After a year's hiatus, Civ4 AI Survivor is back again for Season Three! Season One had its fits and starts while I figured out the process, but it still drew dozens of participants in the picking contest and served up a highly entertaining series of games. Season Two was an even bigger success, this time with the games Livestreamed in real time and the Twitch chat making everything significantly more unpredictable. We saw Wang Kon embrace his troll side, Hatshepsut become the Civilization version of North Korea, and Huayna Capac claim the championship belt in a nailbiting finish. What will happen this year when the AIs once again engage in bloody combat? Let's find out.
Because it worked so well last year, I intend to keep the basic tournament structure the same. The 52 AI leaders in Civ4 will be randomly drawn into eight opening round games, half of them with 6 AIs and half of them with 7 AIs. Two leaders will advance to the playoff round from each match, the winning leader and the non-winning leader with the highest game score. AIs who survive the game but do not advance will get a second chance in a Wildcard game later on. We will then feed the top two leaders of each playoff game into one final championship round to determine the overall winner of the competition. Here's a picture of the empty bracket:
The game settings will remain the same as last year. We use Deity AIs to speed up the overall pace of the game and reach victory results sooner. The map script is the default Pangaea, designed to keep all of the AI leaders in close contact with one another. Before the last competition, I went ahead and tested out some games with Continents or Archipelago setups, and they just didn't work that well. The Civ4 AI doesn't really know how to run naval invasions, and there were lots of wars that just did nothing because the AIs couldn't reach one another. They need to be on the same continent from what I've found, and Pangaea works well enough for that. We use Normal game speed and Standard sized maps, with the one exception of dropping the sea level to "Low" setting for the games with 7 AIs to create a little more room for the extra competitior.
For the game options, the biggest effect on the gameplay is turning off Tech Trading. I'll repeat here what I wrote in the setup phase from past years: "When tech trading is left on, the AIs tend to stay bunched together with no one ever getting too far ahead or falling too far behind. With everyone fielding the same units, it becomes difficult for the AIs to attack one another successfully, and generally makes for less interesting games. But when tech trading gets switched off, all of the AIs have to sink or swim based on their own research efforts. This spreads them out much more widely on the tech tree, and once the laggards fall a full generation behind in military tech, they tend to get swallowed up by their more advanced rivals." With tech trading removed, we frequently see some AIs fall an entire era or more behind in technology, which prevents would-be conquerers from ignoring their economies and trading their way to tech parity. A balanced approach tends to work the best in these games, with alternating periods of warring to expand followed by peaceful consolidation. Woe to those who fall behind in military tech in this competition - it nearly always ends badly.
Otherwise, we turn off Vassal States to prevent the AIs from surrendering to one another. If they can vassal when losing wars, hardly any of the AIs ever get eliminated, and that's boring. We want to see bloodthirsty games! No escape, no mercy. We also turn off Events because they're kind of a Single Player thing, and the AI doesn't understand what they do. I've debated turning off the goody huts (tribal villages) but they remain in the game for now. We also use Aggressive AI to spice things up and increase the number of wars. The big thing that Aggressive AI does is remove a flag that will stop the AIs from declaring certain wars. Normally they will not attack someone who has more than double their military power. Turning on Aggressive AI removes that check in their coding logic. This leads to occasionally suicidal war declarations based on diplomatic relations, and that's exactly the kind of thing we want to see!
Games will be Livestreamed on my Twitch channel linked below, typically on Fridays in the afternoon my local time (east coast of North America). I will archive the recordings on Twitch and try to post them on YouTube in smaller chunks for those who have trouble accessing the Twitch videos. I also hope to put together some spot written reports on the games that took place, in the same fashion that we've done for the games from Season Two. Several members of the community have been helping me write those over the past year, and we have most of the games covered by now. The picking contest system will continue to use a Google Forms submission, which was a massive timesaver last year as compared to originally compiling forum posts. The current bracket will always be visible online, and I'll do my best to update it here on my website, on my Twitch page, and at Realms Beyond. We'll have a forum discussion thread there, of course, which I'll link on this page once the competition has started. Scoring remains the same, with points for first place, second place, first to die, victory date/type, and total number of wars. I went through the suggestions about different potential scoring goals after the last competition, and none of them felt like they would work as well as the current system. With points for the top two AI spots along with victory date and number of wars, we had scoring drama right up to the end of most every game, even when the winner had long since been determined.
First of all, one minor change. To fit Survivor's Season 3 theme of Africa, the Climate setting for these games will be "Tropical" instead of last year's "Arid" and the first season's "Temperate". That's kind of painting an entire continent with an overly broad brush (and apologies for that), but it does provide a theming mechanism. The Tropical climate means more forests and more jungles in the central parts of the map; I'm unaware if it does anything else. It's not likely to have a huge effect overall. We will also continue using the "Choose Religions" option to avoid getting the standard Buddhism and Hinduism in every single game. Some of the AIs had some truly bizarre choices when using this option last year, and that was part of the overall fun.
I'm also hoping to highlight some of the best predictions from the picking contest. This was one area where I felt like I dropped the ball last year; there was a space in the Google Forms submission to make written predictions of what would happen, and we had some great ideas in that regard. However, I didn't discuss them very much on stream or include them anywhere on the website. I would like to include them here on the website and archive them in some way, and I have some thoughts about how to do that. This eventually turned into writing a preview for each game before it started, which provided overview screenshots and pictures of each leader's starting position, along with some statistics about how the leaders performed in previous years of AI Survivor. I was able to put the pregame predictions from the community into these previews and preserve a sense of what everyone was thinking before each game started, which made the actual livestreams and the postgame writeups that much more fun in retrospect. Things generally did not play out the way we expected.
I've thought as well about the possibility of turning on Raging Barbarians for these games. The AI has struggled mightily in the past with barbarian activity, and we saw several settlers getting captured last year despite the ridiculous bonuses that the AI gets on Deity. This would make the games somewhat more random, but it also could be a lot of fun to watch in practice. I'll see what the Livestream audience thinks and go from there. The initial map used in Game One does not have Raging Barbarians enabled.
With all that said, there's a big list of the relevant links that follows below. Enjoy the new season of AI Survivor!
Sullla Twitch Page
Current Bracket and Standings
AI Reference Guide from CivFanatics
Schedule: Friday, 18 August 2017 at Noon EST
Game Three Map Setup
Game Three Picking Contest Entry Form
Game One: Augustus, Kublai Khan, Ragnar, Ramesses, Stalin, Willem | Game One Preview | Game One Livestream | Game One Writeup
Game Two: Asoka, Churchill, Gandhi, Isabella, Joao, Victoria, Washington | Game Two Preview | Game Two Livestream | Game Two Writeup
Game Three: Genghis Khan, Hannibal, Mao Zedong, Peter, Sitting Bull, Suryavarman | Game Three Preview | Game Three Livestream | Game Three Writeup