The Emperor Masters' Challenge


Ashen One
Sep 16, 2005
Tir ná Lia
The Emperor Challenge has ended. Check out these links if you want to read about the rounds played:

Round1: 4000BC - 2740BC
Round2: 2740BC - 1570BC
Round3: 1570BC - 1000BC
Round4: 1000BC - 0355BC
Round5: 0355BC - 0095AD
Round6: 0095AD - 0320AD
Round7: 0320AD - 0455AD
Round8: 0455AD - 0950AD
Round9: 0950AD - 1136AD
Round10: 1136AD - 1442AD
Round11: 1442AD - 1544AD
Round12: 1544AD - 1646AD
Round13: 1646AD - 1772AD
Round14: 1772AD - 1806AD

Some people have envisioned it. Some people have tried something like it. Some people are still trying something like it out. But here comes the Emperor Challenge :king:, another episode in the Civfanatics' quest for truth.

The goal of this Challenge, unlike the ongoing ALC and Lesson in Epics, is pure refinement. It seeks the opinions of the more experienced players and will hopefully give a detailed view of the best higher-level play this forum can offer. It is a medium through which Civ IV veterans can discuss strategy and tactics within the tangible scope of a game on a step-by-step basis. This way, I believe the thread would be most educational for players of almost any skill level. I am winning quite regularly on Emperor now so I should be able to guide the game, with everyone's advice, to as perfect a finish as possible. And I look forward to learning new things in the process.

Alright, let's get down to business. The map has been generated and I can't wait to put up the starting screenshot for everyone to scrutinize. But first, I must get the basics out of the way.

The Rules

This game will operate somewhat like an SG, except that it's always open to anyone's suggestion but doesn't feature multiple players :p I will play 10 turns, stop and give an update of the situation. If something dramatic happens or an important decision needs to be made within those 10 turns, I will stop and ask for opinions. I don't think there will be a time when everything is so straightforward that I should play more than 10 turns in one round, but I'll have to see.

Before I begin every round, I will judge which advice is most suitable in a particular situation and apply it. If I feel that there is too few advice to base a decision on, I will ask for more. Those who are not playing on Emperor yet can also offer their opinions and I will consider them. I am sure some of them will be very sound.

No spoilers, please.

The Settings

The Emperor Challenge is concerned with strategy and skill, not a particular leader, so I am playing random. The settings are standard (i.e. standard continents with default number of AIs and options). The game speed, however, is Epic, since I hope that there will be much warmongering and the chance to use as many unit types as possible whenever practical in every era.

And, finally, the game itself...

Guess which leader the dice picked? It's none other than... MM - Mansa Musa!

Mansa Musa is Financial and Spiritual (so you can serve both God and Mammon, apparently), starts with The Wheel and Mining technologies and has the Skirmisher (an archer replacement) as his unique unit.


I find it very funny because I've never played this guy and I hate him because he's almost always one of the more annoying AIs that will be more advanced than me. None of his traits are the traits I prefer, and he has a DEFENSIVE unique unit. Now, this should be interesting.

Check out the starting location.

Forgive me for the small screenshot. I've had bad experiences of Photobucket resizing my images despite them being smaller than half of 1MB already. Anyway, there's nothing there that you can't see and you can always load the save in any case.

Flood plains and a gold mine. And Mansa is Financial and starts with Mining. The dark side (Mammon, that is) is strong in this place :goodjob:

The only downside to this position is health. Mansa is not Expansive. There is at least a few forests around, though, which will alleviate the health problems a little unless and until we decide to chop up everything. There are also cows, which makes AH an early priority. We would want to research Hunting anyway for Archery.

But the first move is not an easy decision. Settle in place or look for a possible better location? I would move the warrior first, just to check out the surroundings a little bit more, but where to? To the forested hill southwest of it or to the northeast?

I think we would want to settle on the river for the health bonus (which helps with the flood plains) and early trade routes so the warrior could move northeast to check out one more tile beside the river (probably grassland by the look of it). The lake can provide the health bonus as well on its own (I think the bonus doesn't stack with the river, right?), but from what I see I think we only stand to lose by moving away from the river. We can send the settler northeast to take a look at the other side of the river. I'd hate to settle on a forest, though, especially with so many flood plains around.

And whatever we choose to do with the settler, we can send the warrior southwest anyway in search of a nearby village. What do you think about that?

Looking to the future, with the river there we can make use of the Financial trait very early by putting cottages beside it, giving us a strong early economy. The gold mine would be a great help at that too, and we can use our economic power to fuel expansion. Since Mansa's UU is so darn good at defending cities, we should be quite safe and can focus on REX, settling as many cities as possible until there's no space left, instead of going to war early. We should still hook metals asap, though, to be able to deal with barbarian incursions. This early game strat should be sound unless we are surrounded by AIs nearby. Any thoughts?
I'd recommend turning on the resource bubbles for these screenshots - it makes it easier to see the fish.

If the warrior were east of the settler, I'd be tempted to shuffle about for a better location. As it is, settling in place looks fine to me. The natural move with the settler is to go SW to the hill, but it might be worth exploring the coast to see if there's another seafood tile to go with that fish.

It doesn't appear to me that chopping is an immediate priority, so I'd be expecting Fishing -> Pottery; Hunting -> Animal Loving / Archery. Worker looks like a reasonable first build to me, to get the mines and floodplains running as quickly as possible, followed quickly (not likely immediately) by a granary.
Yeah, I forgot about the resource bubbles. Sorry about that. But besides the fish, the gold and the cows, there's nothing more to see for now, so I guess we have to make do with that picture first. I'll put up a nicer one on the next round.
Hi there,
I'm a monarch player myself and I like to see this.
Settle in place, I guess.
Research, as I see it, agriculture, AH, Pottery and then Bronze working.
By hooking up horses early, you can try a chariot rush.
As well as the resource bubbles, I'd also suggest turning on the gridlines, if only for the screenshots.

Settling in place is tempting. You'll need to be very careful about chopping. With all the floodplains, I'd rely on the whip for build rushing instead. Health resources will be important.

However, the one downside to settling in place is that it may be difficult, later on, to place a decent city to work the fish tile to the north. It's a pity the Warrior isn't further south, but then you wouldn't know about the fish tile. If you want to go exploring, I'd move the settler eastwards to look for a spot that (1) keeps the gold hill, (2) keeps some floodplains, (3) allows for a decent city on the north coast, and (4) doesn't cost you a forest.

It's tempting to grab several floodplains within a single city, but it's costly health-wise even if you are Expansive, which you're not. It maybe worthwhile to distribute the floodplains between 2 or 3 cities.

Taking full advantage of Mansa's UU means researching Archery very soon. I don't know about you, but I'm like most players, I tend to delay Archery. Are Skirmishers really all that great? 4 strength instead of 3 and an extra first strike (maybe), but still more of a defensive unit. I'd be tempted to get Bronze Working quickly (you have Mining already), and if copper is nearby, forgo Skirmishers for a while in favour of multi-purpose Axes. But that's me.

This sounds like it should be very instructional for you, since as you pointed out, drawing Mansa is forcing you to play with a number of characteristics (traits, UU) that you normally don't go for. You're therefore not used to them, I gather. It's one thing to be intellectually aware of how to leverage traits, but in the heat of the game, we often resort to whatever we're used to doing, even though it may be counter-productive for a particular leader.
That's looks like the sort of start that's just begging to be cottage spammed on, even more so being Financial:D

I'd settle in place and go for Agriculture, Pottery, then BW from that position, to get the commerce in early. A CS slingshot might be a bit ambitious on Emperor even from here, but it's definately a good starting spot.

Skirmishers make having Copper slightly less vital too, so a Pottery first start might not even leave you too weak militarily, although you would still be lacking offensive power
Dutchfire, thanks for your support :)

I was thinking of researching Hunting, actually, since I'd want to get Archery soon and farms are not so important with so many flood plains around (which I think should be cottaged asap). So I think it would be Hunting -> AH -> Pottery first. Rush or not will depend on where the neighbours are. It could be more worthwhile to REX if the surrounding land is good.

Thanks for the advice, Sisiutil, I'll turn on all the graphic aids next time. Another thing, I found out before but I forgot again because I don't use it, where can I access the combat log? Can't seem to find it instinctively.

You sure are better at city placing than me. I tend to look at resources above all and don't take too long to consider where to settle. We can move the settler to the gold hill to take a better look at the surroundings. We have to consider this carefully, though, because if we want to go back to our original place we would have wasted 2 turns. That is not so good on Emperor. Never risked more than a 1-turn delay in settling my capital. We can always grab the fish with a city 4 or five tiles north of the starting position. That city will have the fish and flood plains at least so it would be good enough.

You are right in saying that this game will be a new experience for me. I can finally get to learn the nuances of Spiritual, which I've been wanting to use but can't seem to optimize on my own. Left to my usual devices, my early game would chiefly feature a few axe wars. In the last game I played (Elizabeth) I did a different thing, though, by settling 5 cities on my own and waiting for cats before declaring my first war. Won that game overwhelmingly in the end. So I'm learning something new. In this game, I'd very much like to utilize Mansa's UU, therefore the policy of fearless expansion that I suggested. The Skirmisher is significantly more powerful than a normal archer with all the city defenses figured in, but more importantly, the AI seems to know this and it would deter them from attacking us so early, allowing us to REX with greater peace of mind. Whether it will be more worthwhile to conquer than to be settlers have to be evaluated, though, and will depend on where our neighbours are. And we might not have copper nearby. If that's the case, Skirmishers would be a good asset at least until we get IW and manage to hook up iron (not so easy on Emperor).
colony said:
A CS slingshot might be a bit ambitious on Emperor even from here, but it's definately a good starting spot.

I don't think we can manage a CS slingshot, especially given the apparent lack of forests around. That is to say, not enough for chopping the Oracle unless we are going to turtle, and maybe still not enough even then.
aelf said:
I was thinking of researching Hunting, actually, since I'd want to get Archery soon and farms are not so important with so many flood plains around (which I think should be cottaged asap). So I think it would be Hunting -> AH -> Pottery first.

I'm confused: you want Archery soon, so you are going to research AH and Pottery (and the Pottery pre-req? you still need Agriculture or Fishing) first?

Can anybody persuade me that Animal Loving is important and urgent? Your first worker is going to be tied up with the gold mine and the cottages, you are going to run into the happy limit before you hit the health limit (I'm not sure of this one). Granted, cows are a really big deal, but being financial you aren't going to be working them any time soon. Your 4HP archer substititutes will be capable of most of the job you would otherwise foist off onto chariots. I just don't see the rush.

What am I missing?
I wouldn't be too concerned about the health issues from floodplains here. There are only 4 visible within the current city radius and one would be removed by settling in place. The health penalty from floodpains doesn't go from 1 to 2 until you hit 5 floodplains. I am very curious what's on the other side of the river, though. If it's more floodplains, which I don't think it would be, then we'd probably want to settle on one to aleviate some health concerns (if it would actually be beneficial). I'm very tempted by the forested spot to the east. Settling there would still leave us with 2 visible forests (for the 1 health bonus) and only 4 visible floodplains (for a 1 health penalty). Add in the one from the cows eventually and we're fine. Our population limit is going to be 4-5 in the medium term anyway, so any additional health would be a waste. Besides, we've got piles of food from the floodplains. The 1 food penalty for being unhealthy shouldn't affect us much even if it comes to that.

My suggestion: move the warrior onto the hill to his SW. Move the settler to the floodplains to the NE. If the settler doesn't see any more floodplains on the other side of the river, I think it would fairly safe to then move S into the forest and settle on turn 2. If either unit spots a compelling (food) resource, that could change things some.
The game speed, however, is Epic,

So really this is only going to be as hard as Monarch at the most.
aelf said:
The game speed, however, is Epic, since I hope that there will be much warmongering and the chance to use as many unit types as possible whenever practical in every era.

That's not necessarily true because the game is balanced at each speed. Playing on epic doesn't mean that you will be able to build more units because they will cost more hammers, just like techs are readjusted to cost more beakers.
It might be helpful also to turn off the interface with alt-I.

I'd settle in place, you can always put a city 3 plots north to work the fish. I would research bronze first. Build worker first. Hard to say where to move the warrior--1 NE to see if there is any more seafood.
Settle in place.
Go BW -> Agric. -> Animal H. -> Writing -> Alphabet. Something like that.
Pottery obtained true extortion in a war or by trading.
The reason behind this is that you have gold, cows, hills that need to be worked and FP irrigated (slavery). No time this early to work cottages.
I consider this to be superior strategy against cottage spamming which is more popular here. With this strategy you won’t fall behind in tech race, its common misconception, plus you are financial with gold. Once you realize you can win on emperor without owning a single cottage during a whole game you’ll see you can get more with this strategy.

And i forgot to mention. Build warrior first and keep option of capturing the first worker.
I played a few rounds of a shadow game, and I don't think this is a spoiler, but I forgot that you get more barbs the higher the level. This definitely makes the Skirmishers more valuable than I asserted in my previous post, since you can research their techs pretty quickly, no resources are required, and they're very cheap. So yes, go for Hunting and Archery to get your UU sooner rather than later.

The Skirmishers are not an offensive unit per se, but you can still use them in an aggressive manner. Land grabs with well-defended cities, claiming resources which are then also well-defended, border patrols... You might even consider using them for stifling: nabbing workers, pillaging, fortifying within a fat cross.

And don't rule out the Oracle. I'll say no more than that. ;)

In response to playshogi: I like having the interface on for most screen shots, provided other relevant information is included (such as pointing the mouse at a rival's city so its defensive units are displayed). However, when capturing a map view for dotmapping, grids on, resources on, and interface off are all musts.
Just curious... for everybody who suggests settling in place... why? Health concerns? Or do you just not think there's anything else out there? I'd at least recommend knowing what the warrior reveals before deciding for sure.
I argue for settling in place because of the gold, and the fish in the north can be worked by your second city, later. More often than not, the game works good things into the intial spot. Already you have cow and gold and floodplain, what more do you want? I'd rather work the gold than the fish, right now. If you get Agri. you can irrigate the floodplain for food, so who needs fish, which needs fishing. I never worry about barbs, sometimes you see one, and it moves away from your city. I still like worker first and not stealing one. BTW, if you find stone, plan to build the pyramids, it works great with the spiritual trait.
I definitely don't endorse moving away from the gold. And I don't see much point in getting closer to the fish. But, why settle on top of a floodplains? Or, why say for sure without knowing more about the surrounding terrain? If the warrior reveals some resource immediately to our west, I'm all for settling in place. Absent that, though, I have no problem delaying a turn to see what else could be had to the east. Who knows, maybe there's another resource over there... Unless you're going for a religion (which we aren't), I can't see one turn amounting to a whole lot of difference.
I see only two real options, go for a Skirmisher rush or ignore them entirely. It's not worth teching to Archery if you're not going to do it quickly, make a bunch, then go kill someone. Hell, it may not be worth it even then, but at least that's something.

Personally, I would ignore Archery. Settle in place and immediately build a worker to go road/mine that gold. Start with Bronze Working, then Agriculture, Pottery, Writing, Alphabet. Then trade for what I'm missing. There are a couple of things that might affect this plan though:

1. If your 2nd/3rd cities also have things that need pastures, pick up AH. Improving one square isn't worth going out of the way to pick up something that can be traded for later to me, but 3 or 4 squares might be.

2. If you don't have copper, it may be worthwhile to get archery if there's too much space between you and the other civs to stop barbarians from spawning.

3. I always find it to be a tough call when I'm playing a noncreative civ on whether I should go for Stonehenge or not. If you want to get it, toss Mysticism in there before or after Agriculture.

4. If just out of site, you're surrounded by jungle, you may be forced to go for Iron Working. This is pretty unlikely though.
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