I Was on a Winning Streak, Then the AI Started Hustling Me!


Dec 26, 2020
I'm not sure what, if anything changed, but shortly after winning enough games handily, I'm suddenly finding it much harder to find that same mojo. I've been playing Metropolis difficulty on a Huge map at Endless speed (because even that barely seems to leave me with a satisfactory span of time to really enjoy modernity), and after winning, I think, three epic games rather easily, the last one against a couple of Expert-level AI players, my last few have all reached a point where, to me at least, it became hopeless.

Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm a stickler for being the first to every era. I might accept being a few turns behind to Ancient or Medieval, but I hate being a Johnny-come-lately to any of the others, and to any era if it's by a serious margin.

I just think it's a bad omen to not at least tie with the next best player for era advancement. In my games from last week, I reached the point where I was actually earning stars too fast, and I could comfortably afford to deliberately delay advancement to sweep up as many techs from the current era (that's another pet peeve of mine with this game: advancing to a new era when, technologically speaking, you're barely halfway through the techs from the current one; it just feels unearned, somehow), as well as a few extra stars that I was close to getting!

I think my winning streak when I stumbled onto a city building hack: alternate between Districts and Infrastructures one by one for as long as there are still Infrastructures available (minus the military ones, which I've never bothered with), with the occasional interruption to build some units, erect a Wonder, or fix some Stability issues. It seems like when I started making a habit of this, it often felt like the Era Stars just earned themselves! Not so much anymore.

Anyway, nowadays, it seems like there's always one opponent that starts giving me a run for my money starting roughly in the Classical era, to the point that it takes real effort and some time travel (i.e. reloading earlier saves and trying a different path) to at least tie with my challenger, and if I beat him/her to Medieval and Early Modern, it's only by a few turns! Then, he/she somehow blitzes through Early Modern and Industrial, and by the time he/she beats me to Contemporary, it's by a margin that I don't think is worth trying to overcome, especially since the momentum doesn't even stop there, and the Era Stars keep coming at a rate comparable to what I got in earlier games.

All the while, it takes my main opponent much longer to eclipse me in sheer number of Fame points, and I think I keep up quite well technologically, given that I reliably accomplish most or all of the technological World Deeds (Writing, Imperial Power, etc). Another thing I've noticed lately is that it seems much harder to build up an early army just by gathering up stray units hidden around the map.

Most of my earlier games were only against Normal and Advanced AI players, but I'm sure I won at least one game against a couple of Experts with ease not all that dissimilar from what I experienced against only Normal and Advanced AI's. Was that just a fluke, or did a recent update improve the AI code in just the right ways? Do any more skilled players have any tips for cracking the secret to this mid-game surge and/or just avoiding this mid-game slump I seem to consistently find myself in of late? Has anyone else had a similar experience, where you seem to have hit your stride with the game, only to start struggling like a newbie again? I'm really curious.

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I think the AI has got better since the patch at building industry, which should translate to being more competitive. But that's just a hunch and I've been playing poor starts so I'm not totally sure.

Have they fixed the resources distribution on Huge maps yet? That used to make a massive difference, the game is a lot easier when you start with all the good luxes and the AI has none. They might have done some balancing on game length too?

Like most 4Xs the start is the biggest factor in whether your game is hard or easy - mammoths, river forests, good early luxes are more important than difficulty levels.
Yea resource distribution was fixed with huge and large maps in the patch several days ago. The AI got better too with some aspects but they are still pretty stupid when it comes to defending a city attack. I just finished an HK diff large map where I had to walk a long ways to find a massive amount of resources(3 gemstones, 3 incense, 4 coffee, a few marble and dyes within 3 territories) but also wound up in the middle of 4 civs. Luckily Nubia was available so I was swimming in gold the whole game and I needed for all the wars. It was tough early on but eventually I built up several stacks of Nubian archers and Persian immortals the momentum swung and I never l looked back. Just kept going to war when support was high and took over most of the map in the end. The fame leader to the east of me the first half of the game was left with just a few cities in the end :)

Where the AI totally fails is with their city militia. Militia are strong on defense but weak on offense yet the AI will run their militia outside the walls to attack you where they are vulnerable. This gets really silly when you have a big tech lead with Line Infantry which happened with me in the Joseon era. You see a dust trail from a militia coming outside to attack followed by return gun fire from the LI and then *poof* dead militia. Another nice thing about having so much gold is that you can go negative during CM and absorb the loss with a large sum built up already.

But yea the hardest part is early on when you are struggling to get off the ground and have to deal with wars and annoying independent cities ransacking your outposts :( On HK difficulty I don't even have time to build a wonder, usually not till later in the game unless it is a super productive Egypt start.
@Cherenkov and the AI’s use of them is just one point of why draftees really should be ranged units similar to gunners.
@Cherenkov and the AI’s use of them is just one point of why draftees really should be ranged units similar to gunners.

Completely agree with this! AI needs better militia since melee militia are only good for stalling and the AI almost never has an army to send to defend a city once they are under siege.

To the original question, I don’t have a chance of catching up to AI on HK without conquest. But it occurs to me that part of the issue may be viewing production order as a matter of having the right pattern. I find snowballing only really picks up if I always pick the most efficient quarter or infrastructure to add production (unless food is needed to keep growth on pace) until I can drive production times down to what I’d guess would be 3-4 turns on marathon.

And I certainly couldn’t win always being first to advance era, since the AI gets so much fame even when advancing rapidly.

Any chance you picked an expert persona with a fame bonus? Those look really big!
Well, I seem to have gotten at least some of my HK mojo back, and what seems to make the difference. It's no guarantee, but the trend seems to be that I fare much better if I play as the Olmecs in Ancient. It may also be important for me to pick up Wattle and Daub in Neolithic to compensate for foregoing the Egyptians, my usual pick in earlier games. I suspect that it has something to do with the Olmecs just meshing better with my play style, which is to grab as many territories as possible while I still can. For that, you need to crank out extra Influence, hence a strong Aesthete culture. I consistently end up with what looks like the biggest share of my home continent by the time the Classical era rolls around, which establishes a nice foundation, at least if you spend some time going tall after going so wide.

As a bit of an aside, HK seems to have added a whole new axis to the tall-vs-wide question. On the empire level, there's the familiar choice between many small cities or a few big cities, but on the level of each individual city, there's also the choice of relying on Districts (wide) or Infrastructures (tall) for development.

Anyway, I'm in the final stretches of a game where I've had a comfortable lead for a while now, both in Fame and era advancement. Taefin, it's funny you should mention having difficulty beating the AI without conquest, because this latest game was probably the most peaceful one I've played yet. Aside from some early skirmishes, I haven't fought in a single actual war. I noticed some empty land on the one other occupied continent and grabbed it up (I like to have at least one settlement on every continent). Unfortunately, I settled right next to an Independent city formed by Ghanaian rebels, and like clockwork, they'd send two units, usually Horsemen, after my four (two Halberdiers and two Arquebusiers, later Musketeers). I swear, I'm pretty sure I once saw the idiots send a Horseman to attack...a Halberdier...uphill...with firearms also in the field. They never learned, either. They just kept spamming pairs of Horsemen, and I kept swatting them away like flies, until finally, I noticed that what had to be their city borders had been revealed on the map, so I sent my two armies of four to take them over just to get rid of the hornet's nest, so to speak. It was like taking candy from a baby, and the point is that this whole scuffle is likely the most action my troops have seen yet in this entire game, with the possible exception of the inevitable skirmishes in the very early game.

Then again, conquest may just be your means to the same ends that I aim for, namely, alot of land. As much as I can, I try to claim it all by exploration rather than warfare, though I'm not averse to fighting for it if I must. It sounds like you might rely more on conquering lands that have already been claimed. Nothing wrong with that (in a game, anyway)! Even though I seem to have shown that it's not strictly necessary for success, I'm no stranger to conquest as one means of getting ahead! The lack of conflict in my current game, especially in the earlier eras, was actually disappointing in a way. A bit boring, even. Greek Hoplites are probably my favorite units, but I never got to actually use them!

I'm quickly settling on a progression of Wattle and Daub in Neolithic, then Olmecs > Greeks > English (for an Agrarian boost) > Dutch (just to compensate for otherwise being bad at making Money) > French, ending with either Japanese or Swedes.

I'm tempted to recommend certain Wonders as crucial, too. As I did with Civ 5 and 6, I'm quickly arriving at a list of must-have Wonders. These are Wonders that, if someone else claims any one of them before I do, I feel compelled to retreat to an earlier save and try to rewrite history. They are the Pyramid of Giza, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Eiffel Tower, and the Statue of Liberty.
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Sounds like a fun game (well it sounds like you liked it, the main downside of HK for me is I don’t like building the cities that much as an end in itself).

Is this with New World on? I turned it off after my first game when I was able to take it mostly uncontested. That said, I’m sure your early expansion strategy would work well with and without new world.
Yes, there is a New World in my current game, and it was even less inhabited than it usually is. It was a while before any Independents showed up there, and I got credit for the World Deed of setting foot on an uninhabited continent for the first time. I've now covered the entire continent in outposts and a couple of cities, one of which was an Independent People that I Assimilated. In fact, the troops that participated in that conflict with the Ghanaian rebels were units that I inherited from that Assimilation and promptly upgraded

This was actually the first time I was able to paint an entire continent my color. While I've always gotten the early bird's share of the New World, another Old-World power eventually caught up and procured at least a few New-World territories, though it's possible I could've prevented that in prior games if I'd really gone crazy with expansion. I usually take a break or two, either due to complacency or finally running too low on Influence (I do have Civics and Wonders to claim, after all), so I tend to expand across the New World in two or three distinct waves. It's in the interim that some company from the Old World tends to arrive. This time, however, no one came to the party.

Personally, my two main complaints are currently (1) how relatively divorced era advancement is from technological advancement, and (2) even on Endless speed, I never seem to have enough turns left to really delve into and enjoy the very late-game techs, units, and projects. Even though I clearly have a solid research game, achieving most or all of the tech-related World Deeds, it's a bit of a rush to have a truly modern society (with an Internet, nuclear power, etc) by game's end. I only remember one game where I really got some mileage out of armored tanks, and none where I got to use or even make one or two planes.
I am disappointed with the "improvement" of the Ai. The biggest difference I noticed is the same cheat that Civ games and that is Ai units tending to survive with 1 health time after time after time just to either win the battle or to kill another of my units. First attacker does 40% damage, my second does 40% damage and low and behold my third attack does 19%. Super intelligent mammoths and Stags are another thing that bug me, but that doesn't make a huge difference.
As a bit of an aside, HK seems to have added a whole new axis to the tall-vs-wide question. On the empire level, there's the familiar choice between many small cities or a few big cities, but on the level of each individual city, there's also the choice of relying on Districts (wide) or Infrastructures (tall) for development.

I prefer about 6-7 big cities with lots of attached outposts. Since I war a lot anyway after I take a city it is reduced to 0 pop so it is easier to ransack it, create an outpost over it and attach it to the nearest city. I might try the Olmecs again but once I get the the -50% to outpost costs I don't have too much of an issue with grabbing territory. My best mars colony game on HK difficulty I had 6 cities with 40 territories on a normal size map. This was pre patch when mars colony wasn't bugged lol. Now you either get no dialog or dialogs that aren't related to Red Planet and don't get the win.

I just love it when I can get Mycenaeans which isn't easy. This is the perfect bully civ with warriors who are almost as good as swordsman and you get 1 star vets from the LT. Their EQ gives you sweet production as well. Even on HK difficulty you are good up T60 with Promachoi and archers giving you time to expand through war. Mycenaean-->Greece is extremely deadly. I really struggle if I can't snag Greece or Persia. Just a few Greek EQ will double your science output getting you the Hoplite quickly and other needed techs. Nothing more frustrating then running into Huns or Mauryan elephants and you don't have Hoplites or Immortals to take them out.

I'm quickly settling on a progression of Wattle and Daub in Neolithic,

On the rare occasion that I get a Tribe's Legacy I prefer Storytellers for science output. It scales much better than Wattle and Daub in the ancient and classical era as you can boost your science output by 50% or more since science is hard to come by if you aren't Babylon or Zhou. If I can get that then I don't mind not getting Greece in classical.
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