This is the story of my game of Civilization IV Adventure Nineteen from Realms Beyond Civilization.
Lately my pregame analysis pages have been short. This one's a doozy.
This is a wonderful, wide-open game premise. We get to pick any ONE technology to begin the game with. Now, in Civ 4, no single tech in the tree dominates the whole game or even its era. If this adventure were in Civ 3, there would be only three possible right choices: Democracy, Steam Power, or Replaceable Parts. Maybe Fission for a cheap diplo win.
There are in fact two techs in Civ 4 that are commonly cited as overpowered breakpoints: Bronze Working and Civil Service. Bureaucracy from turn one is indeed tempting. But both of those techs arrive early enough anyway, so the Muse would just accelerate a standard optimal path and not have a pervasive effect on the adventure.
So let me comment a bit more on each tech that I mentioned in my "publicity stunt" in the game info thread.
Mass Media for the United Nations sounds much cooler than the actual execution would be. Could we recreate Master of Orion style diplomatic gameplay in Civ 4, with an early UN? Not really. It takes too long for Civ 4 diplomatic relations to get to Friendly, and there's too much danger of losing control of the secretaryship and then then the game to some religious bloc of buddies. It's hard enough to land a true diplomatic win in the late game after you've outbuilt circles around the AIs, never mind while you're still in the pit of religious warfare. Still, I'd like to see somebody try it.
Liberalism for day one Free Speech for a cultural victory was a deliberate red herring. Culture production back-loads so immensely into the late game that Free Speech is meaningless early. In a typical cultural victory, my cities have maybe 2000 culture by the time Liberalism comes naturally, and doubling that would be irrelevant.
And proposing Satellites to reveal the world map was tongue-in-cheek. The tech provides zero tangible benefits, just information.
Among serious choices, no single technology can be considered the most powerful. I'd say that there's basically three categories. Hammer production, economic production, or the quick military stomp. Food production is not an end; it's just a means to make more hammers or economy by whipping or working mines or specialists.
Let's consider the quick military stomp first, since I'm not looking for a game quite that artificially skewed. The options are Artillery or Rifling, which both enable units with no other tech or resource requirement. Of the two, the cheaper rifleman is clearly superior, especially when promoted to Cover and with the innate bonus vs mounted units. Thanks to Civ 4's combat system that greatly favors the stronger unit, a single rifleman can annihilate literally an entire civilization. Consider an archer fortified in a city with +40% defense at 6.45 strength. A rookie rifleman with Combat I attacks at 15.4 strength and will lose about one round per fight for 12 HP damage. Add Cover and it's just gross. Somebody will surely do that, but that won't be me.
Besides that, we have the choice of using our Muse to boost hammer production for a conventional military win, or for economy towards a spaceship or cultural win. Which do I want to do? Well, I've always been a builder at heart, and there's little point to doing a conventional conquest when a godly Riflemen option is available. So let's look to economy.
Fiber Optics for the Internet is the single most powerful economic option. Assuming we can find copper, the Internet can be built in about fifty turns in the classical era, and then you're set for life on technology. Casual players will love this option, but it's too easy for me. The tech may be free, but it's still just sloppy seconds: you won't be in the lead. This Muse doesn't open the door to do anything special with this adventure.
Democracy tech is the other powerhouse economic option. Emancipation feeds Universal Suffrage nicely, growing towns faster which will produce hammers. And the synergy cake comes with frosting: a near-permanent happiness penalty for all your rivals. Finally, you get cash rushing, to speed up the early game by using hut cash to buy workers and settlers.
Well, let's consider a few other economic options. How about Mercantilism, via Banking? My comment in the game thread about super-early GPs was a bit of a red herring, since you can't run any GP-creating specialists until you have an appropriate building or Caste System. You can build the bank right away, but cash is useless in the early game, and Merchants are the worst early GP since all they do is make cash or lightbulb techs. In the medium timeframe, Mercantilism would be reasonably productive. Qin is Organized and can spam plenty of cities which would pay for themselves immediately. Pyramids for Representation would be a must, and you'd eventually get to run a few extra scientists or priests for a couple extra GPs. But ultimately, I have to say nay to this one because of Mercantilism's drawback. By halfway through the game, you'll discard your Muse's benefit in favor of Free Market. It might be temporarily strong, but it converges back to a normal game path too quickly.
Biology could be an interesting pick. The bonus is passive and starts working as soon as any tile is farmed. Problem is, it doesn't really help the economy. You can work a double-strength grassland farm to support a specialist -- but you could instead just work two grassland cottages, which will easily outpace the specialist's production once matured. So Biology only really works on the hammer side of the guns-or-butter fulcrum, and even then really just as Slavery fodder since whipping is more efficient than workshops.
Medicine is another possibility. Environmentalism is much maligned in the late game, but +6 health and +X happiness could work wonders for a fledgling medieval city. Problem is, what exactly do you do with the extra city sizes? If you need to keep the forests for happiness, you aren't working more cottages, so once again you're just producing more hammers, not economy.
Communism is interesting too. The State Property food bonuses are only part of the story -- really, that's inferior to Biology, since the food bonus will be of the same magnitude except much later and clunkier. The real draw of Communism is having Kremlin-boosted Slavery available for the whole game. (Why do so many of these proposals keep coming back to Slavery?) But again, this is a hammer-oriented option which is not what I'm looking for.
Strictly for a cultural victory, Radio has great potential. Most speedy cultural victories stop teching at Liberalism. Radio is by far the biggest cultural tech prize on the rest of the tree, with two culture-multiplying wonders. But I'm pretty tired of playing cultural victories by now. :)
Now, what about combos? There's a big Oracle-shaped loophole in the game setup. If your Muse teaches a tech that has a followup tech with no other prerequisite, you can use the Oracle to grab that followup tech as well. This might also be extended to a third tech, either by manipulating some cheap Philosophical Great People to lightbulb it, or being patient to research its other prerequisites, or waiting for Liberalism. (An example would be Chemistry -> Steel, which has Iron Working as a second prereq but that's easily reachable the conventional way.)
However, try as I might, I couldn't come up with any two or three tech combos with meaningful synergy. The majority of later techs are actually useless in isolation, requiring a resource (that means you, Railroad) or a tile improvement or prerequisite building from elsewhere on the tree. And no military-oriented option would be superior to simply taking Rifling and putting the hammers directly into a unit rather than the Oracle.
The only decent combo option I could find was Biology - Medicine, which does present some big synergy between Biology to grow cities and Environmentalism to sustain them. Optics is a prereq for Medicine and attainable fairly early, though it pushes Medicine out of Oracle range. But there turned out to be no other way to shortcut Medicine besides waiting for Liberalism. It can't feasibly be lightbulbed because Astronomy gets in the way. (Astronomy is higher priority than Medicine for Great Scientists, Engineers, and Merchants, and so is every step of Astronomy's prereqs along the Calendar line.) That would take at least two extra GPs, and would also keep me off the CoL - Civil Service economic path for too long.
Strictly for a cultural victory, some combination of Electricity - Radio - Mass Media might have good use, but I'm rather sick of cultural wins.
So I'm going to skip any Oracle tricks, and go with a single tech. The technology that I can find with the best economic potential is...