Game: 5 vs. 5 Team Game
Map: Large Team Battleground
Settings: Medieval Start, 2 city-elim, No Barbs, 100 turns
MP defaults: Quick, Fast turn timer
I haven't been playing much Multiplayer recently (it's not a case of playing and failing to write about it). That's partly due to the disappearance of my former MP group, partly due to a general dissatisfaction with MP overall. There are a lot of things I like about MP - the team aspect, the unpredictability of humans, the fast-paced action - but there are a lot of problems as well. Quite aside from connections fiascos, the average random MP person out there doesn't really know what they're doing, and is likely to quit the game as soon as things start to go wrong. If you've played any public game online (especially on Battle.net), I'm sure you understand what I'm talking about. Now one potential solution to that is the "ladder", which is designed to prevent players from abandoning games, but it also suffers from a variety of problems (most notably, ladder players obsessing about their "records" and complaining endlessly about anything which might cause them to lose a game). Furthermore, since many of the most effective strategies for MP involve "choking" your opponent by immediately rushing him or her at the start of the game, I very quickly grew tired of that sort of gameplay. After about the fifth game in a row where I had warriors/archers/skirmishers rushing into my territory before I could even get a worker out, I was more than ready to shelve MP for a while. That kind of game just isn't much fun.
Nevertheless, Speaker's been trying to get me to play some more MP games for a while now, so I decided I'd join a large Realms Beyond game that was forming one Tuesday night. Although it took the usual half hour or so to get everyone into a game together, we ended up with a large assortment of 10 players. Here were the teams:
Speaker suggested that we run a Medieval start, one which I've played quite a bit before, and no one objected to that. Some of the players picked civs and others went Random (which might explain some of the odd choices above). I picked Kublai because I figured it would be good to have an Aggressive civ, and Creative for free culture is always a good thing. I never built a single keshik all game, so that wasn't exactly a major factor. Team Battleground isn't one of my favorite map scripts, but it was probably appropriate for these settings. With that, we got started.
I found myself on the southern side of the map, a little bit offset from the center to the east. Atlas was on my eastern flank, and Gogf held our position in the dead center of the map (I was quite glad to see us luck out that way!) Further west, Dudemaster (who goes by Striker at Realms Beyond, btw) had a long front to defend, and Dantski was tucked in behind him. As far as the other team went, from east to west they were lined up this way: Mookie, Speaker, Sebmono, dsplaisted, and sooooo.
I had a fabulous start with cows, rice, and iron, so I followed the usual plan for Medieval (if you have a safe position) of going with a worker first in the capital. My starting worker built a pasture on the cows, then chopped a forest to finish off the second worker. After that, it was on to a granary for fast growth, and I would use the high-food tiles for some early slaving opportunities (like a library). My starting settler went north, where I found another fantastic site, packed with floodplains and a copper. Here's what things looked like 4 turns into the game after I had both cities started:
You can see Speaker's explorer already wandering around my territory; his Mali was just to the north of my civ, on the other side of the desert. Now I'm sure Speaker could have spammed skirmishers and put a nasty choke on me, but fortunately he didn't do that. It wouldn't have made the game much fun, that's for sure. So if that was a deliberate holding back on the aggression there, I have to say thanks - and I think it made the game more fun for everyone. (Although... I did have iron at the capital, so I could have spammed some Cover axes if things had gone really badly. Still, wouldn't have been much fun.)
Due to my long absence from competitive MP, Gogf was calling our tech path here. We ended up researching Feudalism, then Civil Service, then went for Music to get the free Great Artist. Well, that's by no means a bad tech path (it's a very strong defensive one), but Speaker was obviously thinking along the same lines because their team chose the exact same initial techs! Unfortunately for us, Speaker's "Financial Civ on a River" (TM) gave him a gigantic GNP that dwarfed everyone else early on, and so their team got to each tech first, reaping all the first to discover benefits. That meant that they got the free Great Artist, which they burned on Theology and founded Christianity (I've gone that exact route in previous Medieval games, and it's a relatively strong one). Even worse, their team also managed to land the Great Library - a wonder that simply should NOT be enabled for Medieval starts. (Whoever lands it has a gigantic advantage, due to the free Great Scientists. Their team would use one of them to grab Philosophy, establishing a further tech/points lead on us.) The strange thing is that the Great Library was NOT buildable prior to 1.61 in Medieval starts, so I have no idea who was messing around with things there. Not a good change...
50 turns into the game, the other team had a fairly substantial points lead, and things weren't looking good for us:
Their team actually managed to rush the Hanging Gardens with a Great Engineer one turn before Gogf was about to finish it naturally, which was either a moment of high comedy or some really bad luck, depending on your perspective. Since their team was ahead in points and teching faster than we could, I would have expected their strategy to be defensive, forcing us to get a kill in order to win the game. For whatever reason, they chose not to go that route and instead began preparing an offensive force. It may well have been boredom, simply trying to spice up the game. Speaker will probably comment on what was going on in the forums, so I don't want to speculate too much here. Nevertheless, once we started to see these stacks building, we knew danger was on the way:
There are a couple of important things to point out here. The obvious thing is simply the huge forces accumulating outside of Machu Picchu, but there's more than that occurring. Note the Incan workers south of the city building a road; that's usually a clear indication in MP that an attack will be forthcoming soon. Now look at the borders of Gogf's city (Karachi) compared to the ones at my frontline city (Beshbalik). Early on, I chopped a cheap Creative theatre in Beshbalik, and then ran two Artists there for a while in order to produce a Great Artist, using all of the city's excess food. As a result, my borders extended a full four tiles outward to the north, giving me a huge buffer against any attack. Gogf's Karachi was MUCH better defended than my city, but (consciously or subconsciously) Speaker's team chose to make their attack in the west, because the city was so much more reachable over there.
Long story short: Creative civs are more valuable than you might think! I had complete control of the ground in front of my civ, and that probably saved me from destruction. There was no way I could have stopped some of the forces that were about to invade.
The battle that followed at Karachi was one of the more impressive and closest ones I've ever seen in Civ4. Sebmono's big stack of cats and maces moved in with a little over 30 turns left in the game, supported by Speaker's knights. dsplaisted moved in a smaller stack as well, but it was not quite coordinated with the other stacks, and arrived a turn after they did. This would prove to be critical!
Note that Speaker/Sebmono's huge stack is one tile northeast of Karachi, while dsplaisted's stack is still two tiles away. What happened next was a frantic sequence of turns in which Speaker, Sebmono, and dsplaisted threw everything they had against Karachi while Gogf and I desperately reinforced the city with anything available. Gogf and I were in constant communication on Teamspeak throughout this process, without which I'm not sure we could have pulled this thing off. I ended up sending more than half of the forces in my frontline city over to provide defense. Speaker snapped a number of pictures showing how close the fighting came to taking the city, which I'm going to reproduce here (let me know if this is a problem):
If you look closely at that picture, you can see that Gogf accidentally promoted his mace stack to Woodsman I with a misclick! This particular attempt at Karachi was stopped by the arrival of new forces from Gogf's southern cities.
Two turns later, Karachi has managed to hold out because I moved my mace stack into the city just in the nick of time. However, there are still more forces yet to come, as Speaker still has not committed his entire reserves as yet. Note also the elephant stack on the right side of the screen; those are Atlas' forces, which he was moving towards the now-undefended Machu Picchu. We had to call off that attack, because Speaker brought this group into view a few moments later:
Now at this point, I'm sure Speaker thought that Karachi was going to fall on the next turn. But that stack was heavy on cats, low on actual attackers, and between turns Atlas gifted his whole huge stack to Gogf, who moved it into Karachi in time to save the city once again. Here was the aftermath:
I'm sure that Speaker and his teammates where wondering just wtf had happened to produce all those units out of nowhere, hehe. So in the end Karachi held, but it was a very, very near-run thing. The key factor (aside from Gogf's extremely fast reinforcing) was the support from the other teammates on our side. In a large game like this, the goal is always to try and overwhelm an opponent with forces from multiple civs at once. No matter how good someone might be, they're going to have a tough time fighting off two other people at once, and nearly no chance to defeat three players acting in concert. The other team correctly threw the forces of three civs (Speaker/Sebmono/dsplaisted) against Gogf, but we managed to turn it into a 3 on 3 with support from Atlas and my Mongolians. The result was a narrow but successful hold!
By the way, this game shows why you damn well better build a decent road network between your allies. Without the roads my workers laid down between our civs, Gogf would have been toast so many times, it's not even funny.
Here's an overall view of the scene when the dust cleared:
At some point during the fighting we had exploded a culture bomb in Karachi to push out its borders. That probably didn't do a great deal, but it surely helped in slowing down the other team's reinforcements. Now in order to make that great attack, some of the players on the other team (particuarly Speaker) had whipped their cities pretty badly. As a result, after our team finished researching Chemistry we saw our score surpass theirs for the first time in ages, and I believe that our research was proceeding faster than theirs as well. (I was approaching Speaker's GNP, although he would certainly have gone back up again as his cities regrew in size.)
Unfortunately, Dudemaster had disappeared earlier for reasons that we never heard (note the AI on the score panel to the right), and sooooo had kindly agreed not to attack his AI replacement. When we lost someone else with about 15 turns to go, we decided to call it a draw and stop. (I had to leave regardless, so it was ending time for me no matter what!) My team was slightly ahead in score at that point, but it was very close, and their team almost certainly would have gotten to Liberalism first. Plus, Mookie was building up a scary stack of... something, according to the power graph. We had reached Chemistry for grenadiers, so we weren't exactly sitting ducks, but there may well have been another climactic showdown ahead. Ah well, the game we did play had plenty of fireworks!
To give you a sense of how destructive the battle for Karachi had been, here's a look at the power graph:
Note the catastrophic implosion of forces for Sebmono, Speaker, and Atlas. Gogf lost a ton of units too, only to see a drastic rebound as Atlas gifted him a gigantic stack at the end of the fighting. Crazy stuff - you won't see things like this in Single Player!
In short, I had a fun time. I do wish that we had managed to get our other teammates on voice chat; I felt as though Gogf and I weren't including the others in our decisions, and that probably suffered our performance as a whole. Anyway, I don't know if I'll have the time or desire for a lot more MP action, but this particular night was a blast to play.