Although I had gotten a lot of value out of the past two Great Scientists, using them to knock out Philosophy and Education techs, my economy was hurting a bit because I had five self-founded religions but still no shrines. When Memphis popped a Great Prophet for its next Great Person, I was therefore quite happy to use him on the Confucian shrine:
I checked influence of each religion on F7, and since Confucianism had spread the furthest, it was a natural choice. It didn't hurt to have the extra culture of the Kong Miao pressing on Osaka and Kyoto either! Notice that the Japanese capital has already lost some of its first-ring tiles to Memphis; the walls are really starting to close in there. Osaka wasn't looked good either in the north, as I had already passed over 50% culture on the central city tile itself. A half-dozen turns later that paid off with my first revolt:
First revolt in an AI core city, very nice. Osaka had a decent garrison for flip suppression duties, but between Heliopolis and Alexandria's culture it didn't have much of a chance.
I built Notre Dame in 1346AD, again in Memphis, by which date the city had wrestled control of its entire 21-tile radius away from Kyoto. Also of interest, I swung this nice trade with Napoleon on the same date:
Ah, the advantages of beelining down one particular part of the tree! Out of these particular techs, the only ones that actually mattered were Feudalism and Metal Casting, since they were on the road to Banking tech and Mercantilism civic. The rest I picked up just because I could. One odd fact is that I had good relations with Napoleon for most of this game, either Cautious or Pleased pretty much all the time. Since I wasn't attacking Napoleon's borders culturally (he was tucked into the southwest corner), I saw no reason to antagonize him needlessly. I didn't get much out of trading with the other civs, but Nappy was a big help.
A little bit later Osaka flipped to me, woohoo!
As usual, I opted to burn the city down rather than keep it. Seriously, why accept the city? I can raze and replace with a city only three tiles away from Turfan, not four! Here's what that looked like:
I would chop all of the forests at Buto, using the free shields for a theatre and a granary. Naturally all of the grassland tiles received cottages, which would grow quickly once I reached Emancipation civic. Almost there too, with Democracy set to finish research in just 15 more turns.
The process of destroying Japanese cities and replacing them with my own continued to proceed nicely. Tokyo and Osaka had already been wiped from the record books, and Edo prepared to meet their fate in 1496:
I told you this city was toast, didn't I? Even with some improperly-placed cities, Edo was no match for my overwhelming culture. All I need is one more revolt here and my half of the continent will be culturally pure.
The years go by very quickly in this sort of game, so soon enough I had already reached 1502AD and another milestone. Aside from the nice even date, I also discovered Democracy tech on this turn and adopted Emancipation. (Memphis began State of Liberty, due in about a million turns. Since I had the tech so much earlier than the AI civs, however, there was no chance that I would lose the wonder.) Here's what the world looked like at that date:
I used the bare map this time because it's easier to track the cultural borders. My cities are marked with yellow dots, the AI cities with dots of their respective civ colors. The white Xs are placed where I will plant future cities to increase my cultural push further into the AI cores. Let's take the white X in the extreme west first for an example. I want to found a city on that tile, and it's already in my cultural radius, BUT first I have to flip Turfan because it's only two tiles from that city. In similar fashion, I must flip and destroy Beshbalik before I can found the white dot to the south of it. Those two white dots will both only be three tiles from the Mongol capital of Karakorum, which will allow me to gain cultural dominance in the area quickly. It's all about triangulating the AI cities and hitting them from multiple directions at a distance of three tiles!
Initially I thought I would up the cultural slider now and research Guilds/Banking with my Representation-enhanced specialists, but I changed my mind and turned research back on for two final techs. Guilds took 3 turns of research and Banking took 2. After that, I adopted Mercantilism (adding an Artist in every city on a disputed border) and never turned on research again. In retrospect, I wonder if it would have been better to go for Banking before Democracy... that's something future practitioners of this variant will have to experiment with. Notice that I always ran either the max science or max culture possible with my current finances; both the Culturemongers SG and Ruff's Culture Crush had long stretches of time where they put SOME commerce into science, and SOME commerce into culture. No offense, but that's just a very inefficient way of doing things. You should either push as fast as possible towards your technological goals (like Liberalism, for example) or have science off altogether. Trying to do a little of one thing and a little of another will only end up delaying both goals. I learned that in Civ3, and the lesson still very much applies here!
I was already dominating the game culturally prior to 1500, but the addition of free Mercantilist artists and the use of the culture slider really tipped the scales. After being deprived of all its tiles, Kyoto itself revolted in 1559:
Just one more to go! And with MASSIVE pressure on the Japanese capital, it fell in 1607:
I flipped my first capital of the game, excellent! That calls for a celebration! Kyoto had Chichen Itza in it, but I didn't care and it was ruthlessly burned down like all the other captured cities. Hey, it was way too far away from Antium, and I needed to put my own city two tiles further south! I had a settler already prepared, and Busiris was founded one tile north of the copper. Time to start pushing into Caesar's core!
Meanwhile, the flip of Kyoto set off the saga of the Amazing Teleporting Japanese Army. The garrison of Kyoto somehow managed to move overnight several hundred miles up into the northern tundra:
I would have been happy to leave them alone up here... but Japan had a settler along with the archers. Therefore I had no choice but to found my own city here with the settler that was waiting around (I wanted to hold off on the city to avoid the financial hit, but Toku forced my hand). That of course meant that the Amazing Teleporting Japanese Army was off again...
...ending up in the only Japanese-controlled tile on the map, inside Edo. Unfortunately, there's just one problem: with 10 units in the city, Toku has enough units to completely rule out a flip. So despite controlling every tile around Edo and having FIVE TIMES more culture on the city tile itself, Edo would never flip to me. That's pretty messed up. I was very disappointed to see this, since I was hoping to get a KILL in this game, but it was not to be. I think that it should take a lot more units to suppress a flip completely (like, three or four times as many), but so be it. If Toku would just sign stupid Open Border agreements, his units would have been teleported somewhere else and I wouldn't have had this problem!
My cities were pumping insane amounts of culture by now, and the revolts starting popping up left and right. First Beshbalik (1616):
Note that the revolt took place at only 49% culture. Lucky dice roll? Quite possibly, but I believe it was mostly due to the scanty garrison (a single unit). I found that there was pretty much a direct linear correlation between the size of a city's garrison and the speed at which it flipped. (Too linear a relationship, if you ask me, but I won't repeat that argument again.)
Antium followed on the other side of Elephantine a couple turns later (1625):
Hey slow down guys, I haven't even finished the Hermitage there yet! Remember how badly squeezed Elephantine was in the early years? Instead of flipping away, it's now about to flip both of the cities surrounding it. Amazing. A location worthy of the "Lahore" designation!
Well, that didn't take much longer:
Beshbalik was razed as usual and replaced with cities on the two yellow dots you see above. I had one settler on hand, but I hadn't quite finished the second one (you can see it under construction in Heliopolis if you look closely at the top of the screen!) The northern of the two dots was designed to attack Karakorum, while the southern one would begin the attack on the city of Rome itself. Take a glance too at that minimap - yikes! I was really starting to push into the AI cores in earnest now. Kyoto had already fallen, and the Mongol/Roman capitals were next on the agenda. This might be an Always Peace game, but it's pretty aggressive nonetheless.
Here's a peek inside one of my new cities, the northern yellow dot from the last shot:
One of the things I noticed about Ruff's Culture Crush game was that his new cultural push cities at the end of the game didn't get up to speed very quickly. What I did here was to found the city on turn one, cash-rush (with Universal Suffrage) a theatre on turn two, then cash-rush a granary on turn four. That's really all you need for each city, other than making sure that it has a large food surplus (at least +5); here the corn tile is fulfilling that role. With a free Artist specialist (along with considerable help from a merged Great Artist), I'm up to 54 culture/turn on just the fourth turn of this city's existence. Now THAT'S how you get those new cities up to speed ASAP!
Another Great Prophet generated in Thebes went to build the Hindu shrine in 1652, allowing me to run 70% culture at a manageable deficit. The final "big" wonder (out of the three I mentioned in the intro) completed just a couple turns later:
Assuming you're playing on a pangaea for this sort of variant, Statue of Liberty really is an amazing help in going for cultural domination. Between Mercantilism and the Statue, you can assign TWO free Artist specialists in every city (the max allowed by a theatre). And if you've built Sistine the way you should, that's 12 base culture, 24 culture/turn after Free Speech gets factored in, completely independent of the culture slider! Good stuff.
By the way, check out that missionary next to the city - that's a Taoist missionary there. Napoleon asked me for Open Borders, and I saw no reason not to agree. He then proceeded to send some Taoist missionaries to Thebes, which I happily accepted, allowing me to spread another religion among my cities! So even though I failed to found both Taoism and Islam (Napoleon took both), it had very little impact on my game, as I still got to spread six religions around. Chasing Liberalism instead of Divine Right (as the Culturemongers did in their game) was, in my opinion, a much better way to go in terms of the tech path.
How often do you use the Financial Advisor to check your overall culture? Well over 2000 culture/turn at this point and still going up - that was fun to see.
With victory clearly approaching now, I decided to snap a shot of the western half of the continent, to demonstrate my progress in the past 150 years since turning off research and going with pure culture:
Starting in the northwest, Turfan has been completely engulfed by Egyptian culture and I'm simply waiting for the first revolt at this point. Byblos and Kahun are both pressuring Karakorum, and the first-ring tiles for the Mongolian capital are about to start falling to my control. In the south, Athribis has just been founded and is beginning the process of going after Rome. I was pleased to see that my culture managed to connect with Giza in the southeast, which had been isolated for ages and ages upon end. To give you an idea of where I'm planning to go next, I've added the yellow dots and arrows. Once Antium falls (and it's clearly a matter of time), I will raze and replace on the yellow dot. That new city and Giza will be able to triangulate on Cumae; once Cumae falls, another city will be founded on the southern dot, and I'll repeat the process with Rome. The yellow arrows represent the direction of my cultural push, first south and then west. See, culture extends very far in the cardinal directions, but very weakly on the diagonals. Therefore, the best way to advance into an AI core is along straight lines as you see here. Remember, the diagonals are not your friends!
Now check out the location of the former Japan on that map above. It was... eerie to see Japan completely disappear without a single war ever being fought. No culture, no cities remaining... all that's left of Kyoto is a ruins graphic along the river. Japan may as well never have existed. I never saw anything like this before in my previous games - it felt rather evil, like ethnically cleansing the Japanese. Who said an Always Peace game had to be gentle?
I was at 67% land when I took the above picture, so it was no surprise when I ticked over the victory margin three turns later and won:
My victory was punctuated with a flip of Antium on the final turn, which was a nice touch. In a sign of my infinite generosity, I showed mercy and kept Antium, the first city to be spared. (OK, I only did it because the game was over, but they didn't have to know that! ) Domination in 1691AD, heck - that's faster than some of my regular Domination games! Rather impressive if I do say so myself.
According to debug mode, I still had absolutely no chance for a revolt in Edo. Ten units is not enough to completely rule out a flip, so maybe I could have gotten one EVENTUALLY, but it wouldn't have been until I got the city down to like 5% Japanese culture or lower. Without the garrison, this city would have flipped a dozen times by now. Sigh.
Here are some quick replay shots. First, the starting positions:
In the long run, was the open space around my capital an advantage or disadvantage? I believe it was largely a mixed bag, personally; while it was nice to have that "free" territory to pick up, it made pushing into the AI cores on the western side of the map that much more difficult. Not to mention the financial handicap of having most of your cities on the other side of the world... I think things would have been much easier starting in Japan's position at the Narrows, personally.
Halfway through the expansion rush here, where I was frantically trying to get more cities over by the western AIs. I think one of the keys to this game was pushing settlers even more aggressively than in the other games; the Culturemongers SG stopped building more settlers when they got down to 20% science. As this game showed, don't be afraid to walk the bankruptcy tightrope! You can always get more money later, but land left to the AIs is very difficult indeed to get back.
By 1000AD, you can see my cultural dagger beginning to extend into the AI cores...
...and the massive, bloated Egyptian culture at the end of the game. Wow. Lot of yellow on that map.
Here were the flip dates for my game:
(1226AD Liberalism/Free Speech)
(1517AD Culture slider/Mercantilism)
Obviously the pace picked up quite a bit as the game went on. I actually flipped more cities in this game than the Culturemongers did (they had 5) and I believe I had the same amount as Ruff (although not 100% sure on that, the report wasn't entirely clear). I also finished a bit faster than they did too. But all kidding aside, this game owes an enormous debt to their earlier games. I couldn't have played things nearly as well without their earlier efforts to build off of.
This game was hugely entertaining, and I wouldn't mind doing something along these lines again sometime. Clearly, Monarch is not only possible but readily doable; I won with hundreds of turns left in this game. I think a Standard-size map would also make for a good challenge, instead of all these Small ones. At some point, we also have to try the idea of turning off Always Peace, and having to win by Conquest - but all cities must be captured by culture, not by war. (In other words, you can kill defenders to reduce the garrison, but you must use culture to capture cities!) There's clearly room for more innovation and entertainment in this area, so I hope this game will be an inspiration to others.