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Some Like It Hot: Montezuma, Emperor

Montezuma of the Aztecs
Small map, Continents, 5 AI Opponents
Emperor difficulty
First Patch (

YouTube Video Playlist (12 videos)

For my third game of Civilization 6, I decided to increase the difficulty again, up to Emperor this time around. From what I had been hearing, there seemed to be a noticeable increase in the challenge level when going from Monarch to Emperor, largely because the AI civs each receive an additional starting settler on Emperor difficulty (in addition to getting a larger discount on research, production, etc.) The AI civs are very weak at expansion here in the release version of Civ6, and as a result giving them another settler at the start of the game boosts their performance by quite a bit. I'm hoping that eventually the AI will be improved and this won't be necessary, but for now it most certainly is.

I decided that I wanted to explore the Aztecs in this game. They are the preorder bonus civilization in Civ6, which fortunately will be made available to everyone 90 days after release. I hate this sort of nonsense that publishers insist of pulling nowadays; at least everyone will get the Aztecs included as part of the main game in a relatively short amount of time. The Aztecs are one of the stronger civs in the release build, if falling a bit short of the true top tier choices. Montezuma gets the Eagle Warrior as a unique unit, a stronger version of the standard warrior with a chance to "enslave" opponents on kills and create a free builder in the process. I'd have to play around with that a bit to see how it worked in practice. The Aztecs also get a semi-useful unique building in the Tlachtli (an arena replacement that provides Great General points), their amenities supply luxuries to two additional cities (6 instead of the default 4), their military units receive +1 strength for every luxury resource connected, and most interestingly, Aztec builders can use charges to knock out some of the cost of districts. I think it's 20% of the base cost of the district for each charge used. Overall then, the Aztecs have a luxuries/amenities themed gameplay style, and seemed like they would be worth exploring in at least one game.

I chose a Continents map this time around for some variety. I picked a Hot and Wet climate since it felt like it would be appropriate for my Mesoamerican civilization. Give me lots of forests and jungles to cut down, much more fun than empty grassland and plains tiles. I've also been picking the young earth map setting in all of my games, the one that creates lots of hills and mountains. Hills are great tiles in Civ6 and badly needed for production purposes. A map with few hills means that everything takes forever to build and that's pretty boring.

This was the starting position that the map generator produced. I liked the looks of this one right away: on a river for the all-important fresh water, with two sugars + stone + bananas (under the interface) for some excellent tiles right away. The north appeared to have lots of jungle to clear for food/production boosts down the line. Less promising was the expanse of desert visible to the south, although I could see immediately that I would eventually have three silver resources for happiness. Three sugars and three silvers right here at the start, hmmm. Definitely a good game for the Aztecs.

This overview screenshot doesn't quite do the starting position justice, however. Take a look inside the capital at these tile yields:

The sugar resources were both located on floodplains. That made both of them 5 food tiles before a builder improved them (!!!) Totally insane, right? This is like starting up a game of Civ4 and having a pair of improved dry corn resources ready to go right from the outset. As if that wasn't enough, the bananas resource at the starting position was located on top of a jungled hill tile, which turned it into a 3 food / 2 production tile. I could also quarry the stone resource for another 2/2 tile, and then there were three more jungle hill tiles out in the second ring, all of which were 2/2 tiles before being improved, and which would become 1/3 tiles after clearing the jungle and mining them. (Those tiles would eventually become 1/5 in the lategame - it's so nice to have real tile yields again! None of that Civ5 nonsense where it takes 8 turns to add +1 production to a tile and never gets any better from there.)

Needless to say, this was a monster starting position for both food and production. I ran one of the sugar tiles for the first few turns to reach size 2, and then grabbed the bananas as well for the production, growing at +6 food/turn with both tiles. With the other sugar added at size 3, that was an amazing +9 food/turn, still with zero improve tiles. Now if only this was Civ4 with Slavery civic to use for whipping, and if I didn't have to worry about the housing cap lurking at size 5... Well, it was still pretty sweet regardless.

My initial opening was a scout into a builder. Research was Mining -> Pottery -> Irrigation. In retrospect, I'm not sure that this was the correct choice; when I did pop out a builder relatively early on, the only tile that I could improve was the stone. I needed irrigation for the sugars/banana and I needed Bronze Working to be able to clear jungle tiles. There was nothing else to do! So my builder stood around for about eight turns doing nothing. Perhaps I should have just trained a settler instead, not sure. Mining the stone resource did help boost The Wheel tech, and the early plantations on the two sugar resources after researching up to Irrigation proved to be worthwhile too, which I'll explain about in a minute. Anyway, food for thought (heh) in my next game.

I found Catherine of France fairly quickly, about two city-lengths away to my north. There was a large patch of jungle between us, and I hoped that would keep her from doing anything too stupid in the early game. Already at this early date I knew that my first settler would be heading northeast up the river from Tenochtitlan, with the goal of securing those resources near the rice and cows. I wanted to make sure that the Aztecs controlled the disputed ground between our empires, not France.

One other thing to note: I'm getting +4 faith/turn on the interface at the top of the screen. That came from a relic that I popped out of a goody hut, much to my surprise. I didn't know that was possible! I guess it's how Trajan AI ended up with that "Grass Cutting Sword" in my initial Adventure One game. In any case, this meant that I would found a pantheon very quickly, not even needing the God King policy and its +1 faith/turn generation. Here's what I picked a few turns later when I ticked over 25 faith:

Oral Tradition: +1 culture from plantation resources. I spent a while thinking about this decision at the time, and wound up narrowly leaning towards this option. In retrospect, this proved to be a fantastic pantheon for my empire. In the screenshot above, I was getting 2.4 culture/turn at this very early stage of the game. Oral Tradition would be worth another 2 culture/turn just from the two sugar resources at my capital once they had been improved with a builder. In other words, this pantheon doubled my culture output early on, and without needing to spend precious early production on a monument. Then I had those bananas at the capital as well, which would also get the cultural bonus, and I could see another sugar and more bananas located nearby to the west, all of which would be worth more culture. Many of these pantheons are terrain-specific, but when you can land one that matches up with your starting terrain, the effects are very nice indeed.

With France about a dozen tiles away and no other AI civs immediately in sight, I found myself dealing with a good number of barbarians:

There was this camp visible in the screenshot to my west, another camp in the southern tundra, and a third camp on the eastern coast. I had been fortunate enough to pop a second scout from another goody hut, and had trained a slinger in my capital following the builder. That gave me three units here to match the three incoming units from the barbs. I was helped as well by the Discipline policy (+5 strength against barbarians), which I usually find myself taking in the early game after reaching Code of Laws (due to lack of better options in the military slot). However, the true star of the show was my starting Eagle Warrior, who had a base 28 strength, plus 5 strength from Discipline, plus another 1 strength from connecting a luxury resource (the sugars). That made for a total of 34 strength against barbs, nice. He soon earned a promotion too, and was up around 40 strength after that, fighting against barbarian warriors (20 strength) and slingers (5 melee strength). It was, uh, a bit one-sided in my favor. This screenshot above was as close as it ever got, and although my scout was redlined, I never lost a unit and the Eagle Warrior feasted on barbarian chowder. No enslaved builders at this point though, so I had been either unlucky or the ability doesn't work against barbarians. I would discover the answer to that question a bit later.

Clearing out the barbarians gave me all of the typical tech and civic boosts associated with combatting them: get a kill with a slinger (Archery), kill three barbarians (Bronze Working), clear a barbarian encampment (Military Tradition). As I've written before, I do like having the tech and civic boosts, and I find myself liking them more as I start to memorize them. I really wanted Bronze Working badly in this game to start clearing jungle tiles, and that made it imperative to land the boost for killing three barbs as quickly as possible. In another game without jungle tiles, I might not care about that at all and make no particular effort to grab it. Some elements of this system could use some tweaking, but overall I do think the concept is a winner. (Tom Chick's idea of making them all random would be a disaster - seriously, do not do this Firaxis.) Your mileage may vary.

Here's my corner of this continent more or less fully mapped out. Aside from the main river running though the center of the landmass, there were two more small rivers in the deep south, and three lakes to the east and west of Tenochtitlan. I planned to put cities everywhere that had freshwater, which looked like it would make for a nice core of about a half dozen cities. I've already founded the second city in the above screenshot, far up in the northeast near the top of the picture. This pulled me equal in size with France, who had failed to get another city down beyond its initial starting two settlers. If there's only one thing Firaxis does to improve the AI, it should be to make them expand faster. They just do not build enough cities in Civ6 at present.

Catherine came requesting this deal a little bit later, which I was happy to sign onto. We now know that additional luxury resources beyond the first one literally do nothing for your civilization, which means you may as well sell them to the AI (which gets tons of cheats on happiness under the hood) or trade them for other luxuries rather than have them sit around doing nothing. I think the amenities side of the gameplay also needs some more work, as the formula for how they are distributed among cities is a total black box and I never have a clue when I'm going to start hitting a happiness crunch. This needs to be more like the housing system, which is boiled down to a single number and is very easy to understand. Anyway, long story short: it's worth selling or trading your extra luxuries beyond the first one. They do absolutely nothing otherwise.

Side note: I find it very strange that Catherine is now the leader of France in Civ6. Cathy was the leader of Russia in Civ3, Civ4, and Civ5; that's almost two decades of past Civ history that this name switcheroo is working against. In my reports, I'm going to use "Catherine" for France's leader in this game, since "Cathy" is so strongly associated in my mind with the Russian flirt from Civ4. I'm sure that I'm not the only longtime Civ player who keeps getting confused by this...

Meanwhile, Catherine wasn't building settlers, but she was building an impressive array of Ancient era trash units. I've heard that the AI often goes after the player on high difficulties with an early rush. That would not be in the cards for this game, as Catherine decided to throw them at a nearby city state instead:

Wave goodbye to Valletta, which just became the easternmost province of the French empire. I do think it's a little bit too easy for cities to be captured in the early game right now; a handful of warriors and an archer probably shouldn't be rolling over a city state this easily. Perhaps Firaxis can make the default strength of cities a bit higher? I like that they require the construction of walls to be able to shoot back, that feels like a good change to me, and once walls are done cities can be tricky to capture. However, these early game rushes are definitely too effective right now, and players are running over the AI in the early game too easily. I hope we'll see this addressed in patches. (Note: in the first patch, Firaxis made it so that city states can upgrade their units even if they lack the strategic resources normally necessary to do so. Here in the release version, every city state was stuck with endless warriors and spears because they could never acquire the strategic resources needed to keep their units modernized. A good change.)

The biggest effect of Valletta's annexation was that France and I were now very close neighbors. Catherine had some negative modifiers on the diplo screen for "unknown reasons", and so I made sure I had a couple of archers on hand in case she decided to get frisky. Relations were a bit cool, but the peace held for now.

Domestically, I had researched my way to Early Empire on the civics tree (thanks pantheon culture!) and swapped into the Colonization policy for the +50% bonus to settler production. That meant it was time to churn out settlers in a hurry. Tlacopan went onto the western lake as my third city to stop France from pushing any further south. There was more good land up there by Lyon (France's second city taken with their additional starting settler), although unfortunately there was no fresh water available, and as a result I decided to leave it to Catherine and focus my efforts elsewhere. Tenayuca was the fourth city, as I began filling out my back lines. I never know whether to start these new cities on granaries or monuments, and decided to try the former option in this game. That seemed to work well and let the cities keep growing longer before hitting the housing cap, although I think I was helped substantially by my pantheon in keeping the civics rolling in at a good pace. This might be different in another game.

On the research trees, I was already pushing for Apprenticeship tech because, well, it's the best early tech in the game, and ditto for Political Philosophy and the early governments in the civics tree. Unfortunately, my continent only turned out to have two city-states on it, and I would not be able to land the boost for that expensive civic. Nothing I could do about it either, just the luck of geography in this particular game. That's a long civic to research without the boost...

After mapping out the north-south axis of my continent, my pair of scouts stumbled across Philip of Spain to the west of France. That river would end up being the dividing line between these two AI civs, and Spain would wind up with about five somewhat cramped cities on the continent's western peninsula. Unlike my rather shaky relationship with Catherine, Philip and I hit it off immediately in diplomacy, and we were able to sign Open Borders and exchange delegations, the whole works. I think being further apart from one another and having a common rival in Catherine helped here. In any case, Philip was shaping up to be a good friend diplomatically, which wasn't something I had seen before in Civ6.

These were my civic choices after finally reaching Political Philosophy and swapping into my normal choice of Classical Republic. I have Colonization running while still expanding, and Ilkum to keep cranking out the builders. Since there's essentially no time in Civ6's gameplay where I'm not training more builders, I always find myself running whatever builder policy is available. I also have Charismatic Leader as the sort of default choice in the Diplomacy slot; that's one area where I'd like to see more options available. The Diplomatic policies seem pretty boring for the most part right now. Them I'm using Urban Planning for lack of anything else better at the moment. It's surprising how often I find myself using that one in the early game, especially for helping new cities get started a little faster before trade routes are up and running.

Here's an overview picture from Turn 70, one of the few that I grabbed while playing as opposed to having to go back and take from the Livestream after the fact. I have five cities established at this point, with the sixth city about to be planted on the tile in the east where the Aztec settler is currently standing. I hadn't been too sure about whether to place a city over there since it was almost all desert, and ultimately went for it on the logic that anything with fresh water is worth settling in the early game. That city (with an unpronounceable Aztec name that I won't try spelling) would go on to be a solid contributer to my empire, and definitely was worth founding. Settlers are pretty cheap in the early game of Civ6, and with no maintenance costs or corruption to worry about, more cities are almost always a good thing.

The all-important Apprenticeship tech is about to finish in this picture, which will boost all mines by +1 production and open up Industrial districts for the first time. Like most of the non-Commercial districts, the Industrial district itself is relatively weak when first constructed, unless you're able to put it in a location surrounded by mined hills. The real benefit comes at the second tier, down the tech tree at Industrialization, when factories are opened up and can start buffing one another across multiple cities. You want to have the Industrial districts already placed and with workshops finished when factories become available, however I've found that you can delay the Industrial districts themselves a bit in the meantime. Getting Commercial districts up and running first to open up those trade routes seems to be a stronger option. That said, a completed Industrial district does provide +2 production to trade routes heading to that city, and the boost for Industrialism tech is to complete three workshops, which means that you'll want some Industrial districts finished pretty quickly in at least a couple of cities.

I also took a screenshot of the Aztec unique ability to add production to a district by using a builder charge. The benefit is supposed to be 20% of the base cost of the district, and I'm not sure if that means all districts can be completed with 5 builder charges or if the scaling cost of districts messes that up. This is one thing that I don't think I used very well during this particular game, as my builders always seemed to be needed to do something else on the map with a higher priority. I kind of forgot about this while playing for a lot of the game too, whoops. I'll have to come back to the Aztecs more at a later date and experiment a bit more with this ability.

That picture also shows the "pins" that can be placed on the map in Civ6. I was using them here to lay out where I planned to put Commercial and Industrial districts in a number of my cities. There are supposed to be a number of bugs associated with their use right now, but if Firaxis can ever get this sorted out, they'll be a nice feature to have.

I wanted to snap another image to demonstrate what my capital looked like with a bit more development. The two sugar tiles and the bananas tile are both producing culture via my pantheon, with the graphic interface unable to display the culture on the bananas. That tile is actually 3 food, 2 production, 1 gold, and 1 culture - not bad. There are several plains hill mines with that delicious 1/4 yield, and another one under the jungle waiting to be cleared and mined. Tenochtitlan is growing up towards the housing cap, working on a key district, and with amenities to spare. Everything looks good for this stage of the game.

If you've ever been wondering about the importance of trade routes, here's a good example:

Atzcapotzalco (that's the name!) has very sad terrain. There's the oasis, a plains deer in the second ring, one bare grassland tile, and then a bunch of desert with a few silver resources sprinkled in. Certainly not much to get excited about. I used trade routes to get this city started, supplying food and production, both of which were badly needed. For most of the game, I would be running two or three trade routes at a time out of this particular city. Now of course that meant that those trade routes weren't going to another and better city, but trade routes aren't limited in this game like they are in Civ5. Atzcapotzalco could and did build its own Commercial and Harbor districts to increase the trade route cap to essentially pay for itself. This means that fishing villages *ARE* a real deal in Civ6, in contrast to what a lot of the reports from Adventure One were suggesting. More cities are always a good thing in Civ6, because the major benefits come from districts and you can only build one copy of each district in each city.

There are a lot of Civ5 players out there who don't enjoy this sort of gameplay, and launch into that ridiculous nonsense about needing to balance "Tall" against "Wide" again. If there's one thing I can't stand about Civ5, it's introducing that absurd discussion into the Civilization community. Anyway, I love the fact that marginal land is worth settling and can be made productive. It turns Civ6 back into a game of expansion and empire-building once again, the way that the series is meant to be played. And sure, more land and more cities is better in Civ6... which is exactly the point, right? That's the key dynamic that creates tension between empires and creates a reason for conflict: to gain more land for yourself and keep other empires from doing the same. The one missing element right now is an AI who prioritizes expansion, and if Firaxis can ever deliver that, then Civ6 will be in business.

Catherine had been shuffling some units around up in the north around Turn 100. I didn't think too much of this, but somewhat surprisingly she declared war on Turn 102:

With a bunch of warriors and chariots, of course. Yeah that was pretty dumb. I had two archers up in this area, and on the first turn of the war I shelled out the cash to upgrade them both to crossbows. I try to hold off on the upgrades if I can since units get enormously more expensive to maintain in gold per turn cost as the player gets further down the tech tree. Even with a major tech lead, Catherine had enough units that Xochicalco may have been in some danger if she had simply thrown everything against the city. Failing that, she could have pillaged me pretty badly if she had gone that route instead, although I was lucky in having the city's districts located on the south side of the river in a relatively safe zone.

Instead, I spent the next few turns slaughtering Catherine's outdated junk units with my crossbows. This wasn't much of a contest, with strength 35 units shooting at strength 20 warriors. As I saw in my Adventure One game, the combat AI spent almost all of its time shuffling units aimlessly, not attacking, not doing anything. If there's one truly glaring flaw in Civ6, it's that the AI still has no clue how to play by the One Unit Per Tile rules. Not in the slightest. I can overlook this because I enjoy almost everything else about the setup, especially the city building aspect of the gameplay. And if I'm being fair, the combat AI has been pretty dismal in previous Civilization games too. However, I'm not going to pretend that this is anywhere near acceptable when it isn't. The combat AI remains a trainwreck, on fire, with gasoline being dumped on top. I don't blame anyone who's avoiding a purchase of Civ6 for this very reason. It's a completely legitimate reason to skip this game.

The ineptitude of the AI did allow me to set up a few attacks with my Eagle Warrior to test out the enslavement ability though:

Free builders, woot! Gimme gimme gimme. I do like this aspect of the worker -> builder change in Civ6, as getting a free builder, even in the early game, doesn't break the balance in the same way that a free worker in Civ4 would do. It's certainly way better than the worker steals from city states that were ubiquitous in Civ5. Anyway, I tried to set up as many successful Eagle Warrior victories as I could after the crossbows redlined the attacking French units. The text might say "62% chance of capturing the enemy" but I seemed to get a builder on every successful victory. Although this Aztec ability definitely does not work against barbarians, it does appear to produce a free builder every time against rival civilizations. Either that or I was very lucky indeed on this particular playthrough. I certainly wasn't complaining, as those builders helped speed along the development of my cities.

The war I had fought against Rome in the Adventure One game had been a comedy of errors when trying to capture Trajan's capital city. What I learned from that experience was that I needed siege units to take enemy cities that were defending behind city walls. This time, I built some catapults and had a chance to see how they worked:

That was one shot from a catapult, and it removed most of Valletta's city walls in a single blow. Certainly a lot better than hammering away with archers or crossbows at 5 damage per shot! So you need siege units of some kind to take cities in Civ6, that or knights (which come too early on the tech tree and need nerfing or being pushed back) which were not an option here due to lack of iron. I had actually brought two catapults to the siege of Valletta, and to my surprise the AI jumped all over one of the catapults, killing it from 100 to 0 in a single combat round. Wow, that was better than I expected from the AI. That was the only unit that I lost throughout this whole war, and it did slow my offensive. From what I could see, the AI does do a good job of targeting siege units; the city defenses always went after catapults first, which is the correct tactical decision. It just wasn't enough to stop me from rolling over Valletta and capturing the city for myself:

It came with a Commercial district already intact, not bad at all. Valletta had pretty good land, just a little bit weak on the production side of things. This was a part of the map with relatively few hills, but tons of cropland that could be farmed for fast growth. (Where is my Slavery civic, heh.) I kept Valletta and set about incorporating it into my empire.

From here, I went ahead and razed the brand new city of Rennes and then sued for peace. Razing Rennes was a mistake, and I would have been better served to keep the location after Catherine went to all the trouble of building a settler and founding the location. That was something I'll recall for the future. In the meantime, this was the peace deal that I secured with France:

I made sure to get a formal cessation for Valletta to make it fully part of my empire. I had been stuck with a city that couldn't grow in my first game, and I wanted to avoid that again. Catherine was also willing to throw in the city of Nantes in the treaty, which was a small size 2 city northwest of Valletta, up near the northern tip of the continent. That left France with only three remaining cities, and I figured I could come back again later to complete the conquest, or simply ignore Catherine for the remainder of the game. With war weariness creeping up and my offensive stalled due to having only one siege unit, this looked like a good time to sue for peace. Time to get back to the building game.

This report is continued on the next page. (Check out my Stone of Scone! That's the relic I popped from a goody hut at the start of the game. Nifty thing to find hiding in a tribal village. )