Civ4 AI Survivor Season 4: Playoff Game One Preview

This is a continuing feature for Season Four of Civ4 AI Survivor: a preview of each game before it begins, providing a quick summary of the leaders involved and how the community expects the game to shake out.

Our first playoff game of Season Four featured an absolutely stacked field of competitors. This group included three of the top six leaders in our overall ranking, as well as the top two leaders in Season One champion Justinian and Season Two champion Huayna Capac. Both of these leaders had dominated their opening round games, and their showdown in this match would be something to watch. They were joined in this match by Kublai Khan, the sneaky-good Mongolian leader who reached the championship game in two of the first three seasons of AI Survivor, and Hannibal, one of the strongest performers over the last two seasons. Either of those two leaders would have likely been the favorite in other matchups with weaker competition. Finally, this game also included the surprising winner of the first game of Season Four in Isabella, and the equally surprising runner up from Game Two in Willem. Each of these leaders had done very poorly in previous seasons, and this was their chance to make a splash on the big stage.

Opening Round Winners

Isabella of Spain
Traits: Spiritual, Expansive
Starting Techs: Fishing, Mysticism
Peace Weight: 6
Past Finishes:
Best Finish: Playoff Round in Season Four
Total Kills: 3
Overall Power Ranking: 8 points, 23rd place (out of 52 leaders)

AI Summary from Season One: One of the other scarce female leaders, Isabella is infamous for being one of the game's most fanatical religious zealots. Isabella has a solid pairing of Spiritual and Expansive traits, and brings the Conquistador and Citadel for unique items. She's better known for starting with Mysticism tech by virtue of playing as Spain, however. Isabella will likely grab a religion of her choice at the start of the game and then defend it to the death against all comers. Unlike nearly every other AI, Isabella only has one flavor: RELIGION. She is obsessed with the true faith, and hates all those who fail to convert. Isabella also has the highest possible rating for "demand that you convert to her religion" (10/10), and her favorite civic is Theocracy. She's one of the easiest AIs to understand, the crusader obsessed with religion above everything else. This has proven to be horribly ineffective in past years of AI Survivor, with Isabella quickly eliminated in every previous appearance.

Season Four Addition: Well, Isabella certainly surprised all of us, didn't she? Her dominant performance in the opening round of Season Four came out of nowhere, winning out over several heavily favored competitors. The upcoming playoffs will be a test of whether this was a sign of unexpected strength or a one-off fluke result.

Justinian of the Byzantines
Traits: Imperialistic, Spiritual
Starting Techs: Mysticism, The Wheel
Peace Weight: 4
Past Finishes: 4 First Place Finishes, 3 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season One Champion
Total Kills: 9
Overall Power Ranking: 35 points, tied 1st place (out of 52 leaders)

AI Summary from Season One: Here's the wildcard player for this particular round. Justinian has Spiritual and Imperialistic traits, and as the only Byzantine leader is renowned for bringing the mighty Cataphract as his unique unit. (He also has the unimpressive Hippodrome unique building.) We generally don't favor the Byzantines anymore due to their awful starting techs of Mysticism and The Wheel, but this doesn't matter for the Deity AIs, who all start with Agriculture, Wheel, Hunting, and Archery. Justinian AI has religious and military flavors, and heavily emphasizes building units (8/10 rating). He's well above average on the aggression rating at 7.6 out of 10, which is modest only in comparison with his eastern neighbors. Justinian also has Theocracy as his favorite civic, which means he will never go to Free Religion. In short, Justinian is likely to found his own religion, and then hate everyone else who doesn't have it for the rest of the game. Expect him to dominate the game or get swiftly crushed depending on how diplomacy shakes out.

Season Four Addition: Justinian was our champion from Season One with a very impressive showing. He was unable to follow up that performance in Season Two, eliminated immediately in his first game. Justinian then won a crushing victory in his opening round match of Season Three, followed by a narrow second place finish behind Stalin in the playoffs, and then a second place finish in the Season Three championship. Justinian's combination of Imperialistic trait and the mighty cataphracts have made him an elite competitor thus far. He won yet again in the opening round of Season Four in impressive fashion. His only weakness is a refusal to declare war at "Pleased" relations.

Huayna Capac of the Incas
Traits: Financial, Industrious
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Mysticism
Peace Weight: 2
Past Finishes: 5 First Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Two Champion
Total Kills: 10
Overall Power Ranking: 35 points, tied 1st place (out of 52 leaders)

AI Summary from Season One: Huayna Capac is the rare economic leader who also sports a low peace weight. Huayna is often viewed as the strongest pick for Single Player games with restricted leaders, due to his excellent Financial and Industrious traits, alongside the Incan civ. The Quechua is very good at abusing the AI love of early game archers, especially on Marathon speed, while the Terrace is the best unique building in the entire game. A granary that also provides culture is overpowered from a design standpoint. Huayna the AI comes off as less formidable though; he has gold and production flavors, and likes to construct wonders (8/10 rating). Everything else is average across the board, right in the middle of the rating system. Predicting Huayna's performance is a bit tricky. He has the best economic setup amongst this group by far, but he needs to be alive to take advantage of it. With this collection of nut cases, that's an open question.

Season Four Addition: Well, we certainly got our answer about the formidability of Huayna Capac the AI. This guy absolutely torched the competition over the first two years, winning four out of the five games in which he appeared, culminating in a miraculous Cultural victory in the Season Two Championship. Huayna Capac also managed to amass eight kills across the two years of AI Survivor, lapping the field in that category as well. Let me put it this way: Huayna Capac had eight kills in his six games... and the other 51 leaders combined only managed 75 kills in the first two seasons. Huayna alone was almost ten percent of the total. His AI personality seems to combine aggressiveness with economic muscle in just about the right amounts, and the Incan unique unit/building are both very powerful for these games. (The quechua helps Huayna a lot against barbarian archers, which tend to give the AI lots of problems.) Huayna made a quick exit in Season Three, only to curb-stomp the field in his opening round game of Season Four in what was arguably the most dominant performance in AI Survivor history. He looks to be back and ready for another deep run in this competition.

Opening Round Runner-Ups

Willem of the Dutch
Traits: Financial, Creative
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Fishing
Peace Weight: 4
Past Finishes: 1 Second Place Finish
Best Finish: Playoff Round in Season Four
Total Kills: 1
Overall Power Ranking: 3 points, tied 36th place (out of 52 leaders)

AI Summary from Season One: Willem has Creative and Financial traits, making him a near-universal ban for our Multiplayer events. He's held back somewhat by being paired with the Netherlands as a civ, who should have limited success on a Pangaea map. Their East Indiaman ship and Dike unique building are far stronger on water maps. Willem AI has gold and science flavors for his programming, and moderate emphasis on building units and wonders. In an interesting quirk, Willem cares almost nothing for religion at all, with a very small penalty for different faiths and equally small bonus for shared faith. He also has a strangely high aggression rating at 6.7 out of 10, which was not what I expected at all. So while Willem is programmed to emphasize gold and science, he's also programmed to declare war at a fairly high rate. Very unusual mix.

Kublai Khan of the Mongols
Traits: Aggressive, Creative
Starting Techs: Hunting, The Wheel
Peace Weight: 1
Past Finishes: 2 First Place and 3 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Championship Game in Seasons Two and Three
Total Kills: 7
Overall Power Ranking: 23 points, 6th place (out of 52 leaders)

AI Summary from Season One: Kublai Khan is another aggressive ruler and someone predisposed to dislike the "Good" leaders. Kublai has Aggressive and Creative traits, a combination that often works well on cramped Pangaea maps. Like Genghis Khan Temujin, he has the Keshik unique unit and the Ger unique building, both of which are above average. Kublai has military and cultural flavors, and at first glance looks very similar to some of the more peaceful leaders in the game like Ramesses. He even has a fondness for wonders (6/10) and an aggression rating that's only a little bit higher (6.4 out of 10). The difference lies in Kublai's peace weight, which ranks him as an "Evil" leader at the other end of the spectrum from most of the game's peaceniks. This will cause major tensions between Kublai and high peace weight leaders like Mansa Musa, and make it very difficult for them to get along. So despite having a similar AI personality overall, Kublai may find himself on the other end of a war declaration from his two neighbors with middling peace weights. Kublai reached the Championship in Seasons Two and Three and has collected half a dozen kills thus far, marking him as another leader to watch. He often seems to fly under the radar despite two consecutive years in the Championship.

Hannibal of Carthage
Traits: Financial, Charismatic
Starting Techs: Mining, Fishing
Peace Weight: 2
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish, 1 Second Place Finish
Best Finish: Playoff Round in Seasons Three and Four
Total Kills: 5
Overall Power Ranking: 12 points, 17th place (out of 52 leaders)

AI Summary from Season One: Hannibal has one of the weaker Financial pairings, mixing the game's best trait along with Charismatic. It's... OK, I guess? None of the three extra traits added in the expansions have ever been that interesting, although I think we need to thank Firaxis for not doing the typical expansion thing and making all the new traits super overpowered. Hannibal is the only leader of the Carthaginians in Civ4, who have the Numidian Cavalry unique unit and the Cothon unique building. These ones are fairly average, not too weak or too strong. The Hannibal AI was apparently programmed from a Roman point of view, as Hannibal is clearly considered to be a villain with this setup. (I guess the winners do write the histories in this case.) Hannibal AI has military and gold flavors. He doesn't bother with wonders much (2/10), his unit emphasis is slightly above average (6/10), and Hannibal is notably above average in aggression rating (7/10). Hannibal AI gets rated as an "Evil" leader via peace weight, which is kind of unfair to him historically. In any case, he'll be a likely figure to stir up some trouble in this game. He's had exactly one awesome game in past seasons, a dominant romp in Season Three, and struggled in his other starts.

Here's what the community was thinking based on the prediction contest before the game took place:

We ended up having a fairly even three-way split in the picking contest as far as who would win the game. Justinian had a slim lead over Huayna Capac and Kublai Khan, with trace amounts of support for the other three leaders. The runner-up picks were mostly similar, with the one significant change being a lot of additional support for Hannibal. Apparently a lot of people liked him to come in second but not to top the board as the outright winner. The most dominant category was First to Die where nearly everyone seemed to believe that Isadora would make an early exit. Few of the picking contest entries seemed to believe that her victory in the opening round was anything other than a fluke. We also apparently had two different people pick "None" in this category despite it never happening to date in 40 previous AI Survivor games. Finally, opinion was exactly split between Domination and Spaceship victory types at the moment in time when I snapped this screenshot. I was curious to see if the late picks would break for one of these results as opposed to the other.

Finally, here are some of the best/craziest written predictions about what would take place during the game. There were many other excellent entries but I had to pick and choose my favorites to keep this from running on too long. Thanks again for the submissions!

RefSteel: It would be absolutely incredible if Izzy could pull another win out of this one, especially with this competition! I'm therefore "predicting" that will happen as a kind of encouragement, but understand that when I say "incredible" I also mean "not credible." She's got the highest peace weight in a game where her rivals average 2.6, she has probably the worst starting land in the game, especially for her techs, and her nearest neighbor is a fellow religious maniac with far better land, a far better track record, better techs for the terrain, closer peace weight to their mutual neighbors, fewer neighbors to deal with in the first place ... and cataphracts. The map alone favors Justinian so much (not only against Izzy) it would take a miracle for anyone else to pull off a win against him. Isabella will certainly be praying for such a miracle ... but in spite of his likewise-poor starting area, Capac is the one guy who might *create* one!

ljubljana: Don't get me wrong y'all, this is totally still an anti-huayna spite vote; my rationalization is that he'll get squeezed by his poor start, inconveniently-placed water, and oh look at that his only first-ring sites with food bonuses are in the tundra, and survive for a bit (longer than izzy anyway) but fail to make headway vs kublai and his four golds. i'd say kublai leads early but finishes a narrow second after justinian conquers izzy and willem and outtechs to space.

Aus prof: "Wait, Willem? In a field this stacked, you picked Willem?" Ah but wait, I can explain. Letís go leader by leader. Justinian has a good start on paper. But in practice, his abundant land and resources will be squandered by his tech preferences. Justinian begins the game unable to improve any resources, and is going to exacerbate this by researching a religion. To make things worse, there is a good chance in this field that he loses that race, then goes for a second religion. Justinian may spend the first 20 turns of the game not just without improvements, but without even being able to build them, and I donít care how strong an AI is, thatís crippling in a way that makes it hard to recover. Izzy is essentially the exact same as Justinian in this respect so I wonít waste words rehashing that. The only difference is that she is first to die due to higher peace weight and a central position. Kublai has a frankly absurd capital and I initially snap-picked him, but actually there is a problem there too. He has nothing else. Seriously, look at his land, itís pretty barren. So heís not gonna die super early, but he isnít going to be a major power post early game. Huayna was my initial pick for second, but actually, heís just too squeezed. Like Isabella, I think his central position dooms him, not for being surrounded by enemies but just for not having enough expansion, especially if he goes wonder heavy. So, much like Kublai, I think Huayna will be an also-ran in this game. Hannibal, my final choice for second, has good land, tech preferences (he wonít chase religion early) and expansion opportunities. With financial he will tech well and he will also have the opportunity to crack some skulls, which is a good combo if you can get powerful enough to pull it off. Lastly, Willem has great and plentiful land, wonít waste time on religious stuff early, amazing traits and might not even need to capture any territory to win if everyone else batters each otherís brains out for him, slowing down the global tech pace. Basically I think heís a slightly superior version of Hannibal in most ways (specifically for this game), and thus he will prevail. So yeah, somehow in a game featuring Justinian AND Huayna, I ended up picking Willem and Hannibal. Go figure.

Faded_Outline: This game will clearly emphasize the fact that peace weight doesn't necessarily translate to peaceful intent. Izzy is the sole constituent of "team good" and yet it's nearly certain that she'll launch the first war. And get splatted because her land is mediocre and her neighbors aren't pushovers. Beyond that I see two futures; one in which two major religious blocs clash with the winning team riding out to a space victory, or an alternate path where everyone else follows the same faith and, after a quick pause around the middle ages to put down a suicide-war by Hannibal, have a friendly race to a culture win. A very civilized game, for once.

Fergus: Justinian is pretty strong but 4 gold, man. Also considering that virtually every leader here is a really good techer (except maybe Izzy...sorry, Spain) I expect people will be getting 1400s AD infantry and whatnot, leading to a much faster victory. That being said, once Kublai gets the ball rolling he'll absolutely murder everyone in his way.

Y3llowSheep: Oddly enough, I think this game has the potential to end up a complete lovefest. Everyone's peaceweight is almost the same, so any fighting will be sparked will be by religion. Hard to say who'll come on top, although it seems likely Isabella will suicide herself in one too many crusades. The only one with a standout capital is Wilhelm, and I don't have any expectations of him. Huayna and Justinian seem evenly matched in terms of ability and geography, so it feels like either of them could come out on top. Of course, maybe something silly happens like Isabella winning those crusades, so who knows?

Latif: Justinian to win, Kublai second, Isabella first to die. Justinian's religion seems likely to spread down the river to Kublai probably keeping them friends, while Isabella founds her own and finds herself on the wrong end of a 2 v 1. Her other neighbor to the south Huayna probably also founds a religion putting her at odds with him as well. Meanwhile Justinian stands to gain the most from Isabella's demise regardless of who actually captures the cities. He also seems to have a decent amount of green land to expand into. On the other side of the world, Willem has a good amount of land to expand into, but he and Hannibal - both fairly aggressive - will possibly fight a number of inconclusive wars. Meanwhile Huayna doesn't seem to have many food resources in his immediate surroundings (and only rice in his capital). I think he'll be second to die - probably to Kublai, who has access to both elephants and horses - with one of either Willem or Hannibal surviving to the end.

TMIT: This is a really stacked field, but it looks like Kublai has his hands on the Civ 4 HoF mod that lets you reroll starts. Quad gold and nice initial positioning help a lot. Initial extra settler derping might still screw him but if he places that well he's in a good spot to squeeze the #1 contenders Byzantine and Inca out. He's aggressive enough that I expect him to attack one of them, with enough of a lead via the gold for it to alter the outcome of the game. I pick Hannibal as #2 given his position and likelihood not to have immediate border conflicts with the Mongols/other aggressors, though as always the game can surprise us. At least someone isn't as likely to lose capital to barbs this time!

haphazard1: Spain on a lake, errr, oasis may mean Isabella grabs the first religion. She and Justinian are going to fight, dragging down the usually mighty Byzantine leader. Justinian will also get a slow start due to his starting techs not matching his capital, leaving tiles unimproved while he chases a religion of his own. This leaves Huayna Capac as my pick to win, probably grabbing the third religion at Monotheism and spreading it east and west to gain allies. He also has gold and silver within reach to boost happiness with his industrious forges. The stone might tempt him into going wonder crazy, though. Kublai will have a fantastic start with that quadruple gold and will end up as second place. First to die is tough. I am going with Isabella as she will start religious wars she can not win.

JackDRB: Wow this is certainly a lineup alright. I also feel a little bad for Izzy and Willem, this is one hell of a challenge. I think that this whole game is built on religious blocs, and the strongest religious AI here is Justinian, hence he wins, crushing all the other religious AI leaders in his path. Kublai Khan also sits on Justinian's river, so I think he's more likely to pick Justinian's religion up, and together they'll form the deadly religious tag team. Fairly early domination in terms of winning, most of the AIs here are pretty good, but they're also very good at pressing their advantage and snowballing.

Brian Shanahan: Justinian has a gimped start with no horsies in range, at all. Unless he kills of Izzy in sub t100 he's out of the running. Therefore I predict that Huayna will win the game quite handily, personally expecting the spaceship to go first of the victory conditions. Willem I pick as runner up as he's tucked away into a nice corner, any expansion at all will give him plenty of good land and enough of the needed strategic resources to keep his army relatively current for most of the game, until rifles appear. This one should be quick too with three techers to keep the pace going.

Eauxps I. Fourgott: For the trollz since I have no shot anyway

Playoff Game One Picking Contest Entry Form