You may notice something missing from the above screenshot: Spain. Montezuma had been at war with Spain forever, and eventually conquered it all. And I wasn't in any position to intercede, either logistically, diplomatically, or materielly. Well, let that be a lesson to you, Isabella: you go chasing religious hydras, and some nutjob with axes will just brain you. (Or not; the Isabella AI isn't going to learn any lessons. She'll do the same thing next game.)
Education arrived in 1160 AD, so it was time to start constructing universities. Liberalism came next for two reasons: the Free Speech culture (even though Bureaucracy was still more commerce), and to sling Nationalism. The point of the latter was to build the Taj Mahal in time for a full Golden Age before the 1502 AD reckoning date for universities and cathedrals.
After the slingshot, the next point of research was Divine Right. I did hate to burn research on the dead-end tech, but once again the scenario points (Versailles) come before everything else, while the economy really can be neglected. Also, Spiral Minaret is a quality wonder for any cultural game, since you always have a full set of temples and cathedrals. Given enough time, Spiral Minaret will indeed earn back the research cost of its technology.
And here's an overview shot as I'm building all those wonders, including Hagia Sophia as well for the scenario points. I'm somewhat nervous about Hagia Sophia (that's 17 turns if you can't read it) -- Engineering had been around for several turns before I got the tech and we haven't got Marble. Hagia and Versailles aren't going in the cultural cities, but it can't be helped since they're busy on other things. Toronto and Ottawa are already busy on wonders, and Ottawa also needs to do a Jewish Synagogue before we hit 1502 AD. And Montreal, in a hammer-poor water location, really doesn't have the hammer power to build contested wonders.
I'm strictly giving only Artist wonders to Ottawa. This city will turn into my Great Artist farm later (Biology) and we don't want pollution in the gene pool.
Also in the above shot you can see that I put in another city, Halifax. The dominating cultural power of Ottawa (my capital) had claimed a whole bunch of tiles outside my existing city reach, and Montezuma had razed the Spanish city in the area. So there was room enough to poach a location that would have about ten workable tiles to start, and it would eventually claim a few more under its own cultural power too. So this city was well worth it, especially as an Organized leader.
Hermitage went in Toronto, by my usual logic for it. The classic question is whether to put Hermitage in your best city, for the biggest numerical boost, or in your trailing cultural city to help it catch up? Well, I think the answer is neither. It should go in the SECOND-best city. In the leading city, it'll be overkill. The trailing city should use end-game Great Works to catch up, since Great Works are equally effective regardless of the cultural multipliers in the city. Putting Hermitage in the second-best city allows that city to catch up to the leader, evening out all three Legendary burgs.
I did indeed land all of those wonders. Score another 7 points total for Hagia, Chichen, and Versailles. And score a well-leveraged Golden Age from Taj, and some useful cash from Spiral Minaret.
By the way, the overloaded number of civs on the map brought an interesting side effect - the ability to fuel deficit research by selling outdated techs. It would happen quite often that one of the lesser civs came up with 200 to 400 gold, for which I could sell them a sideline tech like Drama or Philosophy. With that gold, and the Organized trait holding down expenses, I kept research at 100% most of the time.
Speaking of the AI civs, they've separated into two clearly separate layers of progress. Peter, Huayna, Genghis, and Saladin are all keeping up with me on tech, while everybody else is falling behind. This effect is feeding on itself - Huayna and Saladin are keeping pace with me, so I'm swapping techs to them to get theirs, which keeps them farther ahead of everybody else.
I didn't really pay much attention to diplomacy. With Aggressive AI on, it's nearly impossible to get anyone to Friendly status. I shared in the largest religious bloc, and had adopted Hereditary Rule for props with Hatty, Alex, and Huayna. That was enough to keep an ample roster of Pleased trading partners, and I kept myself sufficiently ready for military action with longbows in case of need.
There were LOTS of wars going on in the world. Monty ate Spain; Huayna and Genghis attacked Egypt; and Alexander had at least three separate wars with Tokugawa. But none of the wars involved me so I didn't pay much attention.
As usual, I researched along the middle of the tree while trading for the bottom. After trading for Guilds, I set research to Banking - Rep Parts. Since we're so hammer heavy, and still more interested in building stuff than in economy, Rep Parts is a natural beeline.
And when I got Guilds, I realized that we should have beelined this MUCH sooner. Far and away, the limiting factor on my city sizes is health. Food is aplenty in this game with lots of fertile grassland. And happiness is amazing with no fewer than nine happy resources (two imported), religious cathedrals everywhere, Hereditary Rule, and Notre Dame. But health is tight, since most of the cities are off fresh water and coast. But we have ALL FOUR resources that get health boosted by a Grocer! We should have started on those with Guilds long ago!
So at the benchmark of 1502 AD, here's what we've got, boosted by the Taj golden age having completed.
I have Universities in nine cities (Halifax fell one size short of being able to whip it), three Jewish Synagogues in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, and two Buddhist Stupas in Ottawa and Montreal. That adds up to another 19 scenario points, plus 6 from the 260 AD checkpoint, and 29 from a clean sweep of the wonder points (I'll surely get Eiffel and Hollywood eventually). So I'm doing really well. The only blemish on my score is the death of Spain, but that was unavoidable. Military intervention against Monty to prevent that definitely would've cost me more than 4 points of cultural items here.
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