Adventure Fifty-Nine: Christmas Potluck

Watch this game on Livestream: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Adventure Fifty-Nine was a potluck game with a Christmas theme. Each player was randomly assigned one of five different leaders, and basically cut loose from there to do as they pleased. Everyone will be playing different leaders, drawn from the following group: Asoka of India, Hatshepsut of Egypt, Isabella of Spain, Justinian of Byzantium, and Mansa Musa of Mali. (T-Hawk had a Spiritual theme going for this one.) There was also an optional scoring variant for this game, based on controlling "Christmas trees" with unusual resources placed on them, obviously edited stuff like forested silver... or forested hit musicals. For the full setup details, please follow this link.

This was also the first Realms Beyond Epic or Adventure that I had played in over five years. I've been involved in quite a few Multiplayer games over the intervening years, and Single Player games against the AI just didn't have the same draw anymore. This was also due to the fact that Civ4 is approaching the decade mark in age, and we've already explored almost everything possible in terms of gameplay. Competing against talented human players has more of an allure at this point. (We really need another good Single Player turn-based strategy game.) Anyway, the main reason that I played this game was to Livestream it on the Internet and have the chance to interact with fans. This is going to be a skeleton report just covering the highlights. You can watch the full game at the link above - well, almost the whole game. Twitch apparently deleted the second streaming session because I didn't specifically tell it to save the thing. Sorry about that! Fortunately, all of the important stuff happened in the first session.

I drew Isabella of Spain for my leader and civ. That's what it looked like on the broadcast, for anyone watching online. When T-Hawk first emailed me the savegame file, I moved the beginning scout to the forested plains hill, which revealed a dry wheat tile off to the east. (Everyone started with Hunting tech and a scout instead of a warrior for this game.) I recreated that starting position in a sandbox mode, and tested out a variety of different openings. Long story short, my sandbox revealed that the best opening was to found in place and go work boat followed by worker, using the 3 production forested plains hill tile. It would take 8 turns to produce the work boat, and then the capital could build a worker while using the fish resource, completing after another 10 turns of production. Research went Agriculture (for the wheat), then Mining, then Bronze Working to chop forests. All of this made for a horribly slow start, but everything else that I tested was even worse. Tough start here from T-Hawk, tough start. There's a lot of ways to screw this one up when playing the Spain start. With a lot of chopping help, I managed to get out 2 workers and 1 settler by the end of Turn 35, and I could not do better than that.

Scouting revealed that we started on a narrow peninsula on the northeast edge of the continent. I lost the initial scout early on to barbs in a bad dice roll, and that limited my early contacts. The AIs found me pretty fast though, them and their free Emperor starting units. My second city went on the spot indicated by the mouse cursor, a good production city with dry rice and clams in the first ring that could also borrow the plains cows from the capital. Third city went east of the other dry rice down in the south; there were three floodplains there, and copper would later pop up under one of its grassland hill tiles. I would move the Palace to that spot later on in this game. City #4 went to the east, southeast of the wheat tile, where it made use of the wheat + pigs resources and became one of my best cities. Even on a tiny little spit of land, the wheat + pigs combo was enough to make that a strong city, and I pumped a lot of workers and settlers out of its heavy food surplus. The fifth city went to the southwest, blocking the one-tile wide isthmus that led to my starting area, and that would be it. All of the "real" land around my start was gone after those five cities. Everything else had to be grabbed overseas, or was an icy fishing village, or both. The pickings were pretty slim in this game for Spanish players.

There's the blocking city of Toledo, founded on bananas with horses next door and fish in the second ring. There were two other major projects at work in that screenshot, the first being research into Code of Laws. The AIs jumped all over the early religions, but I would be the first to Code of Laws and founded Confucianism in Barcelona. This was a godsend, as I had no luxury resources beyond that starting silver, and the low happiness cap was a major problem for the first 100 turns. As a Spiritual civ, I could revolt into the religion for free, and I could also swap between Slavery and Caste System at will, which I did almost every five turns. Forced Artist specialists allowed me to pop borders at cities like Toledo without needing to wait for a building to be constructed or a religion to spread. This was hugely helpful in many of the low-quality fishing cities that I was grabbing.

The other major project was the building of the Great Lighthouse in Madrid, which I did successfully finish two turns later on Turn 87. This was a dream scenario for the wonder, with every single one of my cities located on the coast, and with islands galore everywhere. I pulled crazy amounts of trade route income via intercontinental trade routes, even dropping cheap Expansive harbors in most of my cities for further benefit. I never obsoleted the wonder with Corporation tech, and went into Free Market civic later for a disgusting 5 trade routes per city. The Colossus would have been similarly awesome, with all of the water tiles that I ended up working, but Mansa Musa took an early Oracle for free Metal Casting and used it to build the Colossus. That one often sits around for ages invisible to the AI, not in this game. It fell at an early date before I could finish researching Metal Casting myself, I think a little after Turn 100.

By this point, 100 turns into the game, I've founded 8 cities and opened up a massive lead over the AI civs. The AI does two things pretty well in this game: research technology and defend itself. They're always pretty competitive in GNP, and they'll make you work to defeat them militarily unless you can open up a technological edge and pull off one of those cavs versus longbows situations. At everything else though, the AI is really bad, especially expansion. They just don't build enough cities, and they LOVE wonders and religious stuff way too much. I don't want to be too critical here either, as I think the Civ4 AI is better than the vast majority of strategy games, and is good enough to beat most players with only minimal cheats under the hood. Obviously it tends to fall short against true expert players, especially on "only" Emperor difficulty.

The AI civs also very politely left me in peace throughout this whole game. I didn't invest much in the diplomatic game, and had "Cautious" relations with most everyone. Asoka was the one exception, since he also adopted Confucianism and therefore loved me from shared religious benefits. This is an area of the gameplay where I'm really rusty, since I've played so little against the AI in recent years. They kind of did their thing, and I did mine, and we left each other alone for the vast majority of the game. That was fine with me, as I settled all over the surrounding islands and grew my Food / Production / GNP lead.

There were some weird resources on the surrounding islands. My stream viewers got a real kick out of this one, the whales found swimming in the middle of some arctic Christmas trees. On land. In any case, the surrounding islands had sources of stone and marble, furs and gems, errr, whales and hit musicals, all of which I was able to connect to my trade network with additional cities. This relieved the happiness crunch, allowed me to grow my cities upwards, and let me build my national wonders much more easily.

There's a shot of the fertile island to the southeast, where I eventually planted five cities. Even though this was good land, it took some real effort to access, and also dictated a lot of tedious logistics of moving units around on ships from place to place. This was one reason why I teched Optics early on and put some caravels in the water, as winning the circumnavigation bonus was extremely important. (I did win this race without problems.) Having 3 move galleys instead of 2 move galleys made a giant difference.

In big picture terms, I didn't do anything particularly unusual or crazy. I was approaching this game as though I were playing against other human opponents and not AIs, trying to make whatever I thought was the best move in each situation. This tended to lead to somewhat orthodox play, stuff we've seen before because it tends to be very effective. I won the Liberalism race pretty easily and took Nationalism, this very standard sequence allowing me to build the Taj Mahal first for the free Golden Age. I chained together a series of Golden Ages here, pairing the Taj Golden Age with the one Great Person and two Great Person GAs, for 24 turns of goodness in the Renaissance era. I used all of that to accelerate me through the tech tree to Gunpowder, Rifling, and Military Tradition techs. The goal was to win the game as quickly and efficiently as possible, which meant a Domination stomp with cavs and drafted rifles. I knew with absolute confidence that I could catch the AI fielding medieval armies, which have zero chance to stand up against that kind of firepower.

Rifling tech finished on Turn 184, and at that point it was just a matter of drafting units and moving them into position. Lots and lots of logistics, many units getting moved on ships from place to place. I declared war on Mansa Musa as soon as I had about ten units ready to attack. I expected no response from him, and I was right. He sat in his cities defending, and otherwise shuffled his units around in totally insane ways. Ah, I've missed fighting the AI! They make the wartime moves of teams like the Templars and We Play Civ look good.

I rolled through the Malinese territory with minimal resistance. Mansa's capital of Timbuktu came with the Hindu Shrine (22 cities), the Great Library, the Hanging Gardens, the Colossus, and the Oracle. Yeah, every one of those wonders started with "the" in front of its name, heh. As anyone who's attacked the AI with this unit combination knows, your snowball only tends to accelerate as time passes. Very few of your cavs or rifles will die while attacking medieval trash, which means that the numbers in your attacking forces just grow and grow and grow. I started out with a handful of each, and rapidly grew into the dozens. Over the next 50 turns, I ran over Mali, then India, then Egypt in turn. The AI cluelessly researched everything EXCEPT the military techs that would have saved them; Hatshepsut was off researching Scientific Method and Physics, refusing to tech to Rifling and units that would have actually done her some good. Pretty crazy stuff. I was even able to use the Apostolic Palace (which Asoka had built and was tied to my religion of Confucianism) to force the other AIs to declare war on Mansa Musa. That poor guy, I was really mean to him this game.

Long story short, I absorbed those three empires over 60 turns of fighting and six hours of real-world time, until the map looked like this:

Justinian I left alone because I didn't need his territory to achieve Domination. At this point, I had 67% of world land and 81% of world population. You need 68% of world territory on a Small map to achieve Domination, which is waaaaaaaay too high and is something that I wish I'd thought about when this game was in testing. A more logical setting for a Domination win would be 50% of world land and population, because let's face it, if you have half of the world's land and people, you're not losing from that position. That would help to cut down on the tedious busywork at the end of Civilization 4 games, which still remains a problem to this day.

Domination Victory on Turn 242, 1660 AD:

I ended up with a high Firaxis score, since I won at a fairly early date with a large amount of population. All of those fishing cities were high on population, low on territory counting towards Domination. (This is the same map type where T-Hawk achieved his 3.2 million score, Big and Small map script.) Having seen the other starting positions, I really do think that Spain has a tougher go of things in this game. There's very little land available without resorting to offshore boating shenanigans, Spain has atrocious starting techs as a civ, and the initial capital is not particularly strong. By comparison, India's capital is almost ludicrously good: you can settle on a plains hill with corn, grassland cow, clams, gold, and wines all in the starting radius, AND also get the Fast Worker to play around with as well! Holy cow. Mali gets wet wheat, double clams, and copper at the capital, along with Financial trait, while Egypt gets pigs, wet rice, ivory (elephants not banned), and floodplains paired with amazing starting techs (Agriculture / Wheel) and Creative trait. I think that Justinian has the other tough start, with the hideous starting techs associated with that civ, but they get pigs and fish and gems and quintuple floodplains at their start. Spain has fish, dry wheat, plains cow, and silver. It's not terrible, but it's significantly weaker than some of those other starts. I look forward to seeing how the other Spanish players approach this one. I'm sure someone will rush the AIs militarily and win much sooner rather than playing the econ game. (Which I did quite well; note how I hit 1250 beakers/turn outside of Golden Age mode when researching Rifling tech on Turn 183 above, before any aggression against the AI civs.) Overall, I'm happy with how I approached this one.

Thanks again to T-Hawk for creating the game, and to everyone who watched on Livestream, either as it happened or on the recording later.

Domination Victory
Hall of Fame Score 226612
In-Game Score 6626