During the past 1000 or so years, I had built up my civ into the strongest force on the planet, dwarfing the research and production capabilities of all competitors. However, before I could let loose my wrath upon these poor saps, I still needed to research some more technologies to unlock my glorious cavs. In addition to that, much of the western part of the map was still shrouded in darkness, so I planned to use this time for recon purposes as well. Knowing exactly when and where to strike would be a crucial part of operations later on.
In the meantime, shortly after 1000AD I was going through a period of intense activity from the AI civs. Toku and Alex sent major stacks after Munich at the same time, and as the game's two Aggressive civs, that meant they were sporting lots of promotions. Not good. Here's a shot of the ongoing battle:
Circled in red is Toku's stack, which already managed to pillage my incense plantation on that tile. I had a difficult time defending at Munich due to the line of hills running up to the city; AI units could first take cover in the forest (where you see the Greek units currently), then proceed east, southeast, and northeast while staying on the high ground. The two mined hills you see here west of Munich were each pillaged many times by the AI over the course of the game.
At the time of this present shot, I have just thrown the house at Toku's stack and crippled it down to a single axe; I did so because he would have moved onto the high ground the following turn and made things much more dicey. I actually got lucky here and won several coinflip battles (where I only had 50-70% odds), but you can see how much damage my own stack took in the process. And Alex's units will arrive in just a couple more turns! In other words, I definitely had a situation on my hands.
Fortunately, Alex's group separated a bit as the chariots went off to pillage, and that combined with the slow-moving foot units gave me the repreive I needed. Machinery was on the horizon, and when that research came in my axe build in Munich got upgraded to a mace. Through a combination of strategic use of the terrain and AI ineptitude on the attack, the danger had passed by 1100AD:
Only one unit slipped out of my hands here: the chariot you see circled. I had all my workers protected, but Delhi (on missionary duty) had just produced a Jewish missionary, and I sent him on a goto order far to the east, not thinking about where he would end up on this particular turn. Well, the missionary moved on the path indicated in white above, and he was promptly eaten by that Greek chariot! I wasn't sure whether to laugh out loud or kick myself for a weedy move. So the next time you make a silly mistake in Civ4, remember - yes, I do it too.
Delhi builds Hanging Gardens in 1118AD, yawn. That's like, what, my sixth wonder there? Wake me when something exciting happens!
Much better news was the popping of a Great Person at Delhi the next turn, and guess what - it's a Great Engineer!
I had been running an engineer specialist with the forge here for a long time, but the Great Engineer odds were only about 20%. With Berlin knocking out wonders in record time (Industrious + stone/marble + Bureaucracy, ouch!) it would actually be a waste to use Imhotep on a wonder. Therefore I happily utilized one of the other Great Person functions, and used him to knock out the pricey Engineering tech in a single turn! Usually I wouldn't use a Great Engineer this way, but it was the best move at the time for my game. Sometimes it's not a good move to burn Great People on techs, and sometimes it is (anyone who says categorically that one or the other is correct is not seeing the big picture). Figuring out the best move for each particular game is all part of the fun.
As far as the other thing that the picture above shows... Look at all the naval activity occuring around Delhi. (You can also see all the defenders in the area; the city is a German fortress now.) There are actually six different galleys sitting on that tile west/southwest of Delhi, and more Arabian ones scuttling around all over the place. Fortunately that fish resource is located in the ocean, and not on the coast, or I would never have been able to protect it! Anyway, the combat odds were much too poor to fight a galley vs. galley war, so I simply parked a single galley up in the north and held position there. I would not contest the AI control of the waters around Delhi, but they in turn were not going to go pestering my other cities. I think planting that galley up there may have messed with their pathfinding in some way, because one AI galley tried to kill it, but the others left it alone. And since the southern ice cap prevented naval passage to the south, that one galley was enough to defend the coastal waters of my entire civ.
But the era of AI naval dominance is about to come to a close, because I'm now about to research Optics. Yes, I plan to build a number of caravels and wrest control of the seas from these AI landlubbers for good. Aside from the simple satisfaction of sinking their ships (and believe me, I love routing the AI in naval warfare), my caravels would also be able to scout out the coasts and reveal where most of the AI cities were located. The last thing I wanted was to be sending my cavs into unexplored wilderness. Now let's find out where these AIs are hiding!
I whipped three caravels the turn after Optics was discovered from my fishing cities, and then had Bombay build several more. They immediately began bringing back useful info. The one that sailed east grabbed the circumnavigation bonus, and then proceeded to spy on Washington's capital:
Wow, that's a lot of units! They aren't very good units, mind you, but there are a lot of them. The caravel's scouting revealed why Washington's score was so low compared to the other AI civs: he had been hemmed in by the expansion of Alexander and Isabella. In an unfortunate outcome for the Americans, New York had even flipped to Spain! America was thus basically a two-city civ, with Boston in the south being the only other one worth mentioning. Pitiful. I guess that's why Roosevelt never sent any units my way...
While the caravels tackled the fog on the high seas, my explorer danced through the heart of the AI civs on land:
Explorers might not be able to attack, but as anyone who's played a Multiplayer medieval-era start can tell you, they can cause some real headaches with the right promotions. By sticking to forest and hill tiles, my explorer was able to make it deep into enemy territory before being killed. I later wished that I had built another one for use in the late game, and regretted the loss. You probably won't get much use from explorers in the main game (except on a Terra map), but here in Always War they can do some good recon work.
While all this was going on, I was building maces in my frontline cities and researching through Fedualism, Guilds, and Philosophy. Berlin built National Epic, Parthenon, and then Chichen Itza (the last one for denial purposes). Not a whole lot to report upon, although once I had Guilds I stopped the mace production and swapped over to all knights. Going to upgrade them later on, and knights are mighty fine units themselves against ancient age trash from the AIs.
With my caravels attacking in tandem, I did manage to clear out the last of the AI galleys from Delhi:
These seas be ours! Arrr! (Look at all the map info on the minimap, yay!)
By the time Berlin finished Hagia Sophia in 1274 for its NINTH wonder (good grief!), I had enough units to begin a cautious push forwards against the AIs. There was even a credible threat approaching my borders, but my military had a huge technological edge, and so it was crushed without breaking a sweat:
Even four incoming AI stacks at once could hardly dent that group, and the rest of my attack force was off the screen to the right (you can just see the flag here). With the discovery of Gunpowder tech, I entered the Renaissance era and completed all the research I needed to do on the bottom of the tree. Next we go on to Divine Right.
...Divine Right?! Why in the world would I want to go there? So that I can use one of my stored up Great Artists to knock out 90% of the cost...
...which allows the SECOND Great Artist from researching Music first to knock out most of the cost of Nationalism! That reduced the cost to research the tech down to just 3 turns, a major boost for me. I used a lot of Great People on techs in this game, but I really do feel that was the best play. In many situations, getting a couple techs immediately, or even a few turns faster, can be a big boost. (And yes, Berlin is hard at work on wonder #10, heh.)
Meanwhile, with the arrival of cavs now imminent, I began pressing forward, hoping to raze cities in order to fuel research and get additional cash for upgrades. Since the AI cities in the desert next to me weren't worth keeping anyway, this dovetailed nicely with my plan:
Pharsalos goes down, netting me almost 100g (and wow, was that a horrible city location or what?) Satsuma to the north followed on the next turn:
More money! Gimme gimme gimme! The Germans are finally bursting forth from their homeland, ready to sweep across the continent and erdicate everything in sight. As the military tide rolled across the landscape, my workers served as combat engineers by laying down roads across the desert to facilitate reinforcements. It was reminiscent of Civ3 in some regards here (workers as combat engineers was one of my favorite parts of that game, although it could sometimes be tedious).
As soon as I finished research into Nationalism, I used another stored-up Great Engineer to rush Taj Mahal. Now researching towards Military Tradition in a Golden Age (!), with the tech due in 7 turns. That's awfully good, considering this is Epic speed, after all (with no universities and no plans ever to build any). My knights celebrated the golden age by sacking another city for upgrade cash:
Here on the other side of the desert the land was better, and so I decided to keep Tokyo. (Don't forget, you can also only upgrade units in your own territory!) Let's take a look at what my units in the north were up to at the same date, shall we?
I think Osaka is in trouble! Naturally it fell on the next turn.
Finally, the big day arrived: Military Tradition discovered in 1352AD. Every city in my civ dropped whatever infrastructure nonsense they had been working on and converted over to full-scale cav production. Here's what that looked like:
Frankfurt working on some defenders for the cities I choose to capture, Delhi faithfully building Jewish missionaries still, everyone else cranking cavs at best possible rate. Even my fishing towns can whip one every 15 turns! Researching Banking in order to open up Mercantilism civic, after which I'll run a triple swap to Police State/Vassalage/Mercantilism. Naturally, I'm waiting for my golden age to end and all my (many) knights to be upgraded to cavs before pulling the trigger on a revolt.
So... Military Tradition in 1352. You can see that the bulk of the world is still out there to be conquered. How fast can I get it done from this date? Just as I said in Civ3's Epic 27, I warn you, don't bet against my cavs...