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This is a quick writeup for my Winner's Circle: Louis on Totestra game that took place on Livestream in the Fall of 2023. This game was inspired by Louis' victory in the Season Seven Championship of Civ4 AI Survivor as the French leader capped off an amazing run by taking home the overall title. I had previously featured Mansa Musa in an Immortal game after the Malinese leader won the Season Six Championship and I decided that I'd keep the same trend running with Louis in the wake of his own victory. I didn't want to run a variant this time around and instead decided to play a standard game so therefore I opted to change up the map script and go with something called a Totestra map. This is a user-made map script that doesn't come included with the standard Civ4 bunch, with the goal of creating a realistic-looking environment to match actual Earth conditions. Totestra is infamous for generating beautiful-looking maps that are also hilariously unbalanced, places with massive expanses of jungle or desert tiles due to the rain shadow of nearby mountain ranges. I had absolutely no idea what to expect other than hoping for something memorable to appear.
Thus I booted up a new game of Civ4 on Immortal difficulty with otherwise standard settings for my games, no tech trading or vassal states and so on. The Totestra map decided to throw out the insane starting position pictured above, with a mixture of pigs and ivory and seafood resources plus BOTH of the wonder-building resources in stone and marble. The initial starting tile was southwest of the clams and I spent quite some time debating about where to move the settler, at first planning to settle on top of the marble for the crazy 3 hammer central tile before realizing that that spot would narrowly miss a pigs resource. It therefore made more sense to settle on the stone which would salvage an otherwise crummy desert tile, pick up double pig resources, and save room for a city to the east which could grab that fish resource along with the clams. I opened up with the standard worker build plus Animal Husbandry research and the game was afoot.
The early turns were spent scouting the area around the capital as usual. It turned out that there was more coastline on all sides, with the starting region forming a kind of north-south peninsula along with an arm that extended off to the west. Everything was blanketed with jungle and there were seafood resources galore running along the coastlines. Louisville as a capital had tons of foodhammers for strong settler/worker production, however it wasn't situated on a river and didn't have any commerce resources. Combined with the Immortal difficulty tech costs, this was a slow start from a research perspective and I was glad that France starts the game with the two most expensive initial techs (Agriculture and The Wheel). I had no choice but to research Animal Husbandry and Hunting followed by Mining into Bronze Working which delayed access to Fishing tech. This would slow down my initial coastal settlement which really would have liked to build a work boat or a granary out of the gate but couldn't start either one for lack of their associated techs.
I had also picked out the Bouillabaisse spot for the second city with the expectation that my workers would be able to pasture the pigs and rely on that for food while training work boats for the seafood resources. Unfortunately jungle grew over the pigs resources two turns before I founded the city which meant that they couldn't be improved until Iron Working arrived well down the road. This was a major setback and I probably should have considered changing where the first settler went although that was tough to do since workers were already roading towards the Bouillabaisse location. In any case, I really felt the slow commerce portion of the opening as tech kept dragging along in the early game. I also turned out to lack copper or horses anywhere near the capital yet again, with the only strategic resource being a horses tile in the deep south at the extreme end of the peninsula. I would lean heavily on fogbusting warriors to keep the barbarians down which ended up working out quite well.
Two more cities soon followed at Roquefort and Chamonix as the capital of Lousville proved able to churn settlers out on a 6 turn time frame. All of these water tiles plus the presence of Louis' Industrious trait strongly suggested that I should make a run at the Great Lighthouse, always the wonder of choice on maps where most of the player's cities will be coastal. I decided that Roquefort would be the best spot to chase after this wonder and pre-chopped a bunch of forests while also pushing research towards Sailing and Masonry techs. With a whipped lighthouse plus six chopped forests, I was able to land the Great Lighthouse on Turn 77 and breathe a huge sigh of relief. The local stone along with additional forest chops also allowed me to complete the Pyramids on Turn 85 which would unlock a game-long swap into Representation civic. I needed that civic not just for the specialist bonus but also for the extra happiness as there were no local luxuries aside from the two ivory tiles at the capital. I had slowed expansion a bit to focus on securing these wonders and it would have been a massive setback if one of the other AI leaders had been able to build either of them first.
With the Great Lighthouse in hand, the economic constraints for this start more or less disappeared and I could get back to expanding without bound. Every single French city was coastal and could take advantage of those additional trade routes; I had also spotted that there were some overseas islands further to the south and I continued pushing in that direction in the hopes of opening up some 2 commerce trade routes. Meanwhile, I finally met an AI leader who turned out to be Mansa Musa, with contact not arriving until an extremely late Turn 64. I had previously thought that I might be alone on this continent but nope, Mansa and eventually Hammurabi were both present here as well. They were both very, very far away from my starting position though as the continent stretched on and on to the west. It was going to take a long time just to defog a path to their civilizations for trading purposes, much less actually see our borders touch each other.
I mentioned at the beginning of my second streaming session that the goal for the day was going to be nothing but pushing settlers, workers, and work boats as fast as possible. With a handful of chariots and fogbusting warriors keeping the barbarians under control, plus AI neighbors who were impossibly far away for the moment, I could do exactly that and focus on a pure growth exercise without worrying about defense. After settling my way down to the southern coast, I whipped out a galley and planted my first overseas city at Corsica which had its own double food resources while also granting those sweet 2 commerce trade routes for being on an offshore island. Most of my cities looked something like this, having nonexistent production and relying on the whip to build things while working coastal tiles and seafood resources. I had cheap Creative libraries and I used them to run Scientist specialists that gained the Representation bonus in many of my fishing villages. Along with the Great Lighthouse, my earlier commerce problems vanished overnight and my civ began racing down the tech tree at breakneck speed.
Dozens of turns passed and the story remained the same: more settlers, more workers, more work boats. Always more and more of each as France continued to grow outwards as fast as possible. Metal Casting was another high-priority tech due to Louis having cheap forges (although sadly there were no gold/silver/gems resources here to get the doubled happiness bonus) and that led me directly towards the Colossus. The AI sometimes struggles with this wonder due to the forge requirement and I was able to complete the Colossus myself with the help of more forest chops on Turn 115. Now I had both of the water-based wonders and they were simply phenomenal for the map that the Totestra script had generated. I felt that I had done a good job of getting value out of both of Louis' traits, with Industrious unlocking key wonders and Creative providing a massive help with its free border expansions to grab seafood resources which otherwise would have been out of reach.
The expansion train continued to roll onwards. I soon discovered that there was a whole archipelago of islands off to the south with room for half a dozen or more cities down there. While there wasn't a ton of land to be claimed, what islands were present stretched all the way to the antarctic and continued to have seafood resources dotted liberally along the coastlines. The other expansion vector was the western jungle as my settlements continued their slow push towards the center of the continent where the other two AI empires were located. I had to muster up some swords to deal with a barbarian city that popped up in an awkward location and suffered some bad combat RNG while clearing them out which delayed things even longer. I was probably lucky to face only one barb city though as the AI leaders had several of them along their borders; Mansa Musa had terrible problems eliminating these locations as one of them lasted until after Turn 200 and undoubtedly slowed his expansion in my direction. Thanks for the help, barbarians!
My biggest issue during these turns was a lack of more luxuries for additional happiness. I had the initial ivory and then Calendar tech unlocked sugars and silks, then that was it. I had well over a dozen cities and still nothing more than those three luxury resources to show for all of my expansion. Representation happiness was an absolute lifesaver but of course only helped out a handful of my best cities. I combatted this by using a Great Scientist to lightbulb Philosophy tech and found Taoism, then used another Great Person on a Mausoleum-enhanced Golden Age to swap into the religion itself for extra happiness. I was somewhat concerned that this would cause diplomatic issues with Mansa and Hammurabi who each had their own religions but frankly I just needed the happiness too badly to stay outside of any faith. It was my overseas colonies that came to the rescue here as they would eventually turn up furs and whales, plus I'd eventually secure a gems resource in the extreme west. I actually had the perfect combination of resources that doubled their benefit from markets: furs, ivory, silks, and whales. With all of those luxuries and a market constructed, my cities could reach 16 happiness and that was finally sufficient to carry me through the midgame.
I continued racing through the tech tree but Mansa Musa stubbornly kept pace with his own research. I shouldn't have been surprised here as we all know from Civ4 AI Survivor that Mansa Musa is absolutely insane when it comes to pure research power and he was clearly the strongest AI leader in this world by a wide margin. Mansa had room for something like 20-25 cities and with his Financial/Spiritual traits along with the Immortal difficulty bonuses he was going to be one tough customer when it came to anything economic. I was consistently a few techs ahead of him on the tech tree while being unable to pass the Malinese leader in score; to be fair though, much of this was due to Mansa having an edge in "land" points while much of my territory was sea tiles that didn't yield any score. When Optics tech arrived, I sent out a series of caravels to find the rest of the AI leaders and discovered that none of them were remotely competitive in research. Hannibal was doing the best of the pack and he was almost a dozen techs behind, with Carthage slowed down in expansion due to the presence of an absolutely massive desert of the size that only a Totestra map can produce. It looked like it was pretty safe to say that Mansa would be the only real competition in racing towards a spaceship or cultural ending to this game.
Those scouting caravels also kept finding more islands out there in the depths of the vast southern ocean, tasty prizes with additional fish and clams and crabs floating in the middle of the waters. There were enough of these island spots that I opted to obsolete the Colossus at a relatively early date by cashing in the Liberalism free tech on Astronomy. This is one of the most expensive techs that can realistically be grabbed with Liberalism (since there are no pre-requisite bonues when researching it) and it allowed me to get an early mover advantage on colonizing those overseas locations. The logistics of moving settlers and workers and work boats to these far-flung locales were tricky to manage and I had fun juggling all of the various pieces that needed to move into position. This was a highly unusual game in the sense that the settling phase continued onwards for an incredibly long time, with new cities still going up well after Turn 200. I rarely play big maps because they tend to drag things out in the lategame but it can be fun to try out a game like this one every now and then just to experience how the gameplay shifts on the really large sizes.
My borders had finally reached the frontiers of Mansa Musa's territory by this time which meant that I had to start thinking about defending myself with actual military units rather than a bunch of warriors and archers. I used the second Golden Age to swap into Nationhood civic and relied on the draft to start conjuring up an army out of nowhere. Nationhood was absolutely perfect for my situation since I had tons of cities with high food and little to no production. I skimmed a round of musketeers off them and then switched over to drafting rifles once Rifling tech had been unlocked. Bouillabaisse had four food resources and I built Globe Theatre inside it a bit earlier, then proceeded to abuse the living daylights out of that poor spot by drafting it every single turn without fail. I think that I ran the draft unhappiness counter up to 300+ turns before finally dropping Nationhood civic in favor of Free Speech during the next Golden Age. The draft produced something like 50 units for me and managed to get my civ through the Renaissance and Industrial periods without seeing any conflict thanks to having all those rifles on hand.
As the Renaissance age started to come to a close, I decided that my next big tech push would head for Medicine where Sid's Sushi corporation would unlock. I had a saved up Great Merchant on hand and there was never any question about the incredible value that Sid's Sushi would hold on this seafood-heavy map. Moreover, the corporation also felt thematically appropriate for this game given how it had revolved around trade routes and commerce to such a huge extent. I had Open Borders with most of the AI leaders and the overseas trade route income that my empire was pulling in was nothing short of incredible, more than 200 commerce and still growing just from trade routes alone. We had a very long debate in the Livestream chat about whether to run Mercantilism versus Free Market civic and I ultimately came down on the latter side even though the extra Mercantilism specialists would have been awesome to have with Representation running in the background. It was just that Free Market was even better from an economic perspective (even though it did mean that the AI empires would also gain commerce from trading with me) and Free Market's discount on corporate maintenance costs were going to be sorely needed once Sid's Sushi arrived.
I actually researched all the way to Medicine tech and only then went back for Corporation to avoid obsoleting the Great Lighthouse for as long as possible. It had to be done though to unlock the corporations and thus Sid's Sushi was established in Sword Coast on Turn 221. The French empire controlled 5 clams, 3 crabs, 6 rice, and an astonishing 21 fish (!) for a grand total of 35 Sushi resources which translated into 18 food and 30 culture per turn in any city where the corporation was established. The tradeoff came in the form of mind-boggling corporate maintenance costs: 60 gold/turn which could only be halved by a courthouse down to 30 gold/turn. And this would only get worse as I continued founding more overseas fishing villages and connecting more seafood resources. It was bad enough that I used a Great Engineer to rush Wall Street in Sword Coast to offset some of those costs via the corporate headquarters. This still meant that spreading Sid's Sushi was a major negative from a cost perspective but it wasn't quite as bad as it would have been otherwise.
The big advantage of the corporation came in the form of all that food, an insane 20+ additional food/turn that didn't require population to work tiles to gain the benefit and which could be used for heavy specialist training. Sid's Sushi didn't really do that much at first when spread into a new city; it was 15-20 turns down the road when the city was ten sizes larger and working 8-9 additional specialists (all of them gaining the Representation extra beakers) that the power of the corporation started to be felt in earnest. This felt weird from a slider perspective as the corporate costs meant that I couldn't increase science spending much above 50% because I had to keep running heavy gold generation to offset the costs. However, what matters in Civ4 is not the percentage run on the slider, it's the raw beaker output itself, and even though I was staying around 50% the actual science generation was skyrocketing from all those specialists. Things really took off after I was able to get factories and power plants constructed across the French domains. As cities finished maturing and completed their infrastructure, I could set some of them onto Wealth builds and then start dialing up the science spending. This finally paid for the massive Sushi expenses and once I could get up to 80-90% science on top of all that additional food and extra specialists... well, even Mansa Musa started to fall decisively behind at that point. He just could not compete with me getting 30 food/turn for free in every city which is where the corporation ultimately capped out by the end of the game.
I had a spare Great Engineer which also allowed me to found Mining Inc and the following turns largely consisted of a logistical exercise where I tried to spread the two corporations to as many cities as possible as quickly as possible while also building all of the key lategame wonders. Mining Inc was a great complement to Sid's Sushi as it provided much-needed production to pair with all of that extra food. Even though I didn't have anywhere near as many of the Mining resources, there were still enough of them to get a base 10 production/turn which would then get multiplied by factories and coal plants to allow the fishing villages to build stuff without Slavery civic. My best production cities were also frantically trying to land Broadway, Rock N Roll, and Hollywood to control the lategame happiness resources as they were badly needed to keep the Sushi population happy, plus construct Cristo Redentor for the always-important free civic swaps. I would end up getting everything except Hollywood which Mansa Musa built first, though fortunately he was willing to trade me the movies resource for some of my surplus goods. Mansa also built the United Nations which didn't matter because my huge French population was always nominated against him in every election. I actually lost the first Secretary-General vote because I abstained rather than vote for myself out of AI Survivor habits - whoops! It didn't end up mattering though as Mansa didn't do anything consequential with his control of the UN.
During the lategame turns, I was still moving some settlers around the map to secure control of the last few resources that I was missing. There were a couple of gold resources to the north of the vast desert on Hannibal's eastern continent and then a silver resource in the frozen tundra down at the bottom of the map, together worth +4 happiness in any city that had a forge present. I had way more cities than I would ever build in a normal game with the total topping 40 and ultimately pushing towards 50 cities. This can get pretty tedious and as my research began finishing up with the Modern era techs and my best cities began work on the spaceship parts, I started shutting down production to speed up the remaining turns. Mansa Musa had decided to pursue a Cultural victory after he arrived at Plastics tech and it was clear that he wasn't going to be able to get three cities to 50k culture until after I'd made it to space. (He also would have lost the race to Alpha Centauri if he had stayed on the research path.) This game was clearly finished and it was just a matter of completing research on the final techs and lining up all of the spaceship projects in order.
I had played an entirely peaceful game with the goal of trading with every other nation in the world. I thought that I'd be able to polish off the spaceship win without ever needing to fight anyone, only to see Kublai Khan declare war out of nowhere on the turn before I completed the final spaceship parts. (And yes, my empire had reached 6000 beakers/turn at break-even research once most of the cities went over to Wealth - don't underestimate the power of Sid's Sushi!) This was highly annoying to say the least and I spent the next few turns upgrading warriors and archers into mechanized infantry while airlifing and then upgrading some of those drafted rifles from back in the day. Kublai was able to capture one of my core cities on the turn of his initial sneak attack since it had been defended by a warrior but of course that's all that he was able to achieve once I had the chance to reinforce. His cavalry assault on Louisiana was cut to ribbons by defending mechs while I easily recaptured the one city that had been taken. My whole territory was secure thereafter however I'd never bothered to build any ships other than galleons/transports and the Mongols went around sinking all my ships and pillaging my fishing nets using their destroyers. This was utterly inconsequential and I was able to get a "stop the war" resolution through the United Nations that soon brought an end to the conflict.
I wish that Kublai could have held off for another ten turns so that I could have had the completely peaceful game from start to finish, sigh. But in any case, the French spaceship arrived at Alpha Centauri on Turn 294 to bring this game to a close:
That's an excellent spaceship completion date for a random map in a game without tech trading turned on. I was sped along by taking advantage of some of the weaker parts of Civ4's balancing: the Great Lighthouse on a water-heavy map, overseas trade routes, drafted rifles, and Sid's Sushi corporate largesse. The economic impact of running Open Borders with nearly all of the other AI empires for the whole game really can't be overstated and this Foreign Advisor screenshot from the penultimate turn of the game demonstrates how I was raking in 653 commerce (!!!) before the application of any commerce multipliers. This game didn't have any dramatic turnarounds or dangerous wars to fight, it was instead a laidback and chill experience where I could focus on building a strong empire without too much interference. If you're looking for a relaxing city building series, this could be a fun game to watch on YouTube while seeing the map fill up with French cities sporting lots of Sushi food. Until next time, thanks as always for reading and following along with the series.