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26 November 2014 @ 12:48 pm
Alpha Centauri - One City Challenge  
After coming up with the idea of doing a One City Challenge in Alpha Centauri i found it difficult to maintain focus in my previous cake-walk game. (It does turn out that you can save and load queues in SMAC, but that only helps so much when you have almost 2 dozen cities to deal with.)

So i went ahead and put that game on (possibly infinite) hiatus and started an OCC at the Talent (moderate) difficulty.

Well, i made one slight modification. I allowed building new cities to hold territory as long as they stayed at size 1. They could use more than one square long enough to finish a single defensive unit, but after that they got reduced to working just the city square and were set to stockpile energy. (I suppose i ought to have set them to build something impossibly large, but i worried that if the game went on long enough i'd forget about it and they'd finish.) I later expanded the rule to captured cities, again they could build a single defensive unit but then had to stop working all non-city squares and starve down to size 1.

Once again i played as Zakharov, because if you're doing OCC you need all the help on research you can get.

I did reset once about 50 turns in, because i made several major blunders in close secession, including not remembering that enemy civs can steal those alien node things if they're unescorted without declaring war =P (Another bit of UI improvement in later games, adding some kind of fog of war indicator to show what your current visibility is.)

But once that was out of the way everything went fairly smoothly.

I started on a peninsula joined to where Deirdre started, but i managed to plant a 1 size base near the isthmus and block that off, and then two more 1 size bases to claim the rest of the peninsula. Unfortunately there are no restrictions on planting underwater cities within land borders, so soon there were a number of Believer sea cities whose borders actually came up on land =P (I'm not sure how the AI views your units wandering through your land territory, but within the border of their sea cities.)

With the help of the alien node things i managed to build both the Weather Paradigm and the Merchant Exchange. In retrospect it's possible i should have prioritized those differently, because being able to dig boreholes early didn't help a lot when i didn't have the tech to claim more than two minerals from those boreholes. Though being able to terraform twice as fast was still beneficial however.

The AIs got a couple of the other Secret Projects before two things happened. One, i realized that the AI won't start building a Secret Project until the human also has the tech for it (at least at the Talent level.) Two, i had so much income that i could rush buy Secret Projects after doing just a couple turns of work.

From that point on i would try to prioritize new techs to make sure i didn't unlock the option for a new Secret Project until i was ready to start work on it myself.

One issue i quickly ran into is that there is apparently a semi-strict limit on how many minerals a city can process before incurring environmental damage. Since i'd never played with support crawlers before i'd had a vague idea that eco damage depended on the tiles worked by your city, and thought if i planted all forests and kept most of the boreholes at a distance i could sneak around the limitation. No such luck. I suppose that's good balancing, but it was annoying to deal with. Pretty soon my city was producing so much many minerals with its 1 borehole and dozen or so forest squares that i had all the support crawlers on boreholes outside the city shipping back energy instead of minerals. Which is why although i wasn't able to build stuff quite as fast as i wanted i _was_ able to buy it at a breakneck speed.

Despite the tons of energy coming in the AIs remained neck and neck with me in technology, and even a little ahead in some cases. Especially the big ones, Pravin Lal and Deirdre. I got most of the mid to late game "first discoverer gets free tech" items, but Deidre managed to grab the last one (Secrets of Transcendence or some such) a couple turns before i could have gotten it.

So of course i rushed the Transcendence wonder. Or at least a tried to. After paying it said there were zero turns, but then next turn nothing happened, it still said zero turns, and now there were some red boxes at the end of the completion graph. I tried switching to a cheaper building, but that didn't work either. Thankfully once i exited the game and reloaded it started working again.

Once that was fixed it didn't take long to wrap up the final project and get the tech victory.

If i were going to do this again at a higher difficulty i'd probably want to do some research on if there are any better ways to get past the limits on mineral production. I could probably get away with not bothering to block out territory with 1 pop colonies, since i couldn't really use that much of the extra space. Although i'd worry that the AI might push my national borders back to my city. And on the other hand, given the limitations on minerals i might want to do a lot more energy supply crawlers and just start rush-buying stuff a lot earlier.

I also wonder if there's an option to turn off sea colonies? They're cool if you want to go that route, but they definitely add an extra layer of hassle when trying to control your territory.

In any case, almost immediately after finishing off that game i happened to check Steam and discovered that there was a sale for Rise of Nations going on. Since i'd just been re-reading about Brian Reynold's career after making Alpha Centauri i couldn't resist picking that up and am now giving it a spin.