A few years ago I said that it is not so hard to win the game on "hardest level". In response, the "difficulty" dialog has been created - I like that very much. But maybe the game can be won with some skill even if I set all fields to the hardest possible value (maybe the "REF size" has no upper limit, but this strategy can probably defeat the REF 10x, maybe 100x bigger than on "very hard" setting, although it would take tedious clicking).
The strategy hopes that I will not be attacked too badly by AI Europeans, but this can probably be achieved by creating colonies on the west coast.
I think I cannot test the strategy because the bug https://sourceforge.net/tracker/?func=detail&aid=3520017&group_id=43225&atid=435578 would give me an unfair advantage - a very big one, because in the maximalized diffuculty, even a size 1 colony has -2 production penalty.
The strategy is:
1. Pick "Agriculture" advantage (I hesitate whether "Building" would be better, but probably not. If I grow much food, then I will have many colonists to work as carpenters).
2. Earn 150 gold as soon as possible (either mine a mountain for silver, or use any tile with bonus, or rely on the production of central colony tile, which is not affected by the production bonus).
3. Buy 50 horses and visit many chieftais. This will earn you more than 10.000 money (probably the last money you will earn until you capture settlements, because under the maximalized difficulty you cannot sell to natives at all and the tax will soon increase to 100%).
4. Buy horses and muskets needed to defense, recruit some servants and send them to learn farming and fishing from the natives. Also buy some tools for pioneers and if you have visited almost all chieftains, keep reserve that you will need to train the specialists.
5. Pick the weakest Indian tribe on the weast coast and colonize its territory; they will attack but a few dragoons should be enough to defend. Try to multiply exponentially by producing food. Where appropriate, try to use the advantage of size 1 colonies (1 colonist harvests from 2 tiles). I think it will be very helpful to send many missionaries.
6. Buy a master carpenters + lumberjack in Europe. Build a schoolhouse and teach many master carpenters. (After you achieve this, three master carpenters will build a lumber mill in 9 turns and then they will produce 4 hammers each, which is 12 hammers per turn.)
7. As soon as you have enough people (while employing some 60% of population by growing food - of course I may be wrong about the exact optimal percentage), try to employ blacksmiths (in order to save precious money for buying tools). I hesisate between 3 strategies:
a) Employ 3 free colonists in a blacksmith's house. This will IMHO produce 6 tools per turn and it can be achieved early in the game.
b) Build a college and employ 3 master blacksmiths in a blacksmith house. This will produce 12 tools per turn.
c) Improve the bonus to +1 (see bellow) and then start producing tools. This will produce many (48?) tools per turn, if there are 3 masters in the blacksmith's shop.
I suppose that strategy "c" is the best one; it takes long to start producing but I hope that one can afford buying tools in Europe meanwhile.
8. If you want to switch the production bonus to +1 in one of the colonies, then build newspaper, then let 3 people work as statesmen (import food because farmers would IMHO consume bells). When there is one happy (I mean separatist) colonist, then keep only two statesmen in the colony and the production bonus will IMHO jump to +1; this will increase the happiness growth. I believe this will work even without expert statesmen, but of course, build a university soon (but I think it has less priority than producing tools).
9. Keep a balance between employing many people as farmers, some as soldiers or missionaries and the rest performing steps 8 and 7. When you have enough colonists, create a magazine and shipyard the same way as blacksmith.
10. Now you need nothing from Europe and so it does not matter if you run out of money. As you breed many horses and have many farmers, you can create many dragoons and expand for more territory.
I think that at this point one has achieved all conditions from https://sourceforge.net/tracker/?func=detail&aid=3520013&group_id=43225&atid=2050103 and therefore nothing can stop him from
- expanding exponentially
- making productive colonies on as big part of map as he wishes
- and creating as big army as (according to his estimate) is needed to defeat REF.
===== Another approach ========
I have not tested it, but maybe the maximalized level (which is far harder than "Very hard") can also be won by this way: I would invest the 10.000 money from chieftains to buy a galleon with 4-6 non-veteran dragoons (2 initial soldiers, 1 emigrated, 2 recruited) and capture one AI colony after another until I erradicate them completely. This way I will gain their manpower and goods. Then I will perform the former approach without worrying that I have to build a productive magazine etc. quickly before the AI Europeans send a big attack.
So if the first approach is to slow to deflect AI attacks, this second approach might IMHO fixed it. If only one of them works, it proves my point.
===== Solution ========
So tell me, please, do you see a problem in this? In my opinion, setting REF size to extreme numbers and setting ship trade penalty to -999999 makes the game less interesting (the former means much tedious clicking), so even if it WAS a way how to increase difficulty beyond any human's ability (which is desirable, because then even experienced stategists can set a level where the game will be challenging), I would not find it satisfactory.
If the amount of gold from chatting with chieftains is customizable in the Difficulty dialog, then we will have a very ugly paradox that setting a high difficulty (much above "Very hard") will make the first part of the game extremely difficult, but the second half will still be rather easy. Am I wrong here?
What do you think about it?