Adventure Nineteen: Settler Spam

Adventure Nineteen was sponsored by darrelljs, and what a fantastic concept it was! Each player was granted one free starting technology of their choice, anywhere on the tech tree, and then set loose to play whatever game struck their fancy. I hope Darrell will talk a little bit more about the design for this game in his report, but with this being his creation, I'll leave that to him. What I did was refine Darrell's initial proposal (which was a bit rough around the edges, suggesting Quick speed and a three-week duration) to fit better with our usual scheduling procedures. The core idea was a clear winner, however, and I expect we'll get a great turnout for this game.

I didn't want Darrell to have to handle the administrative side of things, so I was also responsible for mailing out the starting files to everyone who played this game. That meant that I would see the map in the Worldbuilder while handing out techs and play a shadow version of this event, but I didn't really mind. As far as the tech choices went, I mailed out 45 different start files, with no fewer than 26 different techs being requested. There were some usual suspects (Biology and Democracy were quite popular choices), but also some real oddities (Iron Working, Drama, Future Tech). I have the feeling some of these self-created variants are going to be pretty crazy! Looking forward to it.

The one advantage I did have was being able to see what tech others had picked and make a selection based off of that for my shadow game. I initially thought of going with Biology, to just run wild with the free extra food, but after getting the fourth request for that tech, I decided to go in another direction. The specific inspiration was reading endless complaints from Civ3 diehards in the General Forum over at CivFanatics about how Civ4 "killed expansion" with its maintenance system. No longer is the early game simply about spamming settlers as fast as humanly possible (the One Right Strategy for Civ3) because that will lead to bankruptcy in a hurry. (The amount of griping about stupid stuff like this is why I rarely lurk that forum anymore. Seriously, if you don't like Civ4, stop complaining and just play Civ3! It's not that complicated.)

Well, with THIS particular Adventure, we're breaking the rules of Civ4 and can get around that element of the game design. With access to Communism tech and State Property civic, I can found all the cities I want right out of the gate. One or two other players requested Communism as the starting tech; there was some mention of State Property as useful for the uber-watermills, but I wonder if anyone else thought about its potential for early expansion (?) The opportunity to play Civ4 in a fundametally different way during the early game was one that I simply HAD to try.

Let me show you a REAL settler spam, just like in the days of old.

I even played a test game just to find out if this was a viable concept. My informal effort was a striking success:

By building settlers, setters, and more settlers, I have expanded out to 11 cities by 425BC - and without killing myself in maintenance costs! None of the AIs have more than 6 cities; can you say "game over?" This was hardly a fair test (I was debugging defenders into cities threatened by barbs), but it did prove that my brainstorm could work out in practice. I also picked up some other tidbits from this brief experiment that I'll cover in the rest of the report. On to the real show.

The starting position for this game was pretty interesting, with cattle in view but not in range of the initial tile. Moving west to gain access to the cows looked like the best move, but that would bring additional desert tiles into play as well, for a negative long-term effect. Of course, since I'm playing a Shadow game here, I've seen the map and I already knew where the optimal location for the starting city would be:

One tile to the south, where the capital grabs ANOTHER cattle tile which was invisible to the player. (And guess what resource is going to appear on the hile tile east of Beijing?) As Sirian has said many times before, there's no point in trying to pretend you don't know this stuff. Once you've seen the revealed map, you may as well play as best you can and dump the result into a separate shadow category.

I began with a worker for maximum early expansion. The Chinese start with Agriculture and Mining in Civ4, so I would have plenty of worker techs to play with right from the outset. First research was into Animal Husbandry to hook up those cows. My exploring warrior had some pretty good luck with huts, popping The Wheel in 3760BC and a scout in 3680BC. The scout would go on to find all the other civs, before getting ignominiously eaten by a bear around 2000BC. (Ahh, bears - the scout's mortal enemy!)

After finishing the worker, I ran max food at Beijing while producing a warrior, essentially just dumping shields while waiting for the capital to grow to size 3. When I hit the size 3 plateau, I swapped over to my first settler:

I've just finished researching Bronze Working, and have revolted over to Slavery. Note the worker mining the copper hill BEFORE the resource even appeared, heh. Gotta love that spoiler info. With three resources plus two normal hill tiles, I've actually got just enough production to set up the perfect settler farm; more on this in a minute. For now, I'll just point out that the two early religions have fallen to Montezuma and Huayna (the latter of whom would also found Judaism). I'm sure some people will go after the early religions, but it was not in the cards for my game.

Now the mantra for the early portion of my game was all about expanding as fast as humanly possible. As such, I had initially planned to skip all early wonders and just throw out the settlers ASAP. However, my test game found that trying to get the borders of the later cities to expand without Stonehenge or an early religion was a huge pain, and not worth the effort. With Mao being a Philosophical civ, it would be much better in the long run to pause briefly to build Stonehenge, thus ensuring free border pops for all of the later cities. The ideal civ for this kind of game would be Creative/Organized (which actually doesn't exist in Civ4!); lacking that combo, I would have to go with Stonehenge for the "poor man's" Creative trait.

My second city was founded in 2360BC:

Shanghai has no less than 11 floodplains tiles, meaning that it will be an amazing city down the road. The usual plan of action would be to cottage all the floodplains tiles, and I will do that eventually, but take a look at the animation for the worker above: he's FARMING the floodplains tiles. Shanghai, like Beijing, is going to push growth to the maximum extent possible in the early game. And even though the city has no resources, each irrigated floodplains is almost as good as a corn tile. I'll be able to reach size 4 there and obtain a surplus of 10 food/turn for some very quick settlers and workers. Ordinarily health would be a problem, but with cows and corn from the capital, I'll actually manage to be ok. Just wait and see what happens.

Beijing meanwhile was working on Stonehenge; the initial ETA was 12 turns, but that would drop as the city grew in size. Conveniently, the time spent on the wonder also allowed my capital to grow to size 5, which is where I wanted it to be. The project completed in 2000BC:

I now had to pause to build one more worker. One. There were still tiles to be improved around the capital (the other hill needs to be mined, plus roads added to the resources to combat unhealthiness at Shanghai). I will also have to pause from time to time to train additional defenders, since the barbarians are on for this game. But otherwise, it's settlers every six turns for the next few thousand years:

In Civ3, overriding goal of the early game was to have a city that could produce 4-turn settlers. That was only possible with very fertile land, but when the conditions were right, the results were very impressive. With the more expensive settlers here in Civ4, six turns seems to be about the best you can do, at least on Normal speed. Oh sure, I don't doubt that some ridiculous start could do better, but under normal conditions this is pretty good. Between food and shields, Beijing produces 18 units/turn: good for a settler every six turns with some slight overrun. I usually used that overrun for a 1-turn warrior escort, then back to another six turn settler.

The first such settler went to the south, naturally, where the prime real estate was already filling up fast:

Guangzhou grabs ivory, but more importantly some very choice floodplains and river grassland tiles. This will be a great commerce city with decent production down the road. My workers are in the process of connecting Shanghai to Beijing's resources, and the capital is already halfway done another settler.

My next planned city location was also in the south, but Huayna narrowly beat me to the location I wanted. (Rats! Would have had it if barbs from the north hadn't forced me to sneak in an extra defender.) Rather than contest the location, I opted to move to my next dot, pushing my borders out to the east:

Both Beijing and Shanghai are hard at work on more settlers as we speak. Note also the skeleton quality of my military, consisting of four warriors and one axeman. (This is one key difference from Civ3; in that game, the barbs were a minor threat, at best. In Civ4, you actually do have to defend your cities from the barbs!) But I can't pause to add more military, I've got to keep pushing expansion. We can build defenders later once the land is taken!

Here's a peek inside Shanghai:

With this much food, I'm whipping the city every 10 turns as soon as the happiness penalty wears off. The cycle would go something like this: whip a settler, as seen above. Shanghai drops to size 2, puts one turn of production into a library, then grows to size 3 the next turn and starts a worker. It builds the worker normally (7 turns), then takes two turns to grow back to size 4, by which point in time the happiness penalty has worn off and it can start another settler again. Got all that? The city had exactly enough happiness and health to support this cycle, which was a nice little break for me.

More cities followed: Xian in the west (where I squeezed a city in between competing English and Aztec efforts), Chendu on the northern coast by the crabs, and Hangzhou in the east to the north of the Japanese. As a result, by 750BC I had managed to achieve the rather impressive result of expanding out to 7 cities through purely peaceful means:

I still only have three workers, and my cities are drastically deficient in tile improvements. My workers have been laying down ROADS so far, in order to speed the path of future settlers out to the frontiers. I have exactly two cottages so far, both at Guangzhou (heh). But thanks to the miracle of State Property civic, I'm still running 80% science! That will drop down to 60% as I continue to add more cities, but it's remarkable how different this game has felt compared to a usual game of Civ4. If it weren't for the barbs spilling down out of the north, I could have pushed expansion even faster!

Beijing continues to add more settlers every six turns. Six. My new favorite number.

I had few needs on the tech front, with my cities still so lacking in development. Therefore it seemed best to push further down the tech tree, specifically heading for Code of Laws. As an Organized civ, the cheap courthouses would be nice (although less effective with State Property civic, of course) and I had a decent chance of getting a religion there too. Sure enough, I became the Confucian founder in 600BC:

And of all places, the religion popped up in Xian, my border city under intense cultural pressure! I'd like to say I planned that, but it was really just a stroke of good fortune. This basically confirmed that I would be able to dominate the tiles under pressure from the neighboring Aztec and English cities. I held off on converting to the religion for now, since my military was beyond pathetic and all of my neighbors were followers of other faiths. I couldn't exactly afford to have civs declaring war on me at the moment, at least until this expansion push came to a close.

Most of my cities were being defended by warriors right now, with a couple of axes wandering around to provide spot relief from the barbs. (I didn't even have Hunting, much less Archery!) There were also some AI units moving around up in the north, and giving me an assist against the barb threat. Still, I was definitely overreaching at times, and I ended up getting caught. I founded Tianjin in the north, and on the very next turn, a barb axeman wandered out of the fog. Uh oh.

Whoops, sorry about that chief! At least it didn't hurt as much in this game as in an ordinary game of Civ4 - easy come, easy go, right? This was a bit of a case of bad luck (only barb axeman I ever saw in the north the whole game!) but still mostly just overextention on my part. Hopefully this will make some of our new players feel a little better, seeing the barbs kick my butt around in the north!

Anyway, the destruction of Tianjin meant I reached the 500BC mark with 8 cities instead of 9:

Aside from that setback in the north, I've been very successful elsewhere. My cities are culturally dominant everywhere, and I managed to get all of the good land around my starting position, plus some land that rightfully should have belonged to the Japanese, Aztecs, and English. The one spot that bothered me was Machu Picchu, which I hoped to perhaps get down the road by violent means (Huayna IS in last place, after all). For that matter, there's still unclaimed land in the north and in the east. The expansion phase was far from over, but it was about to take a new direction I hadn't anticipated.