The second playoff game featured a mixture of expected heavyweight contenders and surprising entrants to the knockout round. Leaders like Huayna Capac and Pacal were popular favorites, with excellent economic traits and a proven track record of success in Civ4 Multiplayer games. Other leaders seemed to have made it here via luck more than anything else, with Asoka sneaking into the playoffs by riding Gandhi's coattails, and Darius doing just enough in the Wildcard game (after getting pummeled and nearly eliminated in the opening round) to slip into the last available spot. Then there were the two leaders that no one had been expecting to make it this far, Shaka and Brennus, aggressive leaders with poor traits that normally never get picked for MP events. Shaka in particular is one of the three most warlike leaders in the game (along with Montezuma and Ragnar). His style of play almost always causes him to pick wars that he can't win and self-destruct in spectacular fashion. Yet somehow Shaka not only made it to the playoff round, he actually managed a crushing Domination win over the rest of the field in his opening match. One thing was for sure: with Shaka in the field, this wasn't going to be a boring contest.
After rolling a series of maps, we ended up with this blobby pangaea continent for the second playoff game. An immediate pattern jumped out right away, with most of the high peace weight leaders located on the top side of the map, and most of the low peace weight civs starting in the south. Huayna Capac was the one exception, starting in the north central region between Asoka and Darius. The Indian leader had a lot of backline territory to fill up there in the northwest, although his very high peace weight was likely to make him unpopular with, well, everyone else in the game. Geography was looking kind to Asoka but not the diplomacy with the other civs. I was also curious about the land in the northeast, the little peninsula up there near Huayna and Darius. Whichever one of them could claim that land would be in good shape, and whoever couldn't get it was likely headed for the exits. In the south, Brennus and Shaka (sporting fashionable red borders) were shoved up against the coasts, and the green Mayan borders of Pacal were located in the center. Pacal looked to have the most fertile land, and the most territory to expand into - at the tradeoff of being surrounded by potential enemies on all sides. As we had seen in past games, starting positions in the middle of the map can be either very good or very bad depending on how events unfold.
There was an immediate race for the first religion, with four different leaders (Asoka, Brennus, Huayna Capac, Pacal) all attached to civs that start with Mysticism tech. Pacal would end up narrowly winning the race and established Christianity in his second city. Brennus would land the Polytheism religion (Taoism) a few turns later. Up in the north, all of the civs sent their starting settler due west, squeezing Asoka somewhat while opening up a bit more space in the east. Shaka went northwest into a floodplains region with his initial settler, while Pacal and Brennus headed southwest with their first cities. Darius had another excellent capital city (wet corn, grassland cows, non-jungled gems, grassland copper) and once again he was in the process of wasting that start by farming the cows before doing anything else. Then he built a work boat despite not having any seafood resources at his two cities. I really don't understand the Darius AI...
Down in the south, Pacal had a gold resource at his floodplains-heavy capital, and he had picked an excellent second city as well, at a location with marble in the immediate first ring. Given Pacal's heavy wonder preference, this made it likely that he would clean up a whole bunch of world wonders later. As for Darius, he was building a settler in his size 1 second city, while doing this in his capital:
Unhappy due to lack of luxury resources while the grassland gems sat there unimproved. That was in addition to the copper resource also going unmined, and none of the forests getting chopped. Darius still lacked Bronze Working tech (and Mining tech!!!), even as he was off chasing religious techs for a religion that he was a dozen turns too late to found. Not to mention, Darius was building a lighthouse and had researched up to Sailing tech despite lacking any seafood resources. I swear, the AI is a complete idiot in Civ4 sometimes, and this was pretty brutal to watch. Asoka was struggling as well, since his capital had forests on almost every tile (which is supposed to be a good thing!) and that was causing the AI worker pathfinding some problems. Brennus was also a bit slow to expand, as he continued to build extra work boats to connect the seafood in his capital, despite lacking the happiness to work all of those tiles. Then Brennus apparently lost a settler to the barbarians, delaying his third city that much longer while his capital paused to build a mostly-useless Great Wall. It was a rough beginning for some of these leaders.
Their loss was the gain of other leaders. Pacal made an aggressive settlement and claimed the river valley between his start and the Celtic start. That was territory that Brennus probably needed to control if he wanted to have a realistic chance of winning this event. Shaka raced out to an early five cities, settling aggressively on the border of Pacal's Holy City and on the eastern coast near Darius. The Persian leader narrowly lost that settling race to Shaka, having to settle for a weak city buried in the jungle. Huayna Capac managed to slip in and grab a spot between Pacal and Asoka, which was a particualarly noteworthy city because it contained an ivory resource. After 50 turns, Pacal was the score leader by a good margin, fueled by an early Oracle and the presence of a bunch of happiness resources to bump up the size of his cities. With the map filling up and a lot of unhappy faces in the diplomacy screen, the first wars seemed likely to break out in short order.
However, the game remained peaceful much longer than I expected given some of the aggressive customers present. Pacal's Christian religion spread to Huayna Capac and Darius, with the three of them forming a large group of civs with shared faith diplomatic bonuses. Brennus remained isolated with his Taoism, and he didn't make matters any better by planting a city at the minimum possible distance of three tiles from one of Pacal's cities. Shaka saw a spread of Confucianism (Pacal's minority religion) into his territory and converted, leaving the Zulus with a separate religion of their own, one not shared by either of Shaka's neighbors. This seemed to send Shaka over the edge, resulting in the game's first war declaration on Turn 75:
To no one's surprise, this invasion did not succeed and the city of Ecbatana remained standing. The main immediate consequence of the war was to drag down both civs, keeping Darius from getting his economy off and running the way that the Financial leader wanted. The two of them clashed in the eastern jungles without either side managing to capture a city. Pacal continued to hold the score lead, although that was somewhat illusory, fueled by wonders and having a high population in his five cities. In the long term, Asoka (seven cities) and Huayna Capac (eight cities) were likely to take the score lead away since they controlled more territory and more resources. By Turn 100, it was clear that there were two distinct groups of civs: Asoka, Huayna Capac, and Pacal competing for top position, and Brennus, Darius, and Shaka bringing up the rear. Asoka and Huayna had the land, while Pacal had all the wonders and roughly double the science rate of his northern competitors.
Eventually Shaka and Darius made peace on Turn 105 without any territory having changed hands. On the same turn, Asoka declared war on Huayna Capac, with the two dominant civs in the north competing for supremacy. These two leaders appeared to be an even match if the war remained isolated, but Asoka was unpopular with the rest of his neighbors, and he would be in dire straights if anyone else joined the conflict. Asoka won the first clash between the two, capturing the border city of Ollantaytambo and surging into first place in score. Perhaps the real winner was Pacal though, as his dominant culture swallowed up most of this fought-over region. These two leaders signed peace without any other cities changing hands.
Then Shaka failed his sanity check roll, declaring war on Pacal for some reason, even as the war horns blared again and Brennus began a conflict with Asoka. All across the map the minnows were invading the sharks! Pacal had longbows, maces, and pikes and was not much impressed by Shaka's motley collection of swords and horse archers, easily cleaning up the initial Zulu invasion. Brennus surprisingly fared better, marshalling a large stack of catapults and capturing India's southern city. Asoka was still in the process of rebuilding after the earlier war with Huayna Capac, and Brennus appeared to have timed his attack perfectly. Then Huayna Capac declared war on Darius, plunging the entire continent into three 1 vs 1 wars. That was a questionable decision from a strategic standpoint, as this would have been Huayna's chance to invade Asoka and partition Indian lands along with Brennus' aid. Instead, the Incans were on the warpath in northern Persia:
Tarsus was particularly important because it contained Darius' only source of horses. Huayna Capac seemed to want those cities up in the northeast, which could swing him decisively into the lead. These cities were lightly defended, and Huayna was able to move onto Bactra quickly (by AI standards at least) and take it as well. Meanwhile, somehow Brennus was winning his respective war against the much larger Asoka, capturing a second city on India's southern borders. I had no idea how the Celts were pulling this off. Despite his superior technology, Pacal wasn't making any progress against Shaka as he kept pausing the war effort to build more wonders and infrastructure. Pacal was the tech leader by a wide margin, winning the Liberalism race and continuing to build every wonder under the sun. Eventually Shaka made peace, giving away his border city to Pacal in the process.
In the western war, Asoka's discovery of knights allowed him to push back against Brennus and finally recapture one of his lost cities. He later regained the second one in the peace treaty that ended the war on Turn 164. Brennus had fought endlessly and gained nothing for his efforts. At the same time, Asoka had been forced to expend a massive effort just to reclaim the same territory that he'd held at the start of the conflict. This had been a very damaging war for his chances of winning the game. While that had been going on, Huayna Capac was slowly carving up Persia, taking the northeastern peninsula and beginning to drive deep into Darius' core. This effort was snowballed further when Shaka also jumped into the war against Darius (only a few turns after he signed peace with Pacal!), sealing the fate of the Persian leader. The race was now on to divide up the spoils in the east. Shaka took Ecbatana and Gordium, while Huayna Capac picked up Persepolis (containing the Colossus/Great Lighthouse combo) and Susa. The Incan leader claimed the killing blow:
Once again Darius had managed to waste an amazing starting position. If we learned anything from this year's competition, it was that the Darius AI doesn't do a very good job of using his amazing economic traits. The fall of Darius had been Huayna Capac's gain, with the Incans now dominating the north and establishing firm control of the score lead. Things looked rosy for the future as well, with Asoka adopting his own self-founded Hinduism religion and making himself universally despised in the global diplomacy. India looked to be on the chopping block when the next round of wars broke out. In the race for the overall game victory, it appeared to be a race between Huayna's greater territory and research capacity against Pacal's treasure trove of wonders and cultural prowess. The two Mesoamerican civs in the center of the map were also strong allies, and together they were dominating the map.
Sure enough, the next war was an attack on Asoka, this time triggered initially by Pacal. Brennus piled into the conflagration on the very next turn, immediately triggering a defensive crisis in Indian lands. All of the combantants were on the same medieval generation of military technology at the start of this war, with castles slowing the progress of the Mayan and Celtic invaders. Pacal had gone all the way to Democracy and Physics techs without picking up Rifling, but now he was finally backtracking to pick up rifles and cavalry. This looked like it would be an easy conquest for Pacal, only for Shaka the troll to rear his head once more, with the Zulus inexplicably declaring war on Pacal for a second time. His attack couldn't have been timed much worse, as Shaka's horse archers arrived just in time to face Pacal's new rifles. Against all odds and at a terrible cost in lives, Shaka did manage to capture one of the Mayan border cities however. Then he took another one! Then a *THIRD* Mayan city! What the heck was happening?!
When Brennus and Asoka signed peace after another indecisive war, Pacal was now found himself in a two-sided conflict against India and the Zulus, and down three cities to boot. What a reversal from a few turns before. Even as the southern leaders continue to hurl units back and forth, the real winner was the one leader not taking part in this round of wars. Huayna Capac had almost double the military power of anyone else, sitting on the sidelines at the moment biding his time while building infrastructure in his captured Persian cities. The destruction caused by Shaka was allowing Huayna Capac to take the research lead, and given the huge amount of Incan territory, that seemed likely to remain for the rest of the game.
For all of Shaka's success though, he was horribly behind in technology. Shaka didn't even have knights at the start of this war, while Pacal had both rifles and cavs. The Zulus were suffering horrendous losses with every city that they took, and the Power bar graph showed that Pacal was steadily pulling ahead in total military strength. With Zulu units stuck deep inside Mayan culture, their units began to be isolated and destroyed. The Mayan cities that had been lost were slowly retaken again. Pacal was also making progress on the Indian front, capturing the same cities that had endlessly changed hands between Brennus and Asoka. And then the war fortunes swung once more dramatically in Pacal's favor, as Huayna Capac declared war on Asoka himself, and proceeded to carve up the Indian border cities:
I always like it when a picture can tell the story better than any amount of writing. Huayna Capac was ahead and getting further ahead, as he continued to wrestle territory away from the exhausted Indian military forces. Huayna Capac also built the Statue of Liberty and swapped into State Property civic, snowballing his lead further ahead. Indian cities fell slowly, but the progress of the war was inexorable. With Pacal attacking in the south and Huayna attacking in the north, Asoka had no chance. Pacal was still at war with Shaka as well, and the Zulu leader did manage to get to rifles in time to staunch the bleeding. Over in the west, planes were in the air and destroyers in the water. Incan and Mayan tanks were also rolling off the assembly lines, spelling doom for their respective foes. The one interesting race had been at Bombay, where Pacal did all of the work to remove the defenses only for Huayna to swipe in at the last moment and capture the city. Asoka continue to lose more and more territory turn after turn. We all knew it wouldn't last too much longer.
The Indians were put out of their misery on Turn 263, with nearly all of his cities ending up in Incan hands. As for Shaka, this picture is a good example of why attacking Pacal (twice!) had been a very bad idea:
As one of the viewers posted in Twitch chat: "Tanks for the memories Shaka!" Mayan tanks rolled over everything in Zulu territory, with Shaka's rifles offering little resistance. Shaka did get in one last troll gesture before the end of the game, defying a UN resolution to adopt Free Speech in his one city with 3 population. Never change Shaka, never change. Pacal eliminated him on Turn 276.
Now the game had resolved into an effective 1 vs 1 duel, with Brennus technically still present in the game but playing no role of significance. Huayna Capac was sitting at roughly 50% of the world's population and territory, with a lead of about 4-5 techs over Pacal. Huayna was also researching faster than Pacal (about 2000 beakers/turn compared to 1300 beakers/turn), which meant that Pacal had little chance of catching Huayna in the space race. The one place where Pacal had a lead was in culture, and if the Maya leader chose to pursue a Cultural victory, there was at least a small possibility of coming out on top. On the other hand, both leaders were only "Pleased" with one another, and both Huayna and Pacal can declare war at Pleased relations. I was hoping for that scenario so that we could see a few more fireworks before this game was done.
Sure enough, rather than a quiet ending to this game pursuing space or culture, Huayna decided on Option B, and declared war on Pacal on Turn 282. This was full-on modern warfare between two runaway civs, the sort of thing that almost never takes place in Civ4. Both sides had hundreds of units and a wide front to defend, 25 Incan cities against 18 Mayan cities, the exact scenario that promised explosive action. Huayna Capac focused on attacking the recent Mayan gains in ex-Zulu territory, while Pacal sent his initial thrust northwest into the Incan area that had formerly been on the border with Asoka. Pacal also had the Statue of Zeus in his domains, which had the possibility to inflict crippling war weariness on Huayna if the war ground on long enough. Countering that, Huayna had a slight edge in tech, and he would be the first one to mechs and modern armor. It was almost comical peeking at Brennus's territory, where the Celts were researching Physics tech and running around with cavs in the shadow of the two lategame superpowers.
It quickly became clear that Pacal was losing this uneven conflict. Ten turns into the war, the Power bar graph showed Pacal in complete free fall. He had invaded Incan territory with a stack of almost 70 units at the start of the war, and they were all collatered and killed without achieving anything. Once that stack was gone, Huayna began invading on all fronts, taking Pacal's Indian conquests and driving deep into the Mayan core. Extreme lategame wars like this look very different from the slow, plodding pace of combat in most technological eras of Civ4. Bombers remove the city defenses from the skies, paratroopers and gunships have extreme range to take out defenders, and then mechs and tanks all have two movement points to do the actual city capturing. Even the AI can bulldoze its way through territory quickly when it has a major edge at the end of the game, and Huayna was putting on a clinic on how to do exactly that. Any chance of Pacal winning a Cultural victory was out of the question, as Pacal was losing his 50k cultural cities to the Incans. The biggest mystery in the closing turns was whether Pacal would be beaten down badly enough to be passed by Brennus in score, and whether Huayna would win via Domination or Spaceship.
Huayna Capac launched his spaceship on Turn 313, but that victory condition was not to be. The Incans were already at 61% of land area and needed a mere 3% more to win. Bulaweyo fell on Turn 316 and that was all she wrote:
The entire Mayan core was in the hands of Huayna Capac by the time the game ended. Pacal was clinging to life in the former Zulu lands, surviving on life support. The score gap between Pacal and Brennus had dropped to just over 500 points, and if the Domination percentage had been set a little bit higher, Brennus likely would have passed Pacal in a few more turns. Alternatively, even if Domination had been turned off, Huayna would have won by spaceship in seven more turns, since he had completed the entire tech tree and was now on Future Tech. It was an impressive performance from the Incan leader.
This game had unfolded in nearly perfect fashion for Huayna Capac. Off to his east, Shaka tied up Darius in a long round of unproductive wars that slowed down both of them to little purpose. Over to his west, Brennus did much the same thing to Asoka, hamstringing what had otherwise been a strong performance from the Indian leader. Huayna had actually lost a city to Asoka in their first war, and it was only the repeated conflicts with Brennus that wound up crippling Asoka. While everyone else was fighting unproductive wars, Huayna Capac was grabbing territory and Pacal was building useful wonders. That powered the two of them to the top of the scoreboard, and Huayna was later able to wage a series of highly successful invasions that devoured first Darius, then Asoka. For his part, Pacal might very well have come out on top in this game if he hadn't been trolled so badly by Shaka. The Zulu leader got what he deserved with a late elimination, but had done too much damage to allow Pacal to emerge victorious.
Huayna Capac and Pacal were clearly the two strongest participants in this game, and it was a deserving result to see the two of them advance to the Championship game. There was one more playoff match still to go, in order to see who would be joining them there in the finals.