I had intended to do a write up of my first win as MA Ulm weeks back, but due to some of the events in that game, plus the fact it was a newbie game it left a bad taste in my mouth and I decided against doing so. So here is my second solo Dom5 win instead.
Let me introduce the new Pantokrator; Stress and Anxiety
I hosted Exercise In Masochism as a way to hopefully play against players better then me and learn some new tricks while exploring LA TC, a nation that I had seen very little of in the 5 newbie games I had played in up to this point. The only time I had seen them played before now, the player was unable to dedicate the amount of time required to play Dom5 reliably and staled many, many times over the course of the game before eventually being eaten by Jomon. They are not a popular nation, nor one I had ever heard of as being strong. However, prior to the start of the game a patch changed how Unaging bless interacted with the 'Isold' tag, and after some testing I made an interesting discovery;
About 40-60% of Ancestor smiths with the Unaging bless are, in fact, not old. It's often a narrow margin, only 1 or 2 years. But in theory it does give you access to their frankly ridiculous base stats for a human mage for at least a little while.
… But in the end the unaging bless did absolutely nothing for me this game, because in my first two wars my enemies both had a surplus of magic weapons on their default troops, so mist form or ethereal light thugs were totally useless. Entirely a waste of points, but still something worth experimenting with for memes if nothing else. I'm not convinced that three of these guys with enchanted pikes and some self buffing their square couldn't do mad work, but its probably too situational to bother with.
I agonized over whether to go for unaging, or a dormant fateweaving+heat aura bless for eventual ancestor ghosts memes. But realizing that Conj 7 was unlikely to be a stop I made any time soon, I said screw it and took both on an imprisoned rainbow.
I am TiredTaleTeller, and I do not endorse this build xD
I did my testing, and quickly discovered that LA TC expansion is a literal breeze. The combination of recruit anywhere heavy cav, how bloody cheap barb heavy cav is, and the fact their sacreds (while not particularly special for sacreds) have solid stats and a good protection score mean that after you take even one or two of their cap circle you can just start shooting out in all directions without any issue at all.
So once the game started, that is what I did.
17 provinces year 1, not bad, but not great. Especially since I had just sprinted straight north. My initial expansion party had taken almost no attrition at all, and I was able to extend far farther from my cap then I had any right too, cutting in between Ragha and Phlegra and confidently asserting dominance over a nation far stronger then me early game (or so I believed…) However, in my overconfidence my second party heading south had plowed directly into a low ball scouting report of heavy cav and crossbowmen that turned out to be much stronger then I had anticipated and bounced. This set me back for a while, and had my southern neighbors not been struggling far more I might have been in trouble. Thankfully, early scouts showed me that I still had lots of room to expand, and so I did. And then some more, and then some more. Late summer of year 1, and I'm still taking indie provinces.
Thanks to a combination of my straight line expansion, the small ponds, the thrones, and mountain ranges I was able to block off a huge empire and then slowly backfill one or two expansion parties at a time into the tougher provinces while I focused on getting infrastructure up. An early fort at the very northern edge of my empire stabilized my grip on my impetuous and over-extended expansion.
Fall of year 1, the bear that I had poked finally got sick of my shit and Ragha attacked. (Sorry that the flags/colors are so similar and its hard to see which provinces is whose.) Suddenly I had to defend my northern territories, and most of my expansion parties are way down in the south (I've never had a game where I was still 'expanding' turn 18 before this one, it was funny if nothing else)
While I had tried to get site of Ragha's bless before he attacked, my scouts had failed to get much info on them at all. But thankfully I knew Ragha was coming. Several times I had reached out to the player in question for a NAP3, and each time he had made some excuse to hold off. At this point in my dom5 career, I know exactly what that means. One way or another against Zhayedan's my merely mortal barb heavy horse was going to struggle, and we are a long, long way from my imprisoned pretender waking up, leaving me with nothing but Withering weapons and 5pr as my current bless.
Even worse, the Zhayedan's proved to have both magic weapons, all resists and an absolutely massive stat buff piled on top so any chance of using a combination of astral and earth fluffing + mossbody on thugs with small bodyguards of Ancestor Vessels seemed unlikely to work.
Frankly, I thought I was doomed with my shitty greedy build.
But, LA TC had some surprises for me still. I let Ragha siege my northern fort, and even take it to buy time while groups of cav counter raided very cautiously. But before the end of year 1, I had finally reached alteration 5 and construction 3, among a few other low level research goals and massing up the frankly silly number of Heavy Barb cavalry I had been able to amass in the last several turns, I walked it into Ragha's main Zhayedan stack casting Legion of Steel and wooden warriors on everything I could.
It went rather well. (Sadly the battle report was bugged. I didn't even have 260 units in the fight, let alone killed, and I didn't cast skelly spam at all)
While the numbers mismatch looks obscenely in my favor, Barb Heavy Cav are only 20 gold to a Zhayedan's 145. Even Ancestor vessels are only 50 and Ragha made the mistake of engaging me both late (turn 16 imo is far too late for Ragha's first war) and not dedicating his entire stack of sacreds to the single fight. I massacred them with comparatively light gold losses, and the rest of the war was simply a matter of repeating the performance over and over again. Ragha had fire elementals, but Ancestor Vessels have magic bows, and so Feles primary defense of being ethereal means nothing against their missile fire. The slow trickle of low combat speed fire elementals were often shot off the board before they could close with my dense wall of archers set way back on hold and fire in preparation to receive fliers. Ctis was attacking from the north, and that was pretty much the war. I gobbled up as much territory as I could, fought a few more of smaller Ragha stacks and then settled in to enjoy my spoils.
But there was a snag.
I now had 4 thrones either inside my borders, or already claimed and bordered Phlegra's 5th throne. In an attempt to provoke early bloodshed and lots of fighting, I as the host had set the throne settings somewhat low. 10 thrones for 10 players, but only 5 needed to win. My armies were strong and basically undamaged by the war with Ragha, and I had a NAP3 with Phlegra. I could have gathered up my cav, marched over to the throne and one turn popped it. Game over, maybe turn 30. . But, my armies were still in Ragha land. It would have taken turns and turns to march over… and I really didn't want to violate my nap. I'd done it to win my first game, a rush turn 64 as MA Ulm, stabbing my former allies in the backs and giving them 1 turns warning before moving in. It had worked, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. I hadn't earned the win. So I sold the Ragha throne and capital to Ctis, and settled in to deal with a sudden attack from Atlantis that had taken 2 of the unclaimed thrones that I viewed as mine.
I could get into the details of the land war vs atlantis, but it boiled down to while I messed up one of my early battle scripts and lost the first wave of a hundred odd barb cav I threw at him, I had foul vapors and he had no N mages at all.
… and I had a lot more then a hundred cav at this point.
Summer of year 3, Ragha has gone AI, but AI freespawn has given Ctis some grief in taking his cap. I've pushed Atlantis back under the water where the fishmen belong and am basically uncontested once again as Atlantis will soon be attacked by Phlegra, followed by Ulm. I spent some time experimenting with how hard it was for TC with fairly copious access to Water mages in the from of Masters of the Way and Celestial masters to invade a water power, but the answer was still that it was bloody impossible. Even with Atlantis being attacked 2v1 on land and spending Water gems freely to beat up Phlegrian tyrants, he still had plenty to contest me UW when I was twice his size but hampered by my ability to make Rings of water breathing. I suffered several bloody losses, but refined my tactics and eventually took an UW fort before agreeing to peace. I could have, perhaps, eventually beaten them 1v1, but it would have taken turns and turns to conquer the pond and been inevitably pointless.
Early on in the game I had put up Mother Oak on a gamble, alchemizing some pearls to put up a minimum cast. Vaetti was locked in a war with midgard that ended up lasting nearly the entire duration of the game and there was no other strong N nations in the game. Combined with pushing up Conjuration to level 7 for ancestor spirits (which I found unsatisfying, especially in an UW war where their heat aura didn't seem to function) I at this point shrugged, used the stockpile of N gems from Mother Oak to put up Gift of Health and started summoning Tarts a few turns later.
The rest of the game is sadly fairly uneventful. Lacking other motivation and seeing the mentor nations slowly growing in power I declared war on Phlegra, but his strength had been entirely sapped losing over a half dozen tyrants or more to Atlantis and being eaten by Ctis as well. I capture the throne on our border, and push on to his cap. I'm at 4 of 5 thrones but Ulm also has 4, and I wonder what happens if two nations claim enough thrones to win on the same turn? . Knowing I can't doddle around any longer if I hope to win, I prepare for war with Ctis as I finish absorbing phlegra only to have them end the nap with me 1 turn before I had planned to do the same to him. Thankfully I was more or less ready to go, and when Ctis marched his doom stacks at me I threw Winds of Death casting and Air elemental spamming A random Ancestor Guides at him via cloud trapeze every turn for 3 turns straight before finishing the deal with some tarts and a flames from the sky casting as I popped the northern throne fort I had traded him half the game ago. A quick teleport from my Pretender 1 turn late was still more then quick enough to end the game in my favor. No one other then Ctis had any capability of ending my rush, and no last ditch effort was even attempted as Atlantis had been forced under water and given up on the game and Vaettihiem was still fighting Midgard turns and turns later.
A turn 77 win for Stress and Anxiety.
A few closing thoughts.
LA TC is a very interesting nation. I don't think they are OP, but their early game power should be respected as I learned to my own surprise by beating Ragha so early, and so decisively. They lack high paths, reliable ways of forming communions on out of cap mages, and I found their research was slow to ramp due to all of their mages being sacred, and while not insanely expensive, not exactly cheap for the amount of RP/turn you get out of them.
They also have all the problems implicit to human nations, with human HP troops and the vulnerabilities that brings later in the game, with limited options for summons to fix that.
I used scouts and Lamia Queens to break into blood along the way, and had a functional if small blood economy when the game ended. Had the rush failed and I'd been forced to fight Ulm, I felt I needed the path access Vampire lords represented to remain competitive when my national mages capped out at rank 2 in all paths without communions. But in the end I never actually used a vampire lord or blood spell in any battle outside the very last, and I'm sure most would say that it was a total waste of time and resources to break into blood. Still, as a player I like having options and one way or another I had broken extensively into every single path by the end of the game, including fire via a site I found by sitesearching with the King of Magma.
Also; It's very hard to see due to the dark blue, but @Txoumin's Ulm had actually overtaken me in nearly every single category before the game ended. So GG to him especially, but thanks again to everyone who played.