GOTM5: My Favorite Game

For this report, I want to go back a long way into the past. Way back to Game of the Month 5, played during the month of March 2002. You may wonder why I am writing up a description of that game now, almost a year later, but the story of that game needs to be told before I am finished with Civ3. It remains my favorite game of all time, the result of which I still hold as one of my proudest achievements in this game. I don't expect hardly anyone to read this, but that's fine with me. I'm writing this for my own sake, not for anyone else. I've meant to write up this game forever, but now it's finally time for this story to shine.

First, a couple of background things to say about this game. It was played in March 2002, when the 1.17f patch had just been released and Civ3 was literally a different game. That patch was infamous for two things: ultra-cheap tech costs (when buying in at last-civ prices) and the ganging up of the AI civs versus the player at a sign of weakness. If you could survive your way to the Industrial Age, there was virtually no way to lose, but the AI civs could sometimes be just brutal in the early stages of the game.

GOTM5 was the first competition game I ever played, at a time when I was just starting to meet up with the other folks from Realms Beyond. Actually, at this time I was lurking in awe at their exploits in the CivFanatics succession games forum and hoping that one day I could become as good. Ha! I think I've been partly successful in that regard. :) At the time, I had only owned this game for about a month and a half. I had played five full games, one on Chieftan and Warlord, and three on Regent; all of them were wins, but I was far from experienced at the game. This game was also the first I played under the new patch - and it would be my first-ever Monarch game as well.

As I just stated, GOTM5 was a Monarch game. That sounds pretty tame now, but at the time the enormous literature that has since been built up about the game did not exist. A lot of the stuff that the programmers have since revealed about culture flipping, corruption, and so on was still in the dark at that point. No one was even sure exactly what the Commercial trait did at this point! The proven strategy at the time was that of endless whipping in a despotic rush, and the new patches were starting to close that out. Monarch was a serious challenge at this time, especially for a relative greenhorn like me. As for the game itself... well, sometimes pictures speak louder than words. Here's the starting position:

That's not one of my screenshots, as you can tell from the cropping job done on it. So this start isn't great, but it's not too bad. There's fresh water, two incense luxuries, some hills and grasslands; it looks pretty decent.

Appearances can be deceiving.

The GOTM5 starting position was one of the worst ones I've ever had to deal with. Everything aside from what you can see in that picture was nothing short of atrocious. This was Thunderfall's comment on the game, written before he played the game (and proving quite prophetic): "Another month... another game. This month's game is the first Civ3 GOTM created by Matrix. If the map turns out to be very difficult or ugly, blame Matrix!" Well, it wasn't the fault of Matrix, but rather of the map generator. Still I can't really say this was entirely unexpected, with the settings on Arid, Cold, and Rough terrain. I should also mention that the player in this game was the Americans, and it was a small map. Here is what the starting position REALLY looked like, in a picture taken after the game was finished:

The blue dot is the American starting position, and in the top left corner the pinkish dot shows the French starting position (Paris). As you can see, there is NO good land except for a few tiles around the starting position. Nothing but hills and tundra, and the French block the path to the only good territory within reach. Ouch, this could get ugly. Here's a larger picture, showing the combined lands of America and France, and the territory with which I would be working for about 90% of the game:

This picture has been lost.

By the way, this island doesn't end in the west, but continues on to where the Russians would start. I would be sharing my continent with France and Russia for much of the game. Aside from that one stretch of grasslands around Paris, there are simply NO high-food tiles anywhere on this continent. Thank goodness for the freshwater sources; without them, this game would have been extremely difficult. As it was, it was only "very" difficult. I would have some trouble with this start today; imagine what I went through back at that time, still very inexperienced and used to playing on Regent or lower! Uggh! It was not pretty. I'll now get onto the meat of the report: what actually happened in the game. I've posted these pictures of the starting terrain because naturally I have no pictures to show from the game itself. Everything else is mostly going to come from the post-game replay.

I started by founding on the beginning tile and building some warriors to look around. I did not build scouts, not understanding at the time that scouts are the keystone to the Expansionist trait. Oops, heh. By about 3000BC, I've scouted out the area and realized that this starting position is simply awful. I've also found the French and realized that I have to get control of their territory in order to have any shot at winning. Noticing that France only has one warrior in their capital and I have two warriors, I treacherously attacked Joan in about 3000BC, capturing her worker and advancing on Paris. And then, in the biggest moment of the early game, my two regular warriors both failed to kill the regular warrior in Paris. The odds of me winning that battle are about 65%, but it did not happen. And all of a sudden, I have no military and I'm still at war with France. Uh-oh. This was the first and last warrior rush I ever tried; such a strategy might be good at lower difficulties, but it simply won't work at the higher ones. If you're going to attack early, at least take archers!

I now was at war and lacked any military units. I had already built a second city, New York, on the desert tile to the southeast of Washington, but it was a fishing village that could contribute little to my civ. My next two builds were thus archers in Washington - and wouldn't you know it, they were both killed by barbarians before they could reach Paris. Ouch, ouch, ouch! I'm getting further and further behind now, still no military, and still at war. And here comes a French warrior, ready to walk into my UNDEFENDED capital (!!!) This was the ultimate low point of the game: far behind all of the other civs, no military, at war, and I have to whip a spear in Washington just to avoid losing the game. My spear fotunately won the battle (he could have lost and that would have been it!) and I was now ready to sue for peace with France. What a disaster! France was crippled from losing its worker, and I was set far behind the development of the other civs. All this would go to Russia's advantage, though I didn't know it at the time.

I pulled myself together and started to rebuild as best I could. I considered quitting the game multiple times at this point, but resolved that I would play it out to the finish. If I was going to lose this game, the other civs were going to have to put me out of it themselves! I started settling my way up the rough terrain to the west, grabbing a site that had horses on the coast as my third city. I discovered Iron Working around 1000BC, and was thus able to see the iron resource that you can see above just to my west. But before I could get a settler there, the French took the site for themselves! This could not stand, so I settled in an overlapping position with France and declared war on them myself in about 850BC. I captured and auto-razed their iron city in 800BC, and then started moving on Paris. That brings us to the time of my first replay pics, showing the starting positions and then the world in 750BC:

So I was now able to secure the iron location from France, which all but guaranteed my eventual success against them, and moved on Paris. An attempt on the city in about 600BC fell just the smallest bit short of taking it, and I was unable to capture the capital. I snipped off several other French cities though, and was able to get south of them to settle two locations in the desert, putting a barrier between France and Russia. I made peace for another city, and France was now left with just 3 cities, clearly finished as a serious threat to me. I continued rebuilding, and was feeling pretty good about the game by the time that the turns rolled around to the AD years. Here's a picture of how things stood at that time:

This picture has been lost.

France and America are clearly the smaller fry of the planet; Russia is the toughest one on the block and the other three - Japan, Greece, and Egypt - are fighting for second place. Cathy had certainly benefited from my fight against France, that's for sure. I was behind in tech and no one liked me (I didn't know why at the time, but it was because I had attacked France while declaring war in their territory). But still things were looking up. I decided that it was time to remove France from the map and finally secure a somewhat decent amount of territory, so I declared war again around 110AD and went after Paris. Finally, on the third attempt, that city fell to me in 150AD! Woohoo! I was VERY happy to get that one. With Paris gone, the other French cities didn't stand much of a chance and my swords went through them pretty rapidly. The French were killed off in 420AD, and here's the picture from the next turn:

This picture has been lost.

But there was one problem: before I had finished off France, Cathy had come calling with a demand for tribute. Not wanting to fighting Russia, I caved in. But Cathy didn't care, and she declared war on the next turn anyway! With most of my army up in the northern part of the continent, this was a serious situation. And here comes the Russian army, lots and lots of spears, archers, and swords. To face them in my desert city (you can see it on the 430AD picture; it's the southwestern one I have) I have maybe one or two spears. And if Russia breaks my lines there in the desert, they can march right up into Paris, which is all but undefended as well. I was NOT going to give up that easily; I moved all of the units I had as fast as they could go down to the desert and prepared for the struggle. I whipped walls and barracks in that town - a decision which may have saved my game. And it held. It was close, oh so close, several times the defenders being reduced to their last hit point, but the city held. Come on Cathy, do your worst!

And Cathy DID do her worst, signing first Japan, and then Greece to an alliance against me. Yikes! Now I didn't understand why at the time, but now I know why everyone was jumping in against me: I had left cities undefended in order to defend my desert town of Atlanta, and an undefended city is like dangling a lure in front of the AI civs saying, "Oh please! Sneak attack me, please!" As I said, I didn't know this at the time though, and I would have done it again to save Atlanta from fall. If that city had gone, it would have been like a dam bursting and letting the Russian flood into my flimsy territory.

Now I had settled a city over on the Greek continent in order to claim silks that they had left outside their cultural border; you can see it on the left side of the minimap above. At the time I didn't know that that would irritate the Greeks by settling so aggressively - but then again, at that time NO ONE knew that agressive settling was irritating to the AI civs. When the Greeks declared war on me, that colony came under immediate attack. It had two spears, and I quickly rushed a barracks there for defense. Within a couple of turns, both spears were elite. They were seeing nothing worse than archers, but they were seeing a lot of them. It quickly became clear that I could not hold the colony. At the same time, I'm getting literally pounded out in the west against Russia, the road to Atlanta has been pillaged, and the city is teetering on the brink of falling literally every turn. If the Japanese or Greeks were to land units next to Washington, I could not stop them from walking into my undefended capital. My game was once again at a nadir, and defeat seemed inevitable. I again considered giving it up.

But then a ray of light broke through the stormy clouds surrounding my civ: over on the Greek mainland, one of the attacks on my elite spears resulted in a defensive great leader, General Washington! This was the break I needed so badly; here comes the father of America to deliver my nation in its darkest hour. That is, IF I can get him back to my continent. My city over there was size 1, so I could not whip a galley and had to whip one in nearby New York, my second city just across the bay. In between turns though, one of the two spears I had there was killed, and the other was redlined down to 2hp! I HAVE to get my leader out of there before the city falls! Washington jumped onto the waiting galley exactly ONE turn before the city is captured by Greece in a large stack of archers. But Washington's journey isn't over yet; it would take a turn of transit to get him back to my mainland, and in the turn that my galley was exposed it was attacked by a Japanese galley, surviving with ONE hit point left. I swear, I couldn't make up a story better than the way this played out! Washington debarked in New York and headed inland to safe ground, his heroic journey over. He constructed a great Forbidden Palace in Paris, and all of a sudden my civ went from one productive city to about a half-dozen of them. I had lost my overseas silk colony, but what a tale I had to tell about it! I could write a whole story about just that series of events, a la Epic21 style, and maybe I will if I ever get the time.

Encouraged by the successful return of my leader, I now turned to the diplomatic front to solve my problems. Facing imminent capture of Atlanta as a SOD of about a half dozen swords was about to attack and surely kill the handful of forces there, I finally saw that I was able to talk to Cathy. She wanted a runinous peace treaty, all my gold and 10gpt, but it was one which I happily signed. And after all that fighting, facing attack almost every turn, Atlanta had held. Russia took NO cities from me; gold can always be replaced, but cities cannot. In a matter of turns, both Japan and Greece were willing to sign peace as well for more gold, which again I was happy to pay. I was still in the ancient age, woefully behind on infrastructure, in possession of a battered and bruised civ. But I was still alive, dammit, and I had taken the best punch from the AI civs to put me out of it. From this point on, it would be all downhill for them.

I spent the next few dozen turns repairing and building up my tattered civ, working on things that had been badly neglected for a long, long time. How bad was it? My capital city of Washington did not get a temple until 600AD! It had been building military almost continuously before that just so I could survive. As usual, the Forbidden Palace in Paris made all the difference in the world, allowing me to get good production from my entire territory. My industrious workers helped out a lot, and as more and more city improvements went up in my previously bare cities I began to close the formerly huge gap with the other civs. I revolted to a Republic sometime in this period and entered the Middle Ages. I attacked Russia with knights during the period 800-1000AD and captured a few cities from them, most notably gaining control of the gems to the south of Paris, but was unable to penetrate into their core where muskets were the defenders. Note that I had gone from ancient age in 500AD to knights in 800AD despite being the last civ in just about every category; like I said, 1.17f Civ3 had very inexpensive tech prices when buying in at the last price. This was one of the first games where I bought tech instead of researching myself; I discovered this in the beginning of the Middle Ages and used it to catch up throughout that period. Here was the world situation in 1250AD, about the time the world was in the late Middle Ages and I was rapidly closing the gap with the rest of the other civs.

This picture has been lost.

Now that I have overcome the horrible start and finally equalled the other civs in land area, I was starting to pull even with them. In that sense, this was playing out like what I would see now in a Deity game; terribly behind to start but the longer the game goes, the easier it tends to get. Starting in about 1350AD, the AI civs all ganged up on Japan. Tokugawa had started a war with Alex, and when he started losing the other civs jumped into the fray in a rapid feeding frenzy. With Japan just across the coast from my capital, this was an opportunity I could not miss. Thus the great "Japanese Poaching Expedition" began! After the AI civs had done all the hard work and were fighting the Japanese roughly where the old Greece/Japan border had been in the east, I jumped into the war in the west and used my cavalry to grab a number of Japanese towns there, including the capital of Kyoto. The Greeks foolishly razed a number of Japanese cities too, and I replaced them quickly with my own. By about 1550AD it was all over, and the spoils of Japan had been split between myself and Russia. The Industrial Age was now upon me, and I devoted my civ to out-producing all the other AI civs to hit them with tanks later. Here was the world in 1700AD, in the post-Japan situation:

This picture has been lost.

I got into a minor colonial war with Egypt at this time, a city or two changed hands, but it was not really important enough to speak of. The 18th century was enormously profitably for me, as I used my rails and factories to simply blow away all of the AI civs and leave them in the dust. I took up researching once again, built Theory of Evolution, and put myself firmly on the road to tanks. I did NOT get Hoover, since there were no rivers anywhere in my territory, heh. I was able to get to tanks first and then the great Russian crusade began in 1800AD. I paid back Catherine for two thousand years of bullying and threatening in a blitz campaign that saw Russia wiped off the map before 1850AD. I could only think back at this point to how close Russia had come to ending my game entirely in the Ancient Age. I can't really convey that in this picture-less report but trust me: this game was truly balanced on the edge of a knife at certain points, probably the closest I've ever coming to losing only to rebound and pull out a win. Well in any case, here was the map after attacking and destroying Russia:

This picture has been lost.

Of course since this was the GOTM and that competition is ranked entirely by score (somewhat foolishly in my opinion, but that's a different story), I wasn't about to stop here and now immediately moved on the remaining AI civs. Egypt was the first one to go, as Cleo had an enormous amount of culture and I was seriously worried that she would win a cultural victory if left alone much longer. I was already up to Modern Armor by this point and the other civs were not even close to mechanized infantry. It was a slaughter, naturally, with transport ships and a rushed airport ferrying in all the reinforcements I would ever need to Egypt. I razed almost all of the cities due to the immense culture of Egypt, and replaced some of them with my own. Not all though, since I didn't want to win by domination; at this time I was still playing for score in my games and did not want to trigger an early victory. I did not kill Cleo, deciding to leave her alive as my one opponent, but she was definitely finished in 1896AD when I signed peace with her. By 1900AD, it only remained to deal with Alex and the Greeks.

This picture has been lost.

The war with Greece is interesting, because it constituted the one and only Right of Passage (ROP) rape that I ever executed in any game. So many people were doing this in the GOTM competition - including just about all of the best players - that it seemed this was the only way to place highly in its ranking. I lined up some 50 modern armor in the heart of Greece and declared war, razing 4 of their core cities - including their capital - on the first turn of war. And it was so horrifying effective, the AI so completely unable to respond to it, that I resolved I would never do it again. I felt like I was cheating at the time; it was like tarnishing the end of an otherwise spotless game. Never again would I do such a thing, and I have kept to that belief all through my games since. The fact that the GOTM even now, 11 months later, STILL does not recognize this as exploitative... well, I think it speaks for itself. I don't plan on playing any of those games again; simply too much of a contrast between my philosophy towards the game and that of the GOTM competition. Cracker is doing wonderful things there and really improving it, but the underlying philosophy is still one of "high score rules all". And if I followed that belief, I would have tired of this game long ago. Here was the map from 1950AD, after the world had been conquered.

At this point, I just sat around and let my score build up in standard GOTM practice. It was boring and I didn't like it, another reason why I eventually would become tired of the GOTM. Eventually, I won in 2016AD when a cultural border expanded and pushed me over the domination limit; other GOTM players informed me afterwards that I should have used MapStat or sold off my cultural buildings to prevent that from happening. I ended up with a score of 2903 points, good enough for 28th place out of 88 submissions (more people of course played, lost, and did not submit their results). The results from this game can be found here, and if you have some time, you might be interested to read the commentary of the participants (myself included) in the spoiler thread at this location.

In retrospect, this game does not appear to be that remarkable. A win on Monarch, yeah, so what's the big deal? The point is that this was my first win ever on that difficulty, coming under some truly difficult conditions. It was the first game I ever seriously played from behind in, and when I finally won out it was a truly great feeling. After this game, I just KNEW that I could handle anything that Monarch could throw at me, just as after winning the Deity GOTM7 I was no longer afraid to play any game on any difficulty. It was a liberating feeling, to be honest. The resiliency I learned here would see me through the dark days of many Deity games in the future, and the lessons I learned made me a much better player. Here were the five points I typed up in the spoilers thread upon completing the game, as true now as they were when I wrote them:

Lessons from Game:
1) If the starting position sucks, build in the ICS style and manage the few good tiles. My pseudo approach to this helped considerably more than I though it would.
2) If you're weak, buy tech! I was buying tech for most of the game since there was no way I could research it faster than the AI. Try to build Theory of Evolution to get ahead.
3) If a war is going poorly, don't hesitate to sign a gpt treaty to end it. Russia could have crushed me at one time in this game but they were content with a painful gpt treaty. I wonder what they were thinking when my tanks rolled over the border 2000 years later.
4) Take advantage of the AI feeding frenzy if you get an opportunity, like I did against Japan. The computer is bad at capturing cities, so you can sneak in with small forces and make big gains.
5) Don't give up if your start sucks! It can be overcome with some luck and a lot of good planning.

I'm amazed looking back in retrospect just how insightful those points are; every single one is dead-on true for this game, and could go as a motto of how to play and win against the Deity AI civs. Not bad analysis for someone playing their 6th game of Civ3! Never give up, no matter the odds: that's the real lesson from this game. Even the worse situations can frequently be overcome with patience, good planning, and the right dose of luck. I conclude with a shot of my civ on the final turn of the game; I hope you enjoyed this "blast from the past" report. :)

Domination Victory
2903 points