Game: 3 vs. 3 Team Game, Medieval Start
Map: Inland Sea
Settings: Small map, 2 city-elim, 120 turns
MP defaults: Quick, Fast turn timer
Backed by some strong teammates and good play, I had been part of a winning effort in the Classical game of Event #5. That had run throughout the day on Saturday, and the Illuminati group as a whole had done well throughout the other events too. We were in second place on the leaderboard heading into Sunday's competition, slightly behind the (guess who?) GC group that my team had played against in Event 5. Upcoming for me on Sunday was a team game with a Medieval start, which again has its own peculiarities and nuances.
One of the nice things about having been a tester for Civ4 is that I've had to try basically every possible permutation of this game at some point in time before. During the summer, it was just to make sure that the danged thing worked properly, but now that experience gave me a bit of an edge over others who likely had never tried their hands at a Medieval start before. For this setting, you begin with two settlers, two archers, a worker, and an explorer unit - so already there are quite a few differences from the standard opening game. Priority is getting your two cities up and running as fast as possible, and how exactly to have them support each other best is an issue that requires careful thought. You simply can't have a pre-arranged plan ahead of time in that regard, since the lay of the land will dictate how you run your two cities in the early going (another reason why I love Civ4!) Technologically, you start with quite a few techs; check the fold-out poster that came with Civ4 if you want to see exactly which ones you start with (it's all the Ancient and Classical ones). There are quite a few possible paths to take out of the gate: do you go for Feudalism (longbows), Machinery (crossbows), Music (for the free Great Artist) or another path entirely? Good stuff. You also can jump into a number of civics right from the start of a Medieval game, like Caste System and Hereditary Rule, for example. Finally, in contrast to the Classical start, there are few good wonders to be built in the Medieval one. Chichen Itza is about the only strong one out there. That means that there's less of a priority on taking Industrious civs, to say the least.
These facts would dictate our civ choices, as well as the fact that this later start would mean access to different unique units. No point in taking the Inca for this kind of start, for example! I again had the good fortune to be going into battle with strong teammates: Vermillion (for the second day in a row) and Onan, whom I played many a game against in testing. We talked it over and decided that Russia would be THE civ to try and grab, since we would assuredly get access to cavs and could try to run over the other team at some point with Cossacks. Therefore, we'd have Vermillion pick first and take Cathy, then Onan would go second and take Spain (and Conquistadors), and I would go last and take Peter (who NEVER gets picked for Multiplayer) as an Expansive/Philosophical civ who would also get access to Cosssacks later on. The Medieval start just makes Creative and Industrious non-desirable traits, since you can expand borders easily with Caste System and there really aren't any big wonders out there. Knowing stuff like this before the game starts is an important part of being prepared.
Unlike Event #5 the previous day, we did NOT draw a bye in the first round and were slated to play the team from the NoD group first. They set up a game in the lobby, and uh, there's only two of them in here. It's 3 vs. 2. That's got to be a mistake, right? Well - actually, no. NoD didn't have enough players on hand to field a full team, and instead of just conceding, Yilar and The Brain decided to play us in an uneven match. Uh, OK... They grabbed Egypt and Rome, clearly intending to rush and try to take someone out. In response, Onan switched to China (Qin) for his civ to defend better early on. Well, this is unusual, but here we go...
Draw the map and see we're on the west side of the Inland Sea, and I'm on point in the north. Not the way we would have drawn it up, but I'm not helpless in military matters by any means, so let's see what happens. St. Petersburg has a nice location, although it's a little low on shields with only one hill tile. I moved my second settler back of the lines for safety, founding Novgorod in a spot with good potential for future growth. It's not growing at the moment because I'm running an Artist via Caste System for 2 turns to expand its borders. What you see here at St. Petersburg is my standard opening move for these late-era starts, begin with a worker and have the default worker chop a forest to complete it sooner. The explorer is headed off to the east, Vermillion is in the backlines, and Onan has point in the south. Everything looking good thus far.
We quickly run into the NoD team, this being a Small map, after all. Egypt (Yilar) is in the north, Rome (The Brain) in the south, which is good because our China player is opposite their Rome player. Spying a bit with the explorer reveals that Yilar does have horses (as well as ivory!), and so I expect a rush of War Chariots sooner rather than later.
That has to be their strategy, since they will lose to us on points if they don't get a kill, and we can research much, much faster than they can. Not at all stupid, by any means. Memphis is empty, but explorers can't attack, of course - they can't even pillage! Where was that missing Egyptian archer? He was headed towards me, as Yilar had sent one of his archers towards me right from the start of the game, and was slowly making his way across the top of the map. Now my one problem here was that I had no metals and no horses in either of the two cities - not good. Vermillion was able to send me horses pretty quickly, but I needed metals badly to deal with the certain-to-arrive War Chariots later. So I was a bit nervous here, and when that Egyptian archer showed up, I mismanaged my worker at St. Petersburg, ending up in a sitution where I had to move him first or see him get captured. Well, naturally I lost THAT race and had one of my two workers captured. Argh! Poor play on my part. Horse Archer immediately took out that archer, but it was a serious setback. Then I attacked Egypt's explorer with my Horse Archer and it LOST! Certainly within the realm of probability, but I had the odds to win there (it was on a hill, not in a forest). Meanwhile, I'm desperately working on a settler in Novgorod, trying to get a city up to the iron that I can see on the map before I get hit by an incoming attack, and I'm seriously worried here because NOTHING is going my way thus far!
Then we get the concession message:
Turns out that Yilar and The Brain wanted to play in Event #9, which was starting up shortly thereafter, so they decided not to waste any more time in this uphill battle and gave up. That was a smart move on their part, as they would in fact WIN that event, and in truth there was little chance for them to beat us here. You can see that explorer bastid up at the top of the screen, and even the iron on the extreme left of the picture that I was racing to hook up. While I was glad to see us win again, there's not a lot of glory to come out of an uneven match like this, and I was not at all pleased with how I had played here. I made a number of mistakes, mostly with how I handled my workers, but also with some build choices (like trying to build a forge too early). Not again! I vowed I would do better in the next game.
That game didn't take long, and the team we were slated to face next had had a bye in the first round, so we were able to get started with the second game (the semi-finals) right away. This time we were playing a group called LKT, which is an organization of French players. This led to some interesting exchanges in the setup room, with Onan and I (who both read French) typing away and Vermillion probably sitting there with a puzzled expression on his face. Since our Illuminati group was higher in the overall standings, we again had the option to pick first, and went with our original plan for civ choices (Vermillion - Cathy, Onan - Spain, me - Peter). They chose to take Ninou - Hatshepsut, holocanthe - Mao, Stilgar - Saladin. These were players that Vermillion and Onan were unfamiliar with, so we really didn't know what to expect going into this game. Once all the preliminary stuff was set up and out of the way, it was time to get started!
My start. Although my civ has the white color, I'm actually Russia and not England, so keep that in mind (Vermillion's Russia has the default orange). As far as our locations go, it's exactly the same as the last game: I'm up in the north corner, Vermillion is in the backlines, and Onan has the point in the south. We just happen to be on the east side of the lake as opposed to the west - it's the Mirror of our last start! There are two important differences from last time, however. First of all, look at the location of St. Petersburg - the city rocks! TONS of production from all those hills, and enough food from the two sheep to support rapid population growth as well. I was in love with this spot instantly. Novgorod isn't in a bad spot either, for that matter, as it's a high food site where I can run a ton of specialists down the road. But secondly, I have IRON at the capital. Yes! That makes all the difference in the world. No need to scramble against an early rush, as I'm definitely safe here and don't need to worry about this. Iron grants me spears right off the bat and pikes down the road to defend against Egyptian horses. Things already looking up here even before we've started.
I've gone with my standard opening here once again, start with a worker in the capital and then chop a forest to complete it faster. The worker in the above picture has just finished that action and then built a road on the hill tile (I build LOTS of roads with my workers; one weakness I've observed in MP games in general is poor usage of workers, and especially poor development of road networks). Next turn, that worker heads onto the sheep tile and begins to build a pasture on it. The second worker heads onto the iron and mines/roads that, then they head to the other sheep, add a pasture/road, then move one tile southeast and chop/mine/road that hill tile. So unlike the last game, when I immediately split up the two workers and sent one to each city, here I had them both work together on improving the capital, and I think that was a much stronger strategy to start. I'll remember that in the future. After building the worker, St. Petersburg quickly completed a granary (woohoo, it's nice to be Expansive here!) then built a barracks (NOT a forge, as I did earlier) and started building a few troops. Just in time too, because Nihou had sent an archer probing into my land, which I killed with my first new unit, a Combat I sword. But now I'm getting ahead of the story...
As I already hinted at above, Nihou's Egypt was my neighbor to the west (this REALLY feels like a repeat of the last game!) Here was what my explorer found:
Egypt did not have horses (thankfully!) but did have ivory, which was perhaps worse. No early rush with War Chariots, but everyone starts with Construction in these Medieval starts, so I can expect to see some elephants sooner rather than later. Nihou had inexplicably NOT hooked up the cows immediately with her starting worker, so I parked my explorer on the tile and had him just sit there for a long time, denying her the use of the cattle resource. You can see that Thebes is only size 2, mostly due to lack of food - ha! I also don't know why this sword didn't try to kill my explorer, but he didn't and so I kept camping out on the cows. An elephant eventually killed the explorer, but he had been there for about 20 turns by that point and seriously slowed down Nihou's growth curve at the capital. Got great use from that guy.
Meanwhile, in the south Onan was confronted by Stilgar in what was basically a sardine can. Stilgar moved his second city WAY up towards Onan for no apparent reason, and Medina was therefore isolated from the rest of the Arabian civ. Onan was attacking there over and over again, preventing Stilgar from building ANY tile improvements at all for literally dozens and dozens of turns on end. Unfortunately, Medina by luck became the Holy City for a religion, and so it had tons of culture and defense (blah). Onan did tons of damage, but his own growth was slowed too, so that engagement was somewhat of a stalemate. The real damage Onan did, however, was to get holocanthe building lots of troops to support Stilgar, which slowed down holocanthe's growth as well. Vermillion was supporting Onan at times, but mostly just growing and expanding on his own, which is what we wanted him to do most - get that population and score up as fast as possible!
As soon as I put a pasture on the pigs and irrigated the flood plains at Novgorod, I pulled a bunch of population off the land there and turned them into Artists (via Caste System - have I mentioned again how much I love that civic?) in order to generate us a Great Artist. I think I managed to get three Artists for 18 points/turn - and keep in mind you only need 67 points to generate the first Great Person. So I had a Great Artist in short order, and the plan was to send my third settler west, to plant a city with him and bomb it with culture, therefore giving me complete control of the territory between myself and Ninou. However - I look at the tech on the Artist, and it turns out to be Music. Change of plans! Instead, we'll grab Music with the Great Artist, get the FREE Great Artist from being first to that tech, and then use HIM for my planned culture bomb. Perfect! Only - we grab the tech, and no Great Artist appears. Eh? Must be a bug or something, I think Onan said he had seen that happen before. Nuts.
Well, what do you do? Order up another Great Artist, that's all!
That's the view inside Novgorod as it churns away on the second Great Artist. Getting no production at the moment, of course - but that's not the goal. St. Petersburg can handle training units for defense. Novgorod's job is to get out that next Great Artist ASAP for use on the western front. Specializing your cities and having them work together like this is one of the keys to success in Civ4.
Anyway, while I was waiting on this second Great Artist, I had founded a coastal city in the southwest which had some good potential for growth. St. Petersburg kept flipping back and forth between military units for defense and workers/settlers to continue growing. I made sure I had three spears, an axe, a sword, three cats, and multiple longbows on hand before I felt safe enough to push out my forward city to the west, expanding into the teeth of the enemy. I planted Yakutsk and dropped the culture bomb in it the same turn:
That gave me complete control over the battlefield. No one going to sneak up on me without my being able to see them! Yekaterinburg meanwhile built up a small fleet of galleys after it finished its initial granary and forge, to ensure no naval fleets slipping in past the front door. Also notice in the above shot how my workers are already completing roads up to Yakutsk even before I had planted the city. I would then have two workers on duty outside the city for a long time, building roads further to the west inside my cultural borders to allow me to counter-attack at will. I can't overstress the importance of having a good road network; playing Civ3 Always War hammered that lesson home for me, and many of the same lessons apply in Civ4 MP.
On the next turn, Ninou responds to my aggressive settlement by moving up a force in detail. Look out, here they come!
Three elephants, a sword, and a cat, to go along with the sword and archer already in my territory. Well, I was sure I could handle this, but it was a sizable force. First to get taken down was the archer; I simply moved my own Combat I/Cover sword up next to it and killed it when it didn't move out of the way. One unit down. The sword at the top of the screen was taken out by my axe when it wandered too close to my road network. Now I just have that stack to deal with.
Ninou moved it right up next to my city of Yakutsk, and I was content to let her do it. I was gathering my forces there, expecting to have to counterattack outside the city as she tried to go past it deeper into my territory. Then I would hit the stack with suicide cats and mop up the remainders. Then I start getting red messages on my screen - oh my, she's attacking the city itself?!
That was, to be honest, not a smart move. I had an 80% defensive bonus in that city from the culture bomb. EIGHTY percent! My longbows and spears laughed off the elephants, and the sword in there took out the attacking sword without any problems. Then I simply took out the cat, and that was that. The stack achieved nothing, not even killing one unit. Those elephants you see trickling in behind the stack similarly died to no purpose; I killed them easily with Combat II spears. Attacking with insufficient force in Civ4 is recipe for disaster; I wouldn't have ordered that attack in the first place, but if it was going to be made, it would have been better to drive deeper into my civ than waste that stack on a hopeless attack. I don't want to sound too harsh here, but a mistake is a mistake, and I feel compelled to point it out. Ninou wasted a great deal of shields here to no effect. By holding onto Yakutsk, I cemented control of the contested ground between our civs and set the terms of the following engagements. I would not be seriously threatened again.
This is one of the things that I'm best at in Civ4 - setting the conditions under which combat takes place. Since I am usually able to get out to a points lead, due to a good knowledge of how to grow and develop a civ ASAP, that means that the other player or teams must come after ME, and not vice versa, therefore allowing me to choose when and where the fighting will take place. This little encounter was a classic example of that. (I used to bug the hell out of my testing partners James, Pat, and Scott by doing this stuff over and over again in our summer games.) Then, after building up a superior production base, I can counter-attack in force at the spot of my choosing. Of course, you won't ALWAYS have a points lead to rely on, so what happens then? Then it gets interesting.
With Yakutsk safe from attack, I built. And built and built. Pikes replaced spears on my western border, I added a few more cats, and I felt completely safe. I added another city on my border in the south and squeezed one into the north where I had some tiles getting wasted, but also an iron and corn resource. Take a look at how things stood a little later:
Orenburg gets gems and bananas, as well as having good potential for future production. Smolensk looks like a wasted site, but it grabs corn and iron, and grabs a lot of wasted tiles on that part of the map. The preferred site would have been on the tile with the peak, but of course it couldn't go there. And before you laugh, that city was up to size 8 before the game ended - quite a lot of population (and therefore score) added on, not to mention additional research, production, etc. You gotta make the best use possible out of your land! As it was, I was wasting a whole column of tiles on the eastern border of the map, but there wasn't - quite - enough land there to justify planting additional cities. I did plan to squeeze out another city in the southeast corner below Yekaterinburg, but my plans ended up changing.
I built courthouses, markets and grocers, and libraries in all my core cities. Got the cottages up and running, and research started progressing along nicely. Our team was #1 in land, population, production, GDP - well, you get the idea. The KCT team is never going to catch us on points, barring an extremely unlikely kill. I pointed this out and asked Vermillion and Onan what the chances were of them conceding to us. They replied that it was unlikely; this was a major tournament, and games wouldn't be given up lightly. Yet we've already been playing for over four hours, and there's still more than 40 turns to go? Good grief. So I tell my teammates, "I'm getting tired of this. I'll just have to kill off one of them."
Sullla has adopted Vassalage!
Yeah, I was probably the only one in the game NOT running Vassalage already. But that wasn't my plan - I had been focusing on growth and expansion, not military. Vassalage and Organized Religion? Too expensive! I went with Hereditary Rule and Caste System only, and swapped the latter to Serfdom once I no longer needed to generate Great People. Yes sir, you too can run your civilization on the cheap! But now that was over. Time to lay down some serious smackage. Ninou has planted a city in the west and dropped a culture bomb in it with a Great Artist, which combined with their building of Chichen Itza (ONE turn before I would have built it, argh! all the more reason to attack) gives that city a defensive bonus of 105%. That's a lot. So I need cats. Lots and lots of cats, double-promoted with Accuracy to drop that to zero in one shot. Since I can see into that city thanks to my own culture bomb, I know that Ninou is primarily defending with pikes. That's not a bad decision, since I am Russia and sure to get to Cossacks soon - but any one-dimensional defense can be beaten with proper planning, in the same fashion as a one-dimensional attack. If she's going the anti-horse route, well then, I just won't build horses!
What do I need? Maces. Lots and lots of maces.
Yeah, that should do the trick nicely. Maces that are sitting back outside the range of what Ninou can see from her borders, so she won't know that they're coming. St. Petersburg had built the Heroic Epic (doubles production of military units) and it was cranking one each and every turn. My other cities built either maces or cats as needed. Most maces get City Raider II promotions, a couple take Combat I/Shock for field encounters. I end up with about a full dozen maces, ten cats, four pikes, three spears, and several knights to gallop around and cause chaos. After finishing with the last batch of slow troops, I set every city to building knights, which would be able to catch up with the 1-move units and hit Egypt at about the same time.
1710AD arrives and here we go. I move in my units and point them at Elephantine. This was not a double-move or anything like that; it took the full turn just for me to get all my units in range, and that's with me having them grouped with stack commands! (I've gotten a lot better with the grouping commands, but I still need more practice with that, to be honest.) It takes one turn to move next to Elephantine, and here's what they see inside:
Lots and lots of pikes, as you can see. However - ONE cat and NO longbows?! That's just not smart. Ninou's defense was just too one-dimensional here, predicated on stopping a Cossack rush. That's not a bad plan, but just because I was Russia didn't mean that I HAD to use Cossacks! If you can't adapt your plans in response to changing enemy conditions, you just won't be successful in Civ4 - there are no cookie cutter strategies in this game (at least, outside an Ancient Age rush). And I had set up and executed a rather strong battle plan, if you'll forgive me for saying so. (One last point - note the workers laying down the roads as I go! Don't forget your combat engineers!)
So the turns roll around to 1720AD and I get to move my units again. I use the cat stack first and click the bombard command. BOOM! Defenses from 105% to 0% in ONE shot! Behold the power of having 8 cats with Accuracy on them. Then I start sending in the maces one at a time (I suppose I could have used the stack attack command, but didn't see the need, as speed wasn't critical here). The first one dies to a War Elephant, but then the rest start getting kills. Kill, kill, kill - Ninou is doing her best to move more units into the city, she's reinforcing as the battle takes place, but all the reinforcements are ALSO pikes and my maces are just mopping the floor with them. The last mace takes the city:
The first mace was the only one that died, all the others won. I was getting better than 2:1 odds in every fight, since there was no city defenses left and my maces had +50% against melee (not to mention City Raider II!) Total success overall, I lost ONE unit taking the city. Now no time to stop here, I need to push on further and score that decisive second blow to eliminate the civ permanently. Since the main Egyptian defenders were at Elephantine, and basically my whole force survived, that shouldn't be too tough. My knights charge further west, making a feint at the capital of Thebes, while my main cat/mace stack turns south and heads for Memphis. I managed to shave a turn off the attack by using my workers to road that desert tile south of the rice, so it was good I brough them along again! I don't know if the knights did anything, but at the very least the (small) garrison in Thebes was forced to remain there rather than reinforcing Memphis. Not that it really mattered at this point...
There's the stack outside Memphis. If you see those three dots underneath the last cat, that indicates that there are actually even MORE units there that just can't be displayed (hey, it was a big stack!) Memphis has about a half-dozen units, mostly pikes, which clearly are not going to be enough. The LKT team was already conceding to us at this point, so it was just a formality to play out the last turn. Cats go boom, defenses drop from 65% to 0% (and still about 4 cats left over for use if necessary), maces attack, and the predictable result:
Once again, I'd like to congratulate my teammates for helping me out here and playing a fine game. It was nice to be able to contribute more than just in a supporting role for a change too (I like playing that role, but we can't have people thinking that I'm UNABLE to fight or anything like that). I'm sorry if I didn't have as much to say about my teammates in this game; it's not that they weren't doing anything, it's just that I couldn't spend as much time scanning the map since I was on the front lines. You have to be more focused when your civ is in danger! As for our opponents, the players on the LKT team were polite and gracious at all times, and I mean no disrespect towards them - I hope that that has been conveyed in the course of this report. It was a very good game from start to finish.
This win put our team into the finals match, but that wasn't slated to start for a few more hours (remember, we had finished our first round very quickly and then played a team that had gotten through on a bye) and I had a basketball game to attend in the evening. Therefore, the final match was played by Vermillion, Cobra, and Islandia, who defeated the GC team and secured us an overall victory in the event. Great job guys! Also, congrats to Vermillion who secured the #1 ladder spot (however temporarily, it's impossible to remain there) with the victory in this event. Glad I could help you out there. The final bracket for Event #8 looked like this:
Though of course I did not actually play in the final event, as mentioned above. Overall, the Illuminati group tied for second place in the CCC with NoD, and the GC group was the winner. It was an intense weekend of games, to say the least, and I learned a lot about how the competitive MP tournaments work. We plan to work on what needs improving and come back even stronger for the next competition! I'll let you know how that goes too, or at least what happens in my events...
How am I doing overall in the world of competitive Multi-Player?
Not too shabby, it looks like.