Part 10: Nation Overview: U, part 1 (guest post by Xanrick)
This is U. U is a bit strange, and probably plays the least like how a normal Dominions nation should play of any of the mod nations in this game.
U's lore is a sort of mythological fever-dream, drawing from scraps of the weird imaginings of Europeans of the Terra incognita of the interior of Africa, myths surrounding the legendary continent of Mu, mixed with references to philosophical thought experiments, and the fantastic imagery of Hieronymus Bosch.
From a game play standpoint, it is a nation with severe limitations, if one wishes to play it as a normal dominions nation. In its place, it offers dozens of custom spells and summons that offer a variety of options. Some of these options entail the possibility of a wholly different strategy and play style, making U function as a very different nation depending on your choice of pretender and overall strategy.
That said, your options for recruitable troops and commanders are pretty limited:
First up, the humble foundation of all things U:
The Protozoon is not much to look at, particularly the lack of offensive power and fairly poor defensive stats means that they will die in droves. However, they are absurdly cheap at the cost of one gold. Plus, if you look at them through the lens of gold-cost to hit points, they are far and away the best deal you're going to find, and, if nothing else, they can keep your opponent's troops tied up while your own more valuable units do their job.
Being low-cost and at size 1, they benefit disproportionately well from buffs and remain useful into the late game as chaff, as being mindless they will never run from battle.
There are several drawbacks of course. Mindless magic units will dissipate automatically on the battlefield without the presence of commanders possessing magic leadership. Fortunately nearly all of U's commanders have at least some of this. The bigger problem is being able to transport them in sufficient quantities to fight in offensive battles.
Since they are only effective in very large numbers, you end up needing to dedicated magic commanders to assist shuffling them around, pretty much necessitating the recruitment of specialized U commanders. Attrition tends to be high, so you will constantly need to resupply your numbers. This can make your offensives ponderous when it takes multiple turns to bring up reinforcements.
Another big drawback is their vulnerability to large evocation magic, particularly spells that hit the whole battlefield, which destroy these feet and arms very quickly.
In summation, they are a powerful tool, but one that needs a great deal of support to reach its full potential. Most of the decisions I made this game went into bringing out this potential.
Next up, the Lilliputian:
While these troops also benefit from being size 1 (fitting 6 to a square) and have a good defense stat, their benefits do not offset the numerous downsides. Terrible morale, terrible magic resistance and no protection beyond their ability to dodge attacks in melee makes them incredibly fragile. Compared to the Protozoon they essentially have most of the same weaknesses while possessing positives that don't make up for it.
There's some case to be made for mixing in a few in armies to make use of their nets, but there's only a handful of situations that would make it worthwhile in my experience.
This is most basic blemmye troop and reflects some common themes amongst U's troops the rather well. Low morale and magic resistance combined with zero protection leaves them incredibly vulnerable. This is offset by what can be considered great combat stats for the cost, (though average in the grand scheme of things) particularly their hp, but low morale combined with their tendency to die in droves is not exactly a great combination.
As such, they generally will only be effective if you can swarm opponents in large numbers. Having two attacks helps with this, and, unlike other U troops, these guys can be recruited from any province without a fort. This helps a bit to make up for the generally high attrition they are going to suffer.
Epiphagos have some potential. With a +3 berserk, two attacks (one of which is armor piercing) and enough hp for the berserker status to matter fairly often, these aren't bad. Like most of U's troops, they are going to need to be massed to be effective, which can cause serious supply problems and unrest. The cost starts being an issue as well, since they aren't any more survivable than a basic tribesman, and U's gold income is, at best, going to be half of any other normal nation.
I could see using them when fighting more heavily armored troops that have limited offensive power.
Weird size 3 tramplers. I've never spent 9 gold on these, but I will end up with some of them through other means. Only real standout here is the high combat speed. They tend to get owned like most size 3 tramplers do against standard size 2 troops.
The Sciapod Athlete is an elite(?) U troop. They have good stats, but unfortunately at size 3 and one melee attack they don't really get as much mileage out of it as they could. They have Sloth Power -1, which means they get better stats in provinces with production scales. I see them as a semi-viable option when playing U with good scales and little/no bless, although they are liable to die in droves to any ranged attack.
The cap-only Dancer of the Foot U's only normal sacred recruitable troop. It generally follows in the vein of Sciapod Athlete, though fortunately it trades the sloth/production power for a strong magic attack. With only 1 attack on a size 3 body, these guys aren't going to completely tear into densely packed troops, but they will hit consistently and for good damage.
These are probably the best option for expansion, but considering their fragility, it is best to support them with Protozoons or other chaff to absorb lances and arrows in their place whenever possible.
An unusual recruitable variant of a low level conjuration summon in vanilla Dominions. Blemmye cave cows have a slightly better strength, allowing their acid-spit attack to have slightly better range and damage. They also provide supplies. Even though they cost 15 gold to recruit, they do not cost upkeep, a fact that I overlooked for quite some time and has improved my opinion of them.
I think they may have some purpose in the right army compositions, however the very short range, and the very real risk of friendly fire could cause problems.
Sciapod champions have decent offensive power and pretty impressive stats in provinces with production. They do require a giant commander to lead them, and like the athletes, they seem to be best suited for a scales strategy.
Another oddball. Basically impossible to mass in large numbers, these troops possess the only thing that might be considered armor in the form of the the bolder acting like a shield. In practice, I've not found this to be very effective. As units that trample with a combat speed of 7 and 8 encumbrance they rarely make much of an impact before dying.
Gavagai are expensive and rather vulnerable to getting swarmed and killed, however they can pack a punch if used carefully. They also have great siege warfare bonuses and make U fairly competent at siege warfare.
Now, onto commanders:
If you are going to use protozoons (and you should) you're probably going to need these Megatriskelios commanders to move them around. Other than their lack of protection, they actually have some great stats, such that I would expect them to fair well against assassination attempts. Being a mindless commander they will always fight to the death, which is generally a good thing if you've got protozoons on the field, provided you can spare the commander recruitment points to replace them.
The Anthropophagos is the lynch pin of about half of the strategies available to U. Blood is one of the rare schools magic in which having one access to a single rank is a viable base to work from, and given enough time, will provide access to extremely powerful commanders, troops and battlefield magic. The most important factor of a blood mage is its cost, and the anthropophagos at 35 gold is a steal.
There are a couple of downsides of course with the pop-kill trait and 1 unrest generated per turn which work directly against the goals of converting your population into blood slaves, but they are manageable. They make for very poor research mages even when they hit their 50% roll for a rank of earth magic. You also won't generally want large stacks of them in a single province due to the unrest and pop-kill effects. And like all of U's recruitable mages, they get a penalty at forging equipment adding one to the cost of all forging.
The largest hurdle for fully exploiting blood magic is the difficulty that U has with massing mages. At the start of the game U is stuck with only being able to build palisades, which do not provide any bonus to commander recruitment points. This means that at best you can recruit its most basic mages once every two turns. You can only partially circumvent this by building more forts and recruitment centers since you still pay the full cost for labs, while having halved gold income.
Since U's blood mages are such poor researchers you are have a hard split between recruiting blood hunters to start your blood economy or recruiting researchers.
I generally opted to stay out of blood initially and to try and focus on hitting my major research goals until I got past the bottleneck of commander point recruitment.
That meant I spent the majority of the early game recruiting these guys:
Make no mistake, Priests of the palm are very bad mages. They have very few spells that are worthwhile in battle except for defensive buffs. They could potentially use an earth gem to cast earth power and hit e2 magic, but this does not substantially improve their situation. (Also earth gems are way too important to U to burn carelessly, but more on that later.)
One saving grace is that 55 gold for a sacred priest mage is a good price, and they make a pretty good basic research mage, although again you will only be recruiting one every other turn from your forts. Keeping up in research is a struggle, and you have very little access to good research boosters, particularly in the early game. A side-benefit is that priest of the palm per temple has the ability to summon one dancer of the foot per turn, which is generally worth doing once you can spare some mages from research.
What priests of the palm are good at has to do with the specific peculiarity of U's national spells. At level 4, 6 and 8 research of all of the schools of magic, barring blood and construction, you gain access to a set of national spells that summon different types of commander. These commanders are typically mages that have focused one type of spell or effect. The spells available at level 4 can be cast by all priests of the palm.
Generally speaking, it is in this fashion that you gain access to most of your battlefield spells.
The Satrap mage is a major investment for a U player. Between the gold cost, cap only status and four recruitment points, you are only likely to have a handful of these. As a standard dominions mage, they are barely more powerful than a priest of the palm with only one rank of earth magic. However, their main purpose is not for casting spells in battle, they exist almost solely for the purpose of casting the most powerful of U's national spells using their +1 bonus to ritual spell casting in order to hit earth 2 and holy 3.
In particular, most of the national summons at level 6 research or greater require a satrap to do the summoning.
Lastly, the Gavagai Chieftain seems like just a commander version of the gavagai troop. There is one thing that is noteworthy about them however, and it actually plays a major part in the strategy of playing U. This commander has the promotion ability, which means that after it accumulates a set amount of experience points, the commander will upgrade to a new form.
In this case, the upgraded form is the Gavagai King, who gains some minor earth magic and priestly powers, and mostly importantly, gains the mason trait. The mason trait gives the commander the ability to construct a fort at one level above what can normally be constructed by a nation. In the case of U, this allows the upgrading of palisades to fortresses, and allowing of 2 points of commander recruitment per turn. This can revolutionize your mage recruitment efficiency, particularly for your cap-only satraps.
Getting to 70 experience in a reasonable amount of time is not a small task however. The best method I have found is to recruit a few gavagai chieftains to reinforce your initial expansion army (bringing along additional troops whenever possible) and have them hang out at the edges of the main melee. If you are lucky, they will get a few kills in and avoid getting swarmed and killed. Killing enemy troops in melee is the fastest method to accumulate experience, and if all goes well you can pretty consistently get one or more gavagai kings around the start of year 2.