Epic Seventeen: Early War

The concept for this game was pretty simple: a complete revival (read: theft) of T-Hawk's Epic 35, also named Gormet Menu. I did ask T-Hawk if he wanted to sponsor the game; however, after receiving a negative response, the task fell to me. The overall setup was rather easy to do, once I figured out how to swap leaders/civs using Civ4's Worldbuilder. This can be accomplished through text editing of a Worldbuilder save file; you can directly type in different names and swap all kinds of interesting things, like leader, civilization, even game speed and which civilization to play! Interestingly, for this game the hardest thing wasn't swapping the leaders around, but getting two seemingly trivial things right: the civ colors and the civ flags! Every civ has its own color, which include "Light", "Dark", and "Middle" variations on the primary colors. I think my personal favorite is "Middle Cyan", which I think the Mayans use. Heh.

When text-editing a save file, you can get a small bit of insight into how things are coded with this game. Now you'd expect that the flags for each civ would just be listed under the civ's name, like "England" or "Egypt", right? No such luck! The flags almost all have individual and distinctive names, such as "StGeorgeCross" and "EyeOfRa" for the two civs above. That necessitated tracking them all down, what a pain! Obviously the artist that did the flag designs wasn't on the same page as the coder that did the Worldbuilder scripting. Interestingly, this was actually fixed for the Beyond the Sword civs, which use simple flag names like "Netherlands" rather than describing their contents. Anyway, this is probably a trivial detail, but you'd be amazed how "wrong" the civs look when you forget to swap the flags around properly!

As far as the map itself goes, I loved the first one that I rolled and made essentially no changes at all. I made one minor tweak to Mansa Musa's start, and that was it. This one really fit perfectly for our purposes: a nice mixed terrain start with equal potential for production or commerce as the player desires. There's iron at the start, and both copper and horses nearby, so some room for warfare without making it a total no-brainer by having copper within the starting fat cross. Kublai Khan is nearby, and will have to be dealt with in some way, but there's enough land to the north that the player CAN elect to play things peacefully and not get totally shafted. Beyond him, Montezuma, Caesar, and Alex are designed to make things tough for those pursuing an aggressive gameplan. Behind THEM, Hannibal and Mansa Musa are around to provide long-term comptetition for a space race or diplo game. Monty's Spiritual trait will also make it likely that he'll found a religion, to cause some problems for those pursuing Apostolic Palace victories. A lot of players will probably think that I crafted this map, but they would be wrong. It was all 100% natural, and rolled on the first try!

For my own shadow game, I decided before starting that I would try and pursue a Domination victory. I'm no good at going for early Conquest; I always wait too long to attack, and I hate razing cities too much to be effective. I've never been competitive in fast Conquest in any of our games. But Domination, on the other hand... that requires mastery of the in-game economic system enough to stave off financial collapse, something that I've always been VERY good at doing. I also had the fastest Domination game in Epic Five, for what it's worth. My civ choice would be directed towards that end.

So who's good for Domination? It's significantly different from Conquest, in that you want not just an early rushing unique unit, but some kind of leader that offers an economic edge as well. After looking over the list of civs and leaders, I ultimately decided to go in an odd direction and pick Charlemagne of the Holy Roman Empire as my leader:

This was based almost entirely on the HRE's borderline broken unique building, the Rathaus, a courthouse that offers -75% to city maintenance. And for Domination, the Imperialistic trait would actually be useful for once. In essence, I made my pick not based on military strength (no Aggressive/Charismatic leader!) but economic advantage. I've always felt that that was more of a stumbling block in Domination victories than actually defeating the AIs. We'll have some more data for comparison when this game concludes! (For the complete list of the start files I sent out, click here.)

So here we go...

Although the starting position for this game is quite strong (certainly more so than the "screw-you!" one I designed for the last Adventure), there's still room for a decision on the first turn. Moving one tile north allows the player to remain on a plains hill tile for the extra shield boost, while opening up three additional floodplains tiles at the expense of two grassland hills. In most games, I would have made that move north. Here, however, I wanted the extra production from those hills, as I planned to mine over them and use the capital for heavy military training down the road. Thus I stayed in place, which was also a pretty nice location.

Since the HRE starts with Mysticism (something I didn't even realize when I picked them), I made the easy decision to grab an early religion. I've always felt that you should grab Hinduism if you can get it by researching only a single tech, since it opens up a lot of long-term possible advantages. Knowing that Monty was in the game, I expected him to grab Buddhism (which he would, in fact, do). Starting with a religion meant not building a worker out of the gate, so I built a warrior until I reached size 2, then began one. As you might guess, the next two techs were Agriculture/Animal Husbandry for the resources at the start.

I popped six different huts with my starting scout without ever managing to get a tech to show up, which was a little bit of a bad break. I did get some gold, which helped, and some maps, which didn't - especially considering I already knew the shape of the world since I set this game up! Hinduism popped in the capital without issue:

Yay, so far so good. After the worker, I built another warrior while growing to size 3, then started in on a settler. Research was Mining/Bronze Working.

I think the spot in which players will plant the second city is one of the more interesting decisions in this game. Here's the location I selected:

This city grabs corn, two floodplains, and no fewer than THREE gold tiles, although the last one won't be available until after the Mongolians have been dealt with. Since my capital was going to emphasize production, that meant that the second city was going to have to go heavy on commerce, and I liked this spot the best in the immediate vicinity. I actually considered another tile further east, to grab the cows as well, but decided that would have too much overlap with Karakorum's culture. Obviously this was an aggressive settlement - I wouldn't have put a city here if I wasn't expecting war in the near future!

After Bronze Working, I cleaned up two additional basic techs (The Wheel and Pottery), then began Iron Working. I knew there was iron at the capital, so the simple plan was to tech up, build swords, and go on the attack. I planned on using just the two cities, but Aachen ran out of things to build while I was researching Iron Working, so I cranked out another settler instead for a third city:

Vienna was another commerce city; it wouldn't be contributing anything to this attack, but would prove useful later on. The announcement of Caesar adopting Organized Religion was actually significant too, as he would prove to be the founder of Judaism (more on this later). By the way, I wasn't actually building Stonehenge in Prague; I ran out of things to build, so put in a few shields for the cash rebate when someone else finished the wonder.

You can probably imagine the next dozen turns. I built and whipped swords whenever possible, leading to this next picture:

I really probably should have had at least one axe in this stack... I would end up moving some up as reinforcements shortly thereafter. Now notice the warrior on the extreme right side of the screenshot. That was one of my explorers, and I figured that I might as well move him into enemy territory as well. Maybe I could pillage with him or something. Much to my surprise, he ended up drawing a Mongolian axe out of the capital!

A Mongolian axeman moved on the arrowed path indicated, and since there was no road on the plains tile, couldn't get back into the city in time to defend against my sword stack! Thus, completely by accident, I pulled off a little tactical coup here. Kublai would whip another archer in Karakorum, but it wasn't enough to make a difference:

There's the axeman, vainly limping in a turn too late to make a difference. He would actually take out one of my swords on the interturn, but was redlined in the process and eliminated the following turn. That was the only counterattack I ever saw against Karakorum, and I managed to hold onto the city with no further problems.

Meanwhile, my capital knocked out a complementary wonder:

Code of Laws of course granted access to my unique building, and courthouses would be sorely needed as this game progressed. The free Great Prophet points were also intended for an eventual Hindu Shrine. In retrospect, however, I think this may have been a mistake. The Oracle was nice and all, but that was a lot of shields that could have gone into units instead. My plan here was a quick military victory over Kublai, followed by a long period of settling the jungle to build up the land requirement towards Domination. Instead, my "quick victory" would get plunged into a lengthy war of attrition against the remaining Mongolian cities.

First I moved against the city of Turfan, where I pillaged the Mongolian source of iron. However, Kublai quickly whipped out so many archers that I had no chance of capturing the place. I then shifted over to his other city, Beshbalik, only to see the same thing happen. Plus, all that free Creative culture meant that Kublai's cities had 40% defensive bonuses, rather than 20% (or 0%). Darn Blake and his intelligent AI! The only solution was to wait until I had a large enough stack of swords to hack through all the defenders at once. That... was going to take a while. This wasn't helped either by the fact that occasionally AI archers would wander out of the cities, and I had a run of simply atrocious combat luck in taking them out. I think I lost three straight times, sword vs. archer, on flat ground. I was so frustrated, I quit out of Civ4 in disgust on several different occasions.

That's why there's a gap of almost 30 turns where I don't have any screenshots. By the time I finally did take another picture, it was already 500AD:

Fortunately, by now I did have a pretty good force assembled, including a sword that I'd managed to get up to City Raider III. Two turns later, Turfan finally fell:

That just left Beshbalik, which had been whipped all the way down to size 1. Here was the result:

Those archers behind walls had stymied me for the past century. The key difference was having enough swords on hand, particularly highly promoted swords, to take them all on at once. Brute force sufficed to trump elegant tactics:

Overall, this was not a particularly well-fought war. I was reminded yet again that early game aggression simply is not my strong suit. While the initial strike on Karakorum went well enough, everything after that dragged out for far too long. I was hurt as well by my unfamiliarity with Blake's Improved AI, which certainly defends a whole lot better than the old AI! Still, I did manage to take out my nearest rival, and held a decent six cities total, both before the end of the first 150 turns.

I could only hope I hadn't wasted too many turns grappling with my first opponent!