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A Cold Doctrine: Religious Russia

Peter of Russia
Small map, Continents, 5 AI Opponents
Emperor difficulty
First Patch (

YouTube Video Playlist (12 videos)

I decided to try my hand at another religious game. I hadn't really known what I was doing in my Spreading the Faith game, and I thought that I could increase the challenge level by bumping up the difficulty level to Emperor, as well as using the default number of AI civs instead of removing one. For my civ choice, I would go with Peter of Russia. He gets a huge benefit in the form of the Lavra, a unique Holy Site district that produces additional Great Writer, Great Artist, and Great Musician points. This ability makes Peter one of the better choices for a cultural victory, since both the Lavras and the Theatre districts will be adding points towards recruiting those key Great People. However, the Lavra also makes Peter useful for a religious victory attempt, as the Lavra (like all unique districts) has half the normal district cost and doesn't count towards the district population requirements. It is effectively "free" to put down at every city, which means more faith and more opportunities to construct the faith-producing buildings. The unique districts are by far the best civilization-specific advantage in Civ6, better than unique units or unique buildings, and much better than the sadly underpowered unique tile improvements. The civs that have them (France, Spain, etc.) tend to be some of the weakest in the game in its current state.

Russia also has an interesting ability that causes tundra tiles to produce +1 production and +1 faith. This helps offset the fact that Russia has a tundra start bias in Civ6, which often causes them to start in some rather marginal parts of the map. Tundra tiles naturally produce 1 food and no production, and they cannot be farmed to add more food. Russia's ability turns them into 1/1 tiles, effectively making them plains tiles that can't be farmed. That's enough to make them pretty useful for production purposes, and the +1 faith is an added bonus. Russia typically doesn't need to run the God King policy to found a pantheon, as faith comes straight from the map itself. Russian cities also claim additional tiles when founded (in a redux of the Shoshone ability from Civ5) which is quite nice given how slowly borders expand in this game. You can be much more aggressive about claiming territory in disputed areas, or settling further away from desired resource tiles without needing to purchase them. Finally, Russia also has the Cossack for a unique unit, which is supposed to be very strong from what I hear about Civ6 Multiplayer. I haven't seen it in action yet myself, but the ability to move after attacking sounds pretty useful from a tactical standpoint.

For the map, I wanted to go with something to fit the Russian theme. Give me a harsh, nasty map where everyone has to struggle just to survive. I chose the "Cold" climate and "Sparse" resources for this one, along with otherwise default options. Then I rolled a map and found this for a starting position:

Ummm... mission accomplished, map generator? Be careful what you wish for! This was the worst starting position that I had yet seen from Civ6 by an order of magnitude. The start tile had a crummy 2/0/1 fish tile as the only location within a hundred miles with more than 1 food. Then there was a deer tile in the tundra with 1/1 yield, and a pair of 1/1 silks that would also produce 1 culture if worked. Making matters worse, this was a coastal start with no fresh water, which would cause me to hit the growth penalty from the housing cap at size 3! As a final insult, the tundra tiles were almost entirely flatground with no hills, ruling out the possibility of mining them. This was truly bleak.

The only potential good news was that river off to the west that my warrior had spotted after moving. It would provide fresh water, and with Russia's unique ability a city planted over there would claim additional tiles when it was founded. If there was some kind of resource up in the northern fog, this dreadful starting position might be salvaged. I decided to take the two turns to move onto the river, and founded my capital on Turn 3:

This was a little better, I guess? Not by much though. I found myself with a capital that had exactly zero resources in its immediate vicinity, and a 1/3 plains deer tile as the only resource within three tiles in any direction. Yikes. Sparse resources indeed! To make matters worse, my move still hadn't found any grassland tiles for the capital. There are exactly zero tiles here that produce 2 food. So not only did I lack any bonus resources, this city will be unable to grow any further when it hits size 2! I was working the 1/2 tundra hill tile with the +1 faith bonus as the best tile available. Very sad. This might be the single worst capital location that I've ever played in any of the Civilization games, and I've played some true dud starts over the years.

As if that wasn't enough, note that I've already met the Vikings here on Turn 5. That's their second Emperor starting settler, which means that their capital must be less than 10 tiles away. Great, just great. I had atrocious lands AND I was going to be stuffed into a sardine can with one of Civ6's more aggressive leaders. My scout has also found a barbarian camp that's already spawned back near the original starting location, which means that I'll have barbarians incoming from the tundra south as well. Not something that I needed...

I was opening with a slinger unit while researching Mining tech. There wasn't a lot I could do in terms of improving tiles here; at least I could mine some hills for slightly higher production. That slinger build proved to be a good choice as Harald declared war on Turn 10:

Now I'm being warrior-rushed by the AI with its free starting units while the barbarians moved in from the other direction. Could this opening stack the deck any harder against me? I should have run away screaming bloody murder from this thoroughly ridiculous scenario that the map threw out. Instead, I buckled down and prepared to defend what was mine. It was a sad, frozen husk of a capital city, but it was *MY* sad, frozen husk of a capital. Fortunately warriors do not make very good attackers, and cities can defend themselves to some extent in Civ6. My slinger dug in on the capital tile and was able to get in free shots against Harald's units while I trained a second slinger. The starting warrior fortified on the tile southeast of the city and kept the barbarians at bay for the moment, healing 15 HP every turn while standing in place, and Harald took some damage when his warriors attacked St. Petersburg itself. He never came close to taking the city (failing to drop the healthbar into the yellow region), and I was able to clean up his warriors after about five turns with repeated attacks from my slingers. The immediate crisis was averted, and Harald even agreed to give me a substantial sum in peace reparations:

This was not how my religious game was supposed to go!

With peace in hand, I could get down to the subject of building something out of this miserable start. After the second slinger, I trained my first builder out of the capital, who would end up mining one of the hills and then farming two plains tiles to get the Craftsmanship bonus. That was very sad indeed, with my capital working 2/1 plains farms as the best tiles available so that I could grow beyond size 2. Remember that settlers reduce the population of a city by one point when completed, and so if I built a settler at size 2, it would drop St. Petersburg back down to size 1! That was something I was trying to avoid. I built a granary next, not for the housing but for the +1 food that it provides. My condition really was that weak. I needed any kind of food source at this point. The capital did have enough hills to serve as a half-decent production location, if I could just get some food in there first!

I also built one of those half-cost Lavras at an early date as well to start working on a Great Prophet for my religion. Founding a pantheon was also no problem with Russia's inherent faith bonus from tundra tiles, and I chose Divine Spark (+1 Great Person point from Holy Sites, Campuses, and Theatre districts). That's a particularly useful pantheon if pursuing a religion since it causes each Holy Site district to be worth 2 Great Prophet points/turn instead of only 1 point/turn. It also scales well into the later game since each Campus district gets an extra Great Scientist point, although that would be somewhat less useful for this particular game.

Here's the Lavra about to finish on Turn 35. My capital has finally managed to struggle its way to size 3, which will allow me to purchase a settler on this same turn for 320 gold, dropping St. Petersburg back to size 2 in the process. The intended destination for that settler is the small river to the northeast, near the two fish resources and my damaged warrior. The land up there was considerably better than what I had at the capital, and it would give me a location where I could send a trade route for some additional food in St. Petes. Harald had already expanded out to three cities over to my west, and I knew that I had to be pretty far behind in all of the various Demographics categories at this point. A single size 2 city on Turn 34 of the game? Not exactly an explosive start here.

In retrospect, the war with Harald had probably been a blessing in disguise. I needed those extra units to fight off barbarians, who would end up being a pest the entire game, and the peace treaty proved to be worth about 300 gold by the time it ran its full course. I used that money for the aforementioned settler purchase, and that did a great deal to accelerate the growth of my tiny empire. If I'd been forced to slow-build that settler the normal way, it would have delayed me significantly.

Here's a peek inside my miniscule capital. I am still working the only three improved tiles, the two plains farms and the mined tundra hill. The biggest difference now is the food output: despite getting only 7 food from tiles on the map, the city has 10 total food/turn. I was picking up one point of food from the granary, and the other two came from my first trade route which had just begun on this turn. My second city of Novgorod had finished a Lavra district at a very early date (accelerating my Great Prophet effort to 4 points/turn), and that made the trade route to the city produce 2 food / 1 production yield. Soon I might be able to mine some more of those hill tiles and think about growing beyond size 3. I was almost up to the status of "weak filler city" here!

I was also preparing to attack Harald as soon as the peace treaty was up. The Vikings were simply too close, and I was going to need more land and more cities to power my faith production for later religious conversions. I had built another slinger for a total group of three, and then upgraded them all to archers at that very cheap 30 gold pricetag. I also built a second warrior for zone of control purposes. With three archers and two warriors, I was confident that I could take the Viking cities near me. I just needed to hit them before Harald managed to build Ancient Walls in any of them, and by moving quickly, I'd be more likely to pull that off.

In a pleasant surprise, I managed to snipe a builder outside the city of Skien on the first turn of the war. The poor fellow would head off to mine some of hill tiles around the capital. The rest of the war went quite smoothly as well, as I had to shoot down a few stray Viking warriors but mostly concentrated on bombarding down city defenses. With two warriors, I could get a full zone of control around Skien and prevent it from healing. Three archers made short work of the location from there, and then it was west to Harald's capital city of Nidaros. I actually had more difficulties with a group of barbarians that raged up from the southern tundra halfway through this war. Viking units were almost nonexistent after the initial rush. (What does the AI build during wartime? Not enough units apparently.)

My religion popped shortly thereafter, and I went for a custom setup:

On a map this harsh and unforgiving, the Russian people needed to learn the most ruthless doctrine possible: Butterfly Power. Those vicious winged beasts had the goal of stomping out every other faith on this globe, and many proud Russian warriors would march into battle under the fearsome butterfly banner. (Yes, I'm getting a real kick out of the custom religions in Civ6!)

With regards to actual gameplay, I found the perfect option for my start in the form of Feed the World. As the image indicates, this belief grants cities with the state religion additional food based on the faith output of shrines and temples, typically +2 food for shrines and +4 food for temples. Feed the World is often a rather mediocre belief in Civ6, since cities are usually limited by housing more so than food itself. In order to gain the benefit, the player is also forced to build a Holy Site district and construct a shrine and temple, which is good for a pure religious game but often not worth typing up a district slot for other victory goals. (If I start with a Holy Site in a city, then I can't build a Commercial and Industrial district pair until hitting size 7, which takes some time to achieve.) However, additional food was exactly what I needed here, and Russia's unique Lavra district meant that I could add a Holy Site at every city without it counting against the district limit. My capital in particular would benefit enormously from having this belief working in my favor.

Nidaros took significantly longer to siege than Skien. The main reason was my inability to put the city under a full siege, which is done by gaining zone of control over all six of the tiles in the city's inner ring. I could not take control of the sea tile to the west of Nidaros, not least due to the presence of two Viking longships prowling around out in the water, and that meant that the city kept healing back additional health each turn. I was a bit fortunate that Harald wasn't able to get city walls finished, as that would have shut down my aggression until I could train some catapults and come back. In the end though, I did manage to capture the city without any losses. Like Skien, it came with a Holy Site district already finished. Harald really seems to like religion in this game, with his cities going Holy Site district first in almost every case. I don't think that's the wisest move, to say the least. The captured districts did help me accumulate more faith though, and I was happy to have them.

Sarpsborg was the only remaining Viking city, and at this point I sued for peace in exchange for Harald's concession of the two captured cities. I could always come back and eliminate the last city later; at the moment, I was more concerned with settling the rest of my local continent. There was some good land off to the northeast beyond Novgorod, territory which was currently controlled by several barbarian camps. I would need my military to escort settlers in that region, which meant that Harald was off the hook for the moment.

Back in my core cities, I was working on Commercial districts at the moment. Yes, I was making all of 1 gold piece per turn at the moment, and those districts couldn't arrive fast enough. I had too many units and districts without any kind of wealth generation to offset their cost, and I was going to hit negative income shortly if I couldn't rectify the problem. I had also placed a city over at Astrakhan near my original starting point. It had absolutely no food whatsoever, all tundra tiles in every direction, but it did have enough hill tiles to be a decent producer down the road. That was yet another location where Feed the World would be worth its weight in, well, food!

There were also more barbarians buzzing about, as always. I do hope that we'll get a barbarian option on the game select screen down the road, as right now the only choices are on/off. Sometimes it would be nice to have them in the game, just spawning at a lower rate than the current perma-raging option. The city state near Novgorod is Mohenjo-Daro, which has the unique suzerain bonus of granting all cities the freshwater housing bonus whether or not they are planted on actual freshwater. That suzerain bonus would be hugely useful at Nidaros and Astrakhan, and I planned to ally with th city state as soon as possible.

After another dozen turns of internal development, I had finished my initial Commercial districts and had a settler en route to the triangular subcontinent above Novgorod. My plan was to put three cities up there which would together grab everything of use. I had also managed to get enough envoys to become the suzerain of Mohenjo-Daro at this point, and the shared vision revealed a new AI opponent: Tomyris. She is another one of the AI leaders most obsessed with religion, and indeed she had already founded Sikhism (via Stonehenge) and had a trio of missionaries out on the map. Oddly, even though I could see her units, I had not made official contact yet. (This feels like something that should get cleaned up in a patch.) Meanwhile, I had made contact with Gilgamesh when he sailed a unit past the west coast of my continent. Gilgamesh would prove to be located on another landmass off to the west, and I still lacked the seafaring techs to go over there and explore for myself.

I was wondering how I managed to miss Tomyris earlier in the game. Was she on my continent as well? As it turned out she was not; Scythia was located on another small continent separated from my own by small arm of the sea. It was easily traversible by embarked units. Still, that was enough to delay contact until this point in time. I was saving up faith to produce my first apostle, with the goal of defending Butterfly Power by force from her missonaries.

St. Petersburg was starting to shape up into something half-decent, almost entirely due to the importation of food from outside sources. Out of the 16 food being generated in this screenshot, only 7 is coming from the map itself. The city is getting +1 food from its granary, +2 food from its trade route, +2 from its shrine, and +4 food from its temple (the latter two due to Feed the World belief). This additional food was enough to allow the city to work five hill tiles and get up to 21 production/turn while still growing at a pretty decent clip.

Now if this were Civ4, all of that free food would be brokenly overpowered. Civ4's internal economy is entirely geared around emphasizing high food and then turning that into whatever the player desires via Slavery civic, specialists, etc. I've also always maintained a firm belief that any gameplay mechanic that pulls the emphasis away from the tile yields on the map itself is bad for the Civilization series, as it de-emphasizes the land, which is the core of the gameplay. And yet, with that said... this whole setup kind of works for Civ6. For this particular game, the brake on vertical expansion isn't food itself, but rather the housing mechanic. For a normal city, stuffing a whole bunch of additional food into its setup doesn't do that much, as the city quickly hits the housing limit and gets first -50% growth, followed by -75% growth. This is why Feed the World is rarely discussed as a powerful belief in the Civ6 forums. Lots and lots of additional food just isn't that great, aside from letting the player work more mines for additional production at the housing cap.

So while I was able to use the granary and trade routes and my religious beliefs to pull magical food out of the air here, it doesn't seem to be a balancing problem from what I can see. These extras allowed me to turn a weak city location into a decent location, and that's one thing that is very much true in Civ6: pretty much every location is worth settling. These mechanics allow the player to turn crummy land into something usable. That makes Civ6 a game heavily focused on expansion, but again, that's something I'm fine with. Either get out there and claim the land itself or someone else will take it away from you. It's exactly why I like this game's mechanics and I hated the ones used in Civ5. Anyway, I'll have to keep pondering further on this and see how it develops in patches. Right now, I think I like how this works overall, even if it goes against a lot of the things that I've written in the past.

I continued to develop my civilization, with a particular emphasis on settling that northern region. On Turn 100, I noted that I was already first in the overall score rankings; Sumeria was closest at 134 points to my 162 points. Given my horrific starting location and the AI's extra free settlers on this difficulty level, I really don't know how that was possible. (OK, admittedly I did essentially conquer poor Scandinavia!) The AI still needs a lot of work in this game. A dozen turns later, I had completed my settling of the northern subcontinent in the above screenshot. I made full use of my alliance with Mohenjo-Daro, settling all of these cities with no regard for freshwater concerns. If I were ever to lose my suzerainty, these cities would be in a lot of trouble. I had seen a Scythian settler earlier over by the city state, and successfully managed to block a one-tile chokepoint with my scout to stop it from getting anywhere near this region. Hooray for One Unit Per Tile silliness. The Vikings had also showed up with a settler late in the game, but I was just able to beat them to the punch at Tver. I would focus on producing more builders and traders to develop this portion of the map in the upcoming turns.

Tomyris did settle one city on my continent at Pazyryk, under the text bubble in that picture above. She had more missionaries on the way into my territory, as seems to be typical in Civ6. (I can never seem to get on good terms with her AI; Tomyris always seems to be angry with everyone.) However, unlike in some of my other games, I was a growing religious powerhouse myself in this game. The Sikh missionaries were rudely introduced to the Power of the Butterfly:

That's right, strength 130 against strength 102 in religious combat. I rolled a good result in this combat and ended up one-shotting the Scythian missionary. That's right infidels - feel the sting of the Butterfly Power! Any time that a religious unit dies in combat, all of the surrounding cities get a minus to the faith of the defeated unit and a bonus to the faith of the victorious religion. Apostles do not gain experience from winning battles, but rather start with a choice between two random promotions, and the player can pick one of them for the unit. I had been lucky here to get the Debater promotion (+20 strength in religious combat) on my first apostle. Religious units also do not heal naturally from resting in place, and can only heal by pausing near a Holy Site attuned to their religion. I planned to follow the basic template for a religious victory moving forward, sending missionaries out to do the actual converting of foreign cities while apostles killed any missionaries that might appear. It's a bit of a brutal way to play the game, but no one ever said that Butterfly Power was a gentle faith.

Oh, you might also notice that there are some random Great Writers and a Great Artist standing around in the above picture. The Lavra district produces Great Writer/Artist/Musician points in addition to the normal Great Prophet points, which causes Russia to get a lot of those Great People earlier than they would otherwise spawn. I hadn't built any Theatre districts or amphitheatres, which left me with no place to put the Great Works. As a result, I used these Great People for fogbusting to keep down barbarian spawn. That's probably not what the poor fellows had in mind, standing in a freezing cold wildnerness with no one to see their works of art!

Sometimes getting to the foreign cities themselves could be a challenge. Tomyris had so many units packed around Pazyryk that it was difficult to get the missionaries close enough to spread my religion. As I've written a couple times previously, the clear solution seems to be assigning religious units to their own "layer" on the map, which would keep them from occupying the same tiles as military units. It's frustrating when religious units block military units from moving, and vice versa. One thing I did not realize until this game was almost over: missionaries can convert cities while embarked at sea. That would have saved me a lot of time here, instead of landing the missionaries and forcing a way through the sea of horse archers to stand next to Pazyryk. I will remember that for the future.

I also had a scout unit over in Scythian territory trying to map out the location of Tomyris' cities. At the southern end of the continent, I made a discovery which would change the course of this entire game:

The city state of Yerevan was hiding down there! Yerevan is the best city state to ally with when pursuing a religious victory, as its unique suzerain bonus is to allow your apostles to choose from any of the nine potential promotions when they are born. This is an amazing ability because one of the promotions is extremely powerful: "Proselytizer" removes all foreign religions from the target city. Instead of needing to spend close to a dozen religious spread charges to become the majority religion in a hostile city, a single apostle charge with Proselytizer instantly removes anything other than your own religion. It's supposed to be a rare promotion that only pops up 22% of the time normally. Instead, Yerevan will let you take it at any point in time, or whatever other promotion that the player might want to have on an individual apostle. It makes achieving a religious victory enormously easier to pull off.

I hadn't been expecting to find Yerevan. Currently it's not possible to choose which city states will be present in a game on the setup screen, and as a result this had been a major break of good fortune. I would focus my envoys on allying with Yerevan as soon as possible, and fortunately already had two of them saved up. (This is exactly the reason why I think it's useful to have a couple envoys saved in pocket most of the time, in case conditions change or the AI tries to snipe a crucial suzerain bonus away.) I would not be able to ally with Yerevan soon enough to aid my religious conquest of Scythia, but I would have it before I needed to assault the remaining civs.

St. Petersburg also completed the Mahabodi Temple for the two free apostles, which I used to enhance my religion. I added Holy Order as a belief to make my missionaries/apostles cheaper to purchase, with the intention of claiming Missionary Zeal with the other religious enhancement to make it so my religious units could ignore terrain costs. To my surprise, I was not able to choose that belief at all, and was forced to take Lay Ministry instead. I went and researched this after the game was over and discovered the reason for my confusion. The religious bonuses are grouped into four different categories: Follower Beliefs, Founder Beliefs, Worship Belifs, and Enhancer Beliefs. You can only choose one belief from each of these four categories, and when the religion is founded you always must start by selecting the Follower Belief first. The problem is that none of this is clear in-game whatsoever; the interface makes no mention of any of these categories, and it looks as though beliefs are sometimes available and sometimes not for no reason at all. This is a such a basic concept that it baffles me how the interface fails to explain what's going on. Was it really so hard to group the beliefs by category and label what those categories are? (OK, technically there's a different icon used for each of the belief types. I didn't even notice this until looking back at my screenshots. Definitely not intuitive at all.)

As a result, I would not be able to use Missionary Zeal in this game, which I definitely would have chosen over Holy Order if I had known that only one of the two would be available. This would slow down my religious units considerably as they moved through some rough patches of the map. Stupid interface, sigh. While I'm learning to work around it, a lot of these problems shouldn't exist in the first place.

This was Scythia's small continent to my east, where all of the cities had been converted to Sikhism. Fortunately Tomyris only had the three cities on this landmass plus her western city on my continent, four cities in total. If I could convert all of these cities to Butterfly Power, then she would be unable to produce any more Sikh missionaries or apostles, and her religion would be effectively dead. That was going to take a lot of missionaries, and so the most important thing that I could do domestically was to increase my faith output. Fortunately I had almost reached the Reformed Church civic at the bottom of the tree, which I would finish on Turn 135. That allowed a government swap to Theocracy, the clear choice for a religious game:

Theocracy innately provides a discount of 15% on faith purchases (making my missionaries very cheap indeed when combined with Holy Orders belief) along with +5 strength for all units in religious combat. The Reformed Church civic also provides a pair of policies that are highly useful for a religious game: Religious Orders (another +5 strength in religious combat) and the big one in Simultaneum. That policy is the religious equivalent of Rationalism for a science game, doubling the faith output of all buildings constructed at the Holy Site district. I committed my empire whole-heartedly to the religious conquest project, running both of those policies along with Scripture from earlier in the game to double the faith from the Holy Site adjacency bonuses.

The net result was that my faith output exploded, going from 75 faith/turn in this screenshot to 150 faith/turn once the new policies were in place. My religious units also became significantly stronger in combat, with the Theocracy government and the Religious Orders policy adding +10 strength to all of them. This meant that they would take 50% less damage and deal 50% more damage in religious combat, due to the way that the combat formula works. However, the tradeoff was that the other aspects of my civilization remained weak and feeble. I was almost broke, pulling in single digit gold each turn with no policies in place to boost gold generation. My science and culture were also underwhelming, far below what I've achieved in other games at the same point in time. This is one of the positive aspects of Civ6's gameplay: each of the victory conditions plays out very differently and requires different districts/policies to be won effectively. It's a far cry from Civ3's gameplay, where the player would typically be doing the same thing in every game and could figure out the victory condition as late as the Modern era. I appreciate the way that this game has me targeting very different things depending on what the ultimate end goal will be.

All the while I had been flooding Scythian territory with missionaries, until I achieved this result:

Every Scythian city had been converted. Technically you don't need to convert every city to get a civ to adopt your religion; it seems to require half or more of the people in each city to get a city to convert, and half or more of the cities to get an empire to convert. However, I wanted to convert all of the Scythian cities to stomp out Sikhism as a religion, and prevent it from ever spreading again. No backsliding! With Sikhism as a minority religion in all Scythian cities, Tomyris could no longer produce Sikh missionaries or apostles. The religion was essentially dead.

That left the other large continent with the three remaining civs. Greece had the dominant religion over there in the form of Confucianism, which had spread into just about every city. Sumeria and Arabia had adopted the religion as well, with Saladin very oddly not even using his Great Prophet to found his own religion. (I have no idea why he sat on the Great Prophet without using it - very weird.) The remaining missionaries from the Scythian campaign continued sailing east to reach the other continent. However, the faster path from my own starting position was to head west, beyond the original Scandinavia homeland and across the sea:

There they go, my fleet of Butterfly Power missionaries looking like, umm, a flock of butterflies. I had been delayed here for a few turns because a barbarian caravel spawned somewhere in the fog and happened to be patrolling this very channel of water, sinking a couple of my religious units before I could construct my own caravel to drive it away. That had been an unfortunate break of luck; the barbarians tormented me throughout this entire game, the worst such example coming when a single fogged tile near my capital spawned a camp and then immediately erupted with units, while I had my military over in the northern territories. Very annoying.

Anyway, there were two major obstacles to my religious efforts here. The first was the terrain itself, which was rough and unimproved on the eastern coast of this continent. The AI civs had not settled in this region, leaving a wilderness of hills and forests and jungle with no roads running through it. This would slow my movement considerably, not helped of course by the terrible movement rules in this game. I certainly could have used that Missionary Zeal belief here!

The other obstacle came in the form of a couple of Greek Confucian apostles that wandered into the region. I would create my own apostles to counter them, but it proved to be a harder struggle than expected, for reasons I'll get into in a minute.

These were the Greek cities, the home of Confucianism as a religion. My leftover units from the Scythian campaign had landed here and were in the process of converting Corinth to Butterfly Power. I knew that they wouldn't be able to get more than one city, and planned to convert the other two locations with religious units from the Russian homeland. A single apostle with the Proselytizer promotion could remove all traces of Confucanism from these cities, and then I could use a few missionary charges to boost my religion into majority status.

This is what the Proselytizer promotion looks like in action:

Move apostle unit next to the city in question and use the normal "Spread Religion" option. Instantly all presence of Confucianism disappeared in Uruk, the 6 Confucian citizens vanishing from sight, to be replaced with 3 Butterfly Power citizens. What happened to those people? Probably best not to ask too many questions. The ways of the Butterfly are not for outsiders to know. As a gameplay mechanic, this one is extremely powerful for a religious victory. The contrast between a normal religious conversion and one speeded along by a Proselytizer apostle is hard to put in words; it's sooooo much faster and easier. For all the various bits of bad luck that I'd experience in this game, the presence of Yerevan likely offset all of them and then some.

I had so many missionaries running around that some of them were guaranteed to get past that Greek apostle lurking in the ocean. As for the unlucky ones that the Greek apostle attacked, it wasn't very pretty:

Look at this unit. Gorgo was also running Theocracy government and Religious Orders policy for the +10 combined total in religious combat. In addition, this apostle had rolled the Debater promotion for a further +20 strength, and then there was another small bonus for the Emperor difficulty level. At full health, this unit had a religious strength of 142! My goodness. Great Butterfy in the Sky, save us from these foreign heretics! Anyway, this unit was strong enough to easily one-shot any missionary unit that it tried to attack. Even apostles fared little better, as this unit could get 140 versus 120 religious strength against them, leading to the combat differential illustrated by the bars in the screenshot above. I had to produce some new apostles and give them the Debater promotion as well, which made this into an even struggle. I also pulled damaged units back to the Holy Site at Nidaros for healing, which the AI wasn't willing to do, and that allowed me to wear down this terror over time.

When this Greek apostle was almost dead, another one showed up - also with the Debater promotion! Argh. The odds of seeing two of them in a row had to have been fairly small. Oh, and religious units can attack one another while embarked in the water as well as use their spread charges. There was a great deal of religious conflict in this narrow body of water between the two landmasses.

Nonetheless, with a Yerevan alliance in hand and plenty of faith to fund a steady stream of missionary/apostle purchases, there was little doubt that I would convert the remaining AI cities in time. Gilgamesh was the first to be turned, with Proselytizer apostles cutting a swath of religious destruction through the heartland of his cities. All traces of Confucianism simply vanished in their path, wiped out as if the religion had never existed. I had another apostle circling up here to Greece, a laborious trek through more rough terrain that delayed my progress for long turns on end. In this picture, Sparta had just been converted and no further Confucian missionaries or apostles could be created further.

When I had converted enough Arabian cities for Saladin to drop out of Confucianism, he finally used his Great Prophet and founded Islam as a religion. This didn't last long, as a Proselytizer apostle closed in on the Holy City of Cairo and wiped out all traces of the faith:

That was pretty brutal. Islam was never able to get so much as a single follower anywhere, their entire existence relegated to the arcana of scholarly literature. Confucianism had also been nearly wiped out in most cities by my apostles. In the screenshot above, note how Corinth (converted by normal means) contains a minority of Confucian followers, while all of the other cities (converted by Proselytizer apostles) have nothing but Butterfly Power devotionaries. There was no room for anything else in this harsh, cold world. Everyone needed to be united together under the wings of the Great Butterfly.

I took this screencap just before the end of the game. The highlighted missionary spread religion in the city of Cairo; that was enough to make Butterfly Power the majority religion in the city, and the conversion of Cairo was enough to get Saladin to adopt my religion, which ended the game. Religious victory on Turn 172.

The most interesting bar graph was the faith per turn chart, largely because I didn't lead in the rankings until close to the end of the game. Greece and Sumeria had both been ahead of me for a very long time. The huge jump upwards came when I reached Theocracy government and Simultaneum policy, which then had me in a dominant position for the remaining turns. I don't know what Gilgamesh did to cause that drop in his faith output arond Turn 140; he probably swapped out of a faith-generating policy.

This proved to be a more satisfying victory than my Spreading the Faith game. I felt that I had a much better understanding of the religious mechanics this time around, from founding the religion to generating faith to doing the foreign city conversions. The AI also put up more of a struggle here, and the presence of so many AIs that emphasize faith in this game (Harald, Tomyris, Saladin) made for a better challenge. This was the first chance I had to see the religious combat mechanics in practice, and they generally work pretty well. If Firaxis can fix the two biggest annoyances (religious units sharing the same tile as military units and the territory movement rules), this side of the gameplay would be much more enjoyable.

The religious victory condition as designed is not my favorite. Generally speaking, I think it's a bad idea to have a condition that's so micro-management intensive as this one, requiring the tedious movement of all those religious units around. That said, it's not a terrible victory condition, and I appreciate the fact that religion is a subgame that the player can choose to invest in or ignore as desired. It's not that difficult to prevent a religious victory from occurring, as the missionaries/apostles are ultimately defenseless units that you can kill. And if the player must declare war to keep out religious units from intruding, and that causes diplomatic problems... well, that's a fair penalty, in my opinion. If anything, I think most of the religious beliefs are a little on the weak side and could be beefed up a bit. It feels too easy to ignore religion completely right now, like the player isn't losing much of anything by doing so. Even something as simple as +1 housing/amenities in each city that follows a self-founded religion would go a long way towards making me want to build Holy Sites and found my own faith.

As always, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this game; with the tundra start and the Turn 10 declaration of war, it was certainly memorable for me.