So…while I acknowledge that from a balance perspective the HRE is in a pretty good spot right now, their civilization’s actual design is kinda bizarre from a gameplay and civilization identity perspective, so I spent some time brainstorming an (admittedly unrealistic) change to the civilization that—in theory (and with proper tuning)—could really synergize with the HRE’s intended design.
The upgrades, landmarks, and units that are unique to the HRE establish that they are designed to be played defensively, with an emphasis on infantry and religious play. And while this is technically how they are typically played, there are some oddities that crop up in their design that contradicts this general design philosophy—and leads to some weird behaviors, as reflected in the current HRE meta.
THE PROBLEM (Skip ahead if you don’t care)
I. Building Bonuses
More than any other civ (except perhaps China), the Holy Roman Empire is designed to have the strongest defensive structures and building bonuses, with access to Emergency Repairs, the Elzbach palace, cheaper emplacements, and unique techs in the Keep and the Monastery that increase tower/wall HP, and the construction speed of inspired villagers—not to mention the fact that relics buff defensive structures.
However, other than wonder victories (which are essentially impossible to pull off except in 4v4 late game chokepoint maps), there isn’t really any win condition in the game that rewards prolonged defensive play. And so—with the exception of emergency repairs, cheaper emplacements, and relics in towers (none of which are often deemed essential), almost none of the HRE’s many structure bonuses ever see much use, and so a huge aspect of their intended identity is thus rendered underwhelming—especially in light of this community’s strong preference for open maps and early aggression.
II. Economic Turtling & Defensive Play
However, while defensive play and turtling aren’t directly supported by win conditions in and of themselves, they do tend to support strong economies that lead to booms, whereby the defensive player can eventually overcome their opponent by overwhelming them with a strong economy, turn the tide of the game, and eliminate their opponent with an offensive push. And so the strong economic bonuses that are provided for the HRE via prelates, increased relic gold, and the Palace of Swabia theoretically should reward HRE defensive play with enough economic boom to out-eco their opponent—given that their defenses hold.
But in practice, this isn’t really how things play out for the HRE. Rather than invest in defenses while investing in economic upgrades, building extra TC’s, or pursuing any other kind of boosts to their economy, the current HRE meta overwhelmingly encourages speed running the Feudal Age with the fewest defenses possible so that—right when the safest resources are being exhausted—the HRE can push out with castle age units to take map control, secure relics, and get out onto resources on the map or make a farm transition.
Moreover, there is a subtle encouragement to rush the Imperial Age as well as the Castle Age, in order to maximize the benefit of their obviously best Imperial Landmark choice: the Palace of Swabia.
So in other words, instead of being incentivized to turtle up and utilize defensive bonuses, build feudal MAA to defend against rams, and build up a strong economy, the HRE most often tries to skip as much of the feudal age as possible, and get to a place where they can leverage some map control, grab relics, and maybe even rush to the Imperial Age if they get an opportunity.
Their eco bonuses are ultimately, therefore, most often used for fast tech-ups—not for defensive play or for booming. And so the civ becomes all about timing pushes in the Castle Age and Imperial Age, rather than about defending aggression or outlasting opponents—or even having any real reason at all to take advantage of the myriad of HRE defensive bonuses.
III. Map Control & Religious Play
This odd contradiction within their design (between being designed for defensive turtling and economic booming, but being played with an emphasis on small timing windows surrounding their fast tech-ups) is easier to understand when we pay attention to two really significant side effects of their economic bonuses and religious bonuses:
1.) Having villagers gather 40% faster has the odd side effect of forcing HRE players off of their starting resources sooner than other civilizations, which makes turtling difficult to justify, and makes some form of map control after the first 10 minutes of the game almost always necessary.
2.) Having so many bonuses around religious play (and relics in particular) also ironically further makes map control kind of a necessity, despite the fact that the civilization’s emphasis on infantry and defensive play should make turtling a more viable option.
And so, rather than almost ever invest in defenses, HRE players rush the Castle Age, and either invest in knights to gain quick map control, or rush a Burgrave Palace as quickly as possible in order to flood the opponent’s base with units—either to end the game quickly, or in order to give the HRE breathing room and map control.
Compared to what seems to be their intended design, this is all kind of odd in retrospect, and virtually always utterly predictable.
These contradictions and oddities all coalesce together to make playing the HRE a weird experience for me. I really love their aesthetic, and the intended philosophy of their design, and so whenever (in a team game) I can play a defensive Feudal Age, hold off the aggression of 2 or 3 opponents at once, and give my teammates the opportunity to boom or flank the enemy, it’s always so satisfying! I have a lot of fun actually playing the HRE in feudal as a defensive civ.
But I always feel so punished by it when relics are inevitably gone from the map, my eco is far behind, and neither of my Castle Age landmarks feel particularly impactful, so I fall off.
It would be really cool to make some kind of change or addition to the civ that doesn’t necessarily neuter the way its currently played (since I’m sure plenty of people enjoy the current play style), but that also opens up additional options and ways to enjoy the HRE—ultimately making them less of a one note civ.
So, if there was a desire to open up more options for HRE players to actually turtle up, and not be punished for it, what kind of changes would need to be made to the civ?
I actually think a lot of these problems could be addressed by simply introducing one new mechanic (albeit a slightly complicated one) to the civilization: replace monasteries with a new, unique building called “Imperial Abbeys”.
Here are my ideas for the new building—acknowledging that the cost and stats could, and should, be adjusted and tuned for balance.
- The Imperial Abbey -
- Replaces the Monastery, and is available in the Dark Age
- Costs 150 wood and 150 stone
- Limited to 1 Imperial Abbey per age
- Imperial Abbeys (like the monastery) produce prelates, and research monastery techs (which remain unavailable until the Castle Age).
Each Imperial Abbey has a large influence radius called “Landeshoheit” which:
(1) increases the supply of natural resource sources within the radius of Landeshoheit by 20%.
- (So, for example, a small gold vein now provides 4,800 gold instead of 4,000, trees now provide 180 wood instead of 150, etc… This does NOT affect sheep or farms)
- …And (2) limits the construction of other Imperial Abbeys.
- In other words, no two Imperial Abbeys’ Landeshoheit radiuses can overlap. Therefore, their construction will have to be strategically spread out.
- (1) increases the supply of natural resource sources within the radius of Landeshoheit by 20%.
Additionally, up to 5 Holy Roman Empire villagers can be garrisoned ( permanently ) into each Imperial Abbey—where they dedicate their lives to work as monks or nuns.
- Once villagers are (permanently) garrisoned, the Imperial Abbey can be toggled between producing food or producing gold—whose production rate is based on the number of villagers garrisoned, roughly equal to the rate of normal inspired HRE villagers (~56 resources per min, per villager garrisoned). But the villagers do continue to count toward the population.
- Economic technologies and the Castle Age “Devoutness” technology do affect the gathering rate of “monks” and “nuns” (villagers) that are garrisoned inside Imperial Abbeys.
However, if an Imperial Abbey is destroyed, the villagers that were garrisoned within it instantly perish, and the player that destroyed the Abbey plunders it—receiving 250 gold.
- This makes Imperial Abbeys an extremely important structure to defend, and a very rewarding target for opponents to punish.
(Also, the “Benediction” Castle Age monastery tech should probably no longer provide a 15% faster construction speed. I don’t think anyone utilizes this tech. Instead, it should increase the range of prelate Holy Inspiration by 3 extra tiles, and extend the duration of the buff on villagers from 30 seconds to 45 seconds—making prelates more effective, and less difficult to manage in the late game. If this proved to strong, it could be reverted, or compensation buffs could be applied elsewhere.)
HOW DO THESE CHANGES ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS ABOVE?
1.) Economic Turtling: Between the Landeshoheit radius, and the potential for (a limited amount of) infinite food or gold generation based on the number of villagers garrisoned, the longevity of natural resources near the Holy Roman Empire portion of the map would be increased significantly. And in the same way that Professional Scouts and Farm Transitions involve an initial investment of resources in order to shore up safer economic production, so too Imperial Abbeys would provide a relatively accessible way to access safer resource production—at the cost of a slower age-up, and slower resource production than higher-risk, higher reward economic plays (like fishing, or taking the boar)
Imperial Abbeys would also, because of their ability to train prelates as early as the Dark Age, allow additional investment into the early economy, especially for players that opt for the Meinwork Palace instead of the Aachen Chapel.
And because the Imperial Abbeys would still rely on the garrisoning of villagers in order to produce resources, players would be incentivized to build additional town centers or economic upgrades earlier in the game, in order to take full advantage of this safer economic investment.
2.) Building Bonuses: Though Imperial Abbey’s don’t necessarily boost the HRE economy in any particularly noticeable way, they provide a lot of safety and longevity for the HRE economy against raids.
However, investing in too many Imperial Abbeys too early (which have to be spread out) leaves the HRE player extremely vulnerable to debilitating attacks, and since villagers cannot be un-garrisoned, and the Imperial Abbeys cannot be moved, static defenses suddenly become much more valuable to invest in, as does investing in additional TC’s or infrastructure to extend the Emergency Repairs bonus to the (spread out) Imperial Abbeys.
It would be important for HRE players to pick wise timings and locations to build their next Imperial Abbey, and would encourage the slow expansion of the buildings in the home base, rather than rapid expansion that leaves Imperial Abbeys vulnerable to attack.
Therefore, HRE defensive bonuses like cheaper emplacements, relics, unique techs, and especially the Elzbach Palace would all become significantly more valuable and viable for players that focus on developing a strong early economy through additional TC’s and Imperial Abbeys, rather than rushing to the Castle Age in order to gain mid-game map control.
3.) Map Control & Religious Play: Admittedly, the problem isn’t entirely addressed here by introducing Imperial Abbeys. If an opponent rushes to the Castle Age first and scoops up the relics, you will still be hurting. But there is now at least other opportunities for safe gold production other than relics, and it’s only fair that the Castle Age and map control do provide bonuses to the player that gets their first—which is also why it would still be perfectly viable to play the HRE as is currently meta, and wait to build Imperial Abbeys until later in the game.
Furthermore, even with a late Castle Age, the Burgrave Palace is still a strong option—so long as there’s a strong economy behind it. The opportunity to boost the early economy via Imperial Abbeys, additional TCs, and economic techs will delay a fast Castle Age timing, but also open up better longevity for the civilization as a whole, and allow Holy Roman Empire players to take better advantage of the myriad of ways in which prelates are designed to boost the economy (Up to 20 villagers permanently inspired in Imperial Abbeys by the Imperial Age without relying on prelates? Very pop efficient!)
4.) Variety: Finally, with the addition of Imperial Abbeys—so long as they are implemented in a balanced and effective way—the Holy Roman Empire would have access to some truly viable options beyond just trying to age up as quickly as possible, and would also have far more incentive to invest in static defenses and a lot of structures, as they slowly expand their base to make room for additional (safe) Imperial Monasteries. This would also open up the opportunity for very interesting combat, where specific HRE structures would become high value targets for opponents to exploit, and create unique combat scenarios for attacker and defender alike.
After all, Imperial Abbeys would be as much a defensive structure as they are and economic one, practically speaking, so over-investing in Abbeys or static defenses to defend Abbeys could easily cripple an HRE player who doesn’t also invest in their economy or military, and so base building and strategic decision making would become extremely important at every stage of the game.
And investing in early Abbeys without enough defenses would leave the HRE extremely vulnerable to some high value offensive plays.
Also, it isn’t as if the HRE wouldn’t still need to establish some kind of map control as the game progresses in order to get access to wood, stone, and sacred sites, but at least now they could more effectively turtle in the early game, and expand more slowly onto the map in conjunction with their civilization’s design.
I know this was quite the essay, and this is an unlikely change to be implemented, but it’s fun to think about game design, and who knows? Maybe it could inspire some tweaks for the HRE, or offer design inspiration for future civilizations (like the Byzantines? O.o)
Of course, balancing the new building could involve some compensation nerfs if it proved too strong, or the building itself could require buffs if players rarely decided to build it, but properly implemented, I think it could really diversify the HRE’s play style, and open up new ways to enjoy the civ!