The second game of AI Survivor featured a series of fan-favorite selections. While Suryavarman was a somewhat bland choice from the group of Pool 1 leaders, we got to see the always-entertaining Catherine as his Pool 2 counterpart. Catherine's "high maintenance girlfriend" personality promised lots of imperious demands and cossack-based action from the fiesty tsarina. This game also drew Wang Kong, the "Troll King", with his bizarre antics that have delighted the lurkers over the past few years. (The one leader who required multiple repeated edits while doing the Worldbuilder setup for this game was naturally Wang Kon - who else?) They were joined in this game by the militaristic Brennus, the wonder-obsessed Louis, the pacifistic Roosevelt, and the arguably worst AI leader in Civ4: Sitting Bull. Will this dunderhead ever manage to make it as far as the Wildcard game? With Catherine and Suryavarman and Brennus as neighbors, the odds did not favor Sitting
Duck Bull in this game.
There were two leaders that started with Mysticism tech in this game, Brennus and Wang Kon, and the most likely expectation was that they would split the initial two religions with one in the east and one in the west. Surprisingly this did not happen, as both leaders decided to chase after Meditation with Wang Kon winning the race and Brennus left holding an empty bag. Brennus then paused to research Fishing tech for the seafood resources at his capital and that allowed Louis of all people to pick up the Polytheism religion. The world ended up with the Confucian holy city of Korea sitting on the border right next to the Christian holy city of France, both of them in the far west. As for Brennus, he found himself stuck with a horrible early game thanks to his weak starting techs and inefficient early research choices. The Celts begin the game with Mysticism and Hunting techs, then Brennus opened with a failed Meditation into Fishing and then finally Agriculture. His free Deity starting worker couldn't build roads, couldn't build mines, and couldn't build farms for the first 25 turns of the game - what a disaster! This put the Celts into a deep hole that they were forced to spend much of the game climbing out of.
The double holy cities in the west left most of the world religion-less throughout the early game. Suryavarman had the best expansion out of the gate, claiming a lot of strong land to his south and taking advantage of the slow start of Brennus off to his east. The other western leaders were slower to grab territory, investing too much time into wonder-building rather than pushing settlers. Louis in particular was obsessed with wonders by building Stonehenge and Temple of Artemis. Despite his amazing capital, he would only end up with five cities thanks to his over-emphasis on wonders. Wang Kon wasn't much better and would end up boxed into the northwest corner of the map due to Suryavarman's expansion. Roosevelt wound up winning the Pyramids race at the cost of similarly stalling out on expansion thanks to chasing after the big wonder prizes.
Over in the east, the biggest surprise was the poor performance of Catherine. She was tied with Suryavarman in the picking contest as the shared favorites to win the game, but Russia was suffering from underwhelming local terrain and a sluggish expansion rate. Catherine's Imperialistic trait wasn't helping her as much as the community had expected as she failed to claim much in the way of territory. Shockingly, Catherine was beaten to a contested spot in the west by Sitting Bull, with the Native American leader securing Chaco Canyon in a spot that probably should have gone to the Russians. Sitting Bull was helped out by having a copper resource at his capital city and Agriculture tech immediately available from the start of the game to connect his food resources. With the struggles of Brennus and Catherine, much of the east remained open for the taking long after the west had been fully settled.
Eventually the religions began to spread and they largely ended up falling along the same lines as the peace weight divisions. Wang Kong's Confucianism was picked up by Roosevelt while the Christianity practiced in France spread to Suryavarman. The result was a pair of alliances that would characterize the diplomacy in the west for most of the game: Korea + America against Khmer + France. There was room here for a third major religion to appear in the east, but instead Wang Kon founded the Monotheism religion and largely buried it. Judaism was briefly practiced by both Brennus and Sitting Bull without having a significant effect on the larger game.
Once the land was gone, the wars started to break out as usual. Sitting Bull once again surprised everyone by launching the first war of the game with an invasion of Catherine. Taking place in the pre-catapults era, this war largely served to drag down both participants as they rammed large stacks of axes and chariots into one another to no effect. In the west, a series of cascading war declarations broke out. First Louis attacked Wang Kon, then Suryavarman joined him in what looked to be a rapid exit for the Koreans, followed by America joining the war against the Khmer a short time later. In other words, this was effectively a 2 vs 2 situation although Louis and Roosevelt were each only taking part in a single war. Korea and France clashed over their double holy city border while the Khmer and the Americans fought over the steamy jungles in the center of the map. It was another effective stalemate with great loss of life but no cities changing hands.
The first city that ended up falling took place in the east, where Sitting Bull managed to brute force his way into the Russian city of Novgorod. This was another startling development since Novgorod was a hill city with walls and those locations rarely fall without having catapults on hand. The Native Americans were nearly double the Russians in size at this point, 8 cities against 5 cities, and the weight of having so much extra production was starting to take its toll. Was Sitting Bull about to conquer Catherine and emerge as a power in this game?! It looked like a real possibility for some time before Catherine successfully defended Moscow from a Native American siege. She was holding for the moment but the war was inevitably exacting a huge price from Russia, dragging Catherine down to the bottom of the scoreboard. When peace finally broke out among the western quartet of leaders around Turn 135, an opportunity presented itself for a new entrant into the long-running eastern conflict. But it wasn't Suryavarman or Roosevelt making a move:
Instead it was Brennus, the forgotten man in this game, who chose to attack Russia. This was a case of absolutely perfect timing from the Celtic leader, hitting an exhausted Russia after Sitting Bull had done most of the work of wearing down the tsarina. Even though Brennus had suffered through a disastrous early game, the fact that he had spent the last 50 turns developing in peace while everyone else fought wasteful destructive wars put him back into a position of relative power. Celtic units began rolling through the Russian cities to the south, capturing nearly all of the spoils and leaving Sitting Bull with only a single additional southern tundra city for all of his efforts. And then things only began worse for the Native Americans, as Suryavarman decided to attack his empire rather than head back for another round with Wang Kon or Roosevelt. Poor Sitting Bull! This was the one and only game where he was halfway effective, and he ended up with almost nothing in terms of spoils as Brennus vultured away the Russian territory while Suryavarman stabbed him in the back.
The Civ4 AIs are good at sniffing out weakness and a minor dogpile ensued against Catherine. Already at war with Brennus and Sitting Bull, the Russians were also hit with an invasion from Wang Kon who walked completely across the globe to attack and pick up a random city in the southern tundra. That was all that the Koreans would end up taking, with the Celts getting the lion's share of the spoils along with the elimination credit:
Fare thee well, Catherine. This was the third year running where she'd failed to make it out of the opening round. Unlike the last two seasons, where Catherine had been strong in each game and failed to advance due to some unlucky breaks, she had been legitimately weak in this game and never had a realistic shot of winning. It was an unfortunate showing for Catherine that takes a bit of the shine off of her previous wins. As for the rest of the AI leaders, Brennus' capture of most of the Russian territory had catapulted him into a position of power. He was increasingly competing for the top position with Suryavarman, as the Khmer leader began a methodical conquest of the Native American territory to his south. Sitting Bull appeared to be gassed from his endless warring with Catherine and ill-suited to push back against the Khmer forces. About half of the Native American cities were gone by the time that Wang Kon intervened in this war, attacking Suyavarman in a renewed western struggle. This was enough to slow the pace of conquest but not stop it. Wang Kon would take one Khmer city before deciding to peace out without making further gains. Meanwhile, Brennus was itching for another fight and wisely chose to attack the collapsing Native American empire. With the two strongest leaders in the game working together, it wasn't long before Sitting Bull once again suffered elimination:
Let the record show that Sitting Bull has appeared in five games thus far and been eliminated all five times. In his defense, he actually played a decent game this time around and was winning his war against Catherine before Brennus swept in and took all of the goodies for himself. The destruction of Sitting Bull was hugely consequential for the continuing development of this game, and in particular the way that the conquest played out. Suryavarman and Brennus both had a shot at taking many of the Native American cities but Suryavarman ended up scoring the city capture in most cases. Brennus only ended up landing one city while Suyavarman took everything else. Thus we ended up with Suryavarman coming out in a position slightly ahead of his potential rival instead of the two of them being equal or even Suryavarman being behind. This was one of those situations where the RNG luck of which leader made the actual city conquests ended up having a real effect on the wider game.
One of the weird things about this particular competition was the fact that no one ever seemed to pull ahead or fall behind in tech. The AI leaders remained bunched together on the tech tree for almost the entire game, with the smaller civs in the west having better economies to balance out the larger civs in the east. While Catherine and Sitting Bull had been crashing out of the game, Louis had been fighting several wars against Roosevelt without any territory changing hands. The gamelong stalemate in the west continued for the moment but it was inevitable that it couldn't last forever. Suryavarman and Brennus had become too powerful and the Khmer leader was "Furious" with Wang Kon for their earlier warring. Brennus declared war against the Koreans first on Turn 227 and then Suryavarman joined the party half a dozen turns later. Even Louis piled onto the fray once it became clear which way the wind was blowing. Wang Kon made it to Rifling tech during the war and it didn't end up mattering at all, not when outnumbered to such an enormous degree. Three dozen turns later he was eliminated as well:
Once again, most of the rewards from this conflict accrued to Suryavarman. This time the actual city conquests had been split roughly in half between the Celts and the Khmer, but the cities that Brennus picked up were largely engulfed by French or Khmer culture. They contributed little to the rest of the empire. By contrast, the Khmer conquests were easily integrated into the rest of Suryavarman's territory and could become full participants in the industrial economy under development. This was another unlucky break for Brennus due to the geography of the rest of the world.
Diplomatically, the writing was on the wall that Roosevelt would be the next one out of the game. He was a high peace weight leader in a game full of low peace weight leaders, he had warred with both Suryavarman and Louis in the past, and if that wasn't enough, Roosevelt also decided to adopt a self-founded religion that no one else practiced. He might as well have been painting a target on his own chest. This time Suryavarman kicked off the warring on Turn 287, Brennus piled into the conflict four turns later, and Louis once again was the fuzzy mascot hopping onto the bandwagon. This conquest was much faster than the slow destruction of Korea, not due to any great technological breakthroughs but simply because Suryavarman and Brennus were willing to ram stacks of 50+ cavalry into defending American cities without bothering to clear out the cultural defenses. They had the units to spare and the pace of conquest was brisk. America was gone in a little over a dozen turns:
For the third time this game, Suryavarman found himself picking up nearly all of the spoils in a shared war with Brennus. The Celts grabbed one American core city, another single tundra iceball city, and the French also picked up a former barb colony in the extreme south. Everything else, including all of the other core cities, went to the Khmer. It still wasn't exactly clear why Suryavarman had been so much better than Brennus at capturing cities when they both had a shot at the prize. Nevertheless, all of those 50/50 shots going the way of the Khmer had added up enormously over time, with Suryavarman surging far out in front of his competitor on the scoreboard. It looked as though he would have his pick of any victory condition that he wanted, with the possibility to go for both Spaceship and Domination depending on how Suryavarman felt. No one was especially close to finishing the tech tree and Louis had an outside chance of winning via Culture if the game dragged out. Even the Diplomatic victory was technically a possibility if Suryavarman could improve his relationship with Louis enough to secure his vote.
In terms of relations, Suryavarman and Louis had been "Friendly" with one another for virtually the whole game thanks to shared religion and low peace weight and mutual military struggle bonuses. They had fallen to "Pleased" after both of them went to Free Religion civic but it was hard to see either of them attacking one another given their history. As for Suryavarman and Brennus, the two of them also shared low peace weight scores and a substantial joint military bonus. However, Brennus managed to accumulate an impressive -6 relations penalty thanks to repeatedly getting caught with his spies. This dropped relations down to "Cautious" and, well, apparently Suryavarman wasn't a fan of all that espionage directed against his civ:
We had spotted the "We Have Enough On Our Hands Already" buildup on the part of Suryavarman a few turns earlier and waited for him to bring the hammer down on one of his remaining rivals. Brennus was building Research in all of his cities while Suryavarman stockpiled dozens of tanks - we were not disappointed. First the Celtic cities in the west were conquered, then the Celtic cities in the southern tundra fell, followed by the Khmer armies beginning to roll eastward in an unstoppable tidal wave of yellow. The armies of Brennus collapsed within the first few turns and produced an impressive drop on the Power bar graphs. It quickly became obvious that this game would end via a Khmer Domination win.
There was one critical piece of drama remaining over the final turns: which leader would come in second place. Brennus started out the war with a huge lead of roughly 1300 points, half again the French score, only to see his ranking plummet as he lost more and more territory. Score in Civ4 is based on a combination of four things: population, territory, techs, and wonders. While the Celts couldn't lose their points for techs discovered, Brennus was falling further and further as his cities were removed from the map and their associated population and territory was gobbled up by the Khmer. 1000 points difference, 700 points difference... Turn by turn we watched the gap closing between Brennus and Louis. This is the beauty of the scoring system for AI Survivor, as even games where the winner is obvious can have last-minute drama for the runner up position or the finishing date or the number of total wars. Brennus was still clinging to life, barely above Louis on the scoreboard, even as Suryavarman was about to hit 60% land area. Photo finish time!
In the end, Brennus just couldn't hold on long enough. He dropped below Louis on Turn 342 and the game ended four turns later:
It was an unfortunate ending for the Celtic leader given the strong game that he had played, strong after the early turns anyway. If he had been able to conquer cities just a little bit more effectively, he likely would have been able to make it into the playoffs as the second place leader. He was certainly more deserving of a playoff spot than Louis, who had built too many wonders and fought a series of ineffective wars against Wang Kon and Roosevelt. This was the classic case of a weaker leader riding the coattails of a stronger leader into the next round of the tournament. The only leader who looked to have played a genuinely strong game was Suryavarman, starting with good expansion and then snowballing a conquest of Sitting Bull into the game's dominant spot. Only the two times that Suryavarman was blindsided with a two front war (first by Roosevelt and then later by Wang Kon) had stopped him from running away with this game much earlier. He had been deserving of the Pool 1 seeded spot in this game.
We'll have another chance to see Suryavarman in action in the upcoming playoff games. Brennus will at least get another opportunity in the Wildcard game to punch the playoff ticket that he couldn't hold onto in this game. As always, thanks for watching and reading along with these matches.