Testing Report #3: Back to the Standard Game
After testing a couple of the conquests to start (I took a brief look at all of them, but only played out full games for the ones mentioned), I went back to the standard game for my third effort. The new versions we were getting at this time were starting to make large changes to the standard game, and I wanted to test them out, particularly the new civ traits. I decided to play a game as the Celts first to test their new agricultural trait and the lowered cost of the Gallic Swordsman. Side note: I played this game on a laptop while studying in Britain in July.
Scenario: Small Random Map
Civ Choice: Celts
Clock: 8 hours, 49 minutes
Settings: Small Map, 70% water pangea, arid and temperate climate, 5 billion age, 5 random AI opponents, sedentary barbarians
Other Rules: All standard victory conditions enabled, everything default except culturally linked starts turned off.
Result: Domination Victory in 480AD (Turn 163)
Summary of Events
I decided to play as the Celts for two reasons; first, to try out the Agricultural civ trait and see how it worked, and second to see what effect lowering the cost of the Gallic Swordsman would have on how strong the Celts were as a civ. I picked the arid setting to see how useful the ability to irrigate desert tiles into plains ones would be for the Celts as an agricultural civ. The rest of the conditions were set up to ensure a fairly short game, since I knew I wouldn't have too much time before the next patch (which, of course, was just released. I was a mite too slow!) I chose Emperor rather than Deity because I wanted to be in a dominant position where I could try more things, rather than scrambling to catch the AI civs and relatively helpless. Needless to say, it was a good plan, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men...
I started out in the desert, next to a river but surrounded pretty much exclusively by desert. This was a great place to try out the agricultural trait, so I saw no need to re-roll another map from the generator. I moved south one tile to get some grassland tiles into my capital's range and founded Entremont in 3950BC. It started by building one warrior to explore/defend and then went right onto a granary. I was running very much a low/no defense farmer's gambit to start, and the AI civs around me had numerous chances to wipe me out early which they did not take. With my high-food but low-shields start, I was very glad to see that granaries were half-price for my Celts; otherwise I would probably have had to forego one. Not sure if nerfing the half-price granary for agricultural civs was a good move, since I saw that as their best attribute of all. That one move turns the trait from highly desirable into second-tier, at best. Most testing will be needed to determine if it was a good move or not.
I met the Carthaginians to my south and the Dutch to my east very quickly, and exchanged some goods around with them. I found the Indians not much later to the north, revealing that I was boxed in on all sides with opponents. Well, looks like there's going to be some combat sooner rather than later! I got out my first settler in 2850BC - that's with the granary in place - and quickly got Entremont into a settler every four turns state. Discovering the Wheel in 2670BC revealed that I had horses in range (and the knowledge was traded around to get me caught up in technology). By 2310BC I had produced my fourth and last settler from Entremont, which then went onto worker production, pumping one every two turns until I had almost a dozen of them. My cities would have their tile improvements up and running ages before their AI equivalents. The only downside to this was the discovery that there was no iron anywhere close to my starting position - how am I going to test the Gallic? I would just have to conquer some.
I am the green civ in the picture above, you can see crammed into a tiny sardine can with the other eastern civs. Carthage is to the south, Netherlands the orange in the east, and India to the north. Sumeria (blue) and Byzantium (dark red) meanwhile have a huge amount of territory to split between them in the north and west. What a terrible job by the map generator once again! There's a good reason why I set up most of my games ahead of time in the Editor now...
Things got "interesting" in 1500BC when Carthage attacked out of the blue, taking one of my five cities and catching me totally off guard. I had been preparing to attack them, fair enough, but I needed more time to get ready! Hannibal forced my hand and initiated a long conflict. I nearly lost another one of my cities when a vet horseman failed to defeat a regular archer in a bout of bad luck, but on the next turn that same archer and a warrior failed to defeat my own defending warrior, saving the city. Ha - it's karma. :D I recaptured my lost city in 1250BC, and auto-razed the first Carthaginian one in 900BC. Since I had planned for this, I had a settler ready to replace it within two turns. Carthage itself was captured in 710BC, breaking the back of that civ. From there I mopped up a couple of other cities and made peace with Hannibal, leaving him with some one-city challenge action in the faraway north. That ends stage one of this game.
With Carthage eliminated from the picture for all intents and purposes, it was time to deal with the next foe. That meant taking care of the Dutch, who were pressing into my borders from the east and generally irritating me quite a bit. They also had the closest iron within range, without which I couldn't build any Gallics or knights (I was into the Middle Ages by now). I revolted to Republic, having gotten the tech for free from Carthage in the peace deal, and saw my production explode across the board. Yes, Republic is definitely the best government in the game for the vast majority of circumstances. :) Entremont, with its many floodplains tiles, hit 40 food/turn when I switched over (!) I declared war on the Netherlands in 170BC and hit two settler pairs in my territory on the first turn, adding to my growing collection of slave workers. Amsterdam was taken with ease by my horsemen in 90BC, having only two spears for defense (?), and giving me control of the Temple of Artemis. By 90AD, they were reduced to some OCC action on an offshore island. I took that last city in 190AD, but they survived due to having a settler alive somewhere - boo, another bad feature of the game, but I'll address that below. Made peace with the city-less civ in 190AD.
I had hand-built my Forbidden Palace in Alesia in 70AD, a location right next to my capital city, which greatly increased my overall productivity. (Let that be a lesson to readers; an early Forbidden Palace right next to the capital is frequently the strongest move you can make, and much better than a late FP far, far away.) I finally got my hands on iron conquered from the Dutch in 110AD and began upgrading my horses to knights - as well as building a couple of Gallics to trigger my golden age. Meanwhile, I was also rapidly closing on the tech Military Tradition by pumping all of the money I could into researching the bottom half of the tech tree. Yeouch - I think you can see where this is going. Rather than let the game drag on, I quickly declared war on India in 230AD, tripping my golden age the following turn. Five turns later their whole core had fallen to my knights who were continuing to advance northward. With the Temple of Artemis giving me free cultural expansions, and the AI civs putting up some incredibly weak defense, I was unstoppable. Cathage's final city got in my way in 330AD, so I detroyed it and finished them off for good; they became the first civ to be eliminated.
Military Tradition was discovered in 360AD (ruh roh!), all research was turned off forever and all money went into rushing units close to the front. There's no need to elaborate on the slaughter that followed; the AI cities were defended mostly by pikes but also by a lot of spears. Cavalry sliced through them like a hot knife through butter, and my free temples ensured rapid border expansions. Byzantium, Sumeria, and what was left of India and the Netherlands were ripped to shreds and left with a couple of cities when I hit domination. Only the Dutch were also killed, but in just one more turn I would have finished off Sumeria and Byzantium. The game was just about the most crushing victory I've ever won, and resulted in the massive 9000+ score that you see at the top.
So what happened? That's the question I've been asking myself since I finished, and indeed while I was still playing. I played a good solid game, but nothing so different from what I've done in the past, and never have I had such an early military victory as this. Yes, it was a small map pangea, but still - this was Emperor, and I didn't even have any iron for 90% of the game! Something is fishy here, and I've got a number of theories as to what was wrong.
The first problem was that the AI simply played the most stupid game I've ever seen in my days of Civ3. WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?! Their worker management was atrocious, just horrifically bad. India in 100AD had a core of six cities - and even at that date, the top three were still unconnected to the bottom three. I mean, what were the workers doing all that time? The territory of the AI civs was virtually bare of tile improvements, drastically cutting their commercial and production power. Against a player who focused from a very early stage on producing workers and improving cities, they never stood a chance. Suggested Fix: Well, do something about the worker automation! The old coding from PTW was a LOT better than what I saw in this game. I think that the designers are aware of this problem though, since I saw a line in the 0.30a patch description that talked about fixing worker automation with regards to mining. I'll be playing another game to test if the problem has indeed been fixed by this; if not, there's a serious problem and this game is playing way, way too easy.
On to the next problem with AI stupidity, and it concerns wonders. I like the three new ancient age wonders; they don't seem unbalancing in any way when considered individually and they add more spice to the game. Their addition would seem to be a good fix. But the problem when taken as a whole is that now the game contains TOO MANY WONDERS and the AI programming is not equipped to handle this. There are no fewer than ten wonders now in the ancient age, which means that at any point in time there are likely to be at least five (if not more) in production. The AI civs are still programmed to go after all of the wonders rabidly, if only to deny them to the human player, and this presents a serious problem. At least from what I saw in this game, the AI is locking all of its top cities on wonders and greatly hampering the growth curve of its civilization. This only compounded the problem of worker automation that I just mentioned, so that without tile improvements it would take longer to build wonders, which would delay the building of more workers, which would delay further wonders... A human who just ignores wonders and captures them from the AI can get far, far ahead of the game altogether at the moment, like I did with the Dutch and the Temple of Artemis. I know that this was already a problem existing in Civ3, but now it is much worse. The only time I saw comparable problems with wonder-building was on a tiny map in my Epic 22 game, in which the English had four cities and two of them were stuck on wonders, destroying their expansion as a civ. Right now, any time a city gets above a couple shields/turn, the AI sticks it on one of the many wonders. This is very bad, as they neglect city improvements and city defenders compeltely! Oh, and you can forget about the wonder cascade being broken anytime soon now; it will continue pretty much right through the whole ancient and middle ages. I don't think that's a good idea, as it makes it even harder for the player to get wonders without rushing them with a leader.
Suggested Fix: The obvious solution to the problem is to make the AI civs better at building wonders, so that they DO continue to develop their civ and don't end up with all their cities on wonder buildings. But it's easy to say "make the AI better", much harder to do that in practice. Whether it can be done at all within the scope of this project is open to doubt. So here's the other solution which I know you definitely don't want to hear: if the AI civs can't figure out how to build wonders intelligently, then some of them need to be ELIMINATED from the ancient age. If the AI can't handle building them, then the player gets too massive of an advantage and can conquer them relatively easily. One option would be to have the game randomly select 7 of the 10 wonders at the start of the game and only have those ancient age wonders in play, possibly with certain wonders (like the Pyramids) always an option in all games. It wouldn't be a popular solution but it could work.
Do I think this will happen? Of course not. ;) The new wonders are one of the big selling points of the game, and therefore are not going to be disappearing anytime soon. But if you can't correct the problems with the AI, it will contribute to a "dumbing-down" of the game which makes the game much easier for the player. I've already been observing that in some of my games of late, as Emperor feels easier than it used to. And this isn't the only area in which the game seems to have been made easier.
Another serious issue is the prevalence of the new luxury resources. Instead of eight, there are now eleven on the map which can make your citizens happy. I'm kind of shocked that no one designing the game apparently didn't see that this would cause problems; I mean, wasn't it obvious that increasing the number of luxuries on the map by 37.5% was going to have a pretty serious impact? Well, regardless of what Break Away may have been thinking at the time, the result is that it is far too easy to keep your people happy now with so many luxuries on the map. The negative effects of a representative government - lack of military police, war weariness - simply disappear with all those happy faces from bananas, tobacco, and salt. I was able to run 0% luxury tax the whole time I was in a Republic with all of the luxuries I had, and when I investigated some AI capitals, I found that they all had 8 luxuries in them. This is a very bad move strategically; it not only all but eliminates the issue of managing happiness in your cities, it also makes each luxury resource less valuable. Why fight for those gems when you're already got six other luxuries, you know? I remember when luxuries were really highly priced, like in 1.21f Deity games. Getting a luxury resource could literally make or break your trading game then. Moving towards omnipresent luxuries is a very poor idea, dumbing down the strategic elements of this game and doing much to decrease the trading aspect. No need to trade when you have so many luxuries yourself! Suggested Fix: Very simple here, just have the game randomly select 8 of the 11 luxuries at the beginning of each game and only place those on the map. This is so straightforward that I'm kind of shocked it isn't already in practice, and wasn't coded in with the 0.30a patch. Um, you guys DO realize that your new luxuries have broken the game's happiness model, right? Right? :)
Now onto what was my least-favorite change of all to the game, and that is the addition of plague. This is, without a doubt, the WORST option to be included in random map games of all. Let's look at this objectively, shall we? Plague strikes completely randomly, and you can do nothing to prevent it. Once it strikes, you can do nothing to stop it until it ends - equally randomly. It can reduce population in cities or kill military units - also randomly. It can spread to other cities, or it might not - also randomly, within a very small limit of control. And when it does disappear, there's nothing to say that it won't come back, also determined by a random dice roll. When you consider that the plague can kill military units crucial to the defense of a city when it is under attack, the sheer ludicrousness of this becomes even better highlighted. It's like an incredibly evil ploy used by an unseen puppet-master:
Player: I'll whip a spearman to defend my city from that German archer.
Computer: Oh, I'm sorry, your spear was killed by plague. You lose the city.
I guarantee that plague will cause large numbers of complaints from players if it is not removed from the game. The fact that it's so utterly random means that you're introducing huge swings of luck into the game, caused only by tosses of the dice (and here when we're finally toning down the bonuses from randomly-generated great leaders!) But at least leaders in their current form, even with all their faults meet the "fun" test; getting a leader is pretty cool and it makes the game more enjoyable. Plague never makes the game more fun; it destroys what you build and wrecks your thought-out plans. It's one of those things that rapidly goes from "wow, cool!" the first time you see it, to "this is kind of irritating" the second time you see it, to "I hate this frigging thing" by the third or fourth iteration. Plague makes good sense in the Middle Ages scenario to similuate the Black Death. But it has no place in random map games where its occurance is simply random. I keep asking myself over and over again, why is plague in this game?! And what can I do to get rid of it? Suggested Fix: Here's an easy one. GET RID OF PLAGUE IN RANDOM MAP GAMES! Out, out, out, damned spot! It does not make the game more interesting or fun in any way, all it does is introduce an unneeded and unwanted randomness into what is otherwise a good game. It was getting to the point where I did not want to finish playing, due to the ridiculousness of the plague all over my cities. If you are not going to get rid of plague, then PLEASE give us a switch to turn it off on the setup screen. To be blunt, plague pisses me off and I don't want to deal with it, ok? Limiting its duration (as in the latest patch) is not the answer. Making it occur less often is not the answer. I want it GONE and I think there are a fair number of others who feel the same way. Got that? :)
Onto the less heated issue of upgrade costs. My experience in this game was that the 30 gold/shield level was appropriate and well balanced. I could still upgrade my horsemen to knights, but only at a pricey 120g. This seemed fair to me and should greatly discourage the cheap mass upgrade strategy which is now dominating lots of Emperor/Deity games. But it's just as obvious that a lot of players are unhappy about this move, and the AI civs are just not handling it well. I ran into lots of spears in this game which had not been upgraded, and naturally they were little more than target practice for my knights and cavalry. Fortunately, there appears to be a pretty straightforward solution to this issue which can be solved with only a minimum of new coding. Suggested Fix: As others have also touted, upgrade costs need to be linked to difficulty level. Chieftan - Monarch should keep the old 20 gold/shield level while the Emperor/Demigod/Deity/Sid difficulties take the 30 gold/shield pricetage. Since the AI would be set as default to Regent level upgrade costs, they would be back to their old upgrading habits. This would appear to be a good fix which closes out the high-level mass upgrades from the low-level more legitimate uses where players are still learning the game. Sid difficulty could take something even more extreme, like 40 or 50 gold/shield to make it harder to win if desired. I would very highly recommend making this change as soon as possible, which would seem to be a good compromise to keep everyone happy and also solve some of problems the AI is experiencing.
A couple of final things that have been around for a while in Civ3 but that I would like to see changed. The first is the "settler on a boat" phenomenon, whereby civs are not destroyed even if you take all of their cities so long as they have one settler remaining alive. While it might be poetic to think of the survivors of a vanished civ staying alive somewhere in the wilderness, in terms of gameplay it is extremely irritating to have eliminated every city of another civ and for them still to be alive. War weariness in particular continues to be in effect even though you have destroyed all of the target civ's cities. I have seen AI civs live on for hundreds of turns after their last city was destroyed. The end result of all this is that the phenomenon is simply irritating. Suggested Fix: When a civ has no cities left, they are desroyed. That's it. I don't know why this isn't already the case; while there might be some issues with the way the game starts (you begin with a settler and no cities), this wouldn't appear to be an insumountable programming problem. Unlike that this will be addressed, but it would be nice if it was.
The other is the reputation and trading issue. Currently, if you have a trade deal going with another civ and that route is broken - for any reason - you take a big reputation hit. This makes good sense if the player breaks the trade route (obviously you should be penalized if you trade 100 gold per turn for three techs and then immediately declare war to break the deal), but often the route can be broken through no fault of the player. For example, I can be trading iron to England only to see China declare war on England and pillage every tile around London, thereby destroying the trade route and my reputation - even though I have done nothing wrong. Even worse is when you are trading a resource to a civ which is destroyed; apparently being killed "breaks" a trade route and sullies your name. This has happened to me quite a few times in the past, the absolute worst being when I traded the Aztecs iron, only to see them attacked by three other civs and destroyed before the twenty turns was up. When I entered into the deal, all of the civs were at peace, yet the death of the Aztecs destroyed my reputation for the game. How the fault here can possibly be ascribed to the player is difficult to see. It is an error in the reputation algorithm that I would really like to see corrected. Again, I don't know whether this is a high priority or not, but it really would be a good idea to fix it.
- I got a zero-turn anarchy from being a religious civ when converting to a republic. My civ never went into anarchy, just went straight from despotism to republic. This has to be a bug.
- The Middle Age Gilgamesh (Sumeria) face continues to swap back and forth between two different palettes very rapidly. It's strange and somewhat disturbing to watch. Hopefully this will be fixed when the leaderheads are finished.
- Plague is striking cities in random map games, which it should not be doing. ;)
- The salt luxury uses the spices icon on the city display window. For that matter, I hope that the current artwork for the new luxuries is temporary because it's not very attractive. Salt in particular looks way too much like saltpeter.
There's no real sense of accomplishment in beating up on braindead children. I hope that the AI has been improved in the next patch, because this game played much, much easier than a typical PTW Emperor game. At this rate, the new difficulty levels will be needed just to keep things as challenging as they are in PTW!
And get rid of the plague! PLEASE.
Impact and Later Changes
BreakAway admitted that they had messed around with the AI in this version of the beta, and made some mistakes. I was one of the first ones to call them on it, and left them with egg on their face. Eventually they got their people working on it, and managed to fix the AI worker automation back to the level it was in Play the World. The AI still has problems managing the extra wonders available in the ancient age; the best way to remedy this is to play standard-sized or larger maps where the AI short-sightedness with wonder building is not as big of an issue. The luxury problem was fixed by turning all the new resources (sugar, bananas, tobacco, etc.) into bonus resources which do not affect happiness. Plague remains in random map games, although it has been toned down to the point where it is only a minor irritance - proof positive that the designers agreed with me and are only leaving it in as eye candy. Upgrade costs are 30 gold/shield for all difficulties; my suggestion was too difficult to program, apparently. No changes were made to the settler on a boat or broken reputation issues, which required changes to the AI engine which were outside the scope of the expansion.