Part 5: Turn 5: Phenomenal Cosmic Power
Good news! First, our research in Evocation is complete. Second, we fought some barbarians.
Wait, our what in what is complete?
Let's get back to that after the barbarians.
I "cheated" a bit in this fight. I started a bunch of singleplayer games, found an equivalent independent province, and tested out my strategy against it a bunch of times. My conclusion was that I'd win, but I'd probably lose my elephant. In every single test, the elephant ran in with the rest of the forces, did a bunch of damage, got gangbanged to death by barbarians, and the barbarians routed almost immediately after the elephant died. The only way I came up with to save my elephant resulted in far more deaths and a near rout, so with heavy heart I decided to sacrifice my elephant for the good of the nation.
First, I somehow managed to perfectly place my army to easily get the first strike. What you're seeing is the barbarian horde running up to my forces and not attacking - I was just baaarely out of range of them.
Second, look at this - the elephant ended up trapped behind my Peltasts! This gives my forces one or two more turns of attrition to knock down Barbarians (and lose a few Peltasts and Phalangites.)
Once the elephant does get in, it stomps a few squares of Barbarians . . .
. . . and the remaining forces immediately flee. My elephant takes literally no damage in the entire fight, though I do lose five other units.
In half a dozen single-player tests I never saw a result this good.
Here's the map. I obviously could have taken the province directly north of my army, and, possibly, should have. On the other hand, the resources from my new forest province will help production substantially. Overall, I'm calling this the right decision.
Also, note that there's more black candles southeast of my capital, past the lake. This would be another nation - who, I couldn't tell you yet. Luckily, there's a lake between me and them, so I don't have to worry too much about immediate invasion. You know, I really like this starting spot, now that I've had time to look at it more. Lakes aren't the perfect defensive blockade that you might hope, but they certainly help.
Let's Learn About The Game: Research
I mentioned earlier on that Dominions 3 is a game of high magic, and you've seen no magic so far. Where's the magic? Well, the magic has to be researched.
Magic in Dominions 3 is divided into seven schools. Each school is independent and includes its own path of spells. And there's a lot of spells - nine levels in each of seven schools, with perhaps ten spells per level, gives you well over 500 individual spells.
(Future Me: I know this is the point where you'd expect me to write "blah blah I am terrible I don't know what I was thinking all of the stuff coming after this is totally bogus", but on re-reading I actually think I did a good job here. So, to the best of my knowledge, these school descriptions are accurate.)
Conjuration is focused around summoning powerful creatures, or swarms of less powerful creatures, to fight for you. Conjuration's spells tend to be prefixed with "Summon", "Call", "Revive", "Awaken", and "Contact". Some spells will summon temporary creatures for a single battle, some summon powerful entities that can be added to your forces permanently. Many nations have nation-specific Conjuration spells. Arco has Summon Sirrush (an "ancient, sacred dragon"), and Summon Monster Boar. If I use the latter, I will consider it a moral imperative to make boar/bore jokes. You have been warned.
Alteration mostly includes short-term combat buffs, including resistances and offensive improvements. There are extraordinarily powerful defensive spells in here, some of which will make the caster nigh-invulnerable to non-magical weapons. The top level of Alteration provides a phenomenally powerful spell known as Wish, which is one of the end-game spells and one of the standard paths to win with.
Evocation is designed around direct combat spells and elemental effects. This is where you'll see Fireball, Shadow Bolt, Blade Wind, and similar "do damage to the enemy" spells. This is where I'm concentrating my research right now, although that's not actually for the purpose of damaging spells - I'm going for Arcane Probing, a level-2 spell that will let me search my kingdom for Astral magic sites.
Construction includes a few bits of combat magic and summoning magic, but most importantly, it allows you to forge a variety of powerful artifacts. Armor, weapons, and magic boosters are available, for a price. We'll be seeing some of these later, assuming I survive to forge them.
Enchantment is a grab-bag at lower levels, but at higher levels it starts including battlefield-wide buffs and debuffs, and even kingdom-wide buffs. A single high-level Enchantment spell can easily turn the tide of an entire battle or provide dozens of gems every turn to the caster's kingdom.
Thaumaturgy is full of "high-magic" spells - spells that are not designed to cause elemental effects or simple mechanical buffs, but spells that manipulate the very fabric of reality. Mind control and teleportation spells live here, as do a number of esoteric and frequently-hard-to-use techniques. Thaumaturgy is a strange school because generally you only want a few spells from it, but those particular spells can be the lynchpin of your entire strategy.
Blood Magic is different from the other schools. Blood Magic covers all varieties, but requires a completely different economy and gameplan, based around kidnapping virgin women and sacrificing them to the powers of darkness. Most of the time you either get heavily into blood magic or don't touch it at all, and I'm almost certainly going to be doing the latter.
So where does this research come from?
These guys! Or, girls, in this case. All Magicians are able to provide research every turn if they're at a magical laboratory, and that's what I've been building my hordes of Sibyls for. Each one is giving me seven research points per turn and I'm going to keep churning them out probably for the entire game.
Here's the spells I picked up this turn. The majority of these are crummy attack spells, either close-range or long-range and extremely weak. I'm not planning to ever use anything we've gotten so far. And yes, there are a pile of Level 0 spells, which are even worse and are just not worth touching at all.
I'll have Arcane Probing in two turns, and then I'll switch to my next project. What will that be? We'll see once I get there, though I currently lean towards Thaumaturgy for another pile of sitesearching spells.
I load my new elephants and warriors onto my new commander. I'm not entirely happy about this group - I would have liked more Hypaspists - but my resource limit kept making it a better idea to pick up Cerulean Warriors. Hopefully, as my resource limit increases, I'll get more options. They're sent northwest to start clearing a path to Fort Site Beta. I'd like to get that underway ASAP. On the way, I'll have them pick up that chunk of farmland, which should provide a good deal of income.
Originally I was planning to bring my now-elephant-less strike team back to my capital and give it more forces. However, since the elephant survived, this is suddenly a little less critical. I keep it moving around my capital, hitting the southern province.
My scout moves up to Fort Site Beta. I'd love to start spreading dominion around there so I can pretend it's mine.
The new province, unsurprisingly, allows me to recruit Barbarians. I don't really want Barbarians - my Cerulean Warriors are much cheaper, hit almost as hard, and are far, far more durable. Barbarians are one of those units that are annoying to find in independent provinces but surprisingly non-useful for actual players.
One downside to my available provinces is that I'm ending up a bit money-starved. All of my populations are around 5000 - I really need to find a few 10,000 provinces, as my income is not increasing nearly as quickly as my resources are, and I'm slowly burning through my first-turn money reserves. This is another advantage to Fort Site Beta. My capital is next to a bunch of mountains and forests, which is great for resources and crummy for income. Beta is right next to three separate farmlands and several non-mountain areas, great for income and crummy for resources. Since capital troops tend to be more powerful per gold than non-capital troops, this is nearly ideal, although as Arco the only capital troops I have are my Cerulean Warriors, Sibyls, and Heart Companions.