When it comes to video games, though, I am much less hesitant in selecting a victor: Civilization IV, with the Fall from Heaven 2 mod installed. Civ games are already bottomless sources of fun, endlessly variable and endlessly interesting each time you start up a new game. And FfH2 just adds even more orders of magnitude of complexity, differentiation, and replayability to an already-solid core engine. In some ways this feels like a bit of a cheat, since I’d practically be getting a dozen games instead of just one.
It’s been a while since I played FfH2, and even longer since I did the standard game; my most recent efforts were devoted to working my way through the impressive set of scenarios. The itch has been growing for a while, though, so I finally scratched it and set off on my latest quest.
This time around, I decided to play as Dain the Caswallan of the Amurites. The Amurites are one of the arcane-focused civs, and it’s been a long time since I did much with the arcane line. Way back in my first Kuriorates game I had advanced pretty far along that part of the tech tree, but that was a much earlier version of the mod: the AI still wasn’t smart about spellcasting, and the set of spells have shifted considerably since then (back then, Law III let you cast Unyielding Order, which was critically important to my megacities). Since then I’ve had some experience with divine spellcasting, or largely ignored magic altogether. Magic is something that most players will either fully commit to or ignore entirely: adepts are fairly expensive to build, and require specialized prerequisite buildings, so the opportunity cost of taking magic is fairly high.
I did some advance reading online to set my strategy in place. Obviously, I was going to want to build several adepts and eventually promote them up to become archmages. However, there are some fascinating wrinkles in this strategy available only to the Amurites. Their hero unit, Govannon, can teach Level 1 spells to ANY unit, even those without arcane abilities. The general idea here is to allow footsoldiers access to useful utility spells, so a Swordsman could Haste himself or grant an Enchanted Blade. But, it also allows other units with access to higher Channelling tiers to then go on and learn higher-level versions of those same spells.
Tier 3 Arcane spells are VERY powerful. You can summon an Earth Elemental, who has 11 STR + 1 STR for each Earth Mana you have. You can cast Resurrection, which lets you bring a dead Hero back to life. You can cast Domination, which lets you take ownership of an enemy unit. In order to balance this power, FfH2 limits each civ to only building 4 Archmage units, which puts a cap on the amount of damage you can do.
However! There are ways around this. One common loophole is to have your Archmages learn Death 3, and then transform themselves into Lichs. Lichs still have access to Channeling 3, but count as a separate class from Archmages. So you can end up with 4 Lichs and 4 Archmages, for a total of 8 top-level spellcasters.
Well, with the Amurites, you can push that even further. You can teach spells to Druids, and to Divine spellcasters, and then train them up to top-level Arcane schools. This strategy works for any unit with access to Channeling 3, which includes some Hero units. All told, by the end of my game I had NINETEEN units on the field who were capable of casting these ultra-powerful spells. That’s quite an advantage!
With this strong base, you’re in a good position to go for any of several victories. Thematically, though, I wanted to attempt the Tower of Mastery victory, which is oriented for arcane players (and which I hadn’t yet achieved). This behaves somewhat similarly to the Space Race victory in standard Civ. You need a lot of research in order to embark on it, and you need a solid industry in order to complete it.
After advancing past the basic magic techs, you start gaining access to specialized schools of magic - necromancy, elementalism, etc. Each lets you upgrade raw mana nodes to more particular types; for example, Necromancy lets you build Death, Entropy, Chaos or Shadow nodes. If you manage to gain access to all four types of mana in a school, you can then build its corresponding Tower, a Wonder that grants you an additional bonus. Building the Tower of Necromancy, for example, will provide you an additional Death Magic mana source, and will also increase the number of skeletons your civilization can summon. Finally, if you build all four Towers, you can then start work on the Tower of Mastery, a BIG project that will take a long time to finish, but result in a victory upon its completion, as you have gained control over the fabric underlying the universe.
In practice, Tower of Mastery is a very difficult victory to pull off. Most civs will start with two mana sources thanks to their palace, and might get one or two upgradeable raw mana nodes in their empire, depending on luck and the size of the map. Beyond that, though, mana is very hard to come by. Some religious shrines provide one. If you’re very lucky you MIGHT be able to trade if a rival happens to have an excess. In practice, though, winning this victory will generally mean going to war in order to capture additional mana nodes. You don’t need to get all 16, but you will need at least three and probably four: after building a Tower, you can Dispel a node back to its raw source and then build a new type of node.
I aggressively explored the map when starting out, and kept mana nodes’ positions in mind while plotting my expansion. An ideal location for a node is 3 squares away from your city center. Nodes don’t yield any food, hammers, or trade, so it’s best to keep them outside of your workable radius; ideally you’ll expand to cover their territory on the first culture growth past the full radius. As always, though, reality must bow to theory. I had one node deep in tundra, and planted a city further away from it than I would like. I eventually managed to gain access to it, but it took centuries more than I had hoped.
As such, it took me a depressingly long time to get started on my first Tower. I could easily get 3 sources in any of two different schools, but that elusive 4th proved hard to acquire. So, I started some projects on several simultaneous fronts to get over that hurdle. First, I began working on the Rites of Oghma project, which creates new raw mana nodes throughout the world. Second, I launched a war against the Clan of Embers, an already-hostile civ that was decently close to my capital and had several mana nodes. Thirdly, I bumped up my culture production in Darian, the city so tantalizingly close and yet so far to that final raw mana node - I had been surprised when the bump to Refined didn't expand my borders in quite the way I'd expected, leaving that resource languishing adjacent to my borders for the entire next, significantly more difficult tier.
Of course, all three prongs bore fruition at around the same time. The Rites gave me a couple of new nodes within my borders, but also some new ones in the area I'd already earmarked for conquest, and by the time I'd wound down that war, Darian finally gained access to its node. Even though I'd been hamstrung in my attempts at tower construction, though, I'd been progressing at full steam on building up my arcane frontline. I'd already promoted my Archmages, and had a set of Wizards waiting for me to achieve Lichdom so they could be promoted up. More excitingly, though, I had also trained a full set of four Druids, then cross-trained them with Govannon. I build druids even less often than I build archmages: they're at the end of an expensive line of nature/recon tech that, while thematically strong, doesn't support my key goal of capturing enemy cities. In this game, though, I finally came to realize why Druids are so awesome. First of all, yes, as Amurite druids they could do amazing stuff like cause devastating snowfalls and withering corruption. Beyond that, though, they are very strong and versatile fighters to begin with, which also means that they can gain XP much more quickly than arcane units (not to mention that they start with Tier 3 when you acquire them, and don't need to first gain XP and level up before upgrading).
Druids still had one more key ability, though, which I had not appreciated or even known about before this war. First, I should back up and describe the geography of this particular incarnation of Erebus. Most civs were on a large continent that filled most of the map. I was located near the center, inland. I could extend all the way south to the antarctic. A set of mountain ranges blocked me off from the Clan of Embers to the east, and also provided a border between me and Amelanchier of the Ljosalfar to my northwest. I'd initially had open jungles to my west, but Acheron the Red Dragon established his city there, and for several centuries he was a potent buffer between me, Ljosalfar, and the Sheaim to the far northwest of the continent. The Sons of the Inferno were also very active, creating numerous fires that wreaked havoc across the west; I eventually chopped down my border forests in order to create a firebreak between those lands and my own.
Eventually, once I gained access to Tier 2 Summons and attached a Great Commander to a highly-promoted Dwarven Axeman, I managed to defeat Acheron and claim the city for myself. Tensions quickly escalated with my now-neighbor Tebryn, and I went to war with him, then was surprised to find that he held only two cities. I now held control over the entire western half of the continent, except for a rump state of Ljosalfar, which was protected to the south and east by impenetrable mountain ranges, to the north by the ocean and another mountain range, and only accessible through a narrow gap in the west.
So: even though my territory bordered that of Jonas, I had no way of reaching him. The mountain range ran the entire distance of the map, from ocean to pole. Now, ordinarily this is the part where you would say, "Let's build a ship!" Except, in this particular continent, a coastal range of mountains blocked access to the water. The only exceptions were within Ljosalfar's territory, and on my newly captured (and small, and rebellious) Sheaim cities, which were on the opposite side of the world from my intended destination.
Ordinarily, this would be a great thing. Jonas had already declared war on me, which meant he was spending resources preparing for battle, but he had absolutely no way to reach me without sailing halfway across the globe and fighting a long, punishing battle through my entire kingdom. Now that the tables were turned, though, I was distressed to find that I faced a similar problem in reaching him.
As if that were not enough, I had a fresh source of urgency. Shortly before the Sheaim were destroyed, they completed their Infernal Pact and summoned Hyborem into the world. The Armageddon Counter had been floating around in the teens for a while, but it swiftly shot up as Hyborem began aggressively spreading the Ashen Veil and causing destruction. Thank goodness the Sheaim had already built the Prophecy of Ragnarok and it was now sitting safely in my hands; if Hyborem held it, the situation would have gotten far worse. As it was, though, the Counter jumped up to 30, triggering the first Blight. Yikes! The last time I'd gotten the counter that high, I was playing as Hyborem and so it didn't affect me; before that, I've been playing with mostly good/neutral civs and haven't had to worry about Armageddon; before that, I was playing on an earlier version of FfH2 (perhaps Fire?) that had the Horsemen but no Blight.
Anyways: it's nasty. There's some damage to all military units, but that isn't a big deal. What is a big deal is massive unhealthiness in all your cities. My huge 20+ population cities came crashing down to as low as 8. The Sheaim cities, which were hit by the Blight in the midst of our very short war, came out even worse, with one city a measly 3 population at its nadir. I grimly bore the suffering, and after several decades began the slow process of recovery, but it served as a very clear warning: if I wanted to build my precious tower, I would have to take more direct action to prevent the spread of the Ashen Veil.
But how to get there? I glumly contemplated building a port and raising a flotilla just to ferry across a handful of my archmages. In the meantime, I was unmarshalling my forces from the Sheaim conflict and building up my infrastructure. A crucial element of this was my druids - who, again, I had never built before. With Channelling 3 and Nature 3, they can cast the "Revitalize" spell, which effectively terraforms their current square: ice turns to tundra, tundra to plains, plains to grassland. Previously marginal cities were swiftly becoming population and economic powerhouses, thanks to my longstanding combination of the Aristocracy and Agriculture civics, now coupled with nearly limitless grasslands. While moving my druids around, though, I stumbled across something odd. Typically, if I want to figure out how long it will take a unit to move somewhere, I'll right-click and drag around the cursor; by default, it will move to the indicated spot when I release the button, so I'll typically hover over a mountain or other impassable terrain to cancel the move. With the druids, though, it wouldn't cancel. And, furthermore, it would show their path moving right through the mountains.
"Huh," I thought. "That's a weird bug." I verified that it only happened with the druids. And then... my heart started racing. I popped open the Civilopedia and read the druids' entry. I hadn't dared hope, and yet it was true: druids can move through impassable terrain! Even as a griffon might fly overhead, so these intrepid guardians of nature could move easily through even the most daunting of obstacles.
Well. That changed everything. Forget the boats! I was now set on a familiar plan of attack, with a novel spearhead but a much-loved shaft. I scattered my most powerful units (archmages, vicars, highly-promoted melee units) amongst my dozen-or-so cities. I set my capital to building The Nexus. This unique world wonder creates an Obsidian Gate in every city. The Obsidian Gate functions the same as an airport in vanilla Civ IV (though obviously is much cooler): it lets you instantly teleport one unit from a city each turn. Because it only limits the city of origin, and not the destination, I would just need to capture a single foothold city within the Clan of Embers, and then could instantly deliver my entire army.
While The Nexus was under construction, I sent my druids to reconnoiter in the mountains. Fortunately, the AI doesn't seem to grok that hostile units can hang out in "impassable terrain", and so Jonas never bothered to protect this flank. The druids were able to swoop down, pick off vulnerable single units, then retreat to the mountains for healing before striking again. In this way, they rapidly gained levels and were able to take the spells I would most rely on in my war of conquest: Snowfall (thanks to a lucky acquisition of the Letum Frigus; most games don't have any sources of Ice Mana), which does approximately 40% HP damage to all adjacent units up to a maximum of 80%; Summon Earth Elemental, which raised (for me) STR 12 units; and, later, Summon Djinn (which has 2 movement per turn, and started with just 9 STR but was 17 STR by the end of the game), and Enchant Spellstaff (which lets you cast twice on the same turn).
Jonas never knew what hit him. The moment The Nexus opened its interdimensional portals throughout the Amurite empire, my four druids swept down from the mountaintop. Their target sat at the heart of the Clan's empire, far from the sea where they were expecting me to strike, and it was laughably lightly defended. On the first turn two Druids blanketed the valley in harsh ice, shriveling the defenders down to a mere shadow of themselves. Then, two massive Earth Elementals rose from the ground, easily wiping out the once-mighty Ogres with the merest gesture. His army began desperately wheeling south, but it was far too late. On the next turn two new Earth Elementals, a Djinn and an Ice Elemental knocked out the archers and other defenders, and then the druids (decent fighters in their own rights) slaughtered the ritualists and mages left hiding inside. They marched through the gate, claiming the city for our own. A shimmering Obsidian Portal arose in the middle of the square. The time had come, and mere moments later, the brave vanguard was joined by the most fearsome force on all Erebus: wise archmages, valiant dwarven axemen, loyal vicars. Now that I was on his turf, Jonas didn't stand a chance.
The war was brief and exhilarating. Jonas fought desperately, throwing wave after wave of fodder at me in hopes of breaking my front, but his cause was doomed from the beginning. Never fight a war against a sorcerer. Every single turn I could summon up another dozen disposable units, each individual one more powerful than anything the Clan could muster. Even on the rare occasions when they managed to defeat one, it did not matter: it would have vanished in the next turn anyways, replaced by a fresh one in any case. My mortal units could just join in to pick off the weak survivors, or simply watch and enjoy the show.
So, I took my precious mana nodes, including my first source of Death mana. I then carried out the Dark Pact, sacrificing my heroic archmages to become lichs, and then promoting their old apprentices to fill their previous masters' robes. Also, though I had only recently turned to divine matters, founding the Empyrean and belatedly training up vicars, I was finally able to bring Chalid to the front and begin promoting Luridus...es. (Luridi? Luridii?) My already-formidable spellcasting squad was now becoming simply ridiculous as we expanded and united across discrete modes of magic. I had gone from too few mana sources to an abundance, and was now able to start simultaneous work on two different towers at once. It was also around this time that I began transitioning from Earth Elementals to Djinn as my preferred city-smashers.
I was about to learn a new lesson, not just for FfH2 but for Civ IV: War weariness is important! It's kind of ridiculous how much I avoid fighting wars in these games; I've proudly won major victories in both games without ever fighting anything but animals and barbarians, and when I have fought wars in the past, they're either defensive or extremely pointed (typically capturing a single strategically important city). In contrast, while I had no interest in completely wiping out the Clan, I did want a big swath of their land, which would mean taking five of their cities. Of course, they wanted to keep it, and I ended up defeating most of their considerable army. All of this led to war weariness. A lot of war weariness. So much that I had to do some research to figure out what the heck it was and how to resolve it.
War Weariness (henceforth WW) is tracked on a civ-by-civ basis. So, if I fight both the Clan and the Sheaim, each has their own separate WW counter. The counter increases with each skirmish, by a differing amount depending on the nature and outcome. Successfully defending one of your cities will have no impact; attacking and losing a fight on foreign soil will add to it considerably. (I'd seen a comment from Kael mentioning that summoned units don't affect WW, but as far as I can tell, they do.) As the counter rises, unhappy citizens are added to your cities. This seems linked to city size, so a population 20+ city might have several unhappy people while a population 8 city will not. As WW continues to rise, though, more and more people will become unhappy, to the point where it can lead to massive starvation. At one point, fully half of the 28 population in Cevedes was rioting, plunging the city into a cycle of self-destruction.
Ending WW is deceptively simple: end the war. As soon as you sign a peace treaty with your opponent, that civ's WW value will no longer affect you (though any other combatants' will). The underlying WW value is still present (visible by hovering over the leader on the Diplomacy screen), and will decay slightly each turn. So, if you re-start a war as soon as the 10-turn ceasefire is over, you'll still have a major problem, but if you return to battle a century later, the earlier conflict will be mostly forgotten.
In my case, I had to press on through several turns of agony: I had routed Jonas's standing army, but still had to smash my way through the defenders of some key cities. Finally they fell, and I quickly opened negotiations. I now learned something else entirely new: you can get really good concessions to end a war! Again, I rarely fight at all in these games, and when I do it typically either leads to a complete wipeout (if you're going for a conquest-type victory or a dangerous foe) or a rushed conflict and early truce (if I was attacked or just needed one city). In this case, though, I had decisively defeated my opponent, and was in a position to dictate terms. I had captured only three of the cities I wanted from him, but convinced him to cede ownership of the other two I was eyeing to me as well. This was fantastic: it turns out that, when you acquire a city as a result of negotiation, you don't need to deal with a period of civil disorder, and even better, seemingly none of the city improvements are destroyed: you get a fully-functioning city and territory immediately ready to become a productive part of your empire.
My WW with Jonas was around 800 by this time, but signing the treaty instantly removed all the unhappiness from my cities and we quickly got back to work building our towers. I had a hunch I might be fighting him again one day, though, and wanted to be ready for it. Civ IV and FfH2 give several means for mitigating WW, none of which I had invested in before, but whose value I now suddenly understood. Several civics (like militarism / conquest / police state) can lower the effect of WW; I believe that it something says "-25% War Weariness", then if WW would typically cause 4 citizens in a city to become unhappy, only 3 will become unhappy instead. However, I was too heavily reliant on my current civics to be able to switch; abandoning agristocracy would devastate my population and economy, and I didn't want to curtail the massive science boosts I was getting with scholarship, caste system, and my many specialists. Alternately, several buildings and wonders help deal with the problem. I set one of my major cities to building the Tower of Eyes. This creates a free Dungeon in every city, which in turn reduces your WW by 25%. I figured that this could provide several valuable turns of respite should a war spring up again.
By this point I had made contact with everyone in my game. The roster included:
- Myself, Dain of the Amurites, occupying the landlocked center of the megacontinent, with large cities and lots of trade but little production.
- Amelanchier of the Ljosalfar, in classic turtle mode, with several major cities, ancient forests, and Fellowship of Leaves, a longstanding friend and trading partner (though religious rival).
- (Dead) Tebryn of the Sheaim, who ran a tiny empire and was responsible for bringing Hyborem into the world.
- Jonas of the Clan of Embers, a sprawling evil empire on the east of the continent, now divided into noncontiguous northern and southern territories after my conquest.
- (Dead) Garrim Gyr of the Luchuirp. I'd never met him, but eventually learned that he'd built a decent-sized empire in the far southeast of the continent before being conquered by Jonas.
- Hyborem of the Infernals, who thankfully was restricted to a valley surrounded by the Clan on all sides, and thus limited in expansion potential.
- Capria of the Bannor, who occupied a sizeable island to my north, spent most of the game fighting an endless struggle against the numerous barbarians occupying the flaming lands of the continent's northeast.
- Finally, Rhoanna of Hippus, who, in a cosmic joke, was placed on an isolated island far to the northwest. Her legendary horsemanship had little use, and she wasn't involved in much of anything this game.
And then, in the very next turn, everyone in the world declared war on me. Even Capria, with whom I'd had a longstanding friendship (and only recently had gifted some advanced technology and iron, in the hopes of supporting his fight against the barbarians), and Rhoanna, whom I viewed only with pity. Well. I felt up to fighting anyone on the planet, thanks to my mastery of all arcane knowledge, but still, there were logistical obstacles to fighting along a front that encompassed, um, my entire sprawling empire.
I didn't particularly want to fight anyone, so I checked to see if I could negotiate an early peace treaty with anyone. My heart sank: most leaders wouldn't even talk with me, and those that would could not even consider peace as an option. Would this mean 80 turns of war? What on earth would that do to my war weariness?
I quickly determined that I faced three very different threats. Amelanchier shared a border close to my civ's core, and had built up a ridiculously large army (at one point I observed over one hundred units inside a city). He was decently advanced, and had multiple civ and religious heroes, plus a good amount of mana. Jonas was still recovering from our earlier fight, and I wasn't too concerned about his attacks (which, regardless, would only strike my periphery); but the remaining war weariness was already causing production problems in my cities, and I couldn't afford it to add substantially to whatever new WW I racked up with the other five civs I was fighting. Finally, Hyborem posed no immediate threat to my borders; but these wars would provide a fresh source of damned souls for him to conscript into his army, and so he had the potential to rocket up into a megapower if the other conflicts got too heated.
Carefully monitoring movements in the first turn or two after the onslaught started, I determined that while Amelanchier was sending some raiders to pillage my fertile heartland, his prime invasion target was Galveholm, the former Sheaim capital. His force was formidable. At the same time, Jonas and Hyborem were both striking the east. Most of my veteran forces were there, since that's where I'd been expecting any future trouble to occur. I set them up to weather the assault and counterattack, then marshaled my lower-level wizards, vicars, and several crossbowmen to help defend against the elves.
Oh: and I also cast my World Spell. Initially, I'd thought of Arcane Lacuna as primarily a boosting spell, since it adds XP to your arcane units based on the total number of upgraded mana nodes in the world. However, I now realized that its second effect, of disabling spellcasting among rival civs, was even better. This seems to extend to divine spells as well as arcane ones, which proved a great advantage in my fight.
The fight against Ljosalfar was nail-bitingly close. Unit-for-unit, I far outclassed him, but the sheer bulk of his forces made things difficult. Once again, Snowfall proved incredibly useful: it meant sacrificing the vitality of my own land for several turns, but the wintry storms are as effective against a stack of 60 units as they are against a single foe. Each round I would open with Snowfall, then summon up my mostly-tier-2 elementals to eliminate as many enemies as I could. The battered remnants of his force would then limp back to the city to heal, while fresh reinforcements would set up position outside my city and the cycle would repeat.
In the meantime, I weathered the first wave of evil attackers in the east, then divided those forces into two units. One pressed northeast towards Braduk the Burning, Jonas's capital; I was hoping that capturing it would force him to open negotiations with me, and then I could trade it back to him in exchange for peace. The other moved southeast through Clan territory towards the Infernal cities. Knocking out Hyborem would be tough, but it was necessary, and would only get more difficult the longer I waited. Hyborem had hated me to begin with, and he never suffers war weariness, so he would be fully prepared to fight me until the very end. I wanted to make sure it was his end and not my own.
Braduk fell, and I ironically signed the first treaty with my biggest foe Jonas. This immediately lessened the pressure of war weariness; the dungeons had helped, but it was still climbing alarmingly high, and making peace here helped immensely. However, this had the unintended consequence of kicking many of my in-transit units out of Clan territory and back into my own. I had only successfully moved through about half of the force I'd intended to attack Hyborem with: I could move my druids there through the mountains, but otherwise was stuck with just one lich, one archmage, one luridus, my 150-ish-xp axeman, and several werewolves. It would probably be do-able, but with no possibility for reinforcements, I'd have to be very careful.
Meanwhile, in my more existential struggle against the elves, I lost some crucial units, but Galveholm managed to hold. At considerable cost I managed to defeat Gilden Silveric, Yvain, Kithra Kyriel, and approximately 100000000 Priests of Leaves, archers, and other assorted invaders. I briefly considered heading inland to take one of Amelanchier's cities, but decided against it: my victory would be hastened more by an early peace than it would by adding still more to my territory. Sufficient military defeat brought Amelanchier to the bargaining table, and we negotiated a settlement on favorable terms for me. However, I neglected realize that, absent an Open Borders agreement (which he absolutely refused to consider, despite our longstanding friendship up until construction began), the heart of my empire was cut off from the Sheaim cities; and, through their ports, my expanded empire in Clanland. It wasn't a game-ending problem, but did mean I lost access to several resources, and was unable to access some freshly-captured Mithril in my industrial core. If I had it to do again, I might have taken that city after all, just to make my territory contiguous.
With my two immediate threats on the sideline, it was time to face down Hyborem. His avatar unit was still in play, so I needed to kill him - twice! - to remove that threat. It was a fun, epic battle, as you would expect, with many close calls and very strategic deployment of disposable elementals. At last, one of my martial Druids entered one-on-one combat and slew the devil:
He took Gela, Hyborem's unholy blade, and then led the contingent on towards Dis. Hyborem's troop movements were rather strange: he had large armies in his cities, but moved most of them out before my vanguard arrived. I think that he might have been trying to strike at my homeland, but I took advantage of the unexpected advantage and struck hard and fast. By now my djinns had utterly eclipsed all elementals, and I had acquired the Blitz promotion on some Greater Werewolves, so it did not take too much time to break down the cities. I mercilessly razed each one, then had my luridus sanctify the ruins, gradually bringing the armageddon counter back down to the low 20s for the first time in over a century.
Dis fell at last, and from then on I was primarily focused on Operation Press Enter Many Times. The elves and orcs were furious at me, but were too cowed by my military power to attack again. Capria had declared a Crusade against me, and was unavailable for negotiation; but he seemed to have forgotten that he would need to build boats in order to cross the ocean and attack me, and so spent the remainder of the game building an enormous, impotent military stationed in his city. Rhoanna actually mounted a fairly effective blockade for a while, but after I signed my treaty with the Ljosalfar I gave Fire 2 promotions to all of my wizards and firebows, and wiped out all of her privateers and frigates with an onslaught of fireballs. She rather cheerfully accepted peace afterwards, and even resumed normalized trade relations.
I was still feeling slightly bummed about how long it would take to finish the Tower of Mastery - by this point I had no doubt of my eventual victory, and it felt like a grind to get there - when I suddenly realized that, duh, the Tower is a production, and I can hurry production with gold. Sure, it would be expensive - something like 20,000 gold by the time I noticed it - but I wasn't going to need that money for anything else after it was done. And, for that matter, I didn't need the 70% of trade I was devoting to research! I was already up to Future Tech 5 (bypassing a few lower-level techs that I did not need), and belatedly did what I should have done long ago: bump my tax rate way up, and also devoted a chunk to culture for the first time (which wasn't necessary, but did help firm up my borders with hostile neighbors). Also, since many of my cities had run out of useful buildings to construct, I switched them to creating raw wealth instead of additional military fodder for some hypothetical future conflict.
Now that I've been through this, I realize that the best strategy is probably to start hoarding cash well in advance of starting work on the Tower (or the Altar, in the case of a divine victory strategy). That way, you can start construction and then almost immediately complete it, and deny your rivals much of a chance to thwart your plans. Which, now that I think about it, is really close to the strategy I would use on culture victories back in my vanilla Civ IV days: I would carefully manicure my three target cities until they had the proper buildings and technologies for victory, then abruptly switch off my science and dump all available revenue into Culture. When planned correctly, I could make all three reach Legendary status within a few turns of one another, which would prevent my rivals from taking effective action once they finally realized my plans.
So, I kept periodically checking in on the Tower, as its cost to completion gradually ticked down and my treasury exploded in size. Finally the ascending curve met the descending line, and I pressed the button. Huzzah! I had achieved mastery over all that is in the universe, and could add yet another victory to my string of FfH2 success stories.
Sadly, for some reason I'm no longer able to hear audio on the gameplay videos, but I was able to download a Bink video player and manually activate the appropriate victory. It's very well-done, as are all the other FfH2 videos I've seen. The polish of this mod continues to astound me.
After spending so long in the game, what I really want more than anything else is to immediately start another one. I don't even know what to do first... maybe try the Calabim as my first-ever evil civ? Or return to the Khazad, who have awesome mechanics, and actually stick with them throughout the whole game? Or try any of the dozen or so intriguing civs I've never played as, like the Sidar, Svartalfar, or Grigori? Or return to the pure fun of the Lanun? Too many choices!
This post has been really long, and I still feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what went on in this game. I haven't even touched on my dungeon explorations, or the exploits of Baron Duin Halfmoon, or the religious cold war between the Fellowship and Empyrean, or the vast plains of endlessly burning hellfire, or the unusual availability of unique mana terrain features, or Capria's indecisive wavering between Runes and Empyrean. Most video games must choose between breadth and depth. FfH2 refuses to compromise either one, and continues to create some of the most expansive, exciting, complex, and just plain fun gaming experiences I've ever had.