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You'll never get on and win games until you've mastered the interface, so practice this in the single player game until it's instinctive. Some features are not well documented, or obviously useful, so I'll lay out a few specific issues here.
Force command (Shift-Left click) - If, for instance, you want to send a group of invisible preachers to an undefended part of the enemy village, you don't want them to stop and convert the first enemy follower they encounter - especially if it's in a bunch of enemy preachers. Press the shift key when you issue the command and they'll ignore any distractions along the way. This command has all sorts of uses, so be creative.
Repeat commands (Ctrl) - Hold down the control key when you issue a command, lay down a building plan or select a follower, and you can repeat the same action as many times as you wish. Useful also for setting waypoints for your followers, to avoid hazards such as swamps. (Select your followers, hold down Ctrl and left-click on the points you want your followers to walk to. They will go to each in turn.)
Patrolling (Ctrl-Alt) - You probably already know from the single-player game about building campfires as a way of making your followers repeatedly follow a set path. A much easier way is to select the followers then press Control and Alt while you left-click their destinations (and you don't get that distressing burning sound in your village). If you just click once, the followers will circle the point, if you click several times, they will move from point to point repeatedly. This is terribly useful in online play, as it makes your followers much harder to hit. Shamen benefit particularly because a stationary shaman is such an easy target for a lightning bolt, whereas one who is moving is much harder to hit, especially if you have significant lag (like, always!).
Commandee Toggle ('L') - This obscurely named command is extremely useful. Normally, if you Shift-Left click on an icon on the followers menu, you select your entire stock of that kind of follower. If you hit the Commandee Toggle first, you only select those which are visible on the screen. This is extremely useful for rapidly dealing with incursions into your village. It works as a toggle, so pressing 'L' again goes back to global select mode. You can achieve the same effect by left clicking on the world icon which is at the top-left of the panel to the left of the playing screen (to the left of the little shaman window).
Ally with another player (Shift click on Tribe icon) - If you want to ally with another tribe, Shift - left click on the appropriate coloured button to the right of the little shaman window (the same buttons you use for disguising your spies). Note that the other player has to do the same for the alliance to come into effect. You can break an alliance the same way.
Release guarding followers (Press 'N') - If you set up a group of followers on patrol between guard posts and then give them something else to do, they won't get on with it until you release them. So, for instance, you could set up several groups of preachers and warriors so that, when you release them, they all simultaneously head for the enemy village, from different points on the map. How do you do it? Set the followers patrolling by pressing Ctrl-Alt and left clicking on the patrol points then without releasing the Ctrl key give them the instructions which you want them to perform when released. Repeat this for all the groups then, when the moment is ripe, press 'N' (without the quotes, obviously!) to mount the attack. Your enemy won't know what's hit him! (This works with the shaman too, except that you can't pre-program a spell - she just goes straight off and casts it without waiting.)
Labelled groups (1 -6) - You can select a group of followers and label them with a number then, when you need them again, just press that number. So, for group 1, select the followers and press Shift-1. You can then reselect them later by pressing '1'. You can select several groups by holding down the Ctrl key. You can select and zoom to the group by pressing Alt-1. This is all really useful when you want fine control over an attack on an enemy settlement. It is particularly useful that you can select off-screen followers and bring them to where they're needed without having to go and hunt for them.
Camera viewpoints (Z, X, C, V) - These are absolutely vital for keeping an eye on things and hence making sure you can react quickly. If your village is approached by narrow causeways, set up a camera on each one (eg, by lining the viewpoint up and then pressing Shift-Z). Thereafter, whenever you hit the Z key, you will be returned to that exact viewpoint. There are four slots (Z, X, C, and V). Other good places to put them are overlooking an enemy village, and overlooking your training huts, so that you can get followers to them pdq in times of need. Nothing worse, when you've got a rambling village and need some warriors in a hurry than not being able to find that blankety-blank training hut!
Deviant behaviour ('D') - If the selected follower(s) or shaman are on the move, you can make them temporarily dodge in a different direction before resuming their path by pressing 'D'. I don't use it myself, but it could be useful in shaman lightning duels.
Control spell charging (Ctrl-Right click) - When you're in a tight spot you often need to concentrate all your mana to charge up 1 spell (Blast, if things are really dire). Rather than turning off the spells one by one, just Ctrl-Right click on the spell you want, and all the others will be turned off.
Game options - You need to set these before you start playing. I would strongly recommend that you enable autocast. This allows you to cast a spell outside of the normal range. Your shaman will then walk towards the target and cast it as soon as she gets in range. The computers reflexes and judgement are likely to be better than yours - and those of your opponent! Have footsteps switched on too. I know that they're a bit cutesy, but patrolling enemy followers will leave a trail which acts like an aiming point and makes your job easier. If you have a slow machine, try turning off the sky (you are a god, after all!) the sound and the landscape detail. Don't reduce the screen size except as a last resort, because that will put you at a significant disadvantage (because you won't be able to see as much). However, if the game plays fine in single-player mode, leave these settings alone - any delays will be due to the internet and the player's connections rather than the speed of your own machine.
Call to arms ('B') - If you press 'B' during a game, a message comes up in the bottom right corner of the screen saying 'CALL TO ARMS'. But nothing seems to happen. I tried it in all sorts of situations, and asked everywhere but with no luck, and there's absolutely nothing, anywhere, in any documentation. Now, thanks to an Australian enthusiast, I can tell you how to use it, and it's quite fun. We all know that it's worth putting fire warriors and preachers in guard towers, right? And even spies can be useful for unmasking enemy spies, but there's no point in putting a warrior in a guard tower, 'cus all he'll do is ring the bell, and you can get a brave to do that. Ahhh - here's the clever bit. If a warrior in a guard tower sounds the alarm at approaching enemies, and you press the 'B' key, all your idle followers will rush to the spot to help defend it. You don't have to select them, you don't have to zoom to the spot - just a simple key press. Is that cool or what? Of course, it would be wise to have a look before sending your followers in, as it may be a bunch of preachers who are attacking, and it's not so easy to stop them once they've started. It may also be worth using the Commandee Toggle (see above) to restrict the effect to those followers you can see, to avoid completely denuding your defences elsewhere. You would also have to ensure that the alarm bell was coming from a warrior tower rather than any other sort of follower in a tower, but it still could be useful, especially if preachers are turned off.
Thanks to Zakra on the Populous discussion group for this one.
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Last updated: 28 April 2004