Epic Fourteen: A Desperate Stand

While my attack force headed north to attack Montezuma, I switched the capital over to a different project. Building Gallics and axes cost me any chance at landing Stonehenge or the Great Wall, but I was able to get another desirable wonder:

I wanted Code of Laws so that I could begin whipping out courthouses in my far-flung recent conquests. The former Aztec cities were a long way away; although they weren't costing me much at this point, inflation and maintenance costs would increase significantly with time. I also founded Confucianism, which was a nice little boost. (If I had known that I was going to land this religion, I probably would have skipped Meditation/Buddhism initially. But I didn't know whether or not the Oracle would be in the cards, so I played it safe with the early religion.) The wonder also started churning out some Great Prophet points for use on an eventual Buddhist shrine. With limited income sources, that was a big plus.

Since 750BC was a nice even date, I snapped a picture of my territory in the wake of the Aztec conquest:

I have scouts out in all directions to warn of incoming enemy units, and give me some time to react. Nevertheless, this is still a very unsettled position. I desperately needed a few more cities to plug the holes in my borders and establish front lines. In order to avoid bankrupting myself, I picked out two locations for the next upcoming settlers. The first one would head north, to grab the cows/wheat/copper spot west of Tenochtitlan. The other settler would go west, and found in a defensive spot north of Vienne. The plan was to pause and defend for a while with six cities and two fronts, one in the north and one in the west. After developing a bit, I could then fit out the back lines with more cities. My dot map planned for an additional five cities down the road, for a total of eleven all told.

Turns pass, Bibracte produces settlers, and eventually the cities are founded. First, Tolosa in the north. And on the same turn that I plant the city, I get this bizarre message popping up:

Umm... what? You want me to GIVE the city away? In an Always War game?! Man, I don't know what kind of crack this game is smoking.

Now note that Tolosa AND Tenochtitlan are both undefended in the above shot. That's because I had my defenders (the leftovers from that earlier aggressive attack) up to the north of the cities, engaging in some raiding action against Churchill. On this very turn (485BC), I burned the city of Hastings to the ground. There was no possible way that I could hold any territory up there, but delaying the English was definitely to my advantage. The actual terrain around Tolosa had a lot of forests, which is ordinarily a plus for chopping, but not so good here. As any Multiplayer veteran knows, forests provide defensive cover for incoming attackers. I would have a devil of a time here building a proper road network and clearing out the woods.

Shortly thereafter, I founded my other frontier fortress, Gergovia:

The terrain here was lush: pigs, rice, wines, and no fewer than 13 tiles touching rivers! Unfortunately, I could have picked a better defensive location. Forests and hills provide a great deal of cover to anyone approaching the city, and the river is located BEHIND the city, so the enemy doesn't have to cross it to attack. This was a case of me thinking too much in the long-term, rather than making sure the city would survive long enough to reach it. At this point, though, I didn't realize that I had made a serious error.

During the years following 1000BC, I focused a lot on infrastructure. I had to build settlers for Tolosa/Gergovia, then workers for my new cities, and I slipped the Oracle in there as well. All of this was certainly helpful... but I had been neglecting military, and that was a grave mistake. The AI civs had not been sitting idly on their hands during these years. The first indication I had that I might be in trouble was when I received this notice:

I'm ranked dead last on the "most powerful civs" list? And this is an Always War game?!

The AIs had been so quiet, I hadn't been thinking too much about them. Perhaps I was lulled into a false sense of complacency by the weakness of the AI opponents in Epic Six. Ha! Not here! They were just building their stacks up. The action soon began arriving fast and furious at Gergovia:

Here is the first stack that had me worried. Oh, I can deal with these Khmer forces well enough, since I have a spear and a pair of axes in Gergovia, but just look at the left side of that screenshot. Wang has another stack just as large headed my way. I have no defensive bonuses in the city right now; if they come after me in full force, I am going to go down.

I realized I had to act, and act immediately if I was to save the city. Thankfully, Gergovia had a pigs resource, providing a huge food surplus. As soon as the city hit size two, I immediately whipped out city walls, for a 50% defensive bonus. Every time the city grew back to size 2, I would whip out another archer for defense. I actually whipped three such archers in this fashion, all of them lacking experience, because the need was so desperate:

Here I've whipped the walls (Celtic Dun, to be technically correct) and am about to whip out an archer. Even without a granary, the city was growing like a weed! Now the bad news is that the combined Korean/Khmer force is just camping out next to the city, waiting for the proper moment to attack. There's no possible way that I can remove them myself, making it all but impossible to improve the tiles around Gergovia. It was unnerving to have close to a dozen enemy units hanging out in my territory, uncertain what they would do or if they would move. Vienne to the south was completely undefended; I HAD to hold here at Gergovia!

In the north, I had burned down Coventry (the replacement city for Hastings) in 100BC, further slowing the English. However, in the attack I lost the last of my City Raider Gallics, so I began shifting from hit-and-run tactics to a more settled defense on that front. Churchill was increasing in military strength himself, making it too dangerous to venture forward on raids anymore.

That took me to the AD crossover:

You can finally see my six cities all together, as well as the huge amount of territory I'm trying to defend. The English and Khmer were both done expanding, and were now stepping up their attacks in greater numbers. I was even beginning to see Roman units appearing for the first time in the north. The most serious threat remained in the west, however, as indicated by the white arrows in the picture. Even with walls and extra defenders, I was sweating bullets over whether Gergovia would hold out. Bibracte and Vienne were both desperately trying to add more units to man the defenses.

On the very next turn, the floodgates opened and the AIs attacked!

But they didn't have enough to get through my defenses. Whew! I killed eight and lost only one unit. Even so, there were still almost a dozen units remaining outside the city. I continued to pore more reinforcements into Gergovia, and looked for the moment to counterattack.

These turns were extremely tense moments for me. I had begun playing this session in 750BC, and completely lost track of time. When I looked up at the clock, it turned out that almost six hours had gone by! I was actually so absorbed into the game, I didn't take a whole lot of screenshots. All of my mental energy was focused on holding down the two frontiers. Thus it wasn't until 325AD that I took another picture, showing my units finally eliminating the last of the attackers at Gergovia:

The Korean/Khmer forces had made another try at the city around 250AD, losing more units and doing little damage. The survivors retreated to the tile you see above to lick their wounds. I finally had enough units on hand to eliminate them, so I took them out, with losses. Now I could finally begin to improve the land around Gergovia - only the tiles to the south have been fixed up, nothing to the north or west!

Notice that I had to use a Gallic Warrior on the chariot, too. The chariot boost versus axeman is definitely one of the best additions to the combat engine (from Warlords, I know, not Beyond the Sword). In Epic Six, I built nothing but axes and spears. In this game, I had to mix in a lot of swords and horse archers, due to the new matchup problems.

Now the Oracle had produced a Great Prophet in 280AD for the Buddhist shrine, which was a major help in boosting my sagging finances. It only took me from 40% to 50% science, but that was enough to go from ~30 beakers/turn to ~55 beakers/turn (I love those new indicators!) I now began researching Currency as well, not for the trade routes, but so I could build a marketplace in the capital and add to my shrine income.

The old AI used to build enormous numbers of naval units in Always War games. Not so much Blake's improved AI:

After my defensive galley failed to meet any attacks, I sent him out to map the rest of the donut. On the way, he stopped to pillage each of Churchill's seafood resources. By the way, I don't mean this as a criticism - the AI should definitely concentrate on land units, not naval ones - just pointing out something different from my expectations. We may not see anyone get a naval unit to Combat V promotion, for example!

My improved finances enabled me to reach a position where I could continue expansion. As a rule, any time I began to research in the black at 50%, I started working on another settler. In 355AD, I founded Camulodunum to the south of Teotihuacan. It grabbed clams, pigs, and copper for a very strong location overall; I'll show a picture a little bit later. Now I was out to seven cities, and things were looking up.

That is, until the next WAVE of AI units arrived:

The first crisis appeared in the north. Already reeling from a major attack by Churchill, I had the misfortune to see a large stack arrive from Augustus at virtually the same time. Churchill's force had been severe enough to wipe out an entire stack of mine, including my Medic III chariot! (I had not expected the unit to have to defend.) Furthermore, they pillaged the road link between Tolosa and Tenochtitlan (boxed in white), leaving my surviving forces out of position. To meet that attack coming against the former Aztec capital, I've got a single archer on defense.

The saving grace for me here was that I had only JUST finished researching Horseback Riding tech a mere six turns earlier, opening up access to War Elephants. I whipped out a jumbo in Tenochititlan and another one from Tolosa, as soon as it grew large enough to do so. That caused major unhappiness in both locations, but so be it. I had to defend first!

Meanwhile, a SECOND crisis was going on in the west at Gergovia (again!)

The stack highlighted is Wang's Korean one just to the north of Gergovia. There is another Khmer stack to the west, circled but the units not displayed. And Wang has even MORE elephants coming in from the north! With the invaders sticking to defensive terrain, I can't waste units attacking, only sit and respond within the city itself.

But there's a major problem there as well. We're no longer in the ancient ages, and Wang has brought his souped-up catapults (Hwachas) to the fight. They're knocking out some of my defensive bonus each turn. And with their strength against melee units, I can't seem to get a good matchup against them. Damn it!

You can see my stack in Gergovia in the above screenshot. I've got three Gallics, three spears, four archers, two axes, and a catapult. More reinforcements continue to trickle into the city from Vienne and Bibracte. Will that be enough? I guess we're about to find out.

These two crises demonstrated the general pattern for this period: so long as one opponent came at me at once, I was in decent shape. This is when I would shift some of my core cities onto infrastructure builds. But when two or more AIs sent forces at the same time, the situation would degenerate into pandemonium, forcing me to whip extra units in frantic fashion. It was beyond nerve wracking, alway flirting one step away from disaster!

The northern front resolved itself first:

Fortunately, the Romans paused for two turns to bombard Tenochtitlan before choosing to attack (even though it only had 20% cultural defenses initially). That, along with the whipped elephants detailed earlier, gave me the breathing space I needed to hold out. When they finally attacked in 475AD, I won with minimal losses. Another narrow escape!

In the west, the AIs brought the house on the 505AD interturn. I lost about a half dozen units, but they saw the core of their army destroyed, leaving a few survivors to retreat away from the battlefield. Grisly thought the slaughter may have been, I was left with possession of the field:

It was a number of turns before I was able to clean up those units on the right side of the screen. Still, it was just a matter of time, after which Gergovia was finally safe again. For a little while, anyway.

Since the 505AD date is another milestone year, I saved the game (ending my monster six-hour play session!) and snapped a picture of the demographics:

I've been dominant in production and land area the whole game. Now I'm starting to edge out in front in GNP and soldier count; this was actually the first turn since the early BC years where I was #1 in power. Must have been due to the slaughter at Gergovia on the interturn. On the whole, things were beginning to turn around a bit. What an incredible session this had been to play though. I'm not sure I've ever had more intense turns playing Civ4!