Civ4 AI Survivor Season 4: Game Four Writeup

We had a clear theme for Game Four of AI Survivor: religion, religion, and more religion. Five of the seven leaders in this game started with Mysticism tech and would have an opportunity to found one of the game's opening two religions. This was a stark contrast from Game Three, where none of the six leaders began the game with Mysticism and we had no idea where the religions were going to fall. Heading the group as the protected Pool 1 leader was Justinian, the champion of Season One of AI Survivor, and one of the most consistently dangerous competitors in this event. We wondered whether the removal of the free Deity starting techs would hurt him due to Byzantium's poor default combination of Mysticism/Wheel, or if he would simply power on through regardless. The other protected Pool 2 leader was Suryavarman, one of those rare leaders with low peace weight and good economic traits. His best showing had also been in Season One, and the Khmer had underachieved a bit since then. As for the rest of the group, almost everyone wanted to get their hands on a religion in some way. Asoka, Charlemagne, and Saladin were all likely to chase after the opening faiths regardless of the consequences and quite likely to their own detriment. Finally, we also had an aggressive leader in the form of Peter to shake things up... and the game's most insane warmonger in Montezuma to boot. What lunacy would Monty get himself into in this game?

The religious race was on in earnest from the start of the game, with all five of the Mysticism leaders going after the initial two faiths. Justinian narrowly won the competition to Meditation, beating out Charlemagne by a single turn, and he immediately founded his preferred religion of Christianity. There was a three-way race for the Polytheism religion taking place at the same time between Asoka, Montezuma, and Saladin. The Indian leader managed to land this second religion and established Buddhism, immediately creating a situation where the first two faiths were bordering one another at the bottom of the map. That did not appear to bode well for Asoka, who now had another potential enemy on his eastern flank in addition to all of the low peace weight civs to his north and west.

Fortunately for their own sake, none of the AI leaders were dumb enough to ignore all of the initial worker techs in favor of a push to the third religion at Monotheism. It would take a little while before anyone ventured there. The early turns were therefore spent doing the usual stuff of improving the first tiles at the capital and pushing out settlers onto the map. Justinian was doing a particularly good job of this, making use of the wet corn and gold resources at his capital, and Peter also connected his starting resources at an early date. They were both doing well at expanding out onto the map, although Peter did the weird thing where an AI skips Mysticism tech and spent the first 80 turns of the game with no expanded borders outside of his capital. Asoka was not expanding very well at all, opting instead to stick on three cities and construct the Oracle, but at least he did take a useful Monarchy tech and open up his Buddhist shrine via the resulting Great Prophet. Justinian pulled a similar and more effective move by landing Stonehenge a little bit later. Eventually we did get the third religion, a surprising Confucianism from Montezuma:

Monty wasn't doing very well at this point, sitting in last place on the scoreboard. He had inexplicably refused to research Animal Husbandry tech despite having horse and sheep resources at his capital - typical Montezuma. This naturally resulted in the Aztecs lagging in expansion, and together with Suryavarman also struggling to expand for no clear reason, had left a large gap of open territory on the western side of the map. Peter would end up filling much of that land with his own Russian cities, providing an opportunity for him to climb the scoreboard and become one of the major powers. I thought that Montezuma's new religion might end up having free reign over the western side of the map, but it turned out that he did a poor job of spreading it around. That's another problem with Monty, as he tends to do nothing but train units and doesn't spend enough time on infrastructure or religious/cultural stuff. This would end up creating an opportunity for other leaders to spread their own religion to the godless civs in the west.

Over the following turns, we began to see the religious landscape of the game take shape as the map filled up with cities. It was obvious before the game started that religious diplomacy was going to be hugely important in this contest, and the leader that could line up the most religious partners would have an inside track to the victory. Justinian had the most initial success in this regard, as his Christianity spread to Charlemagne and gained a first convert on Turn 47. This was a natural result of the two of them sharing the same river connection and was probably inevitable. The next conversion was a total shocker though: Suryavarman also converted to Christianity on 63! What the heck - how did that even happen?! It was a natural spread that apparently took place via the seaborne connection that ran around the outside of the pangaea. Needless to say, this was a pretty crazy result from an RNG perspective and it would end up having substantial effects on the game's diplomacy. Justinian had managed to find an ally over in the west without really trying.

The map was getting close to full by Turn 67 and we were watching to see where the first wars would break out. Justinian and Peter had done the best in the landgrab phase of the game, and if they could consolidate their holdings they were likely to be the major powers. Charlemagne had also done reasonably well, although his two southern cities were crushed by Indian culture and didn't control most of their own tiles. Suryavarman had recovered a bit from a very slow start and looked to be OK if he could capture those barbarian cities to his north. It was Asoka and Montezuma who were in the worst shape, Monty because he hadn't expanded enough and his economy was in terrible shape, and Asoka because everyone hated him. Yes, there was a reason why Asoka was picked as "First to Die" by about 70% of the entrants in the picking contest. He had a high peace weight in a game of mostly aggressive characters, and he also established a self-founded religion that no one else practiced. Rather than spread his religion, Asoka continued to plant an even larger bull's eye target on his backside by constructing a series of tasty wonders like the Pyramids. Not the best decision there.

The first war was delayed for a long time in this game. We were approaching Turn 100 and still no one had launched an invasion yet. There were lots of "Annoyed" faces in the diplomacy so it had to be only a matter of time. When the first war started, it came from an unlikely source:

In a game with Montezuma and Peter and Charlemagne, it was instead Asoka who kicked things off with the first attack. That was... unexpected, and not a smart move. Asoka's diplomatic situation was terrible and he was making things much worse for himself by opting into a conflict with one of his powerful neighbors. Even worse, Peter already had an early Construction tech finished and could build catapults to remove the cultural defenses from Asoka's cities. This would avoid the stalled out warfare that we typically see from early invasions and instead proceed onwards to the city capturing phase. Making matters worse, Suryavarman declared war on Asoka three turns later and joined the fray, capturing the city of Pataliputra for himself. There would be one Khmer city in the middle of the map at this one spot for a long time afterwards. That reduced Asoka to a mere four cities and appeared to signal the beginning of the end for him.

Elsewhere in the game, Justinian was quietly developing his civ and building up an alliance of Christian partners. He had already converted Charlemagne and lucked into a conversion of Suryavarman, and now Saladin was the next target, with Arabia flipping over to Christianity on Turn 98. We kept an eye on Justinian to see if and when he might join the war against India as well. Up in the north, Montezuma launched his first invasion of the game against Charlemagne on Turn 111. These two would largely fight to a stalemate over the next two dozen turns, each one capturing a border city from the other and otherwise no major territory changing hands. Meanwhile, the walls were closing in on Asoka as the Byzantines did eventually join the larger war to the south:

It was a smart read on the larger game situation by Justinian, taking this opportunity to grab territory from Asoka who was all but dead at this point. The three core Indian cities in this screenshot all had valuable prizes inside. Delhi had five or six different wonders (including Shwedagon Paya, Great Library, and Hagia Sophia) while Bombay contained the Buddhist and Islamic shrines. Not to be outdone, Vijayanagara off to the west was the location of the critical Statue of Zeus. It was going to be very important indeed as far as whether Peter or Justinian captured these highly valuable Indian cities.

Peter had one key edge here: he had catapults while Justinian still lacked Construction tech. As a result, the Russians were able to siege down Asoka's cities and remove their considerable cultural defenses while Justinian was left beating his head ineffectually against the Indian walls. First Peter took Vijayanagara, then the big collection of wonders at Delhi. We thought that Justinian would at least be able to take Bombay and its double shrines right on his border, but no, the attack there came up short and had to limp away to regroup. Although Justinian was looking really strong in this game, with his own highly profitable Christian shrine and now the powerful Apostolic Palace wonder to boot, he was going to need to pick up some more land somewhere if he wanted to win the game. He appeared to be in the process of flubbing away an ideal chance to devour up some prized Indian real estate. In the end, Peter took every Indian city aside from that initial Khmer capture and claimed the kill credit:

RIP Asoka, you never had much of a chance on this map and you did everything possible to make your situation worse. Capturing four Indian cities along with their treasure trove of wonders and shrines had shaken up the game situation. Now it was Peter topping the scoreboard and in a position to potentially snowball things further if he could pick off a weak neighbor. Suryavarman's situation looked precarious to say the least, with two Confucian civs bordering him to the east. With that said though, there were four total Christian civs against two Confucian ones, and Justinian also controlled the Apostolic Palace. If the Byzantines could wield the power of their religious alliance successfully, then they still had a real shot to win this match.

Worldwide peace didn't last for very long as Saladin initiated a war against Montezuma on Turn 139. This was one of those conflicts that doesn't make any sense from a strategic standpoint, but does make sense when viewed through the lens of in-game diplomacy and peace weight. Saladin and Montezuma were the two weakest leaders in the game by this point, and their struggle would largely serve to tie them up with ineffectual warfare that threw away units to no point. It did keep the two of them out of the larger struggle developing to the south, however. Justinian attacked Peter on Turn 153 and he pulled in his Christian allies on the next turn:

This was not the Apostolic Palace at work, as there was no resolution voted upon and Saladin remained locked in his pointless war with Montezuma. It was simply Justinian getting his Christian bros to join him in a crusade against godless Russia (quite literally: Peter was running Free Religion). When Justinian started researching Guilds a few turns later, it appeared that he had engineered a masterful bit of diplomacy. Setting up a 3 vs 1 war against his biggest rival right when cataphracts were popping onto the scene? Beautiful stuff. But Peter was the strongest leader on the board at this point and he wasn't about to go down without a fight. He started out by trying to break up the Christian coalition, getting a separate peace treaty with Charlemagne on Turn 159. This was a big help as far as reducing his opponents down to just the Byzantines and the Khmer. Make no mistake, this conflict was putting a major hurting on Peter:

Look at that bar graph plunge when everyone teamed up against the Russians. Peter had been on the verge of running away with the game before Justinian muscled his Christian coalition into a joint war. Instead Peter now seemed to be the one on the decline, and Justinian took the former Indian city of Bombay with its double shrines using the first wave of cataphracts. Were the Byzantines about to roll over Russia and seize control of the game? Apparently not: Justinian signed a peace treaty after taking that one city, leaving most of the Livestream viewers flabbergasted. How could he do that? Everything was set up for the Byzantines and then they sabotaged themselves at the last minute! Classic AI behavior.

This left Suryavarman alone in his war against Peter after that rather callous betrayal from Justinian. The Russians were still the strongest civ on the board and things looked dire for Suryavarman, however we didn't see the immediate steamroll that the viewers had been expecting. Peter was gassed from all that fighting and needed time to build up his forces again. The single Khmer city in the middle of Russian territory continued to defy logic by remaining in Suryavarman's hands, and he even managed to capture a city deep in Russian territory away from Peter. For the moment, the Khmer were holding their own. Then we had this bit of craziness via the Apostolic Palace:

As always with the Civ4 event logger, read the messages from bottom to top. Justinian called for a "crusade against the infidels", which would have forced every other civ in the game to declare war against Montezuma. These can only be launched against civs that don't have the AP religion present in any of their cities, which was a condition that actually applied here since Monty had been spending most of the game in Theocracy civic and denying Christian spreads. However, Saladin made peace with the Aztecs on the same turn that the resolution passed and that ended up canceling it. I don't know that I've ever seen this before, what a rare situation to pop up. Montezuma's doom was narrowly averted for the time being. With that said though, he remained in last place running a Confucian religion that everyone else hated in a mostly Christian world. I doubted that he would live to see the end of the game, and this sentiment would be borne out in time.

The beginning of the end for the Aztecs started when Montezuma declared war on Charlemagne on Turn 175, all of half a dozen turns after his last war ended. This was the second time that he invaded the Holy Roman Empire, and this attack was significantly more ill-conceived than the first one. Charlemagne was considerably larger and stronger than Monty, and he immediately began capturing Aztec cities. In fact, if the HRE could take over all of the Aztec cities, there was a decent chance that Charlemagne could emerge as the game leader. Instead, Justinian called another AP vote to declare war on the infidels, and this time there was no convenient peace treaty to save Monty:

There's the Apostolic Palace resolution in action, with our new ability to see the votes taking place in Season Four of AI Survivor. Thanks to AI observer civ "Sitting Out Bull" for making this happen! Anyway, the net result was everyone else in the game declaring war against Montezuma: Justinian, Suryavarman, Saladin, Peter, and even the observer civ (which we did not count via the war counter). We ended up with this hilarious diplomatic screenshot of everyone hating and warring with Monty. For the millionth time Montezuma had started wars that he couldn't win and ended up with everyone detesting him. One city after another fell as the Aztecs were torn apart by the Apostolic Palace coalition. Saladin ended up with one random city far away from his homeland, Justinian picked up two cities, and Charlemagne got the rest along with the kill credit:

It was a deserved finishing blow for Charlemagne who had done more than anyone else to ensure Montezuma's demise. It was hard to feel sorry for the Aztecs who had reaped their own just desserts yet again. In the wider game context, the elimination of Montezuma came as bad news for Peter. Even though the Russians remained in first place for the moment, Justinian's alliance of four Christian civs spelled danger for Peter in the long run. It felt like it was only a matter of time before a new coalition formed against Peter, and he was not nearly strong enough to take on four opponents at once. At least the Apostolic Palace crusade trick wouldn't work against him, as there was Christianity present in several Russian cities.

The best thing that Peter could do to improve his situation would be conquering the Khmer. Their long-running war still continued, and despite the improbable successes that Suryavarman had enjoyed earlier, the weight of numbers was finally beginning to take its toll. Peter recaptured his lost city and then stamped out the one Khmer city in the middle of the map. It was a miracle that it had remained under Suryavarman's control for so long given the impossible strategic circumstances over there. Peter was now beginning to press into the Khmer core in earnest, capturing a border city and advancing on the capital. That was when Justinian intervened again to save his Christian brethren:

The Apostolic Palace forced an end to the war with all of the Christian leaders voting yes. Peter theoretically could have "defied" the resolution and kept the war going yet chose not to. A little while later, Justinian then used the AP once again to "return a city to its rightful owner" and had Angkor War reassigned back to Suryavarman once again. As obnoxious and infuriating as this war for Peter, it was also a true masterclass in the use of religious diplomacy by Justinian. He had successfully wielded the power of his Christian coalition to frustrate Peter's ambitions time and time again. One small crack in the Christian alliance had developed, however, as Saladin founded one of the late religions and eventually converted to Taoism. This meant that he lost all of the shared faith bonuses with Justinian, Charlemagne, and Suryavarman, making an attack by one of them against the Arabs (or vice versa) much more likely.

Peter and Justinian continued to jostle one another in a bid for first place, running neck and neck on the scoreboard. This was a reflection of how Peter had been weakened by his long series of wars, with Justinian closing the gap. Charlemagne was also on the rise and sat a short distance behind those top two. Saladin was a good distance further behind, followed by Suryavarman who was merely trying to survive at this point. This was the overall game state when the next round of wars began with a double declaration:

Charlemagne successfully launched the first strike against Peter and took a border city on the first turn of his invasion, only to have Saladin start his own offensive up in the ex-Aztec lands. Peter was ahead in tech and about to finish Rifling which seemed to bode poorly for Charlemagne. However, Justinian was finishing the Statue of Liberty and about to complete his own Rifling research (after going all the way to Biology first). He joined the war against Peter three turns later and Suryavarman piled in as well. The Christian coalition had been reassembled and Peter was back to the 3 vs 1 nightmare from earlier in the game. This was the beginning of the end for Peter, as Saladin was too far away and too weak to serve as an effective partner. Fighting against Justinian alone would have been a difficult task for Peter; facing Charlemagne and Suryavarman as well was too much to ask. Russian cities began falling one after the next, and the power bar graphs served to tell the larger story. Justinian was ascendent, Charlemagne was riding his coattails as a powerful junior partner, and Peter was on his way out of the game.

The dismantling of Russia proceeded in clinical fashion over the next 50 turns. No one signed peace to give Peter a reprieve and one city after another fell methodically to the invaders. The Byzantines made the most gains but not in lopsided fashion, with Charlemagne landing more than his fair share of the spoils. Given the fact that Charlemagne was also fighting Saladin at the same time, he was taking more Russian cities than most of the viewers expected. Even Suryavarman managed to take one city despite using medieval units against everyone else's rifles and cavs. The struggle arrived at its final conclusion on Turn 277 with Justinian delivering the final blow:

Peter spent most of the game atop the scoreboard and truly had been in a position to become the runaway AI after he devoured all of the Indian lands. However, he found himself on the outside of the Christian bloc that developed in this game, and that eventually proved to be his undoing. Montezuma was the other outsider AI who never flipped to Christianity, and once he was gone there was no one else to provide much aid to Peter. Strong as he was, he couldn't compete with the three-way united Christian team. Their unity had been the story of this game.

Saladin was the last one remaining outside of that tripartite alliance, largely because he had also been part of Team Christian for much of the contest. The decision to switch over to Taoism was a huge mistake and Arabia appeared to be the next civ on the chopping block. Fortunately Saladin managed to secure a peace treaty with Charlemagne on Turn 279, although not before losing the Arabian colonies in the west and a core city along the Holy Roman border. At this point it looked like we might have a peaceful space race finish, as Justinian and Charlemagne and Suryavarman were all "Friendly" with one another and would never attack their partners. However, Charlemagne still carried a grudge from the earlier invasion of the Arabs, and he decided to finish things off on Pi turn:

Saladin had little chance to survive in this war. No one was going to come to his rescue and he was woefully behind in production capacity and land area, if surprisingly equal to Charlemagne in technology. Saladin needed to hope that Justinian would vote through a "stop the war" resolution in the Apostolic Palace, or perhaps in the United Nations which Justinian was in the process of building. It quickly became clear that Saladin would not live long enough to see a Byzantine spaceship victory, which was still two to three dozen turns from completing. The western half of Arabia was in the process of disintegrating and Holy Roman tanks were beginning to appear on the scene. With three cities still holding out, there was one last hope: Justinian called for a Diplomatic Victory vote in the United Nations. Justinian and Charlemagne would split the vote, but Suryavarman might vote for Justinian given their +10 relations. It was going to be very close even if the Khmer cast their votes for Justinian. Would it be enough?

Yes it was! Diplomatic victory by a whisker, Justinian winning by a narrow 8 votes. If Suryavarman had not captured that one Russian city, or if he hadn't planted that icy tundra settlement in the deep south, Charlemagne would have had enough votes to block the victory and Saladin would have died. Instead, Saladin joined Suryavarman in heading for the Wildcard game, with the top two leaders going to the playoffs. This was a deserving end to a game that had been defined by religious diplomacy from start to finish. Justinian's skillful use of the Apostolic Palace and his Christian allies were what allowed him to stop Peter from running away with the game, and ultimately engineer the defeat of his great rival. And just as Justinian had used the Apostolic Palace to save Suryavarman from certain defeat by Peter earlier in the game, Sury paid him back by voting Justinian into the winner's chair in the United Nations. This was a game that was won with the pen and the miter, not the sword. It was also a fantastic result from a wider AI Survivor perspective, as we ended up with one Domination win, one Cultural win, one Spaceship win, and one Diplomatic win among the first four contests. Good job not making that a boring picking contest entry, AI competitors!

This was a fascinating game to watch due to the heavy importance of religion. The diplomatic messages of "Civ X has converted to Christianity!" were as important in this game as the war declarations. I think the biggest swing in the game came from Suryavarman randomly converting to Christianity in the early stages. If he had picked up Confucianism instead, the more logical religion due to its close proximity, this would have turned into a completely different contest and Peter likely ends up winning it. The constant presence of the Khmer served to hamstring Russia in this game and stopped Peter from running away with things. Instead it was the Christian group that had the numbers to come out victorious. All of them survived while all of the non-Christian civs were eliminated (or were about to be eliminated). In the end, Justinian proved to be the best leader at surviving and even thriving in the wars of religion.