Civ 4 is a really great game; I love it. But as with most games, I quickly get bored with playing them in the standard way - I've won games up to Immortal, played on different map scripts, and have by now developed a "feel" for the AI, how it plays and reacts. I'm now in a stage which provides the most fun for me: I'm exploring variant land! I just love to play games in ways that weren't originally intended by the designers, and see if it's possible and if the game can handle an unusual approach. So after playing my no military game where I built no combat units at all, next up on my list was a no science game: Can the game be won if the player is not allowed to discover techs?
For those who played Civ 3, this had been the best approach there actually: Switch off science, buy your way up the tech tree at discount prices, and switch research back on in the industrial age to cruise to a victory. Not only was early research not needed, it was even worse than simply buying all techs from the AIs! Now Civ 4 was designed to close that loophole, not only to bring back research, but to make it essential. The AIs are more reluctant to trade away techs; it's harder to get techs from them in peace deals; and there's the "We Fear You Are Becoming Too Advanced" limit on trading, where the AIs decide they no longer want to feed you with techs after they've traded you enough (in their eyes). So all the science buildings like libraries, universities, monasteries, academies, laboratories and whatnot are essential, and the player has to do research on his own to win the game.
Well, has he really? It's also said you need a strong military to survive, and I've already found out that you can do without if you gear your game towards that goal and play it to the extreme. So maybe you can do without research as well? Let's find out!
To make the game not impossible and the opening not too boring, I allowed myself to research at least the starting worker techs: Agriculture, Hunting, the Wheel, Pottery, Fishing, Animal Husbandry, Mining, Masonry, Bronze Working, and Iron Working. Imagine a society of craftsmen, who have no love for the thinking class, but like to work with their hands instead. So fiddling around with axes to find out how to remove all this pesky jungle is okay, but that's it - no more geeky thinking and theorizing beyond that! After the initial worker techs are researched, I have to set the science slider to 0% and leave it there for the rest of the game. Additionally, I'm not allowed to discover techs via specialists, nor can great people be used to discover a tech. No tech discovery on my own, at all! Even the oracle and the internet will not be allowed.
I chose to play as Catherine of Russia, who is financial and creative. Financial is a no-brainer for this variant, as I will rely heavily on buying techs, and creative is needed because I won't be able to build a cultural building for border expansions at new cities for a long time.
I started to research Fishing, seeing that Moscow had two sea resources in range, and built another scout while doing so. Maybe I would be able to gain a non-worker tech from a tribal village? One tribal village indeed yielded a tech, but it was...Masonry, which I was allowed to research anyway. Still, that would save me some turns and money, so I didn't complain. After Fishing, I went for Bronze Working next to see if and where copper was, then researched the rest of the allowed techs. In 1760BC, I finished the last one (Agriculture) and shut down research for the rest of the game.
Soon I found out that I was not alone on my continent: Gandhi, Victoria, and Julius Caesar were the ones I had to face, a nice mix of personalities. Fortunately, Rome was far away on the other side of the landmass, so I had the more peaceful and less dangerous Gandhi and Victoria as direct neighbours. I had no copper at my capital, so my second city went to the nearest source: I love axemen, and planned on skipping Archery in this game. Techs will be *hard* to get, so I better skip as many optional techs as possible!
In 1680BC, Novgorod was founded. After producing two settlers, Moscow took advantage of the fact that stone was in my cultural borders, and started to build the pyramids.
The pyramids were completed in 1040BC, and I immediately adopted representation as my new government civic, which provided me with a nice happiness bonus in the early game.
As you can see in the screenshot, I was still "researching" Mysticism, although my science slider was set to zero. This is because you produce one beaker even at 0% science, which I couldn't prevent. But that one beaker per turn didn't really accomplish much.
I guess it's time to talk about my overall game plan here. How did I expect to get new technology? My first option had proven to be mostly unsuccessful already, as the tribal villages hadn't given me any techs I wasn't allowed to research myself anyway. That leaves three other options: Buying, trading, and warfare. The idea was to use the large sums of gold I would accumulate to buy a tech only some civs had, then use this tech to trade for other techs I lacked. But techs are very expensive to buy in Civ 4, so I wasn't at all sure I would be able to keep up in the tech race only using my wallet, so I also intended to wage war against my neighbours, hoping to extort some techs for peace.
All this meant that I would not be able to have any tech first. Since the AIs won't sell techs they have a monopoly on either, having three opponents on my continent meant that I would only be able to buy a tech once two of the three knew it already, so trading a tech to the third AI could be problematic - especially if I decide to attack one of the three, spoiling relations!
This variant also had other consequences:
This might become an interesting game.
Especially the opening game will be hard. I won't be able to acquire a new tech until one of the AIs has discovered both Alphabet and Currency! Usually, Currency gets prioritized by the AIs, but they notoriously ignore Alphabet for a long time. So I planned to focus on expansion and building a strong military I would be able to use once Alphabet was known, to extort techs. Since I was unable to build anything other than granaries, aqueducts, barracks, and units anyway, that decision was rather straightforward...
So I continued to expand, and monitored the techs the AIs discovered. Victoria was the first I was able to sign an open border agreement with, so she was the first to discover writing. She also was the first for whom I could see how much gold she had, so she was the first to Currency, too! That happened in 275BC. And even before Rome and India discovered Currency, Victoria discovered Alphabet in 100BC! But that also meant Victoria was clearly the tech leader on our continent, and would have to be stopped sooner or later. Good thing she was close nearby...
But first things first: I did my first trade for this game, buying Writing from Victoria for 260 gold (I had a little bit over 1000 gold already, even after I had to make a warrior-to-axeman emergency upgrade to defend a city of mine against an incoming barbarian axeman). While I was relieved to see that the AIs were willing to sell their techs for money only, I also noted that I was only making +25gpt at that time, which means I needed about 10 turns to pay for Writing. Normally, I would have researched Writing myself in a much shorter time than this! Time to improve my economy, I guess.
Here's my empire a couple of turns after buying writing. Note that two of my cities are building libraries, although I would never use them for research. I needed them to fight off English culture!
Inevitably, I was way behind in tech, and my top priority was to get my economy in shape to catch up. Critical for that goal was to acquire Currency ASAP, which meant I needed to buy Mathematics next. This happened one turn after I had bought writing, and again Victoria was the one that received my money, 620 gold this time. I'm not used to supply the AIs with so much money; normally, I am the one who sells techs to backwards civs to get more money for deficit research! I was curious to see how that would affect gameplay.
After buying Mathematics, I had the problem that Victoria was still the only one with Currency. The others discovered Alphabet, but ignored Currency for a long time which was kind of unusual for them to do. So after getting lucky with an early Alphabet (see Sirian's Adventure 4 report if you don't know what what I mean ), the AIs now took revenge by discovering tech after tech that weren't really useful to me...
Victoria had researched Metal Casting already, which was quite unusual for the AIs to do so early as well. Soon thereafter, the other AIs had it too, and sometimes later the colossus was built - a wonder I had hoped to get, as it would have been extremely beneficial to my economy.
My so-called economy couldn't really afford further expansion, neither peacefully nor militarily, so I had to wait. I used the time to build the Hanging Gardens, another source of great engineer points. Now that I had fallen behind, I expected not to be able to compete in the wonder race by normal means for a long time, so maybe I could "cheat" by rushing some wonders with great engineers. As it turned out, I would be so behind that even that proved to be impossible for most of the game...
Then, finally, in 740AD Gandhi had Currency. About time!
My income immediately increased from +97gpt to +104gpt - one extra gold per turn per additional trade route per city. I expected it to increase even more over time, though. Again, note that I needed approximately 9 turns to pay for the tech, which was unacceptable! Immediately, markets were ordered up and whipped everywhere, meaning a 25% increase in income in every city. I also could afford to expand again, and did so, and also bought Construction for 780 gold. I decided to spread my money evenly now, so Rome was the one getting the money this time. Construction I needed for catapults of course...while I built some of these, my axemen got some training against the barbarian city in the south, and while I bought even more techs (Sailing and Calendar from Gandhi for 220 and 780 gold, respectively), I slowly amassed my units on the borders of the one opponent that threatened to run away with the game if I did nothing.