Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wait, What?

I love Fall from Heaven 2, and need to be careful so that I do not spend what remains of my free time on it.  I hit upon what I thought would be a clever scheme to ensure my independence: "I'll only play FFH2 if I can get it to run in Linux!  Heh heh... Sucker!"  Joke's on me!  The latest version of Wine makes installation a snap.  A quick Google search turned up the few "wine-tricks" packages necessary to make the game run, and I was soon flying. 

It isn't PERFECT, but it's darn close.  The only problem I noticed was that the city production and food bars aren't drawing in the world map view.  That was it.  Sound is excellent, graphics are just as good as under Windows, and the game didn't crash once in my 13 hours (total!  not in one seating!) of play.  So that's great news.

As usual, I spent a good chunk of time at the pick-your-leader screen, trying to decide how I wanted to win and who I should pick.  After my previous game, I decided that I wanted to go for a religious Altar of Luonnotar victory.  After mulling over the traits, I decided that I wanted to pick a leader who was Spiritual and Philosophical.  Spiritual due to the cheaper cost of building Temples - in retrospect, this was a dumb move, since (as far as I can tell) the bonus only applies to the non-religion Pagan Temples, not the useful religious temples you can create later.  That said, the Disciple promotions were nice, and no anarchy is always nice (though I don't take as much advantage of this as I could).  Philosophical was a much more obviously useful trait to have.  I knew that to build the Altar I would need a lot of Great Prophets, so a doubled birth rate for Great People was a no-brainer. 

After clicking around and mulling about it for far too long, I finally decided on the Malakim.  They were Good, which I'm used to playing, were Spiritual, and had the nifty trait-exchange program that I could use to trade in for Philosophical.  Other than that, they seemed a little bare in the special-features department - camel archers, an early sentry-promoted "Lightbringer," a sun temple.  I knew from my Khazad game, though, that the leader selection screen didn't show everything there was to know about the civ features, so I rolled the dice to see what I would find.

I didn't like what I saw.  I mean that literally - the game started me off in the middle of a desert.  It had some flood plains, but was still an awful site, and even after some movement, I didn't see any promising locations.  I started a new game.  I was in a desert again, but this one looked a bit better.  After traveling for a few turns I was able to found my capital on a Plains square with several hills and fresh water nearby.  If I wanted to build the Altar, I'd need to build a great person factory, which I generally don't do but was comfortable pulling out.  It would mean eschewing my standard Cottages for Farms, and switching to the Agriculture civic as soon as I could.  Basically, you want to make each food time as productive as possible, so only a fraction of your people need to work for food, and the rest can remain in the city as specialists.  Plains aren't as good for this as grasslands are, but they're still decent, and I had some Pigs near the capital that could help out.

This was my second game playing on an Erebus map, and I need to qualify my earlier analysis.  Because my first game featured total isolation, I assumed that this was a property of the script, to put each civ in a walled-off enclosure.  Not so - the script does make very strong use of mountains and water, breaking up the map significantly, but doesn't guarantee early isolation.  On this map, I eventually ran into Capria of the Bannor.  We shared a continent, but were at opposite extremes, and to move between the two regions required going through a narrow one-square-wide passage squeezed between a mountain range and the ocean.  This is a pretty common situation on this map, and raises some excellent strategic options.  It becomes very feasible to build a Fortress in the right spot and create a choke-point to stave off the barbarians or hostile Civs coming from a land that you don't feel like conquering.

In addition to meeting another civ before the advent of Fishing, I was also playing on a continent that contained plenty of dark squares eager to spawn Barbarians.  I'd been spoiled in my previous Khazad game - there, I only had to build three cities, and then my line-of-sight kept the bad people away.  Now... well, for example, northeast of my capital was a barren wasteland.  And I mean barren.  It was a desert valley bordered by mountains on the west, north, and east.  It had hills and gold, but no plains or grassland, just a single Oasis.  It was about 12 squares tall by 8 squares wide.  Hill Giants appeared shockingly early, and before long hordes of Goblins were streaming down.  What to do?  I had no choice but to wipe them out, then leave some low-level units on permanent sentry detail up there.  They did nothing for 200 years, except ensure that no more barbarians would arise in that unsettleable land.

Oh, and I'm finally convinced that the Erebus script / FFH2 is smart enough to position civs correctly.  Well, "correctly."  My Malakim turned out to be a really boring civ.  Other than the handful of unique units, their one advantage is that new units are built with the "Nomad" promotion.  It's similar to the promotions that Elves and Dwarves get, only way less useful: extra combat bonuses in Desert terrain.  "Yay."  You know, Desert, that place that nobody wants to be because there's nothing good there?  But that said, it does make sense that I would have started off in a desert on both games.  It could have been much worse - hundreds of years later, I would find the Doviello on the opposite end of the map.  They had been helpfully settled in wintry tundra conditions, which is nice in as much as it gives them combat bonuses, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that they would have appreciated having, y'know, food.

Your single city - your capital - in the year 300 is size one?  OUCH.  OK, I'm no longer allowed to complain about anything.

(Huh!  Just noticed that this screenshot, which I took under Linux, is a bit messed up - it includes improvements and flags, but not cities and units.  Weird.  Anyways, the Doviello capital was located smack in the middle there, with a population of one, and as you can see, there's just ice and tundra everywhere.)

Back on my own continent, the raging barbarians encouraged me to step up my expansion plans.  Timberling was founded relatively soon after, a bit further away from my capital than I would have chosen if my goal had not been to spread culture as far as I could.  Timberling was a port city, and I decided that I would make it my commercial capital.  Later on came Braeburn (I'm typing these names from memory and probably mangling them; my apologies to Makalim), yet another port city, this one on the northwestern edge of the continent.  Expanding cultural borders allowed me to make contact with the Clan of Embers, who lived across the mountains bordering Death Valley.  They didn't much care for my Good ways, but with no route from Point A to Point B, I didn't much need to worry.  For some reason Capria was content to keep his single capital city in the isolated southwest of the continent.  Which meant more goblins for me, but also more room to expand.  I ultimately planted five cities in the main section of the continent, each widely dispersed, and as a result could take advantage of a huge range of resources within their spheres.  Each city's borders could expand out several levels without overlapping, so even the resources that I couldn't work directly were added to my collection.

I was focusing on religious tech.  I decided to go for Runes of Kilmorph again, due to the gold bonus and the Good theme.  I had already built two levels of the Altar of Luonnotar by the time Kilmorph was founded, in Timberling.  I spread the religion around, pumped up my Great Person rate even higher, and spent the next Great Prophet on the Tablets of Bambur.  Timberling would be the cash cow that would support me through the ages.  I occasionally deviated from the religious path to research techs that would fill specific needs - Calendar for Plantation for Spices, for example.  I held off on Fishing for a long time, but eventually got it, and then shortly was ready to start building Triremes.  I grabbed Message from the Deep while I was in there, simply to eliminate it as a rival religion. 

The boats allowed me to enter Clan land, and soon their three cities were following the Runes.  She promptly started worshipping Kilmorph, her alignment switched to Good, and from then on we were close.  Capria had seen the light years earlier.

Oh!  I almost forgot.  Another side effect of a large continent was the large number of ruins and lairs.  Exploring these things is still a lot of fun.  One gave me a map to hidden treasure.  This spawns a treasure chest, someplace far away; when you eventually bring a unit over there, you can open it to retrieve an artifact.  Cool stuff.  Twice I found teleportation portals that zapped me over to far-away lands.  This allowed me to make contact with the Elohim and the Sheaim, LONG before I had boats or the technology for trading goods or knowledge.  I did vaguely know where they lived, though ("West"), so once I had my puny vessels, I could finally bridge the gap between our realms.

I continued to spread the Runes, albeit in a haphazard fashion.  Basically, if there was nothing worthwhile to build, I would churn out a Thane or two, then send them abroad.  Besides the titans of good and evil on the western continent, I also ran into Cassiel of the Grigori, and converted four of his cities before I remembered that he was Agnostic.  Whoops!  Well, even if I couldn't get the disposition bonus from shared faith, every city I converted was still bringing in income, and it wasn't like he was going to resist me in favor of ANOTHER faith.  Cassiel and I always had a weird relationship.  He was the one civ that had an island of his own, and he had a pretty large empire population-wise.  He was at peace with everyone, but always seemed reluctant to trade.  Once, while I had Bambur and some Thanes over there for a (friendly) visit, he built the Pact of Nilhorn.  In the city right next to Bambur.  IMMEDIATELY he attacked with all three - the Hill Giants are technically Hidden Nationality, so you can attack people you're at peace with with them, even if it's really obvious who's doing it.  The assault was across a river.  It was not a success.  To be clear: Larry, Curly, AND Moe all died.  I shook my head, spread the Word, and went home.  Relations between myself and Cassiel grew frosty after that.

I didn't exactly set out to colonize the western continent, it just sort of happened.  While exploring it with my teleported units, I discovered that there were a lot of barbarian cities.  Which makes sense - the continent was about twice as big as my own, had some really gnarly mountain divisions, and (seemingly) only two civs on it to contest the lizardmen.  I had grown to HATE the forces of evil, and came to see these as free cities for the taking.  There was one channel between the two continents narrow enough for a trireme to cross over, so I sent my ships, my missionaries, my Axemen and Bambur there.

Argh, time for another tangent.  Throughout the entire game, the strongest non-disciple unit I ever built were Warriors.  No kidding.  I wasn't fighting true civs, and the warriors were strong enough to kill early animals and barbarians, and by the time the stronger monsters appeared I had created a sufficiently large cultural shield.  I DID, however, get an event while exploring a lair that I had seen before: you come across a group of dwarves and lizardmen fighting in the mines, and are asked which group to support.  I always pick the dwarves.  This gives you two Dwarven Axemen - a HUGE benefit early in the game.  The downside is that three hostile Lizardmen also spawn, but if you're lucky and careful, you can fend them off.  Anyways, these Axemen (never upgraded, except for metal weaponry) were my shock troops, along with Bambur, and were insanely promoted by the end of the game. 

But, you want to know who my real shock troops were in the western war?  Stonewardens.  Yup - not even Paramanders or Soldiers of Kilmorph.  See, by this time I had built up the Altar to, like, level IV or V.  The bonuses become amazing at this point - +2 hammers for Priests everywhere, +2 happiness in all your cities, and something like +12 XP to Discipline units built in this city.  No sooner were my Stonewardens ordained than they were eligible for huge combat promotions.  Plus they have a strength of 5 - even though they don't get weapons, that's great.  AND let's not forget the free Spiritual promotions available to them.  I didn't realize it before this game, but Disciple units are like Arcane units in that they automatically (albeit slowly) gain XP over time.  Potency makes it even faster.  It wasn't at all unusual to find a Stonewarden wandering around with 20-30 XP who had never been in a fight.  And let's not forget, Stonewardens start off with Medic II.  So cool!  I really like this system where the healing promotions are only available to Disciples - gives it a very D&D flavor.

Another thing I like: the Inquisition.  By now I had converted everyone in the world (except the poor Doviello) to the Runes of Kilmorph, but I was still a little nervous about what would happen if the Octopus Overlords broke out of their cages.  I had initially hoped that the Inquisition could remove the religion from their founding cities, but was disappointed (if not surprised) to learn that this would not work.  That said, it was still TREMENDOUSLY satisfying to use them.  After I founded the Empyrean, if spread to another one of my cities and two of Sheaim's.  After a friendly visit (NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!) they repented of their ways and worshipped the Runes again.  Anyways.  I really like the Inquisition because it allows you to be proactive and protect your strategic interest, instead of (as in Civ IV) just worrying about what could happen if the "wrong" religion spreads.

I quickly took several Lizardmen cities along the eastern edge of the continent.  Cassiel promptly followed in my wake and settled along the shore.  Fine by me - I had all the resources (the lizards are surprisingly good at picking the right city locations), and I sent Kilmorph's blessings his way.  My eyes were hungrily fixed on the big prize: Acheron the Red Dragon and his Horde.  It stood between my eastern cities and the poor Elohim, quivering with fear behind the fire-stricken landscape.  Bambur was now near his 100-XP Hero-cap, and still no match for the Dragon, so I aborted my siege and went looking for trouble.  I eventually found a city on the far western edge of the map, as far as possible from my capital (which was only about 6 squares west of the far eastern edge of the map), and captured it with my overqualified fighters.  My economy promptly nosedived, but that was fine - I just had to tack research down from 90% to 70% for a while.

It turns out that I'd stumbled across what's actually a Beyond the Sword mechanic, the idea of "colonies".  Once you control a certain number of cities on a foreign continent, these cities become a colony, and require colonial upkeep in addition to the standard upkeep from number of cities and distance from the capital.  This can grow prohibitively expensive, so you may choose to grant a colony independence, at which point they form an independent civilization that is initially on your team and thus a great source of resources and support.  I had a better idea, though: for decades I had been working on the Winter Palace, and it was nearing completion.  Sure enough, once it was done, it counted as being a new capital, and colonial upkeep went away!  I jacked my research back up and continued on my way.

For most of the game, my Altar path had been limited by my great prophet production; whenever I popped one out, I could immediately construct the next level.  The last few stages are tougher, though.  I had to ignore some really tempting religious techs to focus on Religious Law (I think) to get the next level of the Altar.  At a time when most available techs would take about 9 turns to research, this one was 34 - ouch!  My Great Prophet twiddled his thumbs for about twenty years before we gave the all-clear and built the next stage.

I had one more level that required a Great Prophet, and then I would need to build the final level.  But what was the tech for those levels?  I was astonished to see that unlike all the other altars, which were ordered along the religious branch of the tech tree, the final stage was located at the end of an entirely different - some might even say contradictory - branch, the religious one.  I'd need to research Sorcery, Pass through the Ether, and then Omniscience to build the next stage.  In other words, it would take forever!  I groaned.

In the meantime, I had more fun tasks to attend to.  After going an entire game without ever building training yards, archery ranges, stables, or any other military-related building, I finally designated one city as being my military home.  They constructed the Heroic Epic and some other national buildings, then built a Siege Workshop.  I had a few roll off the lines, then moved them down to the straits and ferried them across.  (I could have built galleons ages ago, but never bothered researching the appropriate techs - Kilmorph does not require fancy sea-going vessels for approval.)  They pounded down Acheron the Red Dragon's defenses from 75% down to 0%.  At long last, my 100-XP Bambur stood a 59% chance of winning.  I gulped, saved, and struck.  Success!  I love winning this fight - watching the mighty dragon crash to the ground is immensely satisfying.  The puny goblins in the dragon's shadow fell quickly to my axemen, and I rewarded a faithful Stonewarden with the chance to spread the faith and found a new Temple there.  At last, all the barbarian cities on the continent were under my colors.

Hooray, now I could focus my attention on... wait, what?  I WON?!

All the time that I had been thinking of Altar of Luonnotar  as being the religious victory, I had forgotten that FFH2 has an ACTUAL religious victory.  I thought that I'd just been spreading the Runes to boost my treasury and diplomacy, but it turns out it was also bringing me closer to victory.  Specifically, I needed to convert 80% of Erebus's population to my faith.  That size-13 barbarian city put me handily over the top.

Well, then!

Still in a slight state of shock, I watched the victory video.  As with the conquest victory, it was short, but pleasant, and well in keeping with the mood of the victory.  So, you know... hooray!  I was initially disappointed that I had messed up my Altar plan, but the more I think about it, the happier I am.  It would have taken forever to research the right techs, and it would have been a grind all the way - I was clearly dominant in the world, and just going through the motions until I won.

So, that's all good.  All in all this was a very satisfying game.  Malakim was pretty boring as a civ, but the game did teach/remind me how to properly run a Great Person engine, and I enjoyed experiencing more of the FFH2 features, especially the nifty lair rewards. 

No idea yet on what my next game will be.  I'm a little tempted to return to my inaugural setup, now more than two years old, and try playing as the Kuriorates.  Going for a cultural victory would be the no-brainer, but it might be challenging and fun to try for Tower of Mastery.  Challenging because with just three cities (even with honking huge radii) it seems impossible to secure the necessary mana nodes.  But Kael seems confident that this can be done through diplomacy or other means, so I'll give it a shot.

One final note: if there's anyone reading this who actually ENJOYS hearing about FFH2 games, then by all means cease reading this immediately and check out Shatner's phenomenal posts on the CivFanatics boards.  Hat tip to Andrew for the referral - Shatner writes wonderful, hilarious, in-character descriptions of this FFH2 games.  They're especially fun if you're familiar with the civs and characters he includes.

Keep on civving!  This will never get old!

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