Now I made another mistake. After filling the gap with cities, I should have switched to military unit production only and pressed on. The problem was that the AIs were ahead in tech, and I feared losing one of my big stacks, allowing an enemy to break through. As it turned out, I could have captured some more enemy cities before stopping for consolidation.
During the war with Toku, I had a priests in Athens to make an appearance of a great prophet more likely, and had constructed the Confucian shrine already. Additionally, the land between my original peninsula and the Gate cities was finally suitable for lots of cottages, so my economy began to improve considerably. However, this came very late, and I was behind the AIs in tech! They had reached Construction before me, had knights before me, and also had economical techs like Calendar or Banking before I had them. And this on Prince! It was scary.
What was funny though that I researched Agriculture...in 1160AD! I hadn't needed the tech before, but now I had corn - already irrigated by Toku, but unusable by me. Don't think I ever got this tech that late before.
In 1250AD, the first enemy knights appeared while I was still busy researching Guilds. Good thing I had built lots of pikes in anticipation! Now, sometimes my city garrisons at the Gate cities were outnumbered, but...these were good odds for any Greek!
The upside of the AI having knights now was that their stacks sometimes consisted only of mounted units and cats/trebuchets. That was fantastic, as now my pikemen could attack these stacks and had the cats/trebs as first defenders! I didn't fear the knights, as they were useless without collateral damage. But until now, I had to clean up all other units in a stack like macemen, axemen etc. before I could get rid of the cats - which sometimes led to situations were I had to attack at mediocre odds. Now, my pikes cleaned up all cats at 90% odds and more, after which I had more than enough time to deal with the remaining knights.
After having three medic III chariots and a military instructor in all important cities, I began to save great generals for the time I had Military Science, to build Military Academies. Similar to my Machinery/Crossbowman game, I now aimed for Grenadiers to restart my offense - mainly because I seldomly use them, and the AIs had no real counter to them.
In 1540AD (so late!), my first gren was built (and four military academies, by the way) and research was set to Steel, for cannons. Time to take the fight to the AIs again! Here's an overview of my empire from that time:
I upgraded my two Drill IV crossbows to grenadiers, and had some fun blasting away logbows on hills at 99% odds. Then, I attacked Monte. I had decided to invade westward, not east, because it was in the west were the clear tech leader Mansa Musa was located, and I was looking forward to a showdown between him and me! Cumae was Monte's first city to fall.
It was sad that I had to take some workers with me because Monte hadn't even built roads in many of his tiles. This felt very surreal - I'm playing a variant where I'm not allowed to pillage, and what I do is I build roads in enemy territory. The roads leading to Cumae for example were constructed by me...
As soon as my cannons had reached the frontlines, cities fell easily. City raider III cannons just rock! Rome fell in 1708AD.
One word about navies in this game: It was really strange, but I wasn't harassed by enemy ships until the second half of the 18th century, when Mansa's frigates began to pillage my seafood. Until then, my whole navy consisted of two galleys: One to ferry over units from my main military pump, Thebes, to the continent, and the other serving as a sentry unit in the north. That second galley had been killed by a trireme from Toku, which then patrolled around Toku's second last city and never left it. Likewise, no other AI ships appeared, neither to pillage nor to invade my lands by sea.
I guess since all my cities except Thebes were reachable via land, the AI never invoked its naval invasion AI. This was great for me, as Athens was protected by my initial warrior all game long and my other cities only had one defender too, but I could have sworn I've seen naval invasions in similar games before.
But why the AIs never tried to pillage my seafood resources until frigates is even stranger. I liked it - sea combat is much riskier and thus more costly than land combat, and I probably saved alot of hammers that way. But now that Mansa's frigates did harass me, I researched Steam Power next and, for the first time ever, put ironclads to good use. Third unit type I used effecively in this game that I rarely use normally! Mansa was the first with destroyers as well, and having to invest into destroyers of my own was much more annoying.
Anyway, my talk about destroyers shows you another big mistake I had made. Instead of stopping research at rifles and going for an all-out attack, capturing the rest of the cities with superior numbers, I didn't like the fact that Mansa had redcoats and cavalry already and somehow feared this would pose a problem for my rifles. So I researched all the way to Infantry before going into a drafting and production frenzy. I lost a lot of time there - the game could have been over much, much earlier without me wasting time to build infrastructure for research!
Here's the situation when English cavalry first appeared.
Well, it turned out that rifles and highly promoted grenadiers can deal fine with cavalry, and infantry rolled over them. Way too late, even after I had destroyed Rome in 1822AD, I switched to Nationhood in 1853AD, killed England in 1872AD while opening a second front at Hot Gates at the same time. Clearly, the mop-up phase had already begun without me realizing it.
"Remember us", my units later told me. "Remember us, how we waded through huuuge amounts of obsolete units from Shaka. Remember us, how we almost died out of boredom, having to move sooooo many units when the outcome was so clear by now. Remember us, how we fixated the land counter time and time again, hoping it would reach the domination limit already. Remember us, how we rejoiced when FINALLY the domination victory was announced in 1888AD!
Despite the drag at the end, which was mainly my fault because I had played way too cautious, I had a lot of fun in this game. I especially liked the fact that especially Mansa was ahead in tech nearly the whole game, and the combat actually had been interesting for a very, very long time! Thank you Sulla for a really great map. Now that I feel familiar again with the game, I look forward to playing more RB events again!