Baray King Bad: Religious Khmer

Jayavarman of the Khmer
Small map, Continents, 5 AI Opponents
Emperor difficulty
Fall Patch (

Welcome back to another Civ6 report! It had been a while since I played this game. After three months of intensive focus on my Play By Email game with Rome, I was feeling burned out on Civ6 and needed to take a break for a few months. This period coincided with the release of the Summer 2017 Patch for the game, a patch that introduced a series of new bugs to the gameplay and generally was met with a poor reception from the Civilization community. When the Fall Patch came out in October 2017, it sparked my interest in taking a look at Civ6 once again, now with my Civ batteries recharged from the time off. I was also motivated by the ongoing Multiplayer games taking place at Realms Beyond, where we had several fascinating matches taking place over the summer months. Our whole community was learning a great deal about what works and what doesn't work when playing against other humans, which is a very different situation from playing against the AI. In this game, I hoped to take some of those lessons and apply them to a Single Player match to test how they worked under some different conditions.

I was most interested in trying another religious game because the Fall Patch made some significant changes to the religious mechanics. The religious units were finally assigned their own "layer" on the map, and no longer occupy the same tiles as military units. Finally! That change was long overdue and really should have been in the game from the start. The religious lens was also updated to show the sources of religious pressure for each city, and how much longer before each faith present in a city gains another convert. All of this sounded like it would make a religious game a lot more fun to play, and that would be my goal here. Which leader to pick though? I had already done religious games with both Arabia and Russia in the past. After looking at the list of leaders, ultimately I decided to test out one of the new downloadable extras from the latest patch, Jayavarman of the Khmer. I had the collector's edition of Civ6 that included all of the downloadable content for the first year, and I might as well put some of it to use. The shirtless guy pictured above would be my choice for this game.

The Khmer have a series of unique abilities that are mostly focused around religion. "Monasteries of the King" is Jayavarman's leader ability, adding +2 Food and +1 Housing to Holy Sites when they are placed next to a river. This is a really nice ability, if terrain-dependent, and it makes Holy Sites an excellent district. Khmer players are essentially getting a free granary (with the food and housing yields reversed) if Holy Sites are placed next to rivers. Oh, and the Holy Sites also trigger a culture bomb to grab all of the surrounding tiles in the first ring, which is great for expanding borders without needing to spend gold. The Prasat, a unique building replacement for the temple, synergizes nicely with these Holy Sites. It adds a relic slot to the building and grants any missionaries produced in the city the "Martyr" promotion, which creates a relic when they die. For a religious game where I would be spamming Holy Sites everywhere, these were highly attactive benefits.

The Grand Baray is potentially the best feature of the Khmer. It's not a unique district per se, but it does grand the civ 3 faith and 1 amenity in each city where an Aqueduct is built. That's almost as good as the Roman Baths, although unfortunately the Khmer don't get the half cost discount that Rome does for their unique district. One of the changes from the previous Summer patch was to make Aqueducts significantly cheaper, and they are now much more viable than they were in the base version of the game. This helps the Khmer (and Rome) out significantly. As a really nice side benefit, any farms constructed next to Khmer Aqueducts get +2 food, and that's in addition to the base food that they already provide. In other words, this ability lets the Khmer build their cities noticeably "Taller" than most of their competitors, with easy access to housing and bonus food. You can think of them as filling the "religious civ who builders fewer, taller cities" role in Civ6. Their unique unit Domrey is a catapult replacement that can move and still fire. It's not especially useful because catapults tend to be underused in Civ6, but it's still nice having a siege unit that can move and fire on the same turn. It's also an elephant with a ballista on its back which is admittedly pretty awesome.

As usual I took the first map that I rolled. My settler began on the lake tile southwest of the fish, and I saw immediately that I could move another tile southwest and found on top of the riverside plains hill tile. That would change the city center tile from 2/1 yield into 2/2 yield in classic Civ4 style, as well as bringing the 5 food sugar resource into the first ring and several more hill tiles into the second ring. The plains hill spot would produce a noticeably stronger capital. Even as I was moving to the hill tile on Turn 1, my warrior ran into a Religious city state extremely close off to the west. Wow, that was some tight spacing! I couldn't recall having anyone quite that close to me in previous games of Civ6. Jerusalem was a perfect city state to find this early though, speeding me along to my pantheon without needing to run God King policy and fueling the faith output of my later Holy Sites. That wasn't the end of close neighbors, however. Imagine my surprise when I met France on Turn 4, only ten tiles away from my capital:

What a sardine can for a neighborhood. Even though my goal was to play a mostly peaceful game of religious expansion, it was likely that I'd have to resort to at least some warfare to clear out space for myself. I soon found tundra to the south of the mountains at my capital, and there was only room here for roughly five cities before it was all gone, which wouldn't be enough to be a major player in this game. Not peacefully anyway.

I put some time into thinking about my opening build order before ultimately deciding on a slinger into settler start. Yes, settler before builder here, which I think was justified by the terrain at this particular location. There were several factors that suggested opening with a fast second city would be a good choice here. First of all, I had a strong location for that second city, on the riverside plains hill next to the second sugar tile. That second city would also get the plains hill 2 production center tile, it would grow very quickly on its own 5 food sugar resource, and it could work the awesome 1/3 forested plains hill for additional production at size 2. Even better, I wanted to reach Irrigation tech quickly to take advantage of the sugar resources along the river, and an early second city could score the Irrigation boost by farming the wheat tile, which would be impossible at my capital. And on top of everything else, claiming land in the disputed zone towards France seemed like a prudent strategic move. At the same time, there was very little that an early builder could do at my capital to improve it. The sugar tile provided plenty of food, so no need for any farms. I didn't have the tech for plantations yet, and there were no stones to quarry or horses to pasture. That left only putting mines on the hill tiles, and that wasn't compelling enough to argue for a builder before settler. I would purchase the 2/2 forested grassland hill tile as soon as I had the available gold, and work that tile plus the sugar and the copper while training that first settler.

Here's a picture of the revamped diplomatic screen introduced in the Fall Patch. Talking to one of the AI leaders now takes the player to this overview screen, with three additional submenus under each of the little icons near the top of the window. While this might look nice and clean at first glance, the whole interface is still terrible design for a strategy game. I cannot understand why Civ6 has this obsession with dividing up useful and important information into a series of submenus instead of putting everything in a single place. Why do I need to click three times to see all of the relevant information, and why are those submenus accessed via a series of tiny little icons? It makes no sense given that 70% of this screen is taken up by an image of the foreign leader that serves no purpose other than graphical eyecandy. Overall, it's a marginal improvement on what continues to be atrocious user interface design.

I suppose I should mention that Catherine didn't like my civ very much. There's always a malus to relationships when playing on higher difficulty levels, and that makes it tough to strike a peaceful relationship in the early game when there are few options available to improve diplomacy. She founded her second city with the free Emperor settler due north of her capital, which was a minor break since she didn't send it directly towards my capital. I had my choice of pretty much any pantheon due to finding that nearby Religious city state, and I opted for good old Divine Spark. It's just too difficult to found a religion without getting double Great Prophet points in the early game, and this whole venture would be for naught if I couldn't establish one of the four faiths available. I had seen that someone else was already generating Great Prophet points as early as Turn 15 and didn't want to take any chances. Some of the AI leaders have supposedly been toned down in their religious preferences in this patch, as opposed to the release version where they all were obsessed with tossing down a million Holy Sites. At least one AI out there in the fog was still chasing after a religion though; I'd have to see if this patch change had any noticeable effect in my own game.

This was a picture of my civ about 25 turns into the game on the turn that the second city was founded. I was working on a builder in each city at this point, sadly without the Ilkum policy card in place for the 30% boost. That was the drawback to my opening: I was able to get the second city established quickly, but at the cost of working unimproved tiles for a longer period, and delaying completion of Craftsmanship civic (which I had stopped researching at 50% completion) along with its Agoge and Ilkum policies. On the whole, I still think that going settler before builder was the correct call for this particular game. With the religious race on in earnest now, I also wanted to get my Holy Site districts planted on the map as soon as possible. I had delayed Astrology tech at 50% research for a little while in the hopes of finding a natural wonder, and now I was going back to finish it even at the potential wasted beakers because I couldn't delay any longer. I had a big stroke of luck when my exploring slinger found Tsingy de Bemaraha just north of Hattusa two turns later, saving me a few turns of research. I plopped down riverside Holy Sites at both cities immediately to lock in their costs, and the capital started working on the district as soon as it completed its builder. For anyone who hasn't been following the Civ6 patches, the Summer Patch increased the scaling cost of settlers; instead of each settler costing 20 more production, each one now costs 30 more production than the previous one. This slows down expansion noticeably, and it makes early district construction a lot more viable. Districts were also made 10% cheaper across the board. I'd go so far as to say that it's almost always worthwhile now to build an early district for the State Workforce boost, whereas before I typically ignored it and kept cranking out settlers. Obviously the right call is highly dependent on the situation in each game.

Over the following turns, I built Holy Sites in each city and used Agoge to produce some military units afterwards. Catherine denounced me because my culture was too low, and I'd seen enough early game rushes from the AI in Civ6 to know where this was going. It's almost become a staple of my Civ6 games: fend off the early attack from the nearest AI leader, and then after that's over the real game can begin in earnest. I made sure to have three slingers ready to upgrade when I saw French warriors and archers gathering on my eastern border. Here it comes:

Oh. Not the target after all - Catherine sure fooled me! Apparently Jerusalem was her goal the whole time. But that was no good either, as France already completely blocked off expansion to the east and the south was a tundra wasteland with room for only one or two more cities. There was an ocean to my east, and now Catherine was threatening to cut me off to the north. Furthermore, I had already built a series of warriors and archers in order to defend myself, and if I could hit the French army while it was strung out in the process of trying to capture Jerusalem, I might be able to do very well for myself indeed. We were simply too close together and I needed more territory. Sorry Catherine, you shouldn't have denounced my civ.

I declared war on Turn 48 and pounced on the French reinforcements as they were trickling towards Jerusalem. I had been hoping that the city state would put up a good fight; I ended up getting a lot less than I had hoped for. The AI does a good job of capturing cities that lack walls in this game, and Catherine was very effective here. (Unfortunately they completely fall to pieces against any kind of fortified position, and therefore can never truly threaten the human player. This is by far the biggest problem with Civ6 and likely will never be fixed.) I was able to kill several archers and warriors, then saw Catherine's archers expose themselves further to capture my builder outside Yasodharapura, which was immediately recaptured by the warrior the city finished training. My army was focused on taking the city of Lyon, which was poorly defended at only 10 strength and highly exposed to attack. If I could take that city, then it would be a cinch to capture Jerusalem as well. I also wanted very badly to get a builder over to the iron resource that had popped up on my northern border. A mine on that tile would let me upgrade my warriors to swords and start cutting apart France's Ancient era units with abandon.

The biggest difficulty at Lyon was my inability to put the city under a proper siege because my units couldn't embark onto the lake tile. No zone of control on that tile meant that the city healed back 20 HP each turn. Nonetheless, an undefended city with 10 defense is easy prey for a coordinated attack by warriors and archers, and it fell on Turn 54. I spent the next couple turns healing up; here was the situation on Turn 58:

I wanted to highlight several different things here in the AI's performance, most of them positive developments. Let's start with the bad news: Catherine moved an unescorted builder right next to my whole army. That's one of those things that looks dumb and frankly is dumb on the part of the AI, although I'm reasonably sure that this was caused by a go-to order where the builder was headed for Jerusalem and taking the most direct path there. Still, I do expect some stupidity on the part of the AI. Elsewhere Catherine was doing a lot better. She had already finished city walls in Paris and had them under construction in Nantes and Jerusalem. The days where the AI would sit there defenseless and let the player take out their whole civ with three archers and a warrior appear to be over. They build city walls quickly now and that forces the player to bring some genuine force if they want to engage in conquest. I was heading for Masonry tech next to counter with a battering ram. Note as well the damaged French warrior who has moved to intercept the trade route coming out of my third city of Hariharalaya. That jerk popped out of the fog and was on top of my trader before I could do anything about it, pillaging my trade route and setting my road construction in this region back for many decades. Assuming this wasn't a random move that the AI lucked into, it represents another step forward in their ability to be annoying to the player.

I did manage to get my iron resource connected a few turns later, and the Khmer warriors were shortly upgraded into swords at 80 gold apiece. Unit upgrades are still extremely powerful in Civ6 and the patches have done nothing to tone down this particular tactic. I helped pay for the cost by selling my excess sugar to Gorgo for 6 gold/turn, another move that I've frequently highlighted in other Civ6 reports. It's still good business to sell all your excess resources for cash, as the AI cheats on happiness and the money comes in very useful. I still didn't know where Gorgo was located at this point, although she would turn out to be northwest of France in a region I hadn't explored yet. There was too much fighting going on to send out units on fogbusting missions.

As my forces closed in on Jerusalem, I finally had enough Great Person points to claim a Great Prophet and found my religion. This turned out to be the third religion of the game, and required one of the medieval Great Prophet (120 points) to claim. The first prophet had been taken by the Stonehenge builder, and the unnamed civ out in the fog that had been cranking the early Great Prophet points took the second one. I felt lucky to get a religion at all, even with two Holy Site districts and Divine Spark. I probably would have been left out in the cold entirely with a different pantheon. You can't fool around on the higher difficulties when it comes to claiming a religion or they'll all be gone.

I deliberately held off on founding my religion for a few turns until the siege of Jerusalem could be concluded. Any city that the player owns with a Holy Site district will convert to a religion when it's founded, and since Jerusalem already had a Holy Site it made sense to wait until it was under Khmer control. I used my battering ram to crack the walls of the former city state, then started firing arrows into the remaining defenses. A few turns later the place was mine:

That was a surprisingly difficult nut to crack for an isolated part of the map. This gave me the option to Liberate the city state and restore its independence, but Jerusalem had excellent local terrain and I had already decided that I wanted the location for myself. I hoped to find another Religious city state somewhere else on the map to gain the Holy Site faith bonuses down the road. With my army injured and out of position to attack any other French cities, it was also time to sue for peace with Catherine. She was willing to give me a city in the peace deal, and I picked up Amboise, a southern tundra location, for my troubles. This treaty confirmed a change that had taken place in a prior patch: there is no longer any need for cities to be formally "ceded" in a peace treaty. Any captured cities immediately lose their occupied status when peace is signed. I think that's a positive change, as it was confusing to understand what was going on under the previous system, not to mention extremely unfun to have occupied cities that couldn't grow or build anything. With these patch changes, the whole cessation concept has essentially been removed from the game. However, on the diplomatic screen the option to get cessation of captured cities is still there, and the AI seems to value it significantly. Catherine would sign over a new city to me, or she would "cede" her two captured cities - one or the other, despite the fact that the second choice had zero functionality whatsoever. I hope that Firaxis cleans this up in a future patch or expansion. The AI is still programmed to value things under the old system and it can get pretty confusing.

With peace in hand, I established my religion:

I decided to use a historical religion for this game, and chose Buddhism to match the Khmer civilization that I was using. I also happen to like that particular shade of purple, the same color used by the Indians in Civ4 which always prompts fond memories of the Pitboss #2 game for me. As far as the beliefs were concerned, I ended up taking Reliquaries to synergize with the unique attributes of the Khmer. I was thinking that their Prasat unique building would cause every missionary to spawn with the Martyr promotion, and then I could get them killed and stack up extra faith from relics with the tripling bonus. While I don't particularly like Reliquaries as a belief, if I was ever going to use it, this would be the game. That decision turned out to be a huge mistake in retrospect though; for a cultural game this would be a good choice to get the tourism from relics, but not in a religious game since all nearby cities suffer a drop in followers when a religious unit dies. The extra faith provided by Reliquaries doesn't make up for the lost followers caused by getting your religious units killed. I was kicking myself all game for not taking one of the new Follower beliefs: Choral Music, where shrines and temples provide culture equal to their faith output. That's an awesome ability to have for a religious game, and it would have accelerated me through the civics tree by producing thousands of extra culture. What a missed opportunity.

Holy Order for the Enhancer belief was mostly a no-brainer for a game where I would be purchasing a ton of missionaries and apostles. It was actually my second choice though, as I wanted Missionary Zeal so that my religious units could ignore the movement cost of terrain features and zip across the map. One of the AI religions had already grabbed it by this point in time though. This was my third religious game, and I've tried to pick up that belief in the last two games without it being available. Someday, my friends, someday...

Let's take a look at the new religious lens now that I had my own faith to spread:

This is enormously better than the old system; here's a screenshot of the old religious view for comparison. Instead of simply putting religious colors on top of the normal map, the religious lens now grays out everything except the religions units, which allows the color-coded faiths to pop out against the background. Those big circles intended to be some kind of percentage graph of the different religions present in each city have been removed. Each city's radius now clearly shows the dominant religion, or none if there isn't one, and a little bar indicates which religions are exerting pressure of some kind on that locality. Even better, there are little icons for each religion demonstrating where pressure is being exerted from other cities. For example, up at Lyon the map clearly indicates that the city is getting both Buddhist and Catholic pressure, and the Buddhist pressure is significantly stronger at the moment. From this overview map, it's possible to zoom in on any individual city:

Hariharalaya has pressure coming from three religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, and Shintoism (which France had founded at their capital in between taking these screenshots). The little arrows on the map indicate where the source of the pressure is coming from as well as the strength of that pressure. Note how the Catholic arrows are more widely spaced apart on the graphical display to indicate that the religious pressure is weaker than the nearby Shinto Holy City. The little dropdown menu below the city name tells the number of followers of each religion (1 for Buddhism and 0 for the other two faiths) and how quickly they are increasing. I believe that the numbers count up to 100 and then create a new follower, although I'm not certain of that. Buddhism is gaining followers at double the rate of Shintoism, and eight times faster than the weak pull of Catholicism. Sometimes when I checked the religious lens it would also detail how many turns until a city converted, although that information seemed to disappear a lot of the time for reasons I didn't initially understand.

Taken as a whole, this system is a gigantic improvement. As someone who played several religious games under the old patch versions, I can't stress enough how much better the interface has become. Before, I was always moving religious units around in the dark and basically guessing as to what was really happening. Where were the followers of my religion coming from? How many missionaries did I need to use to convert a city? It was all a guessing game. The new system makes it vastly easier to understand how religious pressure spreads from city to city, and where the player needs to apply missionaries to keep the religious train rolling along. Two thumbs way up on this patch change. It's actually fun to play a religious game now, since I can finally understand what the heck is going on!

I used the ten turns of enforced peace with France to heal up my units and reposition them to the south. Paris had finished an Encampment district in addition to the city walls, and it made more sense to renew hostilities from the southeast where I wouldn't face as much exposure to that district. While moving my units, I had been careful to keep them two tiles back from the French border, moving them forward on on Turn 79 right before I was about to declare war. Catherine AI must have smelled something fishy because she suddenly showed up with a pair of horsemen on the same turn that I moved up to the border. Maybe this was a coincidence, but her gold reserves plummeted on the same turn so it looks like at least one of these horses was cash-rushed to completion. Those mounted units also increased the defensive strength of the French cities, which would make this a more difficult struggle than my previous attack. Clearly the AI has gotten a lot smarter about defending itself over the course of these patches. If anyone cares to go back and read the Adventure One report from the release version, the improvement is nothing short of incredible.

Anyway, I attacked France again and this time took a sizable warmonger penalty in the process. That would have repercussions later on down the road. Catherine seemed most interested in chasing after my archers, but between some careful positioning and use of promotions for timely healing, I was able to keep all four of them alive. My swords took up position around Paris and put it under formal siege, allowing the archers to chip away at the defenses once the battering ram had brought down the walls. This was still a bit of a tricky situation, between the two French horsemen and the Encampment that continued to shoot at my swords. I was fortunate that Paris had no fewer than five farms surrounding it, and I took a play from our Multiplayer games by repeatedly pillaging those farms for additional healing on my swords. The terrain was pretty scarred by the time the city fell:

Look at all those burned farms. At least it's easy to repair damaged tile improvements, and I had a builder heading over to fix all of them back to their unpillaged state. Paris even gave me the Feudalism boost from capturing all those farms, heh. Taking the French capital essentially broke the back of their civ, and they would make no effort to contest my control of the field again. It took me 15 more turns to reduce the remaining French cities, Nantes and Bourdeaux, before eliminating them on Turn 100. I genuinely felt bad about going to war repeatedly with Catherine, and I would have been happy to try and live as a peaceful neighbor if there had been more space between our civs. Since playing this game, I've learned that there's a bug in the current patch with the start position generator, which is causing city states and other civs to appear right on top of the player. That helped to explain the situation I found myself in during this game - it wasn't my fault, Catherine! It was the map generator!

The next task: getting down to the business of spreading my Buddhist faith across the globe.