That Spain culture game was probably unbeatable. But I can still see one more area to push further up the curve of faith production. The slowest spot in the whole religion sequence is waiting for the enhancement Great Prophet, which consumes over 300 faith and delays everything after it. Can we skip that somehow? I'd love to bypass the enhancement and start buying those splendid mosques and pagodas twenty turns sooner. Here are some ways:
Option 1: Go full Piety to get the prophet at the finisher. I think this would be too slow, though. My other all-Piety game finished the tree around turn 90 which is too late, the AI will take your mosques/pagodas belief by then. Piety goes significantly slower than Tradition or Liberty since Piety has no culture to accelerate into itself. The one way to bring the Piety finisher forward significantly is Poland, who chops off one policy and could do it around turn 70. (No, the Aztecs can't beat that.) But missing out on Liberty is a serious cost on expansion.
Option 2: Use Byzantium, to take both Mosques and Pagodas upon founding the religion, and then just never enhance at all. This is a decent plan, but here's a better one:
Option 3: Use the Maya, to take a prophet via Long Count. This is just about strictly superior to Byzantium, spending the civ choice to get a prophet, but then there's more Great People to come and also the Maya have a good UB. They have to beeline Theology of course, but that's perfectly fine, the Sacred Sites game goes right to Philosophy and Drama anyway and doesn't need any of the lower branches of the classical era.
And I just want to give the Maya a spin. I played one game with them back in G&K, which ran into some technical difficulties (crashing) involving some DLC and had to be abandoned. Everybody says they're a top tier civ, and while I again don't agree (everybody doesn't realize what a penalty it is that the not-really-"free" great people increase their cost counters), this might be just exactly the place for the Maya, where there won't be any future GPs to worry about the cost counter.
This report is of my second Maya attempt, after the first game just went too slow and I felt I could do better.
Here's my start after a couple dozen map rolls. This looks average by the standards I look for, with some desert and luxuries and food (oasis) but not gobs of any. For every report that you see here, I start something like three or five starts of this quality and abandon a few that don't pan out well. You only see the ones that go on to great success. Such as this:
Holy Celestia, it happened again. El Freakin Dorado.
Well, now this game is on level footing with Brazil. (And kind of sets the precedent that anything without Dorado or Spain won't be competitive. Actually that's kind of okay with me since maybe I can finally stop these silly exercises after this one.)
Anyway, what do we buy. I said before that buying a settler with Dorado is premature... but here it's the right call. I have here both the worst case for a worker and the best case for a settler. The two best tiles at Palenque (oasis and stone) can't be improved, while there's a splendid site to settle on the west gems with wheat and cow (and an oasis in the fog.)
This settler would do a ton. It would make use of Desert Folklore quickly, working several desert tiles. It would accelerate culture to Collective Rule with a monument and the Liberty opener. And most importantly, it's another spot to build a pyramid, the Maya UB (shrine with +2 faith and +2 beakers.) In fact, the right approach here was to buy the pyramid at the new city, while letting the capital build it as usual. The settler and pyramid cost 750 total, needed a bit more money over Dorado itself but that came soon (I already had 100 gold from a ruin.) Two pyramids together is +4 faith/turn, enough to get the pantheon right quick, here on turn 15.
So on turn 15 I already have two cities, both with pyramids, monuments underway, Pottery and Mining already both completed, two gems to sell (under the cities), and the pantheon.
The last missing piece was a culture ruin for the Liberty opener, which came on turn 10. Other ruins yielded 100 gold, survivors to size 3, survivors to size 4, 50g, survivors to size 5, culture again, t39 survivors to size 2 in my third city (this was actually bad, because it couldn't pull the convert-at-size-1 trick), and t47 a hilariously late Archery pop.
The one thing that came a bit slowly was a worker, which took until turn 24 to have enough money to buy after the Dorado purchases. A sale of gems for 6gpt to England helped, although then I actually had to keep the second gems for my own happy.
Pottery and Mining were the first research targets, then Writing to get the library up in the capital. Except then... I decided to make a bold move for the Great Library instead. I thought hard about this one. I could project ahead to Palenque finishing the wonder on turn 38. It can fall earlier than that to the AIs, and it would be a shame to waste an El Dorado start by failing a wonder. But it's worth the gamble. The Great Library is absolutely the fastest way to Theology and the way to turn a very good start into blowing the roof off. I could even have the second city build an
archer atlatlist for defense meanwhile.
Research order: Pottery - Mining - Writing - Animal Husbandry (find horses) - Masonry (both marble and stone) - Drama & Poetry.
Capital build order: Scout - scout - pyramid - monument - scout - Great Library - settlers.
Policies: turn 10 Liberty opener, t20 Republic, t30 Collective Rule. That's quite a bit faster than usual, turn 40 seems about par for most starts, and even almost matched Spain's turn 27. Getting two monuments up quickly does matter.
Portugal friended me, which let me fix a mild oversight. I needed to buy an archer to escort the settler from Collective Rule, and borrowed the money from Portugal to do it. I felt slightly bad about that, because:
That settler was to drop this nasty pink dot in Portugal's face. It grabbed marble right there, and I'd also buy the ivory tilee.
My Great Prophet is also there in this shot on that same turn. Beautifully early on turn 37, and we took Pagodas and Initiation Rites as usual.
You can also see the Great Library two turns from completion there, and I did land that on turn 39, cashing in Philosophy.
The one thing missing is workers. I had still bought only one (currently traveling from Palenque to Chichen), got no steals, and was set back on buying a second by buying that escort archer. But India also friended me on t43 lending me the money to finally buy a second worker, and also Tikal would build one after two archers.
Moving along, here's the next major milestone, as we researched Theology on turn 60. That's just about as fast as you can possibly accumulate that many beakers. Every city built a pyramid first, aided by the Piety opener, plus the Great Library awarded Philosophy for free and also +3 regular beakers. I had had to squeeze in Trapping for the ivory, but still got here to enable the Maya Long Count just in time before the baktun date 126.96.36.199.0 which is turn 62.
(The one faster way to go is to delay the Great Library until it can slingshot Theology itself, manually researching both Philo and Drama first, but that gets very chancy on whether you can beat the AIs to the wonder.)
Culture was also moving along, with the Piety opener on t43 and Organized Religion on t60. I've figured out in these games that Org Rel is higher priority than Mandate of Heaven. Mandate functions as a 25% modifier to faith production, as each faith you produce buys 25% more pagoda. Here that would be virtually an extra +5 faith on +20 real production. Org Rel would be more than that with six buildings already and quickly adding more. Finally, Mandate later is also correct because it effectively works retroactively, you can stockpile faith before the actual policy then spend it all after the discount. Mandate would come later on turn 78, Religious Tolerance on t80, and Reformation on t86.
We're also moving along with the game plan, of buying pagodas right away rather than waiting for the religion enhancement. I already have two pagodas in this picture, and would actually get up to four ahead of Brazil by the time they had merely gotten to enhancement.
So two turns later the Long Count rolled over, and just as planned, I could take a Great Prophet to enhance my religion. Or, here's a better way:
Take a Great Engineer and get the prophet by way of clocking the Hagia Sophia! So either way Long Count supplied the same prophet, plus this way an extra +6 faith from the wonder plus temple.
There is opportunity cost to that move: giving up the option to take a prophet directly then later engineer something else. But I figured to take a Great Writer and Artist next. They would be better than any wonder option. The Writer/Artist would each produce +2 tourism directly from the great work (thank you Great Library for the writing work slots.) It would take more time than was left in the game for a settled prophet or rushed wonder to outpace that via enough faith for multiple pagodas.
(What about the Parthenon? Wouldn't rushing that be the same idea as rushing the prophet wonder, getting what you ultimately wanted (great work) plus the wonder's other benefits (culture)? Yes, but you only get one engineer for one wonder, not both. The choice is between Prophet + Engineer→Parthenon or Engineer→Hagia + Artist. Either way nets the same prophet plus great work. The choice is between the ancillary benefits of either the Hagia Sophia or Parthenon. Of those, faith from the Hagia is better in a Sacred Sites game.)
The +14 happy in that picture is fake. 9 of it is thanks to three quests for mercantile city-states, but that would wear off soon. I sometimes overlook this problem and fail to compensate for losing a mercantile CS, but got it correct this time by importing more luxuries.
Where did those CS quests come from? Stuff like this. Sometimes you guys just make it too easy...
Anyway, we enhanced as planned. But what is Monasteries doing in there? Why not Mosques? I just discovered this on my aborted attempt at a Maya game before this:
MONASTERIES ARE CHEAPER. 150 base cost instead of 200. I never knew this until that aborted game missed both Mosques and Cathedrals and settled for Monasteries instead. But this is exactly what we want for the second half of a Sacred Sites game. Just dump out more buildings for cheaper. I've learned from experience that happiness starts to plateau around this time and you don't really need the happy from mosques on top of pagodas.
Another optimization I made from previous attempts is to build the Oracle in my second city, not the capital. Get Philosophy early enough (which the AIs don't prioritize) and you have time to do that. Tikal is building it over there in the previous overview. Offloading the Oracle lets the capital stay entirely on settlers, so you don't waste the opportunity cost of the Collective Rule bonus that only operates there.
So after the Great Library, Palenque's build order looked like this: settler settler settler settler settler settler settler settler settler settler settler settler settler. Seriously, yes, it did thirteen consecutive settlers with no breaks. And check this out:
I can't believe I never figured out this loophole before. You can starve with impunity while building a settler. Any shortage in food just vanishes, never accounted for. I just always assumed that -5 food deficit must get subtracted out of somewhere, either the food storage or the hammer production or the overflow or something. But that's not true. Building a settler simply sets the city's food surplus to 0 even if it should be negative. And you still get the full stated hammer production.
I guess I never noticed this before because the capital always has a granary propping up its food production. I never have games with a short enough time horizon that the capital would skip the granary and watermill to build this many settlers. And a maritime city-state or the Landed Elite policy in Tradition also covers up any such shortage. But here, none of this happened and the bug/loophole shone through. I went back to some older games and tested this by selling granaries and such, and indeed, it does work like this consistently.
Moving along, the second Long Count occurred on turn 72 that yielded an artist settled as a Great Work. And here's the third interval.
As planned, I took a Great Writer... but rather than settle, actually the best use was to culture-bulb into Sacred Sites three turns sooner. With 12 faith buildings in place, those 3 turns mean 72 tourism. The great work would need 36 turns to make 72 tourism and the game won't last that long. (Wish I'd realized this to take this writer on the previous baktun, before the artist, for more than 3 turns gain on Sacred Sites. Although missing out on that artist's tourism might render that plan worse anyway.)
At +110 faith, I'm already just about at a monastery per turn. Brazil was still managing only about half a pagoda per turn at this point.
And the longest win date shows 31 turns. I just got Civil Service, so why is that modifier 0%, why not sign Open Borders with Greece?
Because they don't have WRITING to establish the embassy! A bit later, on turn 95, he did and we did.
I got one more policy, on turn 94. As with Spain, the best use was the Piety finisher for a prophet to settle for the bit of extra faith.
And we brought home the win on turn 101. Just one slower than Spain. But actually a better performance played fully legit compared to Spain's reload cheating. Appropriately, we celebrate it with one last Long Count bonus right there.
So it looks like Brazil wasn't the undisputed king after all. It's hard to say exactly how much impact came from Long Count skipping one of the prophets, because there were several additional improvements in play here: the Maya UB, Collective Rule, Monasteries over Mosques, probably better use of El Dorado, and better optimization on building settlers with that starvation trick and offloading the Oracle.
I think I'm finally signing off from Sacred Sites games, but there's still some things to do over in the science victory department.