This is the story of my game of Civilization IV Adventure Thirty-Five from Realms Beyond Civilization.
The setup for this game actually involved quite a bit of thinking, so I'll start here with comments from the sponsor.
Of course, this is a revisit to Epic 24 in Civ 3. (Yes, by coincidence my first RB sponsorship for both Civ games was Epic 24.) The concept was a hit the first time around, in our only visit to the game option Accelerated Production. And as a snack-size game, it seemed perfect to run as a side dish during the time scope of Pax Americana. Since Sullla had already hijacked the title "Speed Racer" for another Civ 4 game, we had to use a slightly different reference. :)
For info on how the Civ 3 game concept developed, you can see my comments there. The whole concept was borne of a delay in Firaxis patching Civ 3 PTW. Realms Beyond didn't want to have a large event interrupted by a game patch, and had run a couple small-size ancient war games while waiting, but that wore thin. So my idea was a small-size builder game, for which Accelerated Production was perfect, and with war impossible. I tried a number of ways to approximate Always Peace in Civ 3, and the only workable way turned out to be to isolate civs on their own islands and edit naval units to make combat impossible.
Running another lap of Speed Racer in Civ 4 had been at the back of my mind for some time. And much to my pleasure, the new game came with Always Peace built right in for a perfect game setup without all the rules contortions I did in Civ 3. But two and two took a while to make four.
The idea of permanent Golden Age came to me when thinking through other games. We had spotlighted lots of other BTS features as scenarios: Colonies in Colonization, corporations in Something Fishy and Friendly Takeover, forest preserves in Tree Huggers. The enhanced Golden Age followed naturally. But I couldn't think of a good way to expand just a Golden Age into a fully-realized and premier scenario.
But peanut butter finally met chocolate, hammer met nail, and Golden Age met Mach Five. I wanted a way to replicate the crazy-fast feeling of Accelerated Production, but Civ 4 lacks the option. Quick speed isn't quite the same effect. But the permanent Golden Age should do that just splendidly.
Choosing a leader to burn rubber took quite a bit of thought. The choice of usable traits was quite limited. Permanent Golden Age renders Spiritual entirely redundant, and mimics Philosophical and Financial as well. And warring traits would be irrelevant, knocking out Aggressive, Protective, and Imperialistic. That left some combination of the builder traits Expansive, Creative, Industrious, Charismatic, and Organized.
Suryavarman (Exp/Cre) was my first choice, but we just used him in Tree Huggers.
Exp/Cha? That's Washington and we're already playing America in Pax Americana.
Exp/Org? Did Mehmed recently too in Beyaz Peynir.
Cre/Cha? Doesn't exist!
Cre/Org? Zara Yaqob, also somewhat recent in Arise Ethiopia (and the RB team in the Apolyton demogame). And Organized really isn't all that hot on a tiny map.
Ind/Org? Roosevelt, been there doing that.
Ind/Cha or Org/Cha? De Gaulle was also played last year in Wonderful Life. He and Napoleon are okay, but Charismatic is so-so and I like Louis better for France.
The choice came down to Bismarck (Exp/Ind) or Louis (Cre/Ind). Either Creative or Expansive gives several cheap buildings which would be perfect for this overcaffeinated challenge. The tiebreaker was the French UB, the Salon. I'm very much aware that the free Artist has anti-synergy in a game with zero use for Great Artists - no culture win, no border conflicts, not even Golden Ages. But it'll make for a nice little curveball to see how players handle it. And finally Creative will help in the event an AI beats the player to a homeland city and the player needs to recover it by culture flip.
I also briefly considered Unrestricted Leaders in order to play a builder Japan for the Speed Racer theme (Tokugawa's traits stink), but decided not to so soon after having that in Focal Point.
Next was my choice of opponents. Players may have noticed the odd choice of three Spiritual leaders, which is a really irrelevant trait in a game with no anarchy and little diplomacy. And I knew that: initially I selected opponents for a mix of the appropriate traits: Bismarck (Exp/Ind), Washington (Exp/Cha), Zara Yaqob (Cre/Org).
But my playtest found a big AI hole. See, it turns out that non-Spiritual AIs will never adopt new civics or religions while in Golden Age! The AI logic was never told of the BTS rule for no anarchy, and they stubbornly insist on not wasting Golden Age time in anarchy. Fortunately, blessedly, Spiritual AIs are smart enough to know they already have no anarchy and will behave correctly. So I selected three leaders with combinations of Spiritual and another builder trait.
(If the Spiritual workaround hadn't worked, the concept would've been in serious trouble. I could think of four equally awkward solutions. 1) we could leave the AIs in default civics and no religions the whole time. 2) we could Worldbuilder the AIs some religions and civics techs to start, like Monarchy and Feudalism and Banking. 3) we could leave the AIs out of Golden Age and compensate by bumping the difficulty to Immortal or Deity. 4) introduce a mandatory scenario mod to patch that AI behavior. None of those are ideal.)
On the map, the first important thing I edited were the water links between continents. Coastal contact was essential. I didn't want the tech competition to turn into an Astronomy race to enable foreign trade routes, or to leave the player in the dark until Optics, or to make galley contact dependent on ocean expansion of cultural borders. The downside to coastal contact is that the player must be alert to avoid AI galleys and settlers stealing territory (the only way to recover such cities would be by flip), but that's acceptable. The other downside is concentrating high octane into the Great Lighthouse, but that's also okay.
The other major map setup I made was that stone/marble location. Stone and marble often have a drastic effect on the early game, and I like a good scenario to have one or the other. But both resources make it too easy to clean up on all the wonders (especially with the Industrious trait.) So I let the player pick either but not both - the opposite one could never be connected by trade route - to add another element of builder strategy. And I filled in the fish and iron resources to make sure the site would be noticed and attractive.
I also tweaked stone and marble among the AIs. Ramesses the Industrious leader would have neither, while the other two AIs would have one each. So there should be significant but winnable competitions for all the wonders. And I set up the happy resources like in the Civ 3 Epic, dividing them into a monopoly for each civ, three per nation. The player got Dyes (to play with cheap Creative theaters), Wines (of course France must, and plains wines work very well with Golden Age), and Silver (to give an early Mining happy resource, and because silver always gets the short shrift as compared to gold and gems.)
And I chose a sea-oriented capital very much on purpose as well. This would encourage quick sea exploration and contact, and make economic management more complicated than a Bureaucracy rush and near-OCC economy, encouraging the player to find and build another good site for cottages. The game actually generated the three crabs all by itself. I tweaked the start only by replacing a second land food resource (another cow, I think) with the plains wines which trigger both halves of the Golden Age tile bonus. I made several other edits - made the AI continents whole (two of them were split by sea channel), gave them rivers, strategic resources, and several slight terrain improvements.
I also removed a river from the player's capital and drew the one in the west, to decentralize the economy a bit more. BTW, Sullla, that's how you draw a river without looking like it came from a demented Etch-a-Sketch. ;)
One final note on the rules: Tech Trading is off, but technology stealing still works and is fair game. I considered banning it, since stealing introduces a dependency on the AIs for the player's performance, but decided against the weight of a variant rule. Espionage Economy is a legitimate economy. Stealing does require economic investment, in the slider and/or espionage buildings. You won't steal anything worthwhile just with the EP from a palace and few courthouses.
Also, I'm trying a page from Ruff_Hi's less-is-more sponsorship style. Rather than explain everything up front about tech stealing, I'll shut my mouth and let the players work it out.
So with all that set up, I embarked on a combination shadow game and playtest.