Adventure Eleven: Laying the Foundation

Adventure Eleven was the second one of our "Extreme Adventures" hosted at Realms Beyond; that is, games that go far beyond the normal level of difficulty into an area that can only be described as painful. In the original game (Adventure Two), Sirian rolled a ridiculous tundra start hemmed in on a lake (Highlands map) and threw players to the wolves against Monarch AIs. That game certainly lived up to its billing, with less than one third of the reporters posting wins (and doubtless more people tried and lost without reporting).

For this game, we are once again on Monarch difficulty, but Sirian has designed a scenario that may be even more brutal. The setup screen states that there will be three continents, and "The civs on the other landmasses are already united into teams. ... Uh, good luck!"

In other words, the player will have to fight an uphill battle against Monarch AIs already joined into teams, pooling their research, resources, and military units together. Permanent alliances ARE enabled for this game, and that fits with the two variant rules for the adventure (cannot sign a permanent alliance with AIs on other continents, cannot capture/raze cities of civs on your own continent). Therefore, I want to work WITH the AIs on my continent, and AGAINST the teamed AIs on the other continents. Attacking the other civs on my landmass will almost certainly be counterproductive - thus the title of this game, "Divided We Fall." I found that to be an appropriate one for this game. (For the full details of the game, please click here.)

Before starting the game, I wrote two things down in my notes:

1) Get Permanent Alliance ASAP (identify friends and start sucking up!)
2) Try to somehow catch/stop other continent AIs before launch

We'll see how well I can hold to those goals once the fur starts to fly.

Upon opening the start file, I noticed that Sirian had set research to Polytheism and queued up a warrior for the initial production. Sirian is the master of red herrings, but in this case the very notion of red herrings was itself a red herring, and I changed NOTHING from the start file. First of all, as far as the tech research, if I'm going to placate the AIs on my continent I need to have a religion on hand that we all can share. Might be possible to do it without that, but I'd rather not take my chances. Playing as Spiritual Saladin here, Polytheism is clearly the way to go (AIs love founding Buddhism way too much). Once I've established that I'm going for a religion, there's also no reason to start with a worker. What's he going to do with no worker techs? And besides, this is a Large map, with lots of land to explore. Another warrior on hand looks like a good deal here (not to mention the fact that larger maps have more barbarians too - just look at Sirian's Huge Highlands map succession game!)

Pop a hut with the starting warrior in 3920BC and get gold, bah. (I hate having a dice roll like that so close to the outset too, yuck.) Buddhism founded in 3760BC, yikes! That is the earliest date I have ever seen the religion fall (in the release version, anyway). Mecca finishes its warrior in 3680BC, hits size 2 on the same turn, and now starts a worker. I continue to run max commerce on the floodplains river tiles. As I move out the second warrior, here's what things look like:

Hello, who's this?

So one of my neighbors will be Cathy. Perfect, just perfect. Cathy is a very difficult leader to get along with, due to her Creative trait (sure to cause border tensions) and constant demands. In fact, Cathy is more likely to demand things than any other leader in the game! On the plus side, if I give her what she wants and we can share a common religion, we may be able to work things out. (You've got to love the AI personality for Catherine - she's a real high-maintenance, umm, "witch".)

Hey, it could be worse. At least it's not Monty or Alex next to me!

I click through the next few turns, with the warriors exploring the surrounding terrain to the west and south. I breathe an enormous sign of relief when I land this:

Whew. The most important early milestone, and one which I had absolutely no control over, is now out of the way. I'm sure it would be possible to do this game without a religion, but I know I didn't want to try it! Now I knew that I could spread the faith to Cathy and have a decent chance of avoiding war. With the first tech researched, I next took the Hunting/Animal Husbandry path to get my cows and sheep into play. When Hunting and my worker came due on the same turn in 3280BC, I set Mecca to build a scout for the northern tundra. Still lots of land to explore out there, and any additional units to reduce the barb spawning area would be a plus. Mecca set to grow in 6 turns, build a scout in 7. Perfect!

I soon found that Cathy was hemmed in on a peninsula almost directly to my south. With nowhere to go but north, she would be coming my way in a hurry (not a good sign). I was planning on putting my second city in the southeast, where there was a nice gold + pigs location, but when I discovered Animal Husbandry, this notification made my redo my dot map:

There are previously invisible horses, right there to my west. Let me put this simply - I do NOT want Cathy to have horses if at all possible! I also saw that a city placed southwest of the horses would also grab the corn and three hill tiles, for great early production. That would allow me to do the commerce at the capital/shields at the second city pattern that I enjoy so much. Finally, I also realized that a city there in the west, plus another city in the south, could combine to seal off my borders from Cathy and secure me the land to my east. After thinking things over for a few minutes, I agreed with this logic and shifted my settler's planned location to the spot I was just describing. Early chariots would also mean I could hold off researching Archery for a while too.

My warrior takes a step to the west on the next turn, and runs into another AI civ:

Alex?! Oh, this is NOT good. Alex is one of the most aggressive and least trustworthy civs in the game. If I remember correctly, I also believe he is one of the least likely leaders to agree to a permanent alliance. I had hoped that there would be more civs on my continent, but no such luck - just Cathy and Alex. Geez, Sirian. Couldn't we have a Gandhi, a Mansa Musa, or a Lizzie here to ally with? I guess this is why it's called an "Extreme" Adventure!

Needless to say, settling that city in the west and getting some chariots going looked like even more of a good idea now.

Mecca finished its settler in 2480BC and started a second worker, the first one having gone to hook up the horses/corn at the soon-to-be-founded Medina. I was going light on military for the moment, in the expectation of cranking some chariots at Medina in a dozen or so turns. I could only pray I wouldn't get a barb incursion during this period of vulnerability! Meanwhile, my scout in the extreme south popped a hut and got maps, revealing more of this bizarre continent:

What kind of a land form is this, anyway? Custom Continents sure throws out some weird terrain sometimes. These little fingers of land stretch down to the south, with narrow bays separating them. And there's more land down in the south - is that more of the starting continent, or a different one? I guess I'll have to keep playing to find out...

After finishing the second worker in 2240BC, I sent Mecca right back onto another settler for the third city. Usually I don't like to produce another settler still at size 3, but I was racing Cathy for a critical city location in the south, and it could NOT wait! Meanwhile, my warrior poking around Cathy's borders spies an archer/settler pair leave her lands in 2040BC. My settler is still 4 turns away, argh! I want to whip the settler, but I still don't have Bronze Working tech for Slavery civic. The Russian settler is only moving at 1 tile per turn, thanks to its escort, but I have no way to speed up my own settler. It all comes down to where Cathy wants to found her city. Where is she heading?

1840BC was one of the most important turns in the game. I beat out Cathy in the southwest by HALF of a turn:

Folks, it doesn't get any closer than this! The location where I want to plant my city is shown with the green circle; ON the stone resource, locking down four floodplains as well as pigs and fish. That would have been an incredible location for my Philosophical civ. However, it will take another turn to get there, and if I do that, I WILL lose this spot. Cathy is clearly going to found on her current tile (note the blue circle). I never should have gotten here in the first place, but I produced the settler last turn (1880BC) and moved four tiles on my road network, ending last turn on the grasslands two tiles north of the pigs. On this turn, I moved one southwest to the displayed tile and founded right here, even though it was a non-optimal location off the coast. This sealed off my borders, and Cathy's settler was teleported to the south on the route indicated by the arrow. Even better, she would use this settler to found a city in the west that did not overlap culturally with my current cities! In short, a minor miracle here. I could not have done it without the roads laid down by my workers ahead of time, or if Cathy's desired spot had not been a hill tile. What an early game coup!

After that flurry of expansion, I needed to build up my cities a bit more before adding any extras. There were now quite a LOT of barbarians poking around to the north and east, and I was getting a bit worried. Medina finished its barracks and started pumping chariots, but I was still feeling rather insecure. Here's what things looked like:

There are four barbs about to enter my territory, and I've just killed a fifth with the chariot in the east. Fortunately only one barb archer, although warriors are plenty enough to cause problems right now. Thanks goodness I have Bronze Working and Slavery civic on the horizon. I still do not have Archery, by the way, so it's pretty much chariots or nothing right now. Things looked very dire for a moment after a chariot lost an 80% battle, but I whipped a chariot at Mecca and that combined with a steady stream of chariots from Medina got me through the crisis. Only one tile was pillaged (my sheep in the east). After this scare, I took pains to make sure it would not happen again, keeping four chariots permanently up in the northern wastelands on patrol. I manually ran them around in circles for ages on end, preventing any barbs from appearing. With those massive tundra and icy lands up in the north and east, I think some of our players are going to have some major problems here! I only barely managed to salvage this situation, and that was due to settling at the horses right out of the gate.

Oh, and Bronze Working revealed there was no copper anywhere close by. Just one source WAY up in the northern ice. We had no iron period. No metals? I guess that's why it's called an Extreme Adventure...

After the barb nightmare was put to rest, things were pretty calm in the following years. The foreign AIs were going crazy in the fog, building Oracle in 1480BC (!) but I couldn't do anything about that. Not a good sign for the future, of course... I was just expanding and building up my civ as best I could.

In some of the earlier screenshots, you might have seen me researching Monotheism. I actually went there before Bronze Working - not because I was hoping to found Judaism (that fell extremely early as well to some unknown AI) but so I could get Organized Religion into play. Yes, missionary spread will be key to this game, and I don't intend to waste the time to build monasteries. One of my rules of thumb once I reached about 1000BC was to try and have at least one city building missionaries at all points in time, until I had converted every city on my continent (mine and the AIs). Of course, I had to wait until I researched Writing for Open Borders, but once that was out of the way, it was conversion time:

First Cathy in 725BC; she converted immediately. Also - not to brag, but note that I've already scouted the entire starting continent and have dotmapped the whole thing. That gave me a good idea of what I was dealing with and how best to maximize what I had on hand. (I still haven't gotten over the "No-Scouting Sulla" comments from our last Extreme Adventure!)

Alex followed a few turns later, just before the 500BC date:

By 500BC, I was out to five cities and my situation was looking up:

I already have Hinduism in all five of my cities, and I'm using that to expand borders with my non-Creative civ. Mecca and Damascus are focusing on commerce, the two new colonies in the east are still getting up to speed with their granaries. Medina... Medina is a special case. With stone on hand, and the Pyramids still out there, I noticed I could build it in just 13 turns if I ran a food deficit. I didn't think I would get the wonder, but I figured "why not?" and so here you see me starting my run at it. I'm also going through the long, slow process of running a Priest at Damascus to get my shrine built. Oracle and Stonehenge both fell way too fast for me to have any chance at them. It hurts a lot less to do that with a Philosophical civ, but it still takes quite some time.

The other thing to point out is how well I locked down my border with Cathy to the south. She got only two city-lengths north of her capital (although later she would cram in more cities on the coast). After that, Cathy would slip one more city past me in the northwest (Yaroslavl, which I was happy to let her have) and that was it. I would clean up the ENTIRE north and east uncontested. Even better, despite Cathy's Creative trait, our civs only overlap one tile total (at the Medina/Novgorod border). I really couldn't have drawn this up better myself!

And the Demographics from 500BC. They might not be that impressive, but if I could manage to be no worse than third in the major categories (GNP/production/food/population), with the other AIs researching in teams - that's pretty good! And yes, I was last in soldiers, but that's pretty much a given early on in Civ4 at high difficulty. Get used to it.

With the early turns out of the way, and the AIs converted to my Hindu faith, I felt that I had laid down a solid foundation. Now it was time to get into the game proper and see where things would go from here.