Under a Grey Sky on a Grey Sea

The next hour was to be the edgiest of my life, as the Hood screamed into battle. There was little for me to do in the build-up to action, and I became a somewhat frightened observer. Dawn had been at 0200, and now I could see great patches of cloud that threatened rain, if not more snow and sleet. There was a heavy swell from the north-east, which slapped the great ship and produced a haze of water that showered over the bows on to the long forecastle and beat against the side of A and B turrets. Under a grey sky on a grey sea we charged towards an enemy who threatened the lifelines to Britain. Even a technicolor film of this morning would not have brought out a brighter hue.

Ted Briggs, Flagship Hood, The Fate of Britains Mightiest Warship

I spent most of the weekend playing Civilization V, as Elizabeth of England, King difficulty, archipelago map. Last night I completed a science victory, my first win at this difficulty. This morning, in my RSS reader, Brad DeLong posted a first-person account of the sinking of HMS Hood by the KMSS Bismark, taken from Ted Brigg’s memoir. Synchronicity abounds!

The link to DeLong has just the relevant bits. It’s long, but gripping, and fits nicely in the “I Came Here to be Podkilled” vein. The Hood was sunk on 19 May, 1941, a few days over 70 years ago.

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I played the game with England on an archipelago map because I love ships, and want them to be relevant. A bit of strangeness happened last night. About 10 turns away from winning, Genghis Khan, whose Mongol Horde had been my friend for the entire game, realized that if he didn’t do something, I would win. So he invaded me. But the invasion went nowhere, because the Civ AI does not understand how to fight with sea power. It does a creditable job with landlocked battles, but doesn’t do so well at invasions.

One of the critical mechanics changes in Civ V from Civ IV is that all land units can embark, having sea transport built in to them, once the required tech is researched. However, unless you are Songhia (the kingdom of river pirates), any fighting vessel may eliminate an embarked land unit by simply sailing on to its square. The killer can even continue sailing, if there is movement left, but the murder counts as the unit’s attack for the turn.

For me, managing a sea invasion works in three phases.

  1. Establish control of the appropriate body of water. This means eliminating all hostile seaborne fighting units.
  2. Use bombardment to eliminate non-garrisoned land units along the coast. Take advantage of the fact that most of them can’t shoot back, especially during the early phases of the game.
  3. Only then can you bring your embarked land units into the game. Take cities by first reducing them with naval bombardment, then a single land unit can finish them off.

However, the AI will just skip step one, form a combined fleet, and sail them all over, hoping for the best. This is probably because we don’t understand how to make AI’s execute multi-stage plans very well. So I beat off Genghis, losing maybe one ship in the process. He was feeling vindictive, so he dropped a nuke on St. Petersburg (I took it from Russia, but that’s another tale). This did a lot of damage, but was irrelevant. I was just a few turns from winning, and even a complete loss of St. Pete would not have made any difference.

After beating off Genghis, I noticed Caesar had a fleet in the water heading for me. That’s the fleet in the shot above.

I’m the ships with the red icons. The white line with a red fringe is my territorial border. London is to the southwest, maybe 8-10 hexes. My last spaceship part was built on a different island directly to the west and northwest, and is in the water, on its way to London for the win.

I’ve just blown up two submarines. One was in the hex I’ve marked “SS”, while the other was in the hex that my destroyer is now occupying. Rome’s two destroyers, marked “DD”, have been hit by cruise missiles from my missile frigate which is barely visible far to the west. The rest of the Roman units (with purple icons) are embarked land units. I have a couple of battleships just offscreen to the west, as is a carrier. The submarines were very dangerous to them, one of those subs can easily one-shot a battleship. But that threat is eliminated, the Roman fleet is all going to die. They can’t run fast enough to get away, but the AI probably doesn’t even realize that it needs to. It can’t see my other units.

A funny thing happened as I took this screenshot. I guess my finger must have slipped and hit another function key because the game, at that moment, without going through any intervening menus, launched me into a different game, one that Darkwater Daughter Number One had been playing as China. I had turned to look at something on the TV and when I turned back, the beautiful slaughter-in-waiting was gone.

I was able to restore to an autosave position, but the position was one prior to the Khan’s declaration of war against me. So I replayed the defense, and this time he declined to nuke me. When Caesar, showing friendship, asked for open borders, I refused him, and his fleet never came. Really, a much more boring path, but the result was the same.

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