In my tests on this map I noticed certain provinces were more income-rich then others, indicated with a gold star. As you can see that made expanding into the surface from my capital a priority (#1), so as to either lay claim to those lands or posture defensively in anticipation of sudden war. In particular the 2 cities near the North-most #3 were the richest locations on this whole map, often giving 300+ gold between the pair. I tried to mark each territory group with its appeal for me ranked from most pressing to conquer, #1, to least #5.
#2 are more defensive positions then industrial ones, as I do not want anyone in my cave network. #3 are for income, while #4-5 mark my planned water expansion once the land borders are sealed (and assuming I’m not at war). By the time I reach #5 I will definitely be in reach of at least a couple tasty targets. My rough fortress plan is guided by the pink stars; any of the noted locations would derive benefit both from the fort’s admin bonuses, as well as the ability to rapidly deploy troops near these key choke points.
Vanheim’s location bodes poorly for the Eastern tunnels as their positioning indicates they are likely above the cave network. This means I need to heavily focus on developing infrastructure above my capital’s lands. I decide to stretch myself thin along the Eastern river and head North, ensuring Vanheim must go all-out war against me if they want more favorable borders. With a cold dominion and sailing things aren’t great in this match-up, but I hope my size serves to kowtow and bully them into submission.
I doubt I can reach the richest pair of cities noted earlier, or defeat the indies there if I do (often guarded by wizards or large numbers of heavy cav), or even hold the land if I do manage to conquer it (as my forces would then be weakened and in poor position for reinforcement). Regardless there are some good provinces along the ways, so I can cut my losses pretty easily and stop heading North anytime. Ideally a weak nation or C’tis (who will be easy to coordinate a gank on) will be guarding them, allowing me to plunder their riches to fund lots of mages early game.
I’ve been hearing Cave Songs lately. Dreaming of singing with the voices of the mountains, painting with the colors of the caves… All me and TURN DOWN FOR BALZAC have seen lately are these ignorant barbarians. I long for home, but harden my resolve. As much as I grow to loathe this brightly lit place, it is imperative we bring the Truth of the Ancient Ones to all who are yet imprisoned by their preconceptions. TURN DOWN FOR BALZAC has been in communication with our homeland, using homing moles who burrow straight through this chalky dust the surface walkers call ground. Other civilizations have been discovered. Our orders are yet unchanged, but I hope in my heart that we shall liberate worthy foes soon.
-Albert, First Captain of the Caves, The Brand of Light, Late Summer of 20 A.C.
Something wicked has befallen my lands. The dreaded plague events have begun to unfold, and as early as turn 5. This is most unlucky (future edit: actually it was pretty fortuitous, stay tuned!). Right now I had only a simple event increasing unrest; this can potentially lead to a much vaster array of terrible results, including but not limited to death cults and immigrants spreading the disease to surrounding provinces. I’m mostly powerless to do anything about it this early, but will have to keep an eye on things. I recruit a 2nd Golem Crafter from my capital and send the 1st to site search and jump start my magic gem income.
While I’ve had the ability to do this for awhile, I wanted to spend gold on mages and troops so neglected purchasing scouts from a couple provinces. Now that I have some more free income and know where my neighbors are I immediately recruit 1 Bakemono Chief from Umbor and a Scout from Sombre Pass. The cave chieftain will scout out Abysia for me and watch for incoming armies. The scout will head Westbound and see who is on my last border. Chiefs are 160% as expensive as scouts (40g vs 25g) and have 10 less stealth (40 vs 50), but the provinces are on opposite ends of my empire and the immediate scouting need is too deep to hold-out for more efficient methods. I intend to recruit at least 2 chiefs and will likely seek more as the game progresses.
I intend no immediate offensive action regarding Vanheim or Abysia yet. For one, it might be suicide against a much larger opponent- that’s why I’m recruiting scouts. For another I’d prefer to establish borders prior to offensive action. Too often you see someone pick an early war against another, only to be unable to finish it in satisfactory time. Meanwhile everyone expands into those provinces the warring nations might otherwise have claimed, and ultimately mid-game starts with both warring nations weaker and smaller then everyone else. If I pick a war this early, I want to suffer minimal losses and have it over within a year.
Otherwise I lose 6 total mercenary units with no other losses this turn (2 Shamblers from the Ship Wreckers, and 4 Pikeneers from Bernard’s Brave Men). I send Bernard further North, the Ship Wreckers through the caves to combat heavy calvary on the surface, and my Prophet and Albert with my infantry army to clear a mountainous terrain. Hopefully I can wraparound Vanheim and punish them if they want early war (which is what I would do in their shoes). It is my hope one of these terrains contains nature mages. While they are typically not worth it due to their expense and research malus, landing early nature income now all but guarantees my Diety comes out swinging with Gift of Health. Gift of Health is a nature global that helps my elderly Golem Crafters, fixes up my expensive sacreds, and stacks multiplicatively with with my Golem Cult specialty meaning my golems possess up to x4 as much HP.
I had 2 neighbors last turn, now I have 4. Unfortunately they’re all tough cookies to crack as they either have giant-slaying ambidextrous soldiers or easy crossbow access with Production scales. The flip side of this is that there are still plenty of indies to conquer. I send scouts through Abysia’s lands to give me a read on his military, and begin investigating Ulm. I leave the East of the river unmolested for now and send a Golem Crafter top-side to look for sites of magic power. I consider it highly unlikely I’ll be able to take the Northern-most city now, as Marignon has to be in a superior position and, if not him, perhaps Ulm.
My losses in battles this turn were 3 mercenary pikeneers, and 3 of my starting infantry in exchange for 2 provinces. The only losses that are significant to me are sacred, right now anything else is readily expendable. Bernard is down to 22 pikeneers (from 30). Deciding not to press my border with Ulm I send them one province further north to suicide against a province full of heavy infantry. I do not intend to renew my contract as otherwise he would be stuck inefficiently against Marignon, Ulm and a throne.
A note of interest this turn is that my dominion is doing a great job of spreading. My cap only has 4 candles, but I have 1 candle 4 provinces away my capital, and candles 2 provinces away from my cap in both other directions. The way this spread is occurring means my provinces will flood with candles once I get a few temples up, as its easier to increase your Dominion in a province with position candles already. I am not concerned about a weak Dominion near my cap either, as I can recruit my Oracles with Holy 3 to quickly preach it up high if need be.
Things are proceeding smoothly, though the disease event in the prior turn was concerning, as is this event. Relatively minor as far as its impact on my economy (loss of ~20 gold). But the Agarthans are a superstitious people and the omens are not favorable.