Part 27: Mechanics: Modern UnitsSo a while back I was asked to talk about the modern units. I said there probably wouldn't be a great chance to do so since no game should go nearly that long (and it would be boring to sit around teching up to them when I can win with much lower tech units). I can at least give an outline of them though.
Here's a list of (basically) every unit in Civ 2:
How does one define the modern units? I usually think of them as beginning just after the Rifleman on land and with the Destroyer or Ironclad on the seas. This is at least somewhat arbitrary. To me, what distinguishes modern from pre-modern units is not just higher stats but much greater diversity.
Among pre-modern (military) units, there are basically just 3 types. Infantry (Warriors, Phalanxes, Pikemen, Archers, Legions, Musketeers, and Riflemen), cavalry (Horsemen, Chariots, Elephants, Knights, Crusaders, Dragoons, Cavalry), and artillery (Catapults, Cannon, Artillery). Infantry are generally cheap, have 1 move, and have the best Defense (but that's not saying much). Only multiplicative Defense stacking lets them be viable and they're usually worthless on offense. Artillery have 1 Defense, 1 move, and the best Attack around. This leaves them still basically worthless on offense for most purposes since they can't get speedily and safely into position to attack without lots of support and setup. Cavalry are generally the best units for all purposes. They have offense that nearly matches artillery, terrible Defense, but critically 2 movement which lets them strike attackers or defenders from an initially safe position and maneuver around freely. The best pre-modern unit for every purpose is generally the highest tech cavalry unit you've unlocked.
And there's basically only 1 type of pre-modern ship. Triremes, Caravels, Galleons, and Frigates are all hybrid transport-warships that completely suck at fighting for their price.
But things get more interesting with modern troops. They're more specialized and most of them have unique special abilities. It stops being cut-and-dried which ones are better than others since most of them have at least one thing they're really good at, and how important that thing is depends on your playstyle and the circumstances. Consequently, a lot of my opinions and thoughts here are definitely true for my playstyle (which is a darned good one) but not necessarily for all others. If you think a unit I say is bad is actually good, it might just be because we play modern era Civ 2 differently.
One thing that doesn't change is that mobility is incredibly important and that the best defense is a good offense. But modern units see a specialization into numerous different types of offense which can only be countered by certain types of defense.
For one thing, there are suddenly ships that are actually competent fighters. And City Walls do nothing against those; you need "Coastal Fortresses" instead. To examine the ships briefly:
Transports are exactly what they sound like. They unlock early and completely obsolete all earlier ships for troop transport purposes since they can carry MANY more people and move faster and are tougher. They can't fight, but who cares? These are handy ships, though you rarely need very many since each can carry a great 8 people per trip. Interestingly, these are the ONLY modern ships that can carry ground forces.
Ironclads and Destroyers unlock at roughly the same time depending on which other techs you get first. Ironclads typically become available first if you haven't been working on naval techs (and I usually haven't). They have basically identical combat stats and are the first ships which aren't horrible in battle. They're still way too feeble to attack a seriously dug-in defensive unit, but they can slaughter stray troops wandering around enemy coasts easily. The Destroyer enjoys a huge movement AND vision advantage over Ironclads, which is pretty awesome, but it doesn't usually matter for me since better ships unlock almost immediately.
First among those is the Cruiser, which is a strict upgrade from the Destroyer (and a major one at that) except for higher shield cost and a bit less movement. If you have Industrialization already (which you really should, and I certainly always do), then it's available just 1 tech later and obsoletes Destroyers immediately. Therefore I've pretty much never built a Destroyer. This is where ships really get both good and expensive. Admittedly a Cruiser is still not quite powerful enough that I'd want to risk it against a guy in a Coastal Fortressed city or something like an Alpine Trooper on a Hill, but it's a seriously good all-around combat unit.
Much like the Destroyer though, the Cruiser doesn't have very long before a better unit (Battleships) can replace it for fighting. Once again, the tech for Battleships is potentially available immediately after the one for Cruisers if you've made good progress on land techs first. They're the undisputed kings of the sea and basically the biggest, baddest unit in the whole game in terms of combat stats with an amazing 12 Attack and Defense and 40 Hitpoints and 2 Firepower. However, since the tech for Battleships (Automobile) obsoletes the very handy Leonardo's Workshop wonder and since Cruisers are fairly good combat units already, I often put off unlocking Battleships for a while. Also, they're not a straight upgrade from Cruisers because they cost 2x as much - nearly enough to build a small wonder- and are somewhat slow for modern ships (4 move) and don't have double vision.
By the time you get Battleships, it's definitely worth getting the Amphibious Warfare tech and building Port Facilities in a few specialized Battleship-making cities so you can train them as veterans. Pretty much nothing in the game has a chance against their 18 Attack and 2 Firepower and 40 Hitpoints, and with Magellan's Expedition they can get places quickly and attack again and again and again.
There's one last variety of dedicated warship: AEGIS Cruisers. These unlock extremely late, after a tech that basically means navies are obsolete (Rocketry). They replace Cruisers and are basically just Cruisers with slightly better stats, slightly higher cost, and a 100% (respectable) Defense bonus against air and missile units. Not that that matters much. I don't think I ever actually built one since Battleships are available earlier and are much better for attacking ground and sea targets, which is all I'd want a warship for.
Now there are a few other odd specialty ships, in keeping with how there are generally more options in the modern era.
Submarines, like Cruisers, are pretty much just 1 tech down from Battleships and therefore don't get built much. They're actually very respectable offensive units for their price (garbage on defense), but the fact remains that Battleships are just stronger. Additionally, Submarines are horribly slow (3 move).
Their main specialty is that they're invisible to most ships (not to Destroyers, Cruisers, or AEGIS Cruisers though). This helps mitigate their terrible defense but doesn't really matter that much since naval combat is generally decided by who has Magellan's Expedition and the most Battleships. A Sub attacking a Battleship dies, so your invisibility just doesn't make you that effective.
They can also transport Cruise Missiles and Nuclear Missiles around but that's nearly never helpful- and isn't stated in-game anywhere I can find it.
I guess in multiplayer they're sometimes valuable for scouting and taking down unprotected Transports and so on, but I still rarely need them and they're just not useful against the newbish AI.
Subs are just amazing compared to Carriers though. Carriers cost as much as Battleships, unlock with Advanced Flight (at which point it's usually time to stop building ships anyway), and are horrible in battle. Their one and only use is to be a stepping stone for Bombers, Cruise Missiles, and Nuclear Missiles. You should never, ever need to do this.
So there's a fair amount of diversity in modern ships compared to the pre-modern ones, but generally speaking the only things you want to build are Transports and whatever the latest and greatest warship is. The weird thing is that if you're already way ahead in the non-sea-tech side of things and have good Science (1 tech per turn or so), you can go from pre-modern ships to Destroyers to Cruisers to Battleships in just 3 turns, so everything else is obsoleted by Battleships before it can even be built.
A discussion of sea power would be incomplete without Marines, even though they're actually infantry. Marines unlock on a dead-end tech called Amphibious Warfare that branches off of the keystone modern military tech: Tactics. Amphibious Warfare also lets you build Port Facilities, which are like Barracks for ships (makes them start as veterans and heal in a single turn). Quite handy in a few key cities that you then have build many boats.
You could kind of think of Marines as being a bit like Legions. They have darned impressive stats for infantry (8 Attack and 5 Defense), but they won't see much use because they have 1 move and therefore cavalry and the like that do their job better.
The main use of Marines is their special ability: they are the only unit which can attack directly off of boats when used by a human player. In theory this should be very powerful, but in practice it's not. First of all, 8 Attack just isn't good anymore in the modern era. It's trash in fact. Dozens of Marines would be slaughtered by mere Riflemen in City Walls. So you can't really take cities with them directly. Instead you have Battleships or the like destroy all units in a city and then have 1 Marine step off a Transport to seize the empty thing since ships can't conquer cities themselves.
There are two things that eliminate even this niche use most of the time though. First of all, Diplomats can strike directly off ships and are always the best way to take any city owned by a non-Democracy. Second of all, units with 2 or more move can't attack DIRECTLY off a ship, but they can certainly walk from the ship onto an empty Plain/Grassland/Desert/Tundra next to the city and then immediately attack into it with their second move. So any cavalry unit, even a lowly Horseman, can do the Marine's job better if there's even one tile of flat land by the city. So can the Alpine Trooper (even without flat land), which even unlocks earlier. So the ONLY time a Marine is actually the best unit for any kind of job is when you come across a city on a 1x1 island which belongs to a Democracy. That's it. Never, ever build one unless you've run into one of those. Then build exactly one.
Speaking of special infantry units, Tactics unlocks the first one in the game (Alpine Troops). Despite being strictly better than Riflemen, they do NOT obsolete them. This is where the old, fairly linearly system of one unit being just better than the more primitive version of itself basically ends and there's suddenly tons of unit options and diversity instead of just 3 ground unit types. Alpine Troops are the gold standard of modern infantry with 5 Attack and 5 Defense at a reasonable price. These are the guys you want on Defense, not Riflemen. And for the first time in the entire game, they're an infantry unit which is actually GOOD at playing Defense rather than sucky but still more cost effective than the others.
Why? Well besides finally having a high enough base stat that multipliers can make them nearly invulnerable, they have the special ability to move through ALL terrain like it has Roads on it. This means that despite having just 1 move, they can run right over 3 Mountains if they want to. This is amazingly good for deploying them into good defensive territory in enemy lands so that you can fortify them there and then bring in your artillery and cavalry type guys to stack with them before attacking a city from safety. I did a fair amount of that last game. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only real infantry unit in the game. Everything else is a wannabe that tries and fails to do the basic infantry job.
And speaking of things that don't actually do their job, Fanatics are next in alphabetical order! They unlock with Fundamentalism and can only be built while you're actually using that government. This makes them higher tech than Riflemen, but they're strictly worse in battle (due to slightly lower Attack).
Their thing is that they cost a tiny amount (20 shields) to build, so you can train a ton of them quickly. Additionally, they never have an upkeep cost. That sounds good at first glance, but it's basically worthless. First of all, Civ 2 is very much about quality over quantity. It's not at all a viable strategy to try to overwhelm the enemy with huge swarms of cheap Fanatics; they'll be cut down effortlessly during their approach and will stand absolutely no chance attacking a serious defensive position. A thousand would have died trying to take a single one of the Walled, Rivered Sioux cities with Musketeers last game.
The other issue is that Fundamentalist governments get 10 support-free units per city anyway. Even if one of your cities produces more than 10 units without any of them dying (which means you're not fighting an all-out war and thus shouldn't be a Fundamentalism at all), it's a triviality to just support a bunch of those from a less productive city that they walk through en route to the front. Thus, unless you play badly, you should never be able to benefit from the free support of Fanatics at all. I stop short of calling them worthless, but they definitely don't do their intended job. A Democracy would love the guys, but you can't build them as a Democracy.
I'm going to skip Paratroopers to quickly cover Partisans. Partisans are weird units that unlock with Guerilla Warfare. What's weird about them is mainly that if you lose a city after learning the tech, you get a semi-random number of free ones with free upkeep in random squares around the city. Same applies to the enemy once they have it, which can be quite annoying. Statistically, Partisans are slightly suckier Alpine Troops. They also have the Alpine Troops' very cool ability to treat all squares like they have Roads, and another cool perk too: they ignore Zone of Control (like Diplomats). They also have a pile of other hidden abilities that don't matter much like dealing spectacular damage to enemy Settlers for some reason.
All of that would be great and would make them a strong alternative to Alpine Troops, but the trouble with them is that the Communism tech is one of their prereqs and you should never learn that tech under any circumstances.
Paratroopers are a very interesting infantry unit. Statistically they're completely mediocre and they unlock extremely late. What makes them useful is that once per turn (before moving) they can be air dropped if they're in one of your cities or airbases to start with. This is basically a 10-range teleport. After which they can still move/attack. This is particularly great when Railroads are involved and is nice for jumping up to undefended enemy cities and capturing them. However, since they appear so late in the game and other troops can do a decent approximation of their job, I don't find them tremendously useful overall. That covers all modern infantry.
There's exactly one modern artillery type unit: the Howitzer. It unlocks really late, but is really powerful. Its 12 Attack is actually quite mediocre considering Battleships and Bombers are available earlier and have that much and serve a similar role (and Artillery were available dozens of techs ago and had 10). What's important about Howitzers is that they FINALLY have 2 movement! At one stroke this solves the entire problem with artillery-type units and makes the Howitzer actually viable where its predecessors generally were not.
Then it has an incredible special ability: it ignores City Walls. Now of course that's amazing and means it can flatten basically any defender in any city, but lots of units ignore City Walls. Ships and planes and missiles all do for starters. But there's a difference. Ships and planes and missiles ignore City Walls because they're not ground units, but there are specialty types of City Wall-style improvements that work against them: Coastal Fortresses, SAM Batteries, and SDI Defenses. There is no available defense against Howitzers. Awesome. Well, no defense except the classic: walking out and slaughtering them before they get in range. Which has been the best tactic for dealing with any kind of invader since 4000 BC.
There are 2 vehicular units (Armor a.k.a. Tanks and Mechanized Infantry) which are hard to classify. You might consider them to be sort of like modern cavalry in that they have better movement (3 spaces) than other ground units of their time. But they don't really do the cavalry job anymore.
Mechanized Infantry are theoretically the most cost-effective defensive unit around since they have 6 defense compared to an Alpine Trooper's 5. But they're not as mobile overall despite having 3 move, still suck on offense, and Communism is one of their prereqs. So you should never, ever have access to the things. Even if you did, Alpine Troopers are good enough on defense- and you're still better off using a strong offense to blow approaching enemies apart before they can attack.
Tanks can do that job. They unlock much earlier and have great Defense plus an imposing 10 Attack to use off their 3 move (which critically lets them move through a Mountain/Hill/Forest/whatever and then go another square, a very helpful boost). This would be a true successor to cavalry units except that somehow planes end up doing that job better. Because of their huge shield price and obsolescence compared to planes, I just don't find Armor/Tanks to be that useful. They DO do a good job of running out of cities to explode approaching attackers when you need that though.
So on to air units. I'll start with the basic 2: Bombers and Fighters. Each of those gets a straight stat upgrade to Stealth Bomber and Stealth Fighter with the Stealth tech, which is one of the last techs in the whole game. Those upgrades are pretty sweet but they come so late that it's barely worth talking about them.
Air units in general and Fighters in particular work by a ton of unusual rules. I'll just give the short version here, particularly because I honestly have no idea about all the weirdness of Fighters. For starters, air units ignore City Walls (and instead are affected by SAM Batteries).
More importantly, they cannot be attacked by pretty much any units other than Fighters, so it doesn't matter that their "Defenses are thin as parchment, sire! BUILD CITY WALLS!" However, they CAN die if they attack a guy with massively high Defense same as any other attacking unit.
Also, they fly over all squares regardless of terrain type at cost 1. Roads and Railroads don't affect this at all. But your Fighters and Bombers must end their turns in your cities or Airbases (special terrain improvements like Fortresses that Settlers can build once you have the Radio tech) every other turn or they crash and instantly die. This makes absolutely no sense since each turn is at least a year and often a decade or more, but whatever. One of the major things that makes air units nonsensical and needlessly complicated in Civ 2 is a failed and misplaced attempt at simulationism like that.
Fighters unlock decently early, but they're trash units that serve no purpose without their super-secret situational stat modifiers and bonuses. 4 Attack, 3 Defense, 20 HP, 2 Firepower base is just horrible. They'll lose on offense against junk units like Fanatics that are on a Forest. But they enjoy a pile of different bonuses against other air units under some circumstances conditional on some other things. Also I think they can do special, random stuff like sometimes prevent the enemy from doing air drops just by existing? I'm really not sure since the manual is full of lies and omissions, as is the in-game help, and I've never needed to use them or seen them in action much. If the enemy ever gets air units in a singleplayer game, you have screwed up catastrophically. Even in multiplayer I've never needed to try the things, so I can't say whether they actually serve a niche role there, but they're definitely garbage in terms of normal use.
Bombers are totally different. Both in terms of actually being useful and in terms of mechanics.
For one thing, Bombers have this whole unique drawback going on where they can only attack once before returning to a city, Airbase, etc. If it wasn't for that, their spectacular 12(!) Attack and 8(!) movement would make them utterly insane offensive powerhouses. As it is, they're... still utterly insane offensive powerhouses. 12 Attack is as big as a Battleship's for starters, and they back it up with a respectable 2 Firepower and 20 HP.
And they ignore City Walls (but not SAM batteries) because they're air units. Unless you screwed up VERY badly, no enemy should ever have a SAM Battery improvement- and they only grant x2 Defense anyway, which is not nearly enough for even a very tough defensive unit to deal with a veteran Bomber. Howitzers are available only much later, so they're the first available unit which can negate City Walls in landlocked cities; amazingly handy. Bombers are one of the best offensive tools you have in modern wars. Stealth Bombers only more so. Keep them safe; never send them on bombing runs they can't land safely after. If you build up a good fleet of Bombers, you can deploy an invulnerable wall anywhere you want it (air units can't be attacked by anything but Fighters basically, so just fly them out and park them in the spot you don't want the enemy to go for a turn) and can obliterate any enemy unit in or out of their cities.
They're not good for massive, speedy conquests since they need to pull back every other turn, but they're perfect for slowly and inevitably grinding an opponent down into nothing. Just have a single Alpine Trooper (or Paratrooper or whatever) ready to walk into the deserted ruin they leave behind.
The only downside is that as a Republic or Democracy, they ALWAYS count as being out in the field even when parked at home and thus always cause unhappiness. Well worth it, just make sure you don't build too many in one city.
Now that air units have been introduced, let me briefly return to Carriers to explain why they're garbage. A Bomber is the slowest air unit around at 8 movement. This means it can safely fly between any of your cities which are up to 16 squares apart and can attack enemies which are 8 squares away and then return to one of your cities. A Carrier basically acts like a city for that purpose. Except a Carrier can be sunk along with all planes onboard in an single attack and has awful defenses compared to what a city with defenders can be packing. It's a trap! Besides that, it's unnecessary. One of the top priorities when waging a war is to either conquer or build your own cities in the enemy territory to use as bases. This is standard Civ 2 tactics in every era since you need a safe place to heal troops up in, build the type of guys you need as the situation on the ground changes, etc. In the modern era, applying that standard doctrine means your Bombers should never be unable to reach the enemy cities in 1 move even without Carriers. Other air units are even faster and thus have even less trouble.
You probably think you understand air units now. You don't. Don't ever think that; thinking that is a trap. The very notion of "air units" as some mechanically cohesive category is a dangerous and false one. Every single air unit in this game has so many special abilities and exceptions even from the 'normal' air unit rules that there basically ARE no normal air unit rules.
The remaining 3 air units are even weirder than Fighters and Bombers.
I'll start with Helicopters, which are so different that you might want to think of them as their own unit category. They're really high-tech units and are amazingly good on paper. Only 100 shields to make, a massive 10 Attack, 20 Hitpoints, 2 Firepower, and 6 move.
Oh and they have double vision.
Oh and they can see Subs.
Oh and they don't actually need to return to a city after any number of turns; they can fly forever except that they take a bit of chip damage every turn. Which is annoying but not that bad.
Oh but like Bombers they can only make 1 attack per turn.
Oh but Fighters have a bunch of super special weird secret bonuses to beat them.
Oh but they're completely ruined by one thing: land units can attack them. Yeah, that basically makes them trash. Bombers are available earlier, have better move, have better attack, and are invincible. Helicopters are not sure if they are ground or air units and have some of the disadvantages of both. I'll stop short of saying they're completely worthless, but generally speaking a better unit is available at lower tech level.
On to Cruise Missiles. Cruise Missiles are like Bombers in role, totally different mechanically, and a terrible deal. 18 Attack, 0 Defense, 10 Hitpoints, 3 Firepower, 12 move. 60 shield cost to a Bomber's pricey 120. Sounds good, right?
But it's a trap. First of all, they have to end EVERY turn in a city, which means there exist gaps a Bomber could be deployed across that a Cruise Missile can't. Second of all, a veteran Bomber is as good or maybe better on offense overall in tough fights due to higher HP. Also Cruise Missiles have some unique weaknesses that Bombers don't share. But the third point is the deal-breaker: Cruise Missiles are destroyed upon attacking. So you spend 60 shields, make a SINGLE attack, and then your shields are gone. A Bomber costs twice as much to build, so after 2 attacks it has broken even, and everything from there on out is beautiful profit. To add insult to injury, the Cruise Missile is higher tech and also imposes the same unhappiness penalty just for existing.
Cruise Missiles are a trap; Bombers are your friend.
If you want a one-time use unit, there's a better option anyway. Specifically the most devastatingly powerful and game-breaking unit in Civ 2. I am of course talking about Diplomats. Oh, there are also Nuclear Missiles I guess. Those are the second-most devastating. Nukes unlock at the same time as Cruise Missiles but are only available if some player (doesn't matter who) has made the Manhattan Project wonder. NEVER build that wonder until you have this tech and you are 100% certain that the enemy will NEVER be able to capture any city you control or use a Diplomat to steal the tech from you. You see, the AI has not yet begun to cheat. Once it gets nukes, the gloves come off. The AI can buy (for free as far as I can tell) and INSTANTLY acquire and launch a Nuke in any of their cities to attack any of your cities within a nuke's massive 16 move range. They don't even need to wait 1 turn for the production to actually finish. Also their missiles teleport. So you can't actually block the path to your cities or anything. Also they know your city's locations, even if unscouted. And they can often just poof a unit nearby to instantly seize the city too.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First of all, a Nuke's stats don't really mean anything. Other than its 16 move and 160 shield (same as a Battleship) cost that is. How does it actually work? Well, when a Nuke launches an attack, it auto-wins. Doesn't matter what it's attacking. Every single unit in the attacked tile and in every tile surrounding that tile is killed instantly, regardless of defensive stats and who owns the units. The Nuke is consumed. Being in a city or a Fortress is no protection; all units in those within range die instantly too. If a city is in the area, its population is halved. Oh and Pollution appears on bunches of the nearby squares, quickly causing global warming.
I honestly struggle to describe how powerful this is. Nukes do not play the same game that other units do. They don't even really have stats the way other units do. Even Cruise Missiles play by rules of Attack and Defense and only affect a single target.
If you're going to use Nukes, you should be ready to build and launch dozens the instant the Manhattan Project finishes. Don't just hit one or two enemy cities; hit every enemy city within 16 squares of one of your cities right then and there. Sell every building you own and spend infinity gold building the things if you have to; it's worth it. Screw conquering them even; a civ that has been thoroughly nuked is out of the game. No matter how much better than you a hypothetical multiplayer opponent is, you can run him over effortlessly after blowing up his whole army and cutting his economy in half at one stroke. This is not even getting into Global Warming, which instantly ruins every civ that isn't Ocean-reliant forever. Even people you haven't met. If you're the first guy to get Nukes in multiplayer and you don't win, you really botched things terribly.
There is only one thing in Civ 2 that Nukes can be compared to: Diplomats. Incite Revolt and Nuclear Missiles are the only two AoE attacks in the entire game. Incite gives you control of every unit within 1 radius of the city for free while Nuclear Missile merely kills them all, so Incite Revolt is more useful overall (and consumes a cheaper unit and is lower tech).
Nukes definitely are less dangerous than Diplomats all in all, which is sad and terrible, but they're still amazing. Like Diplomats, even incompetent use of them breaks the game and obsoletes all other units and invalidates all enemy tactics. And like with Diplomats, there is only a single defense available in the whole game. This time it's the SDI Defense improvement rather than "Be a Democracy". Unlike with Diplomats and Democracy, SDI Defenses unlock at roughly the same time as Nukes, so the enemy isn't completely helpless for thousands of years. However, unlike with Diplomats, SDI Defenses must be painstakingly and expensively built in every single city (or close to it). If a Nuke tries to attack a unit or city within 3 tiles of a city that has an SDI Defense, the attack fails and the Nuke is wasted. But every SDI Defense costs as much as a small wonder to build and a horrible 4 gold per turn to maintain. It's just not feasible to make many of the things, let alone basically 1 for every single city you own. Oh and even if you have an SDI Defense, a Spy can still walk up to a city and "Plant a Nuclear Device", which has the exact same effect. So at the end of the day, there is no defense. Nuke to your heart's content and never let the enemy get access to the things. Whoever gets them first either wins or has no idea what they're doing.
I'd like to make some concluding remarks here summing everything up, but that's really hard. Like I said, which units are actually good in the modern era depends on your playstyle and goals because they all have unique capabilities and may be unlocked in a very different order. There are a few like Cruise Missiles and Marines which are just clearly inferior to others and a few like Nuclear Missiles which are clearly amazing.
What I can do is point out a major change to how war works in modern era Civ 2 compared to earlier. Earlier in the game it was quite easy to make a nearly invincible city. Just putting it on a Hill with City Walls and 2 or so Phalanxes meant it could never be taken except with a Diplomat.
Late in Civ 2 it's almost impossible to make a city which can't be taken from you effortlessly. In early Civ 2 you need very large armies of cavalry and Diplomats and ships to wage war efficiently, power through tough defenses, and occupy the territory you take. In late Civ 2, about two units will suffice to conquer an entire civilization if they're well-chosen units. Instead of a pattern of slowly bringing up overwhelming forces around your target and then unleashing one massive attack which costs you a bunch of troops but (hopefully) gives you the target city, the new pattern is that a Super Attacker which has 99% odds to win takes out every single defender the city has, and then a Capturer conquers the empty city. Those two can then move on to the next city with you speed-buying a defender. Or not even bothering since a competent enemy can take it back just as easily regardless of defenses you build.
The Super Attacker could be a Battleship or a Bomber/Stealth Bomber or a Howitzer or a Nuke or any number of other things. The Capturer could be a Paratrooper or an Alpine Troops or a Partisan or a Marine on a Transport. Doesn't really matter. The point is that it's trivially easy to sweep away any defense with one of several kinds of units, then one of several flavors of special infantry can ignore terrain or teleport or come in off the Ocean to seize it from complete safety.
It's "rocket tag" gameplay, often quite literally, because there are so many styles of attack which can only be defeated by specialized defenses. And sometimes not even then. Bombers can MAYBE be beaten by serious defensive troops backed up by SAM Batteries with Fighters on hand. Battleships can MAYBE be beaten by serious defensive troops backed up by Coastal Fortresses. Traditional mass Armor/other ground units can MAYBE be defeated by serious defensive troops backed up by City Walls. Nukes can be blocked with SDI Defenses. Diplomats can be blocked by being a Democracy. Howitzers can only be defeated by killing them before they hit you. Spies coming to plant nukes can only be defeated by killing them before they hit you. Global Warming can only be defeated by having a lot of Oceans nearby, a Harbor, an Offshore Platform, and also some Engineers.
So just to survive, a city needs to have a City Wall, Coastal Fortress, SAM Battery, SDI Defense, Harbor, Offshore Platform, lots of ocean, numerous very strong defensive soldiers, numerous very strong offensive soldiers, several Engineers, and the player needs to be using a Democracy. Even then it can't possibly hold up against a determined attack. All the opponent needs is to have one decent offensive unit break one hole in your outer ring of scouts and then have a Transport or the like rush through with a Spy to nuke you. At that point it's all over. And while you maintain this defense, it's draining your treasury by something like 20 gold per city plus numerous shields.
In other words, defense is impossible once everyone has every tech. Each city can be defended against a few things, but all your enemy has to learn is which cities lack which defenses. At that point there's nothing you can do to stop him from seizing them if he knows what he's doing. You'd better be doing the same thing back but faster.
The reason this absurdity doesn't ruin the game in multiplayer is that it only applies when everyone has every offensive and defensive tech. Up until then, the game is vastly more interesting. Plus no one gets all the wonders they want; that's what really puts people in tricky situations. If one guy does get all his key wonders, the game is as good as over.
And in singleplayer of course it doesn't apply because the AI is too stupid to deliberately defend itself against any kind of competent attack in any era.
This Let's Play will be finished soon. If anyone has a question I've left unanswered or a topic they want me to address, now is the time to ask!