Age II: The Conquerors - The Mayans Showcase

Our ongoing Age II: Conquerors civilization showcase continues with our second installment, which looks at the new Mayan culture.

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The Mayans Showcase

This week, we unveil the second new civilization in the Age II: The Conquerors expansion. Five new civilizations join the 13 from the original game, and each of these new civilizations has a plethora of new skills to compete with the old guard. Among the most intriguing of the new additions are the two Mesoamerican cultures. Today, we showcase one of them: the Mayans.

Mesoamerican cultures have been largely ignored in strategy games, but in Age II: The Conquerors, Ensemble Studios has gone all out to include two of them, even going so far as to create an entirely new set of graphics for the New World cultures. The decision is indeed a welcome one, but of the many ancient civilizations to include, why choose the Mayans? Greg Street, lead designer on the expansion pack, explains the company's decision:

"When we started work on the Age of Kings Expansion, we knew we wanted to add a new art set to complement the Western European, Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and Far Eastern buildings in Age of Kings. We thought long and hard about Indians, but in the end decided that Central Americans had architecture that would look really cool in the game. That decision made, Aztecs were an obvious choice, but it seemed wasteful to do an entire set of buildings for one civilization. We thought the Incas were too different from the Aztecs, but the Mayans lived in virtually the same geographic location as the Aztecs and shared architectural styles. We figured we could also include Mayans in the Montezuma campaign to represent some of the lesser-known tribes."

Although not as famous as the Aztecs, the Mayans were every bit the world power that the more famous civilizations in the original game, such as the Saracens and Chinese, were. Street says, "There is this horrible misconception held by some people that the Mayans were a third-rate power...." Such is not the case, considering that the Mayans as a civilization numbered 14 million citizens, maintained a well-organized military, and boasted impressive technological achievements, including a more accurate calendar than the Europeans' contemporary Gregorian one. Although they did not have gunpowder, steel working, or wheeled vehicles, they didn't necessarily need such advancements, especially in the confines of the rain forests they called home. And though the Spaniards did conquer them, the Mayans succumbed not to superior weaponry, but to superstition and diseases brought by the European invaders.

There is much more to the ancient Mayan civilization than meets the eye. First, let's briefly explore their history and a legacy that lives on to today.

A Little History

Although the Mayans weren't the most famous ancient civilization from Central America, they have a lasting legacy. Indeed, as Street points out, the Mayans continue to exist even today: "The Mayans leave much more of a modern legacy than do the Huns or Goths. There are still some four million Mayans alive and well in Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize, and the remains of their cities have weathered the centuries as well as any German castle, despite being located inside tropical rain forests."

The Mayan civilization was perhaps founded some 3000 to 4000 years ago but reached its height between A.D. 600 and 900. They made their homes in the Yucatan peninsula, and they also occupied what is today Honduras and Guatemala. Although this land could sustain only adequate agriculture, the Mayans thrived in this location and built many lasting monuments that rivaled those in ancient Egypt. The ancient Mayans lived in hamlets, none of which, unfortunately, have survived to modern times, although some of their ceremonial centers, where the villagers would congregate, have withstood the rigors of time.

The Mayans had an elaborate, hieroglyphic language that even today is not fully understood. According to Ensemble Studios, "Three Mayan books survive to the present, the remnants of a much larger number destroyed by Europeans who feared they contained heresy."

Some of the Mayans' most impressive achievements, though, were in mathematics and astronomy. They needed such advanced mathematics to calculate and predict the movement of stars and planets, data that was critical to the creation of the calendars and the dating of important ceremonies. Priests, who commanded such knowledge and directed the ceremonies, controlled the Mayan society along with the noble warriors.

In the tenth century, the Mayan civilization began to decline, perhaps sent toppling due to natural disasters, such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Rival tribes from central Mexico invaded their lands, dividing the Mayan people and breaking them into disparate villages. By the 17th century, the Spanish conquistadors had landed the final blow, capturing the last Mayan center and thus ending the Mayans as an organized civilization.

Unique Bonuses

The Mayans are an aggressive civilization with a heavy emphasis on ranged firepower. Their most immediate cultural bonus is that their resources last 20 percent longer. Greg Street explains:

"The Mayans have one of the best economic bonuses in the game: Their resources last longer. Call it conservation, or sustainability, or being at one with their environment, but the Mayans can make their resources last a long time. If a Mayan chops down a tree with 100 wood and then carries 10 wood away, the tree will have 92, not 90, wood left over. Or consider that most civs will get 5600 gold out of their starting pile of seven gold mines, but the Mayans will get 6720 gold. This may seem to only have a great effect in the Imperial [Age] when everyone else is resorting to trade, but it also allows the Mayans to get a lot of resources out of their starting sheep and berries. Mayans also don't have to relocate as often. It doesn't hurt that the Mayans have cheap walls, which lets them play defensively and still have enough stone for castles, outposts, and town centers."

The other significant Mayan bonus is that they pay less for archery range units. In the Feudal Age, their archers cost 10 percent less. In the Castle Age, they cost 20 percent less, and in the Imperial Age, they cost 30 percent less. Ensemble is really emphasizing the Mayans' offensive ranged firepower, saying, "The Mayans have cheap archers and virtually all of the technologies needed to fully top them out. They can train hordes of arbalests or the slightly more expensive plumed archer." Their unique unit, the plumed archer, is also a ranged unit.

When starting out, the Mayan also begins with one extra villager, but 50 less food. Despite the food loss, the extra villager provides a marginal bonus for getting started. Mayans also start out with an eagle warrior as opposed to a scout cavalry, because Mayans (and the Aztecs as well) do not get any cavalry units. And last, Mayans pay 50 percent less for their walls, giving them an edge when playing defensively.

Although the lack of any cavalry might come as a shock to Age II players, it can be a blessing in disguise. Without expensive cavalry, the Mayans can spend money on other units. Street says, "Mayans excel at the feudal rush because of their extra villager, resource bonus, and cheap archers. They lose a little steam in the Castle [Age] when the knights come out, but in late Imperial, they are back in the game with 30 percent cheaper archers and eagle warriors with 100 HP."

Mayan Units

The Mayans have a lot of new units, such as the eagle warrior and plumed archer, but what exactly are they? Many of the new units for the Mayans came about because the Mayans lack cavalry units. They can't build a stable, and so they get no mounted units. To make up for this disadvantage, the designers gave the Mayans some new troops.

The unique unit for the Mayans is the plumed archer, which upgrades to the elite plumed archer in the Imperial Age. This unit is stronger, faster, and better armored than other archers, although it doesn't have as much attack strength as a comparable late-game archery unit. It is great against other archers and slow units, but even with its great speed, it is vulnerable to cavalry.

"The plumed archer is a fast-moving foot archer with a lot of hit points," says Street. "Think of them as filling the same role as cavalry archers do for other civilizations. The plumed archer excels at killing both infantry and other archers. They are threatened mainly by cavalry or siege weapons. The Mayans can handle the former with halberdiers. For the latter, they have the eagle warrior. In most games, Mayans attack with arbalests and eagle warriors (if they have a really strong economy), plumed archers and arbalests (if the enemy attacks with a lot of infantry or archers), or just eagle warriors (if the enemy isn't using any infantry). Both the plumed archer and the eagle warrior are fast, which makes the Mayans good at raiding and avoiding [fights]."

The eagle warrior is the other big addition to the Mayans - but it isn't a unique unit, because the Aztecs also can build this unit. The Central American cultures need a light and quick attack unit for scouting, attacking siege units, and chasing down other units - and the eagle warrior is it. Says Street, "The eagle warrior is a Castle Age unit that can be upgraded in Imperial to the elite eagle warrior. They fill roughly the same niche that light cavalry do for other civilizations, except that there are no counter units for eagle warriors. They are the fastest foot units in the game, beating even the Celtic woad raider (1.43 speed for a topped-out eagle warrior vs. 1.18 for the elite woad raider, compared to 1.49 for a Paladin)."

The eagle warrior - in its capacity as a quick unit that needs to chase down archers and cavalry and avoid ranged fire - has more pierce armor, which does extra damage against monks, siege weapons, and cavalry. It is also highly resistant to conversion. However, it is vulnerable to other infantry. Although the eagle warrior has only 50 hit points, once you research the El Dorado unique technology, the Mayan eagles are whipped into fanaticism and gain an extra 40 hit points."Suddenly," says Street, "the Mayans have an infantry unit that can take on all but the mightiest horses and win. Eagle warriors cost 20 food and 50 gold (the inverse of the swordsman line), making them cheaper than cavalry but still a major drain on resources."

Mayan Strengths and Weaknesses

The Mayans are being designed as a civilization with considerable ranged firepower. They can purchase lots of cheap archers and support them with infantry. And to combat the inevitable cavalry that will try to swoop in for quick reprisals, the Mayans can muster their quick eagle warriors in return. Even better, Mayans get the halberdiers to fight paladins and heavy cavalry. They are also given the full archery upgrades to make their archers really good, as well as decent siege weapons, including siege rams and heavy scorpions but not the siege onager.

Their economy is advanced, and they have all tech advances for resource gathering except for gold shaft mining. The Mayans have many technologies, a good range of monk abilities, and a well-rounded navy. In addition, they are good on defense with their cheap walls and all defensive structures but the bombard tower. In fact, they also have all university upgrades except for gunpowder. Thus, the Mayans are well equipped for a variety of strategies, although they must rely on their strength, which lies in the archery range.

On the downside, the Mayans of course lose the benefits of cavalry. Although the eagle warriors largely make up for this lack, the Mayans still don't get the powerful paladin or the quickness and shock power afforded them by the full complement of cavalry. And they do not get the champion super-infantry. Also, they lack gunpowder units, so they do not have the ultimate siege weapons in the Imperial Age.

The Mayans, as well as the Aztecs, represent a new breed of opponent in Age II: The Conquerors, and they come with some intriguing abilities that will undoubtedly make them favorites to play when the expansion comes out. Ensemble is clearly trying to make them play differently from other civilizations and giving them good bonuses to cancel out certain weaknesses. We'll leave with this last comment from Greg Street, who says of the Mayans:

"War is often most cruel and terrifying when markedly different cultures collide. The native population of South and Central America were shaken by the appearance of conquistadors wearing armor, wielding steel weapons, riding horses, employing war dogs, and using firearms. The blood sacrifices, rituals, and fanaticism of the Americans unsettled the Spanish, in turn. The Mayans proved very tough opponents when whipped into battle frenzy in defense of their hidden wealth."

With their range of special abilities, the Mayans should prove more resilient than the real-life Mayans and repeal the Spanish conquest of the New World.

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