Epic Five: A Grand Old Start

Epic 5 was the first of the Civ3 Epics that I did not play, but it had a nifty idea for a game: must win by conquest, but all ships are off limits. In Civ3 that meant using helicopters and paratroopers to do the fighting on offshore islands, but obviously that's not going to take place in this game. T-Hawk ran away with the original Epic 5 by getting the AI civs to concede cities on other islands to him in peace treaties - also something that's not going to happen here, since the AI in Civ4 is incredibly stingy with its cities. As far as this particular variant goes for Civ4, we are never allowed to research or acquire the techs Fishing or Steam Power (which together rule out all ships). Disabling Fishing tech also rules out Sailing, Compass, Calendar, Optics, and Astronomy. Obviously players in this game can never work water tiles, and build ships or lighthouses/harbors, but not having access to Calendar is big. I mean, really BIG. All of those Calendar resources would be useless forever! At the very least, Stonehenge also becomes a much more desirable wonder, since it will never obsolete in this game. Later on, I was very glad that I took a moment to think about these things before I started playing, especially the ramifications of losing out on Calendar tech.

I can also never research Steam Power, and must declare war on anyone who researches Steam Power, but I didn't take the time to stop and think about the effects of that rule. Playing as the Aztecs, on a Tiny Pangaea, if the game gets to Steam Power, you've probably already lost.

This is an Emperor game, so it figured to be no walk in the park, but fortunately No Tech Trading was on, which would slow down the teching of the AI civs. Of course, that would also mean that I couldn't trade my way out of a tech hole, but that's par for the course. My plan going into the game was to settle as much land as possible around the starting position (it will go fast on a Tiny Pangaea), then try to take out a civ sometime in the medieval period. Then I would consolidate and try to complete a Conquest or Domination win with cavalry in the early Renaissance. Even on Emperor, cavs slaughter anything that predates rifles; see my crazy spree of conquest in the Cathy's Romp game on this site for one example. That was with Cossacks, but standard cavs slaughter longbows pretty easily too.

Open the start file... ugh. This is not an appealing capital. In fact, this is probably the least I've had to work with since the horrendous start in Adventure Two - also with the Aztecs. Maybe Sirian just hates Montezuma. Anyway, here's a peek at my start:

There is corn in range, but no other resource whatsoever. None. Nada. Furthermore, there are no floodplains and ZERO hill tiles in sight! Wow. Even that horrible start in Adventure Two had three game tiles and marble! Well - one of my favorite things to do in Civ4 is to make the most out of really lousy starts; anyone can win from that triple cow start (to use a Civ3 term), but it takes skill of a different sort to turn things around from a situation like this. Time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

First up is what to research out of the gate. As the Aztecs, I do start with Mysticism, so I can certainly get a religion if I want... but this is Emperor difficulty, and I figure that I'd better push growth as much as possible right away rather than fool around with religion. I can't afford to spend 15 turns researching Polytheism when I could be grabbing worker techs instead, or pushing up the tree towards Bronze Working. So... I start with Agriculture for the corn. Because I have a scout, and because this is not a particularly large map, AND because the AI civs start with lots of free units that will quickly grab the huts, I decide to go with a worker first. I've been doing that a lot in the Epics lately, but readers should know that worker first is by no means a given for every start. I always think things over before each game and only make the decision based on my objectives. For example, if I were going for a religion first, the initial build would have been either a scout or a warrior, or possible some shields into Stonehenge. As of this point, I had not made up my mind on whether or not to pursue Stonehenge; it sure would be helpful in this game, but that would be a major time investment early on. Need more info before making a decision.

My scout met Elizabeth's scout in 3850BC; her scout could have popped a hut but inexplicably chose not to do so, allowing me to take it. Yay! Then the hut produced a map. That was about when I snapped the above picture of my capital, with the first tech almost done and the worker about halfway along. When Agriculture finished in 3640BC, I went onto Archery next - one of the perks of starting with Hunting tech. I could then have the capital go right onto an archer after it finished the worker and be completely safe for the early going. I never built a single warrior in the whole game; it seemed more efficient for me to go for Archery early on (which would be discounted in cost because all the AI civs start with the tech on Emperor) and get some legitimate defenders going early. Of course, you can do things differently if you have horses or copper nearby, but I didn't know whether I had either resource. SOMETHING is hidden in my capital's radius, but I have no clue what that is. Hopefully it wouldn't be aluminum and coal, heh.

By about 3000BC I've gotten a chance to look around, and wow - the land surrounding the capital is not looking promising either. Tenochtitlan is way out on a little finger of land, and everything south of it is packed with jungle. Yuck. I see no place for a strong second city, or even a competent one. This could get interesting, folks. Meanwhile, I meet Gandhi in 3220BC, who has already founded Hinduism (could have been REAL ugly if I went for that religion and missed it). From this, I correctly deduced that the final opponent would be Alexander (based on the opponents from Civ3's Epic 5). I still wasn't sure what I was going to do at this point, but the military route was looking more and more attractive with ultra-peacenik Gandhi sure to neglect his defenses. As part of that, I researched Mining and then Bronze Working after Archery, hoping to have copper somewhere close, ideally on my starting peninsula. (This also gave my poor worker something to do; he had been sitting around twiddling his thumbs for some time after farming the corn.) Meanwhile, the capital went worker/archer/barracks. Here's what the situation looked like around 2500BC:

Folks, this is about as bleak as it gets at the start of a game. Never have I had less to work with; even in Adventure Two I knew that I could use the commerce from the sea to boost my civ and keep it in the game. In a normal game, I would probably focus on working the water tiles for much-needed commerce, while rushing through the tree to Iron Working (to clear the jungle) and Calendar (to hook up all those yummy resources). But I can never research Fishing in this game, so all those water tiles might as well be peaks for all the good they do me. Even worse, I can never acquire Calendar tech. As if taunting the player, there are no fewer than FOUR different Calendar resources immediately around the starting position. In fact, out of the seven resources closest to the capital, five of them are useless and can never be hooked up. There are corn, rice, and pigs close by for health, but where is the happiness going to come from?! This is Emperor, mind you, where a new city only gets 3 happy faces by default.

Umm... maybe I should have founded a religion after all.

This is the first game I've played in Civ4 where I legitimately did not see how I was going to be able to win (outside of MP, that is). I'd like to tell you that there was a grand plan at this point in time, but it was really more along the lines of "let's get to Iron Working and hope to pull off a miracle of some kind." I was desperately hoping for copper at the start to try an axe rush of some kind, but there was none, and the closest copper was a long way away over by Indian territory. Close by sea, but rather far for this variant. I'll be interested to see if anyone heads there and tries to go the axe route (quite curious to see if that succeeds). With no copper on hand, I now need to get to Iron Working, and fast. Still, rather than have my workers be useless for ages on end, I decided to go Wheel/Pottery/Iron Working and get some cottages going, so that I wouldn't be sitting on 10 commerce for simply milennia on end. The capital DID have good commerce potential, but it was so sadly lacking in shields it wasn't funny. Certainly not a location I want to try and conquer the world from!

With no extra sources of happiness, Tenochtitlan was stuck at size 4 for ages on end (3 default + 1 from palace). I built a second archer and sent him on ahead to secure the northern jungle against barb attacks, then started a settler, mostly because I didn't want the capital to grow into unhappiness and it seemed a waste not to be using the corn tile. When I finished the settler, I built a second worker for the same reason. Heh. Gonna need a lot of workers down the line to handle those jungles anyway. Here's the location I picked for the second city:

This is far from a great location. Actually, it's just about the worst spot that I've ever placed my second city, and in a normal game I could legitimately be crucified for putting this one tile OFF the coast. But I didn't want to put the city any further away, to avoid killing myself in maintenance costs at this stage of the game, plus I had to defend whatever I founded and it would be tough to do that in the far south or west. Long term, the spot one tile south would be better to grab the freshwater lake, but if I do that, there are no good tiles in the initial 9-tile radius of the city. (I've done that before, founding a city that could only work jungle tiles to start - ouch! Won't make that mistake again.) Here, Teotihuacan at least can get the grassland forest at size 1, and the plains stone at size 2. That's pretty sad, but it's better than nothing at all. You gotta make due with what you can, and I wasn't going to have my capital build a bunch of freakin' archers while waiting for Iron Working to come in! No, far better to use that time to produce a settler and worker for another city, even if it was a wimpy, jungle-choked one. At least I could cottage over all those jungle tiles down the road.

What followed was a whole bunch of turns doing very little beyond poking around with my scout while the AI civs zoomed past me in score and power. The first worker built a road down to Teotihuacan and began improving that city, while my second one spent some time "pre-chopping" forests (that is, canceling the chop on the last turn so you can return to it later) since he had little else to work on. Gandhi proceeded to found Hinduism, Buddhism, and then Judaism in succession, scoring the religious "Triple Crown" (or hydra). Only the first two in his capital, however. Lizzie built Stonehenge in 1480BC, which was a major event; I expected wonder-boy Gandhi to build it, but apparently he had been off chasing religions instead. I now began to think about targeting England instead of India for an attack; I really wanted that wonder, and the LAST thing I needed to have was Philosophical Lizzie with early wonders under her control. My mind was still undecided about who to attack at this point, but the case for England was becoming a lot stronger.

Finally, Iron Working comes in, and it turns out I have iron at the capital:

Yeah, thanks a lot. Give me iron NOW! (Jags are resourceless, after all.) Where were you about 50 turns ago when I was dying for a resource! Still good news, of course. My worker mined the iron, then chopped two forests that I had pre-chopped earlier while waiting around forever. I also let Tenochtitlan grow to size 5, then whipped a Jaguar out immediately (this while the worker was mining the iron). I'm not sure what this has to do with all the whipping stuff that's been talked about recently, but I ended up getting a lot of overflow and that helped a lot in getting out the second Jag quickly. (If this was some kind of a bug, I apologize. I simply whipped the second turn that I had Iron Working, after swapping to a Jag on the first turn.)

Even my second city got in on the act:

Yes, the first build here had been a barracks (you gotta love being an Aggressive civ sometimes!) and then the second build was a whipped Jag. I then chopped the plains forest northeast of the stone resource, and that mostly completed a second Jag. Wow, my second city making a major contribution - who would've thunk it? So through a combination of whipping and chopping, I managed to put together a little Jag strike force in short order. Given the extremely limited production at the starting position, I don't see any other way to amass units quickly, especially on Epic speed. Really digging deep into the bag of tricks for this game, that's for sure.

Now... who do I attack? Gandhi or Elizabeth? I still wasn't convinced, until three things happened. First of all, Lizzie planted a stupid city near the copper to the west of Teotihuacan, hemming me in with her borders in a way I didn't like. Secondly, she built the Oracle in London (895BC) and apparently took Metal Casting with it. With her score ballooning out of control, I realized Liz had to be stopped or she would run away with the game (Financial/Philosophical is a very dangerous builder combo!) Finally, I had Open Borders with England and my scouting archer saw only three archers in London. Just three! In a city with two wonders! That's what happens when the AI focuses too much on the wonders. I had to strike NOW before Lizzie got her defenses up. My workers built a road down through the jungle, speeding the Jags on their way. It's now or never, time to roll the dice.

Iacta alea est, said Caesar as he crossed the Rubicon...

Or, in the modern equivalent, hopefully it's time for a little "shock and awe" here. I had four Jags and one archer (who could clean up a redlined defender) to go against three archers in London. I was praying that Lizzie wouldn't have time to build or whip another archer in the two turns that it took my units to move next to the city. Well - she didn't. I have to believe that Epic speed saved me there; if there's one thing that does make Epic a little easier than Normal speed, it's that the AI sometimes has trouble responding quickly to aggression. (Of course the reverse applies to the player too!)

So it's still four Jags and an archer against three English archers, only one of which has City Garrison promotion (the other two had nothing). Thank Soren that the peacenik AIs are slow to build barracks early on! Ordinarily I would take City Raider promotions with these Jags to open the path to City Raider II after a win, but not here. No way. I need every bonus I can get, so I take Cover promotions instead (+25% instead of +20%; by the way, I'm using Jags instead of axes because they get that extra +10% city attack boost. The difference is actually pretty noticeable.) Here go the most important dice rolls of the game:

Cover Jag loses at 27% odds to City Garrison archer... (but redlines defender!)
Cover Jag wins at 57% odds... (!)
Cover Jag wins at 57% odds... (!!!)
City Raider Jag cleans up at 92% odds!
I capture London! And that was the turning point of the game!

London not only was a strong city location, it also came with two wonders intact. Now *I* would be the one getting free obelisks in all my cities! Even though all of the combat results went exactly the way that the odds favored, it was still a very near-run thing. Believe me, I don't like having the results of my game hanging in the balance on 57% tosses of the dice! But I was fortunate here, and I ended up with enough forces to take London. From this point forward, I felt as though I had jumped over my biggest hurdle and things were heading downhill. That's not to say that this game was now a foregone conclusion, or even easy, but things looked massively better than they had before. Just check out that insane swing in the scores for myself and Elizabeth in the last two pictures. I go from 375 to 514, Lizzie falls from 845 to 492! What a difference!

Although I only whipped the first few Jags, my capital kept on building them for some time, as I wasn't about to stop the war just with London. I intended to cripple Lizzie for good here - at the very least, I needed to get Nottingham, and maybe York as well! In the last picture, I was researching towards Mathematics. Well, I realized that was the wrong tech to pursue, and so I dropped that and beelined for Monarchy instead. First of all I needed to get Hereditary Rule to solve my crippling happiness problem, then it would be time for Code of Laws and Currency to deal with my sagging economy. One problem at a time!

After healing up for a few turns, my surviving Jags plus a couple new ones started heading for Nottingham. I left only the one archer in London (seriously, peaceful Liz isn't going to build the forces needed to take it back). Instead of building units, she was still sending out settlers! Check out the weed behind this move:

What is Elizabeth smoking?! Man, I want some of that stuff... Needless to say, I blocked this settler's path forward onto the hills, and when it predictably moved onto the plains tile to the south next turn, I smacked it for a free worker. Saved me the trouble of building one for London, nice. Outside Nottingham (and its walls, ouch!) I lost at 60%, won at 60%, won at 57%, and then cleaned up a redlined defender at 100% to take the city:

Another excellent location, this spot has wheat, horses, three hill tiles, and a whole bunch of lovely grassland river tiles just waiting to be cottaged. Even better, many of them have forests on them that can be chopped too. Nottingham also came with a forge intact (this is what lead me to believe that Liz had taken Metal Casting with the Oracle), so I definitely wanted to hold onto this spot. Now the one catch is that my capital was located way up there at the top of the map, so maintenance costs were going to be a nightmare. London was already costing me 11gpt in maintenance, yikes! Therefore, I stopped and sat here to think about whether I could afford to take on another city, in the form of York. However, since York had two ivory resources for happiness, I decided I couldn't afford to pass it up. Things would be tight, but I expected that I would find a way to manage... somehow. I did some amazing stuff to avoid bankruptcy in Civ3's Epic 47, after all.

As far as actually capturing York - that was never in doubt.

With Liz reduced to an insignificant final city stuck in the desert, I now made peace. I was suffering from some war weariness, and I wanted to build up my captured cities a bit before finishing her off. Unfortunately my days of 100% research fueled by captured cities were about to come to an end; I now had to turn off research completely and hold on for dear life. My actual line from my notes reads: "save me, cottages!" I certainly needed to kick my economy into gear, and soon. Here was the current situation:

Notice that I'm losing money at 0% science - and York still hasn't come out of resistance yet, at which time my funds will dip further. Eep! Now, as for the good news. The only happiness resources within a thousand miles of the start are indicated on this map. Capturing York has given me control over the ivory, and I will eventually get control over the gold near London. (That's why I'm working on a library, which will be whipped to get up to 3 culture/turn.) Outside of that, the only happiness resource available is Gandhi's wines. Fortunately, since Gandhi loves to trade, I knew I would eventually be able to trade for his extra wines once I got a trade route up there. (Notice I still don't have one right now.) Hopefully I can also get some of his religions to flow my way soon; as a Spiritual civ, I get cheap temples, which would also help out. For the immediate future though, I needed to improve my commerce. Having size 3 cities that were already unhappy certainly didn't help!

Gandhi planted a city basically in the middle of my territory in 415BC, between York and Teotihuacan. I wasn't at all unhappy by this development - more free money for me when I capture the city away from him! When York came out of resistance in 385BC, I was relieved to find that I would not end up going bankrupt, although my economy was going to suck for some time to come. The ivory was a huge boost, at least allowing my cities to reach size 4. A lot of cities were also coming out of whip unhappiness too.

But my captured cities were all still suffering from -1 happiness due to "we long to join the motherland!" nonsense, and when you only have 4 happiness total, that's a big deal. As a result, as soon as my peace treaty was up with Elizabeth, I moved back in to finish the job. There were two archers and a spear in Hastings, but Lizzie was once again smoking some fine weed and moved the spear OUT of the city as I was about to attack:

Yes, that's it - move a unit out of your capital and only city when it comes under attack. Fine stuff there. Needless to say, my Jags finished the job:

Even better, the money from capturing (and razing) Hastings gave me the funds I needed to finish my Monarchy research. Hereditary Rule would do wonders for a happiness-starved position like this. Farewell Liz, you were a noble foe. Elizabeth is a very dangerous enemy for a space race, but like so many of the peaceful AIs, she has a glass jaw and fails to build enough military early on. I tore her apart with only a handful of military units basically pulled out of the ether. Next up: the exciting task of rescuing my economy from collapse. Yay!