Tuesday, December 13, 2005

What Chris Did

Now, on to Civ!

I am loving my current game. This is my third attempt at playing Qin Shi Huang; I abandoned the first two after a few thousand frustrating years. I'm finally getting the hang of his attributes and capitalizing on it.

This game is also notable because it's the first time in Civ IV (remember, I've had the game for two months and have completed three full games and have a few abandoned ones) that I have deliberately started a war. I'm playing on a Normal Archipelago world. I do like archipelagos, but in this case, they sort of smooshed together and I ended on a vertical continent in between Mali and England. I made a few crucial changes in this game that I haven't done before. First, I did NOT sign Open Borders agreements when I could. Instead, I found chokepoints on my northern and southern borders and quickly built cities there. This kept them from moving into my territory (and them blaming ME for our "close borders"!) and, as a nice surprise, kept them separated. (Hey, hey, don't pay no mind...) To my surprise, even though they shared a continent they didn't establish contact until around 500 AD. I filled out the rest of my interior at a steady pace; my Financial attribute makes it a bit more cost-effective to build new cities (though not as well as Organized would), new cities would quickly build a Lighthouse and collect resources from the ocean, then switch to working cottages as they grew larger.

Once I filled in several thousand years later and started expanding to some nearby islands I finally signed open borders with them. Mali promptly plopped a city down on some crummy jungle squares in between two of my cities. Our relations quickly deteriorated. I had just acquired my unique unit, the Cho-Ko-Nuk, and started attacking with those and some Macemen. It turns out that Mali's Skirmishers are good defenders, plus his city was built on a hill. I reloaded, then had one of those moments: "Gee, what am I going to do with this army I have?" England beckoned. I swung south and, together with some Catapults and Horse Archers, began my assault on a surprised Elizabeth.

Combat is a lot of fun in Civ IV, once you get the hang of it. The biggest thing is just getting psychologically ready to lose units. To take a city, here's what you do:
1. Bring in catapults and barrage the defenses down to 0.
2. (Optional) Attack with the catapults or another unit that causes collateral damage. Your unit will die, but in the process you'll take down a lot of them.
3. On the same turn, attack en masse. You WILL lose some of your attackers. However, every one who dies will greatly decrease the health of any survivors. With overwhelming force, you will destroy the defenders.
4. Move everyone into the city. Have people fortify until healed.
5. If you have promotions, and are damaged, consider using it immediately to boost your health. Otherwise, wait until you see what you're up against and then take it opportunistically. (Take Cover if you'll be attacking archery units, etc.)
6. Move everyone to the nearest enemy city and repeat.
7. Have cities in your industrial base churning out new units to replace the ones you lost, and to defend the cities you're taking. You want the captured city to immediately build a Theater or something to keep it from revolting.

Basically, the aim is to get some of your units extremely high promotions, so that they will win any fight; the rest of the units become fodder, unless they survive, in which case they also become elite. Try and spread around the promotions to give a useful balance. You'll want one Medic, for example, so units can heal while in enemy territory. Always engage units in the field when you can beat them; even if it isn't a strategic gain for you, you're gaining immediate experience that will help you take the next city.

I came up with this strategy while experimenting on the English countryside. I came up short when I reached London - Elizabeth had just started building Longbowmen, and giving them City Garrison promotions. Combine that with the fact London was on a hill, and the losses were unacceptable. I left behind some horse archers to ravage the countryside and moved my main army down to Nottingham.

Oh, and another note: know your enemy. Elizabeth had no access to horses (which I knew because my horses showed as tradeable in the diplomacy window), so I didn't bother building any pikemen. I also felt fairly safe with my horseback archers since I knew none of her units could move more than 1 square in a turn (3 if roads were present).

While this was all going on, my research was advancing. Due to the cost of the war I was setting my science rate down further and further, finally flattening at 60%. Still, the bulk of my science was being produced by Beijing, which had 3 science specialists, an Academy, library, observatory, university, and a super-scientist. (It is currently building Oxford University.) So I was still advancing at a respectable pace. For once, though, I was actually pursuing military techs, instead of trading for them or giving them up altogether. While encircling Nottingham I discovered Gunpowder and, soon, Military Tradition.

Musketmen are overrated; sure, they can ignore fortifications, but they still need to contend with cultural defense, so you'll most likely need to bombard the city anyways. Their attack is barely stronger than Macemen, and they don't get any good inherent bonuses. Worse yet, they can't take the City Raider promotions.

Cavalry, though... ah, that's the ticket! Can you say 15 strength, double any pre-Gunpowder unit? Their ability to evade combat is also useful; give them two Flanking promotions and they can escape almost any harm, as well as gain immunity to First Strike.

Cavalry became my new city killers. The basic scenario remained the same - encamp, bombard, attack - but now I could often kill off a city without any casualties. Even if they had Pikemen, I could usually (barely) take it out with one Cavalry, and have the rest inflict their pain.

So where did the cavalry come from, you ask? A few were promoted from Horse Archers who had done enough combat to get good promotions. The rest, though, were churned out by Shanghai. In much the same way that Beijing is singlehandedly responsible for almost half my science, Shanghai is responsible for my entire offensive army. Early on it built the Heroic Epic, which allows it to build military units twice as quickly. I put a Barracks in there and started building my invasion force a while before the war began. Once I had Military Tradition, it built West Point which provided still more experience to new recruits. The result was that my cavalry were taking the field with both their Flanking promotions already in place. (It is currently building a Drydock as I contemplate bringing my travelling show overseas.)

This is one of the things Civ IV really gets right. Much as I loved Civ II, building a military was annoying because of the "home city" concept; to keep from getting killed by support costs, you had to spread military production throughout your whole empire. I like the "Specialization" mantra of Civ IV, where it makes perfect sense to pick one particular city and turn it into your death engine.

So, I had fun experimenting with new units as they became available. After taking all of Elizabeth's southern cities (Nottingham, Oxford, one or two others), I moved my army back north and laid London under siege in earnest. Even with my cavalry, those promoted Longbowmen on hills were tough, but the went down, and the city with it. To my surprise, I did not receive a "You have defeated the English!" message; I later discovered that they had escaped to some nearby islands. However, for my purpose the war was complete: I now fully controlled the southern two-thirds of my continent. I signed a peace treaty with Elizabeth to stave off encroaching war weariness, gave Shanghai time to build some useful non-military improvements, and began massive troop movements to my northern border.

In Civ games, I have a flair for the dramatic, and I decided to declare war on Mansa Masu once I established my communist government. A few turns before, though, I had a little chat with him. I offered him... I forget exactly what, perhaps Replaceable Parts, in return for Guilds, all of his gold, and his map. With a clear view of my targets, I started the revolution, upgraded my Macemen to Grenadiers, and waited.

As you probably already know, Civ IV uses an Alpha Centauri style "Civics" system. This means you can select a government system, economic system, etc., which allows for much better variety as well as better representation of real-world states (the United States, Germany and Venezuela are all democracies, but are radically different otherwise). My current system, which I'm very happy with for my current game, is Universal Suffrage/Free Speech/Serfdom/State Property/Free Religion. (Which, now that I think about it, isn't that different from Chavez's Venezuela.) The big difference between this and earlier games is substituting Serfdom for Emancipation and State Property for Free Trade. Serfdom combined with Steam Power (and, before that, Hagia Sophia) lets my workers work twice as fast, which is incredibly useful now that I'm repairing the English and Mali infrastructure. I like the free trade routes of Free Trade, but in my current game all my trade routes are pretty puny, with only my very largest cities having any worth more than 1. In contrast, even though my empire isn't all that widespread (1 continent, some surrounding islands, and a foothold on a nearby continent), I was paying a ton of maintenance. Before the revolution I was breaking even on income each turn; afterwards, I could jack my science all the way up to 80%, and I still have an average income of 40/turn. Yes! All hail the People's Glorious Revolution!

On the other points: Free Religion, as I've remarked elsewhere, makes it easier to get along with other civs. I founded Confucianism but wasn't good at spreading it or getting a shrine, so none of the other religious civics would do me much good anyways. Early in the game I had built the Pyramids and established Representation, which helped me grow some large cities and seize my science lead; Universal Suffrage is better for mature nations, though, because the hammers from towns add up to a lot. Free Speech helps my newly-conquered cities establish culture quickly.

Back to war:

Remember that one city Mansa Masu built in my empire? It was already on the verge of collapse (only 40% Mali), so I peeled off a small contingent (1 Grenadier, 1 Cho Ko Nuk, 1 Cavalry, 1 Catapult) to sit on their doorstep for a while. The rest moved north. He definitely wasn't expecting it, and his first city fell within three turns. Right after I invaded he switched to Theocracy and Vassalage, but despite having a Golden Age could not create new units quickly enough.

After taking the first city, my next priority was destroying a Pasture he had built on his one Horse resource. With that gone, he could no longer produce Knights, his strongest offensive unit. I proceeded further inland, following the same strategy as before. Even though Grenadiers cannot normally take City Raider promotions, if you upgrade Macemen they get to keep those promotions, which proved devastating. I didn't even bother to reduce each city's defenses all the way to 0 before I started launching in my grenades.

Due to my long period without open borders, I hadn't had a very good idea of what Mali's empire looked like. After getting his map I was surprised to see that he only had four cities on the continent, although he also had established a few island outposts. The second city I took, Timbuktu, was also the best defended. It seems that the AI tries to always put its highest-rated defenders in the capital. The third city I took was the Christian holy city, sadly without a shrine but a feather in my cap nonetheless. One more city down and I made my magnaminous peace offer, eternal friendship in exchange for a mere 10 gold. He bitterly took it and presumably retired to one of his watery outposts.

So, this is where we stand. It is nearly 1800, and dawn is breaking on the glorious Chinese empire. We are the largest and most advanced civilization in the world, bestriding its largest continent like a colossus, inspiring our free citizens to work ever harder and longer for us. Where do we go from here? I decided early on that I wanted to go for a Space Race victory, and the sensible thing would probably be to hunker down, further strengthen my industrial and financial base, and turn all my energies towards that pursuit. On the other hand, I have now had my first taste of bloodlust, and part of me really wants to see what it's like to carry on a full-fledged modern war.

I consulted with my military advisor, Bradley Schneider, on what to do. His advise was cogent and wise: "Give me more soldiers, noble leader, that they may sheathe their swords in the beating hearts of our enemies!" He's an old hand at this so it sounds worth a try. Roosevelt is my most likely opponent in a space race, so I will be preparing a surprise for him. Having just acquired my first source of oil, fighters and bombers will be joining the party.

This is slightly off topic, but I'm already thinking about what to do in my next game. I'd like to try playing as a religious civ. Up until now, I've never put much effort into spreading my religion; I can usually get people to convert early on, but by the end of the game only a few are following my religion. What I'd like to do next is focus on religious techs, gobble up as many as I can, and found a bunch of religions. Pick one of them and spread it all around, converting everyone I meet. If I can control the other religions (and they're hard to control, but I can make sure they don't spread as quickly as the chosen one), I stand a good shot at uniting most of the world under my faith. I anticipate falling behind in the tech race while I focus on spreading the faith, but hope that once I build my shrine the income will allow me to catch back up.

Enough rambling, sleep calls.


  1. If you're going to found a bunch of religions, then free religion is the way to go. Otherwise, just pick the first one you found. That's my advice.

  2. Thanks for the tip! Anyone else have some suggestions to share?

    Before I get Liberalism, I'll probably pick one faith to be my main religion and use Organized Religion. I really like the construction bonus it gives, plus that would allow me to propagate my religion quickly via missionaries without needing each city to futz around with an Academy. By the time Liberalism rolls around, hopefully my religion will be widespread enough that I can switch to Free Religion and have the faiths continue to be spread automatically (or, even better, have the AI pick up the slack!)