This summary for Game Eight was written by Eauxps I. Fourgott. Many thanks for volunteering to put this report together!
Game Eight featured the last seven leaders from the overall pool - but in this case, last certainly didn't equal least! We'd be seeing Season Three's champion, Stalin; Season Two's almost-champion, Cyrus; two leaders who had breakout performances last season, Willem and Darius; a religious nutcase, Isabella; and an insane warmonger, Genghis Khan. (Washington was in this game as well, but his lack of interesting activity in past seasons meant people weren't really excited about that.) Especially with both Izzy and Genghis on the scene, it was impossible to predict exactly how this game would go, and we were probably in for a good show in any case. Stalin was the favorite in the picking contest mostly due to his impressive past two seasons, but especially as he had no copper near his starting position, it was hardly a guarantee that he would be advancing.
The initial round of settlers didn't see any really stupid decisions made this time. Stalin did head south, the one direction where he didn't need to worry about staking his claim to land, but the city site was at least still decent and not totally tundra-bound. Cyrus had the worst start here, spending turns and turns trekking through the jungle in order to found a coastal city that would be suboptimal for churning out settlers and waste his Imperialistic trait, but it did at least claim land in Genghis Khan's direction. As far as early religion went, Isabella was the only leader to start the game with Mysticism, and so predictably founded Christianity on Turn 9, getting a nice centrally-placed holy city near Willem, Stalin, and Darius. Willem and Washington both contended for the second religion, but then both gave up on it after Izzy finished the research on Meditation - I guess Polytheism wasn't worth researching? This left Izzy with a monopoly on religion for the time being.
Thanks to having good starting techs for his position AND building a settler in his capital, Darius was the first one to get a third settler on the map, even with two Imperialistic leaders in play. Willem produced his own in the capital soon afterwards. Darius's settler went for a bold westward move, taking a spot near Genghis that claimed iron in the first ring and cows and corn in the second ring - although the fact that he settled with those two resources in the SECOND ring certainly wasn't doing him any favors. Still, this was a nice site for putting the squeeze on Genghis, assuming of course that Darius could actually hold it. Willem went for a more conservative plant, but did go westward, just as he had with his initial settler. That put more pressure on Izzy, and left Cyrus nice and unpressured for the time being.
Of the other leaders, Izzy and Washington were both very slow to get out their settlers for third cities, slow-building them in weak second city spots. Cyrus got a fairly timely plant out, a decent site that expanded towards Willem, but his opening did still feel slow. Genghis got a city that had nice land, but was in a secure backline location rather than claiming more land. Stalin's third city went in a southward direction, again not claiming much land, and what it did claim was more towards Washington than the trifecta of leaders to his east. Washington did eventually get a third city out in Russia's direction, but between Stalin's third city and a barb city that had popped up between the two, Washington was already starting to feel a bit squeezed.
The real story of the early turns was Darius, who founded his fourth city (claiming copper!) before Izzy had her third. He also chose to found the second religion of the game, just barely beating Washington to Polytheism at the late date of Turn 32 and founding Buddhism. This didn't seem very good for him, and now Izzy was going to loathe him, and he was already surrounded by low peaceweight leaders that were predisposed to dislike him. He'd had a strong start, but whether he'd be able to actually profit from it was very much in question right now, and this situation was why he'd been the favorite in the picking contest for First to Die.
However, Isabella wasn't the most intimidating rival at this point. Her second city was largely buried in jungle, limiting its usefulness, while instead of focusing on expansion, she was working on an early Oracle in her capital! Then, right before she would have founded her third city, in a spot to the north of Russia, Stalin founded his fourth city too close, forcing her to trek elsewhere with her settler and further delay a third city! That founding by Stalin was actually potentially quite crucial, preventing Izzy from locking him out of that portion of the map and ensuring Stalin would still have some space, while at the same time putting a squeeze on Izzy. She had to settle for an exposed peninsula north of the Stalin city, while at the same time a barbarian city appeared to her north - ON the copper resource closest to her, delaying her access to metals while also putting even more of a squeeze on her. It certainly didn't seem to be Isabella's game!
Meanwhile, while Darius was the first to four cities, Genghis was the first to five, with Stalin following shortly thereafter. All of these were land-grabbing plants: Genghis took the copper between himself and Cyrus with his first plant and then put his second one in the jungle between the two Persias, sealing off expansion in that direction. Stalin made an aggressive plant right near Darius's Holy City - for the time being, this was a poor site as it was crushed by the Holy City culture, but of course if Darius was conquered, things would look much better for this site. Darius's position continued to be precarious, with three of his neighbors considering him to be their worst enemy, even as he researched Monotheism to found Hinduism while still steadfastly ignoring Mining and Bronze Working to connect his copper. He also had apparently stopped building settlers after expanding to four cities, just sitting there while the other leaders gobbled up the land around him. Stalin founded another city right on his borders, this one with an unescorted settler, making us all wonder just what the Russian leader was trying to do here!
For a while, there had been no religious spread or conversions - the initial religions had stayed in their founders' borders. But then we got two conversions in one turn, both of which had the potential to be highly significant. In the east, Washington converted to Izzy's Christianity, which left Stalin jammed between two leaders who were now very likely to be allies - albeit two weak leaders. In the west, Willem converted to Darius's Buddhism, a potentially very good break for the Persian leader as now he had one likely ally nearby. That would also possibly pit Willem versus Isabella in the north, and if that tension came to blows it wouldn't end very well for Izzy... Shortly thereafter, Stalin also converted to Buddhism, which was again good for Darius, and cemented emnity between Russia and the Spain-America coalition. And that face-off would favor Russia as soon as they got iron...
As the landgrab phase was ending and we seemed to be approaching the first war, Stalin and Genghis Khan had clearly done the best in terms of claiming land and founding a lot of cities, with 8 for Russia and 7 for Mongolia - the only problem for them was that they had no culture yet, as both had gone on without researching Mysticism! Once they finally got culture in those cities and expanded borders, though, they could potentially be in quite good positions, and there was still some extra land to fill in. They certainly had been aggressive with contested land, Genghis throwing a city between Cyrus and Willem to claim horses, while Stalin founded ANOTHER city right on the border with a neighbor, this time Washington. Stalin's weird city placements were either asking for trouble or a perfect investment for when his neighbors got conquered, and it would be interesting to see which one turned out to be the case. Willem was also doing quite nicely, in third place with six cities, and unlike some of the far-flung settlements of Stalin and Genghis, all six of his cities were solidly close together, making a tight core. With Creative culture plus having constructed Stonehenge, he was easily dominating all border disputes, and his economy was looking all right and had the Financial power to rely on moving forward, plus he some decent tundra land still to be claimed.
Darius had gotten a fast early start and was the early leader in beaker rate, but his expansion had almost completely stopped after those first four cities, only founding one more by Turn 70 as his neighbors continued to expand. As good as his economic traits were, it was starting to look like he would be too small to keep up with his neighbors unless something broke his way. Washington had built six cities by this point, but he hadn't yet claimed most of the really good land around his starting position, and was letting Stalin get away with more than he should - Stalin's troll city on the border was only two tiles away from a copper that by all rights should have been Washington's, and it was looking now like America might also have to research Iron Working before they'd have any metals! He was also quickly running out of space to expand further. Cyrus had just been slow and not done much, still sitting on five cities with Willem and Genghis having claimed most of the nearby land. He also had not researched Mysticism and still needed some means of culture. He'd almost founded in a solid location to his east, but Willem founded a new city a few tiles away from his settler first, and Cyrus seemed to be driven back by this, retreating with the settler and not quickly using it anywhere else. It was looking unlikely that he would be a major player in this game. But nobody was looking as bad as Isabella, still with just three cities on Turn 70, no strategic resources at all, virtually nowhere to expand, and surrounded by enemies on all sides.
She must've seen the writing on the wall, because she made an unorthodox and unexpected move: Isabella converted AWAY from the religion she founded?!? I think this was because her capital now had Buddhism and was twice the size of her holy city, still her only city with Christianity. She'd likely convert back if she ever spread her religion to her other cities, but in the meantime this unexpected move looked very good for her. Now she could potentially buddy up with her neighbors and stave off execution for a while. That also left Washington out in the cold as the game's only practitioner of Christianity. It seemed likely that the game's first war would come from religious tensions, or maybe Genghis deciding it was time to go conquer somebody. But instead, Genghis was ATTACKED, by the only other leader who hadn't yet adopted a religion:
Cyrus was probably getting desperate, and no doubt also annoyed by Genghis's aggressive settlements, but this felt like a mistake. Cyrus did have Immortals, but he didn't yet have any sources of metal (although Iron Working was due in 8 turns), so it didn't seem like he'd be able to accomplish much here. Unless this backfired horribly and Genghis conquered West Persia, this would likely just be a war that dragged down the two western leaders. It was also a good break for Darius, as he didn't have to worry about a Mongol invasion while this war was going on. With that distraction over there, and his other neighbors converted to his religion, it was starting to look hopeful for the central Persian leader.
Meanwhile, Darius' Buddhism was continuing to spread like mad, as Genghis converted to the religion - now five out of seven leaders on the map practiced the religion! It was beginning to look like we might have one big happy (or not-so-happy) Buddhist family in this game, without much religious tension to drive it. On the war front, Cyrus was predictably not doing so well. It looked like he might have tried a quick sneak attack on a Mongol border city, but that attack failed and left Genghis the clear leader in a protracted war. Immortals were good against archers and axemen, but not so much against the spearmen and swordsmen that Genghis could also throw at Cyrus - and even though Cyrus was about to get Iron Working, his only source of iron was in the second ring of a city, and he STILL didn't have Mysticism, so he couldn't pop borders to get it! In an ironic reversal of the origins of the phrase, the writing was on the wall for Cyrus, as Genghis quickly broke through and captured one of his five cities:
Could we be seeing a retread of last game, with Genghis getting an early contest to go on a conquering rampage? Possibly, but he wasn't in runaway territory yet, even if Cyrus's days were numbered. Willem in particular was growing stronger and stronger, as he planted two more cities in the northern tundra, and then captured the barbarian city to Izzy's north. That put him up to nine cities, the most in the game at this time, and his economy seemed much better than Stalin's and Genghis' - certainly his culture was ages ahead of theirs. He was beginning to pull away from the other leaders on the scoreboard, even Darius who was in a strong second place at the moment. That barb city capture also was quite bad for Isabella, who now had another Dutch city right on her doorstep and no chance at copper. She at least was able to capture the eastern barb city near Stalin and Washington to finally get a fourth city, but the only thing making her look better than Cyrus was the fact that nobody was currently attacking her.
Most of the leaders were still sitting back and building at this point. Most were finishing Iron Working, so nobody else would be stuck in a no-metal situation. Meanwhile, Genghis took another Persian city in Ecbatana, and that permanently ensured that Cyrus would be stuck without metals. Persia did make a successful counterstrike at Samarqand, but Genghis retook it on the same turn and wiped out the attacking force, making that a very Pyrrhic victory indeed. It was clearly going to be a pedestrian conquest if nobody else got involved - and everybody continued to not get involved. Genghis soon took Cyrus's capital of Persepolis with little trouble, leaving him at just two cities remaining.
At turn 100, it looked as though there were two leaders with a strong shot at winning the game: Willem and Genghis. Genghis was getting a ton of land from his Persian conquests, and if he could get his economy in order he had a significant chance of just going on a conquering spree. Of the peaceful leaders, Willem was clearly doing the best, in or near the lead in all the demographic categories, with by far the highest score. Stalin and Darius had had decent starts, but they weren't looking as strong and needed major changes of fortune if they wanted to contend for the win. Washington was once again doing pretty much nothing, Isabella was dead as soon as somebody attacked her (and as she unsurprisingly converted back to Christianity, that was looking more likely), and Cyrus was about to be eliminated.
Suddenly, though, Genghis hit a snag in his conquest - Cyrus suddenly had metals! In a brilliant move, Willem had supplied iron to the Persians. While this wouldn't change Cyrus's ultimate fate now that he had just two cities, it would slow down the Mongol conquest until they got catapults, slowing down Willem's strongest competitor. A sneaky move by the game leader to try and secure his position! Indeed, this was enough for Cyrus to stabilize for the moment, as he killed an attacking force at the city of Gordium - no doubt a frustration for Genghis. Meanwhile, Willem built the Hanging Gardens for another small boost to his lead. But it was next turn that we saw the next big turn in the game:
Stalin attacking Darius! It was hard to tell how this would go, but Darius did have longbows already thanks to early Feudalism, and Stalin did not yet have catapults, so it looked likely that this war would mostly slow both leaders down and increase Willem's lead. Indeed, Stalin's initial attack on Susa completely failed. Darius actually was able to punch through and take the weakly defended border city of Yekaterinburg, leaving some egg on Stalin's face and giving him some benefit from this conflict. This looked like it would become a stalemate, at least until one of the leaders got Construction, or somebody else got involved, but instead, the two leaders soon afterwards signed peace. That war was unequivocally a mistake for Stalin, who gained nothing, but lost a city and was now in a distant fifth place on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, back in the west. Genghis finally broke through the defenses of Gordium, and soon afterwards he had finished the job:
It's true that Cyrus had a bad starting position in this game, with little land and no easy early metals, which is why I did predict him as First to Die. But it's also true that he completely bungled this game. It wasn't as bad of a display as Zara's last week, but he did take forever to found his second city, fail to ever expand very much, and stupidly ignore Mysticism to ensure that he'd never get the metals he needed to fight effectively - and then he sealed his own fate by attacking a stronger neighbor when he wasn't ready for it. Cyrus completely deserved his poor finish in this game, and much like we saw with Zara last week, it seems as though he may just be a one-season wonder.
That war left Genghis Khan with a good pocket of territory, more cities than anybody else, and even some backlines to expand into. In the north, Willem still had a commanding score lead, the second-most cities, and a solid Financial economy. In the south, Darius had the strongest economy right now and had just picked up an extra city while repelling a Stalin assault. It certainly seemed like one of these three leaders would be the game's winner, with another as the likely second place finisher. Washington was actually surprisingly close to Darius in score but didn't have anything that suggested a very good long-term position, and Stalin and Isabella had fallen far behind. But there was still a lot of game left to go, and especially with a strong warmonger on the loose, things were far from predictable. True to form, Genghis barely stopped to breathe after his conquest of West Persia before going after East Persia:
Honestly, this was probably the correct move for Genghis. While some time to consolidate his economy may have been a wise idea, it was also true that time was on Darius's side. If Genghis was going to take more land and cripple one of his biggest opponents, now was the time to do it before Darius's superior economy launched him even further ahead. It was a bold move - time to see if it would work out. The attack came in the form of a long siege at the border city of Tarsus. Unfortunately for Genghis, Darius was finishing up research on some significant military techs - Engineering for castles and pikemen, and Guilds for knights. As a result, the siege was prolonged when Tarsus finished a castle, giving Darius more time to jam more units into the city. The attack finally came in… and it failed. Darius's defenders survived, and the attacking stack was cleaned up. This wasn't a good long-term sign for Genghis Khan. It WAS a good sign for Willem, who now had his two closest competitors locked in a war that would probably last a while, and was continuing to build up, starting to close in on Darius's tech lead. He was also plotting war now, and who he attacked could have a big impact on the game...
Meanwhile, Stalin had been plotting war for a while, and started telegraphing his target extremely obviously. He called the observer civ asking them to cancel deals with America, then the same turn we looked and saw a gigantic Russian stack right on the border with an American junk city of Los Angeles. This was not a fake-out, and the attack came in next turn: this cold war just got hotter! L.A. was razed to the ground immediately. Fortunately for Washington, the city had been total garbage anyway, only able to work ice tiles. Long-term, this would be an interesting one to see play out. Stalin was slightly higher on the power graphs, but he had been in war-plotting mode before Washington. Washington did have a somewhat higher score (Stalin had actually fallen to last on the scoreboard, behind even Isabella!), but a lot of his cities were ice fishing villages, so it was unclear if he'd be able to stand up to the Russian army or not.
But that wasn't the only war to break out this turn - Willem also declared war on Isabella! Unlike the other two in progress, this war was a total foregone conclusion. Isabella had researched up to Feudalism and longbowmen, but she still had no metal and was behind Willem in every respect. This would be an easy four extra cities for the Dutch. Notably, this also locked up the entire map in three different 1v1 fights, meaning that nobody would be intervening in any of those fights for a while.
As the wars continued on, Darius was able to clear all the Mongol invaders out of his territory, but wasn't able to make progress of his own. This war had turned into a true stalemate, and the two couldn't even get any new tech edges over each other, as both finished the needed techs for macemen on the same turn. Out east, Stalin quickly burned down the many iceball cities that Washington had founded, but he hadn't encountered the real resistance from America yet, so how this war would end was still unclear. In the middle of the map, Willem quickly took Barcelona, and it was indeed clear that Izzy was on her way out. Looking at the turn 150 demographics, Willem had a big lead in GNP and power, but Genghis had eked out a significant lead in production and food. If he was ever able to consolidate and improve his economy, he could still be a real contender for the win - and he was looking like the only other possible contender at this point, as Darius's early research lead had vanished. Willem was pulling away.
His conquest of Izzy was slowed by Spain building citadels in their last three cities, but that was only delaying the inevitable. In the Eastern conflict, Stalin finally brought some armies at American core cities, but those were unable to make progress against the real American defenses. Eventually the two nations signed peace. Stalin had successfully slowed down Washington and moved ahead of him on the scoreboard, now in fourth place, but he ended the war with no new cities and no shot at winning the game. Out west was where the real story was taking place. Genghis was now closing in on Darius's tech lead, building the Colossus to boost his seven coastal cities and triggering a Golden Age. That Golden Age plus his naturally higher production meant he could build a lot more units then Persia, and that was starting to show as he started another siege at Tarsus. After he bombed out the defenses, there was a HUGE, multi-turn battle, gigantic armies on both sides fighting hard and taking heavy losses. But there was a clear winner at the end:
This was a big blow to Darius. For all his early-game strength, he'd never gotten above 7 cities, so losing one of those, and a core city at that, took out a significant amount of his strength. He'd also lost his tech edge, as Genghis had caught up on the military techs and was starting to approach Rifling. It looked like the Mongols would be the eventual victors in the war - the question was, how long would Persia hold out? At any rate, they certainly had longer to live than Spain, as Willem soon struck the killing blow at the former barbarian city of Aryan:
Isabella had founded the first religion of the game, and then done about nothing good after that. She only ever founded three cities, getting up to four by conquering a barb city, and if that's not the hallmark of a weak performance, then I don't know what is! To some degree she got unlucky by the barbarian city popping up on her nearby copper, but if she'd had her game together early on she could have settled that site in time herself and avoided that problem. She was very lucky to avoid conflict for a long time, but from an early date she was clearly doomed as soon as she got in a war. No surprises here. In the aftermath, Willem ended with two more cities, and STALIN would be getting two more as well, due to cultural pressure on Izzy's two western city sites! The Russian leader had now risen to third on the scoreboard from back in sixth place a while back - while he had stymied Washington to move in front of him, he'd seen Izzy and Darius get knocked back without doing anything, and now suddenly was in a position to potentially luck into a second place finish. Washington wasn't going anywhere for a while, but was certainly doomed to irrelevance at this point. Darius was now in the process of falling to Mongolia, and would likely die soon as well unless Willem intervened. If Willem did intervene and backstab Mongolia, he could likely cement his victory. If he didn't, Mongolia could still become a serious competitor for the win.
Willem quickly went back into building mode, starting to research into the Renaissance era economic techs, while popping a Golden Age to boost the building of universities across his territory. Down in the south, Washington went back to settling ice fishing villages, making up for those that Stalin had burned down. Meanwhile, in the sole remaining war, Genghis moved on to Darius's capital of Pasargadae, started a siege - and quickly captured the city without difficulty. Darius was in full collapse mode now, and the Mongols finished research on Gunpowder to further increase their military edge. Then the next war broke out:
This was a deathknell for Darius, who now was guaranteed to get no meaningful support, and left to his fate at the hands of the Mongols. Meanwhile, it also wasn't looking very good for Stalin, who was behind the Dutch in every category. As long as Willem avoided Rifling research, there was some doubt among the crowd as to how well he would do, but in this case it didn't seem as though even that was going to matter - his power was twice that of Stalin as it was! And he was even going to get help: Washington wanted himself some sweet revenge and marched back into Stalin's territory, and with a massive Dutch army invading Russia from the other side, it looked like he would get that revenge! And then a move was made that likely sealed the game: Willem researching Rifling! He was already far ahead of the competition at this point, but this research would seal the deal and ensure that he could handle even a backstab from Genghis Khan. It truly was now a race for second place, with Genghis by far the favorite, and everybody else only standing a chance if Willem chose to eliminate him.
Confirming Stalin's doomed state, Willem easily took the first Russian border city of Yaroslavl as soon as he finished bombarding out the defenses. He started rolling over other northern cities, while after a slow start, Washington was able to get a spoil of his own, taking Vladivostok in the east. Meanwhile, we checked in Genghis Khan's capital, and found out that he had a disgusting NINE Great Generals stacked in there from his constant warring + Imperialistic trait. Combined with his barracks, Ger, Vassalage civic, and Theocracy civic, that meant that any new knights (or soon, cavs) coming out of that city would start with an insane TWENTY-NINE experience points. Talk about scary! But despite all those promotions, it was still taking a long time for him to finish off Darius, as he was waiting and slowly sieging the last two cities. Willem was running around in Russia with a lot of rifles and not a lot of siege (which was a good thing), often just quickly overrunning Stalin's cities rather than sieging them down, meaning Russia was getting conquered a lot faster than Persia. But Genghis had had a huge head start, and on Turn 224 finally conquered Yekaterinburg, finishing off Darius to complete the full conquest of Persia and score his second kill of the game.
Darius had a strong start in this game, and did a lot better than people were expecting, able to avoid an early-game dogpile and assert himself as a strong leader midway through the game. But after his initial push, he just didn't expand enough, leaving himself with too few cities, and that spelled his undoing when faced with a Mongolia that had already absorbed a five-city empire. With better play, I think Darius could've had a real chance of winning this game, but the old Civilization mantra of Expand or Die came into play again here, and he would not be repeating his Season Four run. At the time Darius was eliminated, Stalin was already down to just three cities. The final blow was delayed a bit by Stalin's final city being buried down in the southern ice, a conquest from the barbarians that prolonged his defeat but could not prevent it:
Stalin had a promising start, expanding a lot early and claiming a lot of land, but then he totally failed to capitalize on it. His early economy was hampered by cultural pressure since he put off Mysticism, resulting in him being behind even Isabella on the scoreboard at the time Cyrus was eliminated, then rather than attacking easier targets (like Isabella, who was right above him), each time he started a war it was against his most powerful neighbor, with the end result of stagnating himself and ending up in a situation where he would've needed a lucky result of all his competition getting killed by the Dutch in order to advance. That didn't happen, and the Dutch chose to punish him and eliminate him instead. The Season Three champion would not be advancing, leaving just Charlemagne and Huayna Capac as former champs in the playoffs.
In the aftermath of this war, Willem was clearly going to be the winner of the game, but the fates of Genghis Khan and Washington were still in question. Genghis was very definitively the second-place leader at this point, but if he ended up fighting Willem, he could get knocked out of that position and Washington could sneak into a second-place finish! As for Washington, right now he seemed in good shape to advance to at least the wildcard game, but Willem still wasn't guaranteed not to attack him, and if America did get attacked then they wouldn't last for long. And of course, crucially for the picking contest, Willem's victory type and date were still very much in question! And once again, true to form, Genghis didn't wait for very long before starting up more action:
Oh, Genghis. Oh, Genghis. OH, GENGHIS! You had second place locked up, and you had to throw it all away like this??? When he attacked Darius earlier, it was a daring move but a necessary one to secure a top two spot. This move was just pure suicide - yes, technically, taking out Willem was the only way for Genghis to actually win the game, but in actuality the Khan had no chance. He was still several techs away from Military Tradition and cavs, while Willem could research Assembly Line any time he liked. This was just the Khan throwing away a playoff spot to sate his bloodlust.
At first it didn't look too bad. Genghis quickly captured one of the Russian conquest cities, and was comparable at the start of the war to Willem on the Power graphs. But Willem soon started clearing the Mongol hordes out of his territory, and after a long time of avoiding it, finally picked up Assembly Line to put himself a generation ahead in military tech. He was also piling the war weariness on Genghis's cities, as the Dutch had the Statue of Zeus and all the early fighting took place in their territory. Pretty soon he was starting to take cities from Genghis, recapturing the Russian conquest and starting to push into Mongolian territory. Washington decided to join in the fun as well, trying to cement his own second-place finish. Barring a peace treaty, this would almost certainly continue until enough of Mongolia fell for Willem to trigger a Domination victory. The only other saving grace for Genghis would be if Willem built the UN and managed to get Washington to vote him into a Diplomatic victory. Right now, it didn't look like Washington liked Willem that much, but the ongoing war could potentially change that.
As it turned out, though, there wasn't time for a Diplomatic victory vote before it was too late for Genghis. Willem had been dilly-dallying, not really committing to a full assault and thus not taking cities despite having tanks by this point, but Washington had been committing, and with a technically comparable army to Genghis's, he quickly took three large former Persian cities to catapult himself into second place above Genghis. Washington in second place! I don't think many people expected that even halfway through this game. And now that the results were sealed, Willem decided to try draw the game out by turning on the culture slider! What a wacky ending to the game. However, he was 58 turns from hitting Legendary in his third city, so it looked likely that he'd win by Domination before it reached that mark - especially now that the culture slider would make his borders pop out like crazy in the new conquests. He'd stopped researching, but he was far enough ahead that at this point it didn't matter, and Genghis's economy was collapsing. Willem was now taking cities on the border again, while Washington made his way through former Persia.
Indeed, it looked like Willem had cleared whatever hurdle was stopping him from attacking Mongolia, and now he was taking cities almost every turn. Mongolia collapsed, the Dutch borders popped out in record time, and almost before we knew it, he had secured the Domination victory:
It was a well-played game by Willem from start to finish. Early on, he kept pace reasonably well in expansion while also building one of the best early-game economies. The one bit of luck in his win was having his two closest neighbors be weak, and getting to build up undistracted for a while in the early going - if he'd faced early pressure he might've been in trouble. But he didn't, and he capitalized on that very well to become the leader even early on in the game. A pair of well-chosen wars against weaker opponents later on cemented his position. Even by midway through the game, it would've taken a lot for anybody to beat Willem, and this was a very deserved win indeed, as he heads to the playoffs for the second season in a row.
Meanwhile, a suprising Washington gets the second-place finish to make his first career playoffs appearance! Washington was unquestionably lucky to make it into this position, doing a rather poor job of early expansion and setting himself in a position where he needed others to take out the big threats for him to advance. He also was fortunate to have a sheltered starting position with only one close neighbor, and have that neighbor play rather poorly, although he earned his survival by successfully repelling the Russian attack. To Washington's credit, when he finally got the opportunity to advance his position in the lategame, he took it capably, first getting some cities from Stalin, then taking the war against Genghis and taking quite a few cities to ensure he'd pass the Mongol leader in score. Because of that, his second-place finish wasn't completely undeserved, but he certainly didn't do anything in the early game to earn it, and it seems unlikely that he'll prosper in the playoff round.
As for Genghis Khan, he narrowly survived to go to the Wildcard game, and he certainly deserves an appearance there. For most of the game, Genghis did pretty well, executing one of the best landgrabs, successfully conquering a weak neighbor, and from there pressuring one of the other early-game leaders until he collapsed. For a while Genghis was the only leader who stood a credible chance of beating Willem, and even after that window of opportunity closed, he was the clear second-place leader. Unfortunately, his warmongering ways came to bite him the end, as he just couldn't stop fighting and had to suicide against a stronger neighbor. That, plus the issues from constant expansion and warring that prevented him from ever truly having a strong economy, spelled his undoing. But it was by far the most impressive game yet from the Khan!
Overall, I think there were three major early-game factors that determined how this game would go, and then two big turning points later on. Early on, one big factor was Cyrus's weakness and subsequent suicidal declaration on Genghis. The Persian never got Mysticism to expand borders, didn't even have Iron Working researched until one of his cities had already been captured, and that led to Genghis becoming a top leader and Willem having a safe western border for a long time. Another factor was Isabella's extreme weakness, caused by a combination of her incredibly poor early expansion and the barbarian city that popped up on the copper that should have been hers. That stunted her, prevented her from being able to wreck anybody else's game, and later on made her an easy conquest for whoever attacked her - which turned out to be Willem. The third factor was Stalin's poorly-chosen wars; he had a decent start and couldn't turned it into a contending position with an early attack on Isabella or even a backstab of Darius when he was being invaded by Mongolia, but instead chose to attack his strongest neighbors whenever he did attack, resulting in inconsequential wars that weakened him and prevented any major powers from rising in the east.
Later on, while Willem's war declarations did help cement his dominant position, they didn't really change the course of the game. Two events really did: Genghis's attack on Darius and Genghis's attack on Willem. The first attack turned out to be a brilliant move for the Khan, eventually succeeding, allowing him to absorb one of the other top contenders, and cementing his second-place finish - but it also was what really let Willem pull ahead, as his two closest rivals pulled each other down in the short term with a war that had no early city captures. Then the second attack changed the game from a Willem-Genghis finish into a Willem-Washington finish, as the Khan threw away his playoff ticket and handed it to Washington instead. We'll see what implications that has in the playoff round...
Overall, this was a surprisingly quiet game, with not as much early fighting as we expected. It also felt to me like a case where most of the leaders didn't play very well - Cyrus, Darius, Isabella, and Washington didn't do so well in the landgrab, while Stalin stagnated afterwards, and only Willem and Genghis seemed to really have particularly good overall games. But it was also another fun game that went in unexpected directions, and matched well with previous results this season. Over half of the seeded leaders were eliminated in the opening round, and we'll have some really interesting playoff matchups here. The starting techs and resources around the starting positions are really showing the difference they make this season, and lack of the AP is preventing anybody from getting saved from their doom by a simple vote. It's been a memorable season on the whole; let's hope it continues for the playoffs!