Epic Thirteen: Murphy's Law

Epic Thirteen is finally here, our first game using Beyond the Sword and the beginning of a fall lineup of scenarios designed to explore the new expansion. As the Sponsor for this event, I'll start by discussing the setup and game design before venturing into my own result - which was my own first game with Beyond the Sword.

Our previous Potluck game was Epic Eight, which took place almost a year prior to this Epic. Sirian designed that one, and it was a huge success - our largest turnout ever, with 118 savegames mailed out and 59 reports submitted. We didn't quite hit that number for this game, but Gris and I ended up sending out 101 savefiles. That's a lot! When thinking about what kind of scenario to employ for the first Beyond the Sword Epic, I remembered back to what Sirian had done with Civ3's Epic 21, the first game using the Play the World expansion. That had been a Potluck game as well, which allowed everyone to experience some of the new civilizations in a low-pressure, no-scoring environment. Since that seemed like a good fit for our current situation, I shamelessly stole the idea and created the game that you all ended up playing (although I don't think Sirian would have minded).

The scenario text for Epic Thirteen was cut-and-pasted almost word-for-word from what Sirian had written for Epic Eight. After all, why mess with a successful formula? What I did not tell anyone at the time was that the planning was a bit difficult to pull off, since I wrote the scenario description several weeks before I actually got my hands on Beyond the Sword itself! This was necessary to give everyone a week's notice to sign up before the event actually opened, but it sure made my life difficult. Griselda was a huge help in getting everything up on the website smoothly and without any hitches. Fortunately I was able to steal the images for the teaser pic off the official Beyond the Sword website, as I didn't have the actual art assets on my computer to work with. This also dictated the map type; without knowing which new map scripts would appear the expansion, I simply decided to go with good old "Fractal" and roll maps until something interesting came along. As far as picking the eight civs that I did (out of the ten new ones in the expansion), the Holy Roman Empire got dropped because I don't consider it a real civ (Germany says hello!) and there didn't seem a need for both Babylon AND Sumer in the same game. Hammurabi had first dibs in that pairing, as he's been in every civ game, and we had some fond memories from Civ3 days. So Gilgamesh was left to wait yet again - which is hilarious because he was the last leader to get cut (in pre-release testing) from appearing in Civ4! Poor guy.

When I actually did get ahold of the expansion, I had to go through quite a few maps to get one that seemed appropriate for the scenario. With the Fractal script that really wasn't too surprising, as it can throw just about anything out there. I originally found a map that looked really promising, with two main continents and the civs arranged in pairs of two; two pairs of two on each continent. I thought that would make for a really neat game, but in moving the starting positions around and tweaking the map, I made the mistake of placing the wrong unit in the wrong spot, and two of the civs gained contact with one another. You cannot remove contact in the Worldbuilder, or using debug tools, and I didn't realize my mistake until I had already saved over my starting Worldbuilder file. The only choice was to start all over again. Argh!

OK, let's try this again - take two. (And be sure to always keep a Worldbuilder save file from the untweaked map!) After a number of more re-rolls, I wound up with the game that all of you played. I thought the continent was interesting; it would be crowded with eight civs, but allow leeway to move in a lot of different directions. Some of the starting positions I left alone (I think Portugal was untouched), while others required drastic revision. The Dutch actually began on the northeast island, so I literally created a starting position for them out of nowhere in the desert by adding a river and several food resources. That was the most inhospitable part of the map before I worked on it, so I was quite pleased with how comparable the Dutch were to the other civs in my own game. To accomodate the Dutch, the Byzantines were moved slightly southeast, while the Mayans were moved a fair distance west, until they were at the corner of the continent. The Mayans also received several food bonuses, as their capital location was pretty sad before I touched it up. I moved the Babylonians slightly north; they were even closer to Portugal in their original location. I should have moved the Native Americans slightly northwest, but I didn't catch that until after I had mailed off the starting files to Gris. Oh well.

I gave all of the civs two warriors to start; there was some confusion over this among some players, but I did it so that the AI (which usually begins with two archers on Monarch) would still have the same number of starting units. The player getting an extra unit was more of an accident than anything else; it was that or start everyone with two archers, and that would have been even more jarring. Other things I would have changed if I could do it over again... I should have sunk some of the land in the west around the Ethiopians and Native Americans into the sea. (I actually did sink some of the land over there - the northwest island was originally reachable by galleys - but I should have gone even further.) Those two civs definitely had more room than the others. I don't think this will be too much of an issue, as the Egyptians were clearly the strongest in the previous Potluck game, but it deserves mentioning. I also should point out that in creating this game, I set the difficulty to "Monarch", while selecting the Babylonians (they were the first in alphabetical order). This had no effect for those who played as Babylon, but I later found out that for everyone NOT playing as Babylon, the AI was actually handicapped (it was playing on "Monarch" difficulty, while all the other AIs were playing on "Noble"). So the Babylon AI was slightly more stupid than the others, to put it succinctly. Again, it probably won't be a huge deal - I just want to clarify everything in the interests of full disclosure.

When rolling starts, the very first one I tossed with my d8 came up as an 8, meaning I had the Portugal start. Interesting. Portugal has one of the weakest starts in this game, which was by design. Portugal players are supposed to have the option of either rushing one of the AIs (almost certainly Babylon) using their Imperialistic trait, or using their carrack unique unit to add more cities overseas. I decided before the game even started that I would play peacefully and refrain from aggression, adding colonies instead of making conquests. Of course, I KNEW that there were islands out there to be settled, which was hardly fair, so it wasn't exactly a real dilemma. That's the tradeoff for designing these events...

OK, here we go. Imperialistic for fast settlers and the "new" Expansive, which fortunately brings the worker production boost back to a reasonable level. Aside from the cheap granaries and harbors, these are pretty poor economic traits, but you make due with what you get. I decided it would be useful to have my own religion for diplomatic and commercial reasons, so I went for that first on the research front. Because I already had Fishing, an initial worker wasn't as desirable, plus with the Expansive shield boost, it would make more sense to reach size 2 first and pick up an extra shield from working the plains forest tile. I sent my warriors out to scout, and the game was afoot!

Buddhism fell very early in 3700BC. That was Justinian, who I quickly figured out is the second coming of Isabella in terms of religious zealotry. (Might have made different choices if I had known that going into this game, but that's why you live and learn!) I was still on track for getting Hinduism, however, and even doing better than usual, since I was picking up two extra commerce from the fish resource.

What the...?

You got to be kidding me! 25 turns of research - wasted! Nothing to show for it. It turns out it was Willem of Oranje who beat me there, despite not starting with Mysticism. Darned Financial Dutch and their river start! I swear, I should have left them in that scorching desert! Argh. Well, nothing to do at this point but go on and make the best of it. I thought I would have a shot to get Judaism, but that would also fall at a very, very early date (Mayans). So much for controlling my own religion!

Once I had a good look at my surroundings, I made up my first tentative dotmap:

The red dot was my planned second city; even though it was low on food, it had some decent shield potential. I also wanted that Stone resource for either Stonehenge, Great Wall, or the Pyramids - maybe all of them! The pink dot, I was unsure whether to settle or not. It would get the cows in the west, but have to face Babylon's strong culture, which seemed unwise. (Although I have to keep reminding myself, this Babylon is not the same cultural monster as the Religious/Scientific Babs from Civ3!) When I realized that the tile north of pink dot was NOT floodplains, but actually a river desert tile, I changed my mind and moved pink's location southeast. That forced the rest of the dots to shuffle around accordingly (I'll show the result a bit later). I was pretty happy the way they turned out, all things considered.

So after researching Mysticism -> Polytheism -> Agriculture, I started research into Bronze Working for all those forests near my capital. I also built Work Boat -> Worker -> Settler, although I allowed some turns to pass to let Lisbon grow to size 3 before starting the settler. Here's the one place where an Imperialistic civ does have a big advantage:

I'm getting three extra shields/turn from the trait, going from 7/turn to 10/turn. Now you see why it's unfortunate I don't have Bronze Working; if just one of those hills were mined, I could jump up to 12 shields/turn, no longer losing production from rounding. Of course, as far as economic advantages go, this really only applies to the extreme early game, then loses almost all of its value. (I think Imperialistic and Protective are the weakest traits in the game, personally.) But if this is all I've got, well, I'm going to use it to dominate the border with Babylon by getting my settlers there first!

While waiting on workers and settlers to be built, I explored the map with my warriors. I knew where the other civs started, of course, but I wanted to make contact as soon as possible. I popped all kinds of huts, with terrible luck; out of seven huts, I got 3 instances of gold, 2 maps, and 2 barb spawnings:

Here I'm about to have my second warrior killed by barbs. (The first one already died a while back.) So even though I knew the whole darned map ahead of time, contact was delayed with the western civs for centuries because my explorers kept dying to barbarians! Argh!

I left events turned on for this event, as they seemed like something fun to explore in a game with no scoring. Here's the first one that popped up for me, and a powerful one at that:

I didn't have so much as a single axeman yet, and my copper was only just connected, but heck yeah I'll take that event! Too bad I'm not planning on attacking anyone... Anyway, I think we'll probably leave these on for most games. I had to turn them off for the upcoming Always War game because something like this would just be way too powerful.

After I built my first two settlers, locking down the border with Babylon, I paused to build Stonehenge in Lisbon. That would allow the capital to grow up to the happy limit, and as a non-Creative civ it seemed like a good build regardless. Of course, things couldn't be that easy...

Aaaahhhh! First game back and Hammer strikes again! (Next thing I know, X-Man is probably going to land a stack of immortals next to Lisbon.) Wow does that ever stink. My cities are building workers because (with Pottery not finished research yet) they can't build granaries, and the only other options were monuments, barracks, or warriors. I didn't need military, and I was expecting to get free monuments from Stonehenge, but noooooo! And building the wonder so early - since when did the AIs finish Stonehenge in 1900BC? Sheesh.

Anyway, at least you can see my initial cities. Oporto I initially conceived as a production center, but because Guimaraes had even less food available, I cottaged over the grassland tiles at Oporto and turned it into a commerce one. At Guimaraes, I irrigated all the flatland tiles and mined everything else, creating a very strong production center. It lagged a lot early in the game, but really took off after I got Biology for the extra food.

OK, I still have the stone resource, right? I researched Masonry after Pottery, even before Animal Husbandry, to hook it up and go to work on the Great Wall. But before I could even get the resource connected...

Gah! Is it just me, or does that still seem early? I know I've ready succession games where the Great Wall was available much later than this... Well so much for that idea! Lisbon has all this production, and nowhere to put it aside from more settlers. With Heroic Epic it could have been a fearsome military producer - but like I said, not going down that route. Undoubtedly many others will, and the comparisons will be fun.

At least ONE old trick still works:

Metal Casting was an easy call here, as I wanted the Colossus for my coastal cities. My Portugese would turn out to be a true seafaring civilization; all but one city throughout the whole game would be on the coast! Furthermore, Metal Casting was on the path to Compass tech and harbors, which I could build at double-speed from the Expansive trait. Trade routes would be critical to my gameplan down the road!

With stone in hand, plus a capital sporting three hills plus a copper resource, I thought I would make a bid at the Pyramids. Representation happiness would be a major plus, as I had only a single silver resource in my own territory (and still locked out on religion, remember). And yet once again:

OK, what is going on here?! Maybe the AI really IS better in Beyond the Sword, because all the wonders I was targetting were falling awful fast. And yet other wonders didn't seem to be getting built very early at all. Perhaps it was just some bad luck (?) Murphy and his law definitely felt like they were toying with me in this opening. At least I kept getting some cash infusions from the missed wonders!

Notice how little territory still remained explored on the minimap in the above picture. I usually push for map info like no one's business, yet I was still in the dark here after my first two warriors got killed. Finally, I was able to slip in a scout to poke around and meet the remaining civs; it had also been necessary to wait until Hammurabi was ready to Open Borders with me. Now one of the common observations in Beyond the Sword is that the AI doesn't defend itself as well in the early game, pushing expansion at the cost of security. You know, like a human player would do. My scout seemed to find ample evidence of that:

Three archers in Babylon, and a single warrior in Akkad? In 425BC? Granted, Hammurabi was the "dumb" AI, playing on a higher difficulty level, but Justinian was no better (a single archer in Nicea?) I'll have to get more info on this before designing future scenarios. (Those who rushed the AI in this game, even with the 1000BC restriction, should provide good data.) If the tried-and-true method to beat the AI is to sucker-punch it before it can fight back, then our events will be designed to minimize that as much as possible. The opinions of community members will be important on this issue.

I researched Alphabet fairly early on, fueled by the cash from my wonder misses, then made the usual trades to pick up techs that I missed. Some players have remarked that the AI is stingier about trading tech in Beyond the Sword, but I have to say that I didn't see that at all. After that, I pushed down the bottom of the tree for Compass and Machinery (en route to Optics), trading for the techs in the top and middle of the tree that the AI always prioritizes.

As expected, my Oracle grab led to the wonder I wanted:

I had copper, and no else even had Metal Casting, so it wasn't much of a race.

On the 5BC turn right before the date crossover, the Oracle turned out a Great Prophet, which I used to lightbulb Theology and found Christianity. I did not convert to the new religion for diplomatic reasons; Willem had already spread Hinduism to me, which I was pretty happy with. I thought about building the Apostolic Palace wonder to see how it worked, but ultimately I was too busy with colonizing overseas to bother with it (more on that on the next page). So that brought me to the AD years, where I snapped a picture of my civ's development thus far:

I've just discovered Compass on the previous turn, and I'm in the process of starting to add cheap harbors to my cities. More importantly, Lisbon will finish the Great Lighthouse on the next turn (arrowed in yellow), which will make those harbors MORE than worth their while! It's too bad that I wasn't able to land the Temple of Artemis in Lisbon, ah well. Evora, Coimbra, and Lagos are all fishing villages, but strong ones with decent shield production as well. They build everything with the whip, as you'd expect. Guimaraes is the only city building any kind of military at all (although I was pleased to find that my cardboard cutout military was only 6th in power), while Lisbon remains by far the strongest city. I think that I got about the maximum possible value out of the land in the starting region - I look forward to seeing how other Portugal players will manage this, especially those who play the start peacefully!