Age of Wonders [2] – A Mission Together, Part 1

I thought I’d do something different this time. Instead of making up a story, or writing down my thoughts, I’ll play through a mission in Age of Wonders and write down everything that happens. Win or lose, it will be documented.

Earthquake, Part 1

Before we start

At this point in the campaign, we get to pick our path. We can help the lizardmen and have them join the Keeper alliance, or we can lead the dwarves through some rough times. I’m a fantasy traditionalist, so I go with the dwarves and their Earthquake mission.

Age of Wonders - Earthquake Mission

Before deciding on a mission, you can read through a description.

We have 525 points available in our retinue budget. This budget is used to transfer things from the previous mission. Since all our items suck, we take our hero friend as well as some useful units. We fill the rest with gold. You can never have too much gold.

Age of Wonders - Retinue Screen

Keep in mind, I’m a newbie to Age of Wonders. It just might be that these items are actually extremely powerful.

Something happens for the first time in the campaign for me. I get to pick two additional magic spheres, which allows me to research more spells. I’ll be playing the heroic/holy type, so I went with all life magic for now.

Age of Wonders - Magic Spheres

The first three spheres is what I started the game with.

Mission start – Setting up the empire

There’s one last decision I have to make before I start playing. After the mission loads, the spell research screen pops up. I decide to go with High Prayer, because it seems it might be useful in larger fights.

Age of Wonders - Spell Research

You don’t get a huge amount of picks, but it should be enough.

And that’s it. The game can now begin. We start out with more than one group of units, so I do some rearranging and send a unit to capture the nearby tower. It’s a strange start. There are no cities and we’re surrounded by mountains, with a cave nearby.

Age of Wonders - Mission Start

Not much hand holding. That’s fine. I can figure it out.

However, we have two units able to tunnel through caves, so this is exactly what we will be doing. Within a couple of turns, we send our army down through the cave and tunnel to a mine we immediately capture. There was a goblin unit nearby a turn ago, but it’s gone somewhere else.

Age of Wonders - Cave Tunneling

Tunneling is slow, but all it takes is to create a passage.

A couple of extra turns of digging reveals the strategy. There’s a ruined city of Icarus nearby. We have three constructor units and we can use one of them to rebuild it.

Age of Wonders - Ruined City of Icarus

You can’t create your own cities, just capture or rebuild.

There’s something else typical of Age of Wonders nearby. You see, Diplomacy in this game plays a big role about how things turn out. If you are in good relations with a race, neutral units of that race wont attack you. In fact, they can even join you, for a price or even for free if you’re on especially good terms. It also works the other way around, of course. Bad relations lead to deserting units and cities that revolt. Why am I saying this? There are two dwarven units nearby, and they are willing to join.

Age of Wonders - Recruiting

We need to dig to get to the second unit, but the first one is within our reach.

Full disclosure here. Rebuilding a city costs 25 gold. You start out with a decent amount, but a high amount of units means I had a negative income for the first couple of turns and went down to almost zero by the time I got to the ruins. There’s a cache of gold nearby which you can collect, but I cheated a bit here. I restarted the mission and made all the same decisions as the ones I have above, but rushed with the builders and the tunnelers to get to the ruin site before running out of gold. One more turn and I would have been at zero again, but this way, I managed to rebuild.

Exploration reveals more demolished cities, but our negative income means I had to abuse the gold pickups scattered around the map. I would wait for my builders to arrive on site before picking up the gold and then immediately rebuilding the city.

Age of Wonders - Caves

There are road signs scattered throughout the caves, giving hints on tunnel directions.

It takes a couple of turns for the rebuilding to actually happen after you select it. During that time, I continue to explore. There’s a goblin beetle running towards the north, so I use my main force to pursue, while using the tunnelers and constructors to rebuild the three ruined cities I found.

Icarus is the first to be rebuilt. It slightly raises our income, but we’re still in the negative, so there isn’t much we can do yet.

Age of Wonders - City of Icarus

The town screen allows recruitment of units and purchasing of upgrades. There are no buildings per say.

The second town isn’t enough for a net zero either and by this point, we are lacking the gold to build more. Luckily, there’s a pickup to be had for one last city, as well as a mine to bring us to a +8 income. Another mine brings it even higher, but now we’re out of builder units, so we can’t rebuild any more cities anyway.

Over the next few turns, I sent the hero’s group into the wrong direction, so the goblin beetle sneaks past him and manages to capture two of my mines. It takes me a couple of more turns to catch up to it and kill it. Another group of goblins comes in from the south, so it’s very tense for a few turns. As I said in my previous report, I play with the simultaneous turns feature turned on, which complicates things when it comes to managing defenses.

Age of Wonders - Tense Situation

Will I be able to reach the enemy in time?

Lucky for me, the two groups decide to merge and go for my two surface mines. I would have caught up with them the next turn, but both of my heroes gain a level, so I’m unable to move my units due to the pop-up. These automatic pop-ups can all be disabled in the options, but I tend to miss things unless they’re in my face, so I opted not to.

Age of Wonders - Leveling

You pick new skills, or upgrade attributes.

I decide to buy Cave Crawling and invest a single point into defense for both of my heroes. The defense is because they tend to get targeted first in battles and the skill is for obvious reasons – the mission takes place in caves. Unfortunately, this also means I’ll have to put the elven units I brought with me in to city defending positions and take dwarven units with me.

Eventually, I catch up with the enemy on the surface and we have our first battle in this mission.

Age of Wonders - First Battle

It ended up being an easy fight. The beetle was the only danger, but it fell in the second turn.

Even though this force is destroyed, our northern mine is captured again a few turns later, so I send my army to explore. I soon find the source of the trouble – a goblin city. I’m fully intent on capturing it immediately, except for one problem – it has walls, so I need a battering ram.

Age of Wonders - Goblin City

With four units defending it, it will be an easy fight. All I need is some siege.

Though my income is negative again, I still have barely enough gold to queue one up in the closest city, as well as an extra one with the remaining gold the next turn, just in case.

All this time was also spent to research the first two spells I picked – High Prayer and Resurrect Hero. Now, we get our next pick and several higher level spells become available. I pick Summon Gold Dragon because it sounds absolutely awesome.

It takes a while for the ram to get up north, but when it does, there’s a slightly larger battle.

I was worried before it all started because the enemy unit count was slowly rising, but during the turn I attacked, the goblins decided to send a few of their troops away for some reason, which made things much easier for me. Additionally, the AI decided that it would be a good idea to get out of the city walls and attack me on the field, making it even easier. It also made the siege equipment redundant, but the game doesn’t allow you to attack a walled city if you don’t have any siege.

Age of Wonders - City Battle

The red thing you see is a targeting area for my dwarven archer.

I immediately start migrating the city to dwarves, since the current race doesn’t like me at all. The city was guarding a passage to another map layer – the depths. This was the first time for me to visit this place. I got in, captured a fire node, which increases my mana income and went back to the caves immediately. I decided I’m not really ready. The good thing is that I’ll be able to defend from this direction as soon as I get some decent units.

Age of Wonders - Depths

Maybe “depths” is short for “depths of hell”? It sure looks that way.

During this same turn as I go to the depths with most of my military, I realize where the three extra goblin units went – to the south. They got extremely close to one of my undefended cities. This is a situation where the simultaneous turns feature can help. If I’m quick enough, I can send my troops into the city to defend it.

Age of Wonders - Another tense situation

Will we make it?

Of course, what happens is that one of my heroes levels up and I’m unable to act due to the pop-up. Luckily, the enemy decides to capture my undefended mine first, though one unit is somehow missing again. I attack the mine with my assembled troops and win, with some minor losses. However, there was only two units that I fought, so one was still hiding somewhere and on the next turn, it captures my northern mine again. It didn’t last long, though.

Mid-game, maybe?

Meanwhile, several things happened in the southern tunnels. For one, they aren’t tunnels anymore. I’ve been using my tunnelers to clear out the entire area and transform it into a nice cave, with choke points in directions of possible attacks. Also, thanks to all of this tunneling, I found another city to the southeast, with two mines right next to it. My income is very nice now.

Age of Wonders - Southern Cave

You can’t dig through solid rock, so places surrounded by it are safe. Attacks can come either from the depths, or from the southwest.

The empire is growing and I have more time to explore. I send the hero’s party to the north to see what I can find in the depths. To the south, I keep digging and soon find a builder’s guild. This means I can build towers and roads above ground, which is useless. Far more importantly, I can rebuild the remaining two ruined cities in the great cave.

Age of Wonders - Builder's Hall

The Builder’s Hall is like a small city. You can’t build walls, but you can train units and it provides income.

I explore the depths for a bit and soon find an exit to a different part of the caves level. There are three groups of enemy troops there, which I attack with my hero and his units. There’s a feature here that I have yet to see any other game do this well. If you attack a group of enemies standing next to other groups, all of these adjacent groups join you on the battlefield, friend or enemy.

We also see the AI exhibiting strange behavior. I cast the Ooze spell, which covers part of the battlefield in mud, halving movement speed over it. Even though it takes longer, the enemy decides to go around it for some reason.

Age of Wonders - Ooze Spell

Ooze ends up being more cost effective here than Ice Bolts.

I heavily use this to my advantage to make the enemy split up into smaller groups, allowing me to kill them one by one without any losses on my side. They were actually guarding a city, which I immediately capture and start migrating to dwarves.

To the west of the great cave, there’s another neutral city ruin, next to an undeground river with a bridge. This becomes my primary choke point now, especially since goblin units were spotted past the bridge. I immediately move to start creating defenses there and rebuild the city.

Unfortunately, I’m not quick enough. A group of goblin flying units manages to sneak by and and capture two of my undefended cities before I can respond and push them back. Luckily, they don’t raze anything, but it’s a scary couple of turns. At this point, I decide to assign each of my heroes a group of their own. Elric, the main protagonist would go west, past the bridge, while the other hero, a halfling named Devon Strongberry, would go north, through the depths tunnel to the other part of the caves, where I captured my latest city.

Age of Wonders - Logistics

I’m not sure how hero experience works, but it makes sense to have a hero lead an army if possible.

It didn’t take long for me to find another goblin city to the west, guarded by a hero. I have giants with me now, meaning I don’t need battering rams for an assault. As usual, as soon as I capture this city, I migrate it to dwarves. The choke point now moves further west.

On the northeastern front, I finally find another exit to the surface world. I lucked out here, because Devon’s unit consists of mostly elven troops I brought over from the previous mission, so they are well suited for exploring the surface.

Save often!

And then it happens. I move further west with Elric and get ambushed by a large group of enemy units. Two of their strong ones targets Elric and he’s down in the second turn, before I can heal him. Since he’s the protagonist, he can’t die, meaning it’s game over. Usually, this means reloading an autosave, but for some reason, the game decided not to save automatically, so my last save is from half an hour earlier, when I temporarily lost two cities in the great cave.

For me, this is the perfect time to take a break, so that’s exactly what I do. You can see what happens next in my second report.