Civ4 AI Survivor Season 4: Playoff Game Two Writeup

The second game of Season Four gathered together a bunch of low peaceweight warmongers plus one glaring exception. Among the leaders who had been victorious in the opening round was Stalin, the defending AI Survivor champion from Season Three. He had crushed his way through his initial game and looked ready to return back to the championship game again. Joining him was the suprising figure of Tokugawa, who had emerged on top of a rather weak field of competitors in his own opening match. The runner up leaders generally looked pretty similar to one another, with Shaka and Gilgamesh and Mao Zedong all bringing different forms of aggression to the table. Mao was the best economic leader out of that bunch, having taken the more difficult path into the playoffs via the Wildcard round. And then finally there was Gandhi, a winner of his opening round game who appeared horribly out of place in this match. This did not look like the place for a dedicated pacifist.

This game began with both Gandhi and Tokugawa sending their initial starting Deity settlers to the south. This immediately created a more cramped southern side of the map where someone would inevitably get squeezed on land, along with a northern half of the continent where land would remain more available. In the religious race, Gandhi began the game by researching Meditation tech and founding Hinduism. Then he went back to the religious well a little bit later and founded Islam via the Polytheism route on Turn 25, with the religion popping up in the same city. Later on, Gandhi continued his obsession with all things religion by researching Monotheism as well and establishing Buddhism... which one again appeared in the same city of Bombay. (All hail the three-headed hydra!) Therefore all three of the early religions were founded by the same leader in the same city. Gandhi would eventually end up with Hinduism as his state religion after flipping between several of his different options, and that was a problem because most of the rest of the world wound up practicing Islam instead. As if Gandhi needed any more reasons for the rest of the field to hate him!

Gandhi topped the scoreboard throughout the early turns due to his multiple religions. He also narrowly beat out Mao Zedong to the Stonehenge wonder, and that meant free border expansions for India along with even more culture. It was already becoming clear that the game would largely be decided by whoever could take the biggest share of the spoils from Gandhi's inevitable demise. The other leader joining Gandhi atop the scoreboard was a surprising Gilgamesh, who had sent all of his initial settlers to the west in a straight line. Gilgamesh didn't have much of a choice in this regard due to the way that Gandhi's culture had limited his expansion to the north, and the real loser in this settling competition was Mao. The Chinese had been squeezed by Tokugawa to the north and Gilgamesh to the east, with the result being that Mao ended up with only a handful of tundra cities to his name. It hadn't helped either that Mao had spent large amounts of the early game failing to build Stonehenge and then successfully building the Great Wall. Mao was a popular pick to advance to the championship but he was already in a world of trouble.

Our biggest favorite to win the game in the prediction contest was Stalin and he had done a nice job of settling the land to the south of his capital. Stalin's biggest problem was a failure to research Mysticism tech, leaving all of his cities without border expansions. He narrowly won a race with Shaka for the Rostov location but lost a settling race to Gandhi for the Varanasi spot. We could already see that Stalin needed to capture territory from Gandhi if he was going to be effective in this game. Over to the west, Shaka was struggling mightily for no clear reason. He had a nice capital and lots of room to expand yet wasn't doing much of anything for no clear reason. This was another case of a leader getting stuck in the "won't research Mysticism, can't expand borders" trap that often seems to occur. As for Tokugawa, his land was heavily jungled and he had a slow start as a result. Once he made his way to Iron Working tech though, he would be able to unlock the potential of his gems and Calendar resources buried under the foliage. The biggest issue for Tokugawa looked to be his terrible diplomacy, as usual, with Tokugawa refusing to sign Open Borders with anyone else and adopting Gandhi's Hindu religion. In a world where most civs were practicing Islam, that could be a recipe for real trouble.

It was only a matter of time until someone declared war on Gandhi, and Stalin was the leader who kicked things off first:

The timing here was pretty good, with Stalin largely out of room to expand and Gandhi not having much in the way of defenses at Varanasi. That border city fell easily to the Russians, leaving them with the much harder task of capturing the Indian capital next. Delhi's culture had already hit the 500 mark for fourth ring borders and Stalin's cultureless cities at St. Petersburg and Yaroslavl couldn't even control their own first ring borders as a result. For his part, Gandhi was still frantically building the Oracle and the Temple of Artemis, doing his usual thing where he pursued culture in suicidally-determined fashion. There were surprisingly few Indian units on defense in the capital of Delhi for this reason. However, breaking the defenses of a city on a hill with 60% culture was always going to be a difficult task for Stalin, and he struggled to make much headway over the following turns.

It was inevitable that he would have help though, and soon enough Shaka joined the war on Turn 76. Even if they didn't have catapults yet to break the cultural defenses, Shaka and Stalin had good odds to start capturing cities through sheer weight of numbers. As it turned out, Shaka had timed his entry into the war perfectly. He managed to show up outside Delhi right after Stalin had launched his own attack and redlined most of the defenders. When Shaka sent his own forces into the fray, they were able to return with the captured city in tow:

This was a huge turning point in the game. The Indian capital was a massively valuable prize and whichever civ landed it was going to have an early edge in the race for first place. It could have been taken by either Shaka or Stalin due to the randomness of the order in which their units made their attacks. If Shaka had invaded two turns earlier, for example, Stalin would have been the one to attack second and capture Delhi. Russian control of the city would have allowed Stalin to backfill in another city to the north, and cemented Stalin as the dominant leader on the northern side of the map. Instead, Shaka moved up from his last-place spot and largely pulled into an equivalent position with Stalin, the two of them emerging as midtier powers rather than one of them becoming a potential runaway force. Stalin had been blocked in his first attempt to capture a big chunk of land.

The real story of the game at this point didn't involve Shaka or Stalin or Gandhi, however. The biggest mover was instead Gilgamesh, the overlooked Sumerian leader who was rapidly becoming the frontrunner as Gandhi continued to lose territory. He had out-expanded the rest of the field by first grabbing territory off to his west and then settling down the eastern coast into the icy tundra. Those cities would have been economic sinkholes except for the fact that Gilgamesh had built the Great Lighthouse, turning all of them into worthwhile fishing villages. With an early Monarchy tech in hand for Hereditary Rule happiness, Gilgamesh had significantly more happiness available than the other leaders and was clearly winning at both the economic and expansion sides of the gameplay. Unlike the vain attempts by Shaka and Stalin to break Gandhi's remaining cultural powerhouses with no siege units available, by the time that Gilgamesh entered the war he already had Construction tech in hand:

Check out that massive lead for Gilgamesh on the scoreboard. I was shocked to see how far ahead Gilgamesh was on the bar graphs in terms of Food even before capturing any cities. That was a very, very bad sign for the rest of the field. Meanwhile, Gandhi was somehow *STILL* in second place despite losing the northern half of his empire and having to fight off a four-way invasion. His economic abilities are nothing short of incredible. The unmentioned fourth invader was Tokugawa, who had also declared war on Gandhi a few turns earlier, only to be set upon in turn by Mao who attacked the Japanese on Turn 102. This western war didn't end up having much of an effect beyond one Chinese border city getting taken by Tokugawa, however it did keep Tokugawa from reaping any of the spoils of Gandhi's demise.

Instead it would be Shaka and Stalin and Gilgamesh fighting over who would get which prize from the Indian lands. Gilgamesh had a gigantic edge in this struggle due to the presence of his catapults. He could remove the defenses of each city and then send in his catapults for some collateral damage before hitting the defenders with his actual units. The Russians and the Zulus were still stuck banging their heads against Indian archers and axes and spears with massive defensive bonuses. Therefore it didn't come as a surprise to see Gilgamesh taking the tastiest prizes for himself. He captured the border city of Vijayanagara first on Turn 110, then the ultra-valuable triple Holy City of Bombay on Turn 117, which came complete with THREE SHRINES already built! This left Gandhi with only the city of Pataliputra remaining, and a race developed between Stalin and Gilgamesh for this final prize. Both leaders had stacks outside the city but the killing blow was landed by Gilgamesh:

Farewell Gandhi, this was one game where you truly had no chance to win. The net result of the Indian war was one city for Stalin, one city for Shaka, and the other three cities captured by Gilgamesh. Losing Pataliputra to Gilgamesh was a particularly harsh blow for Stalin, as he moved first in turn order and could have taken Gandhi's last city with ease. However, the Russian stack had a single catapult inside it, and as a result the AI stopped to bombard rather than simply attacking the city, allowing Gilgamesh to swipe the prize away. Stalin had been rather unlucky in this war, as he easily could have taken both Delhi and Pataliputra if the vagaries of chance had worked out in his favor. This would have allowed him to backfill in additional cities and emerge from the Indian war as a powerhouse civ roughly equivalent to Gilgamesh. Instead, he had been at war for almost 60 turns and gained only a single border city for his troubles, the same location he captured in the first three turns of fighting. Everything after that had effectively served no purpose.

The huge winner from the Indian war was therefore Gilgamesh. He had become the runaway AI with a score roughly double anyone else in the game, now both the tech leader and the territorially dominant leader. Gilgamesh followed up his victory by building the Mausoleum and then launching a Golden Age, after which he was far enough ahead on the tech tree that he would land the remaining wonders for the rest of the game. This included the Apostolic Palace, which was attuned to Sumeria's Islamic religion as a result. Sharp eyes might notice in the screenshot above that every leader in the game aside from Tokugawa was running Islam. This made the Japanese an international rogue state, and it was only a matter of time until this aggressive bunch of leaders went after them:

Gilgamesh and Shaka invaded simultaneously on Turn 140 and Stalin joined them a few turns later to make this a full 3 vs 1 situation. Tokugawa would have struggled to defend himself against Gilgamesh alone, and he certainly had no chance against the combined forces of Gilgamesh and Shaka and Stalin. This conflict rapidly turned into another feeding frenzy where the main drama involved how much of the spoils each leader would be able to claim for themselves. Gilgamesh easily captured the border cities of Satsuma and Osaka without any issues, and Shaka sieged down and took the city of Kagoshima for himself off to the northwest. There was a struggle between Gilgamesh and Stalin over the city of Tokyo, another one of those situations where it was essentially dumb luck as to which stack took the city, and once again Gilgamesh was the one to land the prize. Stalin had experience some truly bad luck in that regard throughout this game. He did manage to get the Japanese capital of Kyoto to emerge with something for his troubles in this war, albeit a city that was disconnected from the rest of his core.

There was exactly one Japanese city remaining at this point, and the armies of three nations converged on Shanghai to deliver the final blow. That was the moment when Gilgamesh decided to hold a vote in the Apostolic Palace: "Return a city to their rightful owner", with Shanghai proposed to be assigned back to Mao once again. If the vote went through successfully, this would leave Tokugawa with zero cities remaining. What would happen then? Were we about to see the Apostolic Palace eliminate a civ?

Yes, we were - holey moley!!! The Apostolic Palace just straight-up murdered Tokugawa, oh my goodness. In all my years of playing Civ4, that's something I've never seen before. Due to the weird nature of these AI games, there was speculation in the chat that this may not have ever happened before, ever, to anyone. I suspect that someone, somewhere has had this pop up previously but still, wow, what an unexpected twist. It was also pointed out the absurdity of Tokugawa voting "No" instead of defying the resolution. If the AI won't defy a resolution when it means their own demise, when will they?! I'm guessing that the developers never even thought that a situation like this would ever come up and simply didn't account for it. We ended up assigning the kill credit in the official AI Survivor spreadsheet to "Apostolic Palace" since the wonder was the one to deliver the final blow. What a weird episode.

Anyway, with all silliness aside, the big winner from Tokugawa's elimination had once again been Gilgamesh. He had taken four of the six Japanese cities and eliminated the leader who had been in second place prior to the outset of the war. Gilgamesh was far enough ahead by this point that it was obvious he would win the game, and the drama now shifted to who would be paired with him as the runner-up leader. Shaka and Stalin were relatively close to one another on the scoreboard coming out of the Japanese war, however Shaka's superior land area meant that he slowly began to draw ahead of his Russian rival. Even though Stalin's technology and economy were superior, Shaka simply had more territory and more population, giving him the inside track on the race for second.

The world became surprisingly peaceful after the elimination of Tokugawa. All four of the remaining leaders practiced Islam, all of them had nearly identical peace weights, and all of them had racked up various "mutual military struggle" bonuses by fighting together against Gandhi and Tokugawa. The biggest diplomatic shift took place when Gilgamesh decided to switch into Free Religion via Shwedagon Paya, losing his shared Islamic diplomatic bonuses and dropping from "Friendly" down to "Pleased" with the other leaders. Interestingly, this caused Gilgamesh to lose the next Apostolic Palace election to Shaka, and it would be the Zulus controlling the AP vote going forward. This would end up proving to be highly important in the following turns.

The next big event was Stalin deciding to declare war on Gilgamesh on Turn 193. A wave of groans rose up from the viewers as Stalin seemingly signed his own death warrant by attacking the runaway AI leader three turns before Gilgamesh discovered Rifling tech. This started off as bad as expected with the isolated Russian colony of Tokyo falling to Gilgamesh almost immediately. Then Stalin's best friend Shaka decided to come to his aid a few turns later, and we were faced with the interesting dilemma of who Gilgamesh would decide to conquer first. Depending on who he rolled over with his rifle-based armies, we could see either Stalin or Shaka end up in second place, or even Mao if both of them took enough damage in the process. But that was when the Apostolic Palace came back to the fore:

With Shaka as the AP resident, he was able to use the wonder to vote through a "Stop the fighting amongst our brothers in faith" resolution. First he stopped the war that he himself had just begun a few turns earlier (what the heck, Shaka!) and then he stopped the war between Gilgamesh and Stalin shortly thereafter. The timing was excellent for Stalin as he was about to lose his first core city after a lengthy siege, with the treaty narrowly in time to avoid total disaster for Russia. The world returned to peace once more, although this time the peace felt like it was bound to be only temporary. Gilgamesh was all the way down to "Cautious" with Shaka and Stalin after both of them had attacked Sumeria, and with his massive territorial and tech advantages it was only a matter of time until one of them was crushed. Although Shaka now had a major lead on the scoreboard over Stalin, both of them would be rolled up in short order by Gilgamesh in a renewed conflict. It was basically a dice roll as to which of them would face another attack first.

We thought that Gilgamesh would start the next war, but nope, instead it was Stalin bizarrely choosing to attack Mao on Turn 245. This war predictably went nowhere with zero cities changing hands. It was immediately eclipsed two turns later by Gilgamesh attacking Shaka, and this was where the random sideshow of the Russian/Chinese war suddenly became important. Shaka immediately held another "stop the war" vote in the Apostolic Palace, only to pick the wrong war. He stopped the war between Stalin and Mao, not the vastly larger and more important war between Sumeria and the Zulus - what was he thinking?!

Shaka had made a terrible mistake and his civ was effectively forfeit as a result. He voted through the AP resolution to stop the Stalin/Mao war on Turn 251, which meant that the next AP vote wouldn't be held until ten turns later on Turn 261. Unfortunately for Shaka, that was ten turns that the Zulus didn't have to spare. The isolated former Indian capital fell first and then the green hordes of Sumerian troops rolled into the Zulu core. By the time of the screenshot taken above on Turn 258, Shaka had lost half of his original cities and nearly all of his military. With every city capture, Gilgamesh was gaining additional Islamic population and Shaka was losing it, making it harder and harder to win the next Apostolic Palace vote. Shaka did indeed hold a new "stop the war" vote as soon as he could on Turn 261, but it was too late by then. Gilgamesh already had enough population to form a veto block and stop the resolution from passing. This meant that there was nothing to stop the Sumerian tanks from racing all the way to the Arctic Ocean and deliver the finishing blow:

Oh my god what happened to the Zulus?! Shaka was unfortunate to be the one eliminated in this war after Stalin had seemingly done everything possible to get himself killed in the later stages of this game. Perhaps Stalin had finally had some good luck in the diplomacy to balance out his poor luck with city captures throughout the game. The last bit of drama involved whether Mao could overtake Stalin in score as they were only separated by 50-100 points on the scoreboard. However, Stalin had gained some additional territory that had been freed up when Shaka collapsed, and Gilgamesh's captured territory was quickly coming out of resistance and expanding borders. Gilgamesh's Domination victory arrived a few turns later and that was that:

For all of the twists and turns in this game, it had basically been a story of Gilgamesh stomping the rest of the field in decisive fashion. He had the best opening of any leader and never looked back, running out to a huge lead both economically and territorially. Gilgamesh was able to enter the Indian war at exactly the right moment, after Gandhi had been exhausted by fighting and with catapults already available to remove the Indian cultural defenses. Gilgamesh cleaned up all of the best spoils from first Gandhi, then Tokugawa, and then finally Shaka. It was basically a textbook performance from start to finish. Several of our contest entrants have been claiming again and again that Gilgamesh is a good AI, and this time they were finally proven correct. We're now moving on to a championship game in which Willem and Gilgamesh were the playoff round winners. I never expected to be saying that coming into this season! We'll find out who will be joining them in the third and final playoff game.