Fumbling through History: a Civ 5 game diary (Pt. 2)

Welcome to part two of this epic game diary in which I recount the story of the, uh, Russo-American Empire, as experienced through the medium of Civilization 5. When last you left us I was trying to figure out how to fight back against the French, who had recently gotten all kinds of pissed off when I captured two cities, cutting their Empire in two. If you’ve not yet read Part 1, I recommend that you do so before continuing…

The INDUSTRIAL ERA

The French attack. A lot. It’s hairy, especially when they start pushing due east from Europe as anticipated, fighting toward my own heartlands. Fortunately my walls of cannon and newly upgraded cavalry manage to fend them off. Soon my cannon are upgraded to artillery, which do more damage and – more importantly – have longer range. By this point I’ve built up a few more armies and consolidated my ‘recent’ captures (I’ve probably spent over 40 turns, which at this point is perhaps 100-150 years, fighting off the French). It’s time to push back against Napoleon’s cheese-eating surrender monkeys. Or, should I say, imperially-conquered world cuisine-eating colonialist murder monkeys. Catchy.

Shifting my artillery forwards behind a line of Minutemen and newly-acquired Riflemen, I bombard the hell out of the former German capital on the other side of the Suez Canal and swoop in to capture it after eradicating the defending French armies. The next turn a substantial wave of French reinforcements land on the western shore of not-Saudi Arabia, and troops from a French-allied City State march eastwards toward me as well. I position my artillery just outside of one turn’s march and batter them. My new riflemen and cavalry finish off isolated, weakened units. Soon enough the attack is beaten back. At this point it’s readily apparent that my only advantage is that I know how to use hexes and positioning a hell of a lot better than the AI does; without this advantage I’d have been wiped out long ago. Still… ha! Take that, you stupid computer!

Civ 5 - Stockholm

After I free it from its imperial masters, Stockholm really, really digs me. I'm just sayin'.

Over the next few turns I capture more French-owned cities in Africa as well as a French-allied city state, and I even liberate a French-puppeted city-state which subsequently allies itself with me. The French attempt a counter attack, but another happy accident of geography works in my favour. When I captured the aforementioned French-allied city-state, a another previously neutral city-state declared its allegiance to me (the city-states will quite happily sit there feuding with each other for thousands of years, which again is realistic history science). There are now two routes from Europe to France’s remaining African holdings: through my territory, and through this city-state, which – having been ignored by everyone for the entire history of civilization to date – has been happily building up a ton of riflemen and artillery for hundreds of years. The French and the city-state batter themselves against each other whilst I continue gobbling up more French cities. Soon enough I’m supporting my artillery assault with infantry, anti-tank guns and tanks. As my technology advances so do the speed of my blitzkrieg tactics. It’s imperative I take everything the French have here: if they retain access to too much oil they’ll steamroller me. Like them I am puppeting these African holdings, but French industrial capacity back home surely exceeds my own capabilities. I’m too busy constructing nice buildings for my complaining citizens back home.

Civ 5 - Quebec City

I know there have been a lot of pictures on the trot but I wanted to include this and offer a shout-out to Quebec City. Our Montreal readers will understand!

Eventually I manage it: I’ve taken all but one French city in Africa, just as they’re about to overwhelm and capture my friendly buffer city-state. The French contact me and plea for peace, offering a ton of resources and a bunch of smaller cities – including many in their heartlands. I experiment with accepting this offer through the medium of save-reload, but as I suspected it cripples my empire. Thanks to the sharp increase in size the happiness of my civilization hits negative 65, and there’s no real way to come back from that. I re-load a save (hey, I was only curious!) and this time I instead request a lot of gold, all of their strategic resources for 20 turns, and an annexed city-state near their capital. I liberate the city-state and focus on powering up my civilization. I’ve now got more cities and population than anyone else, so the trick will be to keep my military tough whilst building up my home cities. It’ll be a balancing act, for sure, but I can manage it.

Civ 5 - Ningbo

The last remnants of France's colonial ambitions can be found here, in the African mainland city of Ningbo. Yup.

The MODERN ERA

For a short while, all is peaceful. The unhappiness level slowly creeps upwards again as puppet cities construct buildings devoted to pleasing citizens, my technology advances swiftly thanks to all those brilliant brains, and my military levels out at an economically sustainable size which I continually upgrade with the latest units. I also steadily build up my social policies, focusing on the late-game Order strand in order to make use of my large number of cities. My home cities are getting better and better, although I’m neglecting my military somewhat, and my happiness is barely above 0. Maintaining a large empire and a large army is very difficult and I genuinely wonder how the French managed it. Cheating? Who knows.

Speaking of the French, they stay off my back. In fact they do so for the entire rest of the game. Their military power remained technically greater than mine, and I wonder why they never tried for me again. Perhaps the AI is smart enough to recognise that I surround their last African city – their only source of oil – and the border between our heartlands is buffered by a couple of city-states and American defences they’ve never previously broken through. Or perhaps it’s more mundane than that: I take a look at my foreign stats a while later and see that they’re broke, and haemorrhaging money. I guess that without all those puppet cities their military is too large for them to sustain, but the AI is too stupid to disband a large amount of its armies and build back up from there.

Even though the French never go for me, others have a pop. Recognising that I’m heading for victory the Romans, Chinese and Persians all declare war on me. All of a sudden I’m fighting a war on multiple fronts. Between the Romans and the Chinese all of Africa is threatened, and the Persians can strike at my heartlands, the captured Ottoman territories or – across the uninhabited deserts of central Asia – straight into the territory taken long ago from the Germans by the French, and later my Americans.

Civ 5 - Persian assault

Where's a bunch of oiled men with CGI pecs when you need them?

The Romans, fortunately, are feeble. The bulk of their military units are hopelessly outdated. Seriously, these guys are throwing Legions and even a couple of Axemen units at me. They swarm at my cities but my artillery and other defences slaughter them. I lose a shiny new helicopter gunship when I overextend myself but otherwise they’re quickly beaten back. At the same time I battle off the Chinese, who hurl large waves of Infantry at me. It’s a much tougher fight and at one point the captured city-state of Almaty is threatened, but through cunning use of Artillery fire (the same technique I used to capture much of the old French empire) supported by one Modern Armor unit, I decimate their forces. Eventually, because neither the Chinese or Romans will accept peace with their militaries devastated, I decide to bloody their noses, and capture one city from each of them – simultaneously crushing what remains of their military might. The Romans cave in first, offering me two cities of their remaining six. They’re small, so I opt to accept them, and although my happiness dips into the negative, it’s only enough to stymie population growth – which is actually quite useful. The Chinese cave soon after and offer me most of their empire, but I know that accepting their territories will cause me problems so I instead demand resources and gold, and let them keep their cities. They are deeply grateful for this.

The Persians are a different issue. They’ve modernised their military somehow and it’s grown huge to boot. I suppose that, like my own empire in the Medieval and Renaissance eras, they’ve been left alone for a long time and grown strong in the shadows. Although I have a technological edge – Modern Infantry and Tanks versus Cavalry and Infantry, though we’re both packing Artillery – they outnumber me significantly. Fortunately after a few forays into my territory they’re repulsed, and after that seem unsure of what to do. They turn on my most vulnerable city, and several times almost taken it, but I manage to hold it – losing a few valuable units in the process. Whenever I attempt to push back against them the sheer number of artillery units they have tears my troops apart. Me Grimlock need new strategy.

The ERA OF OH SHIT MOMENTS (aka. the FUTURE ERA)

I’m still pushing forwards technologically and because of the three empires waging war against me – alongside my constant fear of the French, and the constant sabre-waving of the distant Songhai over in the Americas – my heartlands are churning out military units.

Did I not mention the Songhai? Oh yeah, those guys are over in the Americas. The New World is kind of old now, and they have been growing strong. Strong enough to be dicks to me in the diplomacy screens, but they don’t dare at more than that. I think they’re sharing the Americas with the Aztecs or someone. Who knows.

I build up more units to garrison my cities – they make me look tougher and they keep people happy, which helps – but as technology advances I also build up air forces. Disregard Females, Project Air Power! I’ve been playing this game for too long. For an hour all I think are those five stupid words, over and over again, whilst building shiny planes.

After I’ve built up a half-dozen B17s (a unique American bomber that’s pretty damn tough) and fighter jets (not, it turns out, that effective against most ground troops and cities) I steadily eradicate most of the Persian forces. A ground force of Modern Infantry and Tanks (cheaper than Modern Armor) mops up the rest, and I quickly march my way through the Persian territories. I try to liberate various city-states along the way, including the one I originally captured and lost to them, but the game won’t let me liberate that one – nor Genoa, which apparently changed hands too often as well between the Ottomans and Persians. However, I’ve soon captured most of Persia’s cities – they have just three left and I’m near their capital. I at last lose an air unit – a fighter jet – bombing their capital, but fortunately the very next turn they plea for peace, offering me two of their last three cities. Greedily, I accept. The unhappiness becomes enough that a few turns later a huge force of rebel tanks appears next to Washington, but my new air force makes short work of them. And, most importantly, the Persians no longer represent any kind of threat.

Civ 5 - Persepolis

Hi Persepolis! My, what a preponderance of anti-air force you have. Now.

I’m at peace with everyone once again, and at last I can focus on my objective: a technology victory. Cultural and diplomatic victories are out of the question, and whilst I could take the capitals of my weaker foes – Rome and Persia, China already lost theirs once and I then took it from the French – capturing Paris would be a serious challenge, and taking on the Aztecs and Songhai far overseas would be a fool’s game with my current military power. No, it has to be a technology victory – I’m way ahead in science and I have some great industrial cities in my heartlands now. All I have to do is maintain peace, look tough enough that the French don’t fuck with me, and build those spaceship parts.

Things continue going well. Everyone is leaving me alone. I’m researching those last few technologies and soon my cities are working on spaceship parts. I even get a Great Engineer to help with one of the tougher pieces to build. At last, though, the French stir: apparently the dusty old tiger has some bite left. Together with the Songhai they declare war on the Roman Empire.

Terrifyingly, they drop nukes on the world’s second most pathetic military force, and an endless stream of jet fighters bombard Rome. The Roman Empire is entirely in French hands within ten turns, and the entire region is covered with nuclear fallout – which thankfully never drifts over into my territory. I’m worried, though: if the French are still going for a Domination victory I’m an obvious target. Fortunately they go for the Persians next, but they’re hard to reach – way over on the east coast of Asia, with my enormous empire (all of Asia, Eurasia, most of Eastern Asia, the Middle East and half of Africa) blocking their way. Maybe they’ve voyaging around by sea, but they never seem to make it.

Civ 5 - fallout

I... guess they were making up for all those nuclear tests they didn't get to do?

My spaceship parts keep popping out – it seems you only need six of them in Civ 5, which is handy. They need launching from your capital, though, and I’m scared to begin launching them. Doing so will signal my plans to the French who will inevitably strike at me, and with their nukes, air forces and vast number of infantry they might take Washington while my spaceship is still travelling. Instead I wait until all the parts are finished before launching. The last one takes a while, so I have time to build a few Giant Death Robots (actually a unit in the game) and scatter them around Washington whilst also garrisoning air forces there.

Finally, after what feels like an eternity of nail-biting, the last spaceship component is ready. I launch them all from Washington in turn, and… oh.

I’ve won.

The AFTERMATH

It seems you don’t need to wait for the spaceship to arrive at Alpha Centauri in Civ 5. Glory to the American empire. It’s a bit of an anti-climax, if I’m honest, but I’m still excited: I’ve managed to turn from underdog to dominant world power through daring use of a small military, and I’ve fended off everyone who sought to challenge that. In the entire game I’ve only lost one city, and that was one I later retook.

I learned a few things whilst playing this game. Firstly, it’s rarely a good idea to fuck with city states – at least not in the late game. Other civs will get pissed at you for attacking their clients, other city-states will regard you as a threat, and everyone will hate you because they think you’re a warmonger. As if they weren’t too! Filthy hypocrites.

There’s no way to express to AI players that your apparent war of aggression was solely to prevent a military juggernaught from achieving a domination victory – and the AI is rarely capable of recognising superior military strategy even after repeatedly being defeated. If you want to stop people attacking you, you need numbers. Without them the AI is dumb enough to think you’re weak. And destroying their forces won’t always change their mind: usually you’ll need to take cities too. Still, after this epic game I feel much more familiar with the way Civ 5 works, and I’m hungry for more…

And, okay, I no longer think I’m dumber than the AI. I’m going to have to push the difficulty level up higher. If you’re up against something as dumb as a sack of hammers, you might as well ensure it’s a really big sack.

Civ 5 - Giant Death Robot

I will always love you, Giant Death Robot.