Ever since Civ3 came out, one of my favorite things to do with games in this series has been playing around with culture and culture flips. Here in Civ4, there are a number of different factors that combine to make flips very difficult (see my Emperor Metalman and Epic Eight reports for examples), but nonetheless culture as a whole works better in this game than in its predecessor. Since cities are not guaranteed control over any tiles, even a city 4 or 5 tiles away can crush its neighbors if it's powerful enough culturally.
Nevertheless, the direct inspiration for this game came from two independent efforts at achieving Domination under very unusual circumstances. The Culturemongers Succession Game at CivFanatics set out to achieve a task that quite a few of our civ experts thought would be impossible: winning Domination under the Always Peace ruleset! Inspired by their effort, Ruff_Hi independently played his own Culture Crush version of the same game. Although both games were played on Noble difficulty, on a Small pangaea, I'll readily admit here that I did not expect either attempt to be successful, and paid no attention to them while they were taking place. Then one day I notice in the forums that the Culturemongers were posting victory messages in their thread - say what?!
As it turns out, both the Culturemongers SG and Ruff's Culture Crush game successfully won Domination victories, the first in 1823AD and the latter in 2039AD. They both bucked the conventional thinking and proved that an Always Peace Domination victory was not only possible, but very much winnable indeed! Well, this was such a cool concept that I figured I HAD to try my hand at it myself, not least because I was the one responsible for inclusion of the "Always Peace" concept into this game in the first place! (Soren later told me the main reason it was added in was due to the fact that it took "about ten seconds" to code. )
I highly encourage anyone interested in this report to take a look at the original games (at the links I provided above), since I'll be referring to them throughout this report. For those who don't have the time to sift through several hundred posts of SG material, however, here's a quick summary of what I picked up from each game. The Culturemongers SG placed a huge priority on founding as many religions as possible and snapping up lots of wonders to deny them (and their corresponding culture) to the AIs. As befitting those goals, they chose Gandhi as their civ. But the most important discovery from that particular game was Lahore. Let me show you what I mean:
Lahore was widely expected by the team members to flip away from their control; indeed, the only reason it was founded was to get some use out of a settler who had no other place to found a city. The great surprise, however, was that Lahore not only held its cultural ground, but went on to flip the city of Boston you see to the left! The lesson from the game was therefore clear: land is what matters above all else in an Always Peace game. For someone going for Domination and pursuing a cultural gameplan, one should boldly found cities in every possible nook and cranny left open by the AI, simply because those cultural fortresses "behind enemy lines" would prove to be enormously helpful down the road in flipping AI cities. That was the lesson of Lahore, and the aggressive city foundings of the Culturemongers proved to be a huge element in their eventual success.
Ruff's game was played independently at the same time, and he followed a bit of a different approach. Ruff concentrated on sealing off a large area of open space behind his own borders, thus denying it to AI settlers, and then pushing into the AI cores at a later date along a broad front. Ruff's analysis of how to advance directly into an AI's home territory with nothing but culture was hugely instructive, and I encorage you to go take a look at it on his site (it's a great short read!) As a result of these two games, I had a good idea of how to go about planning my own effort.
If I have seen further, it has been by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Nevertheless, I saw quite a few ways in which I believed I could improve upon these initial efforts. For starters, let's look at the civ to choose for the game. The Culturemongers decided to select Gandhi (Industrious/Spiritual), while Ruff went with Louis (Creative/Industrious). What I couldn't understand was why both games chose to make the Industrious trait such a large priority. Wonders are not, repeat, NOT where the culture comes from in this sort of game. There are only three must-have wonders for this sort of game (Stonehenge, Sistine, and Statue of Liberty), and all of them are quite easy for the human to build without being Industrious. The other big attraction of the Industrious trait (half-cost forges) is almost worthless for this particular variant. For that matter, with the tech plan I wanted to employ, I wasn't even going to get anywhere near Metal Casting for ages on end!
If Industrious wasn't all that hot, then what would be good for this variant? As I see it, the choices come down to Creative, Financial, and Spiritual. Creative is such a no-brainer, I'm kind of shocked that the Culturemongers didn't pick a Creative civ. Granted, the 2 culture/turn isn't going to flip cities for you, but it WILL allow you to hold your position with aggressive city locations in the early game, which is of course THE most critical period. Financial would mean more commerce and thus more culture in the endgame when running the culture slider, so it was another strong option. And Spiritual allows for half-cost temples, a HUGE advantage for this sort of game. If you can get all seven religions in a city, you can get 28 base culture just from the natural benefit/temples/monasteries alone - that's a lot! And more temples means more cathedrals, for even more cultural goodness. Since the early parts of the game are by far the most important, I decided to choose Hatshepsut (Creative/Spiritual) for my attempt. By the time Financial becomes an issue, I expect the game to be mostly decided one way or the other.
The game settings would once again be on a Small Pangaea, Epic speed, but this time I upped the difficulty to Prince. I was pretty confident that the variant would be possible on Monarch, but didn't want to dial things up quite that high for my first try at it. And in the same fashion as the other efforts, I picked the other civs in the game (a rarity for me), selecting Tokugawa, Temujin, Caesar, and Napoleon. No Creative, Financial, or Philosophical civs in the bunch - that wasn't an accident! None of them started with Mysticism either, to clear my way to the early religions. So maybe that was a bit gamey, but you'll just have to accept it.
My first game had a very weak starting position, and I rejected it immediately. (Rare for me, but this wasn't intended to be an "extreme adventure".) Here was the second one:
As you can see above, I began with a worker and researched Mysticism, then Meditation, then Polytheism. Since Egypt starts with Agriculture and The Wheel, there was plenty for my worker to do while chasing religions. With a gold and corn resource on hand, I would rate this as a "good" starting position, if not an exceptional one - just what I was looking for. Notice that I've already encountered Toku and Temujin; I was amused that the only possible response at talking to them was "There shall be peace in our time!"
My warrior pops gold from two huts, and gets experience from another, taking him to Woodsman II. That was a big boost, actually, since I had a lot of scouting to do with him. By the time I founded Hinduism in Thebes for my second religion, I had already revealed the local geography, and it was rather strange, to say the least:
On the plus side, I have a huge amount of land here to expand into. That's probably 30% of the 68% needed to win right there!On the down side though... that means the rest of the land is going to have the AIs absolutely PACKED together. And I'm going to need to get roughly 30-40% more land in territory that's likely to be deep within their cultural borders. So is this good or bad overall? I don't know. I'll just have to play and find out. For the moment, however, I clearly need to get some settlers started ASAP and begin beelining them towards Tokugawa!
That's right - I'm NOT going to be settling this land initially. It's all relatively safe. What I have to do is start putting pressure on the AIs immediately. If I learned anything from the Culturemongers SG, it was that! So Thebes grows at max food to size 3 (putting shields into Stonehenge during those turns), then begins a settler. After Polytheism, I research Mining for the gold tile, then Masonry, then Monotheism for Judaism. By the time that reseach finishes, I've already got my second city ready to receive it:
Thanks to this game being on Epic speed, I was able to get my settler right up against the borders of Kyoto, only three tiles away from the Japanese capital! And with pigs, marble, and many hill tiles on hand, Memphis wasn't even a bad city.
In a normal game, the next couple settlers would fill out the area around my capital. But in this game, I had to send them aggressively to the west instead to form my own "Lahore"-style settlements. That meant going PAST the Japanese capital, along the narrow line of territory in the north not covered by Toku's borders. Fortunately, however, my third city was able to go in a great spot that put pressure on both Toku's capital and second city:
Heliopolis is four tiles from Kyoto (located on the red dot, which we still can't see yet) and only three tiles from Osaka, the minimum possible in Civ4. The ONLY thing that matters in terms of flips is culture on the actual tile where the city is located, so there's a huge value in getting your cities as close as possible to the city you're trying to attack. The difference between being 3 tiles away from a city and 4-5 tiles away is enormous! I don't have the math on me right now to explain it further, so just take my word for it. I was therefore extremely pleased with the Heliopolis location.
The downside? Notice all my new cities are going halfway around the world. My economy is going to crash at some point, and crash HARD. Good thing I've had plenty of experience with that from Epic Five and Adventure Nine!
Anyway, after researching the initial starting techs, I grabbed Priesthood for the Oracle and started it in Memphis. (Hey, it had marble and tons of shields, why not? And it wouldn't hurt to get that extra cultural pressure on Kyoto either!) Meanwhile, my capital of Thebes built Stonehenge:
Obviously this wonder was hugely important, not even so much to add to my own culture as for denial value to the AI civs. See, this is why there's just no real need to be Industrious for this kind of variant. The AI is NOT going to beat a human to Stonehenge (at least on Prince) so long as the human knows what he/she is doing. As far as the other critical wonders - well, you'll see why there's virtually no chance of losing them to the AI either.
Just a couple turns later, I built the Oracle and took Code of Laws, founding Confucianism in Heliopolis:
As I planned it of course. So far, so good. Notice that my science rate is already crashing, but I hope to ameliorate that as best I can by picking up Alphabet at a very early date. Now a word of comparison here is in order to the Culturemongers SG. In their effort, they researched Code of Laws manually (unfortunately losing out on Confucianism in the process), and instead used the Oracle to grab Philosophy and found Taoism. In my game, I took Code of Laws and founded Confucianism, for the same net effect (one religion each), BUT I reached Alphabet at a much earlier date, and that would prove to be critical. As you'll see below, a human can often find ways to make technological progress even when in GNP hell, through deft manipulation of Alphabet tech trading and Currency gold trading.
Another thing of note in the picture above: see the tiles I've circled in yellow? When Toku's capital expands borders again (at 750 culture), those will be grabbed by his capital and I will be cut off from the entire western half of the continent! This wouldn't be a big deal with another civ (I would just sign Open Borders), but Toku being Toku, of course that's not going to happen. As a result, I'll have to burn another city up north at some point just to keep the lifeline open to the western area. Argh, just what I need - more city maintenance.
City #4 went in a true "Lahore" location:
That's as sad as it gets, no? But just you wait, and we'll see whose city flips to whom. Elephantine was another magnificent location, exactly three tiles from both Beshbalik and (unrevealed) Antium. Even though you can't see it, you can probably tell from the Roman borders where Antium is located (one tile NW of the rice). By the way, look at what I'm researching - Hunting. I had to take a little pitstop from my Alphabet beeline to hook up my ivory, heh.
Now my early city placements effectively blocked off my part of the continent from the other civs at the Narrows (that's how I'll refer to that land area near the Japanese capital), but there was a VERY small path through the northern tundra that Toku could slip a settler through. I saw one heading past my borders, but naturally there wasn't much I could do about it. Here's where Toku decided to plant, the first city to make it past my blockade:
I'm not sure why he chose this particular location, but it did have a lot of ivory... Anyway, I was not at all worried by this city of Edo. That was another thing I picked up from the Culturemongers game: don't sweat the cities that sneak past your borders! One city by itself is incredibly easy to flip; it's only when AI cities overlap in their cores, propping each other up with their culture, that they become tough to take out. Edo is toast - it's just a matter of time. I'll be able to put pressure on this location from no fewer than four different cities in time - including my capital. So don't worry about those isolated settlers slipping past you; far more important to cram your own cities into the nooks and crannies left in the AI core!
By the way, take a quick look at the AI capitals in the west:
Napoleon's capital - WOW! Cows, rice, horses, gold, marble, on a river with two floodplains, and with seven hill tiles. Amazing! That's a Hall of Fame start right there (as in, that's the kind of start that the people who submit games to the CivFanatics HOF roll maps endlessly until they get). Caesar's capital wasn't bad, with cows/fish/gold, but it paled in comparison to the French monstrosity. Jeez. No wonder Napoleon is the AI leader in score!
So despite my extremely far-flung cities, I still made it to Alphabet in 400BC, and thus began the trading:
Caesar was more than willing to help out. Then just a couple turns later, I sent Code of Laws to Napoleon for Sailing and Iron Working. (The iron working was especially critical, since there was a lot of jungle to cut down.) One thing I didn't see the previous Always Peace Domination games get enough out of was tech trading; my plan here was to hit the top of the tree, and hit it HARD, trading for anything else I might need along the way. (I definitely remember the Culturemongers SG researching Iron Working themselves rather than trading for it.) After Alphabet, I went for Literature (for Great Library purposes), followed by Drama and then Music. Gonna take a long time to get there at my science rate, however...
That's because I was still founding more cities in the west before the land closed off completely. First up, Alexandria:
I didn't really want to found here, but I had to keep that narrow path at the top of the world open before it was closed off by Toku's culture. As it was, I made the best of a bad situation by founding at the minimum possible distance from Osaka. With two cities only three tiles away, one of them a holy city, Osaka was going to be toast sometime in the future.
As it turned out though, it wasn't Osaka but Tokyo which was the first one to suffer an Egyptian revolt:
First one of the game, woohoo! One more and it's goin' down! Tokyo was a poor location to begin with, and it had failed to accumulate any culture of its own (it had Hinduism, but Toku was running Judaism as his state religion). Once Memphis hit 750 culture and level 4 borders, it was in dire shape. Even better, I now had full control over the Narrows - no settlers going to slip by on land!
The downside is that I was down to 0% science. But am I going to stop expanding? Not likely! Memphis is on another settler above. Got to grab all land possible before it's gone. Finances can be repaired later, but land left to the AI now won't be easy to get back, if ever! Here was another great filler location:
I wanted to send my earlier settler here, the one that became Alexandria, but I had to keep my lifeline open in the north. As a result, Giza was founded a bit later and was unable to block off Rome from this little peninsula here. Nevertheless, it was the minimum distance from both Cumae and Neapolis, so I was quite happy with the result. Caesar would later place another city on the purple dot, and I would add a city on the yellow dot (much) later. Since I won't be screenshoting this area a lot, I figured I might as well point this all out now.
A little bit later, while I was still stuck in GNP hell from all my western cities, Thebes popped a Great Prophet from the earlier building of Stonehenge. I'm sure you can guess what I did with him...
Another religion, timed to pop in one of my critical wedge cities! It was actually not an accident that Christianity was founded in Elephantine; this city and Alexandria and Giza were all size 1, so I waited until Elephantine hit size 2 (turning off growth in Alexandria for two turns) to increase the odds that it would pop in this location. With all three cities lacking a religion, the odds were good that it would appear in the city with the highest population, so I made sure that that would be Elephantine. Success!
I founded one more city before the AD years, an aggressive city on the Mongolian border designed to push into Temujin's core. Here's what the world looked like at that date:
One of the other civs recently discovered Currency, so I have already begun the process of selling outdated techs for cash to fuel deficit research. Elsewhere, you can see how the world is shaping up. Toku is under some serious pressure, and my western cities are driving a cultural dagger into that side of the continent. Still very little action on my side of the Narrows, but we'll get to that later! Up to this point in time, I've been focusing on sharpening the cultural blade over there in the west, but from here on out I'm out of room to expand over there. Now I had the task of backfilling the open land in the east while rescuing my finances from the quagmire I had dragged them into. Fun times still ahead!