Artifact planets are not quite as rare as you think they are
Finding an artifact planet isn't what matters. Finding one first isn't even what matters. Finding one in your starting radius, within six parsecs of your first two colonies, is what matters. That will give you the bonus tech before you've taken the time to build up your first two worlds, before you've invested in any research or built colony ships at the full price. It will also put the planet in your core and let you begin research with it much sooner.
If the artifact planet is not within six parsecs of your first pair of colonies, then you must extend your range to find it. That means researching higher range or settling more worlds, maybe both. Once you've taken the time to build up significant factories on your home planet, key turns have passed. In Civ3 there's a big difference between popping a free settler in 3800BC and doing so in 1800 BC. Those forty turns make a huge impact on total growth curve, and likewise for artifact planets. If you don't scout the artifact planet inside your initial six parsecs range, you won't find it in that critical early period where its impact is as significant as you describe.
The rate of finding artifacts within six parsecs of your starting colonies is about the same across all map sizes. Your odds of getting to it first are obviously smaller on smaller maps, where neighbors may start closer and compete to get there first.
By your own figures, an artifact planet shows up about one in thirty. I'd agree that's a fair shake. Can we also say about eight planets within six parsecs range, on average? (Actually think it's closer to seven, but let's use a liberal figure). Now, seven to eight planets in starting range per game, one artifact every thirty planets... looks like one in four games to me.
Hmm. Isn't that what I said?
If we add in artifacts planets outside that range, again, we must include the time it takes to gear up enough factories to build colony ships or conduct research. On Impossible, that will take some time, during which the AI's are expanding and scouting.
Also, by the time you're doing your own research or have built several colony ships, you're past the point at which low level artifacts goodies qualify as game breakers. Again, a free settler in 1800 BC is not the same as one in 3800 BC. By 1800BC you may have built a granary and three settlers on your own. Getting one more would help, but it helps a whole lot less than getting one before you've even built the granary.
I can usually outscout the AI's even at Impossible. On a huge map, there's something like 3.7 artifact planets on average, so you're likely to hit about one every game.
If you hit one later, it's only a minor help. You might pull as much as 5000BC worth of free techs. You can get hit by random events in the same time period. You can pull a plague that COSTS YOU 5000BC to cure, plus lost population, plus lost growth curve. You may have to pay 2000BC to stop a nova. A planet may revolt, costing you 40m colonists to rebellion plus 50m to put them down and retake the planet, plus lost growth curve. A planet could go rich or it could go poor.
Drawing a poor planet or a No Habitables system in your starting radius can hurt your growth curve, too. Drawing a rich or ultra rich planet may help it.
These are all situations that establish that MOO gameplay DOES have a fairly wide swing in terms of terrain and what it may mean, but these factors will all be the same for players in a tourney event. The only thing that won't be the same is the techs people pull out of artifacts planets. Well, I'm willing to admit I don't know precisely how this will affect the fairness and comparability of players' results, but if we are not satisfied with these swings, we can work around the problem with scenario editing to craft desirable terrain and/or playtesting to eliminate maps with artifacts worlds within initial range.
It CAN'T be worse than Civ3's terrain swings, which gave us many duds when our fate was put into the hands of random map generation. Epic 14 remains the most notorious example. Epic 17 was the end of the road for using random maps as the default. After that, I went to editing almost every scenario. The map situation for Civ3 has actually worsened with the expansion, since the new (nerfed) resources crowd out the strategic and luxury resources and have skewed the game balance.
Actually, I don't think that's the best tech to get, nor is it either of the two techs I mentioned (although Range-5 or Speed-2 certainly is a very good thing to have, and they do SEEM like the best things to have). The best early tech to get, I think, is Industrial Tech 8
Depends on how early is "early". If you find that in the first couple of turns, with the initial scouts at their first destination, then yeah, I'd agree. Depends on the terrain, too. If there's a rich Tundra or Dead planet nearby, you'd have to admit, the environment tech would be useful in a way the construction tech would not. But it's arguable and variable.
The irony is that you've actually furthered my main points by disproving one of my minor points. There isn't one clear best tech to pull from an artifacts planet. I could also make a case for Scatter Pack V as a hugely desirable item to be pulling. Massive boost to standing up colonies quickly, as each base is worth a whole lot more. Remember, it's not just planting your flag that matters, but holding the ground.
The biggest thing that helps early in a game of MOO1 is the ability to construct a Large-hulled colony ship with Reserve Fuel Tanks, IMO.
I don't think so. What reserve tanks buys you is range. You can get range with cheap research. Range 4 lets you cross most gaps. Range 5 gives you almost unlimited ability to hopscotch your way through the stars. Range 4 is available for about the cost of one colony ship, give or take a bit. IF it is in your tree. You'll get either Range 4 or Range 5, though.
In order to put reserve tanks on a large colony ship, you need planetology, propulsion and construction breakthroughs, and more than minimal ones. We're talking about thousands of BC in research. Often you can grab three to five planets with Range 3! Why research at all? Get them as soon as you can. Whatever you can get with Range 4, do that. Would you rather have Range 4 and six colony ships or enough tech to put reserve tanks on your ships but not have built any yet? I know what my preference would be!
If Range 4 isn't in your tree, you definitely can get Range 5 and doing so would be necessary to put reserve tanks on your ships anyway. Past a certain point, say about ten parsecs radius from your homeworld, getting Warp Two engines becomes more urgent than extending range. And you also have to start thinking about DEFENDING what you claim, as you run into AI's who will attack if you let them park ships in orbit over your new colonies.
My expeirence is that it's a very powerful strategy to aim for this ability ASAP.
I agree, but this strat is useless on small maps, not likely to be useful on medium maps. Large maps may see you reach the end of your claimable terrain without needing more than range 4 or range 5. If you do need more range, it probably involves one or two systems, rather than doubling your claimable terrain.
What's missing from the tech tree can have as much impact as the best-case freebie from artifacts scouting. If you happen to be missing both first-generation waste cleanup techs, your early growth curve will suffer significantly. If you miss missile upgrades, your ability to defend against Ruthless personalities who rush you may be undercut. Missing the first several terraforming techs leaves your population and economy stuck in park. If you miss both Industrial 9 and Industrial 8, you may have to pay full price on all early factory construction and take much longer to stand up your empire.
There will always be some options missing. However, for tournament purposes, the tech tree is pregenerated for each new game, so the same techs will be present or absent for each player in our tournament.
The artifact planets will be in the same places, and the odds of beating AI scouts to these systems will be fair to all. Beyond that we'll just have to see.
Unless you are playing as an Expansionist (where it is a feature anyway), or on a huge map, it's unlikely you'll be able to get anything gamebreaking out of a hut at high difficulty levels. Sure, settlers greatly increase your growth curve. However, in a competition game, many people end up getting the same settlers anyway out of the pRNG; remember all the 3950BC free settlers in Epic 15
If "many" people catch a break, that's statistics. The ultimate winner won't be decided solely by handing a major advantage to one or two lucky players.
The problem is when only a few hit the lottery, and the advantages gained turned out to be decisive. Civ3 is actually pretty good about this as far as the huts go, but you're citing the wrong examples.
Think about Epics 12 and 30, Deity games where one or two players did pop free settlers out of huts that spewed barbarians at most players. These breaks were decisive for those who caught them, compared to everybody else. That's about the same effect as most players drawing Hand Lasers, ECM Jammer I and Class II shields, while one or two draw Industrial 8. Thus, Deity games with huts and without expansionist civ for the player DO tend to fall into the same pattern as artifact planets. Thus it is not valid to discount my comparison to huts. The comparison is valid.
And in Epic 37 it was practically raining free settlers and cities.
Epic 37 was edited to double the number of huts on the starting landmass, precisely to REMOVE the luck factors by increasing the number of dice rolls to a point of being sure events wouldn't turn on one or two huts. By making sure there were so many, it was a virtual certainty that everyone would draw at least one bonus city, most likely two, maybe three. That is about how it worked out.
Change it to a single hut, though... then it would be a dice roll.
The artifact planets are a dice roll and a potential lottery, but they are not the all-intrusive element you portray them to be. If we decide they provide too much luck swing, we can reduce or remove their impact by being choosy with scenario maps or even editing them.
Iron Working out of a hut isn't really much of a game breaker at all; for a second-row tech, it's cheap, and it's something the AI's LOVE to research.
You're not thinking the way I am about Iron Working. The value isn't in what it costs to research. If you pull it early (admittedly not a frequent occurrence because you have to have acquired all the first-row techs first) you can SEE where the iron is. You can identify who has none and gear up to go and stomp them right quick. That's WAY more valuable than even a free settler. You can eliminate an entire rival in the cradle and double your territory, pull a leader to rush your FP, and go completely nuts. You may be able to deny somebody iron by beelining to claim the resource or park units on or near it, or run blockades near it. Swords vs spears and warriors is not much of a contest.
Pulling the Wheel early can be decisive, too. Find out a neighbor has no horses, hook up yours and go on the warpath. And one is much more likely to pull the Wheel out of a hut than to pull Iron Working. Still, getting these techs sooner than you otherwise would can change the entire face of the game, because of how much reward is available in Civ3 to those who prosecute successful ancient wars.
Heck, forget the huts. The distribution of resources in itself is a bigger deal. Secure the iron, build swords (especially Gallics, Legions or the mighty Immortals) and go crush some pipsqueak without resources. That worked pretty well for some folks even in Epic 39 with mines unavailable. You won't be doing that in MOO, artifacts planet or not. It's not happening.