Epic Eleven: The Final Push

The two scoring benchmarks behind me, my goal now became winning the game as fast as possible. I tried to include incentives in the scoring to make everyone pursue a fast finish; you score points based on the finishing date, plus the earlier that the player wins, the fewer AIs are likely to die from their intercine warring. At least that was the idea; I think I should have upped the points slightly for the fastest finisher (up to 10 instead of 7) just to reward a truly strong cultural game. We're really competing to see who can build culture the fastest with the slider taken off the table, after all. Maybe the 5 points for the elite Navy SEAL work against this, but I wanted to have something interesting for players to pursue in the late game too!

Anyway, the first thing that I did as soon as I reached the 1502AD turn (and recorded my scoring) was to pull a double revolt, swapping civics to Representation and Mercantilism (I had been using the default options in both). This was my first real civics change of the game; I adopted Slavery, Organized Religion, and Bureaucracy/Free Speech when they became available, but they were all no-brainers. I actually never swapped to Hereditary Rule, because I had plenty of happiness on hand and I didn't want to lose culture from a turn of anarchy. This particular civics swap had had to wait, as I only JUST finished one of the cathedrals before 1500AD. With Representation, I actually increased my research effort by going to Mercantilism, plus I added a free Artist specialist in each of my Big Three cities. Win/win situation for sure.

Maybe those Artist specialists helped, because the next Great Person from Washington was a Great Artist at fairly low odds (30% or so). I did some quick math and realized that the best value was still merging him into one of the Big Three, so off he went into New York:

I'm sure you've got the pattern down by now: increase the base culture of my "weak" city. With Hermitage and two cathedrals, I actually was getting the most multipliers in this city, so it probably was the best location to put the Great Artist regardless.

I mostly was filling in the remaining cathedrals at this point in time, which is why you see the missionary and temple builds above. My neck of the world remained peaceful, but Temujin and Peter had declared war on Hatshepsut and began making some progress. It was about this point in time that I started to get worried over Hatty's fate:

There had been a long war between Russia and Egypt which achieved little, then right when the two of them made peace, Temujin's Mongolia attacked the weakened Egyptian civ. Hatty did a decent job of holding him off, only to see Peter pile on once again. That's when the cities really started to fall. I had some Confucian cities over there and could more or less see what was going on. At this point, Hatty still had four cities left, but I decided to build a settler just in case she reached the verge of extinction. It would take 6 turns to build a settler; surely Egypt wouldn't lose all four cities in that span, right?

Hatty, you stupid girl? What are you doing?! Argh!

She couldn't even hold on for that long. Unbelievable. And look at that printout on the side of the screen: I've got the settler that will rescue the Egyptian civ finishing on THIS turn! I couldn't believe it. Still my own fault - I should have whipped the darn settler instead of building it manually. When in doubt, always whip! Or, even better, I should have had a settler ready to go permanently, just in case this situation reared its ugly head. Just goes to show my readers - yes, I make silly mistakes too. FAR from perfect, that's for sure.

I learned my lesson though, and I'll have a settler ready for emergency "survival" duty from here on out. No one else is going to die on my watch.

Elsewhere, the news was better. Just as the Greek city of Corinth had been toast once Washington expanded its borders (at 7500 culture), so too did the Arabian city of Damascus find itself in the same fate with New York. I got my first revolt in 1583AD, and the city fell in 1598AD:

Wow, that was fast! As anyone who played in the RB29 succession games knows, sometimes the cultural flips come quickly - and sometimes they don't. This time I must have been relatively lucky on the dice rolls. Damascus wasn't a great city, but it was still worth keeping. The deer resource was nice, as health was the thing I most needed (with all these temples, happiness was not an issue). My borders have actually expanded so far, I've stolen the wheat resource in Mecca's first-ring! That was expected, but still pretty cool.

So my research continues pushing forward, heading above all for Biology tech. If you can't use the cultural slider (or turn it up above 20%), then the extra food at Biology really is THE critical thing on the tree to pursue. More food means more Artist specialists, which at 6 culture/turn (if you have Sistine, which you should) produce only slightly less culture per turn than fully mature towns. I can't get into detail because some of these games are still ongoing, but the RB29 cultural games were VERY instructive in this regard. Biology was discovered in 1613AD:

I was employing what I've come to think of as the T-Hawk strategy here, bypassing Democracy and the top part of the Renaissance tree in order to reach Biology ASAP. I've rarely used this in the past, so it was something different for me to try. (I'm well aware of the benefit of early Biology and bonus food, of course.) Upon reaching this key tech, I pulled my final civics swap of the game: from Organized Religion to Pacifism, and from Slavery to Caste System. My final civics were therefore Representation/Free Speech/Caste System/Mercantilism/Pacifism, for the curious. Pacifism would allow my cities (and my Great Artist farm in particular) to crank out those Great People at a much increased rate, and I didn't really need the shield bonus or missionary edge of Organized Religion anymore.

Caste System was needed so I could do this:

That's right, Seville has now been fully irrigated and has all the buildings it needs to turn out the Great Artists in record time. Biology tech for all that delicious extra food was merely the final piece in the puzzle. I'm currently supporting 12 Artist specialists in this city; the only reason I'm not growing the city even larger and supporting more is because I've hit the health limit, so there's little return on doing so. Best of all, this is a completely pure Great Artist pool, the dream of all Cultural victories! Seville would produce quite a few Great Artists for me before this game was done.

My next Great Person was actually a Great Scientist, the only one that I would generate all game. He again took the obvious step of building an Academy in New York:

New York produced the most beakers for my civ, and had the least base culture of my Big Three. It's nice when the game makes decisions this easy!

A word about research. I definitely wanted to build the late-game quartet of Broadway, RockNRoll, Hollywood, and Eiffel; the question was whether to go for them first on the tree, or head for Assembly Line, build factories, and then go after the wonders. In a non-cultural game, it would almost always be a better decision to grab factories for the extra production, but here I had a real choice to make. Ultimately I decided that researching two techs (Steam Power and Assembly Line) would end up taking too much time. I would just bite the bullet and beeline for Mass Media, in order to finish the wonders at the earliest possible date. I also had a plan up my sleeves to help complete the wonders a little faster...

The Great People continued coming in a vertiable deluge now, no doubt thanks to Mercantilism + Pacifism. My next was a Great Prophet, which I used on the Christian shrine:

I had built the Buddhist one earlier in Madrid with another Prophet (didn't show that one), which helps explain my finances. Yes, I'm STILL researching in the black at 100%! This game was crazy in that regard. I set research to 100% in the early AD years when I was able to trade for Currency, and never touched it again afterwards. That was partly due to this being on Prince, but probably had more to do with my three shrines, all of which were adding substantial income. Been a long time since I had a game like this though!

I don't have a single picture from 1655 to 1721 (22 turns), so it must have been a relatively uneventful period. On that date, however, there were a flurry of annoucements:

I finally got a revolt in the Roman city on my border, which was pretty cool. I had been waiting on that for ages. But look at the war declarations flying about: Temujin declares war on Caesar, followed by Saladin on Temujin. That seemed fishy; I later saw on the replay after the game was over that Caesar and Saladin had shared a Defensive Pact. (Ah! Now it makes sense.) At this point I wasn't particularly worried about Caesar (he had a lot of rifles), but things in that part of the world would soon heat up. I'll get back to that part of the story in a minute.

As far as my own cities, New York finally finished its last cathedral in 1724AD and I could begin putting my lategame cultural plan into effect. First, let me show you the city as it looked for the vast majority of the game:

New York is a city configured for commerce; it has six fully mature cottages, two gold mines, and a silk resource. This is my top researching city, at just over 250 beakers/turn. In a normal cultural game, you would probably crank up the slider to 100% culture and think nothing of it. But while that's one way to build culture, it's by no means the ONLY way to acquire it in cities. I've just finished my last cathedral, so I don't need to worry about production anymore. And I'll discover Mass Media next turn (where Hollywood is located on the tree), so research is meaningless as well.

It's time to transform New York for maximum cultural output under these variant rules!

Here's the "After" shot. By decimating the city's production and substantially reducing its research, I can crank up the cultural output by irrigating everything and running the max number of Artist specialists. The city is currently supporting 9 Artists, plus three more super-specialists, for the grand total of 84 BASE culture/turn just from specialists. Add in all those multipliers and we reach the robust total of 680/turn, which will only go higher after one of my other cities completes Eiffel Tower. And remember: New York is the WEAKEST of my three cities. I'll do the same thing with the others once they finish those late wonders. For those who have never tried to build culture with anything other than the slider, THIS is how you do it when that option is turned off. Build wonders pre-Biology, then irrigate to the max afterwards and run specialists.

Just how quickly can I finish this game? Stay turned and find out. You may be surprised at what's possible without touching the cultural slider at all.

Meanwhile, Caesar was in more trouble than I expected. He had a decent number of rifles, but Temujin... well, see for yourself:

Umm, this IS only Prince difficulty, right? Someone obviously didn't send that message to Khan! The Roman cities started going down in a hurry, and I started getting an exile home ready for Caesar.

As Roman cities fell, I was able to poach city locations in Caesar's former territory. I also picked up my third flip of the game, this one coming at the expense of the Russians:

Size 12 city? Thank you, I'll take that! This only made the push northeast into the collapsing Roman territory that much easier. And with cities in the right locations, I hoped that I could peacefully wall off the Romans from the raging Mongolian hordes, just as I had saved Isabella from Alex earlier. (I guess I should mention this: Alex declared war on Izzy in 1274AD and remained at war with her until the end of the game! But he never managed to reach the last Spanish city, due to my refusal to grant him Open Borders.)

Boston built the first Modern Age cultural wonder (Broadway), but apparently I never took a screenshot of it. I had the city go on to Rock N Roll after that. Washington, meanwhile, would build first Eiffel Tower and then Hollywood. Here's the shot of the first of these completing:

I zoomed in to take this shot to display the four Great Artists just hanging out, waiting for the final cultural push. Three of them had come from Seville, my Artist factory, and the other had popped out of one of my other cities at middling range odds. I thought they looked pretty cool, sitting there together in a group.

Now if you look closely at the above picture, you'll see workers farming the lumbermills around Boston. Here's the little "trick" I mentioned earlier: since I'm going to want to run max food at Boston anyway (to get the highest possible number of Artist specialists), I can chop all the forests and use their bonus shields to complete the last wonder there earlier than scheduled, thus making up for the fact that I skipped Assembly Line tech and factories earlier! Whew, got that? Just to show you what I mean, here's Boston right after those chops finished and Broadway was completed (1750AD):

Boston's now up to a rather sweet 951 culture/turn! Still running ZERO PERCENT on the culture slider too, researching at 100% at a profit. Amazing stuff. It almost makes me wonder if the whole cultural victory strategy is wrong; you can often get even more culture from using specialists rather than the slider, plus you don't have to turn off research and can therefore avoid the window of military vulnerability which usually accompanies that strategy.

As far as Boston specifically is concerned, I've got 11 Artist specialists here plus a super-specialist for 80 culture, then another 92 culture from buildings and the many wonders here. Add in four cathedrals, Broadway/RockNRoll, and Free Speech civic for a +450% boost, and voila! Great stuff. It's too bad I didn't get a fifth religion for more temples and another cathedral; I think that six would have been too many to spread in time, but five would have been ideal. Just goes to show that this result can certainly be bettered!

The other ongoing story was the continuing collapse of Rome at the hands of the Mongol hordes. Rome itself fell in 1752AD:

I was building settlers all over the place to poach these spots, and I would indeed get the lion's share of the spoils. (For whatever reason, Temujin was razing rather than capturing these locations.) You can see San Francisco peeking out at the bottom of the interface in the above screenshot, and I would next add a city on the very ruins of Rome itself. That finally gave me access to stone, although it was too late to matter. Would have killed for that earlier in the game, heh. The destruction of Rome was bad in a strategic sense, but good for my civ personally.

As I said before, I wasn't going to let any other civs die on my watch. Meet Caesar's new southern retreat:

Of course, by southern I mean "South Pole" but he doesn't have to know that. It was necessary to put this city down here, because even though Temujin couldn't reach Cumae (the final remaining Roman core city, blocked off by my cultural borders) there was a strong chance that Cumae would flip to me, eliminating Caesar! With this iceball village, I ensured that he would live to see the end of the game.

Washington was building the final remaining wonder for the game, after which I could run the same number of Artists as elsewhere. I carefully calculated how many shields I would get from forest chops, then set my workers to their craft:

Washington had NINE lumbermills, so there was quite a lot to cut down! The eight turns passed, and my workers all finished at the same time. Can you say "SUPERCHOP"?

I knew you could. Executing the Superchop was probably the highlight of this game. Now let's peek inside the city:

Washington ended up with slightly less culture/turn than Boston, mostly because it has fewer multipliers (+400% instead of +450%). At well over 900/turn though, I wasn't complaining. I'm almost embarassed to show this screenshot though, since I totally forgot that I was working a plains watermill tile. Whoops! I could have swapped that to a grassland farm and added another Artist specialist. D'oh!

Now all I had to do was wait. I had five Great Artists sitting around, but in order to win at the fastest possible time I needed to pop another one, so I could set off two culture bombs in each of my three cities. Both Boston and New York were due to pop another Great Person before 1800AD, although I would have to run a major food deficit at New York to do so. Would the Great Person dice rolls be kind enough to grant me another Artist?