I returned to the game again and picked up from the 505AD stopping point. The AIs were immediately on hand to welcome me back into the flow of things:
Here comes the latest stack from Augustus. There's nothing too dangerous here; the biggest problem is that I'm uncertain which of my two cities he will choose to go after. Multiplayer veterans know that placing two cities on the front lines is a sure recipe for disaster, forcing you to split your forces and defend both at once. The AI of course isn't as good as a human opponent, but it could still force me into a tricky situation quite often. I ended up keeping my forces between Tenochtitlan and Tolosa most of the time, on the road as you see above, so that they could respond to a threat at either location. Until I reached Engineering tech, my movement was slow even along the roads, limiting what I could do.
I always tried to lure the incoming enemy attacks onto flat ground, where they would lack defensive bonuses, and then eliminate them there. Over at Gergovia, I was in the process of doing that, when I attacked with a horse archer and didn't realize this would happen:
Oh, so that's how a flanking attack works! I had picked off several isolated catapults with horse archers before, and wondered why this "flanking" thing hadn't kicked in. This is the first time I'd ever seen this particular game mechanic. Pretty neat. In terms of tactics, note how my forces are camped out on the hill next to Gergovia. That forces the AI to move onto the pigs resource (flat ground), where I can now wipe them out at my leisure.
I founded my eighth city, Verlamion, a couple of turns later, just to the east of Gergovia. It had a nice location for a commerce/production hybrid, with pigs for food and a mixture of river grassland/hill tiles. You can see it in the picture below to the right:
This screenshot is actually showing my latest Warlord getting attached to... a Warrior! Yes, a lowly warrior who will serve as a fine Medic III unit, since he'll never have to defend against attack. Because the combat at Gergovia was so centralized, all occuring within a few tiles, it dawned on me that I would be well served to have my forces there healing super-fast. With the combined Khmer/Korean forces beating a constant assault, that proved to be a wise decision. I relied on my elite war elephants to counter the Ballista Elephants of Suryavarman; getting them back into the fight ASAP was crucial.
As I mentioned earlier, I was generally safe when facing a single opponent on each front, in trouble when two or more of them came at once. The next dual threat in the north showed up in 890AD:
I'm not worried about the catapults, chariots, or horse archers. It's those Praetorians that put a crimp into my plans. Until they come down off that defensive terrain, I can't even think about attacking them. Even worse, on the following turn (900AD) I received word that Augustus had swapped civics to Theocracy and Vassalage. Ugh. Confirmation that the AIs have reached Feudalism/longbows, and highly-promoted enemy units to boot! We have a problem on our hands.
For the first time in a while, I did not have enough units to meet the AIs in the field. I whipped an elephant out of Tenochtitlan and pulled the rest of my defenders back into the city. (Tolosa could not contribute because it was finishing up the Forbidden Palace! More on that in a minute.) I had a tense moment or two, but the AIs failed to coordinate their attacks properly. First Churchill attacked with his horse archers, and then on the following turn Augustus sent in the Praetorians (rather than both attacking at once). I was thus able to survive relatively unharmed, and mop up the survivors. My horse archers had a field day against the wounded Roman catapults:
I didn't even know that this was possible, outright killing siege units with flanking! Anyway, it was pretty cool. Notice how I've lost a fair number of units in the battle, and that the English city of Newcastle is now sporting longbow defense rather than archers.
The completion of the Forbidden Palace (920AD) didn't do as much as I had hoped, recovering about 12 gold/turn in savings. (That seems to be the general theme in Civ4, with the FP never doing as much as we Civ3 vets hope it will. Too bad that "number of cities maintenance" and not "distance maintenance" is the real killer in this game.) Nevertheless, it added enough income to fuel another city, and so I planted my ninth city (Durnovaria) on the coast to the east of Bibracte. This was a rather weak city overall, but it did grab the whales resource offshore and locked down the silks in the area. It also filled out my dotmap nicely; I ended up wasting only a handful of tiles to the east of the capital.
In terms of research, I had pursued Civil Service initially, followed by Metal Casting/Machinery to open up macemen. I planned to go after the top of the tree after that, but was rudely interrupted in 1000AD by this message:
Whoops! So much for the Great Library. My research into Aesthetics just lost most of its purpose. I guess that's what I get for going all the way up the tree to macemen before try to go after the wonder. That's life in an Always War setting.
As usual, a major stack of Korean units were on the way into my territory. Because of the Hwacha boost against melee units, I actually found that macemen weren't as effective as I had hoped. They would get a +50% bonus against my maces, without my maces getting a reverse bonus against them! For example, to use that particular stack above, the only units against which maces could get good odds were the chariot and spearman. Against the AI elephants, I couldn't get much better than 50/50 odds, which is a losing proposition. (Maces are more expensive than elephants.)
As it turned out, the answer to the units I saw the AIs sending was to build lots and lots of elephants myself. The AIs generally didn't build too many melee units; instead, I saw huge quantities of war elephants, horse archers, catapults, and (later) trebuchets. My own war elephants could promote down the Formation line and get good odds against every single one of those unit types. The more I played, the more I came to rely on my elephants and scale back on mace production. Uberphants indeed, as the Multiplayer world likes to call them. I don't know what I would have done without that source of Aztec ivory I captured in BC years. Some of our players are going to have an interesting time if they can't secure themselves a source!
While I didn't see much naval combat, when I did it was not halfhearted:
I had two triremes on guard duty, only to see Churchill send three of his own ships and sink both (at the cost of two of his own three ships). I hastily whipped out the ship you see here, and just prayed that I would get lucky on the dice roll. Naval combat in the early game is simply dumb luck; it was my Combat I trireme with 10% coastal defense bonus versus Churchill's Combat II trireme. Exactly 50/50 odds. This time the luck bounced my way, ending the seafood starvation problem at Tenochtitlan. I finished another trireme and the little naval episode was finished for now.
Shortly thereafter I founded Isca, to reach an even ten cities:
I've marked the location of what will be the eleventh and final city with a red dot. Isca, with its many hill tiles, is going to be a pure production city. Irrigate the rice, farm some of those grassland tiles, then mine everything else and crank the military units. Surrounding the new city is the capital (to the south) and several of the other settlements I've added over the last few centuries. Red dot is even more interesting: it has ZERO food bonuses, but otherwise good land. I couldn't let all those tiles go to waste! I would end up farming two grassland tiles (for a +4 food surplus), then cottaging all the other grassland river tiles. These late cities were slow in developing, but really paid off in the end. And you know I'm too much of a perfectionist to let any tiles go unused if at all possible.
Bad news followed a little later: Augustus built the Apostolic Palace and united all followers in the Hindu faith. I had wanted to get that wonder myself, just had too many pressing needs on defense. Now I would have to burn down all Hindu cities, because I couldn't risk opening myself up to an Apostolic Palace loss (obviously, all the AIs would vote against me!) If I had known more about how the AP worked when creating this game, I would have turned off the Diplomatic victory option to avoid such a situation arising (it will certainly be off for any future Always War games). I just hope none of our players get caught and suffer a loss that way...
Another demonstration of tactics: or, how to get the AI to move where you want it to move!
By putting units on the forest tile, I can keep Wang's units from occupying it themselves. Since they are programmed to attack the nearest city, they'll move along the arrow and be easy pickings next turn. A minor issue, to be sure - but you've got to do everying to minimize casulties in this type of game!
Oh, and check out the new threat from the AIs: crossbowmen. Yet another reason why maces weren't seeing much use. I found that elephants could handle them rather nicely though, and so I continued to emphasize uberphant training.
I was one turn away from Alphabet research in the previous screenshot (can you tell I wasn't planning on doing much with espionage/spies?) When it finished, I could finally see the Tech screen and compare the AI progress to my own:
For no apparent reason, Suryavarman is way behind everyone else. Otherwise, the information isn't too good. I'm up one tech on most of the AIs, down three techs to Churchill, four techs to Augustus, and FIVE techs to Wang. He's almost as bad of a tech whore as Mansa. The fact that I didn't turn off tech trading is one element that adds real danger to this game. Although my GNP is tops in the world, the AIs are clearly sharing their discoveries and actually researching faster than me. This is definitely not good news; if the Protective civs manage to get to rifles before I do, the game's going to get very bloody indeed.
Things continued along much as they had for the next few turns. I was holding serve on defense, not strong enough to attack; they were attacking, not strong enough to break through. Some interesting things began to develop as the 12th century came to a close:
First of all, I'm about to finish the Heroic Epic next turn in Tolosa. This opens up the classic question of where do you put the HE in an Always War game: in the capital, to take advantage of the Bureaucracy boost, or in another city devoted purely to military production? I decided to go with Tolosa because it had great production potential (four hills, copper resource, lots of forests) and it was right by the front lines. I built a barracks, forge, and stable here, and that was about it as far as infrastructure. All military units all the time! In contrast, I put five or six cottages at the capital, and (since it was the Buddhist holy city) had to spend many turns constructing a market, grocer, and bank. As my top research city, the capital also needed a library, monasteries, and so on. With all those infrastrcture needs, I decided to put the HE in the pure military city. Bibracte would end up pumping a lot of settlers and workers, to spare Tolosa from needing to build them.
Now note the elephants brought by Churchill to this latest battle. He's got them promoted to Combat II/Formation - hey, no fair! *MY* elephants are promoted the exact same way! Stupid Charismatic civs, argh. I couldn't get good odds in this battle and ended up losing a couple of elite units. Fortunately I didn't see too many other AI units promoted as dangerously as these had been.
When I founded my final ("red dot") city in 1200AD, I snapped an overview picture of my territory:
The land that was purchased at such dear expense in the early game has now been completely filled out. Although there are some areas where a couple of tiles are going to waste, on the whole I'm extremely pleased with how everything came out here. Once the smaller cities developed further, I would really be in business. On average, each AI had about six cities. You could therefore say that the donut was divided into thirds: my territory, the Korean/Khmer pairing, and the Roman/English group. We were rather evenly balanced at the moment, so even minor gains on my part could start to tip things against the AIs. I began looking for an opportunity to advance, thinking about when the moment would be right to go on the offensive.
I was running a lot of specialists at Tenochititlan due to all the seafood, so it was no surprise to land this Great Person:
The Great Scientist went and built an Academy in Bibracte, my top research location. That provided a nice little boost. To my own surprise, I also managed to reach Music before any of the AIs, despite my late start on the top of the tree. I held onto the free Great Artist for the moment, planning to spring a Golden Age when making my next civics change.
Here's a peek inside my Heroic Epic city of Tolosa:
This is my usual formula for such cities: all shields, no commerce. Even with a sweet river location, Tolosa is bringing in a grand total of 6 commerce... while it has a base production of 26 shields/turn. I can build two-turn elephants and maces here, which is exactly what I would end up doing for many decades on end. Later on, I hoped to add watermills, lumbermills, and a free Engineer specialist (from Mercantilism) to take the shield total even higher.
I have next to no experience with the espionage side of this game. As a late addition from the second expansion, it's somewhat difficult for me to change my playstyle around after probably 50+ games using the older versions. The one way that I DID use my spies was in the same fashion as the old ones, for scouting out enemy territory:
Very few things irritate me more than a blank map - I had to fill it in as soon as it became possible! Besides, knowing the location of the enemy cities would be critical if I were to do later conquering. Advancing blindly into the fog is very bad tactics. This particular picture also clued me into two things: first, that Wang had built the Colossus (argh, hate that Financial/Colossus combo!) and secondly, that he was rather weak defensively. I couldn't do much about that now, but it was worth thinking about.
By now I was getting ready to go on the offensive. The first target was to be the weakly held English border town of Newcastle. I noticed, however, that Churchill was keeping a rather large stack of units holed up inside. This was odd AI behavior, as I hadn't noticed that happening before. After a couple of turns, I wondered if those units were sitting there in response to my own stack of units, only two tiles away from the city. So I moved my own units backwards...
...and sure enough, the AI units moved out of the city! Right onto a flat killing ground. I set the bait, and they fell for it, hook and line. OK, first let's mop up these stragglers (who were not entirely trivial, after all).
There we go. Churchill has a total of two units defending now. Methinks he is in a wee bit of trouble. The story of the first Celtic offensive since the BC years takes place on the next page...