given that those axes will be stuck as axemen forever. It will also make it more difficult to respond to AI invasions; no whipping/drafting/upgrading your way out of an AI coastal landing party! I'm sure at least one person will fall prey to that in some form.

As stated in the notes for this game, the goal was to create a highly challenging scenario in which most of the "tricks" of high-level play were taken off limits. My hope is that this will be a way for the true skill of our players to come out, rather than simply following the sort of things "everyone always does" to win. I considered turning off tech trading for this game, but the original Epic 12 had it, and frankly I still think that makes the game easier, not harder. Thus it stayed in.

I suppose I should elaborate further on the difficulty here. The original game was brutally tough, a near-impossible situation to prevail out of. I could have replicated the same thing here rather easily; giving the player zero food bonuses at the start, for example. (We may try something like this down the road one day - I'd love to see how our players would respond!) Or scale the difficulty up to Deity, or pen the player in on a tiny little island, or whatever. But while those sort of things would make the game very difficult, true, I don't think they would have been much fun to play. I took a lot of the feedback from Epic Ten to heart when designing this game; I don't always have time to respond to everyone's reports, but I usually read all of them, and I listen carefully to the reactions and first impressions. The sense I got was that Epic Ten was a neat idea, but too difficult to be fun outside of a certain masochistic charm. Since we had just played out that kind of game, to a bit of a lukewarm response, I decided to make Epic Twelve a "winnable" game, if that makes sense. The comments in the scenario description and the sticky info thread were therefore deliberately disingenous; I tried to make the map sound almost impossible, to try and attract interest; however, an impossible map was not my design goal. I wanted the map to be very hard indeed, but one where smart decisions and good strategy would be able to overcome the significant handicaps and prevail. I don't know if that was the case (I write these comments before the reports are posted), but I hope it will prove to be so. I'm quite pleased with the map I ended up with, to be honest.

Ah yes, the map. The map we got for the original Epic 12 was a dandy, and I spent a LOT of time working on this one. Not that I was fully customizing a map in the Editor (that's Sirian territory there, not mine) but I was rolling different settings and starts until I found one that I liked. Tilted Axis with the "Cold" climate gave me the best results, after playing around with a bunch of different ones. Most of the time, the starts would be evenly distributed in the temperate zones, but every now and then one of the starts would be crammed into an icy wasteland, with tundra surrounding it on all sides. I wanted one of those for the player! The problem is that Sirian's start placement tool does too good of a job - it rarely has to shaft someone like that. Heh. Thus I went through map after map after map, trying to find the one that would fit with what I wanted. It was no good to just stick the player in a hopeless spot; I needed one that was both very bleak indeed, but which also offered the possibility for redemption if played right. Tough to find, tough to find.

The one you all played was somewhere between the 30th and 40th map I rolled. I immediately liked this one, due to that massive icy region near the east pole. It was bleak and inhospitable, without being TOO much so. Of course, the player didn't actually start there originally; Huayna got the shaft from the map generator. Here is the original start before I changed anything:

Obviously this is where Huayna started in your games. What a nice spot too! Two seafood, hills for production, and horses right there at the start. This would have been a great location for a non-Extreme Epic featuring the Mongols. Ah well. Swapping the location of the player and Huayna proved to be more difficult than expected; I had to move Huayna out into the ice, THEN move the player to his starting spot, and THEN move Huayna down to the southern coast. (If they were put next to each other, they would make contact - a definite no-no!) Then I had to black out the minimap for the player, which was the error I made in Adventure Twenty. Argh! More work than expected, but the result was what I wanted.

Here's the finished product in debug mode:

As some of you guessed, I did a little tweaking of the player's start. I believe that there were four furs there originally, which I cut down to two to limit the commerce available right at the start. I can't remember if I added the second food resource or not; it's been almost two months since I put this together. The start didn't really change much, just minor tidbits. I DID delete two horse resources that were relatively close to the player; I'm sure you all noticed how obtaining horses was nearly impossible. Yes, that was by design. There is one down in the extreme southern ice (which was there naturally) - I wonder if anyone will make use of it? I moved the iron resource you see above exactly two tiles to the west, so that it would require a second city and not be in Karakorum's cultural radius naturally. The copper resources I left alone; I think in hindsight I should have moved the northern one a little bit further away, just to make things tougher. As is, you can found a city with rice/deer/copper up there, which really isn't that bad. The idea was to make the player have to throw away a city in the ice to get copper early on. I probably messed that up... Well, I'm far from perfect in designing these games. Right, Great Lighthouse builders?

I expect that early attacks on the AIs will dominate these games. I didn't set out to craft the scenario that way, it just happens to be the best strategy. The land is just too poor to try and build out of the player's start; Asoka especially, and to a lesser extent Huayna, have much better stuff. But on Emperor that's still not an easy task, doubly so with Slavery off the table. And even if the player can conquer the whole starting island, Mansa Musa will be out there tech-whoring it up with the AIs on the northern continent. And Alex is a constant thread to land something nasty on the shores later in the game. These were random AIs, but I like how the mix came together. If it works as well in practice as it looks on paper, some of you should have had really entertaining games.

I do regret not being able to play this one. Unfortunately, customizing the map really spoiled this one for me; knowing where the resources were going to appear would take much of the challenge out of this start, as well as the whole "where the hell am I?!" feeling that I'm sure many of you had when first exploring. Since three of the five weeks for this game also overlapped with my time researching in London, there was really no option even to make an attempt at it. I hope the rest of you were able to take advantage of the opportunity provided here, even if I couldn't join in this time.

Thanks for reading - I hope you enjoyed the scenario!

* * * * *

Adventure 21: The Sky Gods

I'm currently away on vacation, but fortunately Gris was kind enough to post a link to these comments so that everyone could read them as usual. I figure that if I waited until I got back, everyone would be all talked out on this Adventure, and that's no fun! Anyway, on with the show.

The idea for Adventure 21 came from mostly_harmless, not me. In fact, he would have handled the whole setup for the game, except that he was celebrating the birth of his daughter in July. That was a wee bit more important than Civ stuff. mostly_harmless sent me this idea a little while after I took over running the Epics; here was his original core proposal:

The principle is that the player has from the start an uber-unit, which he can use under certain conditions, resembling a "god". In order to get a nice story/background I thought something along the lines of playing as the Aztecs and have a stealthbomber available from the first turn. The stealth is representing some sort of god (Aztecs had that flying god, right? Name? I don't know.).

Since these guys are also known for sacrifying people on their altars, I thought that for each "summoning" of the god (=bombing mission) another unit must be slaughtered/disbanded/sacrificed. Scouting missions are maybe free but limited to take place in the players cultural borders. Scoring, if any, could be for example for each wonder resembling some sort of pyramid (pyramids, chichen, hanging gardens).

To make the game harder, religion could be forbidden for the Aztecs and maybe only research up to flight. If the game is not won by then, it's lost. If the god dies, the game is lost.

I didn't have a spot for this in the rotation when he first made the proposal, but the idea definitely seemed like a winner, especially after we had such a great response from Adventure 19. When I was planning the summer schedule, I decided to add this game as a relaxing "crazy" game to run alongside Epic 12. I contacted mostly_harmless again and floated some ideas past him as far as tightening up the gameplay; he had some further great suggestions, and we ended up with the scenario that you played.

I remember there were some Succession Games at CivFanatics that played around with the idea of starting with an uber unit, although it was usually a Modern Armor and not a Stealth Bomber. As great as stealths may be, a single bombing run tends not to have all that much of an effect. For that reason, I suggested that we increase the number to three stealths, changing the name of the game to "The Sky Gods". After some discussion, I also came up with the idea to require a Great Person sacrifice in order to use the gods; I considered sacrificing settlers or workers instead, but that just seemed like it would be too easy. Not enough of a "sacrifice", if you know what I mean. mostly_harmless supplied the Aztec theme, and even researched those Aztec names for the three gods. (Yes, the historian was NOT the one who did that! ) To facilitate the sacrifices, I wanted to make Montezuma a Philosophical leader for easy Great Person generation. I asked how to do this on the forums, and the answer I got was that it was impossible to do outside of modding the game - ugh. But fortunately, I could simply replace Monty with Alex as the Aztec leader and achieve the same thing, which of course is what we did. Thanks to our community members for making this such an easy process!

As far as the map is concerned, I honestly think this was the first one that I rolled. If not, it was the second or third; I found this one very quickly. Basically I was looking for something with a lot of floodplains for easy Great Person production, and this worked perfectly. I don't think there were any map edits at all for this game. Even better, it produced a pangaea continent with a "natural" shape, with the player at one end in a nicely isolated spot. I thought this offered a strong starting position, and allowed players to take the game in a number of different directions.

This wasn't intended to be a particularly serious game, so I hope everyone who participated was able to relax and have some fun. The unexpected 1.74 patch and Beyond the Sword release probably cut down on the participation to some degree, but that's to be expected. Hardly the first or last time that we've had patching cause havoc with our events! Regardless, I'm sure the event was a success for those who took the time to play.

We've got a great schedule of new events planned for the upcoming few months, and that's not even counting whatever suggestions I might happen to get from community members. Beyond the Sword is already showing some promising signs (aside from a couple of bugs), so hopefully there is good news there as well. I hope to hear from all of you next month in Epic Thirteen!

* * * * *

Adventure 24: It's A Wonderful World

I've always felt that my best variants have sprung from relatively simple ideas. Whether it's been trying to conquer the world with culture, or cover every flatland tile with cottages, I've always liked keeping it simple. My games that strayed from the KISS rule have tended not to go so well (like the PETA game, for example). I leave the uber-variants to the Sirians and Charises of the world - great ideas, but not coming from me!

Adventure 24 was an outgrowth of one of those simple ideas. I thought it would be fun to hold a competition to see who could build the most wonders, especially if they were all scored with the same weight. It's normally impossible to build every wonder, so which ones do you prioritize if they all score you exactly one point? What would be the best route through the tech tree to maximize wonder production? How do you weigh founding more cities early on versus having the capital emphasize early wonders? There are no easy answers to any of these questions, so it seemed like the basis for a solid scenario.

Once I had the core concept envisioned, I began thinking about what map and civilization settings to use. Industrious was obviously THE trait for this game, and with Beyond the Sword still being relatively new, I chose De Gaulle (Charismatic/Industrious) for the starring role. We've already done too many games with Louis as it is! To avoid random dice rolls affecting the competition, I also had to turn off huts and events. (I actually like having them for most games, but not in the cards this time.) I also decided to remove all stone and marble sources from the map, as I didn't want the luck of the landgrab so strongly influencing what would and wouldn't get built. Other variant rules were simply in place to keep players focused on building wonders, not crippling competing AI civs. The spirit of the rules there is more important than the letter; hopefully everyone was able to see what I was getting at, and won't try to push the gameplay in that area.

The map itself wasn't too hard to find. I wanted a relatively isolated spot for the player, but not one where he or she could completely ignore their military. (That's also why this is not an Always Peace game; there needs to be SOME element of danger!) The player gets a dream starting position, with pigs/horses/wheat, on a river, with no less than five hill tiles for production. Of course, if the player takes that spot and doesn't move, they will NOT be on the coast, which limits certain coastal wonders. I made sure to put most of the AI capitals on the coast, believe me! That should rule out an Epic Eleven "Great Lighthouse" embarassment for me.

The AIs selected for this game were actually random selections of non-Industrious civs, although I would have probably rolled them again if I had picked up one of the insane personalities (Monty, Khan, Shaka, etc.) Most of these AIs are quite peaceful, especially Asoka, Mansa, and Willem. Justinian (the new Izzy) may cause some problems, but overall this shouldn't be too demanding from the military side of things. On the other hand, I expect a lot of these peaceniks to put up a good show as far as building wonders. I'll be very disappointed if they don't!

I had to move a couple of the civs around in their starting positions. Suryavarman originally was between the player and Justinian; that was pretty crowded, so I moved him over to the eastern edge. I then had to move Mansa north to fill in the space that opened up and balance things out better. The player should have room for a lot of nice cities if all goes according to plan.

I will be surprised if anyone manages to get all 34 wonders - this is Monarch, after all! 30 or more would be excellent, and even 25 is pretty darn impressive. I'm curious as to just how high the community will manage to push the winning score. More than anything else, that's what I'm interested in hearing about on reporting day. I hope that we get some diverse strategies (perhaps involving Great Engineers?) to compare as well. Thanks to those of you who played, I hope you had fun!

* * * * *

Epic 16: Something Fishy

Epic Sixteen was a little bit different than some of my other creations. As most of you reading this probably know, it was an emergency replacement game for sooooo's Epic Fifteen, which turned out to be unplayable due to a bug in how Civ4's colonization system worked. (We will be returning to his scenario in due time, hopefully through a patch but probably more likely through a mod.) As a fill-in game, I wanted to stick to a relatively similar game concept to what sooooo had envisioned, which is why the game was on an archipelago map. (Yes, the map script was determined before the variant! ) I also kept the Rocky terrain setting, for no real reason.

With the map in hand, it was time to figure out the design for the game. sooooo's game was planned to be largely peaceful, focused on diplomacy and spinning off colonies. I always have about a half-dozen variants in the planning stages, awaiting an opportunity to flesh them out, and so I spent a few minutes thinking about which ones would fit this scenario. One thing that I'd wanted to try out was starting the player with one of the game's corporations, then playing around with that side of the gameplay. I initially thought about doing something in line with the Mayan Slavetrader game from Civ3, where you couldn't found a city without immediately merging in an executive, but this proved to be not particularly fun to play in some earlier tests. I also was going to use Mining Inc, to see what would happen if players could really cut lose on production in the early game, but that wouldn't fit this scenario either.

So I started rethinking things and decided to go the obvious food route instead, with Sid's Sushi corporation. That would dovetail nicely with the archipelago map, and as a side bonus would offer bonus culture to those interested in pursuing a cultural victory. For the game's goal, I decided to go with a "points" system, which seemed like a nice way to close out the slate of 2007 games. Since my name is not Sirian or Charis, I kept the scoring relatively simple: points awarded for spreading Sid's Sushi and controlling sushi resources at two benchmark dates (10AD and 1500AD). Since these are things that the player would be doing anyway, they seemed like logical goals. To keep players entertained after 1500AD had passed, bonus points would be scored for amassing endgame sushi resources and also for fast finishes - two goals that are supposed to be contradictory! Then the real kicker: to prevent someone from going on a conquering spree and pumping up that endgame score, I included a multiplier to DOUBLE the player's score if he/she never declares war. No system is perfect, but I think this one should hold up pretty well. Especially considering I drew it up in about 20 minutes!

The other rules were designed to patch possible scoring loopholes. The big one was preventing players from spreading Sid's Sushi into cities unless finances were in the green at 50% science. My fear was that players would be running around with a collapsed economy, doing nothing but gunning for points. Obviously the rule could be abused through mass use of Wealth and Merchant specialists (thank you very much everyone for immediately pointing this out! ) but we're just going to have to trust everyone to play nicely. I think the spirit of the rule was pretty clear. The barring of State Property civic was a necessary complement to this rule. Trading for AI sushi resources was similarly an obvious no-no to prevent scoring abuse.

I picked Ragnar as the leader for flavor reasons, and because he had never been the subject of an RBCiv game before. The Financial trait should hopefully be a big help to players. I also removed one AI (five opponents instead of the usual six) to allow more room for everyone to spread out and grab seafood resources. The AIs were Random, and came up with a good mix of aggressors (Temujin, Justinian) and builders (Louis, Gilgamesh). This was not the first map I rolled, but I didn't do any customization at all, just kept rolling until I had an isolated start with seafood resources. The gems resource was there naturally and should be a fun early boost. I considered removing the stone resources, but then just thought "eh, might as well let everyone play around with Pyramids/Representation" and left them in place. For flavor purposes, I also removed the initial starting warrior and replaced him with a Sid's Sushi Executive. I hope everyone enjoyed that!

So overall I hope this one went well. For an emergency game that was conceived in less than 24 hours, I think it came out very good indeed. Griselda in particular was a huge help in getting everything up on the website almost within minutes after I sent it off to her. Thanks! Well, I hope you all had a good time playing. Time to see how everyone did now.

* * * * *

Adventure 26: Holiday Surprise

Adventure Twenty-Six is my revenge game as the Sponsor. I gave out absolutely no information to the players beforehand, aside from telling them that the game was on Immortal difficulty and that they WOULD be surprised. The trick here, of course, is that the player starts isolated on his own island, with absolutely NO resources whatsoever:

Most of the players probably assumed that this was simply a no-resource game, but I wanted to go even further than that. All of the AI civs start on the same large continent, and they have all the normal resources present. This is blatantly obvious if you look at the globe with the resources indicator turned on:

Why did I craft a game this way? I had two reasons. The first, and less important, is that I had gotten tired of players moaning and complaining about any starting position that was even the least bit subpar. I think the ultimate worst example of this was the Mayan starting position in Epic Thirteen, which had THREE food bonuses PLUS COPPER! No, it wasn't on a river, and no, it didn't have forests to chop, but come on! Although most of our players don't make a big deal out of this, there are one or two individuals (not naming names) who whine about the start in practically every game. Adventure Twenty-Six is my way of showing everyone what a REAL poor start looks like. That cows + corn + iron start that you usually get is pretty darn good, OK? Remember, in Civ3 there was no starting point normalizer, and you could literally start anywhere on the map, in unbelievably god-awful terrain sometimes. Back in testing, we originally didn't have the start normalizer either for Civ4 (Sirian worked on that code). Maybe that's why I consider anything with a food bonus a decent start.

Related to this is the fact that many of the recent Extreme Adventures were deemed "too easy" by many members of our community. After Epic Ten's Deity game brutalized the community, I scaled back on the next Extreme game (Epic Twelve), only to have players complaining that the game didn't provide enough challenge. I thought Epic Fourteen was pretty tough, and then we saw about half of the players submit wins there as well. So for this game, I pulled out all the stops. Instead of Emperor difficulty, I bumped it up to Immortal. Instead of a normal Continents/Pangaea start, the player is stuck in isolation. Instead of a no-resources game, the AIs all get to keep their own resources as normal. You get the picture. I figured it was time to give the community a serious ass-kicking again, then scale things back to a more normal level.

This is the second, and more important, reason for the game's design. As several of you guessed, Adventure Twenty-Six is designed to be a Kobayashi Maru game: a no-win scenario. That's a Star Trek reference, but it's one that even I know from pop culture without being a fan of the show. (Sirian is the big Star Trek guy, not me!) The point of a Kobayashi Maru scenario is to present a situation for the participant where avoiding defeat is impossible no matter what he or she does. The point of the exercise is not to "win" the game, but to see how the individual responds to an impossible situation of extreme pressure. You learn as much (or very likely more) about someone in that position than you would in a normal environment. While I'm sorry for not telling everyone about this before the game started, it's pointless to run a Kobayashi Maru scenario if the player realizes what's actually going on!

Now I know that everyone's time is limited in today's world. I don't begrudge anyone for quitting out of this game once they realized the setup, or later on when contact with the AI civs made it clear what the outcome of the game would be. However... at Realms Beyond, we try to push our philosophy that "winning" and "losing" are little more than arbitrary labels. What truly matters is the journey through the game itself; I've always felt that "Play the Hand You are Dealt" and "Where there is Life, there is Hope" are the fundamental guiding principles behind our community. That's why anyone who stuck this game out to its conclusion is a winner in this particular variant, regardless of how far behind they were when the AI launched the spaceship or won by culture. I loved reading how Muaziz out-survived two AI civs, Darrell somehow almost landed Liberalism's free tech, Deceptus missed the Colossus by ONE turn (I feel your pain!), and Ruff won a moral victory against Mao. Compromise got about as close as you could get to a Cultural Victory, but the AIs just didn't give him enough time to get it done. Remember, in a Kobayashi Maru, it's not about winning - it's about how you respond to an impossible situation. I'm extremely proud to see how our little community stood up to the hellish place in which I put them.

Of course, the other recurring theme to the Kobayashi Maru scenario is finding some loophole that allows the individual to pull off an improbable win - and sooooo perfectly demonstrated that for us with a brilliant Apostolic Palace victory! I continue to stand by my comment that no game is too difficult for someone in this community to pull out a win, somehow, someway. Sure, it involved using the dodgiest, most-broken victory condition in the game, but who cares? If you can win on THIS map, you are a serious Civ4 master!

This was pretty much a one-time deal. Don't expect to see another game like this again, at least not until Civ5 comes out. I am planning to do a normal Immortal game later this year as an Extreme Adventure, with no variant attached to it ("just win, baby!") I hope those of you who played enjoyed this unusual game, and found these comments to be helpful in understand what I was thinking.

* * * * *

Adventure 29: Winter Wasteland

This was another scenario where I started with the map first, then created the parameters of the game around it. I was looking over different map scripts that we hadn't used yet, and the Boreal one jumped out at me. It's a very unique map, not one that you'd want to play a lot of games on, but at the same time one that deserved at least one Adventure. My one regret was mistiming the opening of the game slightly - it should have been a January or February date, in a perfect world. Ah well, at least it's getting close to wintertime in Aussieland!

With a map in hand, it was time to design the scenario parameters. Looking over the list of civs and leaders, Stalin/Russia immediately jumped out at me. What a perfect fit for a bleak, cold, tundra wasteland. That was easy. It also dawned on me to up the difficulty to Immortal and set loose Raging Barbs for this game, once again fitting with the overall theme of the event. We were due for an "Extreme Adventure" anyway, though this definitely fell on the easy side of that category (and by design - since the last Extreme Adventure was extraordinarily tough. After reading the reports, I'm very pleased with the challenge level of the game that resulted. Not too easy, not too hard.)

I rolled a couple of maps before finding the final build. This one was interesting because of the long line of peaks to the east, which effectively divided the map into two halves. (I did not place them there, and in fact made virtually no map edits at all.) I liked the fact that the player would be initially isolated, and have a small valley of sorts in which to build his/her civ. At the same time, it would be difficult to explore for quite some time due to all the barbs raging around out in the fog. As several players noticed, the key limitation on this particular map was happiness. I didn't place or remove any of the happy resources, but I did notice right away that the player would be severely limited early on. There were a number of gems resources in the area, and... that was it. I noticed that several players used the Oracle to slingshot Monarchy tech and get around this limitation, which was a clever move.

The biggest map edit was swapping the location of two civs around: Lincoln and Temujin. I didn't like the idea of Khan being right on top of the player's civ, so I moved him to the other side of the map and substituted the less-aggressive Lincoln in his place. That probably made the game easier, but so be it. One thing I did not pick up on was the lack of strategic resources in Lincoln's territory. That's hard to catch sometimes, since in Worldbuilder/debug mode you see all the resources, not just the early ones. I mean, he had plenty of coal and aluminum! I would have added an iron or copper in there if I had noticed - Lincoln wasn't designed to be a punching bag civ.

Several of the reports raised questions about the Great Wall, so here's the thinking on that. I decided to leave the option open so that each player could choose whether or not to build it, knowing full well that the Wall was the easy solution to barb aggression. I hoped that at least one player would voluntarily refrain from building the wonder in order to embrace a greater challenge. I'm not sure that happened, but I did enjoy reading sooooo's report where he forgot to build the wonder! Anyway, this was a "hands-off" game. A lot of the scenario pretty heavily restrict what you can and can't do, so I figure it would be a good change of pace to let players do as they willed for this scenario. It seemed to work out OK, and the economics of the start were challenging even with the Great Wall.

Since the AI doesn't handle the Boreal script very well, I knew we'd get a lot of victories, and we did. The next Extreme Adventure will probably lean more towards the challenging side of things to compensate, so buyer beware! Thanks to everyone who played.