Long Reads

Inca Civilization Analysis with Historical Commentary

Foreword

When I play at Age of Empires 2, it’s mostly to meet up with a regular group of friends. Among them Iancu certainly ranks at the top of our little clan. He used to play a lot with Franks, mass paladins and storm in our bases with packs of heavy cavalry.

I. Hated. That.

Therefore I came up with a solution: the ultimate heavy cavalry counter-unit. It’s so good, in fact, that when AoE2:DE was released and steppe lancers were flooding most ranked games, I didn’t fret. I knew the counter already: the deadly Inca long speared kamayuks!

I picked up the Inca civilization to learn how to counter pretty much everything. Indeed, they do counter (almost) everything (except on water):

  • Scary paladins incoming? Kamayuks spamming underway!
  • Some good old fashion huskarls Goth flood? Slingers and kamayuks counter-flood at the ready!
  • Persian or British archers massing at your borders? Send in some eagle warriors and wipe them out!

He used to play a lot with Franks, mass paladins and storm in our bases with packs of heavy cavalry.

I. Hated. That.

Therefore I came up with a solution: the deadly Inca long speared kamayuks!

Incas can counter everything, however, all of their units cost gold and none of them constitutes a powerhouse unit.

  • Kamayuks literally melt against arrows.
  • Slingers can’t deal with cavalry.
  • Eagle warriors are properly butchered by champions.

Moreover, Incas really struggle against siege civilization such as Celts. I would know because that’s what Iancu picked up once he saw how easily I would counter his paladins. Mass onagers and scorpions are very difficult to overcome with Incas since they lack the mobility of a proper cavalry civilization or the range of the British longbowmen.

Nevertheless I love Incas and my father picked them up too. It’s a great civ to start up with and learn how to adapt your strategy to your opponents. It really helped me to get better at the game and whenever I pick them now our band of friends goes “Oh boy… Here we go again!”


  • A Crash Course on Medieval Tournaments
    Tournaments followed the chivalric code of war! Indeed, jousts and tournaments were nothing like modern sporting events. They were true exercises of warfare during peace times more than anything else. It was a way to make war without declaring it.
  • The Success Story of the Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry
    Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?
  • How to Torture People in the Middle Ages?
    Torture came into fashion in the 13th century for very specific reasons. Namely, the (re)discovery of Roman law and its implementation by the Church. The 1215 Latran council recognised that trials by ordeals were a thing from the past and that since they were rational and modern beings, it was time to move on.

Inca AoE2 Go-To Strategies

Before AoE2:DE was released, the Incas were the #2 civilization by win rate on Voobly. However, they were certainly less popular than the two other Mesoamerican civilizations: the Mayans and the Aztecs. Mayans were often picked for their plumed archers and their insane mobility (that was before they were nerfed and costed more gold) whereas Aztecs rank among the best monk civilization notably thanks to their incredible relic gold bonus. Even after AoE2:DE, Incas remain less popular than their neighboring civilizations.

Since most of Inca strategies are pretty gold expensive, they struggle against civilization that have potent late game bonuses or rely more heavily on wood for post-imperial strategies, such as the Chinese, the Britons or the Celts.

According to AoeStats, Incas win rate is at its peak within the first twenty minutes of a 1v1 face off. That’s because they benefit from great early aggression bonuses. They come in very handy for lame, drush or tower rush tactics. The win rate drops until the reach of late castle age-early imperial age, then it drops back though it remains above average until the hour long plus game. Since most of Inca strategies are pretty gold expensive, they struggle against civilization that have potent late game bonuses or rely more heavily on wood for post-imperial strategies, such as the Chinese, the Britons or the Celts. The Chinese, in particular, really shine in long games thanks to their less expensive technology research cost bonus. That is, of course, if they ever manage to survive the early attacks from Inca players!

Ideal Early Game Tactics with Incas

I was once facing LilTrouble_ on 1v1 Arabia, I don’t remember which civ I had but she had Incas and I certainly regretted it. Oh boy, did our Lady of the Empires teach me a lesson! She started by laming one of my boars. Indeed, Incas as a Meso civ have a formidable advantage when it comes to laming tactics. The eagle scout has a greater line of sight than the regular mounted scout so it spots wild boars more easily. Moreover, it runs a bit slower, meaning it’s easier for an eagle scout to remain within the three tiles line of sight of wild boars and keep them chasing them. Just like that, LilTrouble_ stole my boar and messed up with my build order. I didn’t know yet how to adapt from such a situation and it derailed my strategy.

A great Inca early go-to strategy would be to lame the enemy then to plan out a drush or a militia rush into a fast castle, or to add extra feudal pressure with cheap towers and tanky villagers. Such strategies requires well rounded build orders though but it makes up for great practice!

Then she started to build tower behind my wood lines to lame me from my other resources—as if stealing my food was not enough! Incas have a bonus that their buildings cost -15% stones, it makes it easy for them to spam towers to harass their enemy. It piles up on other bonuses that make their tower rushes even more potent. Their houses support 10 villagers: it means less houses to build which grants more wood for towers (or an early barrack). Moreover, their villagers are affected by blacksmith upgrades: Incas villagers can become really tanky! Not only can they build towers but they can also fight off a counterattack and make the pressure worse.

I managed to destroy LilTrouble_’s tower since they’ve been nerfed in AoE2:DE (they have less HP in feudal age than they used to). However, she’d mess up with me six ways to Sunday. I didn’t know what to go for. I was on the back foot and my economy was a disaster. She won as soon as she hit castle age. GG. It was an honor. To sum it up: a great Inca early go-to strategy would be to lame the enemy then to plan out a drush or a militia rush into a fast castle, or to add extra feudal pressure with cheap towers and tanky villagers. Such strategies requires well rounded build orders though but it makes up for great practice! Try it out. If you don’t win within the first 30 minutes, you can just tap out and move on to your next target for more practice and quickly add up to five games into a single gaming evening.

Late Team Game Strategies with Incas

On the long run in 1v1, Incas become less and less able to build up momentum and take advantage of their flexibility. Their Andean Sling unique technology certainly comes in handy in a full-on trash war, once the gold has totally run out. However, a victory is pretty much desired before that point. Incas can adapt and counter pretty much everything on land but it comes at quite a high cost in gold when you take into account all the blacksmith, university, barrack, archery range and castle technologies required to beef up the Inca units properly.

The gold problem however is easily solved in team games: build markets and trade make up for depleted gold mines! All of a sudden, Incas become a great support civilization in a team game because their counter options, cheaper towers and castles can substantially help defend your teammate bases while they move forward for a knockout. Fully upgraded eagle warriors also constitutes wonderful raiding units to distract your opponents whilst your allies are mounting their attack.



Inca Civilization Bonuses

Incas Start with a Free Llama

It used to be that you wouldn’t always get your four starting sheep from the get go once you started a game. You’d have to scout for a bit or hope to find them by building your houses at the edge of the fog of war. If your starting sheep were playing hide and seek then a free starting llama was certainly a treat. I experienced however that starting sheep were a more reliable food source. They tend to pop up as soon as you start a game on AoE2:DE. Still, the free llama remains extra food you can bank up for an early rush strategy. Otherwise, it can serve as an extra scout to find your wild boars whilst your scout is already searching for the enemy… in case you want, again, to go for an early rush. Never forget, Incas top win rate is below the twenty minutes mark!

The Temple of the Sun (or Qorikancha, “Golden Enclosure”) had real-life sized golden llama statues when the Spanish first set foot into it. It certainly contributed to the myth of the Eldorado! The Incas also named a constellation the “llama dark cloud”, which was supposedly the ancestor of all camelids.

Historically speaking—because that’s what I do after all—it’s very fitting that Incas should start with a free llama. As Terence N. D’Altroy writes*: “Llama and alpaca herding became both a successful adaptation and a source of wealth for mountain peoples.” Llamas were “the principal beast[s] of burden and source of meat for Andean peoples.” It is reported that male bucks can carry a load of 30kg for 20km a day. Not only that: “llamas and alpaca produce useful wool, but the light weight and fineness of alpaca wool make it preferable for clothes and other textiles.”

Just as sheep became part of Christian rituals**, llamas got intertwined with the religious life of the Incas. We’ve found many figurines of llamas in old ritual caches. The Temple of the Sun (or Qorikancha, “Golden Enclosure”) had real-life sized golden llama statues when the Spanish first set foot into it. It certainly contributed to the myth of the Eldorado! The Incas also named a constellation the “llama dark cloud”, which was supposedly the ancestor of all camelids. No animal was nobler than the mighty llama to the Incas.

* Terence N. D’Altroy, The Incas, 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2015.

** I’m referencing the 15th century famous Ghent Altarpiece which picture the “Mystic Lamb” or “Lamb of God”.

Inca Villagers Benefit from Blacksmith Upgrades

Never forget, Incas top win rate is below the twenty minutes mark! If it sounds like I’m repeating myself, it’s because I am. Picture the following: your opponent is walling his/her base on Arabia to attempt a Fast Castle. What can you do? Punish him! Or… her. Go in for the infamous Militia + Tower Rush—the militia to rip the palisade walls apart and get into your enemy economy to disrupt it, the towers to prevent the enemy walling behind the palisades and make sure to get in with the added bonus of denying resources like berries, stones, gold or wood.

I observed The Viper go for a full trush (no militia) and when he clicked Feudal he threw no less than eight villagers with loom at the enemy. His build order was the following: 6 on sheep, 4 on wood, 2 on boar, 3 on berries, +4 on boar and sheep; feudal transition: from the 12 villagers on boar and sheep: 1 to wood, 4 to stone and 8 for the trush. He could basically keep on building towers all over the place, from two groups of 4 villagers each. A total pest! I don’t remember clearly if he was playing with Incas, I think he was randomly assigned Koreans, but if he’d been playing Incas, his villagers wouldn’t have been in need of additional militia to protect them. Inca villagers benefit from blacksmith upgrades, meaning you can beef them up and make them extra tanky! Forging and Scale Mail Armor insures that they don’t fear any Feudal military unit as long as you micro them properly and fight in “packs”. Add Fletching to improve the range of your towers and you’re golden!

T90Official actually found a player who loved this all-in Inca strategy and even recorded a few Legend Videos about him. Noburu, as is his screen name, enjoys to vill rush and drop towers into his enemy economy with Incas. It is especially efficient on open maps such as Arabia. If you face an opponent that knows how to push you back, however, you’d better learn how to transition from this very aggressive early rush to a more balanced late game strategy because if you can’t punish a player walling his/her base properly, you’d better believe he/she’ll punish you back! I had a F1re 1v1 Inca mirror match on Arabia I wanted to break down for you here, too, but since this is a replay pre-dating the February 35584 game update, I can’t watch it passed the 17 seconds game time mark… Therefore I won’t say no more on the subject and move on to my historical commentary of this civilization bonus.

I know I keep quoting the guy but that’s only because he writes so clearly: “Soldiers often wore quilted cloth armor that was so effective against Andean weapons [such as slings!] that many Spaniards discarded their own metal plate in favor of the lighter protection.” Isn’t that amazing!?

From all the Pre-Columbian civilizations, the Incas were most skilled at forging and bending metal. It somehow justifies their blacksmith bonus. Terence N. D’Altroy writes that “Inca smiths drew from millennia of Andean knowledge, which was the most sophisticated in the Americas.” Only they were more skilled at dealing with gold, silver and copper. They even forged platinum treasures long before it was possible in Europe*! However, to quote Terence N. D’Altroy again: “the products that they made were primarily symbolic, decorative, and status related, rather than utilitarian.” As a matter of fact: “In Inca cosmology, gold was the sweat of the Sun and silver the tears of the Moon.”

It also means that Incas didn’t wear iron armors! Indeed, they rather wore quilted armors that were more suited anyway to Andean warfare. I know I keep quoting the guy but that’s only because he writes so clearly: “Soldiers often wore quilted cloth armor that was so effective against Andean weapons [such as slings!] that many Spaniards discarded their own metal plate in favor of the lighter protection.” Isn’t that amazing!? If Age of Empires 2 was more historically friendly, it’d mean that the Scale Mail Armor tech should be renamed for the Incas to Quilted Cloth Armor. It’d be a treat and it’d help the sense of diversity within the game.

Every Inca subject was part of a household or tribe called the ayllu. At the top of an ayllu you’d find a chief or kuraka. The kuraka’s duties were to take care of his people and grant them gifts that’d insure a fair redistribution of wealth within the ayllu. In exchange of those gifts, the Inca subjects had to engage into labor duties, or the mita. It’d range from agricultural tasks to military expeditions. Any grown-up subject (meaning any married man who’d started a family) could be drafted for the mita. Somehow, it fits the Age of Empires 2 economy model perfectly!

Another historical merit behind the “villagers benefiting from blacksmith upgrades” Inca bonus is that the Incas didn’t have any regular army and that any Inca subject could be drafted as a soldier. The Incas didn’t have any trade or taxation system, their economy solely relied on labor duties or “corvées”. The technical term is mita. Every Inca subject was part of a household or tribe called the ayllu. At the top of an ayllu you’d find a chief or kuraka. The kuraka’s duties were to take care of his people and grant them gifts that’d insure a fair redistribution of wealth within the ayllu. In exchange of those gifts, the Inca subjects had to engage into labor duties, or the mita. It’d range from agricultural tasks to military expeditions. Any grown-up subject (meaning any married man who’d started a family) could be drafted for the mita. Somehow, it fits the Age of Empires 2 economy model perfectly!

Villagers within an AoE2 empires don’t trade, they don’t have a life of their own, and they only do what’s asked of them. They only comply with unpaid free labor and that’s their life. In exchange, they get… houses… Unless they’re Huns or post-imp Mongols. Then they don’t even get houses or their houses could get destroyed and they wouldn’t get new ones. Male villagers have been asking for clothes on snowy maps for decades but it brought them nothing. They can’t even go on a strike. They can only accidentally go idle for some extended period of time… But that’s what you get from butchering sheep and llama without shearing them first!!!

There was no regular army to speak of, but the Inca Empire certainly had skilled military specialists.

On a more serious note, military duties became the prerogative of a few specific ayllu within the Inca Empire. Once a tribe was conquered, its population could be scattered around the Empire to prevent any further resistance. Unrooted and taken away from their homeland, Inca subjects could then be converted into a permanent military status and be garrisoned at the frontier to insure the borders. Such was the fate of many Chachapoyas, for example. Kañari people also became a major part of the Inca military. “Up to half of the two ethnic groups was dispersed as permanent military personnel.” That’s what’d cost to you to resist and fight off the Inca conquest. There was no regular army to speak of, but the Inca Empire certainly had skilled military specialists, doomed to serve.

* The forging of platinum wasn’t mastered in Europe before 1730, cf. Henri Favre, Les Incas, 9th ed. Paris: PUF, 2011 (Que Sais-Je? no 1504), p. 101.

Inca Houses Support 10 Population and their Buildings Cost -15% Stone

Stonecutting was certainly more than just a science for Inca builders. Not only could they cut perfectly shaped stone blocks, they could also fit together oddly shaped stone blocks into perfectly fitted walls or even adapt their walls to the terrain they were building upon, therefore building “naturally” curved walls.

Incas were not only great metallurgist, they were also amazing stonecutters. So amazing in fact that one could read in the Encyclopedia of the Incas* the following: “How Inca builders—who lacked iron tools and the wheel—cut stone, achieved the tight fit, and transported and hoisted the stones (some of which weigh over a hundred metric tons) has been the subject of wild speculation. These conjectures range from the intervention of extraterrestrials to the use of laser-like tools—and even the application of stone-softening herbs.” I mean, you know a civilization has done great on the tech ladder when modern people blame the aliens for their achievements.

Stonecutting was certainly more than just a science for Inca builders. Not only could they cut perfectly shaped stone blocks, they could also fit together oddly shaped stone blocks into perfectly fitted walls or even adapt their walls to the terrain they were building upon, therefore building “naturally” curved walls. It makes up for incredible construction work! You couldn’t fit the finest sheet of paper between two Inca stone blocks. You couldn’t even rebuild their walls if you dismantled it. Examples of such fine masonry were seldom found in the Ancient Greek world, especially at Delphi, but never to that extend.

Incas were also great urbanists. They really knew how to build a city and make it not only fully functional but properly amazing. The Spaniards were certainly impressed. Their only complaint was that you couldn’t fit two horses side by side in an Inca street. However, Incas didn’t have horses so… you see? It only makes sense, therefore, that Inca benefit from stone reduction cost and housing bonuses in Age of Empires 2. It honors well their stonecutting and architecture skills. I certainly could write more on the subject, but I’d like to save that for a historical analysis of the city of Cuzco in the Pakachuti campaign if you don’t mind.

* Gary Urton & Adriana Von Hagen (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Incas. New York, London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

[TO BE CONTINUED…]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.