It’s been three years since I was invited to join Multiplayer games of Civilization 5 via Giant Multiplayer Robot (GMR). Before I had been reasonably satisfied with the challenge of playing all Civ 5 scenarios on Deity difficulty (which took a thousand hours or so).
It turns out: Playing fellow humans is a completely different challenge. In this post I want to highlight some of the things I’ve learned the easy or the hard way over those years and share some of my best and worst moments.
How much do I play?
Here’s the thing: GMR is asynchronous multiplayer. This means you get to play 1 turn when it’s your turn and then that’s it for this game. The other players have 1-2 days time to play their turns which for a game with 8 people means “down time” for about a week. The cadence fits perfectly with my private life nowadays.
I’ve played 7723 turns over the course of 3 years. Average turn time ~7 hours. This means roughly 4 turns per day. That’s not too much given how before GMR I’ve spent hours on end playing Civilization 5. Most turns are rather quick. Let’s assume 4 minutes on average:
7723 turns * 4 minutes (my guess at average turn time) = 30.892 minutes = 515 hours / 3 years = 172 hours/year / 365 = 0.5 hours per day.
What I’ve learned from Civ 5 Multiplayer
I quickly learned how important it was to talk to one another (Surprising, eh? Given that’s what I do for a living…) and keep diplomatic channels open to almost everyone. Some examples:
- No conflict resolution:
In one of the first games I joined, one of my cities needed more production. So I innocently bought a hill. The problem: That hill was in the 3rd tile ring of another very experienced player’s capital. After pointing out how he felt threatened by that, because 1 tile further from that hill a Great General could citadel right into his heart(land). That game quickly ended for me, because I didn’t plan to attack, but he quickly overwhelmed me with Crossbowmen.
- Diversion and alliance:
In another game where I played Poland, my Babylonian neighbor to the South was about to attack me. I saw the buildup, the road connections and the formations. I had reached out and offered to instead of killing each other’s units for centuries we could team up and declare war on my neighbor to the North, India. We brought China on board, formed an alliance of 3, everybody got 2 Indian cities. Win-win-win. (Well and lose for India, but someone always gets the short end of the stick.)
- Proactive conflict resolution:
In another game of continents me (China) and my (Korean) neighbor realized there wouldn’t be much space between our capitals. If either one of us would settle all space in between, this would be critical for the respective other. For some days we chatted and shared screenshots of potential city placements and resulting borders and finally found an agreement. My city placement would be slightly better, which I compensated them for with a free luxury and Gold per turn for 50 turns.
Unique Units and abilities
Unique units change the game tremendously. Use your own well and beware of others. Here’s some examples of my past games:
- Look at this game and the placement of Harar: My Ethiopian opponent had Great-General-rushed me: That means going for a fast 2nd settler and choosing two Honor policies, to get an early Great General. He settled Harar just 3 tiles away from my capital and used the Great General to citadel right next to my capital. Only through the cheap and powerful Hunnic Horse Archer I was able to come back from this, strike back, capture Harar and even turn that game around.
- Another example: In this game, despite me having the Great Wall, Persia could move quickly inside my territory. I had felt safe behind my wall, but Persias units receive +1 movement and +10% combat bonus during a Golden Age. Something I hadn’t remotely catered for.
Furthermore some units are hugely overpowered, which can quickly have an empire snowball (meaning: growing in power and demographics that catching up with it is impossible). The main ones to watch out for are:
- Arabian Camel Archers – I’ve once been on the receiving end of the Arabian strategy executed par excellence. The player had saved loads of cash and build at least 8 Horsemen. Once he got Chivalry, he upgraded all of them and attacked right after.
- Mongolian Keshiks follow the same pattern and become available with Chivalry. While nominally weaker (combat and ranged) than their Arabian counterparts, they get promoted +50% faster and have +1 movement. So they turn into Logistics+Ranged beasts tremendously quick.
The only way to counter the above is by having horses yourself and a strong focus on Knights. No melee unit will ever harm an Arabian or Mongolian player’s horse archers. Interrupting/limiting these players’ access to horses is crucial as well.
- English Ships of the Line are a near guarantee that England will rule the Seas. They are significantly stronger than Frigates and combined with England’s unique ability of +2 movement for naval units make it a force to reckon with.
Again you’ll need to be wary of these players’ technological advances and Iron supplies in order to not be surprised by overwhelming force.
- Zulu Impis are the last in this list. A powerful early land unit replacing pikemen, Impis get unique promotions from Zulu special barracks “Ikandas” and earn more special promotions quicker. With those, the Zulu present a threat to other nations on the same land mass. Since they don’t require any resource you’ll have to be wary of Zulu spearmen armies, which quickly upgrade.
While of course other civilizations also have unique units, buildings and abilities only a few rival the above. Played well, these civilizations in the hands of a human player can often only be stopped by an early organized alliance of other players. Early because if you engage in building an alliance once the Hunnic, Arabian, Mongolian or English players have swallowed one or more neighboring empires (usually also increasing their available resources), it often is too late.
To be successful in GMR Civilization 5 Multiplayer games, you have to play your own strengths well, but also be vigilant towards other players’ progress.
Don’t give up too early facing defeat – don’t feel too sure in victory
I’ve had one particular game where I felt too sure of myself: Playing Polynesia, I’ve had some good cities and felt safe on my continent. Using my unique ability I sailed across the (small) ocean and attacked my neighbor. I captured 1 of his 3 cities and dug in, feeling very sure about victory only being a matter of time. In my cities I focused on infrastructure and culture again. When I realized I’d lose the war it was too late:
First my opponent started fielding as many units as I did. Then he got to Frigates first. This not only finished off my invading army, but also took war right to my doorstep. My neighbor on my continent entered the war at the side of my opponent and I quickly faced a land army in my back and a technologically superior navy at my capital. That game was over. The war was lost, because I didn’t go all in to take it to a quick finish.
Imagine the other side: For my opponent it was all or nothing. You have to defend with everything you’ve got. And if you can turn the tide, you’ll emerge even stronger.
Frigates in general are a huge threat. Don’t ever ignore this: If you start researching or building your own by the time your opponent has 4-6 already, it might just be too late, as I had to learn in this game:
Sure – the land on this Fractal map was a disaster for me, but I should have made more of it regardless.
The biggest fun I had however was in several 1:1 matches. In some of them (displayed below) I have been just as dominant as my opponents had been in my utter defeats above:
Two of which I just refused to surrender and was able to turn them around:
Ethiopia vs Babylon Fractal Map
In this game I’ve actively but not aggressively settled towards my opponent. See the placements of Adwa and Harar. Especially Harar was a step too far so Babylon prepared well and declared war on me. While I had been prepared to defend, I wasn’t ready for what he sent my way. With the road to Harar interrupted it was impossible to hold. Adwa fell soon after and I prepared for my last stand at Addis Ababa. What a glorious battle that turned out to be: This was still ancient times and classic age, so Babylon came to me with myriads of chariot archers and other units of that time. They had to crawl through the jungle at the outskirts of my capital and were picked off wave after wave.
In parallel Babylon managed not only to settle Borsippa to my North, but also engineered Petra, making it a super powerful forward city. By that time I was behind in production, population, thus science and basically every demographic.
Instead of pushing relentlessly, Babylon grew war weary. Allowing me to use my only tactical advantage: I could move my units, mostly crossbowmen between the northern and southern front in 2 turns, sometimes even only 1 turn and still fire. This got me highly promoted veterans quickly. There was a time when my entire capital area was covered with units, rotating between defending and healing.
By the time I got to Navigation I started building Frigates – these at sea and my veterans at land finally managed to push forward, overcoming the attackers and eventually winning that game.
Korea vs Iroquois Fractal Map: Highlight of all my Civ 5 games
This was the 6th match against this player. I had won the first 3 and then lost 2 matches consecutively. And it didn’t look good for me relatively early: I had settled Busan relatively early in an attempt to NOT be locked in to the west. My plan had failed epicly:
- The Iroquois had settled on the hill marked below AND
- managed to settle their 3rd city, Grand River, to my south
- thereby completely blocking me from settling any further cities OR having access to the ocean
From here on, time wasn’t on my side. Have a look at the demographics:
Having more cities AND options to settle, the Iroquois grew in population and production far beyond my capabilities to keep up with. They could produce units AND infrastructure and wonders, where I only had my capital to be of any use.
My only advantage was again: Being locked in on a small piece of land, I could quickly move troops. Also: The Great Wall provided some protection. I could strike back against 2 major invasions, which also led to the buildup of citadels. I had no horses and thus no units that could move more than 2 tiles. My only 2 iron resources had been placed unfortunately directly on the battlefield. 3 Galleases had constantly been firing at enemy units and gathered some promotions. However: The only chance to turn this game around was to capture that 2nd Iroquois city on the small land passage. I could constantly fire at the city and bring it to 0 health, but there was no way to capture it without landing units there. So I had to make sure:
- I could land units there without them being killed while embarked
- I could bring enough units in 1 turn that at least one would survive to capture the city
Now with GMR turns are not instantaneous. I played and I didn’t know when my opponent would play. I embarked and hoped for the best. I landed and hoped for the best. Those were the most intense turns in all my playing Civilization, at least for some years back. I loaded that turn and shouted out in celebration and triumph: I could capture that city!
With all the territory then falling under the protection of the Great Wall, the only way for a counterattack would be by sea. But with me being landlocked, my opponent hadn’t built a navy.
I had to decide: Keep the city (it had the Great Lighthouse and Colossus) or raze it and rebuild. The latter it was. Time was of the essence: My 3, then 4 ships had to sail for the other Iroquois coastal cities to eliminate the threat of being overwhelmed by enemy ships.
This one crucial city capture had further effects: The loss of production, population was one thing. More critical was that this was the only continental coastal city. By taking it, I completely interrupted all my enemy’s trade between
- his capital and Grand River
- his capital and his two colonies.
Interrupting trade, sending an opponent spiraling from +80 GPT to -30 GPT is huge: It limits buying units, upgrading units and buying City State reputation.