Charnel Mouse: Looking at Theocracy is delayed for now due to technical issues. On the other hand, Dominions 4 is due soon, so let’s get on with it.
Year one, in the middle of Spring. Here is the map where we’ll be carving out our kingdoms, the Desert Eye. It wraps around at the edges, and has a disturbing lack of chokepoints to place Forts at for good defensive spots.
However, I’ve been given a pretty nice start position for Marignon. A lot of my commanders will be able to sail their troops across ocean regions, and the ocean regions on this map are rather large, so the oceans to either side mean I’ll be able to move armies around my starting position quite quickly, and be able to do surprise attacks into provinces that can’t attack me back.
dreadfulpain: Let see what map he chose… oh, this one. The annoying one with no real choke points. With around 6 computer players, early fights are standard, which suits my build fine. However, I would like to turtle later to get my build going, and I’m not sure how I’m going do that. Fudge… fudge fudge fudge, Charnel can sail on this map. As if it was not annoying enough.
CM: I have three commanders at the start. Chernuble is a Captain, an army commander with the Sailing ability. Confar is a Spy, able to sneak into enemy provinces to find information about the armies there, and to cause uprisings. Finally, I have my Pretender, now with an appropriate name. Let’s meet him again.
Solomon is going to be in charge of a lot of Goetic Masters, after all. His Attack Skill has increased due to his knowledge of Fire Magic, but his life expectancy has also been decreased. Still, I have about four hundred years before I should need to worry about that. The second icon on his row of abilities is the one I got for having such a high Dominion setting. What does it do? We’ll see in a moment.
Adding to my good starting position, Marignon is located in the middle of farmland. That means more gold income, but less resources for building troops. I’m surrounded by forests and mountains, which are the opposite. My capital, like anywhere that has a fort, can bring resources in from neighbouring provinces, so once I’ve captured some neighbouring territories I’ll have plenty of materials for army-building.
My starting army consists of a few pikeneers and crossbowman. Crossbowmen are lightly armoured, and only fire every two turns in combat, but their bolts are armour-piercing. Pikeneers are decently armoured for humans, and their pikes are good for repelling attacks by enemies with low morale. It’s not much, and the pikeneers probably won’t last very long, but it should be good enough to conquer a few independent provinces.
I could do with more, though, so the first thing to do is get recruiting. Each province can recruit one commander per turn, and as many troops as I have gold and resources for. I can only recruit my unique national troops from Forts, so I’ll want to stake out some good sites to build new ones as soon as possible.
I’ve recruited a Goetic Master, since he’s the most efficient option for hiring mages to research spells. I’ve also recruited two Men-At-Arms, heavy infantry with shields, for a special purpose, and used the rest of the resources to train a few more crossbowmen. I’ll get them all next turn.
I can reach any of the neighbouring provinces, connected by yellow lines. However, it can be dangerous invading on the first turn, because I can’t see the neighbouring armies yet.
Chernuble’s army is therefore staying put, so I’ve ordered him to become Solomon’s prophet instead. That means he gets access to most Holy Magic in battle, he automatically spreads Dominion like Solomon does, and his hit points in combat are affected by the Dominion level in the province, also like Solomon. The main advantage for now is that he can cast Smite, so he can pick off enemies one by one instead of hanging around behind his army.
Confar goes north to start looking around for the other nations.
Solomon also doesn’t have anything to do, so he begins the research effort.
Besides requiring a certain amount of knowledge in magic paths, such as Fire and Blood, spells are categorised into several different schools of magic, each with a loose theme. I’ll talk about the different schools of magic as I start researching them. For now I’m going for a few levels in Construction first, which means I’m ignoring battle spells, and planning to build magic items to give to my generals. It’ll also eventually lead to the items I plan to use to overrun the Desert Eye with the forces of Hell. Baby steps.
I also now know who the other nations are. For those of you who’ve played before, Ermor is not in the game, R’lyeh is, and as far as computer-led nations go the rest don’t matter. Everyone else, I’ll introduce them when they appear.
dread: Starting position is so-so, not keen but that’s more to do with the map. No real plans as yet, I recruit a Daimyo to be my prophet and send my Ninja to check out where I’d like to attack.
CM: Ninjas are the scout-like commanders for Jomon, making it one of the few nations that can recruit assassins. They’re armed with standard daggers, and they can also throw shurikens that poison whatever they hit. Given how good most troops are at accurately firing ranged weapons, I’m skeptical about how good they are as assassins before they’re given magic items.
That’s it for Turn 1. Turn 2, late Spring.
First, I get to sift through my junk mail. There’s not much happening yet, so all I have for now is messages from a few nations proclaiming their new prophets.
More interestingly, I can now see the armies in the surrounding provinces. Mostly militia to the north and southwest, mostly heavy infantry to the west, and mostly archers to the northeast. Oh, and mostly Ichtyids in the ocean, but I won’t be able to go underwater for a while. Overall, there are more heavy infantry than I’d like, but I can’t really expect a perfect start position.
We’ve also got white candles appearing, marking the spread of belief in Solomon. If you look closely, you can see the bottom of a black candle in the northeast. That’s belief in another Pretender, so I’m going to bump into another nation pretty early. I’m hoping they don’t attack on sight – I need time to build up my military.
That makes it even more important to expand quickly, so I’m sending out two separate invading parties. One will be the regular army, plus the troops I recruited, led by the prophet Chernuble Smiting from the rear. The other party will be Solomon, by himself. Yes.
Chernuble’s heading northeast: it looks like the least-defended neighbour, and his army will deal with archers more safely than our Moloch.
Solomon’s heading north to a province mostly guarded by militia. I don’t want Him getting into too much danger yet: if He gets wounded heavily enough He’s got a good chance of ending up with a permanent affliction, and some of those could render Him mute and unable to cast spells. Most of my strategy – and my design points – revolve around His magical powers, and I didn’t put any points into improving the performance of our nation in general, so if Solomon is struck dumb, I’m screwed.
Heading north also means I’m expanding towards the enemy Dominion I can see, so I can create a buffer between my capital and the forces of whichever nation that Dominion turns out to be for.
Metase is the Goetic Master I recruited last turn. Goetic Masters are Marignon’s magical workhouses, with decent Fire and Blood magic – for Late Age humans – and a little skill in Priest skills and Holy magic, with a research speed of seven points per turn. I haven’t researched any decent spells to use in battle yet, so he’s tasked with research, as will be the next several Masters I recruit.
I’m also switching troop recruitment entirely over to Royal Guard, the heavy cavalry. They don’t have the impressive charge impact of cavalry armed with lances, but they have decent hit points, morale, defence skill, and protection, giving them good staying power, and their strength and broad swords are usually enough to take down most enemies. They’re a bit expensive on resources – at the moment I’M only recruiting one per month – but that shouldn’t be a problem once I conquer a few neighbours, and they should make up the majority of my human forces for the game, backed up by crossbowmen recruited with leftover resources. Resources can’t be stored between turns like gold can, so I might as well use the excess for something.
dread: I sent the ninja to scout a local province that had mountains, forests and farmland. I told him to assassinate the commander, but I’m not sure if it’s worth it. If I can assassinate all the commanders before my army attacks, they automatically retreat at the start of the battle, however I do not know if I should wait and build up my army or push out next turn…
I hired some mercenaries (neutral troops that can be hired. Which ones can be hired are chosen randomly, and can be hired in any providence that you own. However, because you hire them at the end of the turn, if you lose the province during that turn you don’t get the mercenaries.) Normally they are a drain on gold however I need to push out fast, next turn once I get my prophet I’ll attack using the mercenaries as fodder. Current plan, get ninjas and a mix of archers and red devils – slightly more expensive samurai, but as it is I need resources, not gold. I’ll use the ninjas to scout and assassinate and conquer the surrounding provinces. Once I do, then I’ll check if I can see anyone else.
CM: Mercenaries start with one experience level, which increases some of their stats. They work for the highest bidder, and will go up for auction after three years of employment. The current employers get a bonus towards the amount they bid, but in the long term they still cost much more to maintain than recruited troops. They also keep any magical equipment you gave them if they go to work for someone else, and you can’t take it back off them. Still, they can be very good for quickly increasing the size of your army, or if they give access to magical paths your national mages don’t have.
On to Turn 3. I get a few more interesting items in the mail bag this time.
We get a random event. These vary wildly in their effects, but most commonly involve finding some magical gems, or being invaded by bandits. How often events happen is affected by the Order/Turmoil and Luck/Misfortune scales, and the latter also affects are likely the events are to be good ones. Luck can be a nice way of getting additional income if you’re planning to wipe out your own population, which isn’t necessarily as stupid as it sounds.
dread: Random event, a group of zealots wish to fight for my cause. One of the many many reasons I use a lucky dominion.
We also get reports for the outcomes of the two invasions we launched. The messages give the numerical breakdown, but what would be the fun in that? Let’s just watch them.
Combat in Dominions takes some getting used to: due to the turn-based nature of the game, the developers decided that your control over your forces in battle would be rather limited. In the pictures above that showed the forces in a provinces, you might have noticed some mostly-green squares, and the phrase “set battle orders”. The green squares are where you set the starting position of commanders and army groups, so they don’t just all start together in one giant mass.
The battle orders are limited: standard troops can have one generic command that they follow for the entire battle. Commanders can have up to five turns of direct orders, than a generic command, but they are free to decide for themselves what to do turn by turn, especially when deciding which of their available spells to cast. This is all you have to work with.
From left to right, Chernuble stands with the crossbowmen, behind the pikeneers. In front of them are the two men-at-arms. The idea here is that ranged troops are usually just ordered to fire at the closest group of enemies, so most enemy fire will target the men-at-arms, whose shields will make them much more likely to deflect the missiles. I’ve got them waiting for a few turns before advancing, so hopefully they won’t overlap with the pikeneers too much and get them shot up anyway.
The independent army is a mishmash of archers – shown firing in the screenshot – and a few light and heavy infantry, led by a priest. The priest won’t be doing much, because all he can practically do is bless himself.
Meanwhile, Chernuble can kill people with a ray of holy power. Between being Smited, and facing a wall of pikes, the defenders soon start to run away.
Once the pikeneers reach the archers, the battle’s practically over. Attacking independent provinces with the support of a prophet like this is pretty standard practice, because it’s a simple and effective way to expand early.
Now for an entirely different approach. Solomon contemplates how best to tackle the army defending his target.
An attack from the rear seems best. Flying troops basically have no movement restrictions in combat, so I can have Solomon move straight to the rear. This is great for quickly taking down archers, or when facing armies led by a few weak commanders, as killing all the commanders makes the troops run away.
The imps that Solomon is accompanied by in battle are rather weak, and don’t last long against the heavy infantry most of them flew next to, leaving Solomon surrounded.
This is where the new ability for Solomon starting with a high Dominion comes in. It’s called Awe: anyone trying to attack Him in close combat has to pass a morale check. Failure is shown by troops flashing, as in the picture above. But heavy infantry surely have good morale, right? Normally, yes, but Awe interacts nicely with another of Solomon’s abilities, which is Fear. That means when Solomon first comes near anyone, there’s a chance their morale will drop. That means more attacks deflected by Awe.
Fear also means their combat group will probably have to take a morale test to not run away. That means, since Solomon can fly, that he can just land next to a big group of enemies, and either get them to flee, or attack with relative impunity.
Add to that the fact that the defenders are quickly tiring, and occasionally being set on fire, due to the intense aura of heat radiating from Solomon, and the battle ends with almost no damage done to Him.
I mentioned a lot of technical terms, and several different ways to approach things. How do you remember all of these? Well, you don’t at first. Instead, you play several times, and try things out. Some nations and Pretenders execute different approaches better than others. Some nations are more straightforward to use than others. It sounds pretty daunting to newcomers, but the first time you play you can just compose an army of whatever troop types look good, name a prophet, research a few combat spells, and see how far it gets you.
Of course, that requires some sort of emotional hook to make you want to learn all this in the first place. I’ll begin to address that in a moment.
dread: Assassination attempt… fail. This is why I hate using assassins. If you can pump them out, you can clear neutrals easily. And using them against other players is useful, but if they are smart they will guard the important ones, and will of course know who sent them. Not sly at all.
CM: dread wasn’t joking when he mentioned early fighting on this map. You can see how close my capital, and that of my northeast neighbour, are. More on them later. I have some housekeeping to do first.
The first thing to do is to raise local defences in the provinces we’ve just liberated. This means we move our armies away without having to worry about having the provinces being easily recaptured. It might not be too much to worry about this early on, but there are easily accessible spells that can drop small armies into any province on the map, so some nations can quickly make use of any defensive negligence on your part.
Local defence can become expensive quickly – the cost in gold of raising the defence by one level is equal to the level it’s being raised to. That means that you start off by getting a troop or two for one gold, but by the time you get to level twenty or so, it begins to get very expensive, even with level twenty and above adding extra troops, as well as a commander mage. Here I’m raising both provinces to level ten – they won’t stand up against any serious invasion, but they’ll automatically look for enemy scouts.
Solomon and Chernuble have earned places on the Hall of Fame, a list of the most successful commanders to date. You can see from the nation flags that several have expanded already, but there are two commanders up there waving the flag of independent nations. I have no idea who Saeg is; Rolf Magnus is one of the mercenary commanders.
Non-Pretenders that make the Hall of Fame get a special ability, that gets stronger the longer they stay on it. Chernuble’s gotten an ability that makes him able to lead more men, and that makes both himself and nearby troops less likely to run away. The ability anyone gets is random – another common one is earning more hit points, in exchange for a higher encumbrance, by virtue of becoming fat. Yes, really.
Also, Solomon got enough experience to gain an experience level – increasing several of his stats – and the mercenary commander dread hired is topping the list. How delightful.
We can now recruit more cavalry at a time, because of the resources coming in from the provinces we captured. One of those provinces also had the option to recruit scout commander, so I’ll recruiting those too. Having a good idea of what’s happening nearby is invaluable.
I’m also recruiting another Goetic Master, so I should explain what I want them for at the moment. Their research speed is good, so I’ll get access to decent spells pretty quickly, but the best spells consume magical gems. We’re getting a small income of Fire, Air, and Astral gems from special buildings in our capital, but once we start making magical items we’ll need much more than we’re getting. We’ll also want blood slaves, the Blood Magic path’s equivalent of gems, which you have to send commanders to actively hunt for in your own territory.
We can increase our gem income by sending out mages to hunt for magical sites, most of which supply a gem income. For the moment we need to send out mages to do this, so I’d like to send out a mage with as much variety in magic paths as possible. Masters begin with two levels Fire and Blood, then get random additional levels as shown above: one level in Fire, Earth, Astral or Blood, then a 10% chance of another level from the same choice. I’d most like the extra Astral gems, so I’m hoping to recruit a Master with a level in Astral magic early on.
For hunting blood slaves, the competence of a slave hunter depends on their knowledge of Blood magic, to a maximum of three levels, so in the long term I’ll be pulling Masters with an extra level in Blood off the research line, into the hinterland for a good hunt.
Enough looking ahead, it’s time for a gander at the neighbours.
Gath are based on the Nephilim from Jewish mythology, or at least the interpretation where they are descended from angels. They’re particularly nasty in the Early Age. Giants are powerful. Giants in chariots the size of elephants are even more powerful. Giants in chariots, backed up by mages with access to almost all the magic paths, are ridiculous. Their only big downside is that they eat their own population, but this can be handled by moving your main research centre out of the capital. By the time of Late Age the giants depend more on the neighbouring tribes of humans, but they’re still nasty.
Really, the backstory of Gath up there is the sort of thing that gets you into Dominions in the first place. The inspirations for the different nations are really varied, with a lot of mythology in the mix, from the Aztec-inspired, subtle-as-bloody-knife Mictlan, to the many Norse-inspired nations, to the Slavic nation of Rus. This is before you delve into the spell list, the different supernatural beings that can appear, the magic items… Dominions has a lot of Stuff, and a lot of background description describing the societal structure of the different nations. It’s a fascinating world to explore, and while it might not teach me any real mythology, it certainly makes me want to go and learn some. And really, if a game makes you want to go and learn something, that’s one of the best results a designer can hope for.
Chernuble’s remaining pikeneers are only six-strong. I don’t think that’s enough to defend the crossbowmen against the calibre of the local defenders around these parts, so he’s marching back to Marignon to pick up Royal Guard for reinforcements. Solomon flies northwest to another weak-looking nation, and Confar is moving east to have a closer look at Gath. In particular, I want to know whether their Pretender is awake or not, because that will heavily influence how difficult any early war would be.
dread: Got my mercenary fodder. Got my random zealot fodder. Got my prophet. Let’s do this. I should really be more careful, as this will set the pace for the rest of the game. If I lose my prophet, it will be a while until I can get a new one, and also to build up another army. I’m going to hire some more mercenaries and hope.
CM: Next time, Solomon gets into trouble, more of the enemy nations show themselves, and the Great Blood Hunt begins.