Elizabeth Empress of the Highlands

Watch this game on YouTube (Playlist Link)

This is a quick writeup for my "Elizabeth Empress of the Highlands" game that took place on Livestream in the summer of 2019. We had finished with Season Four of Civ4 AI Survivor a few weeks earlier, and the event had proven popular enough that I wanted to continue the tradition of Livestreaming some kind of turn-based strategy game on Fridays. This was the genesis for my "Civilization Fridays" running series, and of course the first featured game had to involve Civ4 after spending so much time watching the AI civilizations play against one another. I had made a promise to my wife Liz that the first leader I picked after finishing the AI Survivor series would be her namesake Elizabeth, and then I decided to feature a Highlands map script for the background setting due to its unusual nature. Elizabeth's Financial/Philosophical traits are poor for expansion but fantastic for teching, and that suggested that this game should lean on the economic side of things with a goal of some kind of peaceful win condition. I had no particular ending in mind and expected I would end up going for a Spaceship or Diplomatic victory condition.

This Elizabeth game was the first time that I'd played Single Player Civ4 in quite a few years, not since the Willem of the Dutch and Babylon Always War YouTube video series took place more than five years earlier. I took the first starting position thrown out by the map as usual, which fortunately yielded a strong capital location with multiple food resources alongside grassland river tiles. With Elizabeth's traits, this setup was calling for an early Academy plus early Bureaucracy civic, and I would lean heavily on the teching prowess of the capital throughout the game. Later on, this location would get the National Epic and Oxford University for its two national wonders in a standard play for an econ-heavy game. Unfortunately the rest of the starting area was quite weak in terms of food bonuses, with the second city that I placed on the northern coast forced to steal the rice tile away from the capital to avoid being a junk city. The eastern edge of the map was similarly close by (the Highlands map script has no default worldwrap) and I was forced to expand far to the south to get some decent cities going. Now the land down there was excellent and I would eventually establish some powerhouse cities at Endeavor and Desert Oasis, but early expansion was very much on the slow side.

The early game was also characterized by a lack of any AI neighbors. My capital was close to the southeastern corner of the map, and a large inland sea blocked any expansion to the north. I found Gilgamesh on the other side of those waters in time; he had no cities on the lake for a long time and there was never any threat of him launching a seaborne invasion. That meant that the only direction of potential AI neighbors was in the west, and there was no one visible in that direction for ages and ages. (It didn't help that a scouting warrior was taken out by a bear before it could make contact with anyone.) Thus my only companions in the early turns were the barbarians, and they proved to be a tremendous nuisance for centuries on end. I was running as little military as possible to keep pouring resources into expansion and the barbarians made me pay for it on several occasions. I wasn't helped here by the resource situation, as there was no copper and no horses anywhere within a thousand miles of the starting position, forcing me to tech to Iron Working for metal access while making due with warriors and archers in the meantime. Once I did have Iron Working, I still couldn't build chariots for lack of horses and that was a problem when dealing with barbarian axes. The axe vs axe matchup was the best that I could do, and I could remember very well from pre-expansion days (back before chariots gained the +100% attack bonus against axes) what a bloodbath that combat turns into. Poor Desert Oasis had to be emergency whipped for units again and again, stacking up three unhappy faces from whipping at one point. This delayed its development but ultimately couldn't stop such a strong location from becoming an amazing city in due time.

Speaking of whipping, if there's one thing that watching these videos will teach new players, it's the vital importance of maximizing Slavery civic. Knowing when and how to whip your cities is one of the key skills required to play Civ4 at a high level, and I do a good job of showcasing it in this game. Slavery civic is the only way to get infrastructure built in high food / low production cities, of which I had several in this game. I'm also proud of how I was able to wring some solid cities out of low quality land, including several cities which had no food bonuses at all. You'll almost never see that kind of terrain in the customized maps used in Realms Beyond's Multiplayer games, but here on a random map, it's quite common to have weak patches of territory. I was happy with how things played out in this game despite my general rustiness with the Civ4 gameplay. I guess a lot of this is like riding a bike, you slip back into the groove of things and have no trouble remembering what to do.

Eventually I met my western neighbor who turned out to be Suryavarman of the Khmer. There was a critical moment in the game around Turn 135 where Suryavarman and I were racing for an important settling spot, a place that would control the only source of horses even remotely accessible for my civ. Unfortunately it became clear that Suryavarman was going to beat my settler to the punch by two turns, and after thinking things over carefully, I declared war and captured his settler, grabbing the horses for myself. This permanently ruined any chance of remaining friends with the Khmer leader or winning a Diplomatic victory, although that was probably out the window anyway since I was running a self-founded Confucianism for a state religion and everyone else in the world was practicing Buddhism or Hinduism. It was worth the diplomatic hit though, as I would have been unable to train knights or cuirassiers or cavalry without securing those horses. I was able to sign peace with Suryavarman after 10 turns of largely phantom conflict, then caught another huge break in capturing a well-developed barbarian city at what became the Poached spot. This would turn into two more cities, one in a filler spot and another on an "island" cut off from the rest of the map by mountains, taking my English civ up to about a dozen cities in total. That was where the available land ran out, with my borders pressing up against the Khmer to the west. I expected that Suryavarman would be back again for revenge at some point, and I would be correct.

I was fortunate enough to get another 50 turns of breathing room before Suryavarman decided to come calling again. This was almost certainly the result of Hammurabi attacking the Khmer over on the other side of their territory, and as we all know from watching AI Survivor, the AI will not willingly initiate another new war while already engaged in a conflict. I had earlier managed to get a unit up to 10 XP against barbarians and unlock the Heroic Epic, which I placed in Endeavor and then used to crank out military units nonstop. I trained half a dozen catapults and a handful of maces and pikes before teching to Guilds and then going all-knights afterwards. Knights are by far the strongest unit in their era and it's essentially impossible to have too many of them. I was starting to race out to a pretty good tech lead over the AI civs, with only AI Survivor powerhouse Huayna Capac managing to somewhat keep pace, and the easiest path to victory looked to be teching up to Rifling + Military Tradition and then crushing Suryavarman with rifles and cavs. I was even playing as England which meant Redcoats and Stock Exchanges would be opening up in this era. Just another dozen or two turns and this game would be in the bag.

Unfortunately the clock struck midnight before I was ready. Suryavarman declared war around Turn 200 and moved into my territory with approximately 30 units, most of them grouped into two main stacks a single tile apart from one another. This is one major difference between the Civ3/Civ4 AI and the Civ5/Civ6 AI, the ability to group units together into a stack and then brute force military objectives. Things looked dire and I wasn't at all certain that I would be able to hold onto my cities. Suryavarman was packing about 10 catapults between his two stacks and that would be enough to remove any city defenses with ease, then rain down collateral damage upon the defenders. Turtling behind city walls wasn't going to be effective here.

Instead, I needed to counterattack. There were two main factors working in my favor: Suryavarman had his forces split into two separate stacks and he had no two-move units in either stack. I'm not exactly sure how that occurred, perhaps he was missing a connected horse resource. In any case, I would have to contend with his unique Ballista Elephants but no horse archers or knights. I rounded up my catapults and sacrificed them for collateral damage, then used a combination of knights and maces and pikes to take down the first stack. After a quick round of healing, I was able to repeat the same process with the second stack and eradicate it to the last man. The clear MVPs of this sequence were my knights, which received far better combat odds than anything else. Although I lost a couple of them, they did the hard work of clearing the "top units" from each stack, delivering massive flanking damage to the Khmer catapults in the process, followed by letting the weaker non-mounted units pull cleanup duty afterwards. I created a separate YouTube highlight that condensed these key turns down into a more watchable 20 minute sequence, and it's an absolutely textbook example of how to deal with an invading force using Civ4's combat engine. If you watch nothing else from this game, go take a look at these turns to see how my forces defeated Suryavarman in detail.

Everything was downhill from that point on. Suryavarman was close to a full era behind in tech by now, and I decided that I would wait out the few more turns needed to unlock redcoats and cavs before making my move. I triggered a well-timed Golden Age to help make the push to Rifling and Military Tradition techs, with this being my third Golden Age of the game (the first one was used to swap into Bureaucracy civic earlier and I had also landed Taj Mahal for the second). I had also built the Mausoleum earlier in the game thanks to a great suggestion from the Livestream viewers, and the 12 turns of enhanced commerce + production was enough to upgrade my full military with guns. It also allowed me to flip into Nationhood civic for 5 turns and get a round of drafted redcoats out to serve as defensive units for my recent conquests. After that the rest of the war was a total steamroller, as rifles + cavs always are against random Medieval trash. It took about 25 turns to overrun the dozen Khmer cities and eliminate Suryavarman from the game, rarely facing combat odds worse than 90% along the way. Nice and easy stuff.

I could have easily kept right on pushing through Hammurabi at this point, as the Babylonians were also nowhere close to the rifles/cavs era of military tech and I had more than 30 cavalry on hand by this point. But killing Hammurabi wouldn't do much of anything in terms of speeding my way to a victory condition, which already looked like it would be Spaceship or bust. In fact, I might actually slow it down, as one of the underrated stories of this game was the massive trade route income that I was pulling in via Open Borders with all of the non-Khmer leaders. More importantly, invading the Babylonians would add many hours of real-world time to the game, something that did matter for a Livestream exercise. I recalled the Adventure 59 game where all of the interesting stuff happened in the first 5 hours of Livestreaming... and then it took another 10 hours of Livestreaming to stomp over the rest of the world with cavalry. With the Highlands map being such a large script, I wasn't too interested in going that route again.

Instead, I focused on optimizing my economy as much as possible to push towards the end of the tech tree, and I was quite pleased with how that turned out. I popped a fourth Golden Age with a trio of Great People and used it to construct factories + power plants as well as switch into State Property civic. By the end of that Golden Age, England was rocking an obscene edge in production and commerce, much like the real Industrial Revolution took place in Britain before anywhere else. State Property watermills made excellent additions along my rivers, and windmills proved to be pretty awesome as well. Post-Electricity tech, a windmill on a grassland hill had a yield of 2 food / 2 production / 3 commerce, with the Financial bonus kicking in its extra point of commerce. Not bad for otherwise weak low-food terrain. I also put the Iron Works in one of my cities with poor commercial potential (Laymagrad) and managed to turn it into a powerhouse industrial center. That spot would later build the Space Elevator and seveal of the key spaceship parts.

My tech rate continued to accelerate as England reached the latest stages of the game. There were just enough Great People of the right types to launch the four-person Golden Age while pushing for the last few techs and building the spaceship parts, my fifth Golden Age of the game. Thanks to the Mausoleum that equated to 60 turns (!) of Golden Age throughout this game, about 20% of the total turns that I played and nearing a third of the post-Turn 100 turns. No wonder the AI leaders couldn't keep up. I almost managed to hit 5000 beakers/turn at the very end of the last Golden Age, which would have been a new personal record for me in Civ4. None of the AI civs were even remotely close to England in tech, and I blasted off shortly after Turn 300 and won the game when the Spaceship arrived in Alpha Centauri ten turns later.

This was an entertaining game even if it wasn't terribly dramatic. If anyone is interested in a "by the books" Civ4 game that doesn't do anything particularly crazy, this is a good one to watch. I basically stuck to the tried-and-true fundamentals and executed them quite well. The highlight of the game was turning back the Khmer invasion, which provided the one period of genuine danger. The biggest key to surviving that threat had been training up units ahead of time from my Heroic Epic city. If I hadn't been producing those units decades ahead of time and moving them into position, I would have lost a city or two at the very least. As in Master of Orion, anticipating the threats ahead of time is crucial to overall success. I demonstrated in this game how to push economy as hard as possible while still staying safe - just barely - from barbarians and rival cvs. It was a lot of fun, especially with the running chat from the Livestream viewers to keep things lively. We were averaging about 50 viewers at a time for a game that came out 14 years earlier, a nice testament to the evergreen nature of Civ4. Thanks again for watching along.

Spaceship Victory
Turn 313
Hall of Fame Score 59837
In-Game Score 4720