Link to the PBEM7 Forum at Realms Beyond
Realms Beyond has been running Play By Email (PBEM) games for Civ6 since it first released; in fact, I took part in the very first Civ6 PBEM game and wrote about it on this very website. I also ended up joining the PBEM7 game and it turned into a fantastic match, full of twists and turns and exciting action. It was a game that was more than worthy of being commemorated in a writeup here to preserve it for posterity. But there were two major problems: PBEM7 was a massive game and it took place under the final non-expansion version of Civ6. There were so many things that took place during the game that I despaired of capturing it all in a writeup. Furthermore, the gameplay immediately became outdated with the release of Civ6's expansions shortly following the conclusion of PBEM7. Did I really want to devote untold hours writing about Civ6 mechanics that had already become obsolete? I delayed and delayed the project and the PBEM7 game slowly fell into obscurity over time.
But then something unexpected happened: COVID-19 decided to show up and plunge the world into a pandemic that lasted for well over a year. As I found myself stuck at home for long stretches of time, I decided that I would try to busy myself with various different tasks that didn't require traveling outdoors. One of these was a new season of Civ4 AI Survivor which became a smashing success with huge increases in viewership over previous years. I also went back and tried to finish some long-delayed writing projects for my website and that's when I hit on the idea of returning to the PBEM7 game. The overall game was still too big for me to want to tackle it in full and much of the game's span would have been spent discussing city development gameplay which has since been obsoleted by the Civ6 expansions. However, I figured that I could focus on the most exciting part of the game: the lategame naval showdown between Rome and England. This remains the largest naval battle that we've run in the Civ6 PBEM games, and due to changes in the Civ6 gameplay that have since taken place, it will probably never be topped in terms of size and scope.
Therefore we're going to zero in specifically on the massive fleet versus fleet engagement in this report. I'm going to use this page to provide the background for the wider game before jumping into the fine details of the combat on successive pages. This is going to be something different from my normal reports, looking at the operations and tactical levels as opposed to the strategic level. Civ6 is inferior to Civ4 in most respects but it handles tactical wargaming combat between two human players very well indeed. With that out of the way, let's begin setting the stage in anticipation of the fireworks breaking out down the road.
PBEM7 had a novel concept, four teams that each contained two paired players. These teams were:
Team 1 Japper: Kongo
Team 2 Emperor K: Russia
Team 3 BrickAstley: Rome
Team 4 Woden: Nubia
Team 4 Chevalier Mal Fet: England (Victoria)
Team 3 Singaboy: China
Team 2 TheArchduke: Germany
Team 1 Mikeforall: Khmer
I listed the teams in that specific fashion because it reflected the turn order for the game. Japper would start each new turn, then Emperor K, and so on down the list. Readers may note that my name is not present on that list; I was intending to be a dedicated lurker for BrickAstley and Singaboy only to have a situation pop up almost immediately where Brick had to step away from the game. I took over Brick's role as the leader of Rome and continued captaining the ship for the next six months. I never intended to be one of the players in this game, and while it was a lot of fun taking part in the turns and writing about them on the forums, it also became a dreadful time sink as the turns grew longer and longer to play.
I included a picture above of the Rome/China starting positions in debug mode with the terrain fully revealed. Cornflakes created the map for this game using a filled-in Doughnut script to create four main continents each connected together by narrow landbridges. I've done my best to indicate where each team started on the minimap above. Team 1 (Kongo/Khmer) was on the south-central continent, Team 2 (Russia/Germany) was situated on the other southern continent divided by the worldwrap, Team 3 (Rome/China) was placed on the northwest continent, and then finally Team 4 (Nubia/England) had the northeast continent. These were not mirrored starting positions and there were some idiosyncracies to each landmass based on what the map generator threw out. In particular, it turned out that some of the landbridges were narrow enough that ships could move through them using canal cities while other landbridges were too thick to allow this. This would end up being a major sticking point down the road that no one anticipated during the map creation phase. That's not a knock on Cornflakes who did a fantastic job at creating a fun and memorable setup for this game, especially given the poor scenario design tools that existed at the time for Civ6. A proper Worldbuilder wouldn't be released for another full year and map creation was an exercise in pain back when PBEM7 was being created.
Everyone spent the early turns settling their initial cities and beginning the slow buildup of their civs. There were a lot of interesting decisions to make here, especially coordinating the two different civs that were paired together on each team, but I'm going to skip over this stuff for the sake of brevity. The big competition taking place in the early turns ended up being the race to found the initial religion. There were three teams competing here: Russia with its unique district Lavras, China with the Stonehenge wonder, and the Khmer with their faith-based innate bonuses. Singaboy and I were expecting that Russia would likely be the first team to a religion and EmperorK did indeed found the first faith on Turn 30. He took Choral Music and Defender of the Faith, great picks for Russia which would make it very difficult to attack EmperorK's territory. What we couldn't understand was how Mikeforall's Khmer was producing so many Great Prophet points while playing a civ that had no natural advantage in founding a religion. Somehow the Khmer were able to build multiple Holy Site districts and shrines in the first 30 turns of the game - how was that even possible?
As it turned out, it wasn't possible. Although Mikeforall founded the second religion of the game on Turn 32 and took the Jesuit Education and Tithe policies, it emerged shortly thereafter that he had cheated to do it:
Mikeforall had been using some kind of outside trainer to cheat the Khmer additional gold and then used that gold to cash-rush shrines to completion, shrines that his civ absolutely would not have been able to afford otherwise. This had a very real effect on the game as the Khmer won the race to the second religion and had the second choice of religious beliefs instead of them going to China. Everyone was stunned by the open admission of cheating which is something that we virtually never have to deal with at Realms Beyond. It was already too late to go back several turns and undo the damage at this point - what a mess. After much discussion, we opted to continue onwards with Cornflakes replacing Mikeforall and the Khmer being forced to delete the gold that had been illegally obtained. Mikeforall was a newcomer to the community and it was a real shame that he went down this route. I think everyone would have been happy to help him learn more about Civ6 gameplay but this was simply unacceptable. (Fortunately for my team, we were able to take the Divine Inspiration and Church Property beliefs for China's religion which were probably a better fit than Jesuit Education anyway.)
The next major event in the game was an early war that broke out between the Nubia/England and Kongo/Khmer teams:
Mikeforall had planted the aggressive city of Aranyaka before his departure and Chevalier (England) and Woden (Nubia) didn't take kindly to that spot. Making use of Nubia's unique Pitati Archers, they sent a small combined arms force to attack and ultimately raze the protruding city. There was little that Cornflakes could do to stop this invasion from taking place given the fact that he was inheriting a completely isolated city far distant from the rest of the Khmer core. While the two teams signed peace following the razing of Aranyaka, the net effect of the conflict was to leave the Kongo/Khmer team hopelessly behind the rest of their competitors. The Khmer had invested heavily into religion rather than growth and then saw their border city razed to the ground. Japper was also a relatively inexperienced player and trying to dig out of the hole that they had put themselves in was too large of a challenge to overcome. For that matter, Chevalier and Woden had also put themselves behind the curve as compared to the other two teams by training military and using it to raze rather than capture territory. They would also seemingly always be playing from behind but compensated for it with some brilliant moves of their own.
After the religious cheating incident and the early border skirmishing, there was a long period of peaceful development for each team. Without patting myself on the back too much, I'll limit myself to saying that Singboy and I did very well at this side of the gameplay and established leads over the rest of the field in most of the major economic categories. After the first 85 turns of the game, we were leading in cities, total population, techs researched, beaker/turn rate, civics researched, and faith/turn income. Rome is a front-loaded nation in Civ6 and I thought that I did a nice job of leveraging its advantages. EmperorK and TheArchduke were also doing very well from a production and gold income perspective, with TheArchduke cranking up the German Hansas and making use of several Commercial city states located in their vicinity. Chevalier's culture rate was impressive thanks to becoming the suzerain of the Nan Madol city state and Woden still had the largest army in the game following his earlier war.
But Japper and Cornflakes were extremely far behind and it was obvious to everyone that they were basically sitting ducks. (This was a huge advantage that my team and the Nubia/England team had over the Russia/Germany team, as Emperor K and TheArchduke lacked an easy target on their border.) I had earlier signed a Declaration of Friendship with Japper which was set to expire on Turn 90 and my team made plans to attack the Kongo when that deal ran out. Japper seems to have been somewhat oblivious to the legions massing on his border and there was essentially no resistance when the Roman attack rolled right through his border city without breaking a sweat. I continued onwards to take the next Kongo city just visible in the south of the above screenshot (with city walls collapsing instantly to battering rams here in non-expansion Civ6) then ran into stiffer resistance in the jungles outside the Kongo capital. Cornflakes' Khmer knights began to appear on the scene and the whole area was too jammed with units to make further progress. Having captured two cities and picked up room in the southeast to plant several more, Singaboy and I opted to sign a peace treaty as soon as the option became available on Turn 100. This locked us into 10 turns of peace and gave the Kongo/Khmer team a reprieve.
That reprieve lasted for about three hours in real-world time as Woden and Chevalier immediately declared war on their half of Turn 100:
What a tough sequence for the poor Kongo/Khmer team! The vultures were circling and the other teams were pouncing on their weakness. Chevalier's England was staged on their northwestern flank while Woden had the more powerful striking arm in the southeast. He easily overran Hariharalaya and then continued pushing west on the core Khmer holdings. Japper and Cornflakes were now forced to push their units east to deal with this latest threat. Over the next few turns there was heavy fighting as Nubian knights advanced into the teeth of defending Khmer crossbows. That slugfest was exactly what my own team wanted to see! Singaboy and I didn't have any idea at the time that Nubia/England was about to declare war and we stumbled into this highly advantageous tactical position by pure dumb luck. Woden and Chevalier drew away the defending units, opening up space for my own team to re-enter the war exactly ten turns later when our peace treaty was up. Woden found himself losing half a dozen units as he pushed forwards while Singaboy and I were able to waltz into nearly undefended Khmer cities:
What a fantastic result, I wish that we could have said that we planned that ahead of time. We made sure to have China pick up the southernmost Kongo city so that Singaboy could faith-rush units there using China's Theocracy govenment (this again being pre-expansion with no Grandmaster's Chapel). The two mirrored campaigns proceeded in unison and we each eliminated a player on the exact same turn, with Rome knocking out Japper's Kongo and Nubia defeating Cornflakes' Khmer. The division of land wound up being virtually identical, with Rome/China taking all of the Kongo cities and Nubia/England getting all of the Khmer domains. The partitioning of the unfortunate Team 1's lands came out a bit better for my side since Japper's Kongo cities were better developed than Cornflakes' Kongo ones and we had taken fewer casualties than Woden. However, Woden and Chevalier had significantly increased the territory under their control and that made them a real threat even though they were a bit behind at the moment.
Thus we ended up with several very large armies facing off against one another atop the ashes of the Kongo and Khmer. While the war was still in its dying stages, our teams signed a Declaration of Friendship with one another to remove the temptation for either side to engage in hostilities. The deal was signed on Turn 115 and would last for 30 turns, thus running out at the beginning of Turn 146. Singaboy and I were hoping that we could work together with Woden and Chevalier against the remaining team of Russia/Germany; we were confident that we could beat either team separately but not the two of them simultaneously. Unfortunately for us, Woden and Chevalier were wise enough to realize that this would lock them into a second place finish. They really had no choice but to ally with Emperor K and TheArchduke to have any realistic shot at winning, and that was the path that they would look to embark upon over the following 30 turns of peace.
This was the point in time when Chevalier made the single best play of the whole game: a near-instant construction of the Venetian Arsenal wonder. This is the wonder that causes any city finishing a ship to produce two ships instead of one (readers may remember the role this played in the PBEM4 game) and Chevalier had a plan to knock out the wonder almost immediately:
Chevalier Mal Fet:
This was better than "pretty darn good", it was downright amazing! I was also building the Venetian Arsenal and had hoped that having earlier access to the tech that unlocks it (Mass Production) would give me the edge. But Chevalier's planning was far superior and he out-executed me by a wide margin, winning the wonder race by more than half a dozen turns. Chevalier was making use of the single most important gameplay mechanic in non-expansion Civ6: production overflow. Players would build something to near-completion using one of the policy cards that boosted production and then chop/harvest a terrain feature to obtain full overflow into the next build. In the case above, Chevalier made use of triple stone harvests into walls, a galley, a quadrireme, and a settler to overflow about 800 production into the Venetian Arsenal. A few more jungle chops over the next two turns sealed the deal and gave him a wonder that took all of 3 turns to complete. This was absolutely brilliant stuff and England's possession of the Venetian Arsenal completely changed how the rest of the game played out. England would be able to train ships far faster than anyone else by making use of the 2 for 1 advantage granted by the Venetian Arsenal.
There was another race taking place during these turns following the elimination of the Kongo/Khmer team. Charles Darwin had popped up on the Great Scientist list, a Great Person who granted 500 instant beakers per natural wonder tile in his vicinity. I wanted this very badly for Rome because we had captured the Pantanal in Kongo territory during our successful war, and the four tiles that comprise this natural wonder would be worth 500 * 4 = 2000 instant beakers. TheArchduke's Germany was also in contention for the Great Scientist and I knew that it would be very close between the two of us on the Great Person screen. I arranged to have two cities complete Science district projects simultaneously which would leapfrog Rome past Germany and allow me to claim Darwin. Unfortunately TheArchduke was one step ahead of me:
It's not entirely clear from TheArchduke's screenshot but he spent 1100 gold to claim Darwin via patronage. This cost TheArchduke his entire treasury (he had 1168 gold in the bank) and I'm still amazed that TheArchduke realized that he had to pull the trigger here to claim the desired Great Scientist. Rome was well behind in the race and there was no way to know that I had a double district project queued up to complete on the next turn. TheArchduke must have had some kind of a sixth sense and acted just in time to secure the prize. I had to settle for the significantly less useful Mendeleev who would boost a random Industrial era technology, great. This was another critical turning point in the game as it delayed Rome's access to the next tier of military units. With Darwin in hand, I would have gained 5 additional turns worth of research and those 5 turns would wind up making a key difference. (Woden and Chevalier also captured the Scientific city state of Geneva which plummeted everyone's science rate around this world. This also delayed everyone's science but Rome most of all since I had the most Campus districts built. Smart move on their part.)
At this point, Singaboy and I were gearing up for a war with the Russia/Germany team. We viewed them as our biggest threat to win the game and wanted to move to secure our western flank while we were still locked into peace with Nubia/England. But EmperorK and TheArchduke kept building more and more units as our army moved closer to their shores, making good use of Russia's faith income and German Hansas. This war looked like it would be an exceedingly bloody affair and less and less profitable by the turn. We were also hoping to work together with Nubia/England but they had made it clear by now that they were not interested. Ultimately we decided to offer a new Declaration of Friendship to Russia/Germany:
Thus the impending clash was narrowly averted at the last minute. Rome/China signed a new Declaration of Friendship with Russia/Germany and both sides were locked into peace for the next 30 turns, lasting until Turn 161. It looked like we had cleared a path for both of our teams to work together against Nubia/England and that was setting the stage for a fairly easy victory for my team. (We could beat either of the other two teams individually, it was a combination of them working together that we had to avoid.) However, immediately after the Declaration of Friendship was signed, we committed a catastrophic diplomatic blunder. The Archduke wanted to settle a city to serve as a canal between the ocean to his east and the ocean to his north. Singaboy spotted that he could block this city from being planted with his units and then snuck his own city into the resulting gap:
The Chinese city of Xiangqi neatly prevented TheArchduke from being able to transfer his naval units from one sea to the other sea. And because TheArchduke had signed a Declaration of Friendship with our team just a few turns earlier, he was unable to declare war for the next 30 turns. He couldn't get rid of the interfering Chinese units and his navy was unable to concentrate in one place. This was a massive strategic advantage for my team but a diplomatic disaster. Needless to say, TheArchduke didn't much care for this action:
That was not a happy customer. We didn't realize that we would prompt this response in TheArchduke but we should have known that he would be upset, and it was a terrible, game-changing miscalculation on our part. I've made some bad mistakes diplomatically over my years of Civilization Multiplayer but this one might have taken the cake. Russia/Germany had been gearing up for war with Nubia/England and that decision would have more or less sealed things for my team. We would have taken the lion's share of the territory and then almost certainly forced a concession afterwards from a position of overwhelming military and technological advantage. But now we had foolishly created an enemy of our expected ally, with Germany counting down the turns until they could launch an attack against China. We were forced to keep a good portion of the Chinese military on the Russian border and we would need to strike quickly to win a decisive victory against Nubia and England while the two western civs were still locked into peace. This was a bungled diplomatic sequence of the highest possible magnitude and it was completely our own fault. I should have known not to poke TheArchduke who can be a very prickly customer!
Thus the gameplay leading up to the impending battle was taking shape. Everyone knew that war was on the horizon since Rome/China needed to strike quickly and win decisively against Nubia/England before Russia/Germany could enter the fray. My Roman forces were heading back to the east as fast as they could move to be in position on Turn 146 when our Declaration of Friendship from 30 turns earlier wore off. Everyone was frantically building ships, chopping forests and harvesting resources for production, and upgrading outdated units with their gold reserves. Chevalier's England had the Venetian Arsenal which allowed him to build ships at double the rate of anyone else and rapidly swell the ranks of the English navy. Readers should recall that pre-expansion Civ6 did not have the per-unit resource requirements added in the expansions and the easiest way to get large amounts of military units was to build cheaper old units and then mass upgrade them all at once. There was also a bug in the version of Civ6 that we were playing which did not allow players to form corps/fleets even if they possessed Nationalism civic, something that Singaboy and I really could have used given our cultural advantage and earlier access to this civic. But units could not be merged together until armies/armadas in this patch and therefore no one was able to combine their military units. Thus we had *REALLY* large armies and navies on each side in a way that's unlikely to repeat in future Civ6 games due to the gameplay changes that have since taken place.
As the armies and navies assembled in the former Kongo/Khmer territories, I had one unexpected card to play. I had spotted that no one built the Terracotta Army wonder and quickly knocked it out at my capital city. This rarely-built wonder awarded a free promotion to every Roman unit currently on the map and at this stage of the game that was a lot of units indeed. All of my ships would therefore go into battle with at least one promotion working in their favor which would prove to be critically important once combat began. Naval melee units would be able to take Embolon with their initial promotion for +7 strength against all other naval units, then Reinforced Hull for +10 strength when defending against ranged attacks. Naval ranged units could pick up Line of Battle for +7 strength against other naval units and then had less useful options at the second tier of promotions. These promotions would allow Roman ships to punch above their weight and counter the Great Admirals that England would inevitably be sporting thanks to the presence of England's unique Royal Navy Dockyard districts.
Heavy forces on each side had gathered around the city state of Nan Madol. This location had been under English suzerainty since the early stages of the game and it had been a massive boon for Chevalier's civ. Nan Madol's unique suzerain bonus is to grant +2 culture/turn to any district located on the coast. This was a perfect fit for England's Royal Navy Dockyards which each gained 2 culture along with any other English district placed along the coast - and any English city located along the coast which was essentially all of them! Nan Madol was supplying more than half of all English culture and it was such an overpowered suzerain benefit that our community would ban it from all future Civ6 PBEM games. (Again, this is not a criticism of Chevalier who spotted how well the city state would synergize with his civ and made excellent use of the benefit.)
Chevalier was protecting the city state from attack by surrounding it with his own units, and since Rome/China still had the last few turns remaining of our Declaration of Friendship, we couldn't get past the blocking English units to reach the city state itself. But Singaboy came up with a plan to work around this: he accumulated a series of envoys and then dumped them into the city state all at once. This temporarily cost Chevalier the suzerainship of Nan Madol, immediately teleporting the English units out of the city's borders. (Chevalier's culture also immediately dropped from 126 culture/turn down to 62 culture/turn, ouch!) Chevalier wasn't terribly concerned about this because he had planned to abandon his defense of the city state anyway once the fighting began but it was still helpful for our team in terms of getting units into the positions that we wanted. We could begin reducing the defenses of the city state before the war started as opposed to having to deal with a hostile opponent (even a minor one) after the big hostilities broke out.
I did not have enough damage to capture Nan Madol on the final staging round of Turn 145. I did the damage that I could to the city state with my units in the area but the real focus was on Chevalier's navy:
The good news here was that I was able to spot Chevalier's "invisible" Sea Dogs thanks to the way that Civ6's interface worked. The tiles that they occupied would be blocked off in red if I moused over them and that gave away the secrecy that they were supposed to enjoy. Critically, Chevalier DID NOT KNOW THIS and continued to move his units as though they were invisible. This was in no way his fault - why wouldn't Civ6 work as intended and allow these units to be truly hidden? It was the crummy interface that Civ6 suffers under which was at fault here. The lurker community agonized over whether or not to tell Chevalier this fact but ultimately decided that it would be too big of an intervention to tell him that Rome had a way to see his "invisible" units. There were honestly no good options here for the lurkers following along and I think that they made the best choice possible in a bad situation. This would heavily impact how the first few turns of the war played out.
But there was bad news as well. Rome was still several turns away from completing Steel tech which would not finish until Turn 149, obviously after the initial hostilities had begun on Turn 146. That was a huge problem because Steel tech would unlock battleships, the next tier of ships beyond the frigates which made up the core of each navy. My team had been hoping to make it to Steel and upgrade the Roman navy into battleships before the conflict began and we were going come up a few turns short. If we had landed Darwin earlier, if Chevalier and Woden hadn't had the foresight to capture Scientific city state Geneva... these are the small differences on which close games can turn. The Roman navy would have to face the English navy at the same tech level for at least the first few turns before I could begin upgrading to battleships and hope that they would swing the flow of combat. I did not think that I could delay an engagement for the few turns needed to reach battleships because that would give up the possibility of a first strike, one of the biggest advantages that I had over Chevalier.
Chevalier surveyed the field on the final turn before the war began:
Chevalier Mal Fet:
Chevalier's strategy was to push for the Roman city of Genova, one of the canal cities that allowed my units to move from the southern ocean to the eastern ocean. He was hoping to sneak part of his fleet over to the city and raze it at the start of the conflict, thereby denying any reinforcements from arriving from the south and passing through the canal. These were the instructions that Chevalier left for Woden, and as his signoff message indicated, Chevalier was going to have to take a brief leave of absence from the game due to traveling out of town. What horrible timing, literally on the very turn before the fighting began! Unfortunately we all live in the real world and these intrusions would have an effect on this game more than once over the upcoming turns. Woden would be taking over the admiral's cap and assuming the helm for the English fleet for the next few turns.
As the date rolled over from Turn 145 to Turn 146, everyone had laid their cards out on the table. It was time to flip them over and see who had the better hand. Unlike the PBEM17 report where I teased a conflict for the whole writeup only to have the game end as soon as hostilities began, there would be no sudden end to the fighting this time. It would be Blood for the Blood God for the forseeable future.