Welcome to my report for Realms Beyond Epic 3 - Rise of the Incans! This game features a very interesting scoring system, not complicated but offering a lot of options how to play it. Basically, you have two scores for highest population, which are in direct conflict with two scores for fastest modern age/victory, plus there's one score for having the biggest city at the end of the game which is independant of the other scores. If you decide to go for highest population in 1AD and 1500AD, you are not likely to get any points for fastest modern age/finish and vice versa. So this is a very balanced scoring system, right?
There's a small weakness though, which in my view provides a small bias towards the highest population path: You will get four points guaranteed if you play for a time victory! So if we forget about the score for largest city for the moment, and also assume that if you do not play a hybrid strategy, but fully gear your game towards one of the conflicting goals, you will be able to get 20 points max if you play for fastest finish (winning both fastest modern age and fastest conquest or diplomatic victory). But if you go for highest population in 1AD and 1500AD, you will be able to get 24 points max (winning both competitions plus four points for a time victory)!
The reason I wrote that this is only a small bias is that the competition will be harder if you go the highest population path. All players will spread themselves among the different victory conditions, so for example winning a fastest conquest victory will be easier than winning the 1AD population contest because there will be less players to compete with. Nevertheless, I decided to go for highest population and a time victory for a change, as we have had a lot of fastest finish games already.
I had to make a difficult decision already after opening the save - where to found the capital city? I rarely move my initial settler, as the starting tile is very strong most of the time. You are guaranteed not to found your capital on a (still hidden) resource, and you have nice resources in range most of the time, thanks to the in-game algorithm for choosing starting positions. In fact, the tile proposed by the game was very nice, providing a good mixture of food and hammer tiles while being on the coast at the same time. But...it would not get the cow that can be seen two tiles northeast!
Of course I could rely on the game providing me with more resources in the fog. However, the cows would be a guaranteed second food resource besides the wheat we already have, and both could be improved more or less immediately! What good would it do me if any yet hidden resources would be dyes, incense or bananas which would require to have a tech I wouldn't be able to research before 1AD, before the first scoring date?
So I decided to move the Quechua warrior north on the hill first, and a wine resource was revealed northwest of the hill. That...meant more decisions for me to make. I had already decided to move the settler, but where to? Founding my capital one tile north would give me the wheat, the cow and the wine, but would lose the coast. Founding it one tile northeast would give me immediate access to both wheat and cow, it would still be coastal, but would lose the wine and the forest for a later chop!
In the end, I decided to lose the wine and founded Cuzco on the forest one tile northeast of the starting position, hoping that losing a turn doing so would be worth it in the end. At least I had two food resources in range now, a nice basis for my plan to win the highest population score in 1AD and 1500AD.
After the tough decision of where to found Cuzco, at least its first build was a no-brainer: Since we have wheat in range and we know Agriculture already, a worker got started. And what about research? With only three opponents, it's likely that every civ will found a religion. So normally, I wouldn't bother trying to found one myself, as this would make diplomacy much more complicated. In this game however, where I try to grow my cities large, having a religion to build temples for might come in handy. So since we start with Mysticism, I decide to go for Buddhism before researching Animal Husbandry. This works smoothly.
On the same turn I found Buddhism, my Quechua warrior explored his second tribal hut (the first had provided us with some maps) and...we get taught Animal Husbandry! That was a lucky break indeed, and I researched Mining next, then the Wheel to connect the cow and the wheat so that Cuzco would not waste food when growing.
My Quechua warrior had started moving north along the coast, exploring the landmass. The map settings said it's a large archipelago map with snaky islands and only three opponents, so I figured I would be alone on my island, and with no barbarians could play an oldschool, classical farmer's gambit, leaving my cities unprotected while focusing on expanding my empire. Well, it turned out I was wrong - In 3400BC, I met Louis in the north! So much for that plan. But he was quite far away, so I started to build a settler as soon as Cuzco hit size 3 anyway and founded my second city, Tiwanaku unprotected in 2290BC.
After the Wheel, research went into Priesthood for the Oracle and temples, then Pottery to build granaries to accelerate growth. After building a second settler, Cuzco started to build the Oracle, still set to max growth, but slipped in an additional worker when it hit size 5. I wanted my cities to grow fast, so I needed more workers than usual who could irrigate flood plains and grasslands! Meanwhile, my scouting Quechuas explored more huts and got some gold, an extra warrior, and maps out of them.
Here's my empire one turn before I finished the Oracle in 1210BC:
Note how the grassland tiles at Tiwanaku and Cuzco are irrigated already. Normally I would not build as many farms and would construct cottages on these tiles instead, but in this game I happily traded away research speed for growth. Machu Picchu had been founded both because it had sheep and some arable farmlands, and because it would grant me access to furs for some extra happiness. Luckily, Buddhism had spread quickly to both cities, so borders would expand early.
Now why had I built the Oracle? Wouldn't it have been better to found more cities instead, to get a higher population mark in 1AD? Yes and no. Sure, it delayed expanding my empire a bit, but not much. But it also provided some cheap and early great prophet points to construct an early shrine for Buddhism, and getting a free tech is always nice, isn't it?
So, what tech did I choose when the Oracle was completed? I had researched Bronze Working, Hunting and Fishing on my own in the meantime. Metal Casting is always a great choice for the Oracle free tech, as it is quite expensive, makes for some great trading material, and early forges are powerful too. Another nice option would be to grab Code of Laws and found a second religion. Or, seeing that the next source of copper was quite far away, grabbing iron to look for another source of metal more nearby would be a good choice, too. Decisions, decisions...here's what I took in the end.
Okay, I fooled you. Metal Casting? Nah. Code of Laws? No way. Iron Working? Nonsense! I had known exactly what I wanted to grab with the Oracle before I even started to build it: Monarchy! Why? Not because I had a source of wine to connect, although that didn't hurt too. No, I had done this because I wanted to adopt Hereditary Rule as soon as possible!
Why Hereditary Rule so early, and why doing it at the cost of founding one or even two cities less? Because I think to win the population contest, happiness is the key. City growth is not linear: Four cities of size two have less population than two cities of size four, which in turn have less population than one city of size eight, even though all amount to eight pop points total. So to achieve a high population mark, I think (hope) that growing a few cities very large will be better than growing lots of cities only to medium size. Hereditary Rule would give me the key to that, as producing lots of Quechua warriors for military police duty would allow me to keep my population happy and working on their farms.
The nice thing about Quechua warriors is that they are cheap, and if Louis would decide to attack me while I'm busy growing my cities, their inherent bonus against archers would be enough to repel any attack. Note that I did not adopt Slavery at this point: I did not intend to use the whip, as losing pop would be somewhat counterproductive in this situation, and this saved me an additional turn of anarchy. So after completing the Oracle, I built another settler and founded a fourth city west of Machu Picchu at the wheat, built another worker, then concentrated on growing my cities. This mainly meant building a granary in every city and then producing more Quechua warriors to keep my growing population in check. I deemed founding another city not worth the time, as there was no other site with access to fresh water near the capital, and it wouldn't have the time to grow much anyway.
Research wise, I went for Iron Working next, mainly to be able to improve the rice resource in the jungle at Tiwanaku. Besides (un)happiness, my growing cities had the problem that more and more excess food got wasted due to unhealthiness, leading to slower growth. The rice resource helped to alleviate this problem a bit. Then, beakers were put into Writing (for libraries, finally!), then Mathematics and Currency to prepare further expansion.
Christianity hadn't been founded anywhere, and yet the years switched from BC to AD notation. Anyway, here's my empire in 5AD:
A size 16, size 15 and size 13 city in 5AD? I like that! I don't think I'll ever have such large cities again in 5AD in any of my games...only the fourth city was lagging behind a bit at size 8, but then it had been founded rather late. Here you can see how I was able to keep my citizens happy without having access to the culture slider:
22 Quechua warriors for only four cities, after 4000 years of peace? I don't expect to see that again anytime soon either! Unfortunately, that also meant I had to pay a lot for unit upkeep, and all the farms meant I had no cottages to speak of, so my research somewhat sucked, too. All this unusual opening play had been done only to achieve this:
My population in 5AD was 5.967.000, more than five times the value of my best rival. Of course I have no idea how good or bad this value is compared to the other human players, but I'm more than content with this result!