We’re excited to announce that we have received our first guest blog! It comes from Lee Raye, who submitted a great detailed blog on the Celtic Sheep. You can find the full blog below. Thanks, Lee, for your submission! You can find more of Lee’s blogs on history and nature at https://historyandnature.wordpress.com/ and follow him on Twitter under his user name @NaturalHistoryL.

If you would like to become a volunteer guest blogger yourself, make sure to send an e-mail with your submission to aoecommunity@microsoft.com. We will review your blog, and if your work ends up being featured on our website, you will get a nifty forum badge.

IN-GAME SHEEP

In AoE II, the Celts have a civilization bonus that no-one seems to know about. As long as a sheep is within the active vision radius of any human unit it cannot be stolen by an enemy unit.

I should explain in case your knowledge is a bit rusty. Sheep start out as neutral units like most of the other animals and plants in the AoE II world. They spawn over all random maps on the European continent. If you type in “Natural Wonders”, you can even control all the wild sheep and try to hide them from the relentless progress of civilisation. The outcome is inevitable though. As soon as sheep come within the sight of any team’s unit, they are recruited by that team. Play that scenario a few times and you’ll start understanding why all the wolves of AoE have a vendetta against you.

The only time sheep won’t spawn is if AoE decides to spawn a map on the American continent. In this case you’ll find turkeys instead. I’d love to know who at Microsoft Studios thought that would be a good idea. Do you want to find turkeys wandering round with their stupid gobbling call and that knowing look on their beaky faces? No you don’t. Reload that map and try again.

Natural Wonders is only the second least used cheat in AoE II. Players who enjoy games on the American continent should type “Black Death” for the ultimate turkey-lover’s experience.

The AoE II engine will almost always spawn sheep in pairs. If you find a solitary sheep, have a look around the area and you should find a second sheep nearby. Neuroscientists have shown that sheep recognise and distinguish each other and may even have sheepy BFFs (Kendrick et al., 2001), so you might think this makes sense.

If you thought that, you’ve been manipulated. In real life, sheep live in a harem style flock. The only explanation is that the game is trying to make you feel bad for eating the poor darlings.

No, you go ahead and eat every single sheep IN THE WORLD. That sounds totes sustainable. Screenshot shows a final captive breeding program supported by Thistles Bane and Draegi.

 

Actually there are only three circumstances when you don’t find two sheep close together: (i) Where you find two pairs (4 sheep) together, like at the beginning of a game, (ii) where your callous opponent has rustled one of the sheep but didn’t bother to check for its friend (iii) where the AoE engine has spawned the second sheep in a river or on a mountain. In this last scenario I like to imagine a tragic accident has taken place right before I arrive. After seeing that, the poor sheep is probably looking forward to death.

Right now you’re probably thinking: “Wow, this is really interesting and sheep are absolutely my favourite animals, but what has this got to do with playing the Celts?”

I’m glad you asked. After sheep are seen by a unit, they are recruited to your team. They get little collars to show which team they belong to and can be controlled and told to walk back to your camp. The trouble is that sheep are fickle creatures. If another unit comes into contact with them they can be converted and walked straight out of your base.

Theoretically this is not the case with the Celts. Sheep being watched by Celtic units are not convertible by enemy units. Here’s the big question. Why? What historical justification is there for sheep loving the Celts so much? Is it the beards?

 

SHEEP IN HISTORY

Before we can answer that question we have to briefly re-imagine what sheep might have looked like in the medieval period.

Hint: Not like this.

 

In the eighteenth century, a group of farmers called ‘the Improvers’ managed to pre-empt Darwin’s theory of evolution by a century. They put into serious practice what farmers had known for centuries: When two sheep with great wool mated, their offspring was more likely to have nice wool than if two scrawny looking sheep mated.

Up until that time, the practice was for rams and bulls of better lineage to be hired out as studs for all smaller livestock. The better their lineage, the more money they brought in as studs. This is still famously the practice for your favourite inbred race-horses today.

The Improvers decided to experiment. They tried making herds of exclusively superior livestock. They met with fantastic success (Trow-Smith, 1959). Years later, Darwin was so inspired by artificial selection that he invented the notion of evolution by natural selection.

Common medieval breeds of sheep are most often assumed to look more like goats, rather like the Soay sheep from St Kilda, a recently abandoned isolated island off the western coast of Scotland:

Medieval style sheep. These are female, rams have BIGGER horns. Picture by Sam Whitfield, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.

 

Over the course of a few decades the Improvers bred sheep, pigs and cattle into the animals we know today. It is now rare to find any “unimproved” livestock.

 

SHEEP AND THE CELTS

So why are the sheep in AoE II so loyal to the Celts? There are two possible explanations:

The first possible explanation is a historical one. Medieval British shepherds were among the best in Europe. British wool was commonly exported and rams were sent for studding across Europe (see e.g. Lloyd, 1977). British sheep had superior breeding, and for a while, Britain’s economy was based on wool.

This is probably the reason for the special bonus of the Britons.  In AoE II, British shepherds work 25% faster which brings in more meat faster. It doesn’t necessarily explain why Celts are so good at protecting sheep though.

The more likely explanation is that the rule was made to help Celts steal sheep, not necessarily to help them protect sheep. You might have heard the word “reiver” to mean thief or raider. Historically, that term was most commonly used to describe the livestock thieves from the border-country between Scotland and England in the late medieval period (c.1286-1603). They were an invisible, unstoppable force who prided themselves in being able to go anywhere and steal any animals. Today they are romanticised together with smugglers and highwaymen as dashing rogues (see for example: Fraser, 1989).

“Reivers raid on Gilnockie Tower” by G. Cattermole.

 

Stealing livestock was a common among the Celts even before the time of the reivers. One of the most important medieval Gaelic (joint Scottish and Irish) genres of literature was the “Táin” or stories of great cattle raids. The most famous Old Irish story is the “Táin Bó Cúailgne” (The Cattle Raid of Cooley). That’s the story of how Queen Medb led an army on a cattle raid into Ulster (Northern Ireland) and how she was fought singlehandedly by a boy-hero called Cú Chulainn. This history is probably the reason why Celts and sheep get along so well in AoE II.

CELTIC PLAYING STYLES

It’s commonly suggested that the Celts’ special ability with sheep is to help with early defence. People suggest that the Celts do not reach their full potential until late in the game.

At the end of the game you do get access to more exciting tactics. One of the fastest infantry units in AoE II and AoE online are the woad raiders, the Celts’ unique unit. You might remember them as the bearded, bare-chested men in blue and white striped trousers. They don’t survive being shot at very well, and they can’t defend very well against cavalry or (let’s be honest) other infantry. But if you can fit them into a battering ram, your opponent’s buildings won’t stand much of a chance. The Conqueror’s expansion upgrade “Furor Celtica” (=Latin: “Frenzy of the Celts”) makes the Celts’ siege engines the best in the world.

Woad Raiders: By any standard these warriors are scandalously dressed. Diodorus Siculus (60 BC, paraphrasing Pytheas, c.325 BC) explains in a horrified whisper that the Gauls wore trousers instead of togas, have moustaches and huge shields and sometimes even go naked into battle. Caesar (c.50 BC) explains that every single Briton without exception wore woad into battle. By the late medieval period no-one dressed like this anymore.

 

But all these fun end game tactics don’t mean you shouldn’t attack early as well. The Celts’ ability to fight reflects centuries of sheep rustling and cattle reiving. It’s okay for Britons to play king-of-the-castle for most of the game, but that’s not what the Celts are about. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t heavily armoured shock troops either. Historically the reivers would launch lightning fast raids over impassable terrain. They may be lightly armoured but it’s not only the Castle Age woad raiders who have good speed. Celtic infantry all move 15% faster than infantry from other civilisations.

So next time you play, why don’t you try playing the Celts the way a true Borderer would? Who knows, you might even save some sheep.

 

 

REFERENCES

Fraser GM (1989) The Steel Bonnets, Harper Collins, London.

Kendrick K, da Costa, A, Leigh AE, Hinton MR, & Peirce JW (2001) Sheep Don’t Forget a Face. Nature 414: 165-6.

Lloyd TH (1977) The English Wool Trade in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press.

Trow-Smith R (1959) A History of British Livestock Husbandry, 1700-1900. 2006 ed., Routledge, Oxford.

 

 

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