The second game of Season Four rolled a group of leaders with an uncommonly economic bent: four different leaders with the Financial trait! There are only ten such leaders in the whole game and this particular map ended up with four of them. The group started with Pacal from the pool of protected leaders, one of the rare Financial leaders with a low peace weight. He's more comfortable hanging out with the likes of Montezuma than with Lincoln. Joining Pacal were a pair of Financial leaders with great traits (Willem and Victoria) who had experienced essentially no success to date in past seasons of AI Survivor. Was this the game for them to break through finally? Then there was also Wang Kon, the Troll King, winner of perhaps the most preposterous victory in Civ4 AI Survivor history last season. His trolling had advanced to the point of metagaming the humans watching the AI competition, and I genuinely feared for what he would do this year. We also drew Gandhi into this game, probably the best non-Financial AI leader from an economic perspective. Gandhi either runs away with a peaceful victory or gets crushed, one or the other. Finally we added two more aggressive, low peace weight civs in the last two slots, Mehmed and Louis. They had the potential to shake things up in what otherwise could be a big research lovefest.
The picking community had centered on Mehmed as the favorite, largely due to a ridiculously strong capital with triple gems resources combined with the wide expanse of open space to his east. Pacal, Gandhi, and Wang Kon were roughly similar choices after Mehmed to top the field. On the other end of the spectrum, Willem was the top choice for the First to Die category along with Louis as a more distant second choice. There was immediate consternation from the viewers when Mehmed chose to ignore researching Mining tech (which he didn't start with) in favor of chasing after a religion. Gandhi would end up establishing the first religion via Polytheism (taking the expected Hinduism), followed by a mad scramble for the second religion. Pacal would by the first to Medidation by virtue of a turn order tie with Wang Kon, and Mehmed was only a single turn behind the two of them. Pacal chose to establish Confucianism and both Wang Kon and Medhmed were left out in the cold. The Ottoman leader ended up researching *FIVE* different techs before he finally went after Mining, leaving those gems unimproved for the first 35 turns of the game. It's truly incredible how the AI can self-sabotage itself sometimes.
By way of contrast, Willem was executing one of the better openings that we've seen from an AI leader. He used his starting Agriculture tech to improve the corn resource first, followed by a quick Animal Husbandry for his pigs and horses, and then into Mining to connect his gold resource. This was the impressive result, a capital with four improved resources by Turn 30 and a full nine commerce coming from the gold tile. The Dutch leader also picked a great spot for his second city, sending it due north into a juicy floodplains area where another gold resource was located. With the Financial trait and double gold resources, Willem was easily leading the field in early game research. He then went on to build Stonehenge as well, locking down total border control between the free monuments and his Creative trait. A little bit later, Willem also reached Monotheism tech first and established Christianity to provide the game with a third major religion. Was this going to be the game where he finally achieved something?
The other noteworthy story from the early turns was a failure to expand properly from Victoria. She was sitting on three cities for the longest time and not making much of an effort to grab the territory to the west of her capital. Given that Victoria has the Imperialistic trait, this was a truly puzzling development. As far as we could tell, Victoria was trying to build a series of different wonders and failing to complete them as other rivals finished them first. The marble resource at her capital was perhaps a bit of a poison pill in this respect, repeatedly encouraging the English to chase after wonders in ill-conceived fashion. The net result was that there was a wide open gap of space in the northeast corner of the continent, and Louis was doing a good job of filling that up with cities. I had been expecting the French to be squeezed by their high peace weight neighbors on each side, and it simply wasn't happening because of Victoria's inexplicable struggles.
The first war broke out in this game at a very early date, with Wang Kon invading Pacal on Turn 60. Much of the map remained unsettled at this point, and typically the AIs don't get too aggressive until they run out of land. This would end up helping Louis settle more of that northeastern gap on the continent with Korea focused on its southern neighbor. But unlike so many other early game wars that tend to be self-sabotaging, Wang Kong's invasion had lucked its way into a perfect setup. Korea had a copper resource near the capital and the presence of that copper along with an early Bronze Working tech had led Wang Kon to build a bunch of axes. Notably Korea did not have any horses and therefore couldn't build any chariots. Meanwhile, Pacal did not have a copper resource and therefore couldn't build axes. He instead built lots of holkans, his resourceless unique unit spearman, and actually skipped out on researching Archery for a long time. (Yes, there's a Mayan archer in the above screnshot but that's one of the free Deity starting units.) As a result, Wang Kon opted into the perfect tactical coup: he had an army full of axes attacking a defender who was massing nothing but spears. Uh oh. Even with cultural defensive bonuses, that wasn't going to be enough to stop the attacking Koreans. The city of Lakhamba fell first followed by Chichen Itza and Wang Kon's forces began marching deeper into Mayan territory.
The religious gameplay was beginning to take form by this point and we were seeing the emergence of the first alliances. Gandhi's Hinduism held sway on the eastern side of the map, where he converted Victoria to his cause. This was very much expected given their shared high peace weight scores along with Gandhi's religious obsession. Willem's Christianity had spread north to Mehmed, no surprise there, but somewhat shockingly it also popped up in France and was prevalent enough for Louis to convert. This was bad news for Gandhi and Victoria, as Hinduism would have been the more logical choice of religion for Louis, and instead he was aligned with Willem's more distant faith. Pacal's Confucianism had spread to Wang Kon, which unfortunately wasn't enough to help the Mayans since it didn't take place until after their war broke out. Wang Kon quickly captured the Confucian Holy City and therefore took over as the leader of that faith, making him unlikely to switch. This was the basic religious configuration that would last for the rest of the game, at least until leaders switched to Free Religion much later.
We thought that Mehmed would go after Wang Kon with his first attack, given their peace weight and religious differences. Instead he chose to strike out at Willem on Turn 75, a war that didn't have much effect in terms of territory changing hands, but which did slow down Willem and disrupt his early frontrunner status. By Turn 90 Louis had surprisingly taken over as the score leader, and he made a wise move to continuing snowballing that advantage by declaring war on Victoria. The English had failed to expand beyond four cities in totally inexplicable fashion, and Vicky's territory was ripe for the plucking. She was able to hide behind city wall defenses briefly, but it didn't take long before Louis researched Construction tech and brought catapults into the mix, with the siege units sounding the death knell for Victoria. She needed someone else to intervene into the war or it was all over.
There was no help coming for Pacal in the other major war taking place. He had an iron resource at his capital yet stubbornly refused to research Iron Working, going all the way up to Construction without ever finishing the tech that would save him. It was incredible to watch Korean axes and swords effortlessly hack down the defending holkans, archers, and chariots without ever having the Mayan version of those same units make an appearance. One city after another was taken by Wang Kon in ruthless succession. The capital city of Mutal fell on Turn 98, and Pacal made his exit on Turn 104:
We had a question on the stream about whether this was the earliest exit ever in Civ4 AI Survivor, and after going back to check the previous seasons, I can confirm that it was indeed the earliest. Pacal's defeat actually shattered this particular record, which was previously held by Augustus in a playoff game from Season One with a Turn 106 exit. It was hard to believe that one of the best performing AI leaders from previous seasons could be eliminated so quickly, but this truly had been an exceptional series of circumstances. Wang Kon had exactly the correct unit mix on attack and Pacal's resource situation left him with absolutely the worst unit mix possible for defending. And it's not as though the resource situation from the map was unfair or anything, as Pacal literally had iron at his capital and refused to research the tech needed to connect it. Between the early demise of Pacal and Mehmed sitting in fifth place, the picking contest entries were not off to a great start.
We were now curious to see if Wang Kon would intervene in the war between Louis and Victoria in time to save the English from destruction. Willem and Mehmed also signed a treaty in their own pointless war at this time, freeing up the two of them for action. Gandhi was Victoria's best friend and the most likely candidate to help her out, except that he was founding a whole bunch of minority religions and building the Apostolic Palace. The Indians seemed happy to focus on infrastructure forever until they won a peaceful victory condition. Thus no one came to save Victoria, and she was eliminated as well on Turn 123:
Note that this was the third-earliest elimination in Civ4 AI Survivor history, which would have been second-fastest Pacal hadn't been booted even sooner in the same game. What a weird situation. Louis and Wang Kon were now the two leaders topping the board, and between them Louis looked to have the better situation. His next move was almost certainly an invasion of Gandhi, and a conquest of the Indians would make France the undisputed runaway AI. What Gandhi needed was for Wang Kon to attack Louis, tying up the two strongest AI leaders in their own conflict and clearing a path for India to chase after a cultural or space win. Wang Kon and Gandhi effectively needed one another to survive since they were the only two high peace weight leaders remaining. If one of them were defeated, the other one would almost certainly be eliminated as well.
Fortunately for Gandhi, Wang Kon launched the hoped-for invasion of France on Turn 128. If Wang Kon had chosen to attack Mehmed or Willem instead, this could have been a very different game. Wang Kon was able to capture the French border city of Orleans just as Willem initiated his own puzzling war:
The Dutch were attacking the Indians of all people. This was one of those conflicts that makes sense from a numerical perspective (big peace weight difference, religious tension, etc.) but none at all from a strategic outlook. It was hard to see Willem having much success given the massive supply lines that he'd have to be working with and the ease of Gandhi's units fighting within their own territory. With that said though, Gandhi struggles to build enough units due to his pacifistic tendencies, and any fighting would pull Gandhi away from his relentless cultural pursuits. Meanwhile, Wang Kon's early success in his invasion of Louis was turned around when Mehmed was pulled into the conflict on the side of the French. Mehmed had not been plotting war and took a few turns to gather his forces, but when they were grouped together it was enough to capture a border city from Korea. Now Wang Kon was stuck in a two front war and things didn't look so good for the high peace weight leaders. Louis took his border city of Orleans back again along with the overall score lead, and French units began pushing into Korean territory.
For his part, Gandhi was struggling against Willem in defiance of all tactical logic. The Dutch managed to capture Vijayanagara away from Gandhi and take control of one of Gandhi's four Holy Cities, then began pushing on Gandhi's capital city of Delhi next. The Indians appeared to be on their way out, Gandhi done in by the same flaw that always cripples his games: not building enough units. However, the diplomacy began shifting over the following turns in Gandhi and Wang Kon's favor. First the Koreans were able to secure a badly-needed peace treaty with Mehmed. The Ottomans had picked up one city for their troubles and likely should have continued the war against a reeling Korea. This treaty allowed Wang Kon to stabilize against Louis and turn that conflict into an extended draw. Then Gandhi went to work diplomatically and induced Mehmed to declare war on Willem! This was the critical turning point of the game, relieving the pressure on India and forcing Willem to face off against his closer northern neighbor instead. Gandhi broke the siege of his capital, recaptured Vijayanagara from the Dutch, and even used the Apostolic Palace to cheese a city away from Louis:
Gandhi was absolutely not the "rightful owner" of Chartres, a city that he had never owned at any point in time, and yet he was able to use his cultural influence over the city to flip it to his control. That wonder is really stupid sometimes. In any case, we were looking at a close four-way race for the lead between Louis, Wang Kon, Willem, and Gandhi. The other three leaders were tied up in warring at the moment, allowing Gandhi to go back to spamming out endless infrastructure and religious buildings across his empire. His culture was already starting to become a concern, with three cities approaching the 5k mark. In the ongoing wars, Louis and Wang Kon appeared to be an even match for one another, continuing to clash with big armies over the city of Wonsan without either side gaining an advantage. Off in the west, Mehmed successfully captured a core city from the Dutch with the initial invasion, and nearly took a second one before falling just short outside Utrecht. This would be the high water mark for the Ottomans, who had a smaller empire and were weaker economically than Willem. Eventually the tech edge of the Dutch would make its presence felt, and the results would not be pretty.
By Turn 200 the stalemate between Wang Kon and Louis was beginning to tip towards the Korean side. This was so gradual that it was almost imperceptible at first, starting with Wang Kon decisively breaking the siege of Wonsan, and then continuing with the capture of first one, then two French border cities. The long score lead that Louis had enjoyed began to slip, as he fell back into the pack with the loss of these border fortresses. It was all the more impressive that Wang Kon was able to pull this off despite crushing war weariness in his cities:
That was the Statue of Zeus at work there, doubling the war weariness that Wang Kon had accumulated to truly absurd levels. Only the presence of a bunch of resources that India was trading kept Korea from a total collapse here. Things were pretty bad in France as well, and both civs couldn't grow their populations due to the massive amounts of unhappiness from their seemingly endless war. This was allowing Gandhi and Willem to surge ahead on the scoreboard, and the two of them increasingly seemed to be the top leaders in the bunch. Gandhi was building the Statue of Liberty and all of the Modern era wonders, racing out to a clear tech lead. Any fears that he would be overrun militarily were gone now, with the presence of first Rifling and then Assembly Line techs. Willem was a little bit further behind on the tech tree yet far ahead of the other leaders. He was using some pretty lousy tactics and repeatedly failing to capture Ottoman cities, but eventually the presence of rifles and cavs against janissaries had to be enough to swing the odds. By about Turn 250, the Ottomans were in the process of disintegrating:
With their fall of the Ottoman capital, those infamous triple gem resources passed under Dutch control. Both Gandhi and Willem were about 1000 points ahead on the scoreboard as compared to the rest of the field and looked to have the two playoff spots locked down. Mehmed was a dead man walking unless he could get a peace treaty of some kind, and Willem wasn't in the mood to show mercy. After the war sat in a static position for long turns on end, the final city captures came quickly. It was all over for Mehmed on Turn 263, an ignominious end for the pregame favorite. We keep thinking that Mehmed is a good leader season after season and it never seems to materialize for him. Meanwhile Gandhi was accelerating into the endgame of a cultural victory by now. He was already looking at a victory date before Turn 300, and then decided to speed things up further by turning on the cultural slider:
886 culture/turn in the weakest of his three Legendary cities had the finish date coming even sooner. Just look at all those juicy watermill tiles and the use of the Build Culture option to convert production into culture, sheesh. This could have been a human playing the game. Now the question was whether Wang Kon could finish off Louis before time ran out on the game via Gandhi's impending cultural victory. It didn't look like there would be enough turns remaining, not with Gandhi running the culture slider, however Wang Kon ended up surprising us. He used Open Borders through Gandhi's bloated cultural territory to move quickly to the remaining French cities, and Korean infantry proved to be sufficient to cut through defending French rifles. Louis was eliminated on Turn 284, and Gandhi wrapped up his victory three turns later when his third city hit 50k culture:
For a game with four civs eliminated, we had a shockingly low number of war declarations: only seven in the whole contest! These AI leaders had chosen to keep their wars going for long turns on end rather than signing peace, with the best example being the Korea vs France war that started on Turn 128 and didn't end until Louis was eliminated. All three surviving leaders had reason to take pride, with Gandhi capturing yet another first place finish and Willem grabbing his own first ticket to the playoffs. This was one of those unusual games where the score leader didn't win the victory as Willem had a significant score lead at the finish. As for Wang Kon, he successfully defeated his gamelong rival of Louis and scored two total kills. We'll get a chance to see him troll the rest of the field again in the Wildcard game, where he looks to be one of the more dangerous competitors.
The overarching story of this game was Gandhi successfully getting to run his religious-heavy pacifistic strategy. We have pretty clear evidence of this from four seasons of AI Survivor: when Gandhi gets to avoid wars and build in his corner of the map, he always wins the game. When he gets roughed up, he falls apart like a paper tiger and quickly exits the game. Gandhi came extremely close to defeat in this game, and when Louis took out Victoria at an early date I thought that Gandhi was very likely to be next. Instead, Wang Kon saved Gandhi by attacking France and kept Louis busy for literally the entirety of the game. Gandhi only faced a single war all game, and he was losing that one to Willem until he managed to get Mehmed to intervene. That attack sealed Gandhi's cultural win and simultaneously led to Mehmed getting eliminated by Willem. It was a bit of a tightrope that Gandhi had to walk in this match, and he was able to pull it off successfully.
Congrats to MathBandit for winning the picking contest in sole first place with 19 points. This was a bit of a disaster for the picking contest field, as the average score was a mere 4.62 points across about 150 entries. Better luck to all of us next time!