Thursday, March 8, 2012

Let's Play Civilization 4!

Since the expansion pack, Civilization 5: Gods and Kings was announced for late Spring, I thought it was a good time to revisit Civilization 4. If you didn't know, the Civilization Series is an excellent, well made collection of games about building an empire to stand the test of time. Unfortunately, after a highly anticipated release, Civilization 5 turned out to be a messy, broken turd. I won't go into too much detail for why Civilization 5 failed in literally every aspect of it's gameplay, considering that there are already some people who have done it far better than I could ever hope.

Instead, we're just going to take a look down memory lane at a far superior game. I'm going to take you on a journey with the Dutch Empire as it attempts to create a great empire. This is just going to be a basic game, although I am playing with the BAT mod to make things a little more interesting. I'll also be taking a look at what Civilization 4: Beyond the Sword did well, and where it failed. The settings for this game are Vassal States off, RandomMapScript, and Monarch difficulty level.

(Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword has the ability to be modified through Python Code, as well as XML code.  The Civilization Community has worked hard, and they have created many great modifications for the game.  Unfortunately not all of these mods are compatible with each other, and require a lot of time and effort to merge these mods together, without causing errors.

The BAT Mod makes changes to the cityscapes and units, to make each civilization more ethnically diverse. Several other small graphical changes have been made as well. These additions add flavor to the game, and complete the game appearance. There is no way to make these mods optional, so to use the mod you will need to use the mod in its entirety.)

I am going to be Willem Van Oranje of the Netherlands for this game. Willem is Creative (+2 Culture to each city per turn) and Financial (+1 commerce to each tile with 2 or more commerce). Both traits are extremely powerful, with Creative giving you a lot of leverage in the early game and Financial picking up the pace right around when Creative loses a lot of its luster.

Creative is probably my favorite trait in the game, since it allows me to bypass buildings to expand borders, saving me a lot of production time and also giving me border pops that allow me to grab a lot of land. Financial is even more powerful, but I was never really a fan of how passive it was. Almost all traits required you to specifically use them to your advantage. For example, you wouldn't get a lot out of Spiritual (No anarchy when switching government) by staying in one government the entire game, nor would Organized be useful (-50% civic upkeep costs) using civics that had Low or No upkeep costs associated with it. With Financial, however, you could kinda stick it into any situation and get a lot of mileage out of it.

I really like Willem's starting techs, Fishing and Agriculture. The most ideal starting techs would probably be Mining and Agriculture (allowing you cheap and fast access to Bronze Working and Animal Husbandry, probably the game's two most important technologies.) The reason I'm so partial to Fishing/Agriculture, though, is that it is a food heavy beginning and really allows you to take advantage of landlocked start and a coastal start.

The Netherlands unique unit is the East Indiaman. Ever since Civilization 3 I've been a bit wary of Naval Unique units, but Civ4 has done a fairly good job with its naval warfare. The East Indiaman is probably the single most powerful unit on Archipelago maps, especially with its ability to pass through enemy borders without an Open Borders agreement.

The Dike is my favorite unique building, although it's not the most powerful. It comes a little late in the game, but the production values that you can get out of it are insane. I'd wager that the Dike is the most powerful building on Archipelago maps, where production is really scarce, but it's ability to turn any fishing village into a viable production outpost is great.

With that said, let's actually look at our start:

This is a very powerful start. Two food resources, a happiness resource, and marble for cheap wonders. 9 grassland tiles surround Amsterdam, 3 of which are on rivers, and 4 hills will make for very good production. There is also a huge abundance of forests in the area, which would allow me to chop out a lot of settlers and wonders, or make an easy rush if there's nearby copper or iron. 

This is also actually the perfect start for my starting techs. Fishing will allow me to take early advantage of the clams, and Farming will allow me to get that corn to work. The classic early game decision is whether to research Animal Husbandry or Bronzeworking. As I said earlier, they are pretty much the best technologies in the game. Both reveal a strategic resource that can be used for early game aggression (Horses for Horse Archers, Bronze for Axemen). Animal Husbandry allows you to build pastures which take advantage of Cows, Pigs, Sheep, and Horses, resources that are extremely powerful in the early game (Cows and Horses provide a nice hammer output, and Pigs produce a whopping +4 food surplus). 

Bronze Working, on the other hand, provides huge dividends for the researcher. It allows you to chop forests with worker, speeding up the production of the nearest city by an absurd amount (So absurd, in fact, that they had to patch the original Civilization 4 by halving the output of production gained by chopping forests until you research Mathematics). It also unlocks the games first civic: Slavery. As horrible as slavery is, it is the most powerful civic in Civilization 4. By allowing you to convert food (which is represented as population growth) into hammers, and rush the production of units and buildings it can produce momentum so extreme that you'll never have to look back.

Which is the point of Civilization. It is a game of momentum. The actions that you pursue in the early game can have drastic consequences down the line, either putting yourself in a winning position or making you dig yourself out of a hole. Since almost everything in Civilization can be viewed as an 'investment', you want to pick the best investment that will get you the greatest amount of growth.

Here I decide to go with Mining -> Bronzeworking. I don't have any Cows, Sheep, or Pigs. I do have Gold (Mining), Marble (Mining -> Masonry), and a lot of forests in my surrounding area (Mining -> Bronzeworking). Lastly I can see some Jungle to the North West of Amsterdam, which is going to require Mining -> Bronzeworking -> Iron Working to chop if I choose to expand in that direction.The only logical choice is to begin with Mining and start exploring. 

I pop a hut and get a map. I can see my first neighbor and judging by the color it looks as though it's Pacal II of the Mayans. I'm torn on this feature, and the entire feature of AI personalities. On the one hand, it's cool to see a color or an AI, know what's there, and know what to expect. Gandhi will be peaceful, Mansa Musa enjoys trading, Montezuma is aggressive, etc. On the other hand, predictability can lead to boring games where you know exactly what will happen. I suppose Civilization 4 did a good job by providing a wealth of leaders, all with a fairly unique personality where playing a new game can mean you play with completely new personalities. 

Eventually I make contact with Pacal II to the West (as predicted) and Brennus to the Southeast. Pacal has already discovered Buddhism. It's not really that surprising, considering he begins with Mysticism and is Financial. For now I keep a wary peace with them, aware that I have to be careful not to get squished by the two. 

Finished the worker, start farming and begin on a warrior. Barbs have already started popping up so I don't want to make the rookie mistake of having an undefended capital getting captured within the B.C years. The workboat will have to wait, which is fine considering I only plan on growing to size 3 before beginning to build Settlers.

Bronzeworking and Iron Working eventually fall. There only source of Bronze is far up North but two sources of Iron spawn fairly close, thankfully. Iron and Bronze are essentially interchangable as far as strategic resources go, though Bronze cannot build Swordsmen. 

This is my first time playing with the BAT mod, and I fucking love it. Dotmaps were always a pain in the ass for me and I'd have to kinda eyeball a lot of it. BAT's dotmaps allow me to readily see and divide my planned settling territory. This is my current tentative dotmap, with the red dot being the most pressing dot. I really, really want to get the cows and ivory, since it would make for a really powerful city site. Ivory would also lead to war elephants, a powerful early unit (Strength 8 when the second most powerful is only strength 6. Their counter, spearmen, get a 100% bonus and still only match strength 8 for a 50% chance at winning). The other great thing would be to deny this spot to the Maya, and gain some early breathing room.

It doesn't take long (you can see in the other screenshot I only have about 3 turns left on the settler so I was pretty sure I'd win this position out). Utrecht is founded, and the basis for the great Dutch Empire begins.

After a little more exploring I discover another beautiful city site. The purple dot there can either be a great commerce location (2 gems, 7 river grassland tiles) or a good production site. If I can nab it, I think I'll end up turning it into a commerce force, just for the fact that there isn't any food in the area and something like this would be hard to grow until Biology, which is a long way off.

This I found kinda amusing. The BAT mod spruces up all the events giving them a cute picture. It also does the same for National Wonders, giving them their own little movie. A lot of things are going on here though. The truffles are a nice boost turning that particular grassland tile into something really good (3 food 2 commerce untouched). However you can see that I've met Shaka of the Zulu Empire with his ridiculous city location that is only 3 tiles away from my capital! I'm not entirely worried, since I'm already a cultural powerhouse and should easily be able to push him back. What I am worried about is the fact that Shaka is a very aggressive AI personality, and further down the line he might try something especially when he's bunched up so close to me.

I've also founded the city of The Hague, which is going to be a beautiful production city down the line. Rice, floodplain, and lots of grassland will allow me to support about 4-5 hills, one of which has iron! I begin building a barracks in preparation for churning out units. The majority of my units would end up coming from The Hague, in fact.

I've got to say that while it is simple and intuitive, I'm not the biggest fan of Civilization's method of production and recruitment. It's as if all soldiers are automatons, built piece by piece and that they don't actually require part of the human population. Production and Food are the same way for me, it seems off that a city with hundreds of thousands of people are unable to actually build anything just because they aren't next to a hill or a mine. If I were to change it, I would represent the population as a more flexible number, and allow you to allocate a portion of that population to recruitment or labor. Food kinda pisses me off because I have to sit and watch a city starve to death because my other cities are too fucking stupid to send their surplus of food over all the roads I built to help a city out. Civilization 5 had global happiness (the dumbest mechanic ever) when it really should've had global food, something that you also allocate, spend, and stockpile.

We meet Asoka of the Indian Empire, who isn't on the same continent as us. Also he looks like a scrub.

Shaka of the Zulu is a classic example of how a ridiculous start can still leave you floundering. Fish, 2 Clams, Cattle and Wheat. Stone nearby to the South. Lots of grassland. If you look at the second screenshot, you'll realize exactly how fucked Shaka is. A massive desert to the south, mountains and the Dutch to the East, and water to the West. He's lucky to have gotten 4 cities before he ran out of room. I would find later that there were some islands to the North of his position that I suppose the RandomMapScript believed to make up for his lack of land, but as I'll talk about later it just won't happen.

I liked this screenshot. This barbarian city to the Northwest of Nijmegen was starting to annoy me, so I plopped two Archers down on the forest. Forest provides a +75% defensive modifier, and whenever the barbs attack they will receive -50% attack for crossing a river, making it impenatrable and keeping the city in check. Mountains require the barbs to take the long way around, giving me more time.

Man I told you Shaka was gonna be trouble. When an Aggressive AI has no room left to expand, they expand by attacking you. I finished the Great Library right when the surprise attack hit, but Amsterdam was in serious danger of falling. You can see my elephants to the south trying to move in position to defend, but it was a shitty war. My main source of units were War Elephants, but I just so happened to be fighting the Zulu, who's unique unit is the Impi: a spearmen that receives mobility bonuses. Shaka also has the Aggressive trait, giving his melee units Combat 1, a 10% strength bonus, plus most of them are coming out of cities with cheap Ikhanda's (A barracks that provides maintenance bonus). All production is rerouted to axemen, and I have to wait.

Fucking goddamn it. I had an archer in Middleburg, and I had that Impi on the run so I moved the axemen out of the city to finish him off. But the stupid fucking thing has mobility so it can move through forests and jungles and hills. He came in, won a lucky diceroll, and killed my archer. If I was playing against a human they would've raised the city and it would've fucked me over but thankfully I'm dealing with the AI here. I retake the city next turn but goddammit it if it didn't make my blood boil.

One thing that I thought was cool was the fact that, at the same time Shaka declared war on me... I think Pacal declared war on Brennus. So essentially my Eastern territory was this huge front for tons of fighting in two completely separate wars. They never spilled over into each other though (thank goodness, I would not have wanted to wage a two front war). Pacal and Brennus would proceed throw dosens of units at one another for the duration of the war, neither making much ground. It was definitely good for me, though, since I was tied up in my own war I had trouble expanding economically and technologically, and I'm sure one of these guys could've done it had they not banged their heads against a wall.

Eventually peace was declared. It required the Apostolic Palace (Confucian, which made me convert for the easy hammers) to get Shaka to stop trying to hurt me. Neither of us could do anything at the time, since it was one of those periods where defensive technology was as good as the offensive technology (you can see me researching Machinery above for Crossbows, a 6 strength unit with 50% bonus against melee units). Possibly because they were inspired by the peace, Brennus and Pacal set aside their differences on the same turn.

With peace declared, I went on a bit of a wonder spree. Most of these are for the cultural bonuses. I put the Sistene Chapal in The Hague partly because it was the only city that could construct it reasonably quickly, and partly to put pressure on Celtic culture. 

Well my Archer valiently defended the river and forest for years, but the Maya, unheeded by wars, finally took over Cirassian and eventually continued to expand North.

Damn! Check out that fuckin great beast! I didn't want to hunt it because, like, all it wanted to do was get its bone on, you get what I'm sayin? He just wanted a lil' sum sum. I'm trying to say he wanted to fuck other great beasts and make more great beasts and for some reason this gave the city of Utrecht +1 food. Nice.

This actually isn't as good as it seems (also I lost out on Notre Dame to the Mayans). Gems popped on that grassland river hill in The Hague, which would normally be the best thing to happen. But The Hague is a production city. Grassland Hill + Mine is 1 Food 3 Production. Grassland Hill with Gems + Mine is 1 Food 2 Production and then something like 5 Commerce I think? Anyway it sucked and I had to move the citizen off the hill. This is the only situation where a metal popping in one of your hills is a bad thing.

I met Charlemange and Peter of the Holy Roman Empire and the Russian Empire, respectively. Why the fuck did they put the Holy Roman Empire in the game. It's such a stupid fucking choice I really don't understand it. The Holy Roman Empire was, historically, a collection of territory between Spain, France, and Germany. We already have Spain, France, and Germany. Why do we need this again? If you really wanted to put in another European Civ then why not Poland, or Belgium, or the fucking Vatican City. I just don't get it. I really don't. Oh also he was apparently the strongest civ at the moment and had like 6 more cities than me. Fuck. 

The funny thing here? Shaka declared war on Brennus. Realistically it was the right move. Shaka had no where to expand, and he wasn't gonna win the game sitting with his pathetic amount of territory. And while it failed him, you gotta admire the balls on that dude.

Of course, Brennus asked me to enter the war. Since we were Confucian buddies I went ahead and obliged. Brennus and I were great friends the entire game, which was cool. It's one of those little things that pissed me off about Civilization 5's diplomacy, and your inability in that game to actually create lasting friendships. In Civilization 5, everyone is your enemy, which makes no sense at all. Brennus and I would even sign a Defensive Pact down the line. When the fuck would you see that in a Civilization 5 game? Never. Well, maybe Gods & Kings will fix these problems. And maybe Bioware will make a good game.

I think this screenshot looks really cool. Dutch soldiers crossing the Alps to the foreign Zululand. Traversing The Great Wall of Zululand. A Dutch caraval explorer examines the situation. I had taken a Great General and used him to create a super medic on one of my Foot Soldiers (renamed from macemen for the BAT mod) which is always useful. Well long story short, I didn't capture Nobama. The Celts beat me to it by a turn. I wasn't really bummed though, it's not a great city, and the Celts resetting the culture took the pressure off of nearby Bulwayo.

A lot of things happened in the following turns but none of them are really important. Suddenly, WAR!

I had actually been planning on attacking Maya for a longass time. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, Pacal declares war on me! Well, it's his grave, but I suppose I can understand. See, there's a ton of Cavalry right now, but a couple turns ago when he declared war I was still researching Rifling. Pacal just happened to declare war right at the moment I was upgrading all my war elephants and knights and whatever. So he just kinda shit the bed here.

Like I said, it's his grave. 

During the war I was getting a ton of unhappiness and war weariness. Way more than I should've got for what was essentially a 'defensive' (I was declared on) low casualty (I barely lose any cavalry or riflemen) war. And then I looked closer at Uxmal. The fucker has Statue of Zeus. SoZ is a really powerful wonder that increases the war weariness of a nation that you are fighting by 100%. Uxmal just became a priority target, I need to take that SoZ out of play as soon as possible before WW gets too bad. Notre Dame would definitely help too, as neither Wonder becomes obsolete.

Guest appearence by friend Luffles. Who is playing a far shittier game than Civilization 4. Steam Power is a really big tech for me. I get coal, dikes (the Dutch UB), but most importantly I get Ironclads. Ironclads are a funny 'period' unit, like musketmen where you usually research the next technology fast enough that you're never able to use them with any force.

I'm not kidding when I say that Ironclads were my most produced unit this game. This entire war with the Maya went fairly easily, with the exception of the navy. The Maya had tons of Frigates and ships harassing my costal waters, starving my cities and cutting off trade. And it was ridiculous because I started building more and more Ironclads, but no matter how many Frigates I destroyed, there seemed to be too more to take its place. It ended up being probably the biggest naval battle I ever fought in Civ4, and Ironclads were perfect for the job. 

This is always a welcome surprise. Popping resources from mines is always been one of my favorite parts of the game. You can also see in the screenshot that I managed to nab The Statue of Liberty, which is important (provides +1 free specialist to each city on a continent). The Holy Roman Empire still had more cities than me, and if he got that he could really leverage it into some furious extra production. So I beelined Democracy and put Amsterdam to work.

While I killed Pacal, Peter and the Russians were getting toasted. In this screenshot he loses his capital. But unfortunately the game was biased against Peter at the start. While it looks like he has a fairly solid capital, he's stuck on an island. While everyone else can focus on expansion and economic technologies, at his best Peter would have to focus on seafaring technologies and get off of the island as quickly as possible to establish a beachhead on the continent. He gets a couple cities there, but he gives up far too much room to Asoka and Charlemenge, and it shows as they become two of the most powerful civs and Peter is left for dead.

First time I actually won the Apostolic Elections, and you can see my war here with the Maya is going smoothly as ever, except...

No dice. You call down the thunder, you reap the whirlwind baby!

Eventually the Mayans are destroyed, as are the Russians. I really have to hand it to Burgundian though. That barb city managed to last the entire game. I left it alone because they seemed pretty chill. I feel like at some point barbarian cities should just kinda become city states or something of that sort. But then Civilization 5 did the concept of city states so poorly that I'd rather forget about it.

The Dutch Empire after the great Mayan war. I attempt to hold a Diplomatic victory the next turn to see if I can win.

I end up really close, but no dice. Obviously no one is gonna vote for me, but then they barely had enough of a vote to matter. Oh well.


I really have to address this point. Culture expansion in Civilization 4 is fucking retarded. Okay, first of all, when's the last time you heard a country taking away land from another country because they were more cultured? If Civilization 5 got one thing right, it's that territory should be static (although I also hold the belief that you should be able to negotiate deals and settlements for tiles and land, just like in real life with The Treaty of The Hague and the Louisiana Purchase). But even if it isn't realistic, it doesn't make any fucking sense. I'm losing tiles to cities that I have more culture than. 

Maastricht itself as over 10,000 more culture than Georgovia, and yet I've already lost three tiles to the city. It becomes absurd later on when Maastricht hits legendary culture status, while being culturally choked by a city that cannot compare culturally. Maastricht lost about 3 population points because of this stupid shit. 


Eventually I launched the space ship and won a space race victory. I was leading all the AI's by a lot of technology at the end, which made me wonder what was causing them to lag behind. And then I looked over at Asoka's cities and saw that he had built a corporation, Sid's Sushi to be exact.

While Sid's Sushi (provides extra food for each food resource you have) is ridiculously powerful in the hands of the player, it like all corporations that Beyond the Sword added, cripple the AI. They simply do not know how to deal with its maintainence costs, or how to make the most of it. From the looks of things, I didn't win this game because I outplayed the AI, but because the games mechanics caused the AI to collapse on itself.

For the record, John Shafer was one of the leader programmers and designers for Beyond the Sword expansion pack. He was also the lead designer for Civilization 5. I'm not shocked at all.

This is the starting situation. Zulu and Russia are fucked, with barely anywhere to expand. Holy Roman Empire, India, Maya, and myself had lots of nice fertile regions to move into and we obviously ended up running away with the game (until I took out Maya and India built a corporation). It's a pretty cool map, but I wish the map generator did a better job of providing land for Russia and Zulu.

Despite all of my complains, Civilization 4 remains my favorite game just because of the layers of depth it has, especially in comparison to any contemporary game. I could've played this game with a focus on specialists, or conquered absolutely everyone, or been religious and diplomatic. On top of it all, this game is wildly unique in that, though I may try the same strategies, face the same opponents or use the same civilization, I won't really be in this kind of situation again due to its unique nature. And that is why Civilization is the best.