Game Seven featured a map that looked a little bit like the isle of Ireland, with a division between three AIs in the north and three AIs in the south. The Pool 1 seeded leader drawn into this game was Huayna Capac, the champion from Season Two of AI Survivor and one of the biggest heavyweights in the competition. This was a chance for him to have a bounceback game after a disappointing early exit in Season Three. The Pool 2 seeded leader was Boudica, one of the most aggressive leaders in Civ4 and another individual who had made the playoffs multiple times in prior seasons. Joining them was another warmonger in the form of Napoleon, a wonder-obsessed leader in Augustus, a spymaster in the case of Churchill, and someone who didn't seem to fit any particular archetype in the form of Washington. They would be competing for two of the few remaining tickets into the Season Four playoffs.
We expected that the initial two religions would be split between the two leaders that began the game with Mysticism tech, Huayna Capac and Boudica. While the Incans dutifully met expectations by establishing Hinduism on Turn 11, the Celts did not follow suit by instead opening with research into Archery tech, then Mining, then Bronze Working. We ended up seeing a race between Augustus and a surprising Napoleon for the other religion; the French won that contest by a single turn, founding Christianity in their second city on Turn 15. This had the possibility to work in Napoleon's favor, as he and Boudica had sent their initial starting Deity settlers towards one another and the new religion popped up in the resulting border city. The Holy City culture would give him control over the disputed territory between their civs. On the other hand, founding Christianity meant that France would not be running Huayna Capac's Hindu religion, and that held the possibility for diplomatic danger down the road.
Most of the picking contest (about 75%) was backing Huayna Capac to be the winner, and his strengths as an AI leader were on full display in the early portions of this game. He had drawn an ideal starting position to make use of his techs, with a wet corn to provide immediate food via Agriculture and an uncontested grab of a religion from Mysticism. The Incan unique unit quechua was very helpful in fighting off barbarian archers from the northern tundra, at one point allowing a single quechua to kill two archers and save a settler that would otherwise have been destroyed, while the ample river tiles in the Incan homeland meant it was only a matter of time until the Financial economic engine was off and running. Huayna Capac had already taken control of the score lead as early as Turn 25 and began to establish clear separation from the rest of the field.
If there's one weakness with Huayna Capac it's a tendency to overbuild wonders, and the Incan leader had two of his cities tied up on them at the Turn 50 mark. With that said, however, he was still tied for the lead in city count at five and had already managed to secure a healthy amount of contested land in the direction of the center of the map. Another leader who was doing surprisingly well was Augustus, as he had built an early Stonehenge and took advantage of the resulting border pops. Seemingly all of the land to the north of London was falling into the hands of the Romans. The biggest issue for Augustus was a crippling lack of happiness resources, and this would slow his progress towards the all-important Iron Working tech. Over in the east, Washington had also reached five cities, but largely crippled his economy with maintenance costs due to their far-flung nature. The Americans still lacked Wheel tech and there were no roads connecting any of these cities, therefore not even picking up the default single trade route for a little bit of extra commerce. Cities like Atlanta and Boston looked like they might be easy pickings in a future war.
It was better than getting locked into a corner of the map though, which seemed to be the fate of Churchill. The English had stopped expanding at three cities to build a series of wonders, first going for the Great Wall (which they successfully landed) followed by the Pyramids. Churchill wasn't an Industrious leader and had no marble or stone resources, making these wonders a highly dubious decision. We ended up in a tight race between Huayna Capac and Churchill for control over the Pyramids, with the English finally getting the wonder down to 1 turn remaining while the Incas had 2 turns remaining... only for Huayna Capac to whip the thing to completion and win the race by half a turn's worth of production. Yikes, what a total disaster for Churchill! He tied up his capital's production for more than two dozen turns on the Pyramids and achieved only failgold for his efforts. This relegated Churchill to also-run status and his only real hope for the rest of the competition was to survive to the Wildcard round.
The religions in this game began to spread beyond their initial holy cities as civs reached Organized Religion and unlocked the ability to train missionaries. Huayna Capac's Hinduism was the first to pop up in another land, spreading east down the river to the Americans and converting Washington in the process. This was a stroke of good luck for Washington, as his best chance for a good finish in this game involved riding the coattails of Huayna via a shared religion alliance. Churchill picked up Napoleon's Christianity, putting him onto a more dangerous side of the religious divide. We wondered where the game's third Monotheism religion would pop up, and it turned out that Huayna Capac grabbed this one as well as a minority religion. Then in a purely diabolical act of diplomacy, he spread his minority religion over to Augustus via a missionary and induced his western neighbor to convert:
I know that this was total dumb luck and not brilliant planning on the part of the AI, but it sure felt like a Machiavellian act of sabotage. Huayna Capac had induced his neighbor into practicing a religion shared by no one else in the world, diplomatically isolating Augustus and setting him up for a future conquest. It felt like we were watching the opening stages of a plan executed by a stone-cold serial killer.
There's something else important to note in that screenshot above: look at the scoreboard. After a mere 85 turns of gameplay, Huayna Capac had half again the score of anyone else: 922 points to 597 points for Napoleon. He had already landed the Temple of Artemis, the Pyramids, and an Oracle slingshot into his cheap Industrious forges via Metal Casting tech, with the Temple of Artemis producing a Great Prophet for his Hindu shrine. The early forges were absolutely perfect for Huayna Capac, not only increasing his productive power but also greatly increasing the happiness limit in his cities. The Incans had both gold and gems resources for +4 happiness with forges, and they would soon pick up a tundra silver resource as well to complete the set for the full +6 happiness. There was a painful contrast between the Incan cities with a happiness cap of about 12 versus the Roman cities with a happiness cap of 6. Huayna's cities were larger across the board, allowing him to work ever more Financial-boosted tiles to race further and further ahead. And with his tech lead and his Industrious trait, Huayna began landing basically every world wonder in the game, therefore continuing to get even further ahead. It was the classic Civilization snowball in action, and when that snowball reached the bottom of the hill it was going to wreck someone.
It took a bit longer for the wars to get started in this game, with the first one not appearing until Napoleon decided to invade Washington on Turn 86. This was the classic "too early" form of warfare, with Washington having walls to protect his cities but Napoleon not having catapults yet to remove them. The French launched two attacks that were sliced to ribbons by the defenders, and we seemed likely to remain at stalemate until someone could research their way to Construction tech. However, that was before Boudica chose to get involved:
The Celts shockingly decided to attack Napoleon despite both leaders having a low peace weight and a shared Christian religion. This was a seriously improbable result that threw off the expected outcome in the picking contest, where nearly everyone had either Washington or Churchill as the first to die. It genuinely didn't make a lot of sense as to why Boudica would choose to invade Napoleon given how the AI makes its decisions in Civ4. Nonetheless, her timing was excellent as she hit the overstretched French from an unexpected flank, immediately capturing the city of Marseilles. With the Celts diverting attention away from the northern front, Washington managed to capture the city of Chartres soon thereafter. Napoleon seemed certain to be destroyed and exit the game, only for Huayna Capac to complete the Apostolic Palace and vote through a "stop the fighting among our brothers in faith" resolution that ended the war. The French survived for the moment, albeit with about half of their territory lost.
While the eastern war was still going on, Augustus made the bizarre decision to attack Huayna Capac on Turn 122. The Incans were almost 1000 points ahead on the scoreboard and this invasion appeared to be an act of pure suicide on the part of the Romans. While Augustus was doing well in terms of territory claimed on the map, helped out by him capturing two different barbarian cities, his economy had been consistently terrible throughout the game and he was in no way a match for the juggernaut that was Huayna Capac. The invading Roman stack was quickly cleaned up, and then Huayna Capac began relieving Augustus of his border cities:
Neapolis was the second Roman city to be taken in battle. Note as well that Huayna Capac had finished Angkor Wat on the same turn, and it felt as though he was finishing a world wonder on nearly every turn. The Incans had already built the Mausoleum, and Shwedagon Paya, and the Great Library, and the Statue of Zeus, and the Sistine Chapel - all of them within the last dozen turns. His main Hindu shrine had gold income from close to 30 cities, and his minority religion Islamic shrine had gold income from another 18 cities. Huayna was getting close to finishing the Medieval era on the tech tree while the other AI leaders were just beginning to enter that age. It was only a matter of time before he reached the gunpowder units in the Renaissance era, a target that he would likely hit 50+ turns before anyone else. Augustus was in for a serious beatdown here.
Over in the southeast, Napoleon had been spared once from destruction by the Apostolic Palace but would not be so fortunate a second time. Boudica attacked him again on Turn 140 and the shattered remnants of France weren't able to put up much of a resistance to this latest invasion. Napoleon had four cities left compared to ten for Boudica, and with catapults on hand for the Celts there was no chance to hide behind city walls for defense. One city after another fell and Napoleon was eliminated on Turn 159:
This was a legitimately weird result that had caught the picking contest off guard, with only 9 out of 175 entries choosing Napoleon to be eliminated first. Boudica and Washington working together to carve up Napoleon probably wouldn't happen very often if we replayed this game a few more times. Perhaps Napoleon founding his own religion had been the source of his doom, creating lots of border tension with Boudica and putting the French on the wrong side of the religious divide in a world where most nations were Hindu. Regardless, this conflict had been a smashing success for both Boudica and Washington. The Celts had benefitted the most by capturing the majority of the French cities, and Boudica seemed to be the most likely candidate to finish in second place. Washington had also done very well for himself though, and so long as he shared a religion with Huayna Capac he had a legitimate chance to emerge as the runner-up. There was already no question about who the winner would be, with Huyna Capac fully doubling the score of anyone else.
Here's a picture of the Incan terminator running roughshod over everyone else with his religious economy:
That's the full tetrarchy of religious wonders in action to juice up those religious buildings. With the Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace, University of Sankore, and Spiral Minaret all controlled by Huayna Capac, his monasteries were worth 2 production, 2 beakers, 2 gold, and 7 culture/turn. Not a bad deal. Also check out that Hindu shrine generating 35 gold/turn on a Normal sized map, and the hefty cultural output from this city. Even with the AI not managing Tiwanaku in ideal fashion (not working a 5 commerce cottage tile at all?!) the Incan economy was still tearing through the tech tree at a frightening speed. Liberalism was about to land its free tech in two turns, which would turn into Nationalism and a Mausoleum-enhanced Golden Age from the Taj Mahal. There was no stopping Huayna Capac by now, as the whole world had become his playground.
Augustus managed to stave off an Incan siege at Antium, buying himself a short reprieve. (This was largely due to the fact that Huayna's core cities kept pausing to build every wonder under the sun rather than continuing to train more units.) Unfortunately for the Romans, they were forced to fight a second opponent when Churchill opportunistically declared war on Turn 150. The English had some success in this war and managed to pick up two border cities, only to be caught off guard themselves by an invasion from Boudica:
Now Churchill also found himself on the losing end of a war against a larger and stronger neighbor. He in turn might have been carved up and destroyed if it weren't for another "stop the war" resolution that was voted through in the Apostolic Palace. The AP leader had actually become Washington, thanks to Huayna Capac switching over to Free Religion, and apparently Washington didn't want to see Churchill eliminated from the game. The net result was a continuation of the status quo in the south, with Boudica materially stronger than Churchill but the English stubbornly clinging to life.
There was no such luck for Augustus. Huayna Capac managed to reach Rifling tech at a shockingly early date of Turn 180, a point in time when the Romans were still researching Engineering tech. The results were as ugly as expected with swarms of cavalry attacking the longbow defenders of the last remaining Roman cities with impunity. The slaughter was over in short order and Augustus was eliminated on Turn 186:
Augustus didn't have much of a chance in this game, and he did a reasonably good job of making the most of a bad situation. His biggest problem was the poison pill adoption of Islam as a religion, making him an outcast in a world where everyone else practiced a different faith. It legitimately felt as if Huayna Capac had set him up to take a fall by spreading Islam into Roman territory at that early date. Augustus did a nice job of expanding but was never able to get his economy in order. Even if he had, it wouldn't have helped against the titan that was Huayna Capac. The Incan leader was accelerating through the Renaissance era and into the early Industrial period while everyone else was still Medieval, with Statue of Liberty completed a dozen turns later. Huayna was going to have his pick of any victory condition that he wanted.
Over the following turns Boudica invaded Churchill a second time, only for the Apostolic Palace to once again shut down the war before any cities could be taken. It was Washington pulling the strings here, and it was frustrating to see the wonder being abused again to control the diplomacy. Churchill did not deserve to get these repeated stays of execution; if he wasn't strong enough to defend himself, he shouldn't be able to remain in the game. Perhaps Huayna Capac felt the same way, as he decided to invade Washington on Turn 210. These two had been religious allies for most of the game, but when Huayna went to Free Religion he lost the shared faith bonus and went down to mere "Cautious" status. Washington tried to leverage the Apostolic Palace to save himself:
But this time the vote narrowly failed! Huayna Capac had captured three cities in the opening two turns of warfare, leveraging the horribly one-sided cavalry vs longbow matchup, and that gave him barely enough population to create a veto block in the Apostolic Palace. That pretty much sealed Washington's death warrant as he certainly had no answer for the Incan invasion. The Power bar graphs were totally out of control, and hordes of Incan cavalry were running all over American territory. There were even destroyers offshore pounding away at the cultural defenses of Washington's coastal cities. The whole war took less than two dozen turns before Washington joined Napoleon and Augustus in the dustbin of history:
Washington was another leader who had been dealt a tough hand in this game, and he'd played it about as well as he could. He did his best to buddy up with Huayna Capac via shared religious alliance, only for Free Religion to wreck that plan and for peace weight differences to come back to the foreground. There was nothing that he could do to stop the Incan attack when it came, nothing that anyone in this world could do. Railroads were already crosscrossing Incan lands, with factories and power plants giving Huayna Capac far more production than anyone else. He was already on the verge of unlocking tanks via Industrialism tech, at a time when Boudica still lacked Education and Printing Press. (She had beelined to Steel via the bottom part of the tech trees, unlocking grenadiers and cannons while remaining far away from rifles.) Huayna Capac was at a point where he was closing in on three different victory conditions simultaneously. He had about 50% land area and could win via Domination by attacking someone else, or he could keep teching and win a pre-Turn 300 Spaceship victory, or he could do nothing and win by Culture, also before Turn 300. It felt like he had the difficulty slider turned down about three levels lower than everyone else.
With Washington eliminated, there was no Apostolic Palace leader for the moment and Boudica decided to invade Churchill for a third time. She began sniping the English border cities with her grenadier-heavy army and it looked like it wouldn't be long before we were down to only two remaining leaders. But then Huayna Capac decided that he wanted to choose a military victory for his win condition, and launched an invasion of the Celts:
He captured two cities on the first turn of the conflict and the rout was immediately on. This was one of the largest tech disparities we've ever seen in AI Survivor: the Incans were fielding huge armies of tanks while the Celts still lacked Rifling tech and were defending their cities with pikes and longbows. Tanks are really good against infantry due to their ability to take City Raider promotions; they absolutely slaugher rifle defenders, and what they do to longbows can't be mentioned in polite company. The Incan units were essentially invincible here and they were capturing Boudica's cities as fast as they could reach them. For her part, Boudica's entire army was deep in English territory and she didn't even attempt to defend herself, instead continuing to capture more English cities even as her own core was being ripped apart. Could she remain above Churchill on the scoreboard long enough to make the playoffs?
As it turned out, the answer to that question was "yes", although not by a whole lot:
Huayna Capac triggered Domination on Turn 252, a mere half dozen turns after starting the war. There wasn't much left of Celtic territory at that point, with the capital of Bibracte and the former French capital of Paris both falling in the closing stages of the war. The Incans actually captured SIX CITIES on the last turn of the war that triggered Domination, sheesh. Boudica would have been dead in five or six more turns, and she was fortunate that Huayna was already so close to triggering Domination before the war started. She was researching Philosophy tech while Huayna was researching Robotics, holy cow. As for Churchill, it was also a miracle that he managed to make it to the end of this game. The English had been the weakest civ on the scoreboard for most of the game, and it was only due to the Apostolic Palace that they limped on into the Wildcard game. Churchill had been one lucky customer in this match.
But the big story of this game had been Huayna Capac from start to finish. There was one question that I found myself asking afterwards: was this the most dominant performance in Civ4 AI Survivor history? After looking back at some of the games from past years, I think that the answer to that is a clear yes. We've definitely had some impressive performances in past seasons, such as the Domination wins from Shaka in Game Five and Kublai Khan in Playoff Game Three of Season Two, or Mansa Musa's Turn 282 Spaceship victory from Game Five of Season Three, or even Julius Caesar's wire-to-wire smashing of Game Three here in Season Four. But no one has ever put in such a crushing performance from start to finish as Huayna Capac managed to achieve in this game. He took the score lead around Turn 25 and never looked back, only growing it larger and larger as the game continued. He won the earliest victory ever in AI Survivor history, winning by Domination while also being less than two dozen turns away from a Cultural victory and *ALSO* being on pace for a pre-Turn 300 Spaceship win. Huayna Capac had almost 90% of the world's population by the time that he triggered Domination! It was a total tour de force on every possible level.
Overall then, Huayna Capac appears to be back in form once again. He'll be one of the favorites to return to the Championship game, although he'll have to get past a tough field that includes Justinian in his upcoming playoff game. I'm looking forward to that one - it should be a real doozy!