The RNGesus Campaign

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This is a writeup for a Humankind game that I named the RNGesus Campaign that took place on Livestream during the summer months of 2022. It was based on a simple variant that I thought would make for an entertaining game: all cultures must be chosen randomly rather than picked. This would force me to explore some of the underpowered cultures instead of forcing the strongest or best-fitting options in each new era; even with a relatively limited number of Humankind games under my belt, I'd seen more than my share of Egypt, the Khmer, Japan, and so on. I had previously tried an earlier version of this same variant on the highest difficulty setting where I fiddled with the map settings to create a tiny, cramped, barren map. That proved to be a disastrous mistake as the AI's innate bonuses on the top difficulty cause it to suffer much less from weak terrain whereas I was crippled by the lack of resources and rampant tundra tiles. I had also inadvertently placed myself into a sardine can with absolutely no room to maneuever and eventually found myself crushed by a runaway AI empire. I resolved to try the variant again with a better map setup and on the second-highest difficulty to make things a bit easier.

This time around I ran my default settings, a Small Pangaea map with five rival AI empires and normal options for things like resources and rivers and cliffs. I appeared at the western edge of the continent and quickly found a fertile river valley that looked like a good location for the initial city. As my tribal units explored the immediate surrounding area, I had the good luck to discover that there were no other AI cultures in the immediate vicinity, lots and lots of space to spread out and expand. I found a bunch of food deposits and quickly snowballed up to six tribal units which was enough to exit the Neolithic era and found my first culture. I wasn't finding much in the way of curiosities and soon made the decision to advance the era without getting the curiosity star for +1 science per population point. I judged that it was better to reach the Ancient era at the very early date of Turn 9 and get a leg up on the rest of the competition rather than delay for additional turns in the hopes of finding more curiosities.

Therefore I had first choice of an Ancient era culture which was much less valuable than normal since I was doing all the picking in purely random fashion. handed me the Olmecs for my culture which proved to be an excellent choice for the starting stages of the gameplay. The Olmecs are the early influence culture with the Natural Harmony trait that grants them 3 influence/turn on all territories that they control (both with full cities and outposts). They also have two lesser benefits in the Olmec Head unique district, a Farmer's Quarter with additional minor influence, and the Javelin Thrower unique unit which has slightly higher strength than a normal archer. It's the unique Olmec trait that's the real winner though, since influence is the resource needed to claim territory and expand in Humankind, and that's the most important concern during the initial turns. The Olmecs might not be quite as good as Egypt or the Harappans but they're still well above average when it comes to the Ancient era cultures.

I began by having the capital city of Pink Dot construct a pair of Maker's Quarters to increase production as much as possible. I planted an early outpost directly south of the capital in a forested river region that held both copper and horses, the two early strategic resources. Having strong influence out of the gate allowed me to attach the outpost back to the capital quickly (for another 3 influence/turn via Olmec unique trait), then use the extra production to build a Pottery Workshop for 4 influence/turn, then prepare to add more outposts to claim additional territory for even more influence in the classic Civilization snowball effect. Meanwhile, I had six scout units on the map left over from the Neolithic era and they busied themselves with defogging the western portion of the continent. They came across the tribal units of an AI empire with red banners and I clashed with them for a bit in some skirmishes that led to three enemy kills. It's a huge advantage having scouts with 13 strength while the AI remains in an earlier era with 10 strength (well 11 strength thanks to the +1 difficulty bonus) tribal units. I came close to razing one of their outposts but was eventually driven away when the red AI leader (Walinong Sari) advanced into the Ancient era herself.

My driving goal over the following turns was pushing expansion while remaining on friendly terms with the nearby AI empires. Their bonuses from playing on higher difficulty are strongest in the early game and avoiding conflict with them is usually to the player's advantage until they can outscale the AI down the road. With Walinong Sari having her capital to the southeast, I placed top priority on locking down the border region with her Egyptian culture. I dropped an outpost in the territory immediately next to her capital and then cheekily signed a Non Aggression Pact immediately after swiping away the disputed land. There was a lot of empty landscape to the north and east before my scouts finally ran into the territory of Midas (the AI with the black banners) some distance away. I was even able to use the "Cultural Blitz" affinity action of the Olmecs to convert 30 gold into 60 influence and bring one of the territories where I had an outpost fully under my cultural control. Influence is *MUCH* more valuable than gold in the early portions of Humankind and this locked down the crucial border region with Egypt to boot.

The other big story of the early turns was the amount of peaceful trade that I was able to engage in. None of the AI leaders in this game had drawn warlike personalities and instead they were all going out of their way to sign peaceful treaties and exchange resources with my pink culture. The price of resources in the Ancient era is dirt cheap and I was able to take the gold from the curiosities that my scouts were popping and put them towards purchasing various luxury and strategic resources. This is both one of the best and worst aspects of Humankind's gameplay: resources are very powerful and trading for them benefits everyone (much like in the real world), however it's a bit too easy to stack up oodles of resources and gain disproportionate benefits. For example, Animal Barns are one of the basic infrastructure builds that grant cities 5 food per horse resource they control. This is balanced when the player has the normal 2-3 horses... and wildly overpowered when the player has 8 of them because they've traded for every horse resource on the map. Food, production, science: everything was skyrocketing across the board thanks to all my trade deals and stability was practically a joke. I wasn't even losing money from buying all these resources - I was actually gaining money because of the various bonuses I was getting to income!

As a result, friendly trading with everyone helped push my empire out to a very fast start and the Olmec influence bonuses allowed me to convert that edge into expansion. After dropping three outposts along the border with Walinong Sari and Midas, I upgraded one of them into the city of Border Control and attached an outpost to it, then established the third city of Cobol with three unclaimed regions still waiting around in my safe backlines. I was able to use the Cultural Blitz affinity a second time to convert 40 gold into 135 influence and speed up the acquisition of those remaining unclaimed areas. Everyone was happy to remain peaceful with me and thus I was able to avoid training a single military unit, putting all of my production into city development and not needing to convert population into military units. Those same six scouts left over from the Neolithic era were sufficient for now. By the time that I stopped my first streaming session around Turn 50, I had out-expanded all of the neighboring AI empires and I was feeling very comfortable about my position in the game.

This was the moment where I chose to advance into the Classical era and rolled the Achaemenid Persians for my new culture. The Persians are considered to be one of the best cultures in the Classical era since their unique trait grants +2 city cap which is one of the rarest bonuses in Humankind. I honestly don't know how people play on the gigantic map scripts since I'm always running up against the city cap even on the Small maps that I use. Persia's unique district the Satrap's Palace is a Merchant's Quarter with some bonus influence and their unique unit the Immortal is a nasty spear replacement that decimates mounted units. I didn't expect to make too much use of the Persian units though as I remained in peaceful expansion mode for the time being. The only fighting that was taking place came from a cluster of barbarian cities in the south-central part of the continent whose units attacked my scouts as I tried to explore more of the map. Otherwise I was content to develop my cities and tech upwards for the moment, turning one of my outposts into a fourth city while pumping out infrastructure and building more districts.

I wasn't going to stay at peace forever though and once the entire map had been claimed I began looking for opportunities for further expansion. The red territory of Walinong Sari looked to be the softest target as she had only one city to her name and was situated next to my city of Border Control. I trained about a dozen units with a mixture of immortals and javelin throwers along with my old scouts which had now been upgraded into horseman units, then prepared to attack. I sent one detachment of soldiers to raze the outpost to my south while the main army advanced on the capital city of Memphis. Walinong Sari's forces sallied out of the city in an attempt to break my siege and the resulting battle was a big one for this stage of the game, with more than a dozen units on each side. The fighting lasted for two turns and I lost four of my units in exchange for killing everything that she had and capturing the city. With Memphis in my hands Walinong Sari was effectively finished as a capable threat although she would linger on with a single city remaining. Despite capturing her last city, I didn't have enough war support to complete the elimination and eventually signed peace in exchange for the formal cessation of Memphis.

This brought my empire into contact with that cluster of barbarian cities in the southern tundra. They were acting like a true group of pirates, lashing out at any of my units passing nearby and even sieging up the recent conquest of Memphis, leaving me with no choice but to exterminate them from the map for the good of civilized nations everywhere. The barbarians were tough opponents and it took my full army to make progress against them though the ultimate outcome of the fighting was never in doubt. Even though they were an era behind, I found that the Olmec javelin throwers were quite useful in these combats as one of the few ranged options available. Their ability to deal damage without taking damage was quite helpful even if their positioning within Humankind's byzantine line-of-sight rules could be tricky. Eventually I bulldozed my way through Akkad and Phaistos and Nok to run my empire out to seven cities and claim dominion over this part of the map.

The conquest of Walinong Sari's core along with the barbarian cluster in the south had the pink borders of my empire stretching deep into the heart of the continent. The obvious next target was Midas who headed the weak AI empire with the black borders currently running the Celtic culture. I surrounded his capital city's territory on three sides and Midas had also founded an annoying offshore island city which was deep in my back lines by now. My own culture for the Medieval era had been a dud after two good rolls in the initial eras: I drew the Norsemen who had a bunch of naval bonuses which were basically useless on this Pangaea map. Additional movement points for ships, better embarked land units, and a unique Harbor district weren't exactly what I was looking for on this setup. I think literally any other culture for the Medieval era would have been more useful but that was the fun of this particular variant.

There were two other factors working in the background that combined together to inject some additional drama into what had been a routine game thus far. The first was that my warring against Walinong Sari was not popular with the other AI leaders and relations had been plummeting with the other empires. After that early lovefest where we all held hands singing Kumbaya while trading resources, I was increasingly facing a bunch of hostile faces who were breaking off our former Non Aggression Pacts and resource deals. The much more significant problem was the emergence of the brown AI empire piloted by Semiramis which was by far the strongest AI empire on the map. Semiramis picked the Mongols for her culture upon entering the Medieval era and my heart sank the instant that I saw that notification on the interface. The Mongols and the earlier Classical era Huns are the most overpowered cultures in the game, both possessing unique unit horse archers which ignore the normal combat rules. Mongol Horde units have 33 base strength (higher with the AI bonuses) and 6 movement points, with the ability to move and fire and move again while ignoring all zones of control. They are completely broken and were universally banned from all Humankind competitive Multiplayer since there are no counters to these units until reaching much more advanced units on the tech tree. Semiramis declared war on me right as I was gearing up to face Midas, bringing her tame vassal AI with the purple banners into the conflict as well. I knew immediately that I would have to face swarms of Mongol horse archers and that I was in for a world of pain.

It didn't take long before the Mongol hordes showed up at my borders with them initiating the first battle. I faced 11 of their horse archers out of the gate and they had the first mover advantage as the attackers, shooting and killing one of my own units before I could even react. I thought that it was best to engage and wipe out this group before Semiramis could build up more of her unique unit into an unstoppable death ball. I had 21 units in the area to face those 11 horse archers which would have translated into a crushing advantage against pretty much any other unit type. But the Mongol horde units get to ignore the normal rules of the game, moving out of the fog to fire and deal damage while taking none themselves, then galloping back into a safe defensive position afterwards. The comparison with my poor javelin tossers, who were were stuck in place after attacking and had to work around the game's horrible line-of-sight rules, was painfully unfair. I should also mention that pikes are supposed to be the anti-horse unit for the Medieval era and they have 31 strength. The Mongol horde units all had 34 strength, plus didn't have to take damage to attack, plus could ignore all zone of control rules. Oh and when they kill enemy units they spawn more Mongol horde units to continue snowballing their advantage! Everything about these units felt incredibly cheap and unfair to play against - there was a lot of cursing on the Livestream that you almost never see out of me.

The battle against the initial Mongol attackers therefore turned into an absolute bloodbath. Over the course of two turns and almost an hour of real-world time, I managed to kill all 11 enemy units at the cost of 8 deaths to my own units and grievous wounds on the survivors. It was a terrible sign that I had engaged with 2:1 odds in my favor and barely managed to gain a favorable trade in the fighting. One thing that I did learn was that the location of the battlefield had been a poor one for me; the combat had taken place in a hilly region where the mobility of the Mongol horde worked to their advantage. Counterintuitively, I wanted to fight in open terrain where my units wouldn't keep getting stuck on cliffs and hills that the Mongol units could gleefully prance around with their ranged shots and ignorance of zone of control rules. I had to stop the Livestream session after this battle because I was completely worn out and knew that this was only the first wave of attackers headed my way.

Sure enough there were more Mongol hordes on their way, stacks of five horse archers streaming in thanks to the production bonuses that the AI gets on the higher difficulties. In addition to the main front over in the east, Semiramis was also trying to embark more horde units across the narrow sea in the west that separated our core territories. I also suffered the poor timing to have the the black AI empire of Midas and the blue AI empire of Makeda declare war at this moment as well, not nations that were strong on their own but very much not something that I wanted to be dealing with alongside the Mongol horde. I was able to hit one stack of 5 Mongol horde units and annihilate them in isolation but Semiramis was back shortly thereafter with another 19 (!) of the Mongol horde units moving together in coordinated fashion. I had absolutely no answer to those units if they stayed clumped together and immediately began retreating everything westwards back towards my core cities as fast as possible. Unfortunately there was one stack of six units that wasn't able to escape the closing trap and they were annihilated with extreme prejudice by the Mongol horde. A decent-sized army was left with only two crippled units still alive before I even had a chance to act and this truly felt like it might be a game over moment - just look at this ridiculous screenshot of the battle!

There were no units available that could deal with the Mongol horse archers. Therefore my only hope was to advance into the next era and deploy the next tier of anti-mounted units in the form of halberdiers. Fortunately those units weren't too far off as I had reached the Early Modern era by taking the Ottomans as my new culture (once again a weak option that provided very little for my empire) and I was beelining as quickly as possible towards Centralized Power tech where halberdiers unlock. I was also pumping out pikeman units from every city as my army retreated back into my core. There were half a dozen turns where every city was pumping out pikes or knights over and over again, decimating their populations in the process. I had no choice though: if I couldn't stop this attack from Semiramis then my game was going to be over in a real hurry. It was a desperate moment as I gave ground and retreated back into my core as the enemy armies advanced and began threatening my cities.

Finally I reached the necessary technology on Turn 102 and could start upgrading my pikeman levies into halberdiers. These upgrades weren't cheap at 485 gold apiece which meant that I couldn't afford to upgrade everything even with about 6000 gold in the bank. I upgraded as many pikes as the treasury would afford and then threw them into the developing battle captured in the screenshot above. There were 14 Mongol horde units clumped together on the plains east of Cobol and the AI surely thought that it had the advantage when it launched its attack at the start of the turn. However, I had nearly two dozen units available to toss into the growing conflict including all of my shiny new halberdiers. They immediately proved to be difference-makers in combat, with their 41 base strength growing to 49 strength with the +8 bonus against mounted units; I was delighted to find that this was often sufficient to one-shot the Mongol hordes. The halberdiers carved a path of destruction through the ranks of the Mongols and flipped the war on its head at a stroke. The rivers ran red with their blood as those 14 horse archers were slaughtered without mercy:

The Livestream viewers pointed out that I had used the Mongols' own historical tactics against them, feigning a retreat and then turning to strike back at an opportune moment. This was the turning point of the whole game as Semiramis lacked any response to the new halberdiers once they appeared on the battlefield. Her military was entirely comprised of Mongol horde units without a single sword or archer or pike which left them helpless against the anti-mounted units that I was now fielding. The number of halberdiers only grew with time since I had cranked out so many pikes to meet the dire Mongol threat and then afterwards slowly upgraded them as I acquired more gold. The Norseman unique trait of increased gold from ransacking outposts/cities was somewhat helpful here, about the only thing that I gained from the previous era's culture. With the Mongols beaten back for the moment, I was able to strike out against the small fry nations who were also warring with me, hitting the weaker stacks of Midas and Makeda when they foolishly crossed into my territory. Midas was the closest opponent so I targeted his capital of Babylon first and captured it for my own use. I was hoping to eliminate him entirely but he was still holding that small offshore city when his war support hit zero and I had bigger fish to fry at the moment. Like Walinong Sari, Midas would continue to cling to life with a single territory to his name.

The following turns saw my armies return to the previous rolling push eastwards that had been interrupted by the Mongol horde attack. Semiramis continued to strike at me with Mongol horse archers but these were vastly less dangerous now and I was successfully able to keep their numbers down by stomping them out in smaller groups before they could concentrate again. I was also at war with the two AI empires that had similar blue and purple colors and which were both too weak to put up much resistance. There were lots of one-sided battles to fight as I captured one city after another, razing and replacing most of them to avoid the surrender screen shenanigans so common in this game. I had to delay the final surrender with Makeda for a number of turns despite holding all of her cities and outposts until some of those outposts were razed, otherwise she would have survived with a single city somewhere. This was all a pain in the rear but it didn't stop me from eliminating Makeda first followed by taking the final city of Walinong Sari to knock out a second AI empire which had been on life support for centuries.

Back at home, my cities had been building the usual collection of industrial and research districts since production and science tend to be the two most important commodities in Humankind. I had designated two cities for gold generation and they kept the empire running in the black while ensuring that I had enough money available for unit upgrades. The player definitely needs to specialize at least some cities for income or else any kind of modern military will leave them bankrupt. The other big development was unlocking the luxury manufactories at Patronage technology which continue to be one of the game's most broken elements. The economic benefits of controlling those manufactories are enormous and it's usually easy for the player to be the first empire to unlock them and reap all the benefits. This is something that I keep wanting the developers to address in patching and they keep refusing to do so. On the plus side, the patches have greatly improved the city infrastructure side of the gameplay by showing the actual benefits of each building rather than forcing the player to calculate the numbers themselves. It's so much better being able to see at a glance the value of a Lumberyard rather than trying to count by hand all the forest tiles which will benefit from it.

I had absorbed pretty much everyone's territory other than Semiramis by the time that the Industrial era began when I rolled the Italians for my next culture. The Italians are another weak option who receive bonuses to Commons Quarters (which the developers consistently seem to think are much better than they actually are) and a unique influence district named the Teatro which isn't very useful by this stage of the gameplay. Influence is amazing in the early game to claim territory and falls off rapidly once the whole map has been filled; most of the civics options (which are supposed to be the big spender for influence) aren't powerful enough to be worth their cost. The one interesting thing that the Italians brought was their Alpini form of alpine troops, a unique unit replacement for the line infantry with slightly higher strength and the ability to cross cliffs. This was a key unit for me not because the alpini themselves do anything particularly significant but because their line infrantry base unit was the next upgrade path for halberdiers. There's a massive jump from halberdiers, which are melee units that can only hit enemies next to them, to line infantry which have a range of 4 tiles, can move and shoot on the same turn, and don't take damage when firing on their targets:

I had saved up 55,000 gold in the bank knowing that the halberdier to alpini upgrade would be brutally expensive. It came out at 1290 gold per unit and I ran my treasury all the way down to nothing in upgrading my army, having just barely enough funds to modernize everything. I had earlier claimed a handful of regions in a peace treaty with Semiramis when her war support fell all the way down to zero. She was continuing to be a terrible neighbor despite our nominal peace status, harassing my units and attempting to pillage outposts that I was setting up in regions where I had employed raze-and-replace tactics. I wasn't going to stand for that and declared a surprise war as soon as my forces were outfitted with the new guns. Semiramis had finally moved out of the Mongol horde units but was still stuck with Early Modern weaponry while I was fielding Industrial era units. This was exactly as brutal a mismatch in Humankind as it is in Civilization 4, perhaps even more so since my units could shoot without taking damage in return. Most battles for the remainder of the game looked something like this:

There would be a massive group of alpini surrounding the unfortunate enemies who I would proceed to shoot to death without them having any chance to fight back. The extended range on the alpini usually allowed me to get every unit into the fighting without extra units being stuck helpelessly in the back lines as so often happens with melee units. By being the aggressor and initiating combat, I would get the first chance to act on the tactical screen and quite frequently could kill all of the defenders before they even had a turn of their own. Most of my army had multiple stars of experience for extra combat strength, plus I taken the religious tenet Meditate Often for +2 strength on all units, plus I was running the Aristocracy civic for +1 strength on emblematic units, all of which ballooned my strength advantage to ridiculous proportions. It was the exact same situation that the Mongol horde had enjoyed earlier in the game only this time I was the one with the unstoppable unique units who were destroying everything in their path.

There wasn't much more to say after that. I had an invincible army that the AI couldn't stop and I used it to run over the remainder of the map. First I captured the last remaining offshore island city of Midas then methodically blitzed through the core territory of Semiramis, razing and replacing every outpost and city along the way. Humankind has added a new option to refuse a surrender when an enemy's war support hits zero (at the cost of your cities losing stability every turn that the player delays a resolution to the war) and I made use of that here to ensure that Semiramis wouldn't require another war to be eliminated. I overran all of her cities, popped into the Modern era while waiting out the raze timer for some of the captured territories (I drew the Soviet Union as the last culture which was an appropriate choice), and finally took her last remaining stronghold once the rest of the map was under my control. There was plenty of war score to formally claim that last city and leave me with the world's only surviving empire:

Humankind weirdly stretches out the final turns of each game for no reason; this one saw me accept the surrender of Semiramis on Turn 145, get the notification that she was eliminated on Turn 146, then another notification that Turn 147 was the final turn of the game, before winning officially at the start of Turn 148. I have no clue why the programmers coded things this way, it always feels unnecessarily confusing. I wound up with a score of about 14.5k fame which is largely irrelevant for comparison purposes because Humankind doesn't scale fame by difficulty level or early finishing date. This was a fun game overall and more challenging than I expected it to be after that excellent opening sequence of expansion. It was a game that highlighted the extremely overpowered nature of the Mongol horde units which have no counterplay until the opponent researches an entire era ahead on the tech tree. I have no idea why a unit this broken has been allowed to remain in the game throughout a year's worth of patches although the word is that the Hunnic/Mongol horde units are finally going to be adjusted in the future. I've frequently said on Livestream that I enjoy 90% of the gameplay in Humankind while the other 10% has me tearing me hair out in frustration, and those Hunnic horde units were definitely part of that annoying 10%.

Thanks as always for watching and reading along. I get the impression that this isn't a game that gets much attention from my followers but I (mostly) enjoy playing it.