YouTube Video Playthrough: Passive Aggressive Conquest

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This is a quick writeup for my Passive Aggressive Conquest game that took place on Livestream during the first few months of 2020. The "cultural push" games of Civ4 have long been a favorite of mine, the variant in which the player never captures enemy cities and tries to take over the map using cultural flips. I played out an early version of this concept by winning a Domination victory under the Always Peace setting, and then later tried to achieve a Conquest victory by turning off all of the other victory conditions. That second attempt was a succession game that ended in failure (although one of the other mirrored teams did succeed in their effort), and it left me wanting to give the cultural extermination concept another try. My initial hope was to try for a Conquest victory under the Always Peace setting, using spies to incite revolts and therefore get cities to flip through culture. Unfortunately I found in Worldbuilder testing that this didn't work in practice: defending units will still supress a culture flip even if a spy has revolted the city in question. You really do need to kill the defending units in order to induce culture flips and that meant the Always Peace setting was out. It was probably for the best anyway, as a Livestream game needs some conflict to spice things up while watching.

The plan was therefore to turn off all of the other victory conditions and win by Conquest through flipping all of the enemy cities. I wanted to try this on Monarch difficulty, higher than my previous games in this vein, while also using a Small map size to make things a bit easier. It would also cut down on the micromanagement a bit and that's always appreciated as well. An immediate critical question was which leader and civ to choose for this effort. I spent some time thinking over the options before ultimately deciding that Hatshepsut of Egypt was the best choice under the default restricted leaders. Creative is far too important of a trait to skip, both for winning early border disputes and getting cheap libraries/theatres. I also valued Spiritual higher than the other competing options, both to skip losing culture during Anarchy and to get cheap temples which are similarly very important for this variant. Egypt was also fantastic to use as a civ choice, with great starting techs (Agriculture/Wheel) which would let me chase after early religions while also being able to improve food tiles out of the gate. Financial or Organized also would have been good leader traits, however I couldn't pair them with a civilization that I liked under the restricted settings. Asoka's India (Mining/Mysticism) was the other option that I thought about the most and I just couldn't justify going without a food tech for that long at the start of the game, or dropping Creative to pick up Organized. So it would be Hatty once again just as I had done in my Always Peace game over a decade earlier.

The most important factor in terms of securing a starting position was having an Agriculture resource at the capital. I could work around most anything else but I did need to have that to make a starting position viable. I thought that I might have to roll a few starts to begin, but what I hadn't counted on were the actions of the other AI leaders. I had deliberately selected low-culture AIs who don't put much emphasis on religion for this game, deciding on Shaka and Ragnar and Napoleon and Churchill for my group of four opponents. However, much to my shock, one of these AI turkeys kept founding an early religion in game after game after game! Inexplicably, one of the AIs kept opening Mysticism into Meditation or Mysticism into Polytheism in every game. This was baffling behavior as we know from AI Survivor that these AIs who don't care about religion will typically skip those techs for long periods of time. I had to keep restarting game after game when this took place, running through half a dozen false starts for almost a full hour on the Livestream. Churchill founded a religion so often that I eventually replaced him with Mao, the single leader who cares the least about religion in the whole game. Ha! Let's try that on for size, game!

And so of course it was Mao would foiled my plan to grab all the early religions by founding Hinduism. Of course it was. I swear that this was the most bizarre opening from an AI tech preference standpoint that I can remember. This would have major consequences for the rest of the game, as Mao would become culturally dominant in the center of the map and it would be very difficult to make progress against his cities. This game would have been immensely easier if I had been able to bury the initial three religions and stop any of the AIs from accessing their culture until a much later date. Instead I would have to push into the teeth of the game's most culturally powerful opponent from the very beginning, with Mao located directly to the north of Egypt.

It wasn't all bad though, as I had the good fortune to roll an excellent starting position in this game. The capital had the requisite Agriculture resource to be playable (a wet corn) along with a plains hill for the starting tile, double floodplains tiles, and a very handy stone resource. That resource would later be used for two of the three more important wonders for this variant, Stonehenge and the Pyramids. Initial research went into Mysticism and Meditation to found Buddhism, then after the failed Polytheism play, onto Mining/Bronze Working and then Pottery. The first city went far to the northeast to try and lock down an early border with Mao, then I needed to push to the northwest as fast as possible before the land over there was claimed. I was helped by having no less than four different gold resources in the immediate area, enormously useful since these cultural push games inevitably crash their economy with the need to claim as much land as possible. With the help of the Livestream viewers, I identified an important "pink dot" location in the far northwest and planted an Egyptian claim there on Turn 96:

This spot was dubbed "Hope's Peak" upon its founding and it was a bold spot indeed. Shaka's capital was located a mere five tiles away and Napoleon's capital only slightly further to the north beyond Lyons. I was very glad that Hope's Peak was situated on top of a hill and behind multiple rivers because this appeared to be a precarious city from a defensive standpoint. However, if I could manage to hold this spot and fill it with culture, it would provide an excellent platform to push into the Zulu and French domains. The second Egyptian city established earlier had become the Jewish Holy City and that was helping to hold the line against the Chinese in the center of the map. I needed to balance expansion against improving research output in order to reach the culture multipliers further down the tech tree (Sistine Chapel, Free Speech civic, corporations, etc.) while also not dying to the rabid aggression of leaders like Shaka and Ragnar. It was a tough juggling act to manage even on Monarch difficulty.

The AI opponent with which I had the least direct contact with Ragnar, who had spawned in the northeastern corner of this small Pangaea map. One downside to my starting location in the deep south of the continent was an inability to reach the northern edges of the map; it would have been preferable to start in Mao's spot where my culture would have naturally reached out in every direction. I did manage to do a good job of scouting out the territory of the AI civs using early game Open Borders agreements, and this revealed that there was still a small amount of unclaimed territory at the extreme edges of Ragnar's peninsula. I was able to sneak a settler up there through Viking borders and found a city half a turn before Ragnar could do the same:

The plan was to establish Tipperary ("it's a long long way up there!") on the northern coast where it could take advantage of the crabs resource and build a lighthouse for food. However, even one more turn's worth of movement would have allowed the Vikings to plant their city here first and therefore it would have to be a landlocked spot directly on top of the copper. (I said on Livestream that I needed to found on the copper, several members of the chat disagreed, and we watched Ragnar put his city down ahead of me by taking the extra turn to move. With my point proven, I reloaded back a turn and followed the original plan.) Tipperary was an even more precarious location than Hope's Peak, something that Ragnar would be able to swat aside with ease if he chose to declare war. I moved up some axes and spears to reinforce it while I still had Open Borders, but the moment that the Vikings attacked me, I'd be prohibited from moving units through their territory and there would be no reinforcing the spot. The copper location turned out to be a major advantage in this regard, since I could upgrade into maces (if not pikes) even if the city was completely isolated. Having another spot where I could pump out culture in this corner of the map proved to be a huge advantage in the long run, greatly increasing the speed at which Egyptian culture seeped into the otherwise sheltered Scandinavian territories.

I had known before starting the game that I'd have to hold the line against AI attacks, but I had underestimated how frequent and how dangerous those attacks would be. Sharp eyes will spot that Shaka had already started the warring by the time of the previous screenshot, launching an invasion of Hope's Peak on Turn 143. (Note that this game was played on Epic speed to allow more total turns in which culture flips could take place.) An emergency whip of a spear to supplement the axes already on defense was enough to stop that attack, with a major assist from the hill defense bonus and the 40% cultural defense bonus. I wouldn't be able to huddle in my cities for safety for too long, however, as Shaka would tech up to Construction and bring catapults to knock down those defenses. I was continuing to backfill in the city spots that I had passed over earlier in trying to claim as much territory as possible, and the Egyptian economy was limping along at 20-30% break-even science rate for many centuries on end. There was no avoiding it though - I absolutely had to get as much territory in the initial landgrab as I could due to how hard it would be to flip cities later on. But the AI leaders didn't much like me slamming aggressive city plants into their faces repeatedly, and my inability to bury the early religions had caused further diplomatic problems as one leader after another adopted Mao's Hinduism. I had made some serious enemies and I would face one attack after another as the game went on.

Mao came after Egypt for the first time shortly after Turn 150, and to be perfectly honest, I can't say that I blamed him. We had massive tension caused by the repeated cities that I had founded on his border, especially at Camp Nowhere which was a total junk city in the pre-Calendar era. I had barely managed to get that city founded before China's culture swallowed up the spot and it was a sad sight indeed at first, buried in jungle and without any usable resources. I was just hooking up the bananas and sugar resources when this picture was taken, and now I had to defend this spot without even controlling its first ring of tiles! Thank goodness Mao hadn't managed to get a decent road network in this region and his units were still trickling in one tile at a time. Defending along the northern border was a difficult tactical puzzle, as Mao could attack at Hope's Peak or Paddycow or Camp Nowhere or even at Philistinia with little in the way of warning ahead of time. Here in the pre-Engineering era, my units could only move two tiles at a time on roads and war chariots were the only fast units that I had available. I did a lot of 2 pop whips that turned into axe/spear pairs, one of the most efficient use of whips in Civ4. But these were nervous turns and that Chinese cultural salient at Xian was a pain in the rear for many long turns on end.

Eventually I managed to sign peace with Mao, only for Shaka to come calling again with another war declaration on Turn 175. He already had catapults on hand and that spelled real trouble, with elephants sure to be following not far behind given Shaka's ivory resource. Fortunately I had my own ivory and I was now forced to research Construction and Horseback Riding myself for safety's sake, delaying the push towards better economic techs - argh! Thankfully Shaka had only one catapult in his initial stack, giving me time to reinforce Hope's Peak while the Zulu leader slowly bombarded down the city's defenses. I crammed about a dozen units in there, mostly axes with a few spears and war chariots for their specific matchups, then watched Shaka suicide his forces into the city's defenses:

That solved the Shaka problem for the moment, but I had no sooner signed peace with him before Mao came back once again for another round as well. Then when I fended off Mao, Shaka came back and attacked again for the third time, sheesh! Who selected these AI opponents anyway? Thank goodness these AIs were spacing out their attacks instead of hitting all at once or I really would have been in a tough spot. The arrival of war elephants was a major relief, albeit temporary since my opponents all had access to them as well. I kept wishing for a tech advantage instead of needing to fight at tech parity and defend this huge border region. There was a particularly dangerous period around Turn 210 when I was at war against both Mao and Shaka at the same time, and I once again was saved by the presence of a single catapult in Shaka's stack ensuring that he would waste long turns bombarding the defenses at Hope's Peak again, givng me time to collect more units and reinforce the city. Thank you AI Survivor for helping to highlight how the AI programming handles sieges!

I did have two things working in my favor diplomatically. One was the passivity of Ragnar, who left me alone all through the early game and therefore allowed the isolated Egyptian colony up at Tipperary to survive. He would invade as well, eventually, but not until Tipperary had walls and enough units to hold out on its own. That was a huge relief because there were long periods of time where I had nothing to spare for my little northern settlement. When Ragnar did ultimately attack, he brought his main stack into the core of my territory where it was easily smashed, leaving Tipperary fortunately undisturbed. The other factor working in my favor was Napoleon, who somewhat inexplicably had good diplomatic relations with my civ. I'm sure that this was due in part to our nations not sharing a direct border, and also because I (temporarily) swapped religions and civics when he asked me to do so. That's one of the little side perks of Spiritual trait, the ability to follow those annoying AI requests without much of a penalty. Napoleon actually declared war on Mao at one point, relieving some of the pressure on me, and with "Pleased" relations he was actually willing to aid me in some of my wars. I didn't have enough gold on hand for that yet but it was a tantalizing possibility.

By about Turn 275, I was feeling confident in terms of my own civ's capabilities. I had finished the crucial Sistine Chapel wonder in the capital city, the single most important wonder to land for this variant. This would provide an unfathomable amount of additional culture from specialist use over the rest of the game, especially when paired with Mercantilism and Free Speech civics and the later Statue of Liberty. I had also built the Heroic Epic in a commerce-poor but production-heavy part of the map at Klondike and was using it to turn out knights in steady procession. With Engineering to increase my road movement, those knights could play zone defense and gallop over to wherever they were most needed in speedy fashion, making the overall project of holding my borders much safer. I was confident at this point that invaders wouldn't have much of a chance going forward.

However, just holding my own borders wasn't going to be enough to win the game. I needed to flip enemy cities to make any progress towards an eventual victory, and that meant attacking and killing the defending units in long sieges once my culture had become dominant (over 50%) on the center tile of a foreign city. I could kill all but the last defender in a city, and having only a single unit on garrison duty would increase the odds for a flip to take place. This could be a bloody business though, as I was forced to attack longbow after longbow with my knights and they couldn't always get the best odds. The city of Xian was my first target for a flip and it was stubbornly refusing to budge, even as the Egyptian culture in the city ticked far above 50%. I continued eliminating all but one defender for dozens and dozens of turns on end without success. Uh, can we get a revolt here, maybe? If it was this hard to get even one cultural flip, that threw this entire variant into question.

Meanwhile, Shaka had been looking quite scary and I was hoping that he wouldn't come after me while I was tangled up with Mao. Instead Shaka decided to invade my ally Napoleon, and he proceeded to carve up France in a span of about two dozen turns, ultimately removing Napoleon from the game entirely:

So much for the one and only AI leader who didn't hate my guts! At the very least though, Napoleon had bought me some more time while Shaka's massive army was off slaughtering him. And the disappearance of the French culture from the map also presented a new opportunity: note the revolt taking place in the city of Lyons to the north of Hope's Peak. Shaka had no culture at all up there in the former French territories and Egyptian culture was able to establish local dominance. Sure enough, it wasn't much longer before the second revolt arrived and the city reverted to Egyptian control:

Amazingly enough, the city of Xian was not the first culture flip despite being completely surrounded by Egyptian borders and after dozens of turns of sieging it down to a single defender. No, it was this former French city that passed into my control first, go figure. (There was a reason for this: the odds for a culture flip are lower against a civ with which you are at war. It was still an unusual result from the dice gods nonetheless.) I had a very difficult decision as far as whether to keep this spot or burn it down and replant with a new settler. I liked the tile where Lyon was located, especially because it was on a hill for the defensive bonus, but I worried greatly about whether I could defend this spot given that it wouldn't control its own first ring tiles. If Shaka tried to attack with his full army here, how could I ever hold this spot? I decided that I had to try though, and ultimately I did accept the flip, rechristening the city "PenIsMightier" in another bad pun from the Livestream chat. The dynamic here was easy to understand: if Egypt could hold onto the city and develop it properly, it would provide another powerful platform to project culture into the Zulu and former French territory. Holding the spot against Shaka, who had now become the runaway AI after absorbing Napoleon, that would be a real challenge indeed.

Xian continued to be a thorn in my side for ages on end. The siege of the city had started on Turn 275 and it was still holding out 50 turns later on Turn 325. While I had gotten one revolt in the city earlier, the odds should have been something around 7% each turn for another revolt to take place and flip the city. Why was it taking so dang long for the second revolt to occur?! This period of waiting dragged out seemingly endlessly for turn after turn on end. Finally on Turn 326 the second revolt arrived and I was able to raze and replace Xian with my own city two tiles to the north. Finally, yay! I had bigger problems on my hands though: Shaka was coming for the new city of PenIsMightier with his huge army of cuirassiers and grenadiers. I had been desperately racing for Rifling tech and it was just about to pop on the horizon:

I did not have the forces in place to hold the city against Shaka's core stack, however. That was when inspiration struck once again and I was able to use the AI's programming against Shaka: note that I killed off all of the siege units with flanking damage EXCEPT a single trebuchet. If I had destroyed all of the siege units, then Shaka would have thrown his whole stack against the city and he would have had good odds to capture it. Instead, he pulled the classic AI Survivor move of freezing his whole stack in place while a single trebuchet slowly bombarded the defenses. This bought me time to finish Rifling research, pop into Nationhood civic for a few turns to draft out a round of rifles, and start upgrading a bunch of curissasiers into cavs. Given five turns to upgrade my units and reinforce PenIsMightier, I marshalled together a stronger and more technologically advanced army, then proceeded to grind Shaka's units into the dust. As usual, the Power bar graph told the story:

Shaka had been a terrifying force for the entirety of the game up to this point. He had been shockingly strong from an economic standpoint, reaching both Physics and Communism first for the free Great People located at each tech and holding tightly onto the #1 spot for military power. I had been sweating bullets over the safety of both Hope's Peak and PenIsMightier, the western border region that Shaka made repeated attempts to conquer throughout the game. However, this was the big turning point in terms of Shaka's effectiveness as a leader. After I thoroughly crushed his army in this battle, he was never able to recover afterwards. By the time that he had rifles I'd made it up to factories and power plants, and he was unable to face Egypt from a position of tech parity ever again. The greatest threat to winning the game had been permanently stifled.

While the Zulus had been put back in their place, that still didn't get me closer to the actual capturing of enemy cities. I had initiated a war of my own with Mao once the danger from Shaka had been removed, beginning a siege of Guangzhou on Turn 346 with the goal of killing the defenders to increase the odds of a culture flip. Removing the garrison units was easy so long as it was rifles and cavs against longbows, and those combats went on and on for many long turns again. Just as had been the case at Xian earlier, however, the city of Guangzhou proved stubbornly unwilling to revolt. After dozens and dozens of turns with no success, the Livestream chat started wondering if there was something about Mao as a leader or the Protective trait that was blocking me from having more success. I was in fact making a mistake here, my nation not running the correct state religion to maximize the flip odds, but it was still endlessly frustrating. Then Mao finally managed to make his way to Rifling tech as well, and suddenly I was faced with poor odds to keep killing the defenders in Guangzhou each turn. I couldn't keep this up, I was making no progress and continuing the same attacks was only going to lead to mass slaughter of my units. Once again I wondered if the variant was going to be possible at all.

And then, suddenly, I hit on the breakthrough moment that I needed. I was checking with Mao in terms of what he would grant me for a peace treaty, and he offered up the city of Guangzhou of his own accord. I hadn't even been thinking about taking cities in peace treaties, not since the AI is so stingy about giving them away in Civ4, but it fit perfectly within the variant and subtracting a city away from China would be a huge victory. I happily signed that deal and granted Mao a reprieve for the moment, with the city renamed over to Opium War after the transfer finished. Remember, the variant was "no conquering enemy cities by force" and at no point in time did my units enter hostile territory in gaining these prizes. I added a new counter to the bottom of the Livestream broadcast tracking cities received in peace treaties as well as cities flipped culturally, and I took care to think about treaty cessations as another option to gain territory. We had named that one city in the west as a bit of a joke, but this was indeed a case where the pen was mightier than the sword.

Egyptian technology was continuing to progress into the Industrial era at this point, with factories and coal plants going up across the nation. This would provide an enormous advantage that the more technologically backwards AI civs would not be able to match. More importantly, the advancement into the Industrial era meant the arrival of corporations for the first time. I had known all along that they would be the key to winning ths game, just needing to survive long enough to found the three key corporations and spread them into my border cities. Creative Construction was the first to appear, followed by Sid's Sushi (not terribly powerful on this land-locked map) and eventually by Civ Jewelers. Here was the city of Gong Show after being tricked out with factories, power plants, and all three corporations:

Establishing the corporations in a city was worth roughly 100 base culture per turn all by themselves, and then that would be increased by 100% from Free Speech civic and another 50% from the universal broadcast towers once Eiffel Tower finished. I had Mercantilism + Statue of Liberty in operation for double free Artist specialists, adding their own Sistine-enhanced culture, plus lots of cheap Spiritual temples to get multiple cathedrals into all of the frontline cities. With all of these multipliers working together, Egyptian culture simply exploded during the years following Turn 450. (So did corporate maintenance expenses but the economy was able to support them thanks to the presence of Wall Street in my corporate HQ city.) The same borders that had been edging slowly forward for long centuries on end, picking up a single tile here and a single tile there, now began advancing on all fronts at rapid speed. Mao's strong cultural core was the only place that was able to put up any kind of resistance, whereas the more culturally-weak hinterlands of Shaka's French conquests began collapsing in rapid fashion. Ragnar had been a weak AI for the whole game and he similarly struggled in the northeast where I had my strongest cultural pressure operating against him. This was where the third culture flip finally arrived:

Bjorgvin delivered a marble resource at a largely too-late-to-matter date but I was hardly complaining. It was more culture for Creative Construction if nothing else, that and the additional fish resource that the city picked up for Sid's Sushi. (One of the scarier aspects of the corporations for this variant: they kept getting stronger and stronger as they devoured more resources via cultural tile acquisition.) The former reach colony of Tipperary had certainly done well for itself, establishing a port city to the south to guarantee a supply of resources from the rest of the nation, then founding a cultural push city at Tri Peaks that eventually flipped Bjorgvin. Now the push would begin in earnest against the most tightly defended cities in Ragnar's core.

Mao continued to hold onto his cities for the moment, cities that inexplicably refused to flip despite immense cultural pressure and a lack of defenders guarding them. I would end up needing to make progress against Mao in bits and pieces, taking a number of cities in peace treaties and returning to war again and again to carve up Chinese territory one small amount at a time. As for Shaka, he was faring much worse on a cultural basis even though he remained the most technologically advanced AI. He actually did make it to factories and infantry units while neglecting a critically important area of military technology: air power. I had beelined through Radio tech to pick up the Civ Jewelers corporation at Mass Media, and that meant that I had access to bombers as soon as I picked up Flight. With fighters to defend against Shaka's airships and bombers to rain down collateral damage from the skies, I tore through Shaka's rebuilt military like it wasn't even there and began sieging almost half a dozen Zulu cities at once:

One of the unfortunate aspects of this game was the similarly-colored Egyptian and Zulu borders. All that yellow made it hard to see how far my culture was penetrating into the Zulu heartland by this point. Shaka was being hard pressed at Paris, Bulawayo, and Nongoma just as Mao was suffering at Hangzhou and Shanghai. Readers may also have noticed something odds about those AI cities: no units defending any of them! I had reseached all the way up to Advanced Flight tech and upgraded some of my cavalry into gunships, the last key unit for this variant. Gunships cannot capture cities and therefore they can remove the last defender without falling afoul of the "no capturing cities" rule. Gunships can even kill enemy naval units and workers and Great People hiding in foreign cities! We were popping into debug mode occasionally and confirmed that all of these empty cities were sitting around 9.5% odds to have a revolt on each turn, which seems to be the practical limit on how close the player can get to the theoretical max flip chance of 10%. This was the reason why I had selected Epic speed for this game: more total turns to pull the slot machine and hope for those flip odds to land. With half a dozen cities each having roughly 10% odds to flip each turn, I was guaranteed to start landing some more flips. There were only three of them in the first 500 turns of the game but that was about to change, and change quickly.

The fastest progress took place in the ex-French territories of the Zulus. Paris was the first to flip on Turn 497 followed by Nongoma on Turn 509. I saw the opportunity to get a 2 for 1 deal here, signing a temporary peace with Shaka on the same turn that Nongoma flipped to pick up Bulawayo in the treaty. I had pulled a similar deal with Mao to pick up the city of Shanghai a few turns earlier, another place where I simply could not get a flip to take place for inexplicable reasons. That brought the number of cities signed over in treaties up to three, and I had every plan to keep looking for chances to grab more of them. Ragnar was the next to lose a city as Uppsala fell to Egyptian culture, this city being razed and replaced with "Uppersala" a tile further north where it could put more pressure on the Viking capital. Each new city was immediate stuffed full of corporations in a bad parody of international capitalism run amuck. So much for your native Zulu or Chinese ways, here's a bunch of McDonalds food and Nikes and Coca Cola!

There wasn't much left of China by Turn 535, and Scandinavia and Zululand were in even worse shape. Hangzhou still refused to flip despite having zero defenders and something like 85% Egyptian culture on the city's tile. We were taking odds on which would flip first, Hangzhou or Beijing - surely the Chinese capital would last longer than that little desert city, right? The city of Orleans ended up being the next to go, which we dubbed New Orleans after its change of allegiance, and then, sure enough:

Of course Beijing would be the first to flip, why not. Nothing that Mao did this whole game made any sense at all. Since it was becoming clear that Hangzhou would never flip under any circumstances, I signed peace with Mao in exchange for handing over the city, which we renamed Unflippable in recognition of the heroic resistance of its people. They clearly did not want to become Egyptian citizens until they were sold out by their leader. There was some confusion among the viewers about how it was possible to flip the Chinese capital city but that's getting Civ4 confused with some of the other Civilization games. This wasn't Civ3 where capitals can never flip under any circumstances, in Civ4 the capital city is treated just like any other for the purposes of changing hands culturally. This also means that entire civilizations can be eliminated from a culture flip if there's only one city remaining, a fate which was rapidly approaching for the remaining AI leaders.

The same pattern took place outside each enemy city still standing on the map. Once Egyptian borders pushed up next to the city tile itself, I would take out the cultural defenses and kill all the defending units. Exclusive access to air power made it easy to get 99% odds on the defenders, even when Shaka built SAM infantry to counter Egyptian gunships. Then I would park a small stack of units outside the city to keep removing the defenders each turn until the flip took place. Once most of the enemy cities were defenseless, I was able to speed up the turn pace considerably since there was less to do on each turn. Most of my cities were sitting on Wealth to fund 80-90% on the culture slider and keep pushing even more culture into the few remaining Chinese, Zulu, and Viking conclaves. Next turn, next turn, next turn. Keep spinning the roulette wheel each turn looking for flips, our number's bound to come up eventually if we spin the wheel enough times.

Shaka had the most cities left at the start of my last session but that didn't last long. First he lost the unpronounceable city of uMgungundlovu, then the French holdout of Rheims in the northern tundra. A revolt in Shaka's capital of Ulundi actually let us slip a city behind the Zulu lines for some additional culture pressure, even if that city's output was muted by having no trade connection to gain corporate culture. Ulundi itself flipped on Turn 580 to leave Shaka with a single city remaining. The Zulu leader finally succumbed half a dozen turns later:

It was a bit surprising to see Shaka as the first AI eliminated by cultural push given that he had been my strongest competitor for most the game. It did make sense though: Shaka had the weakest cultural output of the group and he had been facing more pressure than anyone else thanks to the powerful cities of Hope's Peak and PenIsMightier. Both of them had a bunch of cathedrals and the Broadway/Rock N Roll/Hollywood wonders to get a truly massive cultural result. Hope's Peak hit 2500 culture/turn at one point when Egypt was running 100% culture on the slider and there just wasn't much that the Zulus could do against that. A belated revenge for our friend Napoleon was finally extracted.

There wasn't too much left of the rest of the world either by now. The Viking capital of Nidaros followed Beijing and Ulundi in flipping half a dozen turns later. Now there was only a tiny pocket of non-Egyptian culture remaining in the far north and the walls were closing in. Rather than wait for Chendu to flip, I saw that Mao would hand it over in a peace treaty and greedily snatched it up:

This was the last city acquired in a treaty and it made half a dozen in total, nearly all of them coming from China. Mao's cities were extremely difficult to flip from start to finish. Now there were only two cities remaining on the map, the Chinese and Viking capital cities respectively, and they would have to be flipped in order to eliminate the two remaining leaders. One revolt popped up in each of the two cities and we started a guessing game on the Livestrem as to which leader would be the last one standing. Just about everyone predicted that Mao would be the final AI leader, and once again the wisdom of the crowd proved to be prophetic. Ragnar's city flipped on Turn 626 to eliminate his civ and Mao was the last one left. I feared that we would have a long run of hitting next turn at this point since Mao had dodged revolt after revolt over the course of the game. Instead Lady Luck played one last trick on everyone, with the second revolt hitting the final Chinese city and eliminating Mao just two turns later:

Every single land tile in the whole world was under Egytian control at the conclusion of this game, something that can only happen by turning off Domination as a victory condition. Lots of yellow on that map. I could have left Spaceship available as a victory condition as well, but certainly not Culture since I had almost 20 cities hit Legendary status by the end of the game. Even junk filler cities were hitting the 75,000 culture needed to go Legendary without any trouble at all. I guess it's not that hard to do when city after city is pushing close to 1000 culture/turn, heh. The final count of culture flipped cities worked out to 16 in total; I had 15 on the Livestream counter and apparently missed adding one to the tracker. What an unusual game.

This was a really fun variant to play and I'm glad that I had the chance to try it once again. The Civ4 community has certainly improved in skill level enormously over the years and I'd like to think that I've gotten a bit better as compared to my earlier tries at this setup. This was not an easy game by any means, and there were long stretches where I didn't think that I would end up making enough progress to eliminate all the AIs before time ran out. (The ending point would have been Turn 750 here on Epic speed. Made it with about 120 turns to spare.) There were long stretches of time where I was simply holding on and trying to defend my territory, not making any progress at all in terms of flipping cities. The corporations were the big turning point and they simply overwhelmed the AI civs once they showed up. Even mature borders couldn't stand up to those hundreds and hundreds of culture points being outputted every turn. It was strangely hypnotic to watch the Egyptian borders swallow up everything in their path, much like the tide coming in and enveloping the shoreline. While I don't think that I'd want to try this variant again any time soon, I'm delighted with how this game turned out.

As always, thanks again for reading and watching along with me. These Livestream games would be no fun without an audience to share them with.

Conquest Victory
Turn 628
Hall of Fame Score 42,154
In-Game Score 12,953