In the previous entry I talked about how well this game handles the passage of time to funnel progression into historical norms. To put it more simply: The game is really good about keeping fighter jets out of the middle ages without resorting to ugly brute-force limits like, “Nobody can research flight until 1903”. The changing time scale means you can’t drift too far from what we have in the real world.
Or does it? Assuming some sort of improbably optimal starting situation, how much can we break history?
Rifles are Game-Changers. Or Not. Maybe?
To test this, I decided to see how early in history I could get rifles. Now, I admit that getting rifles early isn’t that big of a deal in terms of power. The early firearms were things like a blunderbuss or a rifle with a bayonet . Those things had absurdly impractical reload times. Using one boiled down to something like this:
Fire one wildly inaccurate shot with very little stopping power. Even if you hit someone, you might not incapacitate them right away. They might eventually die of infection / lead poisoning, but that won’t necessarily stop them from trying to stab you to death in the next few minutes. Once your shot is spent, you’re done with this thing as a firearm. You’ll never get it reloaded before your foes close distance. So now what you have is basically a lousy spear. It’s too unbalanced to use overhand, and too heavy / expensive to throw. Just heave it at them underhand and hope they haven’t been trained to use their sword properly.
Don’t get me wrong: Early rifles are still good vs. swords. (We know this, because armies of the time didn’t switch back to swords.) They’re just not magical insta-win weapons like today’s rifles would be.
Or so I thought. Based on the discussion in last week’s thread, it’s actually way more complicated than this and opinions were all over the place with regards to the usefulness and practicality of early firearms. Most of the people in the debate seemed to know a lot more about the topic than I do, so my generally uninformed opinion isn’t worth that much.
But regardless of the usefulness / uselessness of the first firearms in warfare, rifles have enormous psychological significance to modern thinking. At that point in history, humanity put down its 5,000 year old sword and picked up a rifle. That was the point where people stopped fighting like bronze-age people and began fighting more like us. Saying, “I got the rifle 500 years early” is more impressive than saying, “I invented coinage 500 years early!”, even if the latter would probably have a much larger impact on society.
All of this is to say: Yes, the rifle is a fairly arbitrary representative of “progress” in a technological sense, but it makes for a more interesting experiment.
The goal here is to see how far ahead we can get, assuming some sort of incredible goldilocks-style starting position. Sometimes the Random Number Generator smiles on you and you’ll find yourself in that perfect situation where you’ve got a really good starting location, you wind up with a bonus settler, and your neighbors all fight each other and ignore you.
Rather than roll a thousand games waiting for that perfect alignment of conditions, I’m just going to cheat and create them.
Here We Go
I’m starting on a standard-sized map, with normal game speed. I’m going to play as the Koreans, who get a ridiculous science boost in this game. I pick the United States to be my one-turn adversary.
On the very first turn, I cheat to give my starting warrior unlimited moves. I walk across the map, meet my opponent, declare war, and capture their starting settler before they even have a chance to plant their first city. This causes me to instantly win the game, but you can keep playing after victory.
So now I have two cities, no opponent, and an entire continent to myself. Maybe it seems like starting with two cities invalidates this experiment, but you could imagine a scenario where you get extremely lucky and pick up an extra settler like thisIn the previous games, a bonus settler was a rare random reward from tribal villages. I don’t think this is the case here in Civ 6, but I didn’t realize that until after this experiment. Also, maybe your opponent is careless and you capture their starting settler while they’re wandering around shopping for a good spot to plant their first city..
So let’s assume this is a game where I’ve picked up a bonus settler and where the other players are going to leave me alone entirely. Given this perfect arrangement, how long will it take me to get rifles?
My starting position isn’t as ideal as I’d like. Half the land is useless tundra. I don’t know what the problem is, but Civ games always have this weird blind spot for how terrible tundra is. It’ll spawn players in “equal” starting positions, except player 1 gets grassy fields and player 2 gets tundra. Having lots of tundra at your starting position is a pretty nasty handicap. In a game this long, I’ve always thought that having that much randomness in the first turn of the game was a really weird design choice.
Whatever. I’ve got an extra city, so I can’t really complain about my starting conditions. This more than cancels out how we’re going to be a little strapped for food for the first two dozen turns of the game. Besides, that’s only 960 years. I’m sure my people will get over it.
I’ve turned off barbarians, so I don’t have to build military units. I don’t need walls. I’ve got plenty of space to expand into. I don’t need to worry about culture or religion. I just need science.
I use the same strategy for both cities. You need to reach a population of 2 in a city before it can build a settler. So I have them make builders while I’m waiting for the population growth. The builders will cultivate our non-tundra tiles into farmland, which should speed up the population growth.
I set my warrior unit to auto-explore. He finds a village that grants me a scout unit. So I set them BOTH to auto-explore, and over the next few minutes they find a bunch more villages. This nets me a bit of money, a couple of builders, and yet another scout. Three scouts is overkill since the map is nearly filled in at this point, but they don’t cost me resources so I leave them to wander around in case there are still a few stray villages out there. It’s amazing how much free stuff you can get if you find a lot of villages.
After I crank out the first pair of buildersNot including the ones I got for free., the cities have grown enough that I can start making settlers. Once the settlers are done, I’ve researched enough that I can make granaries, which will boost population growth.
Normally I’d give my cities way more breathing room so they don’t crowd each other in the late game, but we’re not going for the late game this time around so we might as well keep things compact. This will let the towns share builders without wasting a bunch of turns moving them from city to city.
Once the new cities are in, I’ve unlocked the ability to put down science buildings. So I get my first two cities started on that.
At one point I have five builders and I start to worry I’ve made too many, but then I get done making all the improvements and they’re all gone. In previous versions of Civ, a builder could last the entire 6,000 year span of the game. He’ll be wearing a Fred Fllintstone-style tunic and tilling your fields in 4000BCE, and he’ll be wearing a hardhat and laying down railroad tracks in 2050AD. But in this game builders have a fixed number of uses. By default, they’re used up after three actionsAn action counts as stuff like planting a farm, digging a mine, constructing a plantation, or establishing a hunting camp.. You go through these guys really quickly in the early stages of the game. I haven’t played enough Civilization to appreciate why this change was made or what problem the designer was trying to solve. I find it sort of annoying to need to replace builders, but maybe this was done in response to some balance problem that’s invisible to casuals like me. Or maybe the designer just hates me personally and wants to annoy me.
I consider both to be equally plausible.
I have my developed cities make science buildings, and my new cities pump out builders, granaries, and more settlers. Sometimes I’ll buy one of these things outright if I’ve banked up enough cash.
The Ancient Era draws to an end. And now I’m not totally sure what to do. I could make another pair of settlers and plant 2 more cities, or I could focus on improving what I’ve got.
Let’s Do The Science!
The thing is, it takes a long time to make settlers, and doing so will reduce the population by 1 at the city that created it. At this point in the game, that means spending about a dozen turns making the settler, then more turns of reduced productivity until the population recovers. Making this proposition worse is that cities aren’t useful right away. A one-population city is just about worthless. These places will spend lots of turns making builders for themselves, building granaries, and then constructing a science building. The question is: Is it better to ramp up production at my four core cities, or to take a short-term productivity hit so I can have a higher productivity later?
This would be easier to solve if I was aiming for a specific point in the game, like, “As much science as possible by turn 400.” But I’m going for rifles “as soon as possible”, and that’s a little harder to figure out.
According to the tech tree, I’m 44 turns from gunpowder. The vast majority of my science is coming from my first two cities. On the other hand, the second two are juuust about to finish their science buildings and start pumping out science points. I think I’ll be a coward and split the difference. I have just enough cash to buy a settler outright, and I’ll have one of my smaller cities make the second one the slow way.
It’s entirely possible that I’m the wrong guy to be doing this experiment. I don’t have enough experience with these games to intuit the answer for these tradeoffs.
Oh well. A general goes to war with the army he has. I’ll have to settle for me.
I buy a settler and have them create the city of Gentleman.
Another dozen turns later and I realize I miscalculated. There’s no way I have time for more cities. Over the last few turns, Daddy and New Face finished their science buildings. Also the science-based city-stateA city-state is a lone city run by an AI. They’ll never pick a fight or attempt to expand. They just want to trade and be left alone. City-states are cool. of Babylon became friends with me, yielding a bonus of +2 science per library. I went from 39 science points per turn, to 85. Also! I was awarded a Great Scientist, who gave me bonus progress towards 3 random medieval techs. So now I’m just 10 turns from gunpowder.
So the money I used to buy the settler was probably a waste, but it’s fine. I’m not going to need that money in the next 10 turns or so.
A few turns later and a library completes. Now I’m collecting 93 science points per turn.
Two turns later and I befriend another science city-state. My science is now 105 per turn.
A few more turns and:
Great. I’ve unlocked the technology. I still have to build one. Sometimes you reach this point in the game and realize that you have the technology, but not the resources. Musketmen require 1 unit of niter to build, and it’s not uncommon to find that there isn’t any available within your borders. I’m not sure how you can invent gunpowder if you don’t have the ingredients for it. I guess we can assume that your scientists have enough to experiment with, but you need a stable supply of it before you can enter full-scale production. I’m pretty sure the musketman unit is supposed to represent a whole bunch of dudes, not just the four we see in-game.
Lucky for me, niter was already revealed on the map earlier and I had a little within my borders. I planted a mine on it and I’ve been banking it up for a dozen turns. I just need to build the dang unit.
Since I’ve been putting everything into science, my production is pretty low. Gangnam Style has the highest production score, and it’ll take them 10 turns to make a musketman.
Ten turns later, and we’re all done. Our Shoot Guys pop out in 950BCE, just 3 turns before the end of the Classical Era.
This is not what I expected. Sure, I gave myself an extremely fortuitous start, but this sort of situation isn’t outside of the realm of possibility. Despite what I said last week, it does seem like you can really break out of historical norms.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can crash-research through the tech tree and conquer bronze-age units with your Renaissance Era firearms in a normal game. For one, the units are balanced to smooth out the technological gaps a little so that science doesn’t completely dominate the game. More importantly, I had to make a lot of terrible sacrifices to get here.
I have rifles, but I don’t have any other major advantages. I’m not running a renaissance-style government. I have low production, no culture, no religion, and my economy is probably weaker than what my opponent’s would be. I’ve committed to military technology but I don’t have the industrial output to back it up. My theoretical opponents probably couldn’t conquer me in open warfareLet’s pretend we’re all on the same level with regards to unit management in battle., but they don’t need to. They can turtle up and try to crush me with their superior culture, religion, and economics.
Still, the point of this exercise wasn’t to theorycraft some insane winning strategy, it was just to see how far we could bend the simulation. And I have to say it bent a lot more than I thought was possible.
 In the previous games, a bonus settler was a rare random reward from tribal villages. I don’t think this is the case here in Civ 6, but I didn’t realize that until after this experiment. Also, maybe your opponent is careless and you capture their starting settler while they’re wandering around shopping for a good spot to plant their first city.
 Not including the ones I got for free.
 An action counts as stuff like planting a farm, digging a mine, constructing a plantation, or establishing a hunting camp.
 A city-state is a lone city run by an AI. They’ll never pick a fight or attempt to expand. They just want to trade and be left alone. City-states are cool.
 Let’s pretend we’re all on the same level with regards to unit management in battle.
Best. Plot Twist. Ever.
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The Disappointment Engine
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A video Let's Play series I collaborated on from 2009 to 2017.