Adventure Two: Winter Wonderland

I wasn't planning on diving into any games of Civ4 immediately after the Christmas holiday, but then Sirian posted the start picture from Adventure Two and I knew that I had to try it. For those who didn't play the game, here's the teaser image that I'm referring to:

OK, so we've got three deer resources, one of which is blocked off from the start by a peak, and marble, and umm, that fur tile will come in handy.... yeah. This is a Highlands map, and it's obvious that the starting position is jammed up against the northern edge of the map. Most troubling of all, there's isn't a single tile that gets even TWO food in the initial radius of Tenochtilan! Winter wonderland this ain't. The challenge for this game was listed as "can you lead the Azt-Eskimos to victory?" which I found to be pretty amusing. OK, I'll bite. It's not every day that you get to play a genuine Epic Fourteen Dud Start (TM).

The good news is that I get to play as Montezuma in this game. Wait a minute - that's not good news at all. I'd much prefer a civ with some kind of economic advantage to build my way out of this atrocious start, like a Financial or Expansive civ. My production is likely to be so bad that warring my way out of this position will be tough. At least I would get cheap temples, heh, for what that's worth. But although I may be griping here, secretly I enjoy nothing more than trying to play my way out of a horrible starting position. Anyone can romp through the AI with that triple cow start (to use a Civ3 term), but it takes skill to build an empire from this kind of hole in the wall. Images of RBE2 and Epic 12's "The Gauntlet" spring to mind as I consider the tundra I've got here. One way or another, this game is going to be memorable.

Finally, let me show you who I'm playing as:

That's our boy Monty there. Look at that face! You do not mess with our man Monty! The AI civs will learn that lesson.

I open up the save file and get started. The first and most obvious reality is that there is absolutely no food in the initial radius of Tenochtitlan. The forest deer tile can get 1 food, and every other tile gets 0! Now once I get Fishing I'll be able to work the lake tiles for more food, and those deer tiles will add additional food with camps, but for now I'm stuck. Secondly, that peak tile to the southeast of the capital is incredibly annoying, blocking any kind of expansion in that direction until I get some ships and even preventing me from building a camp on that deer tile down there. All initial movement will have to go to the west instead. Finally, one minor thing I detected was that in the new patch (1.52) you can no longer see AI opponents on F8 that you haven't met yet. Probably a good change there.

Ordinarily, there are many potential paths to take with the first build in the capital. In this situation, however, there is only one possible correct path: worker first in capital before anything else.

That shot again hammers home the pitiful lack of food at Tenochtitlan. Given this situation, I absolutely MUST get camps built as fast as possible, and it will take MUCH too long to wait until size 2 to start building a worker. At one food/turn, that will take 20 turns! I can't wait that long, and if I'm going to build a worker at size 1, the best possible time to do it is NOW, right out of the gate. Furthermore, I don't even lose anything timewise versus a normal start because I still have one tile that gets a total of 3 food + shields. So it's really no choice at all, the worker first is by far the strongest initial move. Sirian's selection of a scout as the first build was a red herring designed to throw players off. Usually I'm not so definitive with my pronunciations, but I'm dead certain that the worker first was the best move. Someone's really going to have to show me something to convince me otherwise.

As far as the initial research path goes, I want to get those lake tiles into play ASAP, which necessitates Fishing, but since it will take 15 turns to build that first worker and Tenochtitlan won't be growing during that span, I can go after Meditation and Buddhism first and then head for Fishing after that. Hooray, I get to be "that Spiritual jerk" who founds Buddhism in like 3500BC! But in a game like this, I need to take any advantage I can get, and so I'd better get some use out of starting with Mysticism.

My scout heads... west. Not too many other ways he can go. He finds a hut in 3920BC and pops it to reveal - another scout. Pretty good stuff, actually, given the size of this Highlands map script (it's all land and definitely bigger than the usual maps). Still not seeing any land worth having, the start is a total iceball of tundra and hills. Nary a two-food tile in sight! By 3800BC I already can see where my second city will go:

The red X appears (to me) to be clearly the best spot for a second city. A city on that tile will perfectly slot in with the capital, will be on that little lake (2 food tiles! what an amazing cornucopia!) and also on the sea too. That's very important, and I'm going to need to get some ships out on this sea sooner rather than later in the hopes of expanding to more fertile lands to the south. As a final note, that spot will also grab two furs and another deer. At least I've got the world monopoly on deer here. It will be interesting to see if the logic process is the same for everyone else, or if they'll choose a better spot for the second city that I overlooked.

Pop another hut in 3760BC, get Animal Husbandry!

There isn't anything resembling a cow for a thousand miles, but it makes the Azteskimos feel better anyway. Do I have horses here? No, of course not. It's much too cold for horses here, unless they start growing shaggy coats and turn into wooly mammoths.

I spot silks in the west in 3720BC. Look, a tile that is neither ice nor tundra. Amazing. It still only has 1 food though. My luck with barbs continues from Epic One and one of my two scouts gets eaten by a bear in 3640BC that it moved next to blindly, despite being on a forest hill. At least I do have an extra one...

As Montezuma often does, I found Buddhism in 3600BC:

At least this part of the plan is working out. Research now goes into Fishing, because I'm going to need to work those lake tiles sooner rather than later. Now admittedly I am delaying Bronze Working here, but (thankfully!) you do not need to chop forests to build a camp on a forest resource, and I just need food like you can't believe here. Increase food first, everything else second. (I'm REALLY interested in the early moves everyone else made here, so I'll be reading the reports very closely.) The worker finally finished in Tenochtitlan in 3400BC and I began work on a warrior for military police (MP) duty. Naturally the worker begins by moving onto the first deer resource to hook it up with a camp.

I discover Fishing in 3360BC and debate whether to research The Wheel or Bronze Working next, before ultimately deciding on the former. I don't need to chop anything *quite* yet, and I want to hook up my resources with roads since this terrain is so rough. Meanwhile, my scout in the extreme southwest has managed to find Caesar's civ and poach a hut right out from under his nose!

The purple border should be obvious, but I arrowed it anyway. Unfortunately the hut only had a map in it, but I considered this a minor point of pride. Met Caesar, but we couldn't do anything at this stage of the game so I said goodbye and continued on my way. Of course the scout ended his turn next to TWO bears in 3080BC. Heh. My barb luck continues to hold. Nice knowing ya!

I finish my MP warrior in 3120BC, and start work on Stonehenge! And why not? I need to grow to a larger size before starting settler production, and if I'm going to put some shields into something, why not build a wonder while I'm at it? There's also no rush to get out settlers quickly here; the land isn't exactly of high quality, and I'm pretty isolated. Better in this case to let the capital grow to a higher size (at least 3), then rapidly pump out some settlers and workers afterwards. At least that's the plan.

After researching The Wheel, I head for Bronze Working via Mining. Once Tenochtilan hits size 3 in 2760BC, I take it off Stonehenge and have it start a settler for the red X location. My one warrior, the entire extent of my military forces, goes ahead to prepare the way and make sure that it's safe. There's a bear poking around, but I plop my warrior on a forested hill tile (remember, he's Combat I since Monty's Aggressive) and await the attack. And... he loses.

Let me tell you again about my barb luck... *sigh*

I queue up another warrior in Tenochtitlan, delaying the first settler and Stonehenge by three turns. It's annoying, but the last thing I want is for this bear bastid to heal back up to full. Well, I get him over to the west soon enough and fortify him on the same tile. I'm getting the +75% defensive bonus, and I'm Combat I, and that bear is still hurt from the last fight (he's at about 2.1 out of 3 strength). And holy crap, he STILL almost wins!

0.1 health left?! Wow. That bear almost single-handedly crippled my civ! The sad thing is, my warrior only got 1XP from that battle. Hey, he took down the Bear of Death - that should have been worth at least 4 or 5XP! (What is it with my luck with barb animals? Just getting NO luck from the dice these last couple games.)

OK, back on track now. Tenochtilan finishes the settler, goes back to work on Stonehenge (yes, it still doesn't have a defender for itself). The new city of Teotihuacan founded in 2160BC and starts a Work Boat (yes, you read that right) to serve as a scout on this inland sea here. Bronze Working research completes (but I foolishly forget to swap to Slavery despite being Spiritual, more on this later) and I start work on Sailing. Yeah, Sailing - my scouts have firmly established that there's NOTHING to the west, so I absolutely must take to the sea ASAP and that requires galleys. Here's a shot of my civ in progress in 2000BC:

Everything looking pretty good so far, even keeping pace score-wise with Caesar somehow. The one boneheaded move I made early on in this game was not swapping to Slavery and using the whip on Teotihuacan; with that deer tile, it would have been a perfect candidate to whip out a galley, but I wasn't thinking and so I built first a work boat and then a galley there one shield at a time. Gah. I make some really dumb moves from time to time too, but fortunately I can usually recognize them afterwards.

Nothing else noteworthy happens in the next few turns until Tenochtitlan completes Stonehenge in 1720BC:

That helped out a lot, because with the crippled production of this start, I certainly did not have the resources to build obelisks for culture or the shields to spare for monasteries/missionaries, at least not in the early game. Stonehenge was therefore a very big deal, and I'll be interested to see how many other players will choose to go after it. Of course, they also could have potentially beelined to Iron Working and tried to kick some butt with Jags, but those are the kind of choices you have to make in this game.

Judaism was FIDL (founded in a distant land) in 1680BC. Obviously Hinduism had fallen much earlier, but I still hadn't met any other civs beyond Rome, and Caesar hadn't founded either of those religions. Caesar did show up with an archer on my doorstep on the same turn (eep! my entire military consists of one warrior!) but fortunately he was just scouting and didn't try to declare war. I knew that my grace period where the AI won't attack the player was starting to run out, but I still needed to push things just a bit further to set myself up for the later game before stopping to consolidate and build up defenses. As part of that, my tech research went into Masonry, then Priesthood (remember, I still don't have Archery at this point). Walking the tightrope for sure here and hoping I'll be safe not only from Caesar, but also from the numerous barbs that always pop up on the Highlands script.

Teotihuacan finished its work boat in 1560BC and started a galley (remember, I should have whipped this but still was forgetting about Slavery). The work boat goes out scouting, and I spy a good city site right away:

Double fish resources, ooh, very nice. Absolutely no production whatsoever, but the peak tiles actually do this city a favor by shielding it from any land-based aggression. The red X is only reachable from the sea. I definitely plan to grab this location, although it can probably wait for a bit since I don't forsee anyone beating me to this spot.

Meanwhile, Tenochtitlan finished building a cheap barracks in 1400BC and then started work on the Oracle (since that was also the turn I discovered Priesthood). Marble was hooked up in 1240BC, cutting the time on the Oracle to 7 turns. Since the AI builds the Oracle really fast on the higher difficulty levels (this was Monarch), I was taking no chances and chopped a forest on a tile that I planned to mine anyway to speed it up that much further. But before getting to that, my work boat was finding some extremely interesting stuff in the south:

There are actually grassland tiles down there. A tile that produces 2 food?! Craziness. The arrow is pointing to a red border (China) down in the south that I can see, but can't make contact with. That spot down at the mouth of the river with copper, stone, and crabs would make for an amazing city, but the Chinese are already there, and there's no way I can get a settler there in time. (If someone can get a settler down there and also manage to defend the site, they may do very well indeed.) Still, I expect to be able to get at least one city in the south somewhere, which is where my next settler will be heading after I finish the Oracle. The goal here is to use this sea to my advantage and turn it into a true Mare Azteca. It may not be much, but the water tiles are actually better than the surrounding land, so I have to make the most of them. At least I finally have had a chance here to research Archery and get some actual defenders in my cities!

Speeded by the aforementioned forest chop, the Oracle completed in 1040BC:

In a reprisal of my Epic One game, I took Metal Casting with my free tech. Next goal is to grab what I can on the south side of the lake and turn that free tech into a Colossus! I got the two early wonders I wanted, but now the initial grace period of the game was over and the AI civs would be out to take away what I had if I couldn't defend it. The uphill struggle was only just beginning.