The third and final playoff game brought together a group of AI Survivor heavyweights for a no-holds-barred brawl on a sardine can of a map. Gandhi had the unfortunate luck to draw a central starting position in the middle of a group of low peace weight leaders, and he would need all of his cultural know-how to survive in this environment. Season Two champion Huayna Capac was also appearing once again after another dominant victory in his opening round game. He would be joined by fellow Financial leader Hannibal and low peace weight bruisers Mehmed and Peter in the Runner Up category. Peter in particular had done almost nothing in his opening round game and been carried into the playoffs by Alexander. Finally, Gilgamesh advanced to this playoff match through the Wildcard game and found himself competing once more with the Incans. Gilgamesh drew a rather absurd starting position and he'd have to hope that it would propel him from a tricky middle starting position.
The game opened up with some highly impactful settling races. Gilgamesh moved his starting settler straight to the west and Mehmed went to the north, with the combined effect of squeezing Hannibal up against the edge of the map. Hannibal would end up winning a race with Mehmed for one of the two starting religions or else his position would have been even worse. Since Peter idiotically sent his initial settler up into the northern tundra, we ended up with a massive void of empty space in the central part of the map during the early turns. The other settling race was taking place in the southeast corner of the map, where Gandhi and Huayna Capac sent their settlers directly towards one another to contest a fertile floodplains area. Gandhi won that race by virtue of moving first in the turn order and gained control of a critically important iron resource located three tiles away from the Incan capital. The was the only source of metals for Huayna Capac and it seemed questionable as to whether he'd ever get his hands on it once Gandhi founded Hinduism in the intruding city. The Incans plopped down their own city at the minimum three tile distance allowable in Civ4 and the cultural race for control of the iron resource was on.
Some of the AI leaders acquitted themselves much better than others during these early turns of expansion. Gilgamesh had a disgustingly rich floodplains + triple gold resources starting position and he took advantage of this bounty to become the initial tech leader. He was able to reach Iron Working much faster than otherwise would have been the case and connect the two iron resources in his territory. Free Creative border pops ensured that Sumeria continued to dominate the shared borders with Carthage to the west and Russia to the east. Neither of those leaders were doing particularly well, with Hannibal struggling to find open land to settle and Peter acting as his usual ineffective self. The Russian leader delayed Mysticism tech for ages on end (as we've seen militaristic AI leaders often do) and his cities suffered for lack of food resources stuck out in the second ring of borders.
Further down to the south, Mehmed's promising triple Agriculture resource start was largely wasted due to a lack of happiness resources. The AI isn't smart enough to put that food surplus into workers and settlers, with Mehmed instead working a bunch of unimproved forest tiles rather than whipping for production. The Ottomans were also suffering from the bad luck of having four different barbarian cities pop up along their borders, delaying the settling of what should have been Ottoman cities for long turns on end. Mehmed would capture almost all of those cities eventually but it would take more time and more technology to do so. Gandhi was the early score leader as everyone expected although his horrible peace weight situation had caused him to become the "worst enemy" of all five other leaders. If they came knocking Gandhi wouldn't be able to put up much resistance because he lacked Iron Working tech and Mehmed had settled the only nearby source of copper. Finally, Huayna Capac responded to Gandhi's intruding holy city by using his stone + Industrious combo to build Stonehenge followed by the Pyramids. He had enough culture in his core cities that it seemed possible for once to flip the iron resource even though it was in the second ring of a holy city.
By this point, the two starting religions had begun to spread and affect the diplomacy. Gandhi's Hinduism ended up becoming popular throughout the east, spreading first to the Incans and eventually the Sumerians and Russians. This helped to ameliorate some of the tensions caused by peace weight, although Huayna Capac was hilariously listed as "Cautious" with Gandhi despite having +8 to their relations. Judaism was only practiced in the west where it had spread from its initial Carthagianian home over to the Ottomans. Peter had also picked up the minority religion of Islam though he wouldn't stick with it for particularly long. We were keeping an eye out for the first war declaration and whether it would be caused by border tensions or peace weight disparity. Gandhi was the overwhelming favorite for First to Die with about 88% of the entrants in the picking contest having him to exit the game first. He would have folded quickly if he came under attack at this stage of the game but instead it was overlapping borders that triggered the first conflict:
While Gilgamesh could have moved against either Gandhi or Hannibal, he chose to invade his western neighbor in this game. (I'm certain that in many alternate histories it would be Gandhi getting the nod instead.) This was a disaster for poor Hannibal who had all of three cities compared to six for the Sumerians. Even worse, despite having teched Bronze Working dozens of turns earlier, Hannibal had been extremely slow to connect his copper resource and it still lacked a mine when this war declaration arrived. If this very early attack against Hadrumentum were to succeed, Hannibal would be out of the game by Turn 85 and Gilgamesh would become the unstoppable runaway AI for the rest of the match. However, this did not end up happening: Hannibal must have won some important dice rolls because Hadrumentum was still standing when the next turn rolled around, now with several shiny City Garrison III archers in place. Hannibal connected his copper and that allowed him to get axes and spears ready by the time that the next Sumerian stack arrived. Thus a war that could have been a fast conquest instead turned into a slow and grinding war of attrition. Gilgamesh would make many further sorties at the hill city on his border without managing to break through and capture the place. He would have to wait until Construction tech and the arrival of catapults to score a decisive win.
Elsewhere, Mehmed was slowly taking over the barbarian cities to his south while Gandhi continued to push his religion/culture gameplan and Huayna Capac went on a wonder-building spree. The Incans built the Great Lighthouse and eventually added the Colossus as well. These were highly significant because the Incans were gradually expanding down into the southern tundra with a bunch of icy fishing villages. With four trade routes apiece and 4 commerce water tiles thanks to the Financial + Colossus pair, these were highly lucrative cities from a GNP perspective. We knew that sooner or later someone would take a swing at Gandhi and the leader in question ended up being Mehmed. He invaded India on Turn 95 by swiping a poorly-defended city along the border, then afterwards struggled to make any further progress against the stout Indian cultural defenses. This war was dragging Gandhi down without doing too much to improve Mehmed's position.
By Turn 100, it was clear that Hannibal couldn't hold on much longer against the far larger and more powerful Sumerians. We were watching Peter to see what he would do since the Russian leader was clearly building up units for an attack. There were two potential targets: Gilgamesh or Gandhi. Gilgamesh would be another case of border tensions prompting a conflict, as there was a great deal of overlap between Russian and Sumerian territory up in the north and Peter had to be feeling the pressure to resolve that intrusion. A Russian attack against Sumeria would relieve the deathgrip on Hannibal and prevent Gilgamesh from snowballing ahead off captured territory. But that scenario never developed in this world as Peter sent his armies marching to the south instead:
This was the perfect outcome for Gilgamesh as it sealed the doom of Hannibal. His hill fortress city of Hadrumentum was cracked with catapults just as this war declaration was breaking out, and although the Carthaginians would fight valiantly outside their capital for long turns on end, there was only one possible way that that war would end. As for Gandhi, he found himself stuck in a 1 vs 2 scenario with Mehmed and Peter both banging their heads against his walls. It was a bit of surprise to find that both leaders were unable to accomplish much of anything against Gandhi, even after they slowly teched their way to siege units at Construction tech. Peter captured the city of Varanasi with his initial stack, just as Mehmed had taken one city at the start of his similar war, and then that would be it for the Russians. Gandhi had been able to trade for ivory and iron to field axes and elephants, then made his way to Feudalism and added longbows to the mix. The ragtag stacks that the Ottomans and Russians were sending simply weren't enough to break through the Indian defenses. Gandhi had exactly three cities and he fought off the invaders for dozens of turns on end. It was an impressive showing from the embattled peacenik stuck in the middle of the map.
We were watching Huayna Capac during this period to see if he would be interested in joining the war against Gandhi. Unlike the bumbling duo of Mehmed and Peter, Huayna Capac helmed a powerful empire and there was little doubt that he could run over Gandhi without much trouble. However, the Incan leader never showed any signs of wanting to plot war against his western neighbor. Perhaps it was the Hindu religion they shared, perhaps it was the long years of peaceful coexistence, or perhaps it was the fact that Huayna didn't pick up a source of metals until a late date when that contested iron resource finally flipped over to his control. Whatever the reason, the Incans seemed content to keep building wonders and settling more fishing villages in the deep south. This was a missed opportunity to gobble up several high quality Indian cities when they were ripe for the plucking.
With the wars in the south stalemated, the next event of consequence was the end of the road for Hannibal:
He fought this war about as well as it could be fought given the terrible strategic position in which Hannibal had found himself. However, with no one else coming to aid in the fight this was the inevitable outcome given the disparity in strength and size. It was a great example of the power of the Creative trait in action, with Gilgamesh using his early cities to squeeze the life out of a rival by giving them no place to add further settlements. Gilgamesh now became the co-leader of the game alongside Huayna Capac. The Incans were ahead in research and had far better teching capacity while the Sumerians had a larger army and more total territory under their control. One unusual aspect of this game was the fact that Huayna Capac's many fishing villages caused him to be much stronger in terms of commerce than production. His actual turn by turn production capacity was fairly low. This was something to keep in mind in the event of a future confrontation between the two leaders.
Even as the stalemate continued between Mehmed/Peter against Gandhi, everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before the Indians faced elimination. Huayna Capac had every chance in the world to jump into the conflict and deliver the decisive blow yet continued to decline. He was too busy constructing seemingly every wonder under the sun and launching Golden Ages to produce the rare 5 commerce money bag icon on every coastal tile. Thus it was left to Gilgamesh to take matters into his own hands. The Sumerians invaded India on Turn 173 and rapidly showed the inept Ottomans and Russians how to get things done. Gilgamesh's doom stacks smashed right through Gandhi's defenses and the cities that had held for so long collapsed like dominoes. Gilgamesh took two cities including the Indian capital before Mehmed sniped the final blow for the elimination credit:
The community was greatly disappointed that Gandhi had not been First to Die for the picking contest. My read of the situation is that Gandhi was far from guaranteed to be the first one out of the game but definitely had the highest odds out of any of the six leaders. Thus it was the correct pick even if it didn't wind up playing out that way in this game. I'll be interested to see if he survives to the finish in any of the alternate history scenarios - can he survive even once in twenty tries? Anyway, the elimination of Gandhi delivered up several more high quality cities to Gilgamesh. Bombay and Pataliputra (the final city captured above) were both swallowed up by Incan culture and quickly liberated over to Huayna Capac. The net result was therefore two cities to Gilgamesh, two cities to Huayna Capac, and a mere one city apiece to Peter and Mehmed. The Ottomans only gained the Indian city they captured at the outset of the war while Peter solely acquired the Islamic holy city. This was more of a poison pill than anything else as Peter converted to the unpopular religion later and tanked his diplomatic relations with the rest of the field. Peter looked to have already wasted his best shot at being relevant in this game and come up short.
The game now entered a peaceful spell in which all of the AI leaders loved one another. They all shared nearly identical peace weights at the low end of the spectrum, they were mostly practicing a shared Hinduism religion, and everyone other than Huayna Capac had been racking up "mutual military struggle" bonuses with one another while devouring Gandhi. Huayna Capac and Gilgamesh even had a shared favorite civic in Hereditary Rule which was boosting their relations with one another. Every indication suggested that this was Huayna Capac's game to lose at this point. He was about a full age ahead in technology and the Incans controlled nearly as much territory as the Sumerians, with the other two AI leaders having no realistic chance to win. Huayna Capac simply needed to ensure that he promptly researched the military techs in each era and maintained one generation's worth of military advantage over Gilgamesh at all times. Did he manage to accomplish this simple task?
No, no he did not. Huayna Capac diverted far down the Scientific Method part of the tech tree, picking up Physics and Communism and the full Democracy branch before backtracking to research Rifling. He did have rifles in place when Gilgamesh's inevitable attack arrived, but the Incans had only been in possession of the tech for half a dozen turns and most of the army hadn't been upgraded to modern guns as yet. Making matters worse, Huayna Capac had inexplicably failed to research Military Tradition and therefore he was stuck with knights instead of cavalry for his mounted forces. Thus Gilgamesh's medieval army was able to make headway against the Incans despite being far, far behind in research. Bombay, Pataliputra, and Sakae (under the interface at the bottom of the screen) were all captured by Gilgamesh as he used sheer quantity to offset the backwardness of his forces. Losing Sakae was particularly bad for Huayna Capac because it was where he had been constructing the Statue of Liberty, and the wonder would end up being completed by Gilgamesh instead in a major swing of power. The two sides signed peace afterwards and Huayna Capac even received Sakae back in the treaty but the damage had been done. The Incans had been weakened and lost several core cities that Huayna Capac couldn't afford to give up. This was a massive self-inflicted wound for no reason whatsoever on the part of the Incans; Rifling tech easily could have been researched three dozen turns earlier and every unit long since upgraded before the Sumerian attack arrived. Instead Gilgamesh had taken over the score lead and increased his power over his major rival.
It looked as though the world might return to peace for the immediate future only for us to be surprised with an act of pure folly: Peter launched an attack against Gilgamesh. Their relations had dropped due to Peter's adoption of Islam and the border pressure between the two empires had to be enormous by this point in the game. It was complete suicide for Peter to invade his vastly stronger neighbor though, perhaps best symbolized by the former Indian city that Peter had captured getting run over by Sumerian units before we even saw the announcement of the war declaration. Vast armies of purple-wearing cavalry flowed across the plains of Russia like a tidal wave and one city fell after another. In barely two dozen turns Peter had been wiped clean off the map:
The brain-dead actions of Peter meant that the situation was now even worse for Huayna Capac. Gilgamesh had been strengthened through the gain of half a dozen additional Russian cities and there was no further need to guard the northern part of the map. The only possible hope for Huayna Capac was to maintain a lead in military technology, and even though the Incans were still quite some distance ahead in terms of total techs researched, Huayna continued to make poor choices on what to research by avoiding Assembly Line tech. His cities still had low production capacity and factories were badly needed to keep pace with the ballooning Sumerian empire. Instead, it was Gilgamesh who rushed to this critical technology and rapidly constructed industrial power across his vast territory. When the inevitable Sumerian invasion took place starting on Turn 288, it was Gilgamesh who actually had the military edge in terms of tech, infantry and machine guns fighting against rifles and cavalry. Huayna's artillery units could slow the bleeding but not stop it and the countdown was underway for Gilgamesh's Domination victory.
Now we waited to see if Huayna Capac could hold on long enough to escape the game in second place and advance to the championship. This was not the quick stomp of Russia as Huayna Capac repeatly shut down invasions against his core cities in the southeast corner. Mehmed was "Pleased" with both leaders and unwilling to declare on either of them, making this a true 1 vs 1 between the two gamelong leaders. Slowly but surely the cities began to fall as the gigantic size advantage of Gilgamesh began to take its toll. Huayna Capac had spent about three dozen turns running the culture slider earlier, part of the reason why he failed to capitalize further on his massive GNP advantage, then he canceled out of that and started researching again. He would have done better to avoid running the culture slider at all, but once he started, it would have been better to keep going in the hopes of pulling out an unlikely Cultural win. The Incans did get two cities to Legendary status and a third one as high as 37k but ran out of time to achieve the victory. Gilgamesh captured the capital of Cuzco and that was that. By the time that the whole Incan core was gone and Huayna Capac had been reduced to just his icy fishing villages in the deep south, it was clear that Mehmed would have enough points on the scoreboard to secure an undeserving second place spot. Game, set, and match to Gilgamesh:
It was an impressive win for Gilgamesh where he snowballed off Hannibal, then Gandhi, then Peter until he was finally strong enough to take down Huayna Capac. Hannibal's lengthy spirited defense delayed Gilgamesh's rise to power long enough for other leaders to have a shot at the win but none of them were ultimately able to capitalize on the opportunity. Mehmed and Peter both failed to overrun Gandhi and acquire enough territory to serve as a challenger to the Sumerians. Huayna Capac absolutely should have won this game though and it has to be seen as a poor sequence of strategic decisions on his part that tossed away an easy victory. The Incans should have attacked Gandhi to break the stalemate, thus picking up several more powerful cities and denying Gilgamesh the chance to take them for himself. Huayna Capac also could have locked down his win by researching Rifling tech at a much earlier date and continuing to pick up the future military techs in timely fashion. He could have had all rifles/cavalry when Gilgamesh's medieval army came knocking, and then could have had infantry and factories everywhere by the time that Gilgamesh reached rifles/cavs. This could have, should have been Huayna Capac running amuck in Gilgamesh's territory and not the other way around. It was a rare poor performance from the Incan leader and a reversal of the Gilgamesh/Huayna dynamic from their opening round match this season.
Gilgamesh will therefore be returning to the championship match once again for the second year in a row. He'll likely be one of the favorites there given the somewhat underwhelming field that made it to the finals. As for Mehmed, the less said about him in this game, the better. He'll probably win the overall title just to spite everyone. Thanks again as always for watching and reading.