Civ4 AI Survivor Season 3: Wildcard Game Writeup

The Wildcard Game occupies a unique role every season in Civ4 AI Survivor. Given the need to fill the last two slots in the playoffs, we throw all non-eliminated leaders from the opening round into one large free-for-all and watch to see what emerges. In Season One there were only 8 leaders in the Wildcard Game (as we had more eliminations due to the more unbalanced maps that were used back then), and the resulting match didn't play out noticeably different from one of our other contests. Season Two had 11 leaders in the Wildcard Game, and the result was a disjointed game with a lot of wars that didn't really go anywhere. That particular game had a lot of mostly economic leaders with high peace weight values, and there was less of an interest in prosecuting wars to their finish. For the Season Three Wildcard Game, we ended up with a more diverse group of leaders. There was a little bit of everything here, from leaders with strong research capacity like Pacal and Victoria, to leaders with fast expansion abilities like Joao and Suleiman, to crazed warmongers like Montezuma and Napoleon. Here was the map that we rolled for this contest:

With 11 leaders appearing in this game once again, there wouldn't be time to go through and look at each one in too much detail individually. I generally tried to make sense of the map layout in terms of peace weight. For example, Victoria and Lincoln down in the southwest would almost certainly be good friends, given their mutual peaceful tendencies and shared high peace weight scores. Montezuma also seemed all but certain to attack one of them. Further north, Pacal and Kublai would likely be fast friends as well, especially if Pacal was able to found a religion and spread it to the Mongolian leader. Joao was surrounded by low peace weight leaders on all sides, and I didn't like his chances to survive in this game over the long run. Suleiman, the "Sillyman", had a better position from a diplomatic perspective but found himself dropped into a starting location buried in jungle and with no nearby copper or iron resources. This was not an ideal place to be. In the far east, Brennus and Napoleon (both peace weight zero) would be certain to hate Washington (peace weight eight), and I suspected they would gang up to eliminate the eastern American leader at an early date. Finally, Suryavarman was sitting in the center of the map and could potentially strike out in any direction. He seemed to be the leader with the most variability in this game, and much of the resulting action would depend on where and how he chose to strike.

Further complicating matters in this game was the presence of Raging Barbarian, which I turned on for this game at the request of the Livestream viewers. I don't plan to use Raging Barbarians as a regular feature in these games, as the AI struggles to deal with the barbarians and they introduce an element of randomness that messes up the predictions a bit too much. Still, for our one truly "wild" game each season, it seemed appropriate to have them tearing about and wrecking havoc in the early game. All in all, the presence of these extra leaders and the crazed barbarians helped to produce an extremely memorable game. This one clocked in at a marathon duration of more than five hours, and with twists and turns that continued right up until an AI was able to cross the finish line. I'll do my best to condense the action into a readable report, but this one was a doozy. Prepare for a long read.

The religious gameplay kicked off with Pacal founding Judaism as the Meditation religion. He had chosen to place his second city on the coast to the north of his start though, and that largely ended up wasting the free Holy City culture that resulted. In a bit of a surprise twist, Suryavarman opened with Mystisicim into Polytheism research and founded Buddhism in his own second city. Then a little bit later, Suryavarman would also found the Monotheism religion (Islam) on Turn 31, getting a double Holy City in the process. However, Islam would never spread to any noticeable extent, and despite having eleven leaders in this game we would only see two religions of any consequence in this game, Pacal's Judaism in the west and Suryavarman's Buddhism in the east. This would lead to a lasting east vs west split in this game that helped to complicate the diplomacy beyond the presence of peace weight alone.

Longtime players of Civ4 might be wondering why Suryavarman ended up with a double Holy City when he established the Monotheism religion. Shouldn't the new religion have popped up in his third city instead of doubling up two Holy Citys in the same place? Well, about that...

The Raging Barbarians setting had a huge impact on the early stages of this game. Despite their massive combat bonuses against the barbarians on Deity difficulty, the AIs struggled enormously to clear their lands of the black-colored pests. The barbarians were everywhere, pillaging tile improvements left and right, then assaulting the cities themselves. I have Joao pictured here, and his location in the center of the map seemed to be one of the worst off in terms of getting nailed by the barbs. At one point it looked like the Portuguese might lose their capital, when there were four barb archers attacking and only two archers defending. That might have been a longshot to succeed, but a couple of bad dice rolls and that could have been it for Joao. Fortunately for him the odds held as expected and Joao ended up with some promoted archers on defense. He was still attacked over and over again, and he wasn't the only one. The worst barbarian hordes seemed to be emerging from the vast southern tundra, and the five AIs that bordered that area (Lincoln, Montezuma, Suryavarman, Brennus, Napoleon) all were repeatedly pillaged back into the stone age. Suleiman was also ravaged repeatedly, his lack of metals giving him few options with which to fight back. Pacal lost at least one settler to the barbarians, and he was far from the only AI leader to suffer that fate, just one of the leaders we were watching closely enough to see it happen. Throughout the first 50 turns, it was the barbarians who were on the offensive and the forces of civilization that were in retreat.

A few AI leaders fared better than others. Victoria was the biggest winner here, as her corner start kept the barbarian spawns down to a minimum. She was the first one to get out a third city (not the first one to get a third settler, but the first to place it down on the map as a new city) and soon was able to limit the barbarian incursions down to just arrivals from the east and south. Having the western coast shielding one of her flanks made a giant difference, and Victoria's stronger-than-expected performance was one of the biggest stories of this match. Washington was also able to minimize the barbarians to some extent, between his own corner position and an early city that was settled next to copper. Washington would also build the Great Wall to keep the pests out of his territory entirely, and this also helped him significantly. While Napoleon and Brennus were still occupied with barbarian interlopers, Washington was getting down to the business of developing his own civ. Other leaders weren't able to clear their territory of barbarians but kept right on pushing out settlers anyway, claiming more land despite a lack of tile improvements in classic "Rome Versus the Barbarians" fashion. This was Kublai's strategy up in the north and Joao's strategy in the center of the map. The Portuguese leader had something like four cities and two tile improvements at one point. That was one way to get things done though, and slowly the barbarians were pushed back across the map as more cities were established.

By the time that 50 turns had passed, we were starting to see some of the early winners and losers from the expansion phase. The aforementioned Kublai and Joao had the most cities at five apiece and were continuing to push outwards in all directions. Kublai would later claim the barbarian city to his east and establish uncontested control over the northern edge of the map. Victoria also had five cities down in the southwest, and the connection of an early iron resource was allowing her to push the barbarians back even further. Most of the barb units were archers and her swords were cutting them apart with great relish. The same could not be said for her two neighbors in Pacal and Lincoln, who were both struggling greatly against the barbarians. Lincoln was taking most of the incoming heat and shielding Victoria with his own cities - very kind of him. Montezuma was being unexpectedly quiet, as he focused his military on the barbs instead of his neighbors for the moment. Suleiman was just being tortured by barbarians, as his capital was the only place he controlled that wasn't buried under jungle. The Ottoman leader would drop to last in score and looked to be out of the running in this game before it even began.

Over in the east, Suryavarman was struggling with his own barbarian troubles. He should be one of the fastest to expand in the game given his Creative/Expansive traits, but that wasn't happening at the moment. Brennus had finally pushed back the barbs to his north with a series of settlements established in that direction, and now he was starting to focus his energies on the constant menace hitting his capital from the south. Napoleon had been repeatedly pillaged by his own barbarian troubles, and that weakness was allowing Washington to flourish further to the north. The American leader had put his second city (Philadelphia) due south of his capital, and with Chicago he grabbed a location even further to the south. This was territory that Napoleon likely needed to control, and the Americans were getting access to it instead. Napoleon found himself falling down to the bottom of the scoreboard, and his research rate in particular was simply awful compared to the other leaders. Still, as bad as this was, Napoleon wasn't doing the worst in this game:

I was looking at the zoomed out global view and noticed that the barbarian city of Los Angeles had American culture in it. "Hey, why does that barb city have American culture... oh." Yep, Lincoln lost one of his cities to the barbarians. At least this location wasn't autorazed and he would be able to recapture it eventually, but this was a serious blow nonetheless. Lincoln was even lower than Napoleon and Suleiman in score, and that bad news indeed. His weakness could be traced at least in part to the location of his second city: Boston inexplicably was founded in a spot with ZERO resources. Seriously, what the heck man?! No food bonuses, no strategic resources, no luxuries, nothing. Making matters even worse, Lincoln would have another city autorazed by the barbarians on Turn 75. Combined together with these continuing barbarian troubles, Lincoln seemed destined to remain one of the game's weakest civs, stuck at the bottom of the scoreboard as potential prey for stronger neighbors.

The map did slowly fill up over time as more cities were established by the AI leaders. Pacal built both Stonehenge and the Oracle, which had him as one of the game leaders despite some relatively modest expansion in the landgrab phase. Victoria was the early tech leader, fueled by the grassland gems at her capital and an empire mostly clear of the barbarian menace. We had also been watching for signs of the first war, thinking that Montezuma or Brennus or Napoleon would be the most likely candidates to kick off the action. Instead, it was Washington who launched the first invasion:

He decided to attack Napoleon at the city of Lyons. This was the war we had been expecting to see, only started by the Americans instead of the French. Napoleon had already constructed walls in Lyons, and that meant that this attack was doomed to failure. Napoleon's own counterattacks against American cities would fare no better. This war quickly devolved into a bloody stalemate, with both sides unable to capture any territory even as they threw large stacks against one another. Each leader needed catapults to be able to remove the city defenses of their opponent, only both Washington and Napoleon were nowhere close to Construction tech and each had poor research rates. This conflict would end up going nowhere for long turns on end. We kept an eye out for a potential Brennus intervention into the war, but until a shift in fortunes such as that appeared, the two easternmost leaders would remain locked in fruitless conflict for many turns on end.

During the following turns the barbarians were finally cleared up from most parts of the map. Brennus finished construction of the Pyramids while Pacal and Suryavarman spread their respective religions to most of their neighbors. Victoria, now leading the pack in research, established Christianity as the Code of Laws religion, although she would never spread it or swap over to the new faith. Soon we had another new war on our hands:

Monzteuma decided to pounce on his weak neighbor and captured St. Louis with a swarm of Jaguar Warriors. The ironic thing is that Lincoln had his own stack with the "AI Attack" mission moving around up to the north, and it looks like he was about to invade the Aztecs in another turn or two himself. Heh. In any case, it became clear very quickly that this was a poor situation for Lincoln. Although Montezuma may have been only in the middle of the pack on the scoreboard, Lincoln was sitting in last place and lacked the resources to fend for himself. The American cities were too weak and had taken too much of a beating from the barbarians. Four turns after St. Louis was captured, the city of Boston (visible under the interface above) was also taken by the Aztecs. Lincoln was left with only four cities remaining, and although he would be able to stablize on those four after building city walls, it felt like only a matter of time until he was eliminated. Once Montezuma was able to tech up to Construction and get some siege units, he would bring down the walls and put an end to Lincoln.

While these wars were taking place between some of the weaker leaders, we had been watching the race for the top spot. Victoria had a small but clear lead in this regard, with her teching giving her the edge over her rivals. The biggest problem for Victoria was her diplomatic situation; as a high peace weight leader surrounded by mostly low peace weight leaders, she had poor relations with just about everyone other than Lincoln, who was in the process of dying to the Aztecs. Therefore despite her strong current position, I was less than sanguine about Victoria's long term prospects. Kublai Khan and Suryavarman were nipping at her heels with their respective sizable empires, and Pacal was lurking as another threat with his own Financial trait and collection of wonders. For those who wanted to see Victoria do well, it was a good omen when she declared war on Pacal on Turn 107. England had significantly more military strength than the Mayans, and Victoria overran the border city of Mayapan with ease. Was she about to roll over Pacal and become the game juggernaut? As it turned out, that did not happen due to a timely intervention on the side of Pacal:

Kublai's entry into the war took much of the heat off of Pacal. While Victoria was able to push on further to the north and capture the city of Chichen Itza (not the wonder!), Kublai pulled enough attention off to the east that Pacal was able to take it back a few turns later. The Mongols also bought enough time for Pacal to reach Feudalism tech and upgrade his city defenses to longbows, which did a great deal to stall out Victoria's push. Kublai would sign peace after only a dozen turns of war, but that had been enough. Pacal was able to hold the lines and eventually secure peace with Victoria as well. The net result was that Pacal had been weakened with the loss of two cities, however he was not knocked out of the game entirely. Pacal would fall back into the middle of the pack and remain as a lurking threat despite his relatively small territorial size. His construction of the Statue of Zeus in particular would make him an annoying opponent for long years to come.

Montezuma had been fighting Lincoln to a stalemate for quite a while at this point. However, the Aztecs did eventually muster up enough beakers to acquire Construction tech around Turn 120, and that allowed their armies to being advancing once again. We also noticed a wave of red Khmer units moving across Montezuma's territory, and given that Lincoln was the "worst enemy" of Suryavarman, it was clear where they were headed. The Khmer joined in the campaign against Lincoln on Turn 127. Then we noticed Suleiman's yellow units also moving across the map, and sure enough, they were headed for the same destination as well. It looked like it was an AI feeding frenzy against the weak man on the totem pole, and the sharks were circling around Lincoln. The Ottomans would enter the war on the same turn that Lincoln lost his capital:

These combined blows were the nail in the coffin for Lincoln. It would take a little bit longer for the final three cities to be taken, but he was a dead man walking at this point. This was a game where it didn't pay to have a high peace weight score. I think this screenshot of his face, at war with three opponents at one, summed up Lincoln's performance in this game.

Meanwhile, there were more wars breaking out all over the globe. Freed from his conflict with Victoria, Kublai now opted to invade Joao in a renewal of one of the most memorable duels from Season Two. For some reason Kublai decided to invade Joao from the south via Open Borders with Montezuma, in a move that didn't appear to make any tactical sense. The Mongols did take the initial border city, but then stalled out as Portuguese resistance stiffened. Joao would do an admirable job of defending himself, and once again in a reprisal of what we had seen in Season Two, this war stalled out and went nowhere. The two leaders would eventually sign peace with no other cities changing hands. Off in the east, Washington decided to declare war on Brennus in a completely bizarre decision. Washington had only been at peace with Napoleon for a relatively short time, and his decision to plunge back into war again made no sense at all. Brennus had actually been walking his armies off to the west, and he had been about to declare war on Lincoln. Now the Celtic armies turned around and began the long journey back to the east, and when they finally arrived again, the American forces started dying in a hurry. This new conflict would not end well for Washington.

Time ran out for Lincoln on Turn 149:

Even given the fact that he had been up against a tough diplomatic situation, this had been a particularly poor showing from Lincoln. He had chosen weak city locations, he had lost multiple cities to the barbarians, and he had never been more than a punching bag for his neighbors. Lincoln had deservedly earned his First to Die status in this game. The gains from the war had been split fairly evenly between Montezuma and Suryavarman, each of them claiming about half of the American cities. Montezuma had reached fourth place as a result, while Suryavarman was jockeying with Kublai Khan and Victoria for the scoreboard lead. This was also the first kill that Montezuma picked up in three years of AI Survivor; he's mostly launched unsuccessful wars without achieving very much. The biggest loser as a result of Lincoln's demise was likely Victoria, as she lost her strongest ally in the west. Now the English had rivals on all sides, and would be forced to rely only on themselves in this increasingly hostile world. Fortunately Victoria still retained her tech lead, and no one looked to be in a position to challenge her on that front anytime soon.

Montezuma's newfound position in fourth place would not last long, as he launched a particularly ill-advised conflict against Kublai Khan a dozen turns later. This was an example of the classic self-destructive Monty in action, as he went after the top leader on the scoreboard and a potential ally just for the purposes of trying to claim a border city. This backfired immediately; while Kublai did lose his isolated colony in the south, the diplomatic relations between these two leaders were permanently soured. Kublai signed peace soon afterwards but would remember this invasion down the road. Montezuma soon had another conflict on his hands, as Victoria launched a new assault from the west. With the English having knights in hand, this posed a dire new threat to the Aztecs, and although they would hold their territory for the moment, Montezuma was quickly sent tumbling down the scoreboard, back to the usual also-ran status that we're used to seeing.

At the same time, there was another conflict kicking off in the "what the heck?" category:

Out of all the opponents to choose for an attack, Napoleon somehow decided on Pacal. I'm sure that religion played some kind of role, but it was still hard to fathom what was going on here. A French stack had walked all the way across the continent to Mayan territory... only for it to be shredded immediately by Pacal's more technologically advanced units. Not the best decision from Napoleon. Apparently Pacal also brought Suleiman into the war on the same turn that it began, and the Ottoman armies soon began gathering for an invasion of France as well. Meanwhile, in the center of the map we had been wondering where Suryavarman would head next following the elimination of Lincoln, and we recieved our answer on Turn 175 when he began a new attack against Joao. The Khmer armies moved north into Portugal and began a methodical assault of their cities using swarms of red-coated Ballista Elephants.

As a result, we had multiple ongoing wars where stronger leaders were in the process of grinding down weaker ones. Victoria was in the process of attacking Montezuma, although she seemed more interested in discovering Liberalism first and then using the free Nationalism tech to build Taj Mahal. Nevertheless, the Aztec cities were being pressured and several of the border locations seemed likely to fall. In the center of the map, Suryavarman was starting to roll up the Portuguese from the south, taking two border cities at once and reducing Joao to a half dozen settlements. Brennus continued his war against Washington in the far east, and managed to capture the American capital on Turn 174. Finally, the Pacal/Suleiman war against Napoleon also continued onwards, with this conflict being the most random of the bunch. Pacal briefly captured the French capital, and while Napoleon was able to take back Paris, Suleiman began carving up his western holdings. The last war saw the fastest progress from the attackers, perhaps because Napoleon was the weakest leader remaining in the game, and his remaining cities were soon overrun. Shortly after Turn 200, we had our second elimination:

Napoleon had never quite been able to get off the ground in this game. Perhaps it was the barbarians who tortured him from the southern tundra, perhaps it was Washington's stronger than expected performance, perhaps it was something else entirely. In any case, he was eliminated from the game as well, with most of the spoils from this war going to Suleiman. Pacal had done roughly equal work in capturing the cities, and Pacal did get the coveted leader kill by delivering the final blow. However, due to the randomness of who captured each city, Suleiman had ended up taking every French city other than Paris and Rheims. The new territory was a nice little boost for Suleiman, taking him from the bottom of the pack to the middle of the scoreboard, where he would now hang out next to Pacal. Both of these leaders remained far below the front runners though, and seemed like longshots to claim one of the top two spots into the playoffs.

Elsewhere in the west, Montezuma had been able to get peace a little bit earlier with Victoria after losing only one of his border cities. This had potentially been a mistake, as Victoria would have been well served to continue the war and claim more Aztec territory for herself. In any case, Montezuma had been able to escape a losing war and could spend some time rebuilding his exhausted civilization. Did he do that? Of course not! This is Montezuma we're talking about. Ten turns after signing peace with Victoria, he decided to declare war on Kublai Khan. For the second time in this game, Monty was launching himself against one of the top civs on the scoreboard. This was a monumentally bad idea, as Kublai was three turns away from finishing Rifling tech and the Aztecs were still stuck in the medieval era. It didn't take long for the Mongols to upgrade their knights into cavalry and then have a field day against the woefully backwards Aztec units. Here's the Power bar graph showing the results; these two civs were relatively close in military strength when the war began:

But they didn't stay close for very long. Rifles and cavs against medieval units always turns into a slaughter in Civ4, and that's exactly what was transpiring here. Kublai took the Aztec capital on Turn 223 and the rout was on in earnest. Once again, Montezuma's insane overaggression looked to have signed his own death warrant.

As far as the other ongoing wars were concerned, Washington had somehow managed to sign peace with Brennus when he was down to only three cities remaining. While we couldn't tell for certain, we thought that this was due to a "stop the war" resolution that had been passed in the Apostolic Palace. Victoria was the owner of the Apostolic Palace, and Washington had somewhat randomly converted to Judaism earlier in the game, the only one of the eastern civs to practice that faith. It was understandable that Victoria would try to shield her good friend Washington from ongoing aggression by forcing through a peaceful end to that war. This was an important development in the larger picture of the game, however, as it prevented Brennus from completing his conquest and potentially jumping up among the game leaders in power and territory. He had captured roughly half of America, but his conquests were mostly crushed by Washington's culture and not terribly useful to him. Brennus would have been in a much better position if he had been able to complete the elimination of Washington. Instead, the runt American state would continue to cling to life off in the far east.

The one war that had been truly succesful was the Khmer absorption of the Portuguese. Suryavarman's attack wasn't particularly fast or flashy, but he had been successfully sieging and capturing one Joao city after another. Joao had been defending himself about as well as possible and forced lengthy assaults against each one of his cities. However, in the end there wasn't a whole lot that he could do if Suryavarman kept going and none of the other civs intervened. Eventually the methodical conquest was complete and Joao was eliminated:

Joao had found himself in one of the tougher spots on this map, surrounded with low peace weight neighbors in a starting location buried in jungle. He had expanded pretty well given all of the barbarian troubles, but never quite managed to find any allies to help out. The combination of attacks from Kublai and Suryavarman eventually were enough to do him in. The big winner here was of course Suryavarman, who had annexed all of the Portuguese cities without needing to split them with anyone else. The Khmer had now emerged as the top civ in the game on the scoreboard, with more territory and population than anyone else. The only weakness for Suryavarman was in technology, as his research was noticeably behind Victoria and Kublai. The English leader was just starting Assembly Line for factories and infantry, while Kublai was working on Railroads. Suryavarman was a good bit behind them, holding Rifling tech but not Military Traditions for some inexplicable reason. He was still using large numbers of knights due to missing that one key tech. Kublai could potentially grow large enough to rival Suryavarman if he was able to complete his conquest of the Aztecs, while Victoria still held onto the research lead she had held all game. This was turning into a fascinating three-way race for the top spots into the playoffs.

Over the following turns, we watched as Kublai continued running over the remaining Aztec cities. It was obvious that Montezuma was about to die unless someone was willing to intervene in his ongoing feud with Kublai. But who was going to help Monty? Victoria would be much more likely to join in the partitioning of the Aztec territory, not attack Kublai. The Mayans and the Mongols had been friends throughout the whole game via shared religion and shared peace weight. Pacal wasn't going to join the fray. Who else was there? As it turned out, one leader was willing to lend a hand:

Montezuma successfully persuaded Suryavarman to jump into the war. This was big, big news as the top two leaders on the scoreboard were now duking it out for supremacy. Some of the viewers thought that this meant Kublai Khan was done for, but I didn't share their pessimism. Montezuma was virtually irrelevant at this point, holding only three remaining cities and with no military power worth mentioning. This was mostly a duel between Suryavarman and Kublai, with the larger Khmer civ facing off against the more technologically advanced Mongols. This was kind of an odd war, as Kublai was able to use his railroads and soon factories/infantry to face off against the numerically larger Khmer hordes. Suryavarman was still running around with knights (!) because he continued to lack Military Tradition, and as a result Kublai was winning a larger share of the individual unit matchups. However, Kublai's recent Aztec conquests were highly vulnerable to attack since the Khmer units could move through Aztec cultural territory via Open Borders, and so Suryavarman ended up taking a lot of the former Aztec cities. Meanwhile, Kublai began capturing some of Suryvarman's own recent Portuguese conquests. The two of them were basically exchanging territory, with both leaders ending up with more logically-oriented empires. Kublai took over much of ex-Portugal while Suryavarman ended up with a lot of ex-Aztec territory. Very strange and very confusing.

Nevertheless, we could see the military power bar graphs, and Kublai did eventually get the better of this conflict. Suryavarman's problem here was too much fighting, as he had never stopped after his conquest of Joao to go through a few rounds of infrastructure builds. The Khmer would have been better served by remaining at peace for a little while to integrate their new domains into the empire. Eventually, Suryavarman signed peace with Kublai on Turn 271 and put an end to three dozen turns of war. The biggest winner of all from this ruckus was likely Victoria, who had used the fighting between the game's other top leaders to surge further ahead in technology and build the Pentagon. Victoria's high peace weight made her terribly unpopular with everyone in the game other than Washington, and yet the endless infighting between Kublai, Suryavarman, and Montezuma was continuing to shield her from aggression. With the English drawing closer to the end of the tech tree, it seemed as though she might have bought herself enough time to escape with a spaceship win.

Of course, the peace that was signed between Kublai and Suryavarman meant that Montezuma was doomed:

Oh Monty. Done in for the thousandth time by his own overaggression. It's hard to believe that he had been the one to pick this conflict with Kublai, not once but twice! In the end, he had gotten what he deserved for attacking a larger and more advanced neighbor. Once they were freed from fighting against both the Aztecs and the Khmer, the Mongols had ended this war swiftly and decisively. The new Aztec conquests had also bolstered Kublai's score on the leaderboard, as he surged back into first place once again. It continued to be an exciting race for the last remaining playoff spots.

While this fighting in the west had been going on, Suleiman had declared war on the shattered remnants of Washington. This seemed certain to produce another elimination, only for Washington to somehow secure peace yet again when he was down to only a single city remaining. This was almost certainly Victoria using the Apostolic Palace to force a peace treaty a second time. Somehow Washington, one of the favorites in the First to Die category, had now managed to survive longer than four other leaders. Unbeliveable. We also had another completely random war break out, with Pacal deciding to attack Brennus. This was largely a nonfactor because both of them were too far apart to threaten one another's core cities, although Pacal did use his more technologically advanced forces to take one Celtic city before suing for an eventual peace. Mostly this war kept the two of them from intervening in any of the other wars taking place on the map. Then there was another war between Brennus and Victoria, which was largely uneventful because neither of them had Open Borders with Kublai Khan. Brennus had really been stymied in this game; he likely should have been the one to reap the benefits of Washington's downfall, but instead kept getting forced into peace and drawn into useless wars on the other side of the world.

With Victoria getting closer to finishing the tech tree, now into the Modern era and with less than ten techs remaining, we could have had a peaceful endgame. Instead, we ended up with more fireworks:

Big, horrifying nuclear fireworks. Suryavarman decided to declare war on Victoria and she responded by unloading her arsensal of tactical nukes. The Khmer were significantly behind in tech and had no nuclear response capability. They lacked the SDI, bomb shelters, or anything that would have protected them from the nuclear blasts. As a result, the Khmer forces took this attack squarely on the chin and were then crushed by Victoria's mechanized forces. Cavs and infantry don't fare very well against tanks, and they do even worse against tanks backed up by two-move mobile artillery and nuclear weapons raining down from the skies. Victoria launched five nukes on the first turn of the war and kept right on using them as fast as she could build them. We even had a "stop the war" peacekeeping resolution pop up in the United Nations, and Victoria defied the resolution to keep the conflict going. Sheesh, Vicky! This was getting very ugly in a hurry.

The English quickly overran the Khmer cities on their border. At this point the conflict looked like it might stall out, since Victoria did not have Open Borders with Kublai and it wouldn't be possible to reach their remaining cities. However, it turned out that there was a one-tile passage in the extreme south where no one had any cultural borders, and Victoria swarmed through there with her tanks. As the nukes continued to rain down, it was looking more and more likely that Suryavarman was on his way out. The big question now became what Kublai Khan would do. He wasn't on especially good terms with either Victoria or Suryavarman, due to a huge peace weight difference with the former and a prior war declaration from the latter. Who would the Mongols end up siding with? As it turned out, Kublai opted to join team Vicky, declaring war against Suryavarman on Turn 306. Now the Khmer collapse was on in full, with the two largest and most technologically advanced armies in the world joining together in unison to put a massive hurting on Suryavarman. Kublai was also more than willing to employ the nuclear option:

Yasodharapura was the Khmer capital, or at least it had been before it was repeatedly nuked and then run over by Mongol tanks. Victoria was tearing through the southern Khmer cities while Kublai was mostly pushing his way through the northern ones. Unlike the earlier wars on the tech tree, where it often takes the AI many long turns to put cities under siege and slowly remove the defenses with catapults and trebuchets, these Modern era wars can move very quickly. Fighters and bombers take out the city defenses from the skies, gunships use their 4 movement points to eliminate outdated units, and the paratroopers can drop in and walk into undefended cities. That's not even counting nuclear weapons, which can remove huge city garrisons in a series of mushroom cloud blasts. Suryavarman had no answer to any of this, as he was pummeled again and again without any ability to fight back. It was shocking to see how fast one of the gamelong top leaders was torn to pieces in this war. It was all over on Turn 328:

Most of us thought that Suryavarman had been going to claim one of the two playoff spots when he topped the scoreboard earlier in the game. Instead it all unraveled in spectacular fashion with this lategame nuclear war. Suryavarman's attack against Victoria had been one of the all time "chosen unwisely" moments in Civ4 AI Survivor history. However, it had served one purpose: slowing down the progress of the English spaceship. Prior to the onset of this conflict, Victoria had been building Research in all of her cities, and she looked likely to launch a spaceship at a relatively early date. The war had convinced her AI to swap over to military builds everywhere, and that had dragged out her research times noticeably. Nonetheless, once Victoria finished the useless Stealth technology she only needed three more techs, and no one else was in a position to contest her spaceship launch. Not much longer now before she completed the rest of the tech tree and blasted off.

Meanwhile, Suleiman finally decided that he wanted to eliminate Washington from the game. The Ottomans launched a new war and quickly conquered the final American city. Oh, and what was this?

Leave aside the elimination of Washington for the moment; he had been a nonentity for a long time. There was much more important news to process here: Victoria had turned off research and gone to 100% culture on the slider!!! What the heck, Vicky! She only needed two more techs to launch the spaceship, Superconductors and Genetics. That was it - the English had researched every other tech in the game. And now Victoria wanted to switch tactics and head for a Cultural victory?! It made absolutely no sense. Making matters worse, Victoria didn't have any cities particularly close to Legendary status. Her third city was sitting at about 10k culture, and even at 100% culture on the slider she was looking at roughly 50-60 turns to reach a victory. This was sheer madness, tossing away a game that was about to end in victory and handing it to Kublai Khan. What in the world was Victoria thinking?!?

Apparently even this wasn't enough insanity for Victoria. She decided to launch an attack against Kublai on Turn 340, even though the Mongols were now the equals of the English in tech and had a vastly larger empire in terms of territory. This prompted a full-blown nuclear exchange from both sides:

There were actually about twice as many nukes going off as that screenshot displays, but that's all that I could fit into this picture. I counted 37 nukes in all launched by the Mongols against the English. For whatever reason Victoria hadn't restocked her own nuclear arsenal, and this was an entirely one-sided barrage on the opening turn of the war. Even with an English SDI orbiting the earth for protection, Victoria's cities were hit again and again. Much of the border region between England and Mongolia was turned into a sea of radioactive waste, the cities shrunken down to a fraction of their former size, fallout covering every tile improvement. Victoria also lost three cities on the first turn of the war. It was ghastly to behold, so horrifying that the collective world population decided to put an end to this massacre by voting through a "stop the war" United Nations resolution almost immediately. For the moment, Kublai and Victoria returned to peace, albeit with the English heavily damaged from this brief war.

Victoria's problems were far from over though. Her high peace weight and her trigger-happy use of nuclear weapons had made her extraordinarily unhappy on this planet; every other leader in the game was now "Furious" with her, and her best relations were -11 with Kublai. Yes, that was her BEST situation diplomatically! Everyone else was even lower. Victoria was now the "worst enemy" of all four other leaders, and she seemed determined to maintain that status as an international pariah by declaring war on Brennus (for some unknown reason) on Turn 356. This war had no noteworthy consequences and the United Nations stopped it a few turns later, but not before Victoria had lobbed a few more nuclear weapons into Celtic territory. What in the world had gotten into Victoria at the end of this game? It was as if she had decided to throw away all chance at victory just to troll everyone else in the game and make their lives miserable. If the toxic Twitch chat from a Call of Duty stream gained an avatar in Civ4 form, it would have been Victoria in this game.

And yet despite all of this madness, Victoria was still in line to take one of the two playoff spots, seemingly despite herself. Kublai Khan had slowly been researching the remaining spaceship techs (despite his own diversion to the useless Stealth tech), and when he launched his own spaceship at the end of Turn 360, Victoria was about 1000 points ahead of Pacal and Suleiman on the scoreboard. All she had to do was survive another 10 turns, err 12 turns because Kublai had launched with only one Engine component in a Charlemagne reprise, and she would make it into the playoffs in the second place spot. The only thing that could stop her would be...

A declaration of war from Kublai Khan. Yep, that might do it. We've seen this a couple of times before where an AI leader will launch the spaceship and then suddenly turn and attack one of their neighbors. Do they suddenly get more aggressive once they've gotten their spaceship off the ground, or was this simply a coincidence? I'm unsure which is the case. Either way, Victoria was now in extremely serious danger. The power bar graphs showed a massive disparity in military strength between the two leaders, and we were able to use the Economic Adviser screen to get exact counts of each side's army. Victoria had 220 units... and Kublai Khan had 808. Yeah, that might be a problem.

This wasn't simply an academic exercise either. Kublai was clearly going to be the game winner via spaceship, but whoever finished in second place in score was going to get the other playoff spot. And while Victoria might have been 700 points ahead at the outset of the war, her score was dropping very quickly as she was repeatedly nuked and then crushed by swarms of modern armor, gunships, and mobile artillery. It was very obvious that the English could never survive this attack, and if the game wasn't about to end via the spaceship, Victoria would be eliminated completely. Turn by turn the score gap was dropping. 700 points, then 500 points, then 300 points. For that matter, we also had an extremely close race in score not just between Victoria and the trailing Pacal/Suleiman pair, but also between Pacal and Suleiman themselves. With five turns left to go, they were separated by less than 20 points. And then what was this:

Suleiman declared war on Kublai Khan at the last second?! Are you kidding me? This game was just determined to come down to the wire. 367 turns into the game and the Victoria/Suleiman/Pacal trio were separated by less than 100 points. I wish I could make up stories that were this compelling. Now there was a fresh nuclear exchange between Kublai and Suleiman, and with the Mongol armies committed deep in English territory, Suleiman was able to capture one of the Mongol border cities. This temporarily boosted Suleiman's score due to the infusion of extra population, and if he could hold the location, it might be enough for the Sillyman to emerge with that playoff spot. However, Kublai began striking back with more and more nuclear weapons of his own, and the combination of population loss from those nukes plus the instant massive war weariness from so many units being traded in battle began lowering Suleiman's score once more.

Amazingly, with three turns left to go Pacal and Suleiman were separated by ONE POINT in score:

Seriously, I can't believe that we had a game this close. When I came up with the scoring categories for AI Survivor, I never knew that it would work so perfectly to keep delivering drama in situations like this even after the winner of the game had already become clear. Anyway, Pacal and Suleiman were deadlocked in score as the last few turns ran out. By this point, Victoria had taken such a beating that she had fallen below both of them, and it was clear that she was out of the running for the playoffs entirely. Her collapse in this game had been absolutely shocking, one of the greatest acts of self-sabotage we had ever seen. I also wanted to screenshot the Foreign Advisor here to demonstrate how Victoria was universally reviled by everyone else in the game. Everyone else was "Furious" with her, while she had somehow managed to reach an astonishing -133 relations with Kublai Khan, fueled by -120 from all those nuclear weapons. I've never seen relations get that low before in Civ4, and I've been playing this game for a dozen years now. Absoutely incredible. This was a truly miserable world, where nuclear weapons had been used with abandon and everyone detested one another. There had never been any possibility of a Diplomatic victory in the United Nations on this particular planet.

As the last few turns ran out, Kublai marshalled his forces and began hitting back at Suleiman harder and harder. The Ottoman score continued dropping, and on the final interturn, Kublai recaptured the border city (Hun) that Suleiman had taken at the outset of this very late war. That sealed the deal, and we ended up with the following result:

Kublai Khan in first and Pacal in second, 50 points ahead of Suleiman. The key city of Hun is visible at the top of that screenshot, just retaken by the Mongols on the last turn. Pacal still would have taken second place even if Suleiman had held that spot but it would have been even closer in terms of the scoreboard. We wondered if Suleiman would have claimed the runner-up spot if he had avoided war with Kublai; while it would have been extremely close, I think that he would indeed have taken second if he had simply sat on his thumbs for the last five turns. This looked like yet another act of self-sabotage at the last minute. It was a tough luck result from Suleiman who had played an excellent game despite his poor starting position. Instead it would be Pacal who survived and moved on to the playoffs alongside Kublai Khan. Without his conquests in former French territory, Pacal wouldn't have had enough score points to take second place. In a game this close, every last bit of population and territory ended up factoring into the final result. What a crazy game. I think I could write twice as much as I did here and still not come close to covering everything that went on in this match. I think we'll remember this one for a long time.

Next up: the playoffs. I hope they can live up the example of these last few truly memorable games.