Let's start with an overview shot of the Roman imperium in 1AD:
Everything is coming along nicely at this point. With stone + marble + Industrious, building wonders was a breeze, and I had my pick of all the important ones. Rome took all of six turns to build the Great Library, while Antium knocked out Sistine (always *THE* wonder for doing anything with culture) to ensure that no one else would have any chance to steal it. As my foremost "push" city, Cumae is already at work on a broadcast tower. That was another odd aspect of the variant, the ability for every city to build what was essentially a cathedral right from the start of the game. It seemed to fit pretty well with the scenario.
Techwise, I was heading to Philosophy, where I would found my second religion. Unfortunately, Taoism spawned way down in Ravenna, and although I would do some missionary work later on, I never got all that much out of it. I would have liked to plant some more cities, only the whole pangaea was already filled up! A crowded start tends to do that, I suppose. I had of course signed Open Borders with all the civs and mapped out the whole continent, building two cheap scouts for this purpose earlier. (Despite what Sirian may have said ages ago, I prioritize map info very highly and usually do a good job of exploring the map.) That revealed that there was one spot remaining for another push city:
What an outstanding screenshot - not only did I get the location of my new city in the southeast, but I also captured the Great Library popup and Taoism founding at the same time! Ha! The new city (Arretium) was planted at the minimum distance possible from both Essen and Dortmund. It was frightfully isolated at this point, but I knew it would give me a toehold in an entirely new region down the road. A great spot, no doubt about it. I could not have gotten here without diligent scouting, and recognizing early enough to build a settler and galley from my coastal cities on the southern sea. I wonder if anyone else will move quickly enough to land here? Should be fun to see what happens.
Techwise, I was driving to Liberalism via Civil Service. That's always a powerful option, and especially so for a cultural gameplan. (You want to get Free Speech's +100% culture in play ASAP.) What I did NOT expect was Pericles building the United Nations in 150AD. I didn't even think about that part of the variant! We hold the Secretary-General elections, and crafty old Greek boy manages to get himself elected!
Well that was definitely going to prove troublesome. Although I wasn't too worried about Pericles winning a diplo victory, it was still something I had to keep in the back of my head. I felt like I had suddenly stumbled into a game of Master of Orion, with a chance to lose every so often when the council met! And I couldn't take the diplo victory even if it had been there for the taking - argh. Need to get to at least 1500AD for scoring purposes.
Turns passed for a while with not much happening. All of the corporations had fallen, and fallen early (Standard Ethanol as soon as 475BC, Mining Inc. following shortly thereafter in 150BC) so I was plenty happy to get the three that I did. All the land was taken, so there was nothing to be done there, and everyone had machine guns that made offensive actions pointless. The only thing to do was move missionaries and corporate execs around, and even I can't make that sound particularly interesting. Eventually, my corporate culture began to push back the borders of the AI civs, which opened up the opportunity to start founding more cities:
Mediolanum was the first such city, and I planted Civ Jewelers inside on the very first turn of its existence. I would place another push city on the tile southwest of the gems/southeast of the corn, to culturally attack the Indian city of Vijayanagara. Here's a peek inside Mediolanum two turns later, once an exec added Sid's Sushi:
My pattern for adding corporations was almost always Civ Jewlers, Sid's Sushi, then Creative Construction. You'd think that I'd want the sushi food, but that corporation was the most expensive in terms of maintenance. Meanwhile, Civ Jewlers (the only one that provided gold as well as culture) nearly paid for itself. It was a no-brainer to spread that one everywhere, even places it wasn't really needed for the culture. Creative Construction had the fewest resources at this point and the least overall impact, so I saved it for last in most cases. I don't know if this was the most effective way to spread the corporations, but I was chronically short on funds in this game, and I ended up doing some pennypinching without even thinking about it. I did get quite a few Great Merchants out of Rome, where I was running lots of Merchant specialists, and I used them on trade missions several times. That helped a lot with spreading the corps around. (It really, really stinks when you build an exec AND pay gold to spread a corporation, then get a miss when trying to add it to a city.)
Now look if you will at the minimap in the screenshot above. I was exchanging world maps with the other civs on a regular basis once I picked up Paper tech, and American caravels found a substantial island off to the northeast. For someone pursuing peaceful Domination, that was maybe 10% of the total land area - I had to get moving over there! Thus, the following Liberalism choice:
Astronomy was needed to get there, so that's what I took. Pericles already had Nationalism and was working on the Taj Mahal, so I essentially sacrificed a free Golden Age to make sure I landed that island first. It was worth it.
With my cities now thoroughly infused with corporate culture and juiced up further by Free Speech, the AI cities finally began to start yielding under the pressure. I got my first revolt at Hastings in 780AD, followed by this one at Essen a little later:
My my, what a change a few centuries have wrought in this little corner of the world! Little Arretium is booming and pushing back its rivals on all sides. I hadn't even managed to spread Sushi or Creative Construction here either, always too busy moving the execs around in my core and ferrying them over to Eastern Island to complete the corporate trio down here. That would change soon as I began to finish up with infrastructure in my original cities, opening up room for missionary and exec spamming.
The world in 1000AD:
Why are my finances so much improved over 5 turns earlier? I managed to complete a bank and grocer in Rome, that's why! They made a huge difference. Elsewhere, the AI border towns are really starting to crumble under the intense cultural pressure. Hastings, Argos, and the German duo of Essen/Dortmund (under the interface) were all dominated by Roman culture. My main concern at this point was settling Eastern Island, where the Americans were also planting some cities.
Three turns later, I got my first flip:
Poor Hastings never had a chance in this sad location. That could apply to the whole English civ, actually, which was crowded badly from the very start of this game. Anyway, I of course burned the city down and replaced it with one of my own, in a superior location for applying cultural pressure. You can see the replacement settler waiting around above, at the minimum three tiles distance from London. I hoped to repeat this scene many times over in the years to come.
And I did:
OK, so that wasn't an actual flip, but two revolts on the same turn was pretty good! Got them both in the same screenshot too, nice. I really wanted Philadelphia to fall, as that would open up the American core to Roman cultural penetration. All I could do for now was sit and wait.
Pericles nearly gave me a heart attack when this happened:
He picked up votes from three different AI civs and came close to winning the diplo victory. Urk! If Frederick and either Peter or Suleiman had voted against me, this game would be over right now. It appeared that spreading out like the plague and pumping culture like crazy hadn't made me any friends on this continent. I was going to have to be careful here not to throw the game away with poor relations. That Pericles - what a pain!
Now here was something completely bizarre. Gandhi popped up and asked to become my vassal!
What would this mean in terms of a passive-aggressive Domination victory? I had absolutely no idea. Could I have planted Roman cities in Indian territory (?) I thought about it for a moment, then turned Gandhi down. I make no secret of the fact that I'm not a fan of vassal states in this game; they were never intended to be a part of the Civ4 gameplay, and they open up all sorts of wacky abuses. Besides, I didn't want to become the protector of these AI empires - I wanted to dominate them, CRUSH them through the power of pure culture! The decision was probably suboptimaal, but whatever. This game was more about having fun anyway. Other players in our community have always been better at maximizing scoring elements than me.
And here's a shot of the Eastern Island after it had been fully claimed. I had wanted to put only two cities here to save on maintenance costs, and then the Americans went and settled a second city (Seattle), forcing me to stick in Ardea as well to put pressure over there. My poor workers were horribly overwhelmed, having far too many tiles to connect at once. I would end up training a few more locally, using the power of Sid's Sushi food. This island ended up providing not just a lot of tiles towards Domination, but also five seafood resources, three Civ Jewlers precious metals, and a trio of Creative Construction goodies. Quite a good haul!
Now all the land was well and truly claimed for good. That meant things were about to get a bit less passive, and a bit more aggressive...