You , Yourself and your shadow : Some lessons on isolated starts
( or a small summulae based on the results of the Lonely Hearts Club Games )
( or a small summulae based on the results of the Lonely Hearts Club Games )
Isolated starts ( by isolated I mean the ones in which you have at least one tile of Ocean between the land mass where you’re standing and the one where your nearest neighbor is ) are one of the most dreaded kinds of starts in Civ IV ( It is rare the week where some poster don’t make a allusion of how “it sucks” to start in isolation )… in fact I’m pretty sure that a lot of people simply regen when he/she notices that he’s alone in that land mass.
And why that happens? Basically because most of the players developed a game strategy that requires neighbours , like the famous early rushes of all shapes and colors. In fact isolated starts are exactly the opposite of the early rushes: you normally have more than enough space and can plan the city sites without urgency ( in early rushes it’s the exact opposite: normally you don’t have neither space and time for cities and your second city normally is designed to grab a crucial resource ASAP ) .
Another issue is the diplomacy : for good or bad you are casted away from the diplomacy nets that will flourish in the Autre Mer… this means you can’t trade tech , bribe or be a religious pal before first contact. But it also means that there will be not hated until first contact, that you can’t lose or be forced to anything via AP ( BtS ) and that you can trade more valuable techs because you haven’t touched the WFYBTA limit…..
In this article I’ll try to make a catch up of what I learned in the Lonely Hearts Club games, from my games and from others ( will try to use game examples as possible ) . All of the points are personal ( I’ll try to be the more objective that I can ) and open to discussion. I’ll try to be not specific to any of the Civ versions and when it happens , I’ll try to be explicit
Index of contents
- Definition of isolated start. Degrees of isolation
- Brief Comparison between normal starts and isolated starts
- How can I get/not get a isolated start?
- What not to do in isolated starts
- Some approaches to the isolated starts: tech paths and some economy hints
- What type of economy should I use in isolation?
- Contact and late game
- Victory types: some rough guidelines
-AP ( BtS… pre and post 3.13 )
-UN ( pre and post BtS 3.13 )
- Some ideas and gambits ( examples from games )
Definition of isolated start. Degrees of isolation
A start can be said isolated when you have at least one tile of Ocean between the land mass where you’re standing and the one where your nearest neighbor is. Said this there can be various levels of isolation ( P.S some of the things below are version dependant ):
- Really isolated start: in the nearest point you have 3 ocean tiles between your land and the nearest civ. This is the classic isolated start, no contact or trades before Astro. You’re by yourself….
- Skin contact: there is a place between your land and other civs land with only 2 ocean tiles ( and 2 coastal, of course ) and your city got contact with a civ by cultural border contact. This is rare ( IIRC never happened in the LHC history ) and the results would vary a lot with the civ version… In BtS you will get espionage access to your neighbor and ability to trade techs, but no unit or trade route pass through the ocean ( and by consequence no religion spreading as well )
- Trade route available: you only have one tile of ocean separating you from the nearest civ. This means that you or your neighbor can control that tile culturally … this ( in BtS again … must check Vanilla and Warlords on this ) grants unit and trade route access ( and religion )to the civ that controls the ocean tile.
Brief Comparison between normal starts and isolated starts
Why do people shun isolated starts ( I do not particularly love them, but they help us to sharp some skills )? Mainly because they are pretty different of the usual starts, where you can start warring ASAP ( in fact it is better to start hammering your foes fast if you can ) , you can tech trade pretty early and you can start your diplomatic games early as well. In isolation things are exactly the opposite…..
As a personal note ( and made me understand why a lot of players shun isolation ) , I can remember pretty well my first isolated start… Vanilla, Noble… one of my first games. Wanted to try new and shiny Preatorians ( yup… made me want to wallbash ) . Discovered that I was in a Australia like island ( a little colder )…. Bye bye Preat rush, hello economical buildup ( That game teached me a lot about Civ IV… )
I suppose that a lot of Civ IV players hate isolation because of that: no one to rush ….. More seriously: in isolation you need to build your own settlers, to improve all of the land you use, you can’t count with the other AI for anything ( not even for fogbusting…. Isolation with raging barbs can be pretty intense stuff )… you can’t simply build units and take what you need from the cold dead hands of a AI. That can be pretty overwhelming if you don’t use your cards right…. And of course, you can be pretty limited in terms of resources….
On the other hand you have some advantages when you start in isolation: You don’t have to compete for land (you can place your cities exactly where you want them ), you’ll be not bored by AI requests for a long time ( that can be a big blessing ) and you be able to control your diplo in a more planned way after you made contact ( you can choose your side easier… if you want to choose sides ) .And of course ( BtS ), no problems with foreign AP stuff.
Which is better? I think that none is better per se … they simply push you in different directions . Isolated starts are pretty much focused in your development and in the day you finally meet the other AI…. Non isolated start… it depends a lot of the player’s style ,but the AI will be always a shadow in your game ( for good and for bad )
How can I get/not get a isolated start?
There is no Firaxis script that creates automatically isolated starts. Putting high sea level will make them more likely…. Archipelago, custom continents with high continents number, Hemispheres with islands, varied and high number of continents are settings that will create isolated starts often. Fractal creates a isolated civ in a high number of occasions as well
If you don’t want a isolated start, the solution is simple: play Pangea, Continents, hemispheres with 2 or a little more continents. Lowering the sea level also helps.
And a reference to another situation ( a very common one ) : the post rush isolation , where you killed all of the civs in your mainland. Not all of the things that appear here will be applicable but I think most of the things written here can be useful for that kind of common situations .
What not to do in isolated starts
Before we enter in the really important issues, I wanted to focus some of the things that will surely make you lose the game when you start in isolation. Some of them are common to all to the games but are more acute in this situation:
- Don’t have a clear plan: In isolation you can only count with yourself. If you want a city in the x spot ,you need to make the settler, escort it there and found the city. If you want a tech you have to research it…. If you want a wonder you have to build it. This means you need to have a clear idea of want you want for that game ( far more than non isolated starts ), because you can’t rely in tech trades or in conquering anything for a long while.
- Inefficient fog bust / insufficient anti barb forces : This could be included in the previous point ,but IMHO this was why Sisiutil lost the ALC 15. If you are isolated you need to do all the fogbusting you need ( normally humans outsource this partly to the AI ). This means you can’t fall in the the attractive temptation of neglecting early military build up…at least you’ll need sufficient fogbusting and a adequate anti barb protection.
- Bad city placement.: You need to squeeze all the possible profit from your land and your dotmap must be done accordingly
- Too fast/slow empire growth: This is one of the points that would fit in any game… but in isolation the risk is somewhat higher. Players can lose their references without AI in sight….
- Be the best friend of the first guy that drops by: This is a serious nono most of the times. Committing to a AI without having a decent grasp of how the big diplomatic picture looks may put you in the dreaded position of the world most hated guy.
- Collect religions without any particular reason: This is a very common mistake. And why this is a mistake? Because any religion you found in isolation is one that the AI will not have access, restricting the possibility of inter AI religious hates. If you want to get religions , at least have a good reason for that….
This are only some of the issues I can remember … surely I could put some more others with ease….
Some approaches to the isolated starts: tech paths and some economy hints
Most of the players , when confronted with a isolated start, have only one thought: getting out of there. This usually means going to Optics and astronomy with all the possible strengths. But it is that the best way in all times?
My personal experience is that bee lining optics most of the times is a subpar tech path. Why? Mainly because of the techs you need to lay behind to get Optics and astro in usable time ( unless you bulb astro like Sisiutil made in the Ragnar ALC and some of the LHC players did in the Elizabeth LHC ( warlords ). I’ll discuss that later ). To get astro you need to go IW, Machinery, Compass, Optics, Calendar…. And this lets techs like Currency ,Code of Laws, Civil Service and Philosophy behind…. Most of them strong economical techs and on the path to Liberalism. This can lead to a early contact without anything to trade with the AI besides Optics and Astro ( things that you don’t want to trade, obviously ) and a subpar economy, clearly not the best scenario. But if you can get 2 GS and avoid theology and Civil service, you can bulb Astro if you have calendar and Optics… This is a strong move, because you’ll have Astronomy in very early dates and lots of money from intercontinental trade routes pretty early.
Other option is letting the AI get to you and spend your precious beakers in the middle economical techs, Currency, Code of Laws, Civil service.... This strategy has the merit of focusing on your economical development , but has the great demerit of letting you somewhat of the AI hands in terms of first contacts and in danger of being invaded without having how to counter that in sea or even to know it until it is too late
A third option is going by the religious path: focus on the religious wonders and techs. Apostolic Palace(BtS ),University of Sankore, Spiral Minaret, Ankgor Wat ,Sistine Chapel ( BtS one has a different flavor )…. This economy can be pretty robust , but the heavy hammer spending in wonders restricts it pretty much to Industrious leaders. And has the downside of forcing you to have a different religion from the rest of the world , with the possible diplomatic backfire….
And one of my favorites ( that links pretty well with the Astronomy path ), the Collosus /Great Lighthouse combo. This combo makes your coastal cities to have a profitable position almost from the beginning . The big downside is that the Great Lighthouse is a pretty early wonder and this means you have to commit a lot of early efforts to put this up ( same to the Collosus is a lesser scale ). And this wonders get merchant GPP , a thing that can make getting 2 GS in usable time problematic……
Of course there are other possibilities , but this one’s are the more seen in the LHC games
And the million dollar question: which one to use? It depends strongly of your traits , starting position and general landscape. If I start in a coastal city in isolation, my first thought is to make the great Lighthouse….. If I’m Industrious and have a shot in a religion, I may think in going by the religious path.
But the big decision is between the economical path and the “get away from here” path: from my experience it depends strongly of the land you have in hands and from the perceived AI tech pace ( religions, wonders,… ). If I have a decent / good land and / or the AI is teching reasonably ( compared to me, of course ) , I prefer to stick with improving my economy. If the AI is teching slowly and or / I have lots of desert and tundra ( it happens ) going to the Astro path may be the best idea.