The war against Isabella ended in 1500AD. Four turns later, my forces were repositioned and ready to go, so war was declared on Asoka in 1520AD:
Bombay was invaded both by this group in the east, and by another detachment of Cossacks from the north. At the same time, I sent a third force of Cossacks south from the city of Toledo to grab Asoka's icy city of Karachi in the southern tundra. That iceball fell on the first turn without incident, cutting Asoka off completely from his ally Mansa Musa. Now I had expected that I would be able to use my Cossacks to blitz right through defenders at times, but I still expected to need to wait for my siege engines against major cities. After all, 60% cultural defenses are nothing to sneeze at. Yet when my Cossacks reached the walls of Bombay, they were pleasantly surprised to find that Asoka had been neglecting his defenses a bit:
Now I wonder what happened here (?) Only two longbows and some scattered other defenders? Charge!!! My Cossacks aggressively attacked and won easily. (By the way, that's NOT a picture you want to see if you're on defense. Look at all the Cossacks incoming!) Bombay was captured and the whole front simply rolled south, heading for the remaining cities of Delhi and Madras. Would they be able to put up a better fight?
No, doesn't look like it.
It only took eight turns of fighting to wipe out Asoka, which really came as somewhat of a surprise. He had been researching at a pretty good clip even though he only had four cities, but in building all those cottages I guess he didn't have much production left to build up an army. Once I swept through his mobile attack force in the first turns of the war (which was itself not impressive), it was just a matter of walking to each city and capturing it. Hey, if you can manage to get to cavalry before the AI civs get to rifles, you can make BIG gains - and this disparity is only magnified further with Cossacks, naturally.
Time for my Cossacks to sit back and rest on their laurels? Wrong! I waited one turn to reposition my forces in the east, then released the hounds on Mansa Musa!
I do seem to be accumulating a fair amount of hounds, don't I? With their outdated units, the AI civs were not doing a good job of killing my Cossacks, and so I was accumulating large numbers of elite units, which was further snowballing my military's strength. Military success begat more military success, and so my army rolled right through Gao and up through Djenne towards Timbuktu.
Here's a shot of the Russian Cossack divisions in action:
Notice I have musket defenders moving in behind the Cossacks as the cities are taken. I love it when a good plan comes together too.
Now here's one odd thing that I noted in this game, but which doesn't seem to be big enough of a bug to deserve attention. Watch the combat odds as I highlight this potential attack below:
The only modifier that I'm seeing is a +10% to strength for my Cossack, which on the face of things looks correct. However, note that the path that my unit will take is going to lead it to attack across a RIVER, and that the 25% penalty for such attacks is NOT getting factored in to the battle! Now I don't know if this is simply not getting factored into the odds calculator, or if you genuinely don't have to pay the river-crossing penalty if you conduct an attack in this fasion. Either way, it was odd enough to be worth mentioning. I tested this throughout the game and it happened every time I attacked across a river with my second move, so it was not a one-time coincidence!
Back to the war... with Louis attacking from the north and my Russians attacking from the south and west, Mansa Musa had no chance. (Louis didn't even ask for anything in return, he agreed to declare war for free!) I did most of the heavy lifting, but Louis took two cities on his border as well. Timbuktu fell in 1600AD, and things didn't last much longer after that. Mansa Musa was mercifully put away in 1615:
So that's two civs put away in less than 100 years (20 turns). Granted, the two smallest civs on the map - but I think it was still noteworthy nonetheless. Unfortunately, since I wasn't about to wait around for centuries on a diplo or space victory, I now had to turn and attack my longtime ally of Louis. I actually felt very bad about doing this... but I didn't really have a choice. So on the very next turn, while Louis' army was still exposed and in the field, I savagely double-crossed him and declared war. Sorry, buddy.
In terms of winning the game though, it was critical that I declare when I did and not wait any longer. Louis was nowhere near as strong as I was, but he DID have a lot of soliders. By jumping on him before he was ready, I caught this stack out in the open:
They were in Walata, preparing to head back into France proper where it would be tough to get at them. Well I jumped all over that stack, which fortunately was made up mostly of Mounted units (knights and elephants). Remember, Cossacks get a +50% against Mounted units, which turned the combat into more of a slaughter than a true fight. After wiping out almost all of Louis' armies on the first turn with very little cost to me, he was largely out of gas and reduced to a static defense.
We did have an enormous shared front though, so I had positioned a number of Cossacks across my territory to play "zone defense" against French incursions. Here's a demonstration of that from the Military Advisor:
My main force was in the east, naturally, but I also had a pair of Cossacks on the southwest border of our territory, and a significant campaign going on the north, where our cities had been sharing close borders for ages. Louis would in fact send out a number of pillaging/exploratory parties, but they were all intercepted before they could do real damage. I did lose a worker or two however, but not from carelessness; Louis in one case attacked a Cossack-guarded worker with three straight pikes to capture it. He succeeded - but stripped the garrison of a city to almost nil in the practice, allowing me to capture it on the following turn. Those were the kind of tradeoffs I could accept.
I felt like a rat bastid for attacking my buddy, but what choice did I have? This game is O-VER and no need to waste more time by stretching it out. The campaign was no different from the other two I had just conducted, and I ran over almost a dozen of Louis' cities in the next 10 turns. Here was the picture of France on the turn before Domination was reached:
Domination Victory in 1660AD:
Louis had six cities left, and both Orleans and Besancon would have fallen in 1660AD. Conquest victory almost certainly would have come before 1700.
This was certainly one of the most dominant performances I've ever managed to put on, especially against the Emperor AIs. How, therefore, can I explain what took place here that allowed me to win a pre-1700 victory on such a high difficulty? I certainly didn't magically get a lot better since my last game, where I struggled a great deal to win by space. As I see it, there were a number of different factors here that explain my greater success. First of all, I was luckier in the opponents that I drew for the game. Every single one of the AI civs in my last game with Emperor Metalman was either Financial or Organized - those are both powerful economic traits! In contrast to that, here I faced two civs with very little boost to their research prowess - Isabella and Louis. Mansa Musa and Asoka had good economic traits, but they were not enough to carry the load on their own. Secondly, I had fewer AI civs in this game, and I do think that meant a great deal. This game certainly would have been harder with seven civs than with five; that would have meant two more civs trading techs, researching up the tree while I was fighting, two more civs with whom the AI could sign Open Borders and gain additional trade route income - well, you get the picture.But thirdly, and most importantly, in this game all of the AI civs were dragged down by warring. Louis and Mansa Musa quickly got off on the wrong foot due to cultural border clashes and religious differences, and they fought a series of wars that surely hurt both. Lots of units getting wasted in the fighting, research times certainly slowed, etc. Meanwhile, in the west I fought two wars against Asoka and two wars against Isabella, locking them into wartime production (and likely wartime tile improvements as well). No endless rows of cottages from Izzy, that's for sure! Asoka, when he was left alone for a while, actually managed to pass my briefly in tech, although he never reached the point where this would have gotten him to the next generation of military tech. So that was really the key to this game and the whole difference from my last one. In the previous case, the AI civs NEVER fought each other at any point the whole game, only fighting me - this was worth at least a difficulty level's worth of extra toughness. That led to their fast teching and a difficult game. Here, no AI civ was ever given enough peace to run away with things technologically, and their religious differences prevented them from forming a solid bloc to stop my advance. This difference in warring, and the slower tech speed that resulted, was in the end far more important than my early Civil Service grab with the Oracle. Heck, within 50 turns the AI civs had largely caught up to me in tech even though I had gotten more than 1000 free beakers from that!
There's the map towards the end of the landgrab, showing where everyone started. The AI did a very good job here, with each of them securing as much or more land than I did initially. The one exception was Asoka, who drew a bad start and was definitely hemmed in by Izzy. Louis in particular grabbed a LOT of land and had more cities than me for the whole early game. Let's just say I was glad that he was on my side when I started attacking the south! The fact that I was able to concentrate on a narrow front, with "Friendly" Louis guarding my eastern front, made things immensely easier here. I do think that converting him to my religion was a strategically very sound deicision.
And the final map, just for comparative purposes. I numbered the cities I took in the last campaign with Louis; nine cities in just six turns is not too bad. It would have been eleven cities in eight turns if I had gotten a chance to play the 1660AD turn. As far as the map itself goes, that nasty orange color is everywhere - I guess Aeson would be proud!
The GNP graph over the last 100 turns tells a very interesting story. Notice how Asoka and I start out together near the top (with everyone else way down the list), then we both plunge a bit as I declared war on Asoka at 1000AD. His bar drops significantly when he loses cities, but he rebounds and recovers nicely for a while after we get peace. Meanwhile, my economy is going into the tank around 1300AD as I pour huge sums of money into the luxury slider to deal with war weariness. At the end of the Spanish War, I'm actually spending 40% of my income on luxuries - what a huge cash sink! The instant Spain dies, my war weariness magically disappears and my GNP rebounds drastically. That shoots me up to even with Asoka, who quickly falls off the face of the earth as I attack and kill him. Mansa Musa and Louis both stay low on the graph the whole time due to their constant feuding (and this should prove more or less conclusively that even Financial civs don't do that well when they get involved in heavy warring; it's the amount of fighting a civ does and not their traits that makes the biggest difference!) Louis' income spikes for one turn when he's not in war, then falls catastrophically after I redeclare on him the following turn. Similarly, my income (which was so high after killing Mansa) is going into the tank from war weariness as well at the very end of the game. You can literally chart the ebb and flow of the fighting just by looking at this GNP graph! And although everyone probably knew this already, it demonstrates quite well that warring in Civ4 carries a significant economic penalty.
Here's the info screen with some random stats. I killed mostly longbows and cats, the two medieval units that the AI is most fond of building, then decreasing numbers of a lot of other stuff. As far as what I lost, the biggest death totals were for Cossacks (I lost 11 of them, out of the approximately 50 I trained), cats (understandable), and workers. Workers! The AI was just very aggressive in going after them - possibly even TOO aggressive, as I've described above. Not sure I remembered that from 1.52, so I'll keep an eye on this and see if it needs more tweaking later on (probably not).
Look what I built the most of: not granaries, not courthouses, but theatres! For a Creative civ pursuing a Domination victory, they're just so cheap that it's a crime not to build them in every city. I chopped a number of them with workers too. Also keep in mind that for a civ running Mercantilism civic, they also allow a city to run an Artist specialist (even faster border pops, yay!) I don't want to sound like a broken record, but those cheap theatres and colosseums are much more valuable than a lot of people think. Creative civs can be quite strong.
And the score... wow, that was high. This game was much, MUCH easier than my last one, yet it gave me a score that was something like 5 times higher. Heh. The crazy thing is that my score for "winning on this turn" was actually going UP with each turn that passed, not down. (I believe it's based mostly on population, which I was gaining very quickly as I took enemy cities.) At least now I know how those Game of the Month people get such ridiculous scores... sheesh. We would have been better off not including endgame scoring at all.
Well, it was fun to beat up on the AI a bit. I think the Small map may have made this easier, but I believe that it still stands up for comparative purposes. Hopefully you enjoyed reading this.