After an exciting first two-thirds of a game, the final third proved a little anticlimactic. I won, so I’m happy about that, but there wasn’t a lot of drama, and the result was never really in doubt.
When last we left-off, I was at war with the Babylonians, the second-place player, who had attacked my cities on a small island between our home continents. I responded by trying to invade their continent, but wasn’t able to stand up directly to their productive capacity and standing army, and was soundly defeated.
We would have remained at a standoff, except that I found another, slightly larger island between our two continents where the Babylonians were currently in the process of conquering the native barbarian settlements. I had a full-tier tech advantage, and had a bunch of cities which didn’t have anything to produce except units, so I decided to go for it. As an extra bonus, my marines had just kicked in, so I was able to attack directly from my transports. It wasn’t even close. I conquered all three cities on the island quickly. The island was separated by only a couple of squares from the northern part of the Babylonians main continent (which makes me wonder why the Babylonians hadn’t taken it ages ago).
I probably had the capability to push into the Babylonian homeland, but all this military movement was slowing down the pace of the game considerably, and I was only a few turns away from starting my space ship, so I decided to make peace, which the Babylonians seemed happy to accept.
There were a couple-dozen quick, quiet turns during which I built my space ship, and then just before launch, the Babylonians decided to attack me again, landing forces first on the northern island that I had taken from them, and then later on the southern island. Unfortunately, they had awful timing. My airports had kicked in, and so I was able to keep pumping out ground units to defend, while I slowly accumulated a large enough navy to push them back.
I ended up having a large enough army that, even though I was only a handful of turns from a spaceship victory, I decided to go forward with a mainland invasion, using the northern island as a staging area. I took the closest city, parked a bunch of units in it, airlifted more, and then took a second, and was moving in on a third before my space ship reached its destination, at which point I won. Like I said, kind of anticlimactic.
I’m again not sure why the Babylonians attacked me the second time. Was it because I was closing in on victory? Was it because they wanted that island back? That they felt threatened because I was so close to their mainland? I did notice in the post-game report that they consistently had a higher power ranking than me, I assume because I didn’t feel the need to maintain a large standing army since I most of my cities felt so secure. But the Babylonians never tried to take much advantage of that, choosing to attack me on the outskirts of my territory where I was more heavily fortified. I get the feeling that the Babylonians weren’t taking into account my superior productive and technological capacities.
The other reason I find the Babylonian attacks so frustrating is how much the game bogs down during wartime. The logistics of moving ships and armies around, and assembling transports, and producing the right balance of units, and repairing infrastructure that got destroyed in skirmishes is endlessly time-consuming. Even though I think the game loses more than it gains, I can see how the Civ 5 approach of eliminating stacks can be appealing in this light, since it reduces the absolute number of units in the field and number of fights resolved per turn.
As a side-note, I was able to remain friends with all the other civilizations still in the game, though relations did seem to worsen as I got closer to my victory. I was never able to take Tokyo from the Indians culturally, despite eventually reaching 70% control of the tile. They just parked more and more units there and that seemed to stop the defection.
I continue to be impressed by how the gameplay evolves as technology changes. There was this brief window where marines where the top-tier military units available, and so ambushes on cities all of a sudden diminished the benefits of home-field advantage. I didn’t appreciate just how big a deal airports would be for moving units around. On top of that, aircraft allowed cities to be weakened quickly and with little risk. I do think it’s a little unfortunate that so many of the top-level ground units start with the letter “M”. It’s a small thing, but it caused me confusion on a couple of occasions.
From the post-game report, it was clear that I had a wildly advantageous spawn. By getting lucky in my first three city placements I was able to block the other two civilizations on my continent from having any access to the entire northern half of the continent. All six other civilizations had comparatively cramped spawns.
So what will my next Civ 4 adventure be? Should I try I heads-up game on a slightly higher difficulty level? Should I repeat this set-up, but with a random civ, and (presumably) without my advantageous spawn. One thing’s for sure, especially if it’s not a heads-up game, I’m going to turn off the espionage system. It really is something of an abomination. It was just this mess of numbers. On the one hand, I understand why it conceptually makes sense for it to be produced civilization-wide, but placing it on he same level was research and wealth-production seems absurd. I don’t care enough to learn the system, so it was frustrating when my opponents were able to take advantage of it. It wasn’t too bad this game, especially since I had so much abundance of resources, but it was very frustrating in the past when I had enemy spies constantly sabotaging my iron access at critical points. But why let this one awful system spoil what is otherwise such a brilliant, fun, engaging game?