Mesoamerica, part 1
As usual at the beginning of a new game, let's talk a bit about the research strategy and governments. We start the game in Despotism, so if I want to compete against the Deity AIs, it's important to get rid of that asap. Tenochtitlan has two nice food boni, "Maize" with +4 food and "Bananas" with +2 food (instead of +1 which they have in the base game). Also there are lots of food boni in first-ring distance, some of which are unlocked only after getting out of Despotism: two more Maize, two Fish, two Cacao Plants, a Game and a Llama.
Fortunately, Monarchy becomes available quite early in the game, and the Aztecs, which I have chosen, already start with two techs required for that:
So I start with Ritual Sacrifice and then go immediately to Monarchy. Pottery can be traded soon enough: our direct neighbor, the Olmecs start with Pottery, and I think an immediate Granary is not good here anyway, because the Olmecs are so close that by the time I finish the Granary, they might already have boxed me in from the south. There is quite a number of important resources to the south, and some good city sites, so I will build 2-3 Settlers first to claim these sites before the Olmecs do, and then build the Granary for settling the north. There is no one to our north, so I don't need to hurry that much to expand into that direction. Even on Deity, it will hopefully take some time, before the AIs start sending Settlers up there...
Another nice thing about Ritual Sacrife is, that it enables the Sacrificial Altar, which adds +1 culture per turn (and becomes important later, as it doubles the culture from slave sacrifices). At only 20s for a religious civ, I will of course take that extra culture asap.
Some other important techs are Enslavement, which unlocks our Jaguar Warrior, so I can start enslaving barbs, and Construction, which unlocks the Aqueduct. Unfortunately, Tenochtitlan is not on a river, and many first-ring sites are neither, so eventually getting Aqueducts is important. And of course there are many other early techs, which unlock a cultural building, and as I won't have many chances for a great wonder, I need to build these asap to have a chance in the 2K race. Mathematics, Ball Games, Pacal's Laws and Storytelling all have a cultural building, which in most cases also have some additional bonus, like extra happiness or +50% science.
Then at the beginning of the second age, there is another crucial tech: Terrace Farming. It enables irrigation quite late in the game. The only good terrain we have, are the jungles and the food boni. The rest of the tiles is plains, hills and mountains, which all have only 1 food, so most of the towns I can found won't grow much beyond size 6 without irrigation!
The rest of the second age techs then mainly allow a couple of great wonders. Pack Animal and Currency allow two strong buildings, the Tambo and Marketplace, which I will eventually get, but without the 50% discount, they are rather expensive for me. The upper two techs, Military Tactics and Espionage, allow two strong units, the Quetzal Bowman at 3-1-1 and the Silent Hunter at 5-3-2. The extra speed of the Jaguar and its enslavement capability probably means that I will continue to use that over the Quetzal, but the Silent Hunter is of course a monster, especically if I manage to get Armies. I may need to use that, if I want to survive a war against a potential powerhouse AI.
And then there is the strange tech of Blood Cult, enabling another government of the same name. Honestly, I have no idea, why the game designers added this?! Why would we want another anarchy that late in the game? And as far as I can see, Blood Cult is not even an improvement over Monarchy, but rather a major step back: it reintroduces the Despotism penalty, and it reintroduces pop-rushing instead of cash-rushing! All the other things, corruption level, MP maximum, draft rate and worker efficiency are the same. Only the free unit support has been increased from 2/4/8 to 8/8/8. But I rather pay a little more gold than put up with another anarchy and a mediocre government?! (If anyone knows, what the game designers had in mind with this, please enlighten me. Perhaps you can now also sacrifice your own workers instead of only slaves? But that would be too easy, almost an instant win, as you can certainly have some worker pumps running the entire game and then just wait for Blood Cult?!)
In any case: early contacts for trading opportunities are again most important to get through the first age quickly. I'll send a Warrior southward as soon as I can spare one, and hopefully he'll make it all the way south to the Incas and manage to not get himself killed by barbs on the way...
Ok, and off we go. I send my starting Settler eastward, as I know there is another nice Maize tile. The plan is then to use the Maizes for producing a few early Settlers and Workers to settle southward, before the Olmecs claim that nice territory.
I meet the Olmecs in turn 11, 410 AD, and buy the first slave:
A short while later, I also meet the Mayas and the Toltecs, which are all rather close to each other down south.
Turn 18, 480 AD, Tobacco, the first lux resource, is connected, thanks to the Olmecian slave!
Turn 19, 490 AD, Ritual Sacrifce comes in, I trade Craftsmanship from the Mayas for Ritual Sacrifce + 26g, and from the Olmecs I buy Pottery for Ritual Sacrifce. Then I get 62g from the Mayas for Pottery.
Question now is: should I immediately switch to Granary? But my feeling is, if I don't claim those important southern sites quickly on Deity, the AI will box me in. So I will first finish the Settler I'm currently building, then a Sacrifical Altar (which got enabled by Craftsmanship) for some extra culture, and only then a Granary, followed by pumping out Settlers for the northern territory.
Another question is: my next tech, Monarchy, costs 640 beakers. Maximum research time in this scenario is 40 turns. At the moment I am making 12bpt, which is not enough to bring it below 40 turns. So going lone scientist for 40 turns might be an option, but getting out of Despotism is top priority here to get the extra food from the Maize and the Banana (plus extra shields on mined hills & mountains that I eventually will have). As my little empire grows, I will definitely get more than 20bpt research, and I think I can get it done in ~30 turns. At the moment I can't cash-rush anyway, and the more cash I accumulate, the more likely it is that the AIs will demand tribute... So I decide to go after Monarchy at full blast.
Turn 23, 530 AD: I meet the Toltecs and are able to buy my second slave...!
These minor civs are indeed backward, even on Deity...
580 AD, turn 28, the Sacrifical Altar is finished, and Tenochtitlan is making more culture than Chichén Itza! (Obviously, I haven't met the Incas, yet.)
Also Jade, my second lux resource is connected. And one of my slaves is building a road northwards to speed up the settlement of the northern area and connect the furs there.
It's probably time for a view of my developing empire:
As you can see, I managed to claim the important resources in the south, Game, Jade, Llamas and Cacao Plants, before the Olmecs did.
(The borders that can be seen, are their capital. Fortunately they do not start with an extra Settler in this scenario...)
600AD: the Olmecs send an Archer and a Warrior to my border. Are they looking for trouble or just want to go barb hunting in the north? I better move my defenders from Tenochtitlan to the border and temporarily raise the lux slider. Please not another early war!
680 AD: nothing happened, the Olmecian units wandered along my border and then went home again. Exotic Birds are now connected, but won't be needed for a long time: they allow the Quetzal Bowman and the Temple of Kukulcan.
720 AD, turn 42: the Olmecs demand 21 gold. Hey, you are supposed to be a weak minor civ, what are you thinking demanding tribute? But as they are the direct neighbor and I still have enough gold in my treasury, I give it to them. Not another war in the middle of the build-up phase, when I just built two 60s Granaries, which now need to be utilized to the full for Settlers & Workers and not for military units...
In 750 AD, turn 45, the Mayas are starting the Grand Pyramid! I guess now the days of Tenochtitlan's culture lead will soon be over... It also means, they are now four techs ahead of me: Alphabet, Masonry, Enslavement and Stone Carving.
In 770 AD I meet the Incas! I didn't have to walk all the way down there, they came half the way up to meet me... And they don't know Ritual Sacrifce yet! So I sell it to them for Enslavement and 12g, enough to finish Monarchy in two turns. My treasury was almost empty and I had already feared I would have to slow down a bit.
Then I sell Enslavement to the Olmecs and get Masonry and 21g. That's exactly what I payed them as tribute... Seems they haven't spent it yet...
Getting Enslavement means I can now build Jaguar Warriors, which I will for a bit of barb hunting in the north!
So now I only have to meet the Moche, which are between me and the Incas, but they did not come to greet me?!
Now that I know all major civs, I can now say for sure that Tenochtitlan is still the culture leader. Chichén Itza has built the Sacrifical Altar 6 turns after me, as the lead has now been stable at 6 points for quite some time:
A turn later I meet the Moche and sell them Ritual Sacrifce for 47g. The power graph doesn't look too bad for a Deity game, so it could be that the AI cannot handle all the rule changes that well? Before the game, I had really been afraid that this scenario would turn into a humiliating defeat, but now I get fresh hope.
I'm now delaying Monarchy for a turn, something I almost never do, but I want to finish another Settler and Worker before the potentially long anarchy period. That Settler will then settle by the floodplains in the north to build a continuous stream of Workers.
Then in 790AD Monarchy is finished, after a research time of 30 turns. I thought quickly, whether I should keep it to myself for a while, so as to let the others suffer the Despotism penalty a bit longer, but then I figured, three techs less to research to get to irrigation isn't bad either, so I sold Monarchy to the Mayas for Stone Corving, Alphabet and 226 gold and to the Incas for Mathematics and 300 gold! That's a good price. Three techs and 526g! Especially considering that I'll soon be able to cash-rush things. I'm now the tech leader and up Stone Carving over the Incas and Mathematics over the Mayas. But they'll probably swap that soon.
Next tech is now Construction, so I can finally build an aqueduct in Tenochtitlan. But that'll take a while.
Immediately after the trade I revolt interturn and get 2 turns of anarchy. Oh, yes, I forgot we are religious...
In 816AD, turn 52, my young Monarchy looks like this:
The Furs will be connected soon, there is a Worker now on the Stone Quarry resource, ready to connect that (so I can finally build/cash-rush a couple of them cheap 10s Temples to compete against an AI's 7K victory), and a Settler is in preparation to claim the Spices. Construction is due in 14 turns, until then, Tenochtitlan will pump out some more Settlers and Workers.
With the despotism penalty lifted (and an aqueduct built/part-rushed), Tenochtitlan will max out at size 11 before irrigation. The biggest AI capital is currently size 3 (and the Mayas are not even building the Pyramids in their capital...), so perhaps I will have a chance at competing for a wonder after all!? No one knows Writing and Story Telling yet, so perhaps I go after these two after Construction and then try for the Temple of the Moon, which gives two free techs, getting me faster to irrigation.