RPS Ascension: Setup
So I’m going to be squaring off in dire battle against a few chaps from the forums of Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Our poison of choice is the excellent Dominions 3: The Awakening, a title from 2006 that is even more expensive today in the distant future than it was upon release. I imagine it’s still selling well because it has a tendency to sneak up on people — it’s a firecracker of a game, the kind that surprises you right at the moment you’ve got it all figured out.
The basics: the Olde God has disappeared, so you pick a faction, design a “pretender” (a powerful mortal with an aspiration to godhood), and then fight and weasel and spellcast until you’re the last man/woman/cyclops/fertility-fetish around. Then you’re proclaimed God and the game ends. In solid polytheistic fashion, you can only permanently kill a deity by eroding his followers’ faith. You may achieve this by either taking over their provinces and foisting your doctrines over theirs, or spreading faith (“dominion”) in your pretender through actual preachers and prophets and temples.
As a sidenote, all the factions you might encounter are based on real-world mythology rather than high fantasy. Instead of orcs and dwarves and beleaguered-but-righteous humans, you get Roman death cults and Hindu ape kings and Jewish giants (the faction that spawned a fascinating analysis by Tof Eklund). You have no idea how refreshing it is to have a fantasy strategy game sans elves until you’ve played Dom3.
So that’s it. Sure, there are over sixty factions, thousands of units and spells, and hundreds of magic items, but that’s the game at its core.
Vexing Vision: Oceania
The Innocent (me!): Yomi
The random map creator that comes with Dom3 is extremely simple to use and can form quite detailed landscapes that are a joy to explore and conquer, but at times it can create worlds that lack any balance. This time, it only took me four generations to arrive at a map that was sufficiently interesting to fight over.
The first consideration was to have an appropriate number of water provinces for our single aquatic faction, Oceania (played by Vexing Vision). Aquatic nations in Dom3 play quite differently from their land-based counterparts. Land nations tend to find water provinces unassailable until they research particular spells or build magic items, and those are often costly and fairly deep into the game’s research schools. Alternately, a land nation may discover that a territory they conquer hosts amphibious troops, capable of moving both on land and in water, but this isn’t a common find. So it’s rare that an aquatic nation will find itself under siege until at least a couple dozen turns into the game. The flipside is that aquatic nations’ troops tend to be ill-suited to combat on land, meaning that a good aquatic player will have to exert some effort to gain any significant beachhead. This map gives Oceania a solid — but not too powerful — start position in the northern sea, where he will have immediate access to six provinces and then will have numerous options about which theater to expand into.
Second, I wanted the map to play well despite an age-old problem with any strategy game in which players begin anywhere other than the corners: Everyone knows that players in the corners/edges of the map are safer, while players in the middle may be be overwhelmed from every direction. I wanted this map to have random start positions, but I didn’t want too many of the inherent balance problems that arise from edge/middle placement. This map happens to have an elegant answer to this problem. The most secure players are those on the western landmass, especially the player in the top-left corner. Without access to flying, aquatic, or seafaring troops, all of which are rare, they have only one path to move onto the main continent, down where the two landmasses almost touch in the south. However, any players in this secure spot will have very little in the way of income, as their landmass is dominated by wastelands, forests, mountains, and marshes, with no fertile farmland in sight.
Instead, all those breadbasket territories are on the main landmass. They’re spread out enough that no one player can easily encompass them all, but any player stuck in the middle will have access to more money. The mountains of the central continent also break up territory control, allowing more players to occupy fairly close territory while only bordering other nations in one or two spots.
So, this map is the one I’ve landed upon for our game. It should be quite the brawl. I’ve nicknamed it Antopeos, courtesy of a random place name generator. Good luck to all the players!