Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 22, 2024
Pre-launch game tips on Millennia

I find myself in the curious situation to already know a lot of details about a game that hasn't even released yet. Millennia will come out Tuesday, but I have already played the demo repeatedly, and watched many hours of streamers playing on YouTube and Twitch. Some of those content creators were well prepared and rather good at the game, allowing me to learn things. Others just tried to play blind, which then made me realize where the pitfalls for the average player might be. So I thought I write this post with some advice for people who would like to start playing Tuesday, but don't have as much time as I do to watch videos about it.

Starting with the basics, Millennia is a "Civ-like", that is to say a 4X game that takes you from the stone age to modernity. It is less pretty than Civ6 or Humankind or Old World, but makes up for that by being a lot deeper and more complex. Many of the game systems are introduced over time, so the early game is still relatively easy. But at some point Millennia gets as complex as other games from Paradox, which leads to you having to make a choice: You could try to understand every single aspect of the game and minmax the heck out of it; or you could go on a journey of discovery / role-playing and don't worry about optimas. I would recommend the latter approach, as Millennia is particularly suited for that: Millennia is *not* perfectly balanced, and too much optimization can easily "break" the game, by making it trivial. Sometimes it is better to just go with the flow, and choose for example natural spirits or government forms that seem fun or appropriate at the moment, without worrying too much about efficiency. The replay value of the game comes from making different choices and possibly experiencing alternative timeline ages in every new run.

A first advice on game setup is about a minor problem, one that is shared with a bunch of other 4X games: If you take the default "continents" map type and play well, you are likely to reach a point where you have conquered the continent you started on. And somewhere else, unreachable with early game technology, is another continent, that by the time you can get there is fully settled by the remaining AI opponents. The AI isn't clever enough to send big armies to your continent. So you need to send armies there and conquer, which is a slow process, and not much fun if you are already the strongest power. I'll play on a single landmass instead. I think the default AI difficulty is fine for the first couple of games. As usual for 4X games, at higher AI difficulties the AI isn't necessarily getting a lot more clever, but simply cheats more, which isn't necessarily fun.

You start Millennia with a city and the six hexes around that city. As you can't choose your starting location (a feature that is apparently planned for a future DLC), this starting location will have a *huge* impact on the rest of the game. My advice would be to go scouting with your starting units, but if a few turns in you discover that there is not a lot of flat terrain around your city (grassland, bushland), I would consider restarting the game until you get a better starting location. Some water, some hills, and some forest is useful, but if the majority of spaces in the first and second ring of hexes around your starting city is this, or worse, unusable mountains, then I'd just restart. Once you know the game much better, you can go for a starting location in the deepest forest, or go for an early seafaring nation. But for your first few "regular" games, you will need tons of flat space to build improvements.

One easy mistake in the early game is to lose track of the various points you accumulate. Some of the points are localized to the city you produce them in, like food (and all later goods that fulfil city needs), or the influence points that let your city take over adjoining hexes over time. Others, like government points or improvement points can be used in different ways and at different locations. The game doesn't stop you from advancing into the next turn just because you have unused points of that sort. As there is a lot of interesting stuff happening elsewhere, it is easy to forget about the points and then realize that you should have build a settler with government points five turns later, or that you could have build a plantation long ago. My advice is to plan ahead, and use the CTRL-left click function to set a reminder on whatever improvement you plan on doing. If you have one reminder for every sort of point, you'll never forget anything.

Speaking of settlers, building a new city with settlers or conquering a city or taking over a neutral city with an envoy results in that city only becoming a vassal, not a fully controlled city. A vassal will accumulate integration points, and when that meter is full, you can spend government points to integrate that city. Only at that point do you fully control it. But there is a serious downside: Integrating a city decreases culture, and increases unrest, with the penalties becoming bigger, the more cities you integrate. You really need to choose wisely which cities to integrate, with an eye on them having the space to grow. You can't raze your own vassal cities, and curiously you can raze a city on conquest only if that city is neutral. Which means that the only way to get rid of a conquered enemy city is to leave it undefended and hope that barbarians take it, after which you can raze it on reconquest. If you have a vassal city that you want to integrate later, you might already want to use culture to add a town, or to use engineering points to build outposts around it, in order to reserve the space and prevent other nations from building too close.

Land-grabbing is important in Millennia, and the AI often does it aggressively. Very early in the game you will get your first culture power (these always happen when your culture meter runs full). You will probably want to use the culture power to build a first town around your starting city. Note that while you technically can build that town on terrain you already own, it is a lot cleverer to build it adjacent, as it thus grabs more land. The space you build the town on is used for the town, so you will want to build the town *next to* the spaces you actually want, not on them. Later in the game you can grab single spaces by spending exploration points. As a clever trick, you can combine that with the rule that a new town needs to be adjacent to your territory, by first buying that extra space in one direction, and then building the town one space further away from the city center than otherwise possible. Note that the outposts built by pioneers don't have that adjacency rule, and can be built anywhere, but they need to share a border with your city if you want to integrate them into the city region later.

Besides towns, culture powers early in the game can be used to gain research points with the Eureka power, or use the Local Reform power to increase the output of a city by 50% for 5 turns. One good tip is to first check how much research your starting city is currently producing. It is totally possible that even early in the game your starting city produces enough research that 50% more times 5 is actually the same or more research than what Eureka gives you. And as Local Reform also increases all other outputs by 50%, Local Reform can be ultimately the much better choice, with the only drawback being that you don't get all the research points immediately.

Millennia is divided into ages, and each age has a selection of technologies to research. For example the age of stone has farming, tribal elders, defenses, scouting, and workers as the 5 possible technologies to research. You need to research 3 of those 5 to be able to advance into the age of bronze. You *can* research more or even all technologies before advancing. But you can also research just the minimum number, advance to the next age, and then get back to research old technologies later. Technologies get cheaper to research when you have already advanced into a later age, plus you get 10% rebate for every other nation that has already researched the technology. That makes picking up old tech rather cheap and fast. Which techs are the best depends a bit on your situation, e.g. if you have a lot of food from fish, but no farmable resources, farming is less useful. But in general you will want to pick up scouting and farming early. You need to think what you actually want to do with the tech you researched: Scouting is generally useful, but if for example you research tribal elders and get access to the Council building that produces research, this only really makes sense if you then actually build that Council in your city. If your city is busy building other stuff, you might have been better off with another technology, like workers.

Compared to other Civ games, in Millennia in the early game you will meet a *lot* of barbarians. While of course early on you have very few units and will want to move them one by one to explore the maximum, you will rather early want to stack your units. An early game "full stack" with two warbands and an archer not only quickly deals with all roaming barbarians, but will also usually take out a barbarian village in two attacks. Note that scouts aren't completely helpless in Millennia, and stacking several scouts into one scout army is a good way to avoid the scouts dying. Barbarians are highly aggressive, so standing on terrain with a defensive bonus and letting them attack you usually works better than attacking them. In spite of the danger from barbarians, early scouting is extremely valuable; not only for getting the lay of the land, but also for reaching tribal camps and landmarks before the AI players. Also attacking barbarian villages early is very useful. Both tribal camps and conquering barbarian villages gives you a choice between two random rewards, for example 10 government points or 10 improvement points. As in the early game you are probably earning just 1 or 2 of these points each every round, getting 10 points of something is usually a nice boost. Of course some points are more valuable than others, but you'll quickly learn that, and to some extent it depends on your situation.

Somewhere around turn 20 you will reach the age of bronze. This allows you to choose your first national spirit (with other national spirits being unlocked in ages IV, VI, and VIII). If you are the first to reach the age of bronze, you can pick any one you want, and you'll get 5 bonus points of the type of point that this national spirit is using. If you are not the first one, picking the same national spirit than somebody else gives you no bonus points, but picking one that hasn't been chosen yet gives you more bonus points. The later you come, the more bonus points you could get for the few remaining national spirits, but of course they might not be the ones you wanted. Note that national spirits can massively change the way you play: The most powerful choice is probably raiders, but only if you are okay with a very aggressive style of play and constant warfare. Raiders are a good choice if you wanted to try out the first alternative timeline "crisis age" of age of blood, but this will result in a development that will be very, very different from a more peaceful approach. Which is good, because having meaningful choices is good.

Note that many national spirits give some bonus that lets your cities expand into specific terrain faster. Thus which national spirit would be good for you depends on the terrain around you. Most obviously you don't want to take ancient seafarers in a landlocked location. But if you didn't follow my advice on restarting on difficult terrain, for example a location with lots of forests could be made more playable by choosing the naturalists national spirit. Wild hunters like brushland, the god-king dynasty wants hills, and the mound builders grassland. I am looking forward to playing many different games of Millennia with many different choices of national spirits. They are easy to underestimate until you played them, for example I at first considered the olympian national spirit of diplomacy a bit weak, until I discovered that envoys can grab neutral cities as vassals for free, and that holding the olympic games as a culture power event gives you a huge amount of different points. Again, different national spirit results in a different playstyle, but if the situation is right, that different playstyle might actually be stronger than you thought.

The age of bronze is also the age in which chains of goods become more prominent. After doing the corresponding research, improvement points can be used to build building on your hexes that take existing resources and turn them into more valuable things. You might have already built a farm that creates wheat, but wheat can be turned into flour, and flour into bread, each time improving the amount of food you get. You can turn wool into textiles, grapes into wine, olives into oil, wood into lumber, and so on. Sometimes you get different options, like either turning flax into textiles or into oil. Later in the game you can import goods from other nations, or send them from one of your cities to another domestically. This adds a huge "city building" aspect to Millennia that other 4X games don't have. One tip here is that there are buildings that can convert several resources at once, e.g. a saw mill can turn 3 wood into 3 lumber, but you don't *need* 3 wood for this to work. If you have only 2 wood, it will only produce 2 lumber, but that might be a perfectly fine choice. You'll import the third wood later, or grab another forest hex. I personally consider chains of goods that create production points or improvement points as more interesting than those that create for example wealth, but that of course depends on your current finances.

Population growth in Millennia is interesting. You need to fulfil different needs, with every 5 population introducing another need. Totally ignoring a need often leads to a crisis age (which might be what you want), for example ignoring the need for hygiene in the age of iron leads to an age of plague. On the other side the fulfilment of needs is capped at 200%: If your city needs 5 food, providing more than 10 doesn't grow the city any faster. This makes the goods chain system and domestic exports even more interesting, as you could conceivably have a mining city that doesn't produce much food, but create some high food value item elsewhere and then send it over.

Trying to plan for a run with ages you haven't seen yet is difficult. Some crisis ages are easy enough to get the conditions for, but it is the player who first reaches an age who determines the age for every other player. At higher (and thus cheating) AI levels, it will usually be an AI player who is ahead of you in research and thus it becomes very hard to be the one who determines what the next age will be. I also found that some variant ages have conditions that you can't control at all: The first one possible, the age of heroes, requires your scouts to have found 3 landmarks. Even if you manage to push both scouting and research faster than any AI player, you'll not necessarily discover 3 landmarks. Again my advice would be to go with the flow, and sometimes you'll just have the opportunity to reach an age you don't know yet. Between the different national spirit choices and the different ages, I see good replayability, although I can't say yet whether that holds true for the late game. I am very much looking forward to Tuesday, when Millennia is released.

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