Epic Two: Pre-Gaming for Gems

After our long-delayed interruption for Civ4's final patch (don't even get me started on the whole waiting for 1.61 fiasco), the Epics are now back after a hiatus of almost five months. That's way too long! The original Civ3 Epics were extremely entertaining to play, and the chance to reprise them now in Civ4 is not something I'm willing to pass up on. I played in the original Epic Two, and came in second place (you can read the details here). Of course, we only had nine people try that game, and only seven winning submissions - it was a smaller community. But I fully intend to equal or surpass that showing in this game.

I'm only partially kidding with that - I really do plan on winning this competition. Maybe it won't happen, but I'm going to give it a darn good shot.

Before I even played this game, I spent a lot of time pouring over the scoring goals. As usual with a modified Sirian scoring system, we have many potential goals to chase after - the trick is cracking the code and figuring out which will be most effective in gaining scenario points. Starting with the gems themselves (the theme of this game), I'll get points for controlling as many sources as possible in 1500AD and at the end of the game. Plus, I'll also get points for controlling gold and silver sources at the end of the game, and a possible scoring bonus for being the first to control them all. That seems likely to score far more points than the 10 that we can get for not attacking other civs. Furthermore, there's this little scoring gem:

1 pts - Each island (of ANY size) under your complete cultural control at game's end.

On an archipelago map, that's likely to be a high scorer right there. But this isn't even a standard archipelago map, it's a Tiny Islands archipelago, which is practically a world unto itself. Have you ever played one of these maps before? I have, and let me tell you - there's a freakin' ton of islands out there! I estimated before the game that I could easily score 60 or so points just from controlling enough islands. Well that settles that question - controlling a lot of territory is going to get me WAY more points than I can ever get from peaceful means. Domination Victory, here we come.

The wonder goals all seem entirely doable; the Oracle could be trickey, but for 10 points I can swing it. All the others, I would probably go for anyway in a normal game! Magellan's and Great Lighthouse will both be enormously helpful even aside from the scenario points, and I always try to build Taj Mahal anyway. With stone on hand (as seen in the spoiler picture), Hanging Gardens should be a shoo-in. Other scoring goals seem condusive to milking the game at the end (SDI/Nukes/Future Techs), which I don't exactly like to do, but I might as well pick them up if I can. 10 points IS 10 points, after all.

Finally - my ace in the hole. Now unless T-Hawk, Jester, or Cy show up and suddenly play this game, we're down to just Sirian, Kylearan, and me from the original Epic Two game. And Kylearan played a One-City Challenge that game, so he didn't get the real experience in Epic Two, and Sirian will be playing a shadow since he sponsored this one. That leaves me as probably the only one who remembers the lessons from that particular game.

So what did we learn? I actually would have had the highest scoring game, EXCEPT that Sirian ended up with no fewer than three cities of size 30 or higher, scoring him a huge 24 scenario points. That largely proved to be the difference in the scoring, along with Sirian's fastest spaceship victory. The points for large cities proved to be the key - THAT'S the lesson from that game. And lo and behold, we again get 8 points in this game for every city of size 25 or larger. That's certainly... interesting.

I intend to have many cities of size 25 or higher. The catch is that they must be founded prior to 1500AD, so I will scout aggressively and grab these sites in the early game. Those who didn't play the previous game (i.e. everyone except Sirian and Kylearan) are likely not to know this and score fewer points here. My hope is that this will be the difference in the scoring. On to the game!

* * * * *

We started this game with the city already founded, so the only choices were the starting city build and the tech to research. Here's what I went with:

You can already see the entirety of the starting island in this shot. That's it! This is in fact a rather large island for the Tiny Islands setting; like I said, if you haven't played this map before, it's a very unique experience. With all the land explored before I even started, there was no need to build a scout or second warrior first. What are they going to do, tan themselves on the beaches? Therefore, if I'm not going to need a unit to explore, the best option seems to be to go with a worker first out of the gate. Heck, I'm not going to wait 15 turns or so for the city to hit size 2 before building a worker! It would be different if I started with Fishing - but I don't, and I'm not going to delay Animal Husbandry to research Fishing first. So the tech path is set, going Hunting/Animal Husbandry/Fishing and starting with worker, then work boat in Delhi.

One of the upsides of not starting with Agriculture on a Tiny Islands map is that it's an almost useless tech here. Quite possibly not a single source of fresh water in the entire world! (Plenty of salt water though.) With Asoka as my leader, I would ordinarily go for a religion first, but that's off the table here too. No founding religions for us Indians.

After clicking Next Turn about a million times, my worker is finished in 3310BC. He does the only thing he can do, which is build mines on my hill tiles while waiting for Animal Husbandry to come in. The tech comes in during 3160BC, the same turn I finish my mine on the gold tile (nice!) I research Fishing, while pasturizing the cows. While researching Fishing, I have Delhi put some shields into a barracks (nothing better to do...) When Fishing comes due in 2920BC, I swap Delhi to a Work Boat and start research into Sailing. Yes, Sailing - galleys are of the utmost importance on this map. My first galley will head out VERY early to lock down that circumnavigation bonus. You've got to get a jump on this right away if you want to beat the AI to it!

Here's a shot of me working on that first galley at the very early date of 2500BC:

Note the half-completed barracks in the queue that I work on whenever I'm waiting for a tech to finish research. (Also haven't had time to research Wheel yet, heh.) After finishing the galley and going Sailing/Meditation/Priesthood, I start the Oracle in 2140BC (25 turns). That will give me plenty of time to finish Writing and take Math with the Oracle for my first scenario points. And it's not like I'm in a huge rush to build settlers, what with my starting island so small and me needing to build a second boat to move off it!

The next 20 or so turns are uneventful. My galley is out exploring, still not having found anything as yet, while my worker first mines all the applicable tiles, then builds roads on all of them. I still don't have Bronze Working, but frankly I don't see a real need. Burning down those forest tiles for chops would be MOST unwise! See, on a pangaea map, shields are extremely common and commerce is hard to come by. This is why the forest chops followed by cottage spamming is often so effective of a strategy. But on a Tiny Islands map, it's SHIELDS that are incredibly rare and hard to come by - commerce is everywhere! Depriving yourself of those rare shields by lumberjacking in the Ancient Age is a beyond foolish move.

If all you ever play is Pangaea and Continents, you need to try some more map scripts!

Anyway, I finish the Oracle in 1390BC and take Math with it. Score 10 points for me:

See, that wasn't so bad. I next squeeze out a settler (which I can do fast, since Delhi is now size 6) and found Bombay in 1120BC on the northwestern tip of my island. It's a bit crowded, to be sure, but you have to make the best use of the land that you've got. Delhi then squeezed out a Work Boat for Bombay's clams, and quickly built its own lighthouse. That's when I snapped this shot in 1000BC:

OK, I still haven't expanded off my island yet, and since I can build Stonehenge in just 6 turns with the stone connected, I'm going to delay expansion even longer. Whoops - I knew I forgot to do something here in the Ancient Age. But, the fact of the matter is - that land's still going to be out there for me to claim. The AI is slow to settle land here on this kind of map (it still doesn't manage the whole ship thing as well as a human can), and there are sure to be tons of tiny islands to grab. TONS of them. There will be more land than I can economically afford to settle for ages and ages on end. Stonehenge and the Oracle will not be available later on, so I'll pause to get them (and the free Great Prophet points for the remainder of the game), then push expansion whole hog a little later. It's not like I get any points for a fast Domination win anyway...

I meet Temujin a few turns later with my exploring galley, and sign Open Borders to keep on going through his lands (one perk of not having a religion!) That was about the same time I built Stonehenge:

By the way, look at that minimap there. I had explored to the southeast at first, and ended up in a region where I could NOT explore further east due to ocean tiles. It was therefore a little cul-de-sac on the map, something you see from time to time on this kind of map. That forced me to backtrack and lose some time in my quest to circle the globe - I hoped it wouldn't cost me the circumnavigation bonus! Temujin has also founded Hinduism, by the way.

After building Stonehenge, I produced another galley to serve as a ferryman for my civ (remember, boat #1 is out trying to get Magellan's), then produced a settler to finally head off the starting island. Since we couldn't settle on gems in this variant, the location for Madras was basically decided for me: one tile south of the gems on the island southeast of the start. In further exploring the area around my start, I get another shock - how did this city get here?!

I race to the demographic screens, terrified that Temujin may be shooting past me with a half-dozen cities. But no, talking with him and looking at the charts confirms that this is only his third city, same as my Madras. What it's doing way out here, far away from his civ, is beyond me. There's no possible way he can defend this colony from me! (This is probably the biggest weakness of the AI on this sort of map; it simply doesn't handle the tactics or strategy of the water map very well.) So a false alarm - now I just know where my first territorial acquisition is going to be.

As my exploring galley continues heading east into the rising sun, I am introduced to new peoples, new lands. Open Borders are quickly signed with Catherine and Cyrus.

I don't know quite where this galley is, but he's a long way from home! Cathy would show up with an empty galley in my home waters a couple turns later, renewing my fears of her getting the circumnavigation bonus, but the ship turned around and went back home. Not sure what was going on there, but I don't want to see any foreign ships at this point! For the moment I'm still settling and grabbing the islands near me as usual, expanding towards the closest AI (Temujin) where the land is most at risk (if you can call this land!) I even hooked up my first gems in 505BC, but I couldn't "sell" them to anyone yet since I didn't have Currency. Heh. I just held on to them while continuing to head in that general direction on the tech tree.

Great Prophet born in Delhi in 475BC... OK, this poses an interesting decision. Ordinarily, I would use the Great Prophet to build a shrine for my religion, or - barring that - use him to discover me a tech to get a new religion. Those options are clearly both out for this game, and I don't see much point in holding him for the next 100-200 turns for a Golden Age, so I take the unusual step of merging my Great Prophet into my capital. This produced a nice boost, both in shields (which were so rare on this map!) and with a couple extra gold. Certainly more useful than having him sit around for a hundred turns doing nothing.

The Great Lighthouse was built in 415BC in a faraway land... Wow. That's quite early. Then again, given the fact that every city on the map is coastal, I should have expected that. At least I never made an attempt to get it. Let's see, it was built by... Tokugawa. Yeah, I can live with THAT AI civ having control of this powerful wonder.

I had almost completed my circumnavigation when I hit another patch of sea just to the west of my starting position. Argh! That forced me to back up again to the west, and hope there was another crossing to the north. I swear, if I lose this wonder now, just because I couldn't find the stupid path across the ocean...

WHEW. That's a huge relief. The difference between 2 movement galleys/work boats and 3 movement on this map is enormous. Enormous! The four scenario points aside, I wanted this bonus! If you weren't able to get it in this game, try sending out a galley earlier. My first galley went out exploring in 2200BC and didn't make it around the world until 160BC. The early bird get the worm!

Over the next dozen or so turns, I made contact with all of the civs that I was missing so far: Caesar, Mao, and Tokugawa. When I discovered Alphabet in 145BC, I traded it to Temujin for Polytheism/Agriculture, one of the few tech trades I would make in this game. (I wanted to keep the tech pace slow to make Domination easier, so I didn't exactly try to rush the AIs through the tree.) Cathy demanded Alphabet, still at near-monopoly, the next turn and I told her to stick it. Then, it order to patch things up, I converted to her Judaism, which had spread to my capital. This would prove to be huge in terms of setting up my diplomatic allies... When I discovered Currency in 50AD, I had by rule to sell all my gems away, sending 1 to Cathy and 1 to Temujin and leaving none for myself. What did I get? Exactly 1 gold per turn from each. Argh! (Caesar demanded gems prior to my getting Currency; I gave it to him, then renegotiated to sell them to him 10 turns later when I could cancel the deal.)

Here's where things stood at the turn of the milennium:

I only have five cities, but I'm still in great economic shape and have control of three gems. My next city will grab the fourth gems you can see, but expansion is proceeding kind of slowly because my capital literally has to build EVERYTHING, with every other city being a glorified fishing village. Heh. I'll have more to say on that in a minute. A slow start in terms of expansion, but I'm well positioned for my scoring goals.

By the way - both Calcutta and Bangalore can reach size 25 eventually. But I'll have more to say on the whole size 25 cities phenomenon on the next page.