And, well, it's time to figure out what the heck my game strategy is. Must I go conquering, or might I be able to turtle up for a space or cultural victory?
The comparative GNP still shows me on top, though not by a whole lot. Regarding space, the question is whether even a perfectly managed human economy can keep up with five mutually trading AIs. As good as I am at the economic game, I don't think that's going to happen, especially without both Bureaucracy and Free Speech. (Incidentally, why is it that the so-called Legal civics have more of an economic impact than the actual Economic civics?)
But holing up for culture also presents problems. Our variant rule prohibits Free Speech, which is an essential ingredient for a cultural win, especially with most of the wonders off the table and not much access to religions. (I'm not sure if this was intentional on Sirian's part to prevent my patented cultural win turtle, or if Free Speech got caught up in the collateral radioactive fallout from the nuking of Bureaucracy.)
Well, I'm close to Knights, which is a natural place to start conquering, given the variant rule. But the problem with the Knight approach is that I may not have a tech lead for much longer. Knights can beat longbows fairly well, but break even against muskets (knights have a higher base strength, but they can't get City Raider while the muskets can get City Garrison), and die horribly against Grenadiers. But the Knight research path does lead fairly well into Cavalry afterwards (Guilds leads to Gunpowder, and I'm only four techs from Military Tradition); hopefully I can get there on pace with enemy muskets and grenadiers. On the gripping hand, Cavalry still require a window of tech advantage to be effective, just like knights. If the enemies get to riflemen before the cavalry have finished their job, I could be in trouble until Tanks; and if I get out-teched to tanks, I might not be able to win at all.
So, presently, the research plan was a beeline to Guilds through Metal Casting and Machinery, hitting Feudalism along the way as well to get into Vassalage as prescribed by variant rule. Here's an overview shot while doing all that:
And with the Knights, my first target shall be Russia. Peter's dragging pretty badly on the GNP graph. He still hasn't got Monarchy, so is a long way from longbows. And Russia's got copper and marble, which would greatly expand the list of wonders I'm allowed to build. Well, another detail is that Russia built Chichen Itza, which would be quite nice to conquer, but does mean I'm going to need siege weaponry to take any more than an outlying city.
I'd delayed revolting to Vassalage in order to avoid the high civic upkeep (I didn't yet have enough units to incur regular unit upkeep costs, never mind exceeding the Vassalage free unit count). But now as I started building knights and catapults, I did so.
Construction was next on the military research list, to get those catapults started, but I stuck in Banking before doing that. It's a cheap tech, and Mercantilism is obviously my economic civic of choice. In Always War, Mercantilism has no drawback. I double-revolted to Vassalage / Mercantilism now, and that would actually be the last civic swap I would ever make. Permanently in place were Representation / Vassalage / Slavery / Mercantilism / Org Rel, so I declared war on the "Revolution" button and killed it with a knight.
Yes, Mercantilism. The civic that has a gigantic synergy with Representation. +3 research in every single city worldwide. I'm smacking myself for not realizing this sooner, but the Pyramids were absolutely the right choice in the early game.
In other news, Qin did get circumnavigation as I'd expected, but he took longer to do it than I anticipated. If I'd gone for Optics one tech sooner, I could've whipped a caravel and gotten the bonus for myself. One of my early exploring galleys had gotten westwards all the way through India and around a couple small islands there. A caravel sailing east for about eight turns could have connected up with the results of that first exploration.
So with the first knights out of the barracks (incidentally, this is the first time I've ever used Knights on offense), I capture the first Russian city, on a stepping-stone island between our home continents. There were two units in it (axeman and archer), and I had two knights -- but I had the second knight skip its turn, so that the first knight could tally the kills of both defenders. Why would I do that? To get that unit to 10 XP, enabling the Heroic Epic, which Ning-hsia started like right frickin now.
I held serve at Yakutsk there for a while against all zero counterattacks, training boats and catapults out of my secondary cities, until Ning-hsia finished the Heroic Epic and started cranking full blast on knights every two turns.My knights invaded the Russian homeland, running into surprisingly little opposition. I hadn't realized before that Russia had ivory! Elephants crush knights! And I hadn't even had the foresight to bring any spearmen. But somehow, Russia didn't have any jumbos. I captured St. Petersburg easily with knights against axemen and archers, and marched on Moscow to do the same.
Moscow finally did have one elephant that counterattacked my stack, but the RNG handed me a minor miracle with that Combat 2 knight winning on defense. (The Combat 3 knight didn't defend because it arrived a turn later after needing to heal.)
And yes, if you count carefully, I'm outside the variant restriction there, with nine units in the stack but only four knights. That was a misclick -- that axeman was supposed to stay behind to garrison St Petersburg but I mistakenly included it in a Select All command with the catapults. The axeman had no impact on the fight -- he didn't attack, wasn't a Medic, and wasn't strong enough to serve as a defender against any potential counterattacker.
Anyway, I took Moscow with no losses. After healing and regrouping, here's the stack at the next city, Rostov.
With a Shock knight to take care of the spearman, I also took this city with no losses. And it came with a courthouse, despite the fact that I haven't even gotten Code of Laws. :D
And so that stack of knights, six strong now with four catapults to strip city defenses in a single turn, kept riding through Russia with only a few occasional losses.
Russia's island turned out to be quite a lot more extensive than I'd thought, and gave me lots of experience with that "No Razing Cities" rule. I had to keep all those junk cities; I didn't even manage to auto-raze any size 1 log cabins. This is good and bad. Bad - that was a LOT of junk cities, which are going to kill my maintenance costs once they come out of resistance. Good - the land gives me that much more towards domination. I'm hoping now that I can make domination with the lands of myself, Russia, Japan, and India, leaving Qin and Cyrus alone.
Russia had one island city left, which would fall a little later. As I conquered the last Russian city, I worried for a second about that "Require Complete Kills" option. Fortunately, Russia turned out not to have any wandering boats or explorers anywhere, so the capture of Yekaterinburg finished off the civ and stopped my war weariness.
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