We're almost finished now with these opening round games. As the field continues to narrow, the remaining leaders battle it out for the last remaining playoff spots. In this game, we have a number of old faces from the early days of Civ4, a tight competition for early religions with three different Mysticism starts, and a Russian grudge match to settle.
Catherine has one of the most recognizable AI personalities in Civ4. She is the flirt, the tease, the constantly-demanding-something high maintenance girlfriend. Catherine's traits are Creative and Imperialistic, one of the best pairs at claiming land and spreading out rapidly across the map. Her Russian civilization brings the Cossack unique unit and the Research Institute unique building. Catherine was significantly stronger back in pre-expansion days (when she was Financial / Creative and before the cossack nerfs), but she's still a reasonably strong leader to this date. Catherine the AI has culture and military flavors, as well as the "flirty" personality that I mentioned above. Catherine loves to ask for help (10/10 rating) and issue demands for tribute (8/10), and if you refuse any of these things, you receive a special -2 diplo penalty not present for any other leader. She's always badgering her neighbors about something. Catherine AI otherwise has mostly middling scores, although her aggression rating is slightly higher than average at 6.7 out of 10. She's considered an "Evil" leader in peace weight, the goodly AIs will not like Catherine. Finally, there's one other thing that makes her unique: Catherine AI is the only leader in the game who can be bought into a war against someone with whom she has "Friendly" relations. She can be bribed into a war against anyone, regardless of diplomatic rating. All in all, she's quite the package.
Charlemagne has one of the worst trait pairings in the game, combining Protective trait with Imperialistic trait. It's just as terrible as it sounds. His civilization is quite a bit better; as the only leader of the Holy Roman Empire, Charlemagne has access to the mediocre Landknecht and the amazing Rathaus unique building. That super courthouse is the main reason why the HRE civ ever gets played online, despite its atrocious starting techs (Mysticism and Hunting). Charlemagne the AI has military and religious flavors, and he can be quite the aggressor when provoked, with a rating of 7/10. Charlemagne quite commonly founds his own religion, and he feels very strongly about it, attaching a major penalty to the leaders who follow other faiths. His scores are otherwise average across the board, and Charlemagne can be an excellent ally if you share his faith. He's rated in the middle as a "Neutral" leader on peace weight. Chalemagne's fate in this game will likely be heavily tied to how the religious diplomacy shakes out.
Gandhi is arguably the most unique leader in the entire game, and his AI personality differs in several respects from everyone else. Gandhi has Philosophical and Spiritual traits, a decent second-tier pairing with a pretty good economic boost. He gets the Indian civilization, with the single best unique unit in the entire game in the Fast Worker, although the AI doesn't know how to use them properly. India's unique building is the Mausoleum, a jail replacement which is rather good itself. Gandhi the AI plays the game as a hyper-pacifist, as befitting his historical personality. Gandhi is the AI leader least likely to declare war in the whole game, with a normalized aggression rating of zero out of ten. He's the benchmark upon which all other peacenicks are judged. Gandhi only has one flavor for his research: CULTURE. He can often ignore military techs to an alarming degree. Gandhi's other ratings are a similar story in contrasts. He places no emphasis upon building units (0/10 rating), or espionage spending (0/10), or demanding tribute (0/10). He will ask for help (8/10) and demand civic changes (10/10) at a high rate, but even in those cases, Gandhi has a unique diplomatic mechanic where refusing his demands does not lower his opinion of you. However, Gandhi also has a unique mechanic whereby he places a -2 diplo penalty on anyone who declares war against someone he regards with "Pleased" or "Friendly" ratings. He has the highest peace weight in the entire game, a perfect 10/10, indicating quasi-divine morality. No one else has the same peace weight in the whole game. Overall, Gandhi is about as extreme as it's possible to get on the pacifist scale. He's extremely good at pursuing Cultural victory... but he has to survive to get to that point, and that's quite often his problem.
Saladin was another leader who was gutted by the Civ4 expansions, when his traits were changed to their current pairing of Spiritual and Protective. That Protective trait is the kiss of death for leaders. He is the only Arabian leader, and brings the Camel Archer and Madrassa unique items. Arabia has arguably the worst pair of starting techs in the game, the combination of Mysticism and The Wheel, neither of which are tied to improving any food resources. Needless to say, Arabia isn't exactly a popular civilization for our Multiplayer events. Saladin the AI has military and religious flavors, and he's another personality who places a lot of focus on religion. Saladin likes to demand that other leaders convert to his religion (8/10), and he places a major penalty on leaders with rival faiths. His favorite civic is also Theocracy. Saladin is otherwise average in aggression rating (5.5 out of 10) and in the middle of the peace weight scales as a "Neutral" figure in alignment. He'll try to found his own religion, then like anyone who has it, and hate anyone who doesn't. Pretty easy to understand.
Stalin is the other Russian leader in this game, here to compete against Catherine for top dog. Stalin's traits are Aggressive and Industrious, a bit of an odd pairing without too much in the way of obvious synergy. Stalin also employs the same Russian unique stuff as Catherine, with the Cossack and the Research Institute. As an AI, Stalin predictably has military and production flavors. He is unsurprisingly rated as a rather aggressive leader (7.6 out of 10) and as an "Evil" leader according to peace weight. Stalin and Catherine might turn out to be good friends in this game via peace weight, and certainly neither one will be able to stand the sight of Gandhi. Interestingly, Stalin AI doesn't care much about religion at all, as befitting a good Communist. He gets few benefits from shared faith and little in the way of penalty from differing religions. Otherwise, Stalin's numbers are pretty average across the board, except for his massive love of espionage spending (10/10!) It's a fairly well constructed AI personality based on the historical persona. In a game where so many other AI leaders will be battling over religion, Stalin will opt out of the race altogether and do his own thing.
The last leader in this group, Victoria will hope to perform as well as Elizabeth in our previous game. She is the only Financial leader in this match, pairing that alongside Imperialistic trait. This is one of the weaker combos involving Financial, but you can't really go wrong with the game's strongest trait. As an English leader, Victoria has the Redcoat unique unit and the Stock Exchange unique building, both of them well above average. Victoria AI has gold and growth flavors for her research emphasis. Her numbers are middle of the table for virtually everything, including her aggression rating of 5.1 out of 10. Victoria AI doesn't appear to get too high or too low in any one category. She's another leader who doesn't care very much about religious issues, and she's considered to be a "Good" leader according to peace weight, if not so high as Gandhi. Victoria is a fairly bland AI, without much in the way of defining characteristics. There's not too much that can be said about her.
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This game should have a very interesting opening set of turns, with three different leaders having Mysticism starts (Charlemagne, Gandhi, Saladin) and likely all pursuing religions. Where and how those religions appear will probably have a huge effect in terms of how this game progresses. In particular, Gandhi is going to need to line up some religious allies to protect him from his more aggressive neighbors. If the game ends up being mostly peaceful, then I'd favor Gandhi to win via culture or Victoria to take this thing via space. If we get a more violent game, then Charlemagne or the Russian duo will be the favorites to take this one. As always with these games, it's almost impossible to predict what the crazy AI logic sequences are going to cause them to do.
Where would the AIs send their Deity starting settlers in this game of land-claiming bingo? Most of them picked fairly intelligent spots, with the exception of Charlemagne. By sending his settler west, he ignored the middle of the map so that he could steal more land from Victoria. Her starting position was the weakest one on the continent, and it was the biggest reason why I considered rejecting this map. However, I'd already gone through about a dozen rejects to this point, and I thought that this one would be "close enough" for our purposes. Then Charlemagne and Gandhi both headed directly for poor Vicky with their settlers, immediately boxing her into a corner. Sigh. London had a grassland gems tile, I hoped that this would be enough to help Victoria get going in this game, with her Financial and Imperialistic traits.
In the religious race, all of the Mysticism leaders immeditately went after Meditation tech. The AIs are a little too predictable here, they almost never try for Polytheism if Buddhism still hasn't been claimed yet. Gandhi was the winner by a single turn, Buddhism popping up in his second city of Bombay. This further constrained Victoria, as Bombay's third ring borders at 100 culture actually touched the borders of London. I continued to feel bad for the English. Anyway, Saladin was not deterred by his failure to land Buddhism, immediately researching Polytheism next and founding Hinduism in his own second city. Gandhi and Saladin each converted to one another's religion, and quickly became their respective worst enemies.
Here was a move that was either going to be a great success, or a terrible mistake in hindsight. Gandhi made a bold plant with his third city, grabbing a plains hill location with rice and gems right on the border with Stalin. The man did not like Gandhi at all in diplomacy, and this location seemed certain to drive conflict between the two. Gandhi was making quite a gambit here. If he managed to get away with this though, he'd do a fine job of hemming in Stalin's expansion. As for Victoria, she opted to send her third city up to the north, in land that was completely undisputed, rather than claim contested land in the center of the map. Then she opted to build Stonehenge over more settlers after that! Sometimes there's nothing you can do, it's like these AIs want to fail.
Charlemagne and a surprising Gandhi were the first leaders to five cities, both hitting the mark at about the same time. Charlemagne's position seemed fairly secure, as he was mostly minding his own business down here at the southern edge of the map. Gandhi though, he was stepping on people's toes everywhere. Not content just to settle on Stalin's border, he also planted cities up in the face of Victoria and Saladin too. This would be awesome if no one called him on it, I simply wasn't sure that he would be able to get away with this. As for the other Imperialistic leaders, too many of them were wasting time attempting to build wonders in their capitals. This was a major reason why their expansion wasn't faster. We also had the bizarre situation forming where seemingly everyone was expanding only to the west, leaving a vast tract of unsettled land over in the east. There were barbarians roaming around the wildnerness in packs over there. What were Stalin, Catherine, and Saladin doing?
Gandhi would go on to found Judaism, burying it beneath his Buddhist faith, and it seemed we were heading for yet another game with only two religions of any consequence. Stalin was the one who landed the Great Wall, beating about three other leaders to the punch. Catherine built the Oracle and used it to slingshot Monarchy tech, the rare non-Metal Casting pick. The AI loves those wonders with an unbridled passion, they cannot stop themselves from going after them. Gandhi continued to plant even more cities aggressively, sticking one right in the face of Charlemagne. That led to this diplomatic situation:
Gandhi managed to surround himself on three sides with leaders who hated his guts. Oh, and he also has the infamous 0/10 rating for unit emphasis. Something tells me that this is not going to end well for Gandhi...
Well this was totally unexpected. I thought the first war would involve someone taking a swing at Gandhi, and instead it was the Russians who decided to go at it. They should have been allies according to peace weight - I guess Cathy couldn't control her appetites! This may have been the earliest war in any of the games to date, only popping up on Turn 58. Catherine likely would have done better to settle some of the huge expanses of empty terrain to her north, rather than charging into the defenses of Stalin. Anyway, Catherine was tops in power on the bar graphs, although Stalin wasn't far behind in third place. (Saladin was the low man on the totem pole in power for the moment.) The attack on Novgorod was successful, Catherine punching a gaping hole into the heart of Russia... err, the other Russia. Now could she hold this territory and snowball, or would Stalin be able to regroup and counterattack like in 1941?
BOTH of the Russian leaders asked me to jump into their war on the very next turn. Both of them! I found that very amusing. Keep it to yourselves, you crazy Russian kids!
Catherine and Stalin continued to trade units around Novgorod in very heavy fighting. They were both using primarily swords on each side, along with a scattering of axes and chariots. Stalin nearly recaptured the city twice, on one occasion dropping Novgorod down to three units remaining, all of them heavily injured. Catherine was likely saved here by her free Creative culture, which popped borders in the city and added that critical 20% defensive bonus. In such a narrow extended siege, that may have been enough to make a difference. Finally, Catherine's workers eventually managed to connect a road to the city, and that began a flow of more regular reinforcements. It looked like Novgorod had held. Catherine's edge in total number of cities (now 7 cities against 4 cities) was also beginning to take its toll in the war of attrition. Eventually, the side with the smaller production base starts to get ground down.
Even as the tide was apparently turning in the Russian civil war, Charlemagne decided to start a new conflict against Gandhi. This wasn't exactly a shock, as I mentioned before how unpopular Gandhi was in the middle of the map. Victoria was the only leader who seemed to carry on well with the Indian leader. This war declaration was a bit strange though, since I couldn't spot any stack of doom from Charlemagne. Normally the AI doesn't attack until they've gathered a stack together, one reason why it's so easy to spot their declarations coming from a mile away. Nothing of the sort here. Charlemagne would have to marshall his forces and put something together, as he was currently losing the game to his northern rival.
In the big picture of the game, Gandhi still held the score lead for the moment. His economy and religious situation were both very strong, and he'd managed to spread Buddhism and Judaism far and wide. If Gandhi could stay alive here, and not run afoul of his neighbors, he'd be one of the top contenders. Catherine was the other emerging leader on the board. She was clearly winning her war with Stalin, she was claiming lots of land with her expansion oriented traits, and she was aggressively picking off barbarian cities in the far east. Saladin was doing the same thing in the north, although his land was weaker and he didn't have the same economic base as Catherine. Saladin was getting some land that he really had no business settling due to the ongoing Russian feud. As for the others, Victoria was doing better than expected in her little corner, sitting there with seven cities and Financial cottages all over the place. Her one problem was a lack of prospects for future expansion, if she could get some more land somehow, she'd be dangerous. Charlemagne needed to pull off something in this war with Gandhi to become a major player. And Stalin was the runt of the group, losing his showdown with Catherine, hoping somehow to get peace and turn things around. He had to know that he couldn't win the war in his current state.
Despite what I just wrote, somehow Stalin managed to wrestle Novgorod back from Catherine's grasp. I don't know how he did it, outnumbered in cities and power on the bar graphs. Perhaps the Aggressive trait made the difference here, that and the fact that Catherine was distracted by sending some of her units off to siege the barbarian cities. In any case, this was a major turning point in their war. Now Stalin was back to roughly even city count. Maybe he wasn't finished after all.
Uh oh, Gandhi was showing his mean side! Charlemagne's attempts to go on the attack went precisely nowhere, and then Gandhi managed to turn things around with a furious countercharge. Augsburg was even the Confucian holy city, founded by Charlemagne a little bit earlier. He could have held this city pretty easily if he'd just managed to build walls for the 50% bonus city defense. (And Charlemagne is even Protective for cheap walls! Jeez man, you couldn't marshall up the 15 effective production needed for walls with Deity + Protective discounts?!) In any case, Gandhi had overrun this spot with a big group of City Raider swords. Was Gandhi going to conquer Charlemagne and emerge as the game juggernaut?
By this time, most of the defenders had erected city walls in the locations under assault, but the attackers didn't have catapults yet to drop the city defenses. This development turned these wars into long stalemates, lots of units being traded on both sides but few cities changing hands. Stalin made a big attack on Catherine around Turn 95, only to come up a bit short. Cathy's city popped 40% cultural defense borders literally the turn before the attack, and even a bunch of City Raider swords didn't make too much of a dent. Gandhi was running around with a stack in Holy Roman territory, looking for a city to hit, only to find that they all had city walls in place. Then this new development broke out:
Saladin decided to join the religious crusade against Gandhi. Even though the AI is notoriously bad at fighting two front wars, I thought that Gandhi might come out of this one OK. All of the Indian cities had walls and fat cultural defenses, while Saladin was nowhere close to catapults. This seemed like an ideological war, not one fought with strategic interests in mind. To no surprise, the Arabian stack went after the city of Varanasi, and were slaughtered to a man without inflicting a single casualty. Wait until you have some catapults next time!
Catherine and Stalin finally signed peace on Turn 102. Their war had lasted for almost 50 turns, and the net result was not a single city changing hands. Talk about a waste of resources! Catherine wasn't even particularly upset at Stalin, since she had been the one to declare war originally. I wondered if one or both would turn their attentions to Gandhi next, since he remained unpopular with everyone in the game other than Victoria.
Yep, I told you that Gandhi was not well liked in this region. Stalin took advantage of the Indian conflicts with Arabia and Holy Rome to start his own war off to the east. As well as Gandhi had played up to this point, I was not optimistic of his chances in a 3 vs. 1 battle royale. What was this, Pitboss #2 all over again? The border city of Vijayanagara fell to Stalin in a pitched battle, and Gandhi hastily signed peace with Charlemagne. That would relieve some of the pressure, but India was already down a city. This was going to be a desperate struggle for survival, still at war against Saladin and Stalin.
In the north, Saladin finally broke through Gandhi's defenses at Varanasi using catapult support. Stalin had the city of Agra under heavy siege; it looked ready to fall at any moment. Gandhi needed a miracle here.
Did someone call for a miracle? Catherine decided to star a war with Saladin, most likely due to religious differences across the Hindu / Buddhist divide. She immediately captured the former barb city of Ligurian, and began rolling up the Arabian flank in the extreme east. Gandhi had also just discovered Feudalism tech, and upgraded his archers to longbows across his cities. Yes, the miracle was real! The turnaround, it was happening!
Uh, maybe not. Victoria had revolted into Vassalage and Theocracy a little bit earlier, and I noticed her loading up on a lot of military power. She was clearly targeting someone, and Gandhi drew the short straw. Victoria is one of the AI leaders who will plot war at "Pleased" relations, which meant that Gandhi wasn't safe even with something like +6 diplo points. Now poor Gandhi was sucked into the losing end of another 3 vs. 1 situation. I would have felt more sorry for him if he hadn't settled aggressively on the border of every other leader. What did you think was going to happen from that kind of settling, dude?
Dark days for India. Bombay, Pataliputra, Augsburg, and Agra were all under siege by some combination of English, Arabian, and Russian units. Only the capital remained unmolested for the moment.Augsburg and Pataliputra were both captured on Turn 126, the first by the English (despite being surrounded by Holy Roman culture on all sides) and the latter by the Russians. Yes, Saladin did all the work at Pataliputra, and then a random wandering Russian chariot - a CHARIOT! - slipped in to kill the last defender and take the city. Unbelievable. Somehow Gandhi managed to get a treaty with Victoria at this point, even though she would have taken Bombay with ease in the next few turns. I wonder how Gandhi managed to pull that off. Nevertheless, his situation remained on life support.
Next, Gandhi managed to sign a peace treaty with Saladin a few turns later. The Arab leader obviously wanted to concentrate on the threat from Catherine, and he cashed out of the war at a savvy time. The captured city of Varanasi had only two archers inside on defense, and no easy way to reinforce due to a lack of roads. Saladin would likely have lost this city back to Gandhi if the war continued. As I said, a smart time to sign peace. Now Gandhi could focus on Stalin, although unfortunately India had only two cities still standing. That was going to be a tall order.
Saladin was not doing very well in his war against Catherine. The sly Russian tsarina had already taken Ligurian and Khurasan, and she showed no signs of slowing down. Catherine was tops in power now, and her economy was also stronger than Saladin. She was about six techs ahead of Saladin, though both trailed in the wake of GNP leader Victoria. It remained to be seen if peace with Gandhi would resuscitate Saladin's war effort here in the east. Ah wait, nevermind, they signed peace the next turn. So much for that! Catherine had certainly gotten the better of this round.
As for Gandhi, the shattered remnants of his empire were not enough to turn things around. Delhi fell to Stalin on Turn 140, leaving just the city of Bombay standing. It only remained for Stalin to walk his army up to Bombay, and finish off the final hiding place of the Indian leader. Game over for Gandhi:
Gandhi is such a feast or famine leader when played by the AI. As you saw in this game, Gandhi can be extremely effective when he's left alone, as he quickly shot up to the top of the scoreboard and developed a very strong religious economy. However, due to his extreme pacifity and impossibly high peace weight, he tends to get attacked by the more "Evil" leaders, who can't stand Gandhi and hate his guts. In addition to that, Gandhi's religous gameplay can also alienate leaders who would otherwise be friends, such as Saladin in this game across the Hindu / Buddhist split. He often does better in games with vassal states turned on, where Gandhi can vassal himself and then happily pursue a Culture victory while magically shielded from aggression. That's how Gandhi AI won the CivFanatics version of this event, taking a culture win after capitulating. That wasn't in the cards here, and Gandhi simply made too many enemies. Settling on top of everyone on the map can be hazardous to your health.
Forgot to mention, this Charlemagne war against Stalin was going on at the same time. Holy Rome was able to take the city of Agra right on the border, but I didn't think they'd get too much further than that. This conflict had the possibility of getting turned around in a hurry. Instead of falling apart, however, the main Holy Roman stack would push on and take the city of Vijayanagara away from Stalin. Shows what I know, apparently.
Here's where we stood after 150 turns and Gandhi's exit from the game. Catherine was the score leader, and in a powerful position to take one of the top two spots. She had the pole position in food and power, and was second behind Victoria in GNP. Catherine was loading up on units again in all her cities, and another war of expansion seemed imminent. Victoria was the game's research leader, limited only by her number of cities. She had also built many of the game's wonders: the Pyramids, Chichen Itza, the Parthenon, Notre Dame, and the Hagia Sophia all belonged to the English. These were helping to push up Victoria's score. Amongst the rest, Saladin had a lot of land, but much of it was ice-bound and fairly low quality. His economy was rather poor, and his Hindu faith made him unpopular in this Buddhist world. Stalin was on the rise with his recent Indian conquests, and I expected him to pass Saladin in the near future on score. It depended on how his war with Holy Rome went, of course. Finally Charlemagne was the runt of the litter, behind in tech and low on land. His traits certainly weren't going to do him any favors at this point either. He needed to capture some more territory from Stalin to bring himself into contention. So far, so good in the current conflict.
This was another war that caught me completely off guard. Saladin suddenly decided to turn on Stalin and stab him in the back, after they'd worked together against Gandhi for such a long time. Saladin sniped the city of Bombay immediately (which had the Buddhist shrine worth 21 gold/turn inside!) and began moving his main stack of doom against Stalin's capital of St. Petersburg. Far from Stalin surpassing Saladin in score, the Russian dictator was now on the verge of a complete collapse. Wow, what a fast turnaround! From the heights of Gandhi's conquest to a desperate struggle for survival, all in a few turns.
Stalin managed to turn back the Holy Roman attack in the south. He recaptured Vijayanagara in a bloody battle for both sides. (The Indian cities had all been fought over heavily in this one. Lots of torn up ground everywhere.) However, it wasn't enough to prevent the fall of Stalin's capital a few turns later:
Now Stalin had fallen all the way to last place in score. Arabian elephants were marching around the plains of former India, terrorizing everything in sight. At this rate, Saladin was going to be the one to control all of Gandhi's cities, rendering Stalin's earlier gains pointless. Pataliputra was overrun by the Arabs, then Vijayanagara was captured by Charlemagne (again). I was waiting for Catherine to make her move, and finally she did: a war declaration against... Charlemagne?! What the heck? She didn't even have units anywhere near the Holy Roman border. That one had me scratching my head. While the Russian units were on their way to the southwest, Stalin continued to get torn apart.
OK, someone else is going to have to make sense of the crazy hodgepodge of cities and units in former India, because I have no clue what was taking place. This was almost like the real Holy Roman Empire, an impenetrable maze of small states and byzantine politics beyond anyone's understanding.
Victoria was the first to discover Liberalism, which she used to slingshot Astronomy tech. I've noticed that it's fairly popular amongst the AI leaders as a Liberalism target. Victoria also was the first to claim the Economics Great Merchant, she was roughly five or six techs ahead of Catherine, who was leading the rest of the pack. No one was too far behind though. In the wars, Stalin continued to get sliced and diced by the combination of Saladin and Charlemagne. He finally did secure peace with both of them on Turn 176, when he had this core remaining:
Four cities. It looked to me like Stalin was finished, only waiting for someone to deliver the death blow later. Catherine remained at war with Charlemagne though, and she continued to march her stack of doom around in Holy Roman territory. This wasn't going to be a fast operation, since Charlemagne had built his cheap Protective castles all over the place. But Catherine was making some progress, taking down the border city of Vienna and dealing out major punishment to the defending army. Then we had yet another surprise:
Victoria now decided to attack Saladin. Once AGAIN the former Indian cities were changing hands, Bombay and its Buddhist shrine going over to Victoria. I never thought before this game began that we'd see this much fighting. This was a neverending storm of conflict that had gone on since the early BC years!
The English captured Delhi from the Arabs, only to see Saladin take it right back again with his main stack. He would also take back Bombay a little later, rendering Victoria right back to the status quo antebellum. They had traded a large number of units to little effect. Down in the south, Catherine was sieging the Holy Roman capital of Aachen, a very slow process with a tiny handful of trebuchets against castle defenses. During all this commotion, Victoria did build the Taj Mahal for the free Golden Age. She was going for Democracy next instead of Rifling or some other military tech, one reason why Saladin was having so much success. In the other war, Catherine finally managed to capture Aachen after a lengthy siege:
This knocked Charlemagne down to five remaining cities, four in his core and one random Indian city that he still somehow controlled. Charlemagne's research was beginning to fall off, and it seemed unlikely he'd be able to remain competitive in tech for much longer (same as had already happened to Stalin). Overall then, Saladin was slowly winning his war against Victoria and Catherine was grinding out a path to victory in her war against Charlemange. The AI has no understanding of tactics, so in cases where both sides have equal technology, as was the case here, it turns into a battle of attrition. Catherine and Saladin were simply larger and had more production than their counterparts, which was why they were gradually beginning to pull away in their respective conflicts.
Saladin matched Catherine's feat of taking his opponent's capital:
Debug mode was doing some crazy stuff in this screenshot, what in the world was that purple square?! Anyway, London was completely engulfed by English culture. It would be useless unless Saladin could capture more cities. Inside London was a treasure trove of wonders: the Pyramids, Stonehenge, the Parthenon, Hagia Sophia, Chichen Itza, Sistine Chapel, Notre Dame, Taj Mahal, the Apostolic Palace, and University of Sankore. Quite a haul! Victoria's score dropped by almost 200 points upon losing her capital, that gives an idea of its value. Now she would have to rally and fight back, finally heading towards military techs instead of useless economic fluff.
And now Stalin was back into the war too. Heh, why not. He had actually managed to revive his fortunes somewhat, thanks to getting a bunch of cities restored via the liberation mechanic. That's such a weird thing, the way that leaders can magically come back from nearly-dead status. The AI will not liberate cities back to someone that they conquered them from directly in a war, but they'll happily give cities away to third parties. Stalin was back up to eight cities, and he seemed likely to survive longer than Charlemagne at this point. These games never fail to surprise me.
Catherine and Victoria both reached Rifling tech at this point, upgrading their units to rifles/redcoats and cavalry/cossacks. Saladin could have followed them, only to select the Constitution to Democracy tech path instead. That felt like a mistake in such a hot war, he definitely could have used his own rifles and cavs here. Charlemagne had no such luck, as he was much further behind in tech and continued to be attacked from both Russian leaders. Mainz went down to Stalin - I certainly never thought that I'd see Stalin on the offensive again in this game - while Catherine continued to be held up at Prague for a lack of siege units. It's so painful to watch these huge armies sitting around watching ONE SINGLE TREBUCHET bombarding defenses each turn. Sigh. The AI is dumb.
In English territory, the Arab units were tearing up the tile improvements like an army of fire ants. They didn't have rifles or cavs, but Saladin was going to brute force his way through these cities anyway. Somehow the Arabs had managed to capture every city in a circle around Nottingham without taking the city itself. Dunno how that one happened! The defenses were slowly dropping here each turn, although there were about a dozen redcoats holed up inside, waiting to defend the place to the last man. It finally fell on Turn 222. By now, Victoria's GNP was cratering back down to earth. Her great research rate was not enough to save her, as she had never been able to get a full generation ahead on military technology. England was rapidly disappearing from the earth, swallowed up by the wave of Arabian green.
Masses of Russian units wearing red and orange uniforms were descending on the final Holy Roman cities. Catherine took Prague, Stalin managed to secure Nuremburg, and they both congregated together outside the final city of Ulm. This was almost like the Soviet wave breaking across Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, all of these Germanic cities crumbling before the might of the Russian forces. It was all over on Turn 228.
Farewell to Charlemagne. He had tried to pick his spots and go to war to improve his position, but he never achieved too much in the way of success. As a Holy Roman Emperor, his ending was more of a Barbarossa than an Otto the Great. (Ha, will anyone get that one? Getting pretty obscure with the historical references here.) Now the entire bottom of the map was a confusing mess of Russian cities, with the borders of Catherine and Stalin clashing all over the place. I wondered if the two of them could continue to coexist in peace. Their mutual hatred of Saladin might keep things down to a simmer... but it just as easily could boil over into another Russian civil war.
The only war still going on was the one between Saladin and Victoria, which continued its slow march of Arabian progress. Now Saladin had his own rifles and cavs, while Victoria struggled to research more techs. It was quite sad to see how far her GNP had fallen on the bar charts, now it was taking a dozen turns to discover new technologies. Saladin oddly went for Augsburg first here (a city that had been held by many different nations over the years). But before he could manage to finish off the English, he found that he had much bigger worries on his hands.
We were at the 250 turn mark, and almost 200 of those turns had been spent at war. That had done terrible things to the global tech pace; in this game, the AI leaders were just now reaching the early industrial period. In the previous game, Elizabeth was researching Robotics tech on Turn 250. Yeah, a wee bit slower in this one. Anyway, Catherine had seized back control over first place on the scoreboard and showed no signs of relenting. Her massive cossack and rifle force was tearing through the eastern cities of Arabia, with Baghdad having been the most recent conquest. Saladin seemed stunned, not sure where to send his troops in response. The AI has trouble prioritizing targets when facing multiple opponents, much less three of them at once. Stalin had taken Delhi in the middle of the map, and he was looking to move on Bombay next. Stalin only had medieval units, lots of knights and elephants, but that didn't seem to be stopping him. Saladin's one place to strike back was at Pataliputra, where he had an army laying siege to one of Stalin's cities. In the shelled remnants of English territory, Victoria was looking to organize her decimated forces for her own counteroffensive. Catherine had already snatched Augsburg for herself, although it seemed likely that it would be liberated back to the English. All across the continent, Arabian units were shooting it out with Russian soldiers of two different national colors, neither side willing to give up an inch.
This was seriously one of the craziest games I can ever remember watching.
Saladin wasn't finished quite yet. He fought off a Catherine attack at Basra, and then successfully reclaimed Pataliputra from Stalin. London was holding out right on the English border with a bunch of City Garrison III rifles holed up inside, having fought off waves of Stalin's knights. Victoria finally signed peace with Saladin at this point, giving up the city of Augsburg to him in the deal. That was a Holy Roman city, captured by Gandhi, captured by Victoria, captured by Saladin, captured by Catherine, liberated back to Victoria, and then gifted to Saladin in the treaty. Got all that? With zero defending Arabian units inside, it fell again to Catherine the next turn. I'll bet that the people of Augsburg had some weird looking passports...
While Saladin was doing well in some of the small scale battles, especially against Stalin and his backwards forces, the longterm trends were not in his favor. Catherine was much higher on the power graph, and her huge empire was increasingly gaining an edge. Pataliputra went down to Catherine on Turn 260, with a large Arabian garrison dying in a futile effort to preserve the city. She brute forced her way into Damascus two turns later, not bothering to use siege to remove the city defenses. Just lots of cossacks and rifles overwhelming the defenders through sheer weight of numbers. London fell as well to Catherine shortly thereafter. There was little in the way of good news for Saladin at the moment.
Amusingly, both Saladin and Catherine had large navies of frigates sailing around in the water, but all of the Russian ships were on the east coast, and all of the Arabian ones were on the west coast. Passage around the continent was blocked by ice to the north and south, which meant that those ships never managed to face one another. Lots of fishing nets getting pillaged, not much else. I kinda doubt that this was the best way for Saladin to spend his production in this war. Yes, beware the huge frigate armada here on this Pangaea map!
Many of the cities that Catherine captured were liberated back to their original owners. This has got to be the weirdest thing that the AI does while playing, as they expend so much effort to take these cities, only to give them away to neutral third parties for no reason whatsoever. For example, Catherine liberated London back to Victoria as soon as it came out of resistance, sending the TEN WORLD WONDERS inside back to the English. How incredibly stupid was that move? It was even worse for Saladin, as London instantly reclaimed all of its former culture:
Yeah, have fun with that Nottingham and Canterbury. If there were some way to turn off the liberation mechanic, I would happily do so. Not an option, sadly. We just have to live with this particular brand of AI craziness. Victoria even managed to build the Statue of Liberty during all this chaos, which she'd been working on for something like the last 25 turns. I have no words.
Leaving aside the liberation insanity, Catherine was still carving up Saladin's core cities with her cossacks. It was a great example of how there are no units that truly counter cavalry/cossacks in the industrial period. Given large enough numbers, they have no trouble killing rifles fortified behind city defenses. Catherine was promoting most of her cossacks to Flanking II, which gave them 60% odds to retreat from a losing battle. Since the AI picks lots of stupid losing battles, this works rather well as a promotion path. They could crash into a city at low odds, deal some damage, retreat, and then live to fight again. Make no mistake, this was working. Saladin was steadily disappearing from the map:
He had three true core cities remaining: the capital, Kufah, and Najran. The rest were tiny coastal cities or culturally crushed holdouts in former English territory. Meanwhile, Victoria continued to have cities magically reappear to her control up in the north. As Catherine took over the Arabian colonies, they were liberated back to English rule. Victoria was coming back from the dead! This was like a dream come true for England.
And then suddenly it was back to being a nightmare again. Stalin had cashed out with a peace treaty against Saladin earlier, and he'd been amassing a force of cuirassiers and grenadiers for the last dozen turns. Who needs rifles? Stalin's units poured over the border and immediately targeted the city of Agra. Stalin would take his best shot there, but note that up to the north Victoria had already taken Stalin's own border city of Delhi. Gandhi's capital had been passed around more times than a box of matches at a convention of pyromaniacs. Everyone wanted to burn something! So we had yet another bloody war on our hands here. Jesus Christ. But then they signed peace the next turn after Stalin's attack on Agra came up short. Another strange conflict, one where Stalin came out on the losing end. I guess having redcoats on defense did make a difference after all.
In the main war between Catherine and Saladin, the Russian cossacks were able to overrun Mecca on Turn 278. By now Saladin had lost all of his English conquests, and had been reduced to a mere four cities. Most of them were stuck in the tundra and rapidly starving from loss of luxuries and war weariness. It was quite the fall from grace for Saladin, who had been the score leader as little as 35 turns earlier. Catherine was researching Assembly Line tech, she had railroads running all over her territory, and she even founded Mining Inc. at an early date in her capital. Production was not going to be an issue going forward.
If you've ever wondered why I don't use the globe feature for overview screenshots... well, that's why. It looks like one of those Magic Eye pictures, scrambled pixels of various colors all over the place. I can't make the faintest clue of what's going on here, and I watched the whole darned game. Those Indian cities had changed hands a lot of times. A lot.
Anyway, Kufah was captured by Catherine on Turn 283. Poor Saladin was reduced to building camel archers in the final days, no horses available to build cavalry. (He probably should have built rifles in that case!) Najran followed on Turn 288, then Anjar on Turn 291. Basra was the final city left, its defenses actually being knocked out by Russian destroyers swarming around its coasts. Those destroyers had killed all of the Arabian frigates earlier, it was quite the show on the high seas. As the last blow was about to fall, Stalin declared war on Saladin one final time. Heh, those two definitely had not liked one another. I think this was the AI's way of flipping Saladin the bird as he was on his way out. Where's the GG, Stalin?
Saladin left the building on Turn 295. He did apparently manage to revolt into Organized Religion at the last second, so uh, congrats on that? Saladin had been one of the big dogs in this game for the longest time, but Catherine was simply too much for him to handle. It didn't help either that Saladin had run Hinduism as his religion for most of the match, a religion that hadn't spread very far and did little to make Saladin allies abroad. In the end, he wound up on the wrong end of a 3 vs. 1 dogpile, one that Saladin couldn't manage to escape. Peace with Victoria and Stalin wasn't enough, since Catherine never agreed to a treaty. Once she began the war, it never ended until Saladin was meeting his god up in heaven.
The world now returned to complete peace for the first time in many long centuries. Catherine had emerged as the unstoppable monster in the wake of Saladin's demise. Her territory stretched across the whole continent, with little bits and pieces in the strangest of places. Catherine and Victoria were almost exactly even in technology, but Catherine had a disgusting lead in all of the other Demographics categories, especially in food and production. As for Stalin, he had much more land than Victoria, but he was about 15 techs behind. He'd just finished Rifling tech at the time of this overview screenshot, and that was a full generation behind in military equipment. Unlike some of our past games, this one was almost certainly not going to play out in the form of a passive spacerace. Catherine was barely "Pleased" with Stalin (and she will plot war at "Pleased" relations) and actually "Annoyed" with Victoria. Amongst the other AI leaders, Victoria was actively "Furious" with Stalin for his recent war declaration. With Catherine sitting at 45% land area, I figured it wouldn't be too long before she attacked one of the other two leaders in a bid for Domination. Victoria in particular looked like a marked woman to me. I certainly would have been afraid in her shoes, very afraid.
Instead it was Victoria who declared war on Stalin next, their conflict breaking out on Turn 304. We almost had ten turns of peace, not quite. I didn't see any immediate English stacks entering Stalin's territory, perhaps another one of those weird wars where the AI hasn't planned things out fully. Eventually they popped up over by Stalin's capital of Yaroslavl, a mixed group of infantry and cannons. Stalin had made an attempt to attack one of Victoria's cities with his cuirassiers, but it turns out that they don't do very well against fortified infantry and machine guns. Lots of poor horses going to the glue factory there. How much longer before Catherine entered this war as well? Come on girl, stop dragging this out! I know you hate Victoria. Go for the Domination win!
There we go, what took you so long Cathy? Her main stack had about 75 cossacks in it, and Catherine was in the process of building tanks everywhere via her recent discovery of Industrialism tech. Of course Victoria had also discovered the same tech, and was building her own tanks to counter. It looked like we were in for tank vs. tank battles on the steppes of southern England. Very nice! Victoria's little invasion force near Stalin's capital was of course blasted into tiny little pieces. Then the invasion of England proper was underway. Agra was the first to fall (Turn 313), then the poor civilians at Augsburg. Living in that city must have been hell on earth, every year there's a new battle taking place in your front yard. It passed into Russian hands - again - on Turn 316.
That's a lot of tanks.
Russian units of all stripes swarmed forward across the plains of England. Catherine was sending tanks in large numbers, Stalin still using cossacks as the bulk of his forces. It was fun to see the two leaders sharing the same civ working together here, the armies of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union somehow working together in a time traveling paradox. As they moved deeper into English territory, their units pillaged the landscape something fierce. Roads, rails, and tile improvements were all brutally ripped apart in the wake of the armies. This would have been a rough time to be a worker. Meanwhile, destroyers bombed out the defenses of English cities on the coast, and I even saw some marines running around to eliminate the defending machine guns. It was quite an impressive assault taking place here.
Victoria's cities went down like dominoes in rapid succession. Most of them were of course taken by Catherine, but Stalin's outdated units were not a mere token presence. His cossacks were doing a lot of killing themselves, and Stalin actually wound up taking London and its treasure trove of wonders. That was a nice pickup here in the mopping up phase of the conflict. Almost before I knew it, the combined Russian forces were forcing the gates of Nottingham, and that was the end for Victoria.
Now we had a mere TWO leaders remaining, the first time that we've achieved that in any of our games. I guess that didn't leave too much mystery over who was going to be advancing to the playoff round. Victoria, you put up a noble fight in this one. Vicky was never quite able to make it out of her corner start. Her GNP had been impressive for someone who had always been low on cities. Unfortunately, the Russian duo were simply unstoppable. Catherine would not be denied her appetite for military conquest, and Stalin somehow managed to pull his nation through every possible calamity. Victoria was pretty good in this game, but not good enough.
Catherine was sitting at 61% land area on the turn that Victoria was eliminated. She only needed 3% more land to win the game via Domination, and I guessed that when her English conquests came out of resistance, that would be enough to put her over the top. If she fell short, Catherine was only "Pleased" with Stalin, and we already knew that she was willing to attack him from their early game war. That wasn't needed though, as Catherine ticked over the mark a few turns later. Domination victory on Turn 332.
This was a game dominated by violence. The wars started extremely early, and aside from a few brief intervals of peace, they never really stopped. It seemed as though there were no true allies in this game, everyone was fighting everyone else. Stalin in particular fought wars against all five of the other leaders at various times in this one. I noticed on the postgame replay that there were 51 Great Generals spawned over the course of this game. There were so many that the game used up all of the names in the database, and simply referred to all of the new ones with the generic "Great General" tag. Now that's a lot of fighting.
The star of this game was Catherine. She went to war again, and again, and again in this game. In fact, I can't recall a single time when someone else declared war on Catherine. Every time it was the tsarina iniating conflict, which she did repeatedly throughout the match. Catherine picked her spots for aggression rather well on the whole, sniping off some of Saladin's eastern cities, then going after the technologically backwards Holy Roman Empire, then finally crushing Saladin in the climactic showdown. After that, it was a simple matter of polishing off Victoria for the remaining land needed for Domination. Cathy's land at the end of the game was a massive amorphous blob, completely wrapping around the remaining Stalin cities in the center of the map. Interestingly enough, the only war of Catherine's that didn't work out was her very first one against Stalin.
The Soviet leader was the other revelation from this game, an underdog who always bounced back from adversity. Go back and look at some of the earlier screenshots in this report. Twice Stalin was reduced to a mere 4 cities, with the lowest score in the game. He looked certain to be the first to die on Turn 75, at the lowest point of the war with Catherine. Stalin again was reduced to a tiny shell on Turn 175, his score barely half of the next-lowest leader. In each case, he somehow managed to claw his way back to relevancy. The first time, it was through repeated attacks with his Aggressive melee units, wrestling Novgorod back from Catherine. The second time, it was inexplicably getting a peace treaty from his opponents (should we name that peace agreement Brest-Litovsk?) and then abusing the liberation mechanic to have his Russian cities gifted back. I could only think of how the Soviets had managed to rally themselves back from the bleakest of situations in real life, against the whites and the foreign invaders following the Revolution, and again versus the Germans in the Great Patriotic War. Stalin was like a cat with nine lives in this one. It looked like you had him finished, only to find out that he was three steps ahead all along.
With only two surviving leaders, it's easy to compare the finishing Demographics. Catherine is on the left, Stalin the "Rival Best" next to that. Cathy's biggest edge was in production, she had a truly enormous lead there. Soldier count was also pretty one sided. Note how low GNP was compared to our previous games, the endless warring and tremendous unit support costs kept everyone's economy on a low simmer.
Cathy's unit kill count for the curious. It was pretty much an Always War game from her point of view.
The lesson from this game: don't mess with Russia! Both of their leaders will be moving on to the playoffs. Everyone else will be off to the gulags. Check back next time for the eighth and final game of the opening round.