Civ4 AI Survivor Season 4: Game Three Writeup

For Game Three, we found ourselves drawing a bunch of aggression-focused leaders with little in the way of economic traits. The top seeded AI in this bunch was Julius Caesar, who made a name for himself in Season Three by advancing to the championship game while racking up no less than seven kills along the way. If he could get his hands on an iron resource again, it could spell trouble for the rest of the field. The other protected seed drawn into this game was Suleiman, who just barely sneaked into Pool 2 with the lowest qualifying Power Ranking score (we seeded the top 16 AIs and Suleiman was rated 16th). The "Sillyman" was the only one of the seeded leaders who failed to score at least one first place victory in the past three seasons of AI Survivor, and he's always struck me as a fairly generic AI leader. Amongst the unseeded group was noted insane warmonger Shaka of the Zulus, a loose cannon certain to stir up trouble. We also had De Gaulle making an appearance, a total punching bag leader in the first two seasons who surprised everyone with a first place victory in the opening round of Season Three. Finally, we had Joao of Portugal, a generic leader known mostly for having a difficult to pronounce name, and Frederick of Germany, a pacifistic individual who seemed to be wildly out of place in this matchup. He had to hold out hope that his isolated starting position would allow him to survive. It was also worth noting that none of the leaders in this game started with Mysticism tech, which meant that the religious side of the gameplay would be completely unpredictable.

Game Three was different from the first two games in the sense that we had some overwhelming favorites in the picking contest. Caesar was the dominant choice to win the game, with more than half of the entrants choosing him to top the field, and similarly Joao was the strong favorite as First to Die. We also had about 75% of the contest entries choose Domination as the victory condition, and that seemed to be a safe bet given this field. The early shape of the gameplay began forming immediately in this one, particularly as Caesar sent his starting Deity settler due north into a juicy floodplains region while Joao incorrectly chose to send his initial settler to the west. The net effect was that Caesar was able to pick up more land than we might have expected, while Joao was squeezed into a smaller total area. Score one for the wisdom of the crowd.

The religions were a total black box in this game due to the fact that none of the six leaders began with Mysticism tech. The only leader who made any effort to found a religion out of the gate was Suleiman, who picked up Islam as early as Turn 15. After that no one took a religion for ages and ages on end, by far the longest time that we've ever seen in an AI Survivor game. Without getting the extra Deity starting techs, the AI leaders have to spend more time researching the basic stuff like Agriculture and that delays when their leaders will choose to head down the religious line. Shaka actually failed to research Mysticism tech until about Turn 90 in this game, leaving all of his non-capital cities with zero culture for the first few thousand years. The next one to pick up a religion was De Gaulle at the late date of Turn 42, as he established Christianity on the same turn that he built Stonehenge. This would provide De Gaulle with the early culture lead, although he had been slow to expand in this game overall despite having the most open land around his starting position.

The biggest story in the early turns was the outstanding opening sequence that Rome was playing. Caesar came out of the gate spitting fire, making perfect use of his Fishing/Mining starting techs at this lush capital city. He had already built two work boats and connected both silver resources as early as Turn 17, and the extra commerce allowed Caesar to push quickly towards first Bronze Working and then Iron Working. The bonus production from those hill mines then fueled some fast Imperialistic settlers, allowing Caesar to claim more of the disputed territory to the north. All of the early Ottoman cities had gone north of Suleiman's starting position and Frederick was off to a weak start in the far east. Caesar was under no pressure at all and he was happy to gobble up all of the land in his immediate vicinity, including a source of iron at Neapolis. It was only a matter of time before Iron Working finished and praetorians were on the scene.

By Turn 57, Caesar had taken over complete control of the floodplains river valley running to the north of his capital. Some of that land really should have gone to Suleiman, especially the Cumae location up there in would-be Ottoman territory. With no one paying much attention to the religions in this game, Caesar was also able to pick up his own faith at Monotheism tech, choosing Confucianism and getting the Holy City to pop up at Antium. Unlike Islam and Christianity which had seen no religious spread to other nations, Confucianism was quickly passed about via Organized Religion missionaries out of Rome. Shaka converted to Confucianism on Turn 65, followed by Frederick on Turn 75 and Joao on Turn 80. That was somewhat bad in the sense that Caesar would be less likely to attack his eastern and western neighbors and devour their lands with praetorians. Nevertheless it's generally a good thing to have religious allies in diplomacy, and Suleiman and De Gaulle were planting targets on their backs by adopting faiths that no one else followed in this Confucian world.

I thought that the tech pace would move slowly in this game with no Financial leaders, and it did for most of the field. Not Caesar though. His aggressive settling of the map wound up getting him access to the triple metal resources: gold, silver, and gems, and then he made the savvy move of using the Oracle to slingshot Metal Casting tech. Along with an ivory resource, this gave Caesar a crazy amount of happiness compared to the rest of the field, +7 happiness with a forge and those luxuries. The Romans began landing wonder after wonder due to their tech lead, starting with the Great Lighthouse and then going onto the Colossus. This caused enough cultural pressure that Joao liberated his border city of Evora over to Caesar, with the Romans picking up more territory without firing a shot. Julius Caesar building lots of wonders and culture flipping cities - what kind of strange game was this?!

The warring opened up with a double invasion on Turn 77, De Gaulle attacking Frederick and Suleiman attacking Shaka. The first war was expected due to the massive peace weight difference between De Gaulle and Frederick. It was too early on the tech tree though, with De Gaulle not having Construction tech yet and therefore no catapults. Due to the distances involved nothing happened in this fight aside from both leaders wasting production on units thrown away in pointless combat. The Suleiman vs Shaka war was more consequential, with the Ottomans autorazing a brand new size 1 Zulu city along the border. Shaka simultaneously captured a barbarian city and therefore stayed at the same city count. Although the Zulus had managed to settle a pretty decent amount of territory, Shaka was horribly weak when it came to research and had been limping along at about 30% science for some time. Eventually both wars ended in peace treaties with no further territory changing hands. The real winner of all this was Caesar, who had sat out this round of warring and was truly running away with the game in every conceivable category.

By Turn 105 Caesar was 500 score points clear of the rest of the field, half again the score points of anyone else. Now score isn't everything in Civ4 and can sometimes be deceptive, but when one leader gets that far ahead it's a pretty good indication that they're crushing the game. Shaka decided that things were becoming too boring and launched his own invasion of Portugal on Turn 106. The Zulus did not have catapults and this looked like it could be another failed pre-Construction attack. However Shaka did have a lot more cities than the cramped Portuguese, and he began zerging his way through the border defenses of Joao by sacrificing mass numbers of units. The first border city fell on Turn 111, and although Joao temporarily took one of Shaka's own cities, the weight of numbers soon began to tell.

The writing was on the wall for Portugal by the time that a second city fell on Turn 123. If no one intervened in this conflict on the side of Joao, it was inevitable that he would be ground down by the Zulu invaders eventually. The next big battle took place at the gates of Lisbon as the Portuguese capital underwent a protracted siege. Shaka did have catapults by this point and after removing the defenses he sent in his melee units. The Portuguese held strong against the initial surge, just barely, and for several turns on end Joao was reinforcing with more units again and again. Finally the city was down to a single catapult left on defense, and that triggered its fall on the next interturn. Shaka had punched through in earnest now and Portugal was in full-on collapse mode.

Elsewhere on the map, De Gaulle had built the Apostolic Palace and linked it to his Christian religion. It would end up playing virtually no role in this game because Christianity was so poorly spread about in this world. Caesar continued to land nearly all of the most impactful wonders: Mausoleum, Statue of Zeus, and Sistine Chapel among them. The combination of longer Golden Ages, brutal war weariness for opponents, and dominant culture from the endless specialists that the AI always runs only made Caesar that much more of a powerhouse. De Gaulle would eventually jump into Shaka's war with Joao in the hopes of vulturing some scraps for himself, and he would end up claiming a single Portuguese city on the Roman border. Shaka was the big winner however, getting everything else and securing the first kill of the game:

Farewell Joao, you had a tough starting position and didn't play it especially well by conceding so much of the border region to Rome. His removal from the game had raised the Zulus from also-run status to the position of second-tier power behind Rome. There was some tight jockeying for position between De Gaulle and Shaka for that second place spot, then a drop off to Suleiman, and then Frederick trailing in last place. It was unclear what was wrong with Germany, as Frederick had largely been left alone in this game aside from that brief war with De Gaulle, yet he had been a total failure at expansion and allowed Caesar to settle a city six tiles away from Berlin. All the evidence continues to point to Frederick being a poor AI leader. As for Suleiman, his diplomatic position was shaky in this world where no one else practiced Islam. De Gaulle had helped himself out by constructing Shwedagon Paya and hopping into Free Religion, getting out of the poison pill religion of Christianity. It felt like only a matter of time before Suleiman was ganged up on by other leaders due to his unpopular religion.

Somewhat surprisingly it was Suleiman who started the next war, attacking Shaka on Turn 160 with a big stack of 40 units. That was twice now that Suleiman had declared on Shaka, a dubious move that's been all too common for the "Sillyman" in past years of this competition. Suleiman did manage to take the Zulu city on their respective border, only for Shaka to capture it back a few turns later when the Ottoman offensive petered out. Suleiman had other problems on his hands as well, with Frederick of all people attacking him on Turn 165. With the Ottoman units off on the northern border, Frederick managed to capture a city:

Go Frederick - the Mouse That Roared! Sadly for Frederick there was enough Roman culture in Mediolanum that he wasn't able to hold onto this prize, and it would eventually flip over to Caesar. Somehow Rome hadn't been in a single war the whole game and still had the most territory in the world. This pacifistic Caesar made no sense at all but it seemed to be working. The bad news kept coming for Frederick as shortly thereafter De Gaulle decided to attack him a second time, although De Gaulle struggled to make much progress despite his huge edge in territory and population. De Gaulle's not a great leader at fighting wars, he kept trying to build more infrastructure and wonders instead of doing the Shaka thing and pumping out endless units from every city.

These two wars ground on for quite some time. Shaka was having more success as he systematically sieged down and captured one Ottoman city after another. This took a lot of time given the castle defenses that Suleiman had in each city, however it was slowly winning the day and the Ottoman borders were disappearing off the map. De Gaulle was having much more trouble and it took him more than 30 turns (and several failed assaults) before he finally took the first German border city. Sheesh man, not looking too good here compared to Shaka. We kept waiting and waiting to see if Caesar would join the fray and smash someone only to be disappointed. At one point Caesar was indeed plotting war and we spotted him with the infamous "We Have Enough On Our Hands Right Now", and then nothing ever materialized as he went back to building Research in every city. Hmmph. Anyway, eventually Shaka made it to the final Ottoman city and captured it like so many others, and that was that for Suleiman:

This was a poor showing from Suleiman, who had an excellent capital and room to expand in the middle of the map. He established an early religion and never bothered to spread it to anyone else, then fought a series of ineffective wars that failed to capture territory. The two attacks against Shaka both achieved nothing and served to cement Suleiman's demise. Why didn't he launch his assaults when Shaka was in the middle of the Portuguese war when they would have been far more effective? Not too good from the Sillyman. Anyway, capturing the Ottoman core had catapulted Shaka into a narrow lead over De Gaulle in the race for second. With De Gaulle in the slow process of capturing the German cities, it was anyone's guess who would be on top at the end of their respective wars. Both leaders were far, far behind Caesar by this point in time - just look at what everyone was researching in that screenshot above. Shaka and De Gaulle were in the late Renaissance/early Industrial period while Caesar was well into the Modern era. Roman culture continued to swallow up many of the Ottoman/German cities after their capture, and Caesar's territory kept getting larger without firing a shot. One of the viewers compared this to my old Passive Aggressive Hatty game, and it did feel a lot like that.

As I mentioned before, De Gaulle struggled for a long time against the much weaker German civ. Eventually he reached Rifling tech though and that was all she wrote for Frederick, who exited the game on Turn 240:

Frederick has never finished in first or second place, and he's never picked up a kill in four seasons of AI Survivor. He's clearly one of the worst AI leaders in Civ4, at least under the game conditions that we use for this event. His demise had flipped the race for second place yet again, with De Gaulle now enjoying a narrow lead over Shaka. The big question here was whether De Gaulle would be able to hold onto his conquests in the face of Roman culture; Cologne had already flipped over to Caesar, and both Hamburg and Munich were about to be heavily pressured. Losing those cities would likely drop De Gaulle's score below Shaka, and even if they held out and remained French, the inevitable starving that they would suffer from lacking tiles to work was likely to have a significant score impact. (On that note, can I get a shoutout for the awesome format that we've figured out for AI Survivor through trial and error? Even in a game like this with no drama over the winner, we had a tight race for second place and a real question about what victory condition Caesar would pick.)

Shaka decided that he wouldn't wait around to see what happened with culture flipping, instead attacking De Gaulle on Turn 243. Excellent! We were about to find out who would finish in second place in real time, with Shaka and De Gaulle duking it out for the honor. But as it turned out we weren't about to get a long battle for second. Instead, the Conqueror of the Gauls was finally stirring from his long slumber, going into WHEOOHRN-mode and rallying his tanks for battle. Who was going to have the hammer dropped on them?

De Gaulle was the unlucky target of this attack. Caesar captured all three of the French cities in ex-Germany on the initial turn and then began pushing north with all due speed. There was nothing that De Gaulle could do to stop the Roman advance; De Gaulle and Shaka together couldn't have stopped Caesar, much less the two of them working against one another. The power bar graph showed the kind of obscene edge that you would expect when one side had access to tanks and the other side was still fielding rifles and cavs. France effectively disintegrated over the next 15 turns, one city after another falling to the invaders. Somewhat surprisingly the territory wasn't all going to Caesar, as Shaka managed to take the French capital with his big stack of 80 rifles and cavs, as well as poach out a series of city captures from under the nose of the Romans. The height of this took place when Roman gunships killed all the defenders of one French city and a single random wandering Zulu cavalry strolled in and took the place. The net result was that the Romans only took about half of De Gaulle's territory instead of the bulk of it, and Shaka actually claimed the kill credit for taking the final city:

It was pretty shocking that Caesar had reached a position this dominant without scoring a single kill for himself. Now the drama was how and when Caesar would polish off his win. We still had the possibility of another war between the two remaining leaders, as Caesar and Shaka were only "Pleased" with one another and both of them will declare war at those relations. A final war would make Domination trivially easy for Rome to achieve and we kept watching for any signs that it would break out. If things stayed peaceful, it looked like we would see a Spaceship ending. Caesar had two cities approaching 50k culture but lacked a third one, and he was still about 70 turns away from getting that third city to go Legendary. There was also the possibility of a peaceful Domination victory via cultural expansion, something that Caesar was getting close to achieving. His culture was out of control due to Sistine Chapel and Eiffel Tower, and the Roman land area percentage was steadily ticking upwards. If Shaka hadn't captured so many French cities in surprising fashion, Domination would have been a certainty.

We also had a bizarre interlude involving the Apostolic Palace. When Caesar built the United Nations, I removed the AI observer civ from the game (RIP Sitting Bull) since the United Nations introduces anyone on the map who hasn't already met one another. Mass Media tech normally obsoletes the Apostolic Palace, but because Shaka was so far behind in technology, his captured Apostolic Palace was still active. Of course he went ahead and held a Religious Victory vote, and of course Caesar voted for him, and we had a victory for Shaka in nonsensical fashion. This predictably caused the Livestream chat to go crazy:

No, that didn't count for Shaka. Stupid Apostolic Palace, sigh. The answer here was to reload back a few turns and remove the Apostolic Palace religion from the player observer civ. This allowed us to get rid of Sitting Bull without triggering a potential Religious Victory vote. Lesson learned for the future.

Anyway, we didn't end up seeing another war between Caesar and Shaka. The Domination percentage ticked up and reached as high as 59% without quite managing to cross the 62% threshhold needed to trigger the victory condition. Caesar had come up one or two cities short, and Shaka's surprising performance in the war against De Gaulle was the only reason that this game didn't end in domination. Instead the Roman spaceship launched at the end of Turn 293 and reached Alpha Centauri ten turns later:

This was a total tour de force from Caesar from beginning to end. He jumped out to a strong start from the outset and never let his foot off the gas pedal. It was surprising how peacefully he played the game, which was probably due to the fact that nearly everyone on the map was following Caesar's self-founded religion. I honestly don't know what to make of this pacifistic Caesar who largely imitated Gandhi's performance from Game Two. However unlike Gandhi who nearly lost that game and needed help from Wang Kon to survive, Caesar was never in any danger and cruised to an easy win. It was truly impressive and I'm looking forward to seeing Caesar again (and Shaka!) in the playoff round.