Epic Eight: No Plan in Sight

Eight Eight was a Potluck game, one of our grand traditions at Realms Beyond in which everyone plays the same map, with the same civs in the same starting locations, but each player is randomly assigned one of the eight civs. No one knows which of the eight civs anyone else is playing, which makes for great fun and neat comparisons on report day. There is of course no scoring for a potluck game, further encouraging everyone to relax and enjoy the ride. We drew over 110 participants for this game, by far the most ever for an event at Realms Beyond Civ, so it's probably going to be pretty wild on report day! For the full details of the game, please click here.

My goal going into this game? For once, I have absolutely no plan. I'm just going to take things as they come along, without worrying too much about how things shake out. Something interesting's bound to come up. You'll see. I take a look at the start file for the game, and I have drawn the Egyptians!

In the fine tradition of past potluck games, I drew one of the civs that I was least interested in playing. I was really hoping for anyone except Saladin (who I've played to death), and this did fulfill that criteria, but still - I was hoping for someone else. (Been literally AGES since I played a Financial civ, we're talking months and months. Oh well.) Still, Egypt is never a bad choice. I am addicted to the Spiritual trait (which I've been drawing a LOT recently between succession games and Adventures/Epics) for constant civic swaps, and Creative is lots of fun too. I'm sure I can do some fun things with religion and culture in this game. Not to mention War Chariots, one of the best unique units in the game!

The picture above is not from the first turn; I started out by moving both of the warriors (Sirian evidently gave everyone an extra starting unit) and decided to move one tile west of the start to get the gold tile in range. That meant losing out on some of the spices, but oh well - gold is a highly desirable resource. Thebes founded in 3970BC. With two warriors for exploration, I hardly needed another military unit, so worker first it was. That further dictated chasing worker techs to start instead of religion, so I began with research into Animal Husbandry for those cows (and it would reveal horses too, never a bad thing for Egypt). And with that, the game was underway!

Both my warriors went out exploring during the early grace period of safety, and I quickly found a number of goody huts near the start. First one popped me 50g in 3940BC. Second hut gave me a scout in 3910BC, a major boost! That would mean I'd have better odds to get even more huts, and could find the other AIs faster. Hut #3 gave me 49g in 3850BC. The FOURTH hut, however, would change the face of this game forever:

MYSTICISM from a hut! Wow, what a lucky break. I get to have my cake and eat it too! I pushed growth at the start with a worker first and Animal Husbandry, which usually would cost me a shot at an early religion. But with Mysticism in hand, I can go on and do that too, which will be huge for my Spiritual Egyptians. I check the list of civs in the game once more, and the only civ that starts with Mysticism is Saladin. Well, that clinches it - Sal will found Buddhism, and I'll have free run at Hinduism. What great news!

Of course, I did end up popping a total of seven different huts, only one of which gave me a tech. Mysticism was a huge swing of fortune, to be sure - but you make your own luck in these games, I've always felt. Seven huts kinda increases the odds you'll get something good.

Aside from Mysticism, I got more gold from huts and experience on one of my warriors. A barb warrior also killed one of my exploring warriors in a forest at 9% odds, so it wasn't all peachy. (Time to bring the other warrior home before that barb arrives!) But my scout lived, and he would go on to do a fantastic job of meeting the other civs and giving me an idea of the lay of the lands. Meanwhile, in 3400BC I finished Animal Husbandry and could now go on to begin research into Polytheism. AH tech revealed another pleasant surprise:

Horses at the starting position for Egypt? That almost makes it too easy. So much for needing to research Archery! With cows, horses, and gold, this is a mighty fine capital. The only problem is a lack of food; if I want to work the gold and horses tiles (and of course I do), that only leaves a food surplus of one. A couple floodplains here would make the location unbelievable... but I'll be fine as is. Some newer players might have problems dealing with a slow-growing capital though!

Over the following turns, I met most of the other civs and determined that I was in the center of the pangaea continent. That almost certainly was why I had the opportunity to grab so many huts. Saladin founded Buddhism as expected in 3370BC, clearing the way for me to take Hinduism. After the worker, Thebes began Stonehenge (of all things) while running max food to increase in size. The only other project was a barracks, and I didn't feel like I needed that! The worker pastured the cows, then the horses, then started laying down roads while waiting for Mining tech.

I land Hinduism in 2860BC for my first Holy City!

The resulting holy city culture pushed me over 150 for a second border expansion, heh. It's cool to be Creative! (Also note that one more border expansion, at 750 culture, will seal off that land to the east; therefore, I'll want to push settlers in the other directions first and come back there later.) You can see that I've just finished a pasture on the horses, and so Thebes has swapped to a war chariot to escort the first settler. It won't come out with any XP - but do War Chariots really need experience points to defend against barbs? Research into Mining for my gold resource.

I meet FDR in 2800BC, who is the seventh and final AI civ. Looks like some pretty good work for "No Scouting Sulla!" (ok, the free scout did help here). Thebes finishes its war chariot in 2680BC, hits size 3, starts settler due in 14 turns. I also find one of Sirian's patented barb cities in the extreme north:

With those archers on a hill, I'll have a good chance of being able to capture this location later. The AIs tend not to be good at taking barb cities until they reach more advaned units on the tech tree.

A quick word about the other civs is in order. As anyone who played this game knows, Egypt's start was located basically in the central part of the map, somewhat offset to the east side. Lots of jungle in the area for future productivity, but somewhat difficult to deal with in the early ages. The advantage of playing Egypt was the ability to spread out in all directions without being hemmed in by oceans. The disadvantage of Egypt was that there were AI civs literally on every side; Mansa Musa to the northeast, Elizabeth due east, Saladin to the southeast, Mao to the southwest, Caesar to the west, and Toku/FDR further west than that. In other words - there was good land to be had, but you had to get moving after it ASAP!

The best spot I could see for my second city was to the northeast, in a location which could grab wheat, cows, ivory, and wines. I hurried my first settler up there pronto, but Mansa beat me to the location by a couple of turns. Rats. I guess that I'll just have to live with his claiming of the site...

Or I can teach him what it means to share a border with a Creative/Spiritual civ!

As a Creative civ, I had no fear about settling right up next to Mansa's city at the minimum distance of 3 tiles. The fact of the matter is, a non-Creative civ simply CANNOT stand up to the border pressure of a Creative civ in the early game. Think about that for a minute, and you'll realize that Creative is a MUCH more powerful trait than most people believe. And, to make matters worse, I researched Masonry and then Monotheism after Mining, founding Judaism RIGHT here in Memphis. Let's see how well Djenne can stand up to 7 culture per turn from my holy city!

I am going with no state religion for now so that I can enjoy the culture from both holy cities. Down the road, I'll probably have to pick one, but for now why force the people to choose one god to worship? At Thebes I continued to juggle food versus shields constantly, trying to work the gold mine as often as possible while still getting decent growth. Lots of microing depending on which project I was working on, great stuff. (The gold tile literally doubled my research output, so it was not to be ignored lightly!) I did take time out to go back and finish building Stonehenge, however:

Now why in the world would a Creative civ take the time to build Stonehenge? Well aside from the fact that if 2 culture/turn is good, 3 culture/turn is even better, I really wanted the wonder for its Great Prophet points. I've got two shrines here that need to be constructed, so better get started early on! Considering how cheap the wonder was, I felt it to be a worthwhile investment of time. After the wonder, of course, it was time to spam the settlers before all the land was gone.

I was hoping that I would be able to flip Djenne from Mansa, and indeed I quickly got the city down to 0% on its single tile, but the very proximity of the cities caused Judaism to spread there. Mansa quickly converted to Judaism, he began getting 1 culture/turn in Djenne, and that basically ended any hope of an early flip. Oh well. I was still crushing his city with my culture and getting to work all the best tiles! I ended up parking Thebes at size 4 for a while, working the three resources and a grassland hill, producing settlers at 14 shields/turn with 0 food surplus. I founded Heliopolis in 1270BC, Elephantine in 940BC, and here's what the map looked like at that point shortly after 1000BC:

The good news was that, as planned, my cities are culturally dominant everywhere. The bad news was that the map was filling up faster than I expected. Mansa has cut off expansion to the northeast, Lizzie is already butting up against my capital in the east, and you can see Mao's cities to my south. Only in the west was there more land, and I was racing to get what I could before it was snapped up by Caesar! Now why did my cities go where they did, to the north? Simple: that's where the resources were located. Aside from a rice claimed by Mao to the direct south, there was nothing there I didn't already have - and there was a lot of good stuff to the north. When in doubt, settle the resources.

As far as what's going on here, I have Thebes at work on the Oracle; I do have marble, but it won't be hooked up soon enough to matter one way or another. I'll speed the wonder along with a forest chop, but it's still questionable as to whether I will land it at this late date. I have some plans for the wonder should I be able to get it... Memphis is on granary infrastructure, still dominating the border with Djenne. Heliopolis is just getting started, but with THREE bonus food resources, it's going to be a great location down the road. Elephantine isn't much now, but once that jungle gets cut down, the dyes/gold/river grassland tiles will pump out some serious commerce. Note also that I'm already the clear score leader, and I don't intend to look back from this position. (I am running Judaism right now because Mansa asked me to convert. I'll swap back to No State Religion in short order.)

Not much going on over the following few turns. I sign Open Borders with a lot of other civs to improve relations as Writing gets around. Let me give you a peek into Heliopolis. This city might as well have a gigantic sign saying "whip me!" in big letters:

Food surplus of +10! You know what that means... I would also train a lot of settlers/workers out of this city due to the huge food surplus, and that worked better than I had expected to. Not too often you see a city with quite so much food in the early game.

I did end up getting the Oracle in 745BC, and so of course I took...

...another religion! Elephantine in the west became the holy city. Obviously I had no real need for all these religions, but if I could found most or all of the religions (aside from Buddhism), I was confident that would lead to advantages down the road. Still no plan as yet, but I've having a ball crushing Mansa with my culture and founding all these religions.

After researching Monarchy above, I headed onto Alphabet next for tech trading purposes (not to mention Literature/Great Library and Drama for cheap theatres!) Religions continued to spread naturally amongst the other civs, with Mao converting to Hinduism and Tokugawa to Buddhism. I have no clue how things will shake out, but a missionary spam of SOME kind (either Hindu or Jewish) seems likely. FDR also builds the Pyramids using his stone resource, catapulting him into the #2 position behind me. That will bear watching, no doubt.

I generate my first Great Prophet from the Stonehenge/Oracle combo in 520BC. You might think I'd use him for a shrine... but as some have probably already guessed, I have something else more devious in mind. First I found a new city on my southern border with Mao, then I use Moses to pop a tech...

...founding Christianity in the new city of Alexandria!

What a sorry-looking location for a city, right? The only resource in range is a single ivory, and I have to push back Mao's borders just to do that. Fortunately, with Alexandria pumping 8 culture/turn, that shouldn't be so hard to pull off. As far as the city itself though, one shouldn't be too quick to judge a location just because it lacks resources. The plan here is to irrigate every flatland tile, mine every hill, and run Alexandria as a pure production center. You'd be impressed how much value you can get out of crummy land by creating a military/wonder pump that way! We'll come back here later to take another look at Alexandria.

Just two turns later I crossed the 500BC mark, and here's what the world looked like at that date:

Not a whole lot of movement from the last map in 1000BC, but my cities are growing in population, and the score reflects that. Thebes is back to running a decent level of food, and finally growing to a larger size, while Heliopolis has taken over settler duty. There's clearly one more spot in the west, on the northern coast, but after that... we'll see. I'm not planning on declaring war, by the way, at least not anytime soon. I expect most players will do that, chase early Domination/Conquest wins given the relatively small pangaea, but I'm going to head in a different direction here. Done too much fighting in my last few games to relish the thought of more of that. Instead... well, I don't know yet. I'm just going to see how far I can get with peaceful building, and things will work out somehow.

Liz converts to Buddhism in 460BC, which was a troubling sign. I want her on my side, not Saladin's! I'll have to do something about that with missionaries soon... In better news, my war chariots showed the same year why they are not afraid of barbs:

In other news, I received the shocking word a couple turns later that FDR had captured the barb city up in the north!

I couldn't believe that happened. I was hoping to take the city myself and carve out a little span of territory up there in the tundra. Seeing as how I've routinely seen barb cities last well into AD years on Emperor, this was a definite surprise. It must have been a lucky dice roll somewhere, that's the only thing I can think of.

Now I was out of land to expand at this point, right? Well - in the traditional sense, yes, but that just meant I had to get more creative. There were a number of tiles going to waste south of Thebes, so I founded another city down in the south next to Mao's borders:

What a weak city! Ah, but wait and see what time and a little elbow grease can do here. Let me state this again: non-Creative civs CANNOT hold their borders against Creative civs in the early game. I'll have all of Pi-Ramesses' first-ring tiles under my control soon enough, and that will give me 12 tiles to work with - more than enough to found a city this close to the capital.

In other news, FDR completes the Great Lighthouse in 325BC. Slow down, big guy! Along with the Pyramids, that cemented his place as the #2 civ (behind me) for all time. Hmm... knowing with certainty who the second-place AI would be could be valuable knowledge later. The beginnings of a plan started to form in my mind, but there was still nothing definite as yet.

Even better news: Mansa founded a junk city right on my borders, and I got a revolt there!

Just need one more... come on flip calculator, please be kind!

I discovered Alphabet a bit earlier and did some initial trades, picking up Sailing + Archery from Mao and Iron Working from Saladin for three cheap early techs. That revealed that I had two iron resources on hand - one of them at Alexandria for even more pure production! Things were certainly looking up.

Now if you glance at the last screenshot, you'll see that Lizzie converted to Hinduism of her own accord, confirming that I would be going with Hinduism instead of Judaism as my state religion. The conversion was great news, and it was unfortunate that I had canceled deals with her earlier (Mao asked me to do so, and I agreed since Liz was Buddhist at the time). For now I couldn't get Open Borders with England, but shared religion would butter her up later on. As part of that plan, I began my missionary push, first sending a Hindu missionary to convert Caesar:

This one missionary wasn't enough to do the job, but there would be more on the way.

And just a few turns later Gao flipped! Let's hear it for the Creative trait!

That was a flip solely from the Creative trait's culture, pure and simple. You just can't do some of these things with other civs! And with three cities culturally pressuring Djenne, it was never going to amount to much use to Mansa, although a flip there looked unlikely. I was lucky to get the flip in Gao before any culture appeared in the city (which would have dropped the chances enormously). I circled the Confucian faith in the city; if that had been Judaism, the city never would have fallen. Gao added more maintenance costs, but I was more than happy to have another city on hand.

The founding of Giza in 80BC gave me a total of eight cities before the AD years began - I bet you won't see this in every game! Down to 40% science, but it was worth it to get my fair share of the land claimed before the AI could take it all. Here was what the world looked like at the date crossover:

The result of my focus on culture and settler spamming was a fairly staggering landgrab by the beginning of the AD years. Remember, I still have not been to war yet, but I have crushed Mansa and Liz back into their starting positions with my culture. Mao has been under some intense pressure as well, and even Caesar isn't doing that hot. Better news yet is that I have plenty of resources on hand, as well as cheap Spiritual temples to grow my cities to very large sizes. My economy might be weak now, but down the road - watch out!

And the demographics from the same date. One of my worst GNP stats in a very long time, but crop yield, land area, and population are all dominant. The task ahead of me is turning this fast start into a winning position.

So I'm finally out of room to expand now, right? I wouldn't judge too quickly on that, because Creative civs can do some fun things with culture...