This is the third and final playoff game leading up to the Survivor championship match. Out of the three playoff games, this one appears to have the strangest group of competitors, and arguably the most wide open field. There's no clear favorite here, and any of these leaders could potentially claim one of the top two spots. We've got a pair of Celtic leaders, a Greek leader who loves to pursue culture, the underdog Ottoman leader who advanced instead of his more famous compatriot, the winner of the wildcard game, and the Soviet leader who surprised everyone in his first appearance. Meet the group of competitors.
Boudica emerged from a similarly uncertain field to take the top spot as the winner of Game Three. She had a bit of a difficult jungle-choked position in that one, but managed to conquer first Louis, and then Isabella en route to dominating the game. That almost turned into a literal Domination victory, although in the end Boudica was forced to head for space when she found herself stuck around 60% land area. Boudica is one of the most aggressive leaders in the game, and she'll surely be trying for another military victory of some kind in this game. Boudica AI has Aggressive and Charismatic traits, purely combat-focused and with little to no economic benefit. Her Celtic civilization uses the Gallic Warrior and Dun unique items, neither one especially impressive. I'm struggling to remember if anyone has ever picked the Celts in one of our unmodded Multiplayer games. Boudica the AI has military and growth flavors. She is highly aggressive as mentioned before (8.8 out of 10 rating), good enough for sixth place out of the 52 leaders in militarism. Boudica will strangely not declare war at "Pleased" relations, but she does have a very low peace weight as an "Evil" leader. Expect her to initiate wars early and often.
Pericles was the victor in Game Six, one of the most peaceful games that we had in the opening round amid a field of mostly economic leaders. Pericles was fortunate to take that game, as he was going to lose the space race to Elizabeth had events played out naturally. Instead, Elizabeth built the United Nations and found herself losing the vote to the Greek leader. It seemed to work out for her in the end, since Elizabeth still managed to make her way into the championship match. As for Pericles, he'll have to navigate this field of much more aggressive rivals to do the same. Pericles has aruguably the best economic traits in this particular game, with the Creative and Philosophical pair. Both are very good at emphasizing culture, which is one of Pericles' strengths. His Greek civ has the Phalanx and Odeon uniques. As an AI, Pericles uses production and science flavors for research. Pericles loves to build wonders (8/10 rating) and otherwise has mostly average ratings. He's pretty pacifistic in general, with an aggression rating of only 3.3 out of 10. Pericles is considered "Neutral" in peace weight, albeit one leaning towards the "Good" end of the spectrum. There will be some tension between him and the leaders at the bottom of the peace weight scale. Overall, Pericles wants a game that's generally peaceful in nature, where his superior economic traits can lead him towards a space or culture win.
Zara makes it to this game by virtue of winning the Wildcard match. His initial appearance in Game Two was somewhat of a disaster, where he fell down to only two cities at once point and had to be saved from elimination by the intervention of Mansa Musa. In the Wildcard game, Zara drew a semi-isolated jungle spot and managed to avoid war in the early game until he'd built up a tech lead. He then turned around an ill-advised declaration of war from Genghis Khan and snowballed into the game's runaway AI leader, topping the board in all categories and eventually winning through space. Can Zara win one more game and become the true comeback kid? Zara has Creative and Organized traits, an economic pairing with some good synergy. They are debatably as good or better than Pericles' traits, depending on how one feels about Organized vs. Philosophical. Zara's Ethiopian civilization has the Oromo Warrior unique unit and the Stele unique building. Zara the AI employs growth and religion flavors; he's a decent shot to found one of the early faiths in this game. Zara AI generally likes religion quite a bit, and he even has Theocracy as his favorite civic. Zara's numbers are otherwise fairly average, with a middling aggression rating (5.6 out of 10) and a "Neutral" peace weight rated the same as Pericles. Zara is pretty good at the landgrab phase, and that could be his ticket to opening with a strong start.
Brennus is the forgotten man, sitting around on the sidelines ever since Game One! Way back in our first contest, Brennus came in second place to Suryavarman. It wasn't an especially impressive game; Brennus took over Tokugawa's territory (winning a war against one of the most incompetent AIs in Civ4), but he was greatly overshadowed by Suryavarman, and Brennus was in the process of losing a war when the game ended through United Nations vote. In fact, if Peter hadn't voted for Suryavarman in that game, Brennus would have dropped out of second place and into the Wildcard match. Brennus will have to do more in this game if he expects to move on to the championship. Brennus has the underpowered trait pairing of Spiritual and Charismatic. He is the other Celtic leader, also using the Gallic Warrior and Dun. Will we see a battle between rival Celtic clans before this one is over? Brennus the AI uses military and religion flavors. Because the Celts start with Mysticism tech, he's another likely leader to found an early religion. Brennus emphasizes religious stuff rather heavily, much like Zara. Brennus is above average in aggression rating at 7/10, although he doesn't go overboard with unit emphasis and his other numbers are fairly average. He does sit at the lowest possible peace weight rating, dead zero "Demonic Evil" as I've described in past reports. Brennus is honestly a bit bland as a leader, somewhat aggressive but not enough to be truly interesting. We'll see what he can conjure up in this game.
Suleiman appears in this game by virtue of his runner-up finish in Game Four, where he was last seen getting nuked repeatedly by a runaway Huayna Capac. Suleiman generally played well in that game, he simply was nowhere near as strong as the Incan monster off to his east. It's hard to know what to make of Suleiman, another middling leader with average numbers in most categories. His traits are Imperialistic and Philosophical, a pairing with little synergy that doesn't appear to fit any particular strategy. Suleiman usually tends to get overlooked for the much better traits of Mehmed (Expansive/Organized) for this very reason. His Ottoman civ is one of the better choices in Civ4, with the Janissary and Hamman uniques. (The Ottomans also have outstanding starting techs with Agriculture and The Wheel, although this doesn't matter too much for the Deity AIs and their free starting techs.) Suleiman the AI has culture and military flavors. He is also slightly above average in aggression rating (7/10) and otherwise has middle of the board ratings. Lots of stuff listed as 4/10 or 5/10 or 6/10, nothing that stands out. Suleiman AI also has a "Neutral" peace weight, albeit one that leans towards the low end of the scale, the opposite of Pericles and Zara. He'll get on better with someone like Brennus. All told, Suleiman is another leader without much to make him unique. He's pretty ordinary as AI leaders go.
Out of all the leaders in the opening round, Stalin played perhaps the most remarkable game. Attacked repeatedly by his neighbors, Stalin twice dropped down to last place in score, and not merely by a few points. He appeared to be the Dead Man Walking multiple times in Game Seven. On every occasion, Stalin rallied back and somehow managed to survive. He paired with Catherine and ultimately the two Russian leaders were the only ones still standing when all was said and done. Stalin will have to walk a tightrope once again to find a path to the final match. Stalin uses Aggressive and Industrious traits, another unusual pairing that doesn't appear to have much synergy. His Russian civ has the Cossack and Research Institute as unique items; we've seen the cossack used to good effect in several previous games. Stalin the AI has the historically appropriate research flavors of military and production. He's another aggressive guy with a rating of 7.6 out of 10, and of course Stalin is more than willing to declare war at "Pleased" relations. Stalin AI's most unique feature is a love of espionage, with 10/10 rating in that category. Stalin has a low peace weight as an "Evil" leader, again as expected. Just as I wrote before Stalin's first game, it's an accurate portrayal of the historical Stalin. How will he do in this one without Catherine to help out? We shall see.
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When we did the prediction contest for the three playoff games, this was the one contest where no one could seem to agree on the results. For the first game, nearly everyone picked some combination of Catherine, Huayna Capac, and Suryavarman, while Mansa Musa was a gigantic favorite for the second game. With this third one though, there was no consensus at all on who would advance. I agree that this game looks wide open, with no dominant leaders and all six leaders having a reasonable chance at topping the board. Expect lots of warring between these aggressive leaders, and a wild and crazy race to the finish.
This was one of the stranger continents that I'd seen yet from the map generator. It was mostly rectangular in shape, but with tentacle-like arms stretching out at the edges in each direction. I thought that this was reasonably fair to the AI leaders, at least good enough for our purposes. Zara Yacob probably had the best start in the northeast, while Pericles and Boudica were the most likely to get squeezed on land. Then again, Pericles might actually enjoy his semi-isolated start, giving him more cover to pursue his cultural stuff down there in the southwest. As for Stalin and Suleiman in the middle of the map, they had the most potential land to claim, albeit at the cost of also being surrounded by rivals. They were the ones who had the most pressure on them in these early turns of the landgrab.
OK, this was only a little minor detail, but I just had to screenshot this. Look what Suleiman's starting worker is choosing to do with the first couple turns of the game. Yeah. No further comment.
For once, the AI leaders all made good decisions with their extra free Deity settlers. Everyone pushed towards the center of the map in intelligent fashion. Pericles caught a break with Sueliman choosing to send his settler east instead of west, giving him a bit of breathing room. The city of Sparta had no food resources at all, but it did have marble and horses, so I expected to see Pericles going nuts on the wonders down the road. Zara's second city was probably the best of the group: located four tiles from his capital, with wheat for food and copper for production. It was a nice spot.
As for research, Boudica was the only one who opened with a religious tech out of the gate, and she would found Buddhism in her second city on Turn 10. This would help to secure her border with Stalin, although Boudica was still going to be in a tight crunch for land in her corner. Brennus immediately followed with Polytheism research, and he would establish Hinduism in his own second city on Turn 18. Both Celtic leaders now followed opposite faiths, on different sides of the map. If Zara went for his own religion later, as seemed likely, we'd have one of the few games with three competing world religions.
Suleiman and Zara were the first to plant their third cities. Suleiman had the advantage of being Imperialistic, while Zara was making good use of this sweet capital city:
While it's true that the land was fertile, this was also a surprisingly competent opening from an AI leader. Resources neatly connected? Roads running between cities? Nothing insane or ridiculous to be seen? Who are you and what have you done with the Civ4 AI?! Anyway, I was sure that there would be foolishness aplenty from Zara later. He was off to a good start thus far though.
Stalin was not off to a good start, for reasons that I couldn't understand. The Russian leader had an amazing capital with corn, iron, gold, an oasis, and ten floodplains (!) and yet he was struggling mightily. Stalin only had two cities long after everyone else was on three, and even four cities in some cases. There was a Russian settler just sitting in St. Petersburg not moving. What was this guy doing? Then, just as Stalin was about to plant his third city, he was beaten to the spot by Suleiman on the same interturn:
Ouch, what a crushing setback. Lots of border tension here with the Ottomans. Stalin would have to walk his settler north in search of another spot. This was reminiscent of Churchill's disastrous opening in Game Eight, and that resulted in Churchill being the First to Die in that particular match. Stalin was perhaps heading for the same fate. Making matters even worse, there were now three barbarian cities to the north, east, and west of Russian territory. They made it difficult for Stalin to plant any cities without clearing them first. Then Stalin had Boudica's holy city culture penning him in to the northwest. I seriously don't understand how he could be botching this situation so badly. That starting location was an absolute dream, with room to expand in every direction!
Elsewhere, Pericles was off to his wonder-building ways with an early Great Wall. It was largely wasted in his corner of the map, someone like Stalin would have benefited a lot more. Brennus won the race to Stonehenge shortly thereafter on Turn 40, beating out Zara and Stalin to the prize. (Yes, Stalin was going for a wonder in his situation. Not the best choice.) Suleiman was expanding like a weed, planting his fifth city before anyone else. He had five cities now to Stalin's two cities! Zara was meanwhile expanding himself, getting his fourth city in a nice location to the west. He also founded Judaism as expected, giving the world its third major religion. That should make for some interesting diplomacy. Pericles was struggling to expand, spending too much time on wonders in his cities. I also noticed Pericles walking a settler back and forth next to a barb warrior; he retreated back into his territory three times to avoid a barb warrior, even though his settler was guarded by multiple archers. This delayed the settlement by about a dozen turns. What an idiot!
Stalin remained the major story of the early game, however. He could not get out a third city! What a criminal waste of that starting position. As the other AIs continued to expand into the center of the map, things were only going to get worse. I mean, things would look OK for the moment, but eventually the lack of territory and population was going to cripple the Russian leader. The inability of Stalin to expand was also rapidly turning Zara into a monster, since there was no competition at all for land on the northeast quadrant of the map. This was not the way this game was supposed to go!
Amazingly, Stalin picked up his third city by capturing it from the barbs. Good for you, Stalin! At least he took action to try and solve the situation's problems, instead of sitting around and waiting to die. What a weird game. Stalin actually took the city by attacking with an archer, and he nearly knocked down the barb archers into the red and left the city to be captured by another leader. A little bit worse dice luck and the Russians might have missed out on this prize. Now maybe Stalin could begin to get back into this game. A few turns later, he captured the barb city of Chinook to his north. That was now four total Russian cities, and two of them captured from the barbs. Who needs your own settlers?
Suleiman certainly wasn't hesitant to make use of his own settlers. He was spamming cities for all that he was worth, making good use of his Imperialistic trait. Once he teched to Calendar and got some happiness for these cities (and built enough workers to remove the forest/jungle tiles), then Suleiman would be sitting pretty. The Ottoman leader had also been engaged in a long running race with Pericles for the Pyramids, with Athens having more production but Istanbul having stone. Who finished the wonder was going to come down to the number of forest chops each leader stumbled their way into. In the end, Pericles was the winner of the race, since he used his initial Great Spy from the Great Wall to pop a Golden Age, and that was enough to hit the finish line first. Unfortunately, building the Pyramids had effectively conceded the entire border region to the Ottomans, which did not portend well for the Greeks down the road.
Stalin suffered another break of poor luck when he was unable to capture the barb city to his west. Stalin's sword and axe pair knocked the defenders down into the red zone, only to see a random wandering Brennus archer take the city. That's right, it was Brennus - the Celtic leader on the other side of the world - and not Boudica who grabbed the city. This just was not Stalin's game. He did get the Temple of Artemis though, for the little that was worth. Stalin also tried for the Oracle, but that was taken by Zara, who grabbed Metal Casting with the free tech. The Ethiopians were the clear score leader at this point.
Here's where we stood towards the end of the landgrab phase. Zara was the unquestioned leader at this point, with the most cities and the highest population. Zara and Brennus were not on good terms though, and they were a likely pair for the first military action. Somehow Stalin had managed to climb his way into second place, despite founding only one city up in the tundra at Novgorod. I have no idea how Stalin keeps doing this, falling down to the bottom of the scoreboard and the miraculously rising back up again. Suleiman and Brennus were decently positioned for the future if they could catch some breaks, especially Suleiman since he had a weak neighbor nearby to use as a potential conquest. Boudica and Pericles were in the most trouble by far. Boudica was in the strange situation of needing to fight Stalin to gain land, but because the two of them shared a religion, they were "Pleased" and Boudica refuses to declare war at that relations level. Perhaps she'd strike further afield. Pericles had simply failed to expand, spending way too much time building wonders. He was going to have an uphill climb from this position.
Literally on the next turn, Stalin declared war against Boudica. So much for their "Pleased" relations! Stalin is one of the AIs who will attack at that level, and he wasted no time in going after a potential weak target. Their respective militaries were dead even on the power charts, so no advantage to either one there. Stalin was aiming for Bagacum, one of the northern tundra cities of Boudica. Only an AI would be striking at cities in strategically useless parts of the map. Anyway, the actual attack against the city redlined the defenders, but failed to capture the target. Two Celtic axes left, each with about 1.0 health remaining. Stalin would have needed two more attackers of any kind. This was hardly a good start to the war, and we'd have to see from here if Boudica was able to strike back.
As the war between the game's two Aggressive leaders went on, Stalin continued to attack at Bagacum while Boudica moved against Novgorod. This was amusing to watch, both of their invasion forces having the "AI Attack City" mission assigned, so neither would attack one another as they walked past side by side. AI logic at its finest. None of these attacks seemed to be having much success, even without the targeted cities having walls for protection. This war looked to be pointless and destructive for both sides.
Uh oh. Brennus decided to enter the war himself and come to the aid of his Celtic brethren. Stalin had converted to Judaism a little bit earlier after a flood of Zara's missionaries, and that didn't sit well with Brennus and his Hindu followers. Now Stalin was in very serious trouble indeed, with few cities at his disposal and enemies on both sides. Even worse, Brennus had been building units for some time and was tops in power on the charts. For whatever reason, Brennus ignored the city of Zhou right on his border with Stalin and sent his units deeper into Russia. I had no clue where they were going. The eastern Celts pulled attention away from the far north, however, allowing Boudica to gain the first city capture of the game:
This dropped Stalin down to four cities remaining. He needed a miracle here. Then again, Stalin had been in this exact same position before in Game Seven. Could he pull another magic trick out of his back pocket?
Zara generated a Great Prophet while all this was going on, and I thought for sure he'd use it on the Jewish shrine. Instead, he used it on the Confucian shrine. Ummm.... the religious adviser screen said that 48% of the world was Jewish. A mere 5% of the world was Confucian. This was another head scratcher from the AI. I'm not sure how much it mattered though, since Zara had built the Colossus, Chichen Itza, and eventually the Mausoleum. He was dominating in score. Zara also missed the Hanging Gardens by a single turn, which went instead to Suleiman.
What in the world...? Somehow Pericles was unable to capture this barb city, and Suleiman ended up taking it with his own offensive stack. This likely meant future conflict between the two, as the border tensions continued to build between the Ottomans and the Greeks. It didn't help either that they followed different religions. As for Christianity, that was another Zara pickup, like so many other first to discover benefits on the tech tree.
Stalin's cities were still hanging on for the moment. The Russian lands had been heavily pillaged, however, and Stalin's cities were suffering from major whipping penalties. Zhou had five unhappy faces from excessive whipping. City walls and city cultural defenses were keeping the Russian leader alive for the moment. That didn't seem likely to last much longer, as Boudica had recently finished Construction tech and Brennus was heading there as well. Catapults: the answer to turtling defenders since 2005.
That came sooner than I'd expected. Suleiman must have seen how weak Pericles was on the power graphs, and decided to go for the juggular against the cramped Greek civilization. Everyone on the map was now at war, well everyone except Zara Yacob. He was playing this out almost identically to the Wildcard game so far. Suleiman didn't have Construction quite yet, but it was in the queue and catapults would surely be on their way. Would Pericles be able to fight this off, or would he collapse under the weight of too many wasteful cultural projects?
Brennus finally managed to bully his way into Zhou. No catapults yet, sheer force only. Stalin had whipped the city until he couldn't whip it anymore, and with all of the city's tiles pillaged, and the roads to the city cut, there was no way to reinforce the defending garrison. Eventually they were worn down and defeated. Boudica had catapults slowly knocking down the defenses of Chinook up to the northwest, and Stalin seemed to be running out of answers. Catherine, where are you?!
In the south, Suleiman threw away three large armies attacking the city of Sparta, largely due to the city walls that Pericles had built there. Suleiman refused to wait for catapults to arrive, and he staggered his attacks several turns apart, giving the defenders just enough time to heal up between each assault. The AI can be amazing dumb at tactics sometimes. Catapults were on their way now, but Suleiman had thrown away well over two dozen units in these pointless attacks. Suleiman did manage to take Knossus a few turns later, a city in the southeast corner of Greek territory. His own isolated city in Greek territory hadn't been menaced at all yet. The two leaders signed peace at this point, with no further cities having changed hands. Pericles stayed alive for the moment with five cities remaining.
That was more than Stalin could say. He'd lost Chinook to Boudica, and he was clinging for dear life onto his original two core cities. Stalin needed some kind of divine intervention:
I guess that Zara would have to do! This looked to be another war driven by religious animosity. Would Zara's attack be enough to save Stalin from certain destruction? I tended to doubt it, but at the very least there would be something else interesting to watch. Zara was ahead by about eight techs over Brennus, and he was about to hit a breaking point in military technology. Brennus was using all Ancient age stuff (along with horse archers), while Zara had longbows and was on the verge of unlocking maces and knights. That might represent too big of a military edge for Brennus to hold his cities. Zara was also continuing to go nuts on the wonders, building the Hagia Sophia, the Parthenon, the Apostolic Palace, and the biggie: the Statue of Zeus. Yikes, don't mess with Ethiopia!
It looked to be too late to save Stalin, however:
Moscow was the only city holding out, and Boudica had it under siege. Long odds here for Stalin. No matter how wise the Buddha might be, converting to his religion wasn't going to be enough to salvage this mess.
Zara's offensive successfully captured the city of Isca from Brennus, neatly dividing the Celtic core from the recent conquests of Brennus in Russian territory. With Eithopian maces advancing forward against large numbers of gallic swords and axes, the odds looked good for the continuation of Zara's offensive. But before any more combat could take place in Celtic territory, time ran out for Stalin:
Brennus was the one who picked up the killing blow. As for Stalin, what a strange game this had been for him. I'm not sure I've ever seen the early game go worse for an AI leader in one of these games. He seemed to be stymied at every possible turn through a combination of the other leaders and the random appearance of barbarian cities. Stalin's inability to execute a proper landgrab with such a rich starting location was simply inexcusable. That capital was disgustingly rich! Honestly, if he was the first one to die here, it was entirely his fault. There would be no miracle a second time for the Russian leader. The proletariat revolution was over.
Zara and Brennus signed peace a couple turns later, bringing the world back to complete peace. Here's what it looked like in the wake of Stalin's demise.
Zara continued to sit in the driver's seat. The early game failures of Stalin had resulted in Zara landing a vast amount of territory unopposed. Zara's excellent economic traits (Creative/Organized) were only helping him further, and they were a stark contrast to the Aggressive and Charismatic stuff that his neighbors were packing. The Ethiopian leader was also ahead in research by about a half dozen techs, and he had been pulling down seemingly every wonder in the game. The top spot was Zara's to lose at this point. There was some danger, however, as both Celtic leaders disliked Zara quite a bit. I assumed that this was largely due to religious reasons. Suleiman was in the next best shape, with a good amount of territory and lots of resources at his disposal. The extra happiness from the hamman had helped his cities quite a bit. If Suleiman were to finish his conquest of Pericles, he'd be in a position to challenge Zara. As for the rest, Brennus had the most cities, but unfortunately his territory was cut into two pieces by Zara's control of Isca. Some of his Russian conquests were also crushed by Ottoman culture; St. Petersburg looked like a possible candidate for a culture flip. Boudica had gained three cities from the downfall of Stalin, and she was definitely on the rise. That said, her Celts were still overshadowed by the other powers. Pericles was in the weakest position by far, and I doubted he would last that long if Suleiman picked a second fight. The Ottomans had plenty of catapults now, and their lack had been the only thing keeping the Greeks alive earlier. Too many wonders from Pericles in the early game, not enough cities.
St. Petersburg culturally flipped to Suleiman on the very next turn after this picture was taken. That was a nice pickup for Suleiman, and another blow against Brennus. The eastern Celts had done much of the fighting against Stalin, but seemed to be getting few of the spoils in the aftermath of victory. Zara founded Taoism for being the first to Philosophy tech. He was now the founder of Judaism, Confucianism, Christianity, and Taosim - everything except the initial two religions. I noticed Suleiman building lots of units in his cities, and I guessed we were ready for another war. World peace didn't have a chance:
It was the Ottomans against the Greeks, round two. Suleiman was tops in world power, while Pericles was in last place. The Greeks were in the process of researching Engineering tech (like everyone else apparently), so they would soon have castles, but I doubted that would do anything other than drag out the struggle. Pericles only had five cities compared to the eleven cities of Suleiman. If no one else attacked the Ottomans and came to his aid, Pericles was almost certainly doomed.
The initial target of the invasion was Sparta, the original second city of Pericles. There was very heavy fighting on both sides here, lots of Greek and Ottoman units losing their lives in the siege of the city. Although Pericles immediately built a castle here once he finished Engineering tech, that still wasn't enough to save Sparta. It fell eight turns into the war, opening a path both to the formerly isolated Ottoman city of Cherokee in the deep south, and the route on to the Greek capital. After a few turns of recovery, the Ottoman forces were on the march again.
The Great Merchant in the event logger was the free one from Economics. Zara had been the one to claim the prize, and he continued his peaceful economic development in the northeast. He was also building universities in his cities, extending his GNP lead over the rest of the pack. Suleiman increasingly appeared to be the only viable challenger to Zara. Suleiman had also been the only one to land a wonder recently, using his stone to build Notre Dame, which actually made a difference in countering the war weariness from this Greek conflict. Suleiman still needed more land though; taking the Pyramids in Athens would help significantly.
Unsurprisingly, Zara was the first to Liberalism, taking Astronomy tech as the free prize. Someone slow that man down before he runs away with the game!
Brennus decided that he would take his best shot. Brennus wanted his city of Isca back, and he was willing to put his life on the line to obtain it. Even though Zara was well ahead in economic stuff, the two leaders in this conflict had equivalent military tech. It was probably the best chance that Brennus had to make a dent in the Ethiopian monster, things were only going to get worse as time passed. That said, I still didn't like his chances here. Zara had more cities, and he had a LOT of knights running around. Furthermore, if the war became protracted, that Statue of Zeus that Zara had built earlier was going to cause serious unhappiness problems for Brennus. He needed Boudica to join him in this war to have a realistic chance of winning.
Things proceeded as expected in the southwest. Suleiman's capture of Athens gave him the Pyramids (and the Great Wall), driving another nail into the coffin of Pericles. It shouldn't be too much longer at this point. Just a matter of moving the Ottoman units to the last three cities, bombing down the castle walls, and then eliminating the defenders. Suleiman was even researching Gunpowder tech, which would bring his janissaries into the mix. They slaughter pre-gunpowder units with a passion, not good news for Pericles.
As for the other war, it was predictably not going well for Brennus. He continued to attack at Isca, although without much in the way of success. Meanwhile, Zara's units were laying siege to Zhou, the former barbarian / former Russian city in the central part of the continent. There were almost a dozen Ethiopian knights up there, and they were destroying everything in their path. Knights are such amazing units in their era, Zara's large contingent of them appeared to be the difference in this conflict. Zara was taking losses too, of course, but... well, I'll let the power graph do the explaining:
Not hard to tell who was winning their respective wars. Bet your money on green.
Boudica declared war on Suleiman at this point, invading Ottoman territory with a medium-sized stack. I didn't see that one coming, I must say. It would be interesting to find if this move would divert Suleiman's attention away from the mopping up of Greek territory. Pericles was finished at this point, the only question was how long he'd be able to survive before someone dealt the death blow. For the moment, Boudica was wandering her units around without moving on any Ottoman cities. I had no idea where they were going. In the main war to the east, Zara had fended off the attacks against Isca, and managed to capture Zhou away from Brennus. There were two Celtic cities off in the west isolated from the rest of Brennus' territory, and he had no way to get units over to them. I figured they would be the next casualties in the war. Even worse for Brennus, Zara finished the Taj Mahal and began a Mausoleum-enhanced Golden Age. Things were not looking good for the Celts.
Here was the Boudica stack wandering around in Ottoman territory. I still didn't know where these units were heading after close to ten turns of moving about aimlessly. The western Celts had a lot of siege units and not much else in this group. Eventually they attacked Suleiman at Konya, where their slow siege of the city (which had castle walls like every other Deity AI city) was worn down over time and eventually destroyed. This was one place where the "AI Counter" mission was in action for Suleiman. Boudica's attack had managed to pillage a few tiles, and that was about it.
Zhou and Moscow had been Brennus' cities. Now they were Zara's cities. Vandal was the only remaining Brennus stronghold outside of his starting peninsula, and that was where the Ethiopians were turning their attention next. Zara and Suleiman continued to accelerate past the rest of the field as their respective wars saw further victories.
Then it was time for more fun and games with the Apostolic Palace!
Oh Zara, you wacky dude. When I saw the first war declaration pop up (Boudica vs. Brennus), I couldn't understand what in the world was going on. Then I saw the other messages appear, and suddenly it made sense. Zara had used his control of the Apostolic Palace to force everyone else to declare war on Brennus. See this is why I don't allow the religious victory option through the AP for these games. It's way too easy for an AI leader to luck their way into a cheese win in this fashion. Insane swings in the diplomacy like this are bad enough. Now Brennus was at war with every other leader in the game. (Suleiman was actually at war with everyone other than Zara, heh.) I smell more zany hijinks!
All of the Apostolic Palace resolutions in the world weren't enough to save Pericles:
It was a miracle that he managed to survive as long as he did. Suleiman's insistence on slowly bombarding down the castle walls at each Greek city was the main reason why the invasion dragged out as long as it did. Same story as always in these AI games, certainly not the first time that we've seen that in action. Pericles simply didn't play the early turns well enough in this game. I think that he had a real chance to be a power in this game, but Pericles allowed the Ottomans to settle all of the land along their respective border while the Greek cities were tied up on wonders. Letting Suleiman get the barb city down in the tundra, completely surrounded on all sides by Greek culture, that was another stroke of pure stupidity. It virtually guaranteed future conflict with the Ottomans once that happened, and Pericles simply hadn't put himself in a strong enough position to win. This was a deserved result: Suleiman had played the superior strategy.
Here was the overview map after the destruction of Pericles. Gaining control of the Greek lands had Suleiman on the rise, his score was increasingly quickly and beginning to threaten Zara for the overall game lead. Those two leaders were both "Friendly" with one another, due to shared religion and favorite civic bonuses, meaning that we wouldn't see a massive showdown between the game superpowers unless something changed diplomatically. This was terrible news for the remaining Celtic leaders, as they had nothing to shield them from the aggression of Zara and Suleiman. In fact, Zara may have made a mistake by forcing those Apostolic Palace wars on Suleiman. Now the Ottoman leader was at war with both Brennus and Boudica, giving him the opportunity to capture cities from both Celts. Suleiman had already taken the little city of Durocortorum on the southern coast, a location he wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Were we going to end up with just the two leaders flying the green banners? And if so, who was going to get what spoils from the downfall of the Celts?
In terms of research, Zara was significantly ahead of Suleiman, about eight techs as I could best determine. Zara had gone down the middle of the Renaissance tree, taking Corporation, Astronomy, and then Communism/Physics. Zara had already built the Kremlin, he was in State Property, and now he was in the process of finishing off Democracy tech and building the Statue of Liberty. Suleiman, on the other hand, went straight for Rifling tech. This would allow him to upgrade all of his many knights and cuirassiers to cavalry, and gave the Ottoman leader a major leg up in the combat portion of the game. Cavs would be virtually indestructible against the medieval armies being fielded by Boudica and Brennus. This could potentially be a big deal in a race for conquest spoils.
It wasn't always easy telling these two leaders apart. Moscow and Vandal were both conquests of Zara, being pushed upon by the very similarly colored borders of Suleiman. They both seemed very likely to flip through culture if nothing changed. Moscow had already revolted once, and there was an eight percent chance each turn for a second revolt. (Moscow never flipped to Suleiman in the end, due to the fact that Zara used a Great Artist in there for a culture bomb shortly after this picture. Yes, the AI will use Great Artists that way!) Suleiman was also beginning to push into Boudica's territory as his invasion force returned from Greek lands. Would he end up controlling the northwest just as he'd taken control of the southwest earlier?
Oh boy. These were not good times for anyone who had Brennus in the picking contest. Massive armies of Ethiopian and Ottoman units were stomping across Celtic territory. Brennus had to be quaking in his boots. The only real question was which leader would capture which city. Gergovia had gone to Zara, although that was luck and turn order as much as anything. Suleiman had large numbers of cavalry and cuirassiers and janissaries in position to attack these cities. Suleiman also had an offensive beginning to attack the western Celts as well. Boudica was probably starting to regret her rash declaration of war. As for Brennus, he had four cities left, and didn't appear to be long for this world.
Yeah, that didn't take long. Rifles and cavs against medieval units is always a bloodbath, and Brennus hadn't had a chance. That Apostolic Palace resolution had cost Zara some of the spoils of this war, however. Suleiman ended up taking two of the final four cities, including Brennus' capital of Vienne. Once Suleiman could get into State Property civic and remove his high maintenance costs, he'd be in an extremely strong position. As for the departed Brennus, he was never able to get going in this game. Suleiman claimed much of the land on their respective border with Imperialistic settlers in the early game, and then Zara picked a fight with him in the midgame. Brennus had far inferior traits to Zara, and he struggled to achieve much against the Ethiopians. The Apostolic Palace mass war declaration was a real punch in the groin, kicking Brennus when he was already down. In the end, it wasn't enough. Brennus wasn't one of the stronger leaders in this competition, and he fell to superior opposition.
Attention now shifted to the northwest corner of the map, where Suleiman continued his struggle against Boudica. She had managed to tech her way to Rifling, making this a more serious war than the total farce that Brennus had put up. For some reason, Suleiman decided to head straight for the Celtic capital of Bibracte rather than pursue targets along the border. I didn't quite understand this one, but I wasn't sure that it mattered. The picture shows the main Ottoman stack, which had 36 cuirassiers and 34 cavs. Rifles or no rifles, there wasn't anything that Boudica was going to do to stop that stack. Bibracte and its Great Lighthouse fell with ease once Suleiman bombed out the defenses and sent in the horsemen.
I continued to watch the slow progress of Suleiman against Boudica, with little else taking place on the map. Suleiman seemed to be conquering Boudica from west to east, a move that made no geographic or strategic sense. The capital of Bibracte was the first to fall, then the Ottoman stack of doom took out Venta to the south. A separate Ottoman force staged a heavy assault on Tolosa, one that nearly captured the city on three straight turns. Boudica moved before Suleiman in the turn order, and she was moving in reinforcements each turn that just barely held on to the city. It remained in Celtic hands at the end of that desperate fight, but only until the Ottoman stack of doom moved over from the west.
Four cities left now for Boudica. She was putting up a tremendous fight, there just weren't enough Celtic cities. The war of attrition was taking its toll.
While this was going on Zara, continued to surge ahead on tech. He was almost a full era ahead in technology now, beginning to research those expensive Modern techs while Suleiman was only in the early stages of the Industrial period. Zara had factories and infantry, railroads connecting all of his possessions, and he would clean up all of the wonders from this point forward. Even with Suleiman having significantly more territory from his conquests, I was beginning to doubt that he'd ever manage to catch up to Zara. The Ethiopian leader was incredibly far ahead in tech.
Shockingly, with Boudica on her absolute last legs and with nothing left in terms of units, Suleiman signed peace with her:
This didn't make the slightest bit of sense. Now most of Suleiman's Celtic conquests were uselessly crushed by Boudica's culture. Even crazier, Suleiman was now at "Pleased" relations with Boudica, thanks to her swap to Judaism and her Hereditary Rule civic. Suleiman is an AI who will not declare war at Pleased, so he would not go to war again and finish off Boudica unless something changed diplomatically. Unbelievable. He did 99% of the work and then held back the killing blow for no reason whatsoever!
This was the overview situation, with nearly all of the world painted in two shades of the color green. We were unlikely to see any further conflict unless the diplomacy changed, someone going into Free Religion or swapping out of one of the favorite civics of the other leaders. For the moment, I simply watched the map and awaited new developments.
Many turns passed with nothing happening. Suleiman caught up to Zara in score, and the two of them began passing the lead back and forth as they each discovered new techs. This didn't really matter though, since both were essentially assured of moving on to the championship game. The only thing they were competing over was the actual game victory, and score didn't matter there. Amusingly enough, all three leaders signed defensive pacts with one another on the exact same turn. If someone did start a war, things were going to get crazy in a hurry. Finally, Suleiman revolted into Universal Suffrage and Free Religion civics, dropping him down to "Cautious" with Boudica. If he decided to start a new war, we would see some real fireworks. Pretty please?
The United Nations was irrelevant in this game:
Zara and Suleiman would always vote for themselves, splitting the vote and making sure that a diplo victory was impossible. This game was going to have to end in another fashion, barring something truly bizarre.
More turns passed with no action. Zara founded Sid's Sushi and Creative Construction and began spreading them around. He'd also finished his Apollo Program and was building spaceship parts, along with all of the modern era wonders. These corporations and wonders allowed Zara's score to surge past Suleiman, and it seemed unlikely that the Ottoman leader would ever retake that lead so long as peace continued. Not much was happening.
Then the war horns sounded and we were suddenly all the way up to Defcon One!
Thank goodness, we get an interesting end to the game instead of a boring slog to space. Suleiman wanted to wipe out those few remaining Boudica cities, only he apparently had forgotten that everyone had signed defensive pacts with each other. This brought Zara into the war as well, and I don't think Suleiman wanted any part of Zara. Although Suleiman was ahead in power for the moment, Zara was almost a full era ahead in tech. The Ethiopians had mechanized infantry in huge numbers, although weirdly no tanks that I could see, despite having the techs and resources to build them. Perhaps Zara had simply been caught off guard. In any case, this was going to get very exciting in a hurry. Buckle those seatbelts, someone's going to get messed up here.
Most of Suleiman's army appeared to be up in the north in Celtic territory. His biggest stack of doom was attacking Novgorod, and there were a lot of other cavs moving about in the northern tundra. Zara's forces were more dispersed, but the biggest collection was in the center of the map, in what had originally been Russian territory. It was probably a bad sign for Suleiman that most of his units were infantry and cavalry, while most of the Ethiopian units were mech infantry. Check out this carnage:
So many green units! In the first few turns of the war, Suleiman captured Novgorod away from Boudica, but he lost St. Petersburg to Zara. That wasn't a particularly good trade, the former Russian city was a much more valuable prize. The Great Generals were popping up fast and furious now, several of them each turn. Suleiman lost another city in the middle of the map (Durnovaria), but Boudica was down to a single city remaining. Was she going to be able to hold on here long enough for Zara to ride to her rescue?
Nope. Poor Boudica was so close to surviving out to the finish in this one. I don't know how she had managed to get that previous peace treaty, but in the end it simply wasn't enough. Suleiman wanted to close the deal, and so the final Celtic leader passed out of this world. It's kind of amusing how the thing that doomed Boudica was a civics swap on the part of Suleiman, when he gave up Hereditary Rule and Theocracy, thereby losing the shared favorite civic and religious bonus. This dropped relations out of the "Pleased" zone, and that was enough to start another conflict. Zara almost managed to ride to Boudica's rescue in the war, only to come up short. Zara was more interested in capturing additional cities than protecting his ally. In any case, we were down to a mere two survivors. The only thing remaining up for grabs was the victory date and victory type.
Suleiman tried to end this conflict with a "stop the war" vote in the United Nations. Suleiman predictably voted "Yes" and Zara voted "No", which meant that the war went on unabated. Hey, it was worth a shot! Suleiman was also suffering horribly from war weariness, but unlike Mao in the previous playoff game, he was smart enough to revolt into Police State civic. This toned down the unhappiness to a manageable level, and allowed Suleiman to keep up his fighting defense. He also had tanks and planes on his side, the one thing that the Ottomans lacked were mechs. They were a million miles away from Robotics, that was simply not going to happen.
Much of the fighting was taking place up here in former Celtic territory, where Zara was slowly grinding down Suleiman's earlier conquests. Zara had enjoyed only limited success against the Ottoman core, but this area was isolated and relatively easy pickings. All of the Ottoman cities on the former Brennus peninsula had already been captured by Ethiopia. There was still a long way to go for Domination, Zara needed about ten percent more land area. This war wasn't near a finish just yet.
The capture of Bursa on Turn 302 was a major setback for Suleiman. That was one of his original core cities, and it had been heavily fought over by both sides. Edirne was next, and now the Ethiopian tank columns were punching a hole deep into Ottoman domains. The power graphs were clearly heading in two different directions:
Too much technology on the part of Zara. Those mechanized infantry made a tremendous difference, two move units who also get defensive bonuses and can hold cities with ease. Suleiman continued to lose ground with each passing turn. We'd already reached the tipping point earlier in this conflict, and it was all downhill from this point on. Zara was completely ignoring the northwest corner of the map now, sending everything into the heart of Suleiman's territory. Istanbul and Ankara fell together on the same turn:
Most of the original Ottoman core was gone now. Athens was the new capital city, as Suleiman evacuated his government into the Greek hinterlands. Zara was researching the final two techs on the tree, Composites and Stealth, which would grant him access to modern armor and stealth bombers. It was all collapsing for Suleiman, who could only cower in his bunker and await the falling of the next blows.
We didn't have long to wait. Two turns later, the combination of another city capture and cities coming out of resistance pushed Zara over the Domination limit, and that was the end of the game:
Domination victory on Turn 311, with only Zara and Suleiman surviving. Interestingly, Suleiman ended this game in almost exactly the same fashion as his first game, the runner up leader desperately holding on for life as the game winner pounded the stuffing out of him. He'll have to hope for better in the championship game! Zara certainly wasn't showing any mercy towards someone who'd been at "Friendly" relations with him for the vast majority of the game. Boudica and her defensive pacts had done a number on this game's diplomacy.
What a strange game this one turned out to be. Zara had every single tech on the tree by the end, and he would have launched his spaceship in a few more turns if he hadn't won through Domination. The ending was striking similar to Zara's romp in the Wildcard game. Two very strong showings now from Zara, he certainly earned his place in the championship game through the hard route. Looking back at how this one developed, there were a couple of key turning points. The pitiful opening from Stalin had a massive effect on how things developed. Zara was able to pick up more land than he should have gotten, and the Ethioipians faced essentially no pressure in the early stages of the game. This helped Zara develop into an unstoppable runaway. Pericles also failed to expand properly down in the south, and that was a major reason why Suleiman emerged into a major force in his own right. The marble at the second Greek city probably proved to be a curse in the long run, causing Pericles to focus way too much on wonders. Brennus could have been a player himself, especially after taking over most of Stalin's core, but he was attacked by Zara at almost exactly the wrong time. Losing Isca deprived Brennus of a connection to his cities in the west, and once they were isolated they were easy pickings. Boudica's starting position was likely too weak to give her much of a chance. Perhaps I should have added more land over there, I liked everything else about this map except that one start. I thought she put on a good showing here, outliving most of the field and nearly surviving to the finish.
This game also had some crazy diplomacy to it, between the Apostolic Palace mass attack on Brennus and the ending defensive pact fiasco. I wonder if Suleiman could have raced Zara to space successfully if he'd managed to finish off Boudica instead of signing peace. The two of them would never have fought in that case, they were both "Friendly" with each other for most of the game. Suleiman also would have controlled almost 60% of the map in that scenario, more land and more population than Zara. I still think that the Ethiopians would have won, but it might have been close. Zara was pretty far ahead in tech.
Here are the endgame Demographics for the curious. Zara was extremely dominant by the finish, as you would expect for someone who won through Domination victory.
1) Zara Yacob
We now have the final match set for the championship game. Here's a look at the overall bracket:
The competition began with 52 leaders. Through the opening round of eight games and the wildcard match, we winnowed the field down to 18 survivors in three groups of six. With those playoff games in the books, we're now down to the final six contestants: Justinian, Suryavarman, Mansa Musa, Elizabeth, Zara Yacob, and Suleiman. One of these leaders is going to take the crown as the winner of the first AI Survivor competition. Find out who it will be in the upcoming championship match.