Home > game mechanics, multiplayer, strategy > Ironman/ffa: maps, difficulty, settings – How to adapt

Ironman/ffa: maps, difficulty, settings – How to adapt

Continuing the series on Ironman/ffa (see here for “Traits in ffa and Ironman”) this article is going to describe what impact different maps and other options like difficulty have on the game, how you need to adopt your game style to that and what influence that has on how good the different traits and civs are, with a special focus on choice of civ.

Ironman or ffa-diplomacy

First games have to be categorized into two groups: Ironmans and ffa-diplo games. both formats can be played on all kinds of maps, but the game format itself already has a lot of impact on the way the game will be played.

Ironman means that the game is played with always war option checked and no kind of communication about the game being allowed. This makes the game a lot more militaristic, because you cannot keep yourself safe by negotioating non-aggression pacts (nap), but have to keep a constantly updated defensive force at your borders. Especially Ironmans on open maps like Pangaea often become very aggressive. Still there is a lot of unspoken diplomacy in an Ironman, which I will describe at another point.
As an additional note happiness is a far bigger issue in Ironman than in ffa-diplo, because you cannot trade any resources and are stuck with what you get from the map generator.

ffa-diplo games are more communicative then Ironman games, so they are more peaceful in most cases. People can make non aggression pacts, trade resources and have trade routes. This favours peaceful buildup and makes waging war more difficult then in an Ironman. Additionally war weariness is a far bigger issue, because the decrease from always war option doesn´t take effect. Something important you should talk about before starting an diplo game, is weather you are ok with 2v1 and breaking diplomatic agreements. For example in the german ffa community battlefield.com (BF) both was very uncommon, though not strictly forbidden by the rules, (Btw. If someone is talking about BF-style game, he means this format), while in other communities it is more common. One way or the other making sure beforehand that everyone expects the same from the game, will spare everyone a lot of trouble afterwards.


I cannot describe the possible effects of every map, but fortunately they can be categorized into three major groups:

very defensive maps:
Hub, Islands

semi defensive maps:
Ring, Wheel, Grid

open land maps:
Pangaea, Continents, Hemispheres, Fractal, Archipelago &co (basically all the usual “realistic” maps except Islands)

Very defensive maps

The most important characteristics of those are that land grabbing doesn´t play a role and war is virtually impossible till mid/late-game.
This downrates expansion traits, because one of the major reasons for picking those, is that they will let you grab more land then your opponents and thus enable you to convert your early advantage into a longterm advantage as well. But since the amount of land is basically fixed from the start of the game, this isn´t possible here.
Elizabeth (Philo/Fin) is probably the best choice for those settings, but all other Fin and Philo leaders are possible as well. Not picking any of those two traits ins´t recommendable.
Since these games will often develop into pure buildup contests, also your civchoice should be focused on such in a longterm perspective. Civs with UBs that provide happiness (Maya, Ottomans) are very useful and Netherlands is very useful as well, because the Dike will provide you with a lot of useful extra hammers in lategame.
UUs are unimportant, with the exception of Indian Workers for buildup and Eastindiaman and Berserks for boatings.
In general your strategy should be aiming on a longterm buildup race. Expand carefully and get your tech going fast.

Semi defensive maps

Those are very similar to defensive maps, but another factor is added into the equation: landgrabbing and early wars.
On Ring, Wheel and Grid you can fight land wars from the beginning of the game, so everyone has to take care of military from the very beginning. On the other hand attacking someone early rarely makes any sense (only if the map is very small in comparison to the number of players), so you are still focussing on buildup for the major part of the game.
Different is, that you have direct land connections to your opponents, so there is land to fight for. This makes picking expansion traits important, because otherwise your neighbours will settle faster and also can more easily afford building military in the beginning, so they can pressure you and cut themselves a good chunk of land. So better do so yourself.
This is more important on Ironman games, because with diplomacy you will often agree on a “settling-line” with your neighbours very early.
Depending on the mapsize Medieval wars become very attractive (Though on maps with more then 8-10 cities per player they rarely make sense). Especially conquering a weaker or unsuspecting player with a prepared cata-ele-mace stack and quickly slaved knights to rush into the breach can be a way to go.
Also attacking in lategame becomes more of an option, though mostly in Ironmans. When you are leading by a couple of techs on reaching Assembly line, you can attack with Infantry and Artillery covered by Machine Guns.
Games are still decided by space-race in most cases – basically all in ffa-diplo. In Ironman it happens that the leading player can conquer one player after the other and it is also safer for him to win that way.
Best leaders are those with one expansion trait and one buildup trait, like Pacal (Fin/Exp), Victoria(Fin/Imp), Peter(Phi/Exp), Civchoice is the same as on very defensive maps, though Netherlands isn´t as good, because there is less water, but Rome and Byzantine become a possible pick for midgame wars, though not very good, because announcing what you are going to do is never the smartest thing.

Open land maps

On open land maps there is the biggest difference between ffa-diplo and Ironman games. While with ffa-diplo they can, depending on the players, still be quite peaceful, in an Ironman you will be on the brink of open warfare from the very first to the very last turn. FFA-diplo games will be similar in many cases, at least under the surface.
War is possible at any point of the game, so you have to keep your eyes open and your power high all the time. The best way to prevent war is to be prepared for war.
Furthermore landgrabbing becomes a huge issue, because borders are in no way pre-designed by the mapskript and have to be fought about.
How tight things actually become is dependant on the mapsize. When players are hardly able to plant 6 cities each, several wars will certainly take place early. With about 10 cities each, landgrabbing is still a huge issue and expansion traits most important, but fighting wars isn´t useful early because others will take away the land you could have settled.
In general you should only start a war (except early rushing), when you have planted all the land you can get. Just planting cities is always cheaper then taking them from someone else.
On tight open land maps an expansion trait is basically a must pick, you may even prefer a second or Agg to Fin or Philo. Though when playing something like Hemispheres, where it is more likely to have some space and a continent with two or three player, economy traits become better again.
The choice of civ is changed more dramatically. On the one hand the “natural” mapscripts provide less happiness resource problems on average, while on the other hand picking civs for UUs becomes a lot more interesting.
You can pick for Anti-rushing UUs like Holkan and Skirmisher. You can pick for rushing UUs, like Immortals, Impis and War Chariots and you can pick for midgame UUs like Praets and Catraphacts. On an open land map you will probably be picking UUs over UBs.
Anyway this category has most variety. A Hemispheres map with 5 continents and 7 players, is more like Islands, while Pangaea is the worst aggro map you can get. Check the mapsettings carefully, also taking factors like sealevel into consideration before deciding on your picks. Furthermore you should get some experience how big the individual mapscripts are. For example a standard low sea pangaea with eight players is still very tight, while low sea, eight players on Hemispheres is a huge map with lots of space.

Further notes on mapsize

You will probably be playing 90% of your games on standard size, so this doesn´t matter much. However it should be mentioned that the mapsize in the options is having an impact on the rise of city maintenance costs in relation to the number of planted cities. So if you ever get to play a small map, you should consider it equals to slightly increasing the difficulty, so you should give Organized and early courthouses some more consideration.


Most MP games are played on noble difficulty. However in Ironman and ffa games players sometimes decide to use higher difficulty for a change. This has influence on several things, especially the value of certain traits, the way you have to expand and the use of waging war.
Higher difficulties rate down expansion traits heavily, because expanding fast will let your economy crash hard. Organized becomes a very useful trait, because city maintenance and civic upkeep costs are higher. In general the focus is changed to economy traits, and picking two of those becomes a far better option.
Additionally you have to adopt your game style in general. Focus on working cottages very early and think twice before planting another city. Same goes for war, because another 6 cities will have a bigger impact on your city maintenance in all cities and thus your science rate.
Concerning choice of civ higher difficulties make Holy Rome and Zulu interesting picks, because you can reduce your city maintenance costs by 70%/75% instead of just 50%. (read here about Ikhanda/Rathaus) This can have huge impact. Though Holy Rome has the better and more straightforward boost, Zulu is probably the better choice, because Holy Rome´s starting techs are very bad, while Zulu is having good ones. This also depends on weather you are building barracks anyway, because you are in an aggressive game or not.

Starting techs

When choosing your civ, also check the starting techs of each, besides UB and UU. This is an often underestimated factor that can cause quite some problems with early expansion. In Ironman and ffa you should go worker first in 95% of the games, so that worker needs to be able to do something. When you have starting techs mysticism and fishing they don´t help you at all. Now Imagine you have only an animal food resource and lots of forest. You need to research two techs (Agriculture/Hunting + Animal Husbandry) to be able to connect your food (resource and then another two (Mining + Bronze Working), till your worker can do something else.
Basically they can be rated like this:
1 Agriculture, Mining
2 Wheel
3 Hunting
4 Mysticism
5 Fishing
The first two will let your worker immediately do something useful, while enabling you to research tech Animal Husbandry and Bronze Working immediately as well.
With Wheel your workers at least always have something to do and it’s a pretech for Pottery.
Hunting at least enables you to research Animal Husbandry right away, though not being of much help itself.
Mysticism and Fishing are virtually useless, though the first at least is something you always need at some (early) point.

Picking a civ with only one starting tech of 1 and 2 is ok and leaves you with a very low risk of getting problems. Picking two bad starting techs is something you should avoid.

  1. Moineau
    December 24, 2009 at 10:51

    Nice one again. You someone liking a lot Phi leaders (i think you righ), i would probably pick joao before Peter on semi-open map but i would be wrong i guess, i just dont find phi so usefull, we should have one long conversation about it one day.
    Good job again anyway (no smiley available?).

    • shizanu
      December 24, 2009 at 12:12

      If I had to rate traits, philo would indeed be very high, probably even over exp. As I described in my traits article philo is very difficult to play – and has to be played because it doesn´t do anything on its own like exp/imp/fin. Some things you can already find in the traits article, but I will describe how to play philo based economy strategies more detailed in another article.

      Anyway maybe you remember a certain CCC Grid Ironman where Aristobulus got Modern Armor before anyone had tanks. Thats the full power of philo. (This cant always work out that good, but if it does, nothing beats philo)

  2. December 24, 2009 at 13:30

    … and he played the leader with the best name in the game 😀

  3. Moineau
    December 24, 2009 at 13:51

    Lol joby :p Well Schiza, basically i always play full cottage and i put my cities very close, for lot of good reasons, with only one food per city. Then well, i then dont have “extra pop” to put in scientists. For the aristo ironman, well, it’s always depend of what others do. Do you remember the one you played Mansurji won recently? You had a philo too i think and well.. Anyway as said, it would take the whole night discussing about how to play an ironman, i already spent some with mansur or penny (who would be agree with you and always say i am just a noob that doesnt know what is a GP :p).
    Merry christmas guys.

    • December 24, 2009 at 13:57

      You are just a noob that doesn´t know what a GP is…

      Merry Christmas Birdie 😀

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