This playoff game from Season Two produced a surprise for the writeup: two different submissions sent to me via email within 24 hours of one another! I never expected a game played two years in the past would attract so much attention all at once - the readers of this website are amazing. As a result, we have writeups for this game from both Axiis and Chaosquo; this is the first summary written by Axiis. Thanks to both of them for putting these awesome reports together!
Season 2 Playoffs: Game 1: When Good Games go Bad
The first game of Season 2’s playoff round featured a collection of aggressive, low peace weight leaders. Starting at the top of the map and working clockwise, we had Boudica of the Celts, Julius Caesar of Rome, Cyrus of Persia, Catherine of Russia, Pericles of Greece, and Tokugawa of Japan. The map featured quite a lot of desert and floodplains, particularly around Cyrus’s starting location, as well as two peninsulas on the north end of the map near Boudica and Caesar. Smart money had Pericles going out first, given his precarious starting location next to two highly aggressive leaders - Catherine and Tokugawa - who would surely not think much of his neutral-good peace weight of six. Catherine and Boudica shared an evil peace weight of 2, while Caesar and Cyrus each carried a neutral-evil peace weight at 3 and 4 respectively. Rounding out the group was the implacably hostile Tokugawa, who has no friends and hates everybody, carrying a game low peace weight of one. There would almost certainly be some fireworks on the west side of the map, while the east side had much more potential for cooperation.
The initial settlement phase went fairly predictably, with no civilization really shooting themselves in the foot early on. The second cities of Caesar and Cyrus were settled right on top of one another and it would be interesting to see which civilization would win out in the cultural struggle on the border and whether that might turn into some real action later on. Boudica unsurprisingly leveraged her monopoly on the Mysticism tech by founding the game’s first religion, picking Buddhism and popping it in Vienne. In a surprising twist, Tokugawa went after the Polytheism religion and founded it shortly after, taking Islam. In the east, a sizeable desert between Catherine and Cyrus pushed Cyrus towards the east coast and away from the center of the map for his third city; the two civs would not have much in the way of border tension early on thanks to the stretch of worthless desert dividing their civilizations. This was decidedly not the case for Caesar and Boudica, as Caesar amplified the border tension he had with Cyrus by settling right on top of Boudica as well. The east would fill out in rather short order, with the exception of the little peninsula north of Caesar that would eventually pop a pair of barbarian cities. This would not be especially noteworthy were it not for the fact that one of those barb cities controlled the only source of iron Caesar had any hope of getting, thus denying him early access to his terrifyingly powerful Praetorians. Had Rome secured its iron a little more quickly, Caesar would certainly have had a lot more weight to throw around in the early game. Instead, Rome struggled to dislodge the barbarians of the north for quite a while and missed out on the Praetorians’ window as unparalleled murder machines.
Cyrus, by contrast, had little trouble with resources. Instead, he had access to stone and marble, and after he filled out his corner of the map he set to work pumping out wonder after wonder, ballooning his culture and swamping that of the Romans. It quickly became apparent who would win the cultural war between Caesar and Cyrus, and Persian culture would be a major drag on Rome’s economy throughout the game. Cyrus did miss out on Stonehenge though, which Boudica swiped with a nice little forest chop play early on. She narrowly won the wonder race against Tokugawa, who had some use for it, and Catherine, who was probably building it out of spite. Stonehenge would quickly produce a Great Prophet for Boudica’s shrine, and she would spread that religion with conviction all over the map. Catherine responded by founding her own religion, though she had the misfortune of popping Christianity in her rather useless southern tundra city instead of her cultural powerhouse at St. Petersburg. It seemed to be that kind of day for Cathy - a lot of nice plays just didn’t quite pull through for her. For now, the main upshot of her religious awakening was that her relationship with Boudica cratered. Though they shared a peace weight, they also shared a tight border and some serious religious animus.
Boudica continued to stymie Catherine throughout the early game, as the Celts planted their first four cities in a straight line from northeast to southwest. This dagger to the heart of the map completely cut off Catherine’s expansion and left Boudica and Tokugawa with the run of the central and north ends of the map. Tokugawa seemed to have a slightly better time of it, particularly when he snagged Kushan, a decent barbarian city, in the center of the map out from under the noses of Boudica and Pericles. Tokugawa had settled a series of cities along the west coast and had successfully passed his religion to Pericles. Most other AI leaders could cultivate a relationship with Pericles and his +5 shared religion bonus while expanding across the north end of the map. Tokugawa is a special case though, and he clearly missed the kindergarten lesson on cooperation. It was a surprise then, if not a shock, when Tokugawa up and declared war on his coreligionist neighbor Pericles. This war was particularly perplexing because Tokugawa did not have an army in place and indeed lagged behind Pericles on the power graphs. That was to say nothing of his lack of catapults, which ensured that any early fighting would most likely grind to a bloody stalemate.
In the center of the map, Boudica watched Tokugawa and Pericles with interest. Jealous, perhaps, of the completely useless war that was dragging both sides down, Boudica followed suit and declared war on her arch rival Catherine. Like Tokugawa, she completely failed to follow this war declaration with any kind of initial invasion, and like Tokugawa her lack of catapults ensured that this would merely hamstring the two ladies in the middle of the map. Boudica would luck into a win at Russia’s northeast city Rostov despite an undermanned attack, but Catherine would quickly retake the city and settle into a stalemate. The capture of Rostov proved to be significant, though, because it housed Catherine’s only strategic metal. Inexplicably, Catherine razed the mine before recapturing Rostov, and she refused to reconnect it while Boudica was right there on her border, meaning that Catherine inadvertently locked herself every unit that needed metal. That said, she compensated by researching Horseback Riding and later Construction, but she wasn’t doing her war effort any favors.
The diplomatic situation looked like it might get even more interesting when Cyrus converted to Boudica’s Buddhism while Caesar picked up Catherine’s Christianity, but the moment quickly passed when Cyrus realized that he was much more likely to be left alone if he picked up Christianity, which he did in short order. Besides, the alliteration was too awesome to avoid. He happily went back to blowing everyone away technologically in his peaceful corner of the map. In the west, Tokugawa and Pericles called off their war when it was clear that it wasn’t going anywhere. Pericles, for his part, was doing just fine, having built the Great Lighthouse and the Colossus to boost his economy. He pretty clearly wanted to emulate Cyrus and just duck into his corner of the map to tech away.
Tokugawa went north to pick on the tundra barbarians, but it was clear that he was not done mucking around with the other leaders. He hated -everyone- in the game, with his most positive opinion being reserved for Pericles of all people thanks only to their shared religion. Just when it looked like the Russo-Celtic war had stalemated, Tokugawa took his shot. He declared war on Boudica on Turn 104, invading the north end of the Celtic queen’s territory. Boudica was no pushover though, and she managed to repel both Japanese and Russian attacks on two of her fronts. Tokugawa, frustrated in the northwest, swung around south and went after Tolosa, the Celtic border city that Catherine had failed to crack. The Japanese army crashed through the gates and took Tolosa in short order, but this was not much of a win for Tokugawa as the city was totally crushed by St. Petersburg’s ascendent Russian culture. Gergovia, another Celtic city plopped down between Russia and Greece, was a similar story, conquered by Tokugawa but rendered nearly useless by the foreign cultures around it. Still, Boudica was losing cities and was looking ready to fold in the face of a two front war.
Catherine took full advantage of Tokugawa’s intervention, marching on Boudica’s core with her sights set on the Buddhist holy city and shrine at Vienne. Another army marched in behind her, though - Julius Caesar of the Romans was crossing Russian territory, though no one knew what his target was just yet. Moments later, the declaration of war came in, and Caesar blew through Tokugawa’s unprepared defenders at Tolosa. Tokugawa, who was busy attacking Boudica in the north, was taken completely by surprise by Rome’s sudden aggression. Caesar next moved to seize Gergovia, Tokugawa’s other Celtic prize. The city fell on the same turn Catherine finally cracked Vienne. Gergovia was a small prize for Caesar, but Vienne was a major victory for Catherine. The Buddhist shrine carried a significant income at this point in the game, and Catherine looked ready to run roughshod over the remainder of the Celtic core. She also finally felt comfortable enough to reconnect the iron at Rostov, allowing her to supplement her army beyond the elephants and horse archers that had conquered Vienne. It would have been very interesting to see how Catherine’s war would have gone had she not lucked into a monopoly on the map’s ivory, which compensated for her lack of strategic metals for most of the Celtic war. Counterfactuals weren’t going to save Boudica, though, and Catherine was not going to let her up off the map. Catherine took Boudica’s capital Bibracte, then captured her last city on Turn 143, knocking the Celts out of the game and leaving Catherine with a sprawling empire in the middle of the map.
Boudica played a strong opening, but she blundered into an unwinnable war with Catherine way too soon. She might have seen a different result had she focused on colonizing the north and building up some infrastructure before going after Catherine, but she instead dragged a natural ally into a brutal war of attrition. Tokugawa’s attack devastated her war capacity and left Catherine in a potentially dominant position astride the center of the map. Interestingly, this also divided Tokugawa from Caesar, as the Romans were not welcome in Russian territory. It quickly became clear that the Roman-Japanese war would not be a decisive one. Tokugawa retook Tolosa - flipping the city for the third time - and Gergovia, and the two empires came to a frustrated peace, unable to get around the Russian wall. Catherine was not ready to settle for peace, though. She had not stopped her military buildup after the Celts collapsed, and looked ready to keep the cannonball rolling without taking a moment to integrate Boudica’s old cities into the Russian Empire. So it was that Catherine turned east and declared war on Caesar on Turn 155. This would prove to be a dire mistake.
Her mistake - not counting the general strategic misstep of not consolidating her recent conquests - was to move onto the desert tiles outside of Ravenna in anticipation of a siege of the city. In a true AI Survivor rarity, Caesar exploited this mistake to the hilt and won a massive tactical victory outside the gates of Ravenna, shredding Catherine’s attack. In a game that typically turns on technology level and weight of numbers, Catherine simply blundered away a huge chunk of her military. The power graphs told the tale of the battle, and Cathy’s mistake saw Russian power take a massive hit.
Over in the west, Tokugawa restarted his war with Pericles on Turn 160. Tokugawa had a significant power advantage over the more culturally and economically inclined Greeks, but Pericles had the tech to slow the Japanese offensive to a crawl. More importantly, he had converted to Christianity like the rest of the world (not counting the intractable Tokugawa, who clung bitterly to his Islamic faith), and he had built and occupied the Apostolic Palace. When Tokugawa attacked, Pericles responded with some truly stinky AP cheese and pulled a universal declaration of war on the heathen Japanese:
In a flash, Tokugawa was at war with Catherine, Caesar, and Cyrus. Of course, you only needed to look at the minimap to see which of the three Tokugawa was going to throw his weight against. Unfortunately for Catherine, she was already locked into a poorly fought war with Caesar. Rather than getting an ally in war bonus with Caesar and potentially be in a position to pick up a second kill on Tokugawa, Catherine was already losing units and was suddenly stuck in a two front war. Not good for the Czarina. Cyrus, finally roused from his wonder building, crossed the map with speed and rolled over Verlamion, an old Celtic city that had been captured by Tokugawa. This satisfied Cyrus, who peaced out with Tokugawa and began turning Verlamion into a powerhouse while also teching to Liberalism and slingshotting a Mausoleum powered golden age from the Taj Mahal. Yeah, Cyrus was WAY ahead in this one. He seemed like a bit player in the game’s story thus far, but his tech lead over his aggressive neighbors was fairly staggering.
Caesar, for his part, persisted in his war with Catherine, conquering Bibracte. Catherine was able to recapture the old Celtic capital when Caesar swung south, focusing his energy at Yekaterinburg near the Roman-Persian border. Of course, Russia was having a hard luck game, and her already poor strategic situation turned truly dire when Pericles and Tokugawa once again made peace. Catherine remained at war with Tokugawa from the AP resolution, and was now caught in a pincer between Caesar and Tokugawa. Tokugawa had lost Tolosa to Catherine from a culture flip before the war - that’s four flips - but took it back in the opening moves of his new offensive, flipping it for the fifth time. Catherine was able to retake the city briefly (six), but lost Tolosa again when Toku’s death stack arrived in theater (seven). Caesar restarted his offensive in the north, taking the old Celtic cities along the north coast and carving a passage to Tokugawa out of Catherine’s land. Despite Caesar’s power advantage, he seemed unwilling to press the issue with Catherine and peaced out with some modest conquests. Considering that Catherine had started the war, it had gone quite well for the Romans. In any case, Caesar was actually still at war with Tokugawa as a result of that AP cheese and began attacking Tokugawa’s holdings on the northern peninsula. He conquered the old barbarian city Yue Chi, but held up before advancing on the Japanese core and made peace with Tokugawa. All Tokugawa had to give up for the peace was Tolosa, the City of AI’s Desire, flipping control of that city for the eighth time.
Now only the Russo-Japanese war was still on, and Tokugawa was advancing on St. Petersburg. Cathy put up a fight, but she was overmatched by Tokugawa’s mighty army. The second city of Russia fell in what seemed like a death blow for Catherine. In another surprising twist, though, Tokugawa had finally had enough, making peace with Catherine and drawing this round of wars to a close. Catherine had entered her war with Caesar looking like she was about ready to run away with the game, and had left her wars battered, bruised, and firmly in last place. Her playoff dreams were broken, all thanks to an ill-planned invasion and an Apostolic resolution. She did catch a break when Tokugawa’s army found itself completely trapped in St. Petersburg, the city being completely crushed by Russian culture. Tokugawa eventually extricated himself by returning the key city to Catherine. Of course, this meant that yes, once again Tolosa was totally swamped by Russian culture, leading to a Russian revolt in the city that returned control back to Catherine, flipping the city for a ninth(!) time.
Over in the southeast, Cyrus was finally ready to make his move. He had been stealing land from the Romans thanks to his truly overwhelming culture for a long, long time - in fact, he was about to flip Neapolis away from the Romans and would eventually take Ravenna and Yekaterinburg in the same way. That wasn’t enough for Cyrus, though - he had unfinished business with Tokugawa, and being that Cyrus was Pleased with everyone else on the map and would not declare war at Pleased, there was only one possible target for his massive military build up. The rifles and cavs of the Persian army started pouring into Japan on Turn 215, and they set to work shredding the antiquated medieval armies of Japan. Caesar followed suit and set out to finish all family business when he declared war on Catherine on Turn 224. Or maybe he just wanted Tolosa - the city once again exerted its magnetic pull on the Romans. Caesar reconquered his prize in short order, flipping it for the tenth and final time. He added Vienne as well, capturing the Buddhist shrine for himself. Surprisingly, that was about as far as Caesar got. Once again, an AI was undone thanks to its staunch refusal to just research Rifling. He danced up and down the tech tree, getting as far as Physics before he finally got access to rifles. Consequently, his underpowered army couldn’t take advantage of the struggling Russians, and he was forced to make peace on Turn 252 while Persian culture continued to eat away at the Roman core.
Cyrus’s war against Japan was an entirely different story. Cyrus had long ago teched to Rifling, and Tokugawa never had much of a chance against the might of Persia. That’s not to say the war was quick - Cyrus, unhurried, built only a few reinforcements at a time and spent much of the war building observatories and dedicating cities to research. Ultimately, his technological edge was just too much, particularly when he started rolling out infantry and paratroopers against Tokugawa’s knights and Samurai. Cyrus moved deliberately, cutting up from the south end of Japan and hooking around clockwise, methodically wiping out garrison after garrison until the conquest was completed on Turn 273:
Tokugawa had been an active and interesting player, but his diplomatic failures cost him dearly. He had also largely failed to turn his military actions into tangible gains - he never cracked Greece’s defenses and had largely lost out on the collapse of both the Celts and the Russians. Of course, he may have survived all that had he not had bad relations with the otherwise amicable Cyrus, who turned the full might of Persia against his cross-map rival. So much of the game had turned on Pericles’ brutal AP cheese - that one had really been a cheese for the ages.
Unfortunately, that was just about it for the action in Game One. Caesar had fallen massively behind on tech, while the remaining leaders were all on good terms with each other. The only potential point of conflict was between Rome and Russia, but a defensive pact between Cyrus and Catherine made the Russian rump state a significantly less attractive target for Caesar. Caesar finally managed to pick up Rifling as Cyrus closed to eight techs left for a spaceship victory. He of course had an enormous cultural output, but he was still some forty turns from getting his third city to legendary. Surely he couldn’t mess around with the spaceship to the point that his third city would cross the finish line, right?
Of course he could! Cyrus took his sweet time researching the last few techs he needed as the turn count ticked later and later. Over in the west, Pericles saw one (1) barbarian galley stuck behind the southern ice and decided the best and most logical response was to build a navy of 125 destroyers, 65 battleships, and 2 missile cruisers to deal with the pirate threat. And, I suppose, the one single submarine that actually did the job of taking out the galley. As a result each turn chugged along as Pericles danced his ludicrously oversized navy up and down the Greek coast, quite confident in the knowledge that no barbarian galley would threaten his coast, no sir. Cyrus topped this utter lunacy by opting to avoid building his spaceship parts in his 198 production city at Verlamion and instead painstakingly handcrafted the last few parts he needed. This once exciting game finally crawled across the finish line on Turn 363 when Cyrus got a third legendary culture city just before his spaceship arrived in Alpha Centauri. And so it was that the picks for Game One were utterly and completely destroyed by Cyrus and his maddeningly lackadaisical dominance. What a silly ending to a promising game.
Caesar ended his game in an irrelevant obscurity. He might have snuck into second place had he finished off Catherine, but the two of them instead went home in quiet ignominy, having failed to crack the top two places of the game. Their playoff runs ended, each having gambled much on war and seeing little gain from it. Each ruler had an opportunity to radically strengthen their position from the conquest of a rival, but neither could leverage their window of opportunity into lasting power. Catherine made the classic conqueror’s mistake of rolling onto the next war rather than consolidating her gains, while Caesar took a bizarrely circuitous tech path that left him unable to absorb the far weaker Russian empire. Meanwhile, the two civilizations in the southern corners of the map teched away to a dominant position, allowing the aggressive central and northern civilizations to exhaust themselves into obsolescence. Pericles in particularly hardly lifted a finger in this round, having only to defend Thebes from Tokugawa a couple times to come away with an easy silver medal. Cyrus at least had a slam dunk gold medal, essentially winning the game in two separate ways after steamrolling his only actual enemy. It’s a shame the game ended in such a ridiculous and boring way, but they can’t all be classics.
Thanks again to everyone who read these reports, and many thanks to Sullla for graciously publishing them. It’s been a blast filling out the backlog of season 2 games along with the other contributors!