Axiis was kind enough to type up this summary of the action from Game Four. Thank you very much!
Game 4 - The Group of Death: Catherine, Charlemagne, Justinian, Louis, Ragnar, Bismarck, & Peter
This game promised to be a bloodbath from the word go. While Game 3 ended up a Gandhi dominated lovefest punctuated by a few indecisive wars, Game 4 pulled together a collection of leaders who were sure to make things interesting for each other. First up was Bismarck of Germany, a fairly neutral leader with a strong preference for military tech. He was also, incredibly, the least aggressive leader in the game, coming in at a moderate 5.6 (out of 10). The next two were Justinian of the Byzantines, the reigning champ of Season One, and Charlemagne of the Holy Roman Empire. Both leaders combined a high aggression rating and a preference for building units with serious religious zeal. The big difference between the two was that Chuck has perhaps the worst trait pairing in the game - Imperialistic and Protective - while Justinian enjoys one of the game’s best unique units, his terrifying Cataphracts. The distribution of religions would obviously be critical with these two in the game. The fourth AI drawn was a big one - Ragnar, the violent Viking warlord. His AI flavors are military, building units, and war. Ragnar, Montezuma, and Shaka are the ultimate practitioners of the ultimate trade in Civ 4; he always makes his presence felt when he’s around. Following Ragnar was Louis of the French, who had an odd habit of being aggressive and demanding while focusing on wonder building at the expense of most everything else. Louis’ central starting position and tendency to pick fights made him a popular mark for early elimination. Next up was Peter, yet another aggressive Russian AI with a strong scientific bent. Rounding out the group of death was the always interesting Catherine of Russia, a demanding, expansive leader who’s always a pain to deal with. Cathy’s unique trait as an AI is that she will always hold a refused demand against you - refusing her anything gives a -2 malus to your relationship, making her very high maintenance. It was amusing to see just how low relations would fall between Cathy and the passive observer civ.
Peter spawned in the southwest on a seafood rich start. Bismarck spawned above Peter in the northwest, with plenty of room to stretch his legs to his west. Ragnar planted just east of Germany in a start covered in forest and jungle, squeezed between Germany, France, and Byzantium. Louis started in the center of the map southeast of the Vikings, while Justinian spawned northeast of Ragnar on a peninsula with plenty of land to fill with imperialist settlers. Charlemagne started towards the east coast of the continent, while Cathy rounded out the map with a southeast spawn point. The map looked somewhat similar to Australia, though it featured a large stretch of tundra in the center of the island south of Louis’ starting point that would bisect the two Russias.
The AI sent their second starting settlers in wise directions, with the most important decision being Ragnar’s choice to go east towards Justinian, squeezing the reigning champion while giving Bismarck a largely free hand in the west. Catherine and Charles settled towards each other, as did Bismarck and Peter. The religious race was the next big domino to fall, particularly in a game that featured so many zealous leaders. Justinian won the race to the first religion and chose Christianity, to no one’s surprise, while Louis pulled in the second religion and chose Hinduism. Charlemagne would select Buddhism when he won the race to the game’s third religion, setting up a three way religious contest in the east. Justinian and Chuck were sure to be at each other’s throats over their religious differences, and they were both going to hate Louis as well, leaving the eastern half of the map a tinderbox. Just as critically though was the fact that the west side of the map was left bereft of religion, meaning that the western civs could either be pulled into one of the eastern religious blocs, or one of them could found their own religion later in the game and become a target for whichever bloc won supremacy in the east.
Wonders started falling as the AI sent out their third settlers. Though Bismarck stole Stonehenge out from under Louis’ nose, Louis responded by building the Great Wall. This was a wise choice given the vast swath of empty tundra that would sit south of his borders for much of the game; the barbarians were deflected towards the two Russian civs on his flanks instead. Peter in particular struggled with the barbarians early on - he lost his third settler to the barbarian menace and even allowed an archer to walk right up to one of his workers and capture it in a stunning display of incompetence. Peter’s early game was a mess; he was the last civilization to three cities and was ultimately forced to settle a bunch of lousy coastal locations. Ragnar, by contrast, had a strong land grab. Though Louis planted his third city right on top of Viking territory, Ragnar was nevertheless able to take advantage of Justinian’s choice to fill out the uncontested north end of his territory by seizing a large swath of the peninsula that could have been Justinian’s core. Conflict between Viking and Byzantine was averted, though, when Ragnar joined the Christian religion. Suddenly Louis’s aggressive city placements were looking precarious. The first war of the game would not be between France and the Christians, though.
That honor would go to Catherine, who launched a super early attack on the Holy Roman Empire, crossing into Charlemagne’s territory on Turn 44 (!) Unfortunately for Cathy she was nowhere near catapults, so her first stack got shredded by Chuck’s protective archers when the Tsarina launched an ill advised attack on Vienna. Vienna and Nuremberg made up the front line of HRE territory between Cathy and Charles and would see a lot of action in this phase of the game. Cathy was unperturbed by the failure of her opening gambit and would keep coming - and coming, and coming - at the Holy Roman Empire. She also found the time to build the Oracle, slingshotting to monarchy and giving her a badly needed happiness boost. Cathy kept expanding throughout the war with Charlemagne, filling out the southeast corner of the map and even planting some highly questionable cities in the southern tundra.
The AIs began to max out their territory now, with Bismarck in particular leading the landgrab phase. The next big prizes were the barb cities that began to spring up in the still unclaimed land at the edges of the seven civs. Bismarck had one pop in his backlines on the west coast and Catherine had a series of them appear in the southeast, but the really interesting one was a city named Etruscan, which sat astride a hill in a river valley between Peter, Louis, and Ragnar. The city was well defended, as Deity barbarian cities spawn with four archers, and would repel a series of attacks from the surrounding civilizations. Peter in particular was in dire need of the fertile land around the city, but his stack had to cross the river west of Etruscan before he had a realistic chance to attack the city’s stout defenses. The brief delay allowed Louis to launch his own attack. Louis’ attack failed but left the defenses low enough for Ragnar to waltz into the critical city with a measly chariot. Poor Peter was just not having a good time.
Cathy, by contrast, was having a whale of a time in eastern Russia. Her war with Charles took an interesting turn when she converted to Christianity, joining the incredibly aggressive religious bloc with Justinian and Ragnar. Things got even better for the Empress when she stopped banging her head against the walls of Vienna and focused on the more vulnerable Nuremberg, whose capture opened up the road to Charlemagne’s’ capital Aachen. Cathy had unfinished business at Vienna, though, and brought yet more stacks to the fortress city. These stacks still lacked catapults, though, so the main upshot of the attack was that the already strong protective archers of the HRE won even more promotions at the expense of the underequipped Russians.
Out west, Bismarck was having a game of his own. He expanded out to eight cities, helped along by Peter’s stumbles in the south. He was confident enough to tech to Code of Laws, founding Confucianism for himself and becoming a religious bloc of one. Bismarck also built the powerful Mausoleum wonder, and was looking like something of a front runner. To his south, Peter decided, somewhat bizarrely, to take his frustrations out on Justinian, sending a stack clear across the map to attack the reigning champion. In a weird turn, Peter also converted to Christianity around this time, joining his enemy’s religion and encircling Louis’s Hinduism with Christian civs. Unsurprisingly, Justinian barely broke a sweat holding off the western Russians, but his life got a lot more interesting when Louis took the opportunity to declare war on him as well on Turn 98. Justinian’s front line cities barely held off the sudden French attack, but the numbers game of this sudden two on one did not favor the champ.
Now you might think this left only Ragnar on the sidelines. But of course Ragnar wasn’t the last leader to declare war! His aggression rating is 9.9/10! In fact Ragnar had declared war on Turn 96, two turns before Louis attacked Justinian. He had naturally been building units like a madman and decided to target the Germans right when it looked like Bismarck could run away with the game. The Viking warlord brought a major stack into German territory and quickly took Essen in northeast Germany, opening up the German heartland to the Viking hordes. So every leader in the game was at war - but then, it always looked like this game was going to end up devolving into a bloodbath.
Ragnar’s opening punch was impressive, but his attack stalled out after Essen fell. He swung south after the capture of Essen and targeted Munich with a large, elephant heavy stack. Bismarck was undaunted though, and a counter attack out of the besieged city put some serious hurt on the Viking horde. Ragnar made another attack, but failed to punch through the city’s defenses as more German reinforcements poured into Munich. Things started looking grim for the Vikings when Bismarck teched up to longbows and it became clear the Vikings were not going to break the city’s defenses. Ragnar wisely made peace soon after and came away from the war with Essen in hand. The Viking warlord was still one to watch, though, as his jungle heavy territory was quickly becoming river-and-grassland heavy territory that would pair very nicely with his financial trait and gave him a mid game lead in the beaker count.
The three way war in the center of the map was racking up a pretty impressive body count of its own. Justinian’s frontline cities, Nicea and Thessalonika, were under immense pressure from the combined French and Russian armies. Nicea in particular was taking a beating from the French, while Peter continued his cross-map trolling of Justinian at Thessalonika. The champion of Season One was having a hard time juggling the two sieges, as AI leaders so often do. Finally, Louis cracked Nicea’s defenses and took the city. His mission accomplished, Louis peaced out with Justinian. Peter could only keep up his trolling for so long before he too made peace with Justinian on Turn 115, having accomplished little for his struggling little empire.
Now only the forever war between Catherine and Charlemagne carried on. Chuck had been hanging on by a thread, surviving only by whipping the hell out of his poor cities. Frowny faces abounded in the Holy Roman Empire, particularly in poor old Vienna. Cathy’s seemingly endless stacks had forced Charlie to whip the fortress city all the way down to size 1, and things were even worse in Aachen. The capital of the HRE had been captured and recaptured over the course of the long war, and Cathy was presently investing the capital yet again. Cathy finally ran out of gas, though, and the two sides made peace. Charlemagne’s empire was in ruins, but he held on.
Cathy, by contrast, was doing just fine thank you very much. She had kept the pressure on Charlemagne while simultaneously knocking out an impressive series of wonders, picking up the Hanging Gardens, Statue of Zeus (which no doubt exacerbated Charlie’s happiness woes), Shwedagon Paya, the Sistine Chapel, and the Great Library. Really, the only loss she suffered was to Peter of all people, as her laser focus on Charlemagne led her to neglect the barbarian cities sprouting up on her eastern seaboard. Land starved Peter was no doubt delighted to grab the barbarian city Ainu out from under his rival Tsarina. Catherine finally responded and laid one hell of a siege on the southeast barb city Zhou. Unfortunately, Cathy had plenty of siege weapons, but no city taking units. So she bombarded, and bombarded, and bombarded Zhou. This would go on for some time.
The world was at peace, but it was a tense and paranoid peace. The eastern Christian bloc was friendly with each other, but not so much with the French and HRE, who they surrounded. There was still quite a bit of bad blood between Germany and the Vikings, and you just know that Catherine wasn’t done with Charlemagne just yet. So it was no surprise at all that Ragnar broke this most tenuous peace, restarting his dormant war with Bismarck on Turn 131. His target, of course, was Munich, the site of his failure in the first war. Things went differently this time around as the Vikings overwhelmed the city and captured it on Turn 135. This victory would unexpectedly prove to be decisive when both Peter and Louis opportunistically jumped into the war against the Germans after the fall of Munich.
Bismarck retook his lost city with a major counter attack, but Germany’s record in two front wars against Russia and France isn’t so great, and things were starting to look grim for the Iron Chancellor. Bismarck pressed his advantage against the Vikings by taking Bjorgvin, but Louis was right there to retake the city. This seemed to be the last gasp for Bismarck, and Germany began to fold under the immense pressure of the two front war. Ragnar retook Munich while Peter snapped up Frankfurt on the Russian-German border. Next, all three allies converged on Hamburg and blew through its defenses. Ragnar came away with the city and an open shot at the big prize, Bismarck’s capital city Berlin. The three armies arrived at the gates of Berlin. Louis went first, blowing his stack but putting some serious hurt on the capital’s defenses. This left the city just weak enough for Peter, little luckless Peter, to swoop in and steal the city. Louis, having gained basically nothing for his efforts, dropped out of the war, leaving Russia and the Vikings to partition the remains of the once mighty Germany. Peter, who came into this war as basically an afterthought, won the race to Tartar on the west coast and knocked Bismarck out of the game on Turn 172. Bismarck had enjoyed a strong start, but the triple alliance simply proved to be too much for the Germans. Despite all the heavy lifting from Ragnar and Louis, it looked like Peter came out as the big winner of the war. He celebrated the conquest of Berlin by building Notre Dame and winning the race to Liberalism, taking Astronomy. Things were finally looking up for western Russia.
Back in the east, Cathy reopened her war with Charlemagne back on Turn 141. Charles wanted to retake Nuremberg and reestablish a front line that didn’t include Aachen, while Catherine wanted to retake Aachen and knock Charlemagne out of the game for once and all. Thus the HRE and Russian stacks marched right by one another and laid siege to their respective targets. Charlemagne repeatedly brought Nuremberg down to its last defender, but Cathy always managed to slip just a few more defenders into the city before Chuck could retake it. Cathy eventually cleaned up the stack at Nuremberg and went on the attack in Aachen, but the HRE capital held on against the furious Russian assault. Similarly, the barbarian city Zhou was STILL holding out against the Russian catapults. It had been under siege since the end of Cathy’s first war with Charlemagne, and had even managed to break Cathy’s siege on Turn 148. This seemed to get Catherine’s attention though and she finally brought a proper stack to the stubborn barbarian city. Charlemagne took advantage of this distraction and brought another attack on Nuremberg, looking to retake his city while Cathy was busy crushing the impertinent Zhou in the southeast. Unfortunately for Chuck, he was just too far behind the Tsarina, and his attack on Nuremberg once again failed as Aachen once again fell to the Russians.
At this point, Charlemagne looked pretty well gassed. He had been barely holding on for ages against Catherine’s relentless attacks, but the fall of Aachen was a back breaker. Louis, who had failed to make any major gains from the fall of Germany, once again jumped into an opportunistic war and looked to snipe some territory from the collapsing HRE on his eastern border. This move seemed to backfire, though, when Justinian launched his own war to avenge himself on the heathen French. Justinian had been quietly rebuilding after his war against Louis and Peter, and he brought a major stack into France as Louis moved on the HRE, declaring war on Turn 172 - the same turn Peter knocked Bismarck out of the game.
Louis wasn’t the only leader to see that the Holy Romans were on their way out. Vienna finally fell to Catherine on Turn 174, and on the same turn Ragnar declared war on the dying Charlemagne. Louis took Prague, but Justinian was right there to take the city from him. While second and third Rome took the first two of the Holy Roman Empire’s last four cities, Louis and Ragnar would take the last two, neatly partitioning what remained of Chuck’s old kingdom into fourths. Louis captured Mainz, while Ragnar got Ulm and the kill on Turn 184, sending the Holy Roman Empire straight to the dustbin of history. Catherine had never let Charlemagne get up off the ground, and her early war declaration and tenacious attacks had forced him to cripple his empire with massive whipping unhappiness. Charles just never caught the break he needed, and now he was gone, the second civ to fall.
Louis had scored a minor victory with his capture of Mainz, but the Byzantines were raising hell in his core. Justinian captured Paris, then moved on to Rheims and took that city too with his mighty cataphracts. With France’s core eviscerated and Nicea avenged, Justinian agreed to peace with Louis. This would prove to be a costly mistake. As news of the peace came in, the horns of war once again went off - Ragnar, fresh off the conquest of Germany, was coming for Justinian. He declared war on the Byzantine emperor on Turn 199, moving on the Byzantine city Antioch. Unfortunately for Justinian, his stack was still trapped in Paris, way inside French territory, and he didn’t have Open Borders with his bitter enemy Louis. That stack of Cataphracts that had been shredding the French core was off the table, and the Vikings were coming.
Meanwhile, Peter decided to press his recent run of luck and shockingly joined Justinian’s war effort on Turn 202, declaring war on the Vikings as Ragnar was busy trying to take Antioch. Peter had recently completed the Kremlin - wait, the Kremlin? Yes, Peter had skipped merrily on by every military tech on his way to Communism, and hadn’t even researched Gunpowder when he went after the powerhouse Vikings. Still, Peter’s medieval stack could only have been good news for the desperate Justinian, who lost Adrianople right after Peter entered the war, then lost Antioch soon after. Ragnar kept on rolling into Byzantium, taking the northern end of Justinian’s territory. If he was underestimating just how much of a threat Peter posed, however, he would soon pay for his arrogance. Peter took the old German city Essen, then marched on and captured the Viking capital Nidaros. Ragnar may have been blowing through Justinian’s tundra cities, but he was suddenly looking vulnerable as Peter advanced on Ragnar’s core while Justinian looked to retake Antioch. However, Ragnar’s overextension were mitigated by three key factors. First, Peter, despite declaring war on the game’s military leader, continued to eschew military research even as he raced into the industrial age techs. Secondly, Ragnar had no such compunction, and when he teched to Rifling his core defenses immediately stabilized; after all, medieval units tend to struggle against fortified riflemen. And thirdly, Louis still hated the hell out of Justinian and took his opportunity to kick Justinian when the emperor was down. He declared war on the Eastern Romans on Turn 224, retaking Paris and pushing on to Thessalonika. Ragnar, who had no doubt had it up to here with Peter, retook Nidaros and looked to drop the hammer on the insolent Tsar.
Peter had at this point finally finally teched to Rifling, but the situation looked grim for him. Peter did win one more victory though when he stole Statue of Liberty out from under Catherine, who had been happily teching and rebuilding in her corner of the map. SoL or no, Ragnar began to push through the German territory Peter had sniped away from Ragnar way back when, though the proliferation of rifles slowed everything way down. Back in the east, Louis and Justinian had agreed to peace after Louis regained his core, freeing up Justinian to retake Antioch and his old northern territories. Justinian was still in bad shape from the beatdown Ragnar had laid on him, though, and Catherine needed a new target after her victory over the HRE. She may have been more inclined to go after France had she still been part of Justinian’s Christian bloc, but she had swapped to free religion shortly after Charlemagne was knocked out of the game and now had very little compunction about going after her old coreligionist. And so, on Turn 246, Catherine declared war on the reigning champion of AI Survivor and rolled through the old HRE territory that her rivals had snapped up during Charlemagne’s collapse.
Justinian was no match for the war machine Catherine had been assembling since Charlemagne went down. He had barely made it through the Viking attack and was too exhausted and backwards to mount much of a defense against Cathy’s fresh troops. The Russian army sliced through Byzantine territory and took Constantinople on Turn 261, which was Louis’ cue to once again jump into an opportunistic war against a collapsing opponent. Ten turns later, on Turn 271, Cathy and Louis had partitioned Justinian’s territory, and the champion was knocked out. Justinian had the misfortune of ending up between the game’s two leaders, Ragnar and Catherine, and combined with his long standing hatred of the French, he ended up taking a beating from all sides. It seemed like every time Justinian got any kind of momentum, someone would come in and take him out at the knees. At least he’ll always have Season One.
Cathy had expanded dramatically through her conquests of the Eastern and Holy Roman empires, and had wisely swapped to State Property to manage her enormous empire. She was the leader in land and power, but she still lagged behind in the beaker count. That crown still belonged to Ragnar, who was having a hell of a time dealing with Catherine’s western counterpart. Ragnar had retaken Nidaros and was slowly grinding through Peter’s German territory, but Peter had teched to Assembly Line and was able to field infantry and machine guns that made Ragnar’s advance a nightmare. Ragnar had lost out on his chance to swallow up Byzantium and was now struggling to advance in the teeth of Peter’s defenses. Frustrated, he made peace with Peter on Turn 266. Incredibly, Peter had held on in the face of Ragnar’s full attention and had even made it out of the war still in possession of Berlin. With Justinian gone and the Ragnar calling it quits, the world once again settled into peace - for now.
Turns passed as the four remaining civs recovered their strength. Peter built the Pentagon while Cathy and Ragnar rebuilt their armies. Catherine and Louis, still friendly from knocking out Justinian, agreed to a defensive pact to limit Viking aggression. Louis, however, skimmed right over the word DEFENSIVE and decided that this meant it was time to do something about the Vikings. He declared war on the Ragnar on Turn 292, apparently believing that Catherine would join him in putting the barbaric Vikings out of the game for good, and immediately lost a city on the south end of his territory for his trouble. Catherine, ever the opportunist, took one look at the power graphs, realized Louis was utterly screwed if she didn’t step in to help him, and decided that it would be a lot less trouble if she just split up France’s territory with Ragnar instead. And so, on Turn 293, she did jump into the war - on Ragnar’s side. Louis was indeed so, so screwed, and he went down in a blaze of hubris.
It took thirteen turns for Louis’ empire to be reduced to just Paris, and on Turn 307 Louis was knocked out of the game by Ragnar. Maybe next time Louis will read the fine print and realize defensive pacts only go off if, you know, you’re on the defensive. To be fair to Louis, he had outlasted three rivals despite his awkward central location and his total lack of religious allies. Then again, to also be fair to Louis, he really did not pick his last fight well at all.
Just like that there were three leaders left. Two Russians, one Viking. Catherine had taken the tech lead and was closing in on a Domination victory, but there was at least one more war to fight here. After all, Ragnar is not a spaceship kind of guy. He made his move on Turn 319, declaring war on Peter and moving in, yet again, on Berlin. Ragnar had been building up for the last war for for years now and things were looking real bad for Peter, who had hung on despite a disastrously bad early game. But just when it looked like Peter had finally run out of time, the horns of war blew in the east. Catherine was coming for Ragnar. This would be the final battle. Ragnarok was here.
Catherine moved first, blowing through Paris’ defenses and becoming the fourth civ to hold the old French capital. Cathy rolled through a series of old Byzantine cities before Ragnar could counter attack at Thessalonika. He successfully retook the city, but the battle was bloody and the cost to the Viking death stack was enormous. When Catherine’s own counter punch came, the Viking army at Thessalonika was overwhelmed and wiped out, and Ragnar’s core was wide open to Russian attack. Both Russian in fact, as the war between Peter and Ragnar went on. Peter retook Berlin and closed within 300 points of second place and the right to avoid the death trap that is the Wildcard game. Catherine was on the cusp of a Domination victory and Ragnar could no longer resist the Russian advance - the last drama to play out was whether Peter or Ragnar would take home the silver medal. Catherine took her time resetting her army before moving in on Uppsala as Peter moved on to Etruscan, the old barbarian city that had eluded him so many turns before. Sadly for Peter, he made it to Etruscan, looked it over, shrugged, and went home. On his way back he checked out his old city of Vladivostok, and declined to try to take that prize too. Catherine blew through Uppsala’s defenses and took the city, finally concluding a domination victory with 74%(!) of the population on Turn 356.
Catherine had clearly owned the second half of the game and actually leveraged her victories into serious imperial gains, something Ragnar didn’t succeed at. Peter won most of the spoils in Germany, while Catherine took the cream of Byzantine and French territory. So Ragnar, despite killing Charles and Louis and having a major hand in the downfall of Bismarck and Justinian, came in second place. Peter, the bad luck troll of Game 4, came in third, posting a score of 2666 against Ragnar’s 2844. For all his massive early game incompetence, Peter nevertheless came within 178 points of scoring a massive upset by stealing second place at the least possible moment. Sadly, but fittingly, he failed to pull the trigger on any one of a number of Viking cities that he could have snagged to put himself over Ragnar. For his failure, he was kicked over to the Wildcard game, while Ragnar and Catherine advanced to the playoffs. Catherine, for her part, played a dominant game. While Ragnar swung east and west and built a sprawling, vulnerable empire, Catherine worked methodically around the map. She set her sights on Charlemagne early and ground him down, securing the east coast for herself. Next, she opportunistically attacked Justinian after he had been beaten down by Ragnar and Louis but before they took his core. After Justinian went Louis, who she unrepentantly stabbed in the back when it was clear that Ragnar would cream him in a one on one fight. And then, when Ragnar got tied up dealing with the western Tsar, the eastern Tsarina opened up a second front against him, dividing his attention and rapidly exhausting his ability to fight. Catherine played to win, and she put on a clinic in strategic expansion. Catherine had earned her victory in Game 4.