Civilization V Multiplayer Concepts: City Defense and the Choke
With Civilization V only roughly two weeks away it's time to think about the new features and how they may affect Multiplayer. Robert already has started a discussion about how one unit per tile will affect MP. I'll try to take a look at a new feature of Civ V that has the potential to change Multiplayer at least in the early stages of the game radically: The new defense abilities of cities. As the game isn't out yet some of this is based on assumptions and speculations, but I'll revisit this topic once we have a little more experience with the live game.
In Civ V the cities are a lot different to the cities in Civ IV. The cities in Civ IV were the apple of your empire's eye - they needed constant attention and sufficient defense garrisons as they could fall easily to an opponent's attack. If a unit - in ancient era games most notably those pesky starting warriors - moved up to your ungarrisoned city this threatened the loss of the city, if not the elimination of the game if it was your starting and only city. A lot of players have been eliminated from games due to the so-called warrior kills.
Civ V will change this dramatically. Cities no longer need garrisons (and they can only be defended by 1 unit because of the one unit per tile restriction), so consequently the developers granted them the ability to defend themselves. This alone will result in a lot less of those stupid kills by single units we experienced in Civ IV MP - a good change in my opinion because it was so annoying if you told a player to get defense or to not hit with his last unit and of course he did and died. The devs not only granted the city an inherent defense value, but cities now too can act like ranged units - they can bombard enemy units. Again this will help to minimize those early kills as the approaching units will lose health points and therefore not be able to break the city defense.
While not having early kills is good, the new feature also brings a strategic shift with it. The stratagem that is changed is: Choking. With that term a situation is described where a player cannot move around units - most notably his workers and settlers - in his land freely because they would be threatened by enemy units. A choke simply prevents the player from improving his resources and land and therefore pushes him back compared to the rest of the player. In teamer games a hard choke can be equal to a kill. Playing under a choke was the toughest situation to be in, especially against strong players. Luckily there were some strategies that showed how to play under a choke and evtually get rid of it - jobe has already posted a nice compilation of them.
Because a correctly played choke could be almost equal to a kill it is not surprising that choking also is a strategy one can gear his play towards. In high-level MP there were two games: The staging-room game and the Civ game. The staging-room game revolved around choosing a strategy and picking the leaders which would fit into that strategy. For a choking strategy you want unique units which help you in that case: Mali with its pimped-up Skirmishers, the Natives with their Dog Soldier, The Aztecs and the woodland-powered Jaguars, the Babylonians with their Bowmen or the Incans with their Aggressive Quechuas, to name the most prominent choices. A game could be lost in the staging-room just by picking the wrong Civs - if the two teams were equal in skill.
Choking and its possibilities added a lot to the strategic depth of high-level Multiplayer because you had to have a plan - either playing the strategy correctly or finding means playing against it. With Civilization V the days of choking will presumably be gone - if you want to choke, your unit will be an easy target for the city's ranged ability and the mop up from another unit. Trying to choke equals to gifting your opponent experience points for his units. We yet have to see how choking may work in a teamer game where it may be possible to go for just one player with 4 or 5 units at a time - mounted units spring to mind for this as the defender will have not enough units for using the zone of control feature (this feature forces units to use up all movement points regardless of how many they have left if the enter a tile next to an enemy unit), and so the advance to the city may be faster and actually a threat. But even then I think this will no longer be choking as we were used to it in Civ IV - simply because either you lose your units or you kill the city.
One principle of the anti-choke will still hold though - identify your key strategic tiles (see the article about defending in Civ IV MP for that) and get rid of your forests as soon as possible. As units will suffer from a -15% strength penalty on flat ground your cities will become untouchable by choke attempts.
My opinion - without having seen or played the game yet - is that choking is dead. I guess we will have fun picking off those units that are bold enough to try!