So I’m several years behind the curve on this one, but Civilization 4 is a really good game. I’ve played a lot of Civ 2 back in the day, and a little Civ 3, though I didn’t get into it as much. I’ve started a handful of Civ 4 games now, but I never stuck with a game for more than a couple of hours. I kept getting screwed over by some nearby civ attacking me when I was unprepared. This time, things worked out a little better for me.
I decided to play as the Khmer on Noble difficulty. They get some bonuses that let their cities develop faster and grow larger which I found appealing. I’d been having trouble with city placement, both not finding enough space and not choosing good places when I do have space, and I figured their bonuses would help. On the downside, I find my city names hard to pronounce and remember.
It’s maybe a little too easy a difficulty level. It feels a bit like I’m playing on auto-pilot. But for my first long game, I think that’s fine, since I’m still learning things about the game’s systems and balance.
I got a really lucky starting placement: I was in the northern third of a small continent, while the Indians and Japanese got grouped together on the bottom half. I was able to seal off the entire north from them, and take half the continent for myself. I got up four huge cultural and productive centres fairly quickly, the sort of cities that, except during wartime, have trouble finding things to build.
Gandhi, my nearest neighbour, invited me to join his war against the Japanese. I accepted, since it was right as my special unit, special war elephants that get bonuses against cavalry, were just about to kick in (so nice that my capital city had ivory in its radius), and I figured it would be better to get the Japanese out of the way and remove the risk of them ganging up on me later. As it turned out, Tokugawa didn’t have any cavalry, so my elephants were only moderately useful. It took me a really long time to build up a large enough army to take even one of their cities. I’m still learning the military model as I play. I did accomplish a clever feint. A pair of the Japanese cities were three squares away, so I fortified a stack beside one, they moved lots of units into it to defend it, and then I was able to unsiege part of my stack, and move over and conquer the more lightly defended second city.
I ended up conquering three of Japan’s cities, while Gandhi got Kyoto, the capital. Gandhi and I have been pretty good friends ever since, though I took over one of his cities via culture and have a shot at taking Kyoto as well (though he’s parked a lot of units in it, which apparently mitigates this possibility) so that may be a future source of tensions between us.
On the other side of the world, though actually connected to my continent via a chain of islands in the far north, is a large continent where the Babylonians seem to be running things. They’ve got the Carthaginians as vassals. Meanwhile, the Mayans and Celts seem to keep beating each other up and generally being distracted.
So things were rolling along. I was winning, and probably headed towards a science victory, since I hadn’t been working quite hard enough to make it on culture. (I never secured a source of marble, and didn’t have stone for a little while too, which held me back on that front.) I’d just about reached the modern era. I found an island between the continents that only had barbarians on it, and was large enough for a couple decent cities, so I built up a force to clear the island and some settlers to do their thing. And then right after I’d built my cities, the Babylonians declared war on me and landed a sizable force on the island. I’m not sure if they considered my possession of the island to be a strategic threat, or if they were just hostile to me because I was winning, but either way, I was surprised.
The Babylonian force quickly destroyed one city, but don’t have a large enough force to take the second, since I still have a bunch of units on the island leftover from kicking out the barbarians. I also got a nice bonus in the form of three free riflemen when they killed my city. I scramble to reinforce, kick them off the island, use my technological advantage to get up a small but robust navy.
And now it’s on. I’m mad, and out for blood. My plan was to land two full troop transports next to one of their cities, take it quickly, and then sack it to teach them a lesson. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have marines, or any sort of amphibious troops, and I even forgot to bring anything capable of bombardment. And I didn’t full appreciate how big home-field advantage is one railroads are up. The full military might of a defending civilization can be brought up to defend almost immediately. So my invasion didn’t go so well. I fortified up next to their largest city, and at first was defending ok, but got wiped out pretty quickly.
Fortunately, they had similar problems when they landed a half-dozen units on my shore as well. So now we’re in a bit of a stalemate. My navy is still tiny, though better equipped than theirs. But I don’t really think I have the operational capacity to mount a mainland invasion. It turns out there’s a second, even larger barbarian-held island north of mine, which the Babylonians have started settling. So perhaps that’s my next target. In the midst of this, it turns out that my only source of aluminum is on the island of mine, which means, especially if I’m going for a Space Race victory, it’s now of vital strategic importance that I maintain control of the island. So it’s all very exciting.
I love how the game evolves over time. Units have their heyday, and then drift into obscurity. Uninhabitable jungle tiles get clears, and then later irrigated. I built a city early on that had access to 16 ocean tiles, and it was tiny and unproductive, until suddenly I got a couple of crucial buildings, and it’s now boomed to be one of my largest. Religions and corporations gradually spread across the land (still getting the hang of corporations). Production and density boom, but health plummets at the advent of the modern era.
There’s a real feeling of a narrative arc underlying the events of the game. I have friends and enemies. A course of history. An attachment to the terrain and world that’s really remarkable given that they were randomly generated.
It’s a big time-sink. But it’s a rewarding one. I hope to finish off this game over the coming week, and if exciting things continue to happen, I’ll write about it again. For my next game, I’m considering trying a civilization that’s less of a natural fit for my play-style. I’m also considering going up a level of difficulty, though I’m a little reluctant on that front. I’m not sure how much of my advantage this game came just from the superior spawning location. I also like the idea I got from Troy Goodfellow of playing a heads-up one-on-one game on a small pangea world, and seeing how that changes the dynamics of the game. I know I’d appreciate a smaller world, since I keep losing track of my units when they’re on the move. Regardless, next time if I pick a civilization with cities whose names I have trouble remembering, I’m going to remember to name them manually.