For the Championship Game of Season Four, I asked if anyone was willing to create a custom map and Commodore volunteered to put one together. Commodore created a far superior version of a mirrored map as compared to the Donut one that I had used for the first three seasons of AI Survivor. This was a true mirrored map with exactly identical terrain for all six leaders, looking very similar to the setups that we use at Realms Beyond for our Multiplayer games. This was one game where there would be no excuses about some AI leaders rolling better land than others. The pictures of the individual capitals were therefore all identical to one another with a central jungle region full of Calendar-based resources separating north from south. Commodore did not run any rivers through the center of the continent and it would be some time before the AI leaders managed to tame the wilderness in there. We used the same mirrored map setup again for Season Five since it produced an entertaining and, uh, memorable game last time around.
With two leaders starting the game with Mysticism tech, it was natural to expect that Asoka and Charlemagne would split the initial two religions between them. However, in a surprising turn of events both of these leaders chased after Meditation at the start of the match. Charlemagne won the race by a single turn and founded Buddhism (with no Choose Religions option checked for this setup), followed by Asoka deciding to cancel out of the religious race to pursue more worker techs. This created an opportunity for another leader to grab the Polytheism faith in the form of a surprising Mehmed. I don't think anyone had the Ottomans pegged as the Hinduism founder but that's how it played out in this game. Asoka would eventually found Judaism via the normal Monotheism route but it would come much later in the game after the landgrab phase was over.
The mirrored map setup caused the leaders to plant their cities in similar fashion. We had seen the same thing play out last year during the Season Four Championship and many of the leaders were picking the identical mirrored spots for their new settlements. Gilgamesh and Willem in particular were mirroring their cities and even their builds in uncanny fashion during the first 50 turns of the game. The general pattern was a push to the west first, up to the jungle belt in the center of the map, followed by establishing cities over in the east as a secondary priority. There was a desert region due north or south of each start and the AIs ignored this area en masse since the quality of land was lower. This created a semicircular gap in each empire's territory, a bit like a doughnut hole that wouldn't get filled until the end of the settling period.
While the AI leaders generally mimicked one another during these early turns, there were some notable differences in performance that stood out. The early top dog was Willem, who used his Agriculture/Fishing starting techs and Creative culture to get out to a quick opening. Willem and Gilgamesh were both doing an excellent job of connecting their resources and using their free border pops to pick up additional health/happy sources on the map. Willem had a slight edge by virtue of capturing a barbarian city (Illinois) that spawned near his part of the map and then backfilling everything behind it. Mehmed also had a solid start by virtue of founding Hinduism as a religion and building Stonehenge for the free monuments. The Ottomans had no innate culture-producing abilities and this was a definite help during the early landgrab phase. Asoka was the leader who lost out in both of these regards, chasing after a religion and trying to build Stonehenge while failing in both attempts. He did get the Pyramids as a consolation prize but sinking so much production into wonders and religious techs caused his expansion to be delayed. India would end up with a couple fewer cities as compared to its rivals.
The other two leaders were struggling to one extent or another. Charlemagne was keeping up in expansion and looked solid on the scoreboard thanks to the extra land points from his early holy city. However, his internal development was poor due to his terrible starting techs and AI propensity to chase after an early religion. Charlemagne still had no roads almost 75 turns into the game and therefore no resources connected; his cities were stagnating at smaller sizes due to a lack of happiness and he couldn't train any units better than archers. Building the Great Wall didn't do much to help out in this regard. Worse off was Washington who had the bad fortune to experience several barbarian cities popping up along his borders. Their presence slowed down American expansion as Washington kept slamming archers into the barbarian settlements rather than claim more territory on the map. Washington was also exhibiting that bizarre AI quirk where a leader will fail to research Mysticism tech, and with no sources of culture his cities were all sitting around without expanded borders. Whether due to bad luck or poor strategy, the Americans were clearly emerging as the weaklings of this game.
By now the religions were starting to spread and give additional shape to the diplomatic landscape. Charlemagne had the good luck to convert first Washington and Willem to his faith, and then later added Gilgamesh into the Buddhist fold as well. There was the possibility for a huge bloc of Buddhist nations to emerge here and dominate the rest of the game's diplomacy. Mehmed converted Asoka to his Hinduism only for it to be supplanted with Judaism once the Indians established their own religion. The two of them appeared to be on the outside of the rest of the field as far as religion was concerned. This could have spelled disaster for Mehmed and Asoka but fortunately for them Gilgamesh kicked off the game's warring at an early date, before Buddhism had spread into his territory:
Gilgamesh was targeting the weak Americans to his north by sniping the city of Atlanta at the outset of the war. He would also capture the exposed city of Seattle to the west, only to run into a brick wall at the city of Boston. That location happened to be a walled city and Gilgamesh was still attacking in the pre-catapults era with no way to remove the city's defenses. Waves of Sumerian units would crash against Boston without managing to break through and capture the city. As this war began to drag out over several dozen turns, it had the net effect of dragging both leaders downward on the scoreboard. Gilgamesh fell into the middle of the pack while Washington continued to remain in the basement. Still, it was only a matter of time until the Sumerians researched their way to Construction and that would unlock the possibility of Gilgamesh running over the rest of the American cities to become a true powerhouse.
The dominant leader during these turns was Willem. Peace suited him well as he built the Great Lighthouse, the Hanging Gardens, and the Colossus along with claiming various different first-to-reach bonuses on the tech tree. Willem was the first leader to research Calendar to unlock extra happiness and then Currency for the bonus trade routes. He was beginning to pull far, far ahead of everyone else in tech and opening up a lead on the scoreboard to match his amazing economic output. Mehmed was massing forces up to his north for an invasion and we thought Willem could be the target, only for the Ottomans to attack Asoka instead. This ended up being a mutually destructive conflict with no cities ultimately trading hands on either side, and when Washington signed peace with Gilgamesh only to join in the fighting against Mehmed, it looked as though we could have a true runaway situation on our hands. Asoka, Mehmed, and Washington were all engaged in pointless bloodletting while Willem, Gilgamesh, and Charlemagne were all joined together in shared Buddhist harmony. Given slightly more time to continue pulling away in tech, Willem looked as though he could salt this game away.
But then this game saw its first major swing. Willem converted to Judaism after Asoka's missionaries spread it to his territory, dropping out of the shared Buddhist alliance and sending relations plummeting with the other southern leaders. Willem reacted by plotting and then launching a war against Gilgamesh:
Willem was the favorite to win the game in the picking contest and the one and only thing that I thought he needed to avoid was a war with Gilgamesh. These two Creative leaders were bound to have significant border tensions but the hope was that their shared low peace weight would keep them from one another's throats. Willem's flip into Judaism likely had a major impact in that regard. Nevertheless, Willem was far ahead on the scoreboard and also on the Power charts. He easily captured the city of Nibru and with maces and knights on the horizon it was entirely possible that Gilgamesh could be rapidly conquered to create an unstoppable Dutch monster. However, there was one remaining Buddhist leader who hadn't been involved in any wars to date, and of course Charlemagne would take whatever action was most likely to troll the picking contest. He plowed into Willem from the opposite side on Turn 133 and the Dutch were now faced with the dreaded 2 vs 1 scenario. The strongest AI on the map was now stuck in the same strategic position as Germany during the world wars and further advances were increasingly unlikely.
The overall game settled into a period of stalemate over the following turns. Willem couldn't capture any more territory while also being strong enough to prevent his own cities from being captured (thanks to a timely Golden Age that boosted his production). Mehmed eventually signed peace with both Washington and Asoka with the front lines still remaining in the same place as they had been 50 turns earlier. After centuries of warfare that thoroughly wrecked all sides, the northern civs would finally get a reprieve to begin rebuilding. That was not the case in the south where Willem remained stuck in the same 2 vs 1 war for seemingly endless turns. We kept wondering when someone would sign a peace treaty to end the war and it kept failing to materialize. On the diplomatic screen, Willem was refusing to sign peace because "we'd rather win the game" so apparently he thought these wars were going well for the Dutch. He was wrong though: they were not going well for the Dutch. For all of Willem's earlier economic power, he couldn't fight off two neighbors endlessly without suffering the consequences. Slowly Gilgamesh began to reconquer the Sumerian cities that had been captured at the start of the war. Slowly Charlemagne began to take the fight deeper and deeper into Dutch territory. After more than 60 turns of fighting on two fronts, Gilgamesh and Willem finally agreed on a treaty to end their war:
Their mutual border was situated in exactly the same place that it had been before the conflict started. All of their warring had served no purpose at all. But the damage to both sides had been enormous, with Willem's earlier lead completely gone and Gilgamesh knocked down to the bottom of the scoreboard ahead of only Washington. This was a true lose-lose conflict. Charlemagne continued to fight onwards and Willem struggled to deal with Holy Rome's incursions with an increasingly exhausted civilization. Holy Rome had built the Statue of Zeus and war weariness was causing a huge drag on the Dutch economy. Meanwhile, Asoka was taking advantage of the ongoing fighting in the south to build the Taj Mahal and launch a new Golden Age. The Indians were now the surprising score leader and this game increasingly seemed to be swinging in Asoka's favor. It was a shocking turnaround compared to the game state earlier when Willem had been racing out to a big lead and Asoka had been trapped in an unproductive war with Mehmed. The Ottoman leader was also using this time to initiate yet another conflict with Washington, capturing a city on their mutual border and then slowly grinding onwards further into the American core. Neither side had particularly impressive technology and with castle defenses available it looked to be a grinding war of attrition.
We were more focused on what was taking place between Willem and Asoka. When Asoka flipped into Free Religion, his relations with the Dutch plummeted thanks to losing the shared faith bonus. The Indian leader began plotting war and sure enough it was Willem who was the new target:
Thus Willem was trapped in yet another two front war, stuck between the endless fighting with Charlemagne and this new opponent in the form of Asoka. The Jewish faith that Willem had picked up from Asoka had proven to be an immense poison pill, lowering relations with everyone else while providing no benefits on its own. Asoka had now taken over as the heavy favorite to win the game, leading in technology and on the scoreboard along with a powerful high peace weight ally in the form of Charlemagne. Willem's border cities immediately fell to Asoka and it looked as though the rout was on. If India and Holy Rome could partition the Dutch and take over the lush cottage-rich cities in Willem's core there was every reason to believe that one of them would take home the victory. However, ten turns later the game served up another curveball in the form of an unexpected attack: Gilgamesh invaded Indian territory! This was surprising given that Gilgamesh didn't have religious tension with Asoka and he could have equally chosen to fight the declining Americans or get revenge on Willem for the earlier attack. Asoka almost certainly would have run away with the game had Gilgamesh chosen a different target. Instead, the Indians were dragged back to the rest of the pack by their own 2 vs 1 situation and the game continued to remain highly suspenseful.
As we reached the 1500 AD mark on Turn 210, we found ourselves with a truly rare situation on our hands: a game where five different AI leaders had a legitimate chance to win.
Washington was falling apart as Mehmed captured his cities but everyone else was still very much competitive. Asoka was very strong culturally and he even begin running the cultural slider shortly after this picture was taken, with a projected finishing date sometime shortly before Turn 300. If the game stalemated for another 60-70 turns without incident then he would be the winner. Despite being in a two front war for nearly 100 turns at this point, Willem was still one of the tech leaders and still alive for some sort of peaceful victory condition. He simply needed to secure peace for some stretch of time so that he could get back to the internal development that his civ excelled at pursuing. Mehmed and Charlemagne's path to victory both involved conquering their current opponent, the Americans and the Dutch respectively, and then snowballing off their captured territory to a military victory. Washington was clearly falling apart more rapidly but the reward for Charlemagne would be greater if he could actually finish his task. Finally, even Gilgamesh had a chance to get back into this game with a successful campaign against Asoka. The Sumerians weren't that far behind and there were a lot of juicy cities to capture from the Indians. Since Asoka's tech was no longer advancing thanks to running the cultural slider, Gilgamesh had an outside chance to reach superior military units and then defeat the Indians before the cultural victory could arrive. This was a fantastic result as far as the viewing audience was concerned, a truly close championship game with many different leaders having a chance to win.
As Asoka's cities came under assault from Gilgamesh, the Indian leader finally agreed to sue for peace with Willem. It had been another mutually destructive conflict as Asoka's armies traveled deep into Dutch territory only to be isolated and killed there by a combination of Willem's own units and Sumerian cuirassiers moving along Dutch roads. Once again the damage had been done to Willem though as he had been reduced to eight cities with much of his western core gone. Only the extremely powerful Dutch culture from his remaining cities was preventing Holy Rome from making faster advances; Willem had (of course) refused to research Rifling tech in a timely manner and Charlemagne's own rifle/cav armies were having a field day. Even as we mostly continued to watch the clashes taking place in and around Dutch territory, one of the game's longest-running conflicts finally came to a close:
Washington eventually gave up the ghost and succumbed to the rampaging Ottoman forces. It wasn't clear exactly why Washington had been so weak in this game (the barbarians perhaps?) but he was never able to accomplish much of anything in this match. We'll have to see what happens with him in the alternate history scenarios later. For the moment, the completion of Mehmed's slow conquest had turned him into one of the major players in the game. The Ottomans weren't especially great in terms of technology but they had the most land and the most population coming out of this war and that counted for a lot. Mehmed's economy would start to improve heading forward as he gradually assimilated the American territories into his empire. This could have been the moment for the Ottomans to take a well-deserved rest from fighting, however Mehmed had other ideas and launched a new war against Asoka a mere four turns later. Maybe he was invited to join the fighting by Gilgamesh or maybe he simply wanted to pile on an opponent that he had attacked earlier in the game. Whatever the case, this was very bad news for Asoka who had been struggling with Gilgamesh alone. The Indians had been forced to drop the culture slider and go back to teching once again, probably the correct decision from a safety standpoint but also eliminating any chance of a quick victory. Two powerful empires began to push against the purple Indian borders and Asoka's territory started contracting inwards one city at a time.
While Gilgamesh didn't have much success at first, as his large stacks wasted long turns bombarding down Indian defenses 4% at a time, eventually his siege units broke through and then rifles and cavs did the rest. We started to see more rapid progress once Mehmed joined the battle and began to capture the Indian cities on his border. By Turn 270 Asoka was in the process of a total collapse:
It was another remarkable shift from earlier in the game when Asoka's position had felt so unassailable. When Asoka invaded Willem it felt like the capstone of his impending victory, an easy conquest followed by a rapid snowball to a Cultural ending. Gilgamesh had frustrated all of that and his Sumerian civ, which had been left for dead earlier in the game, was now very much on the rise. I'm genuinely struggling to remember too many other AI Survivor matches that had this much back-and-forth taking place, with different leaders taking over the top position at various points in time only to be toppled in turn. Even Willem with his impossibly ravaged territory was *STILL* leading the field in technology! It was dubious as to how much longer he could keep that up given how many cities the Dutch had lost. In any case, Asoka was eliminated from the game on Turn 282:
Gilgamesh delivered the final blow and deservedly gained most of the spoils from Asoka's demise. The Sumerian attack had seemed like a longshot when it was first initiated but proved to be one of the most effective and consequential actions of the whole game. Gilgamesh was very much a competitor to take home the victory at this point and had a number of different directions that he could pursue, everything from further conquest to teching towards space to zagging off in a different direction to try for culture. He was not the tech leader at the moment though, as that title had been taken away from Willem by Charlemagne. The Holy Roman leader briefly signed peace with the Dutch on Turn 277 but were back again for another round of fighting with Willem two dozen turns later. With infantry and cannons and machine guns on hand this time around, it was doubtful that Willem's half dozen remaining cities would be able to fight off the latest invasion from Charlemagne. Once again, Holy Rome's path to victory involved finishing a conquest of the remaining Dutch cities before blasting off into space by maintaining the tech lead.
Charlemagne had enjoyed excellent relations with Gilgamesh throughout the game thanks to a shared religion and favorite civic bonuses. He'd had generally good relations with Mehmed as well despite religious tensions thanks to a major shared favorite civic (Vassalage) and relatively little border tension between their empires. There was a fundamental problem here for Charlemagne, however, and that was the gap in peace weight between him and the remaining three leaders. All of them had low peace weight scores while Holy Rome was stuck with a high peace weight score of 6. This would always have a tendency to drag down their diplomatic relations and the lategame would inevitably see everyone adopt Free Religion to remove shared religious bonuses along with Free Speech to eliminate the Vassalage bonus. A world without high peace weight Asoka and Washington was a world that boded poorly for Charlemagne's chances. Thus even as Willem was in the process of dying to Holy Rome it felt like only a matter of time before the other leaders came riding to his rescue. Mehmed kicked off the attack on Turn 326:
And Gilgamesh joined in a dozen turns later on Turn 338. The earlier friendly relations were gone as Mehmed had dropped to "Cautious" with Holy Rome while Gilgamesh had fallen all the way to "Annoyed". Sumeria and the Ottomans were both larger and more powerful than Holy Rome by this point, both of them having absorbed an entire rival empire while Charlemagne had only managed to acquire half of the Dutch territory, and the resulting fighting wasn't pretty. All of the Holy Roman border cities were captured in short order though the two attackers had trouble penetrating deeper into Charlemagne's core. There was the potential here for Gilgamesh to amass enough territory for a Domination victory but that possibility was spoiled as Gilgamesh kept liberating former Dutch cities back to Willem. This was knocking Charlemagne out of the race for the victory while not doing quite enough to put Mehmed or Gilgamesh over the top. With Willem too hopelessly battered to complete the tech tree, it was going to come down to either Gilgamesh or Mehmed for the championship.
The United Nations had been built a bit earlier and the vote was split between Gilgamesh and Mehmed. Willem was "Friendly" with Gilgamesh (thanks to Sumeria liberating all of those Dutch cities) and there was a possibility of the Sumerian leader winning a Diplomatic victory if he could manage to absorb enough population from Charlemagne. He would need more than he had at the moment though since the Sumerian + Dutch combined vote was still short of 50% of the global total. The United Nations ended up being used like the old Apostolic Palace before we banned it from these games, as a "stop the war" resolution ended the fighting between Mehmed and Charlemagne. This left Gilgamesh alone at war with Charlemagne which might have been a good thing by allowing him to capture the remaining Holy Roman cities, only for another resolution to stop the fighting again:
Gilgamesh and Mehmed both voted to end the war while Charlemagne voted for it to continue - huh? Was Charlemagne into some kind of bondage thing here, did he like getting beaten? Anyway, with Gilgamesh also forced out of the warring, Mehmed may have gotten the better of the two UN votes. By dropping out of the war first, the Ottomans turned their economy over to teching with "Build Research" builds about a dozen turns sooner, and this had the effect of opening up a very small tech lead for Mehmed. It wasn't much, a mere two techs on the tree, but that could be enough to be the difference in a tight space race. Gilgamesh had more population and more territory but that wouldn't matter if the Ottomans arrived at Alpha Centauri first. It was crazy that we were 375 turns into this game and it was still going to come down to a nailbiter between these two leaders for the victory.
Charlemagne would not live to see who crossed the finish line first. Mehmed launched a renewed invasion on Turn 385 and Gilgamesh once again joined in five turns later on Turn 390. The previous fighting 50 turns earlier had seen equivalent technology on all sides but that was no longer the case as the Ottomans and Sumerians had both effectively completed the tech tree. Modern armor and mechs and mobile artillery made short work of the infantry and tanks being fielded by Holy Rome. They were aided by the nuclear weapons being rained down on the unfortunate Holy Romans who lacked an SDI for protection. With such a massive disparity in power it took less than a dozen turns for Charlemagne to be wiped off the map:
There wasn't much left of Holy Roman territory that wasn't glowing in the dark with radiation. This looked like something out of the Fallout universe more so than a Civilization game. But Charlemagne had played a decisive role in this game even if he hadn't quite managed to survive to its finish. His attack against Willem had thrown the game into a lengthy stalemate that allowed the midtier leaders Gilgamesh and Mehmed enough time to claw their way back into the match. He also defended long enough (with an assist from the United Nations) that there wasn't enough time for another round of warring following his demise. We spotted that Gilgamesh was already plotting another war but the clock had simply run out. It all came down to the space race and Mehmed maintained his two tech lead clear through to the finish. The Ottoman spaceship launched about five turns before the Sumerian spaceship and that was enough to seal an unlike victory:
Mehmed therefore emerged as the overall winner and champion of Season Five of AI Survivor. He had never won a single game prior to claiming the championship here, something that every previous winner had managed to achieve ahead of time, although I will mention in his defense that he had 5 kills without a win and that was by far the most of any leader that remained winless. Genghis Khan Temujin had 4 kills without a win and no other winless leader had more than 3 kills. So perhaps he had a bit more of a claim to this title than it might seem, or perhaps my impressions of Mehmed are being colored by his impressive run of results in the alternate histories for Playoff Game Three (where he performed far better than in the actual playoff game). In any case, Mehmed was the new champion and perhaps a fitting winner in a season that was defined by upsets. At the very least, he actually won this tense and exciting match rather than simply avoiding a loss as Charlemagne had done the previous year.
For the curious, Gilgamesh had been plotting war against Mehmed and he launched an attack eight turns after the victory arrived on Turn 407. Gilgamesh was far ahead in power and he didn't need much more territory to hit the Domination limit which likely would have come in the next dozen turns. Even though Gilgamesh narrowly failed to win the championship belt, he had another very strong Season Five performance and has emerged as one of the top AIs in the competition. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up hoisting the trophy one day down the road. Given how well both Gilgamesh and Willem performed in the alternate histories on this map (last year and this year), their misses the last two years have been a bit unfortunate. For the moment though, Mehmed is our winner and defending champion. Until we return again for Season Six, thanks again as always for watching and reading!