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This is a report written by Ghostpants. He sent me an email with the following message: "Something I've been wondering about for a while is whether starting positions or AI personalities matter more in games, with alternate histories that have been run so far being inconclusive. I'm also injured and taking a week off work, and I'm really, really, really bored. Because of this, I spent the day not running errands, not catching up with old friends, but instead running a test game of an Alternate History scenario, where I took the map for Game Two, used an RNG to change all the leaders with plausible replacements from the same pools (e.g. Huayna instead of Pacal) and ran the game. Mainly I was curious whether leaders in the same starting positions would be successful or not. Turns out the results were really interesting, and I've always wanted to try a proper write-up, so I ended up turning my shorthand notes into one. Which, by the way, has given me a new appreciation for the work you do on the website. Not only are you a much better writer, these things take a really deceptive amount of time!" I converted the report into HTML and (with permission from Ghostpants) have posted it here on the website. Thank you very much for putting this together!
The Real Game Two saw a couple of early eliminations as Wang gobbled up Pacal and Louis took out Victoria. After this, those two leaders were the clear top dogs, and then threw that away by fighting a 150 turn war, crippling both of their economies and only ending with Louis’ elimination a few turns before Gandhi’s victory. Meanwhile, Willem fought a series of wars to annex Mehmed, who completely threw away a god-tier starting position with three gems, and Gandhi pursued maximum culture, left alone in his corner. This game showed the real danger of leaving Gandhi alone, as he won a fairly early cultural victory on Turn 287, with Willem a powerful second place and Wang Kon a trailing third, behind in tech.
Alternate Game Two
Alternate Game Two saw a completely different set of leaders to the real thing. From Pool One, Huayna Capac brings arguably the strongest economic personality in the game. That combined with a low peaceweight means that Huayna is often left alone to tech in peace, and when that happens he’s almost as dangerous as Mansa Musa. From Pool Two, Zara took Gandhi’s start position from Real Game Two. Gandhi was able to avoid attacks from his opponents this game, and thus was able to win a cultural victory on Turn 287. Zara would be hoping to mimic that success this game. We then had a couple of aggressive leaders in the form of Brennus and Genghis Khan, who would likely need to run over a neighbor or two to have any real success this game. Joao brought his strong expansion traits to the middle of the map, and had plenty of space to use them in. Lastly, Roosevelt and Hatshepsut were a couple of fairly bland, high peaceweight AIs that would look to economic means for victory.
Huayna gets Pacal’s starting position for Alternate Game Two. Pacal achieved the impressive feat of suffering the earliest elimination in AI Survivor history, so this should be a good test for whether some AI’s are better at playing certain starting positions than others. Huayna is historically one of the strongest AIs in this competition, and if this start is genuinely weak, there’s very possibly no AI that’s more able to play his way out of it.
Zara gets Gandhi’s position for Alternate Game Two. Gandhi was able to execute his cultural strategy perfectly this game, staying out of the way while wars swirled around him, and won an early cultural victory on Turn 287. Zara will have the opportunity to use the winner’s start, and we’ll see if he can repeat Gandhi’s success.
Brennus gets Louis’ start from Real Game Two. Louis executed a strong early game, conquering Victoria’s England early on, but was entirely sabotaged by Wang Kon, who launched a 150 turn war that, while stalemated for a long time, Wang eventually got the upper hand in. Louis was eliminated a few turns before the game’s end, and Brennus would need to avoid the constant war that Louis had dealt with to have more success this game.
Genghis gets Mehmed’s absurd position from Real Game Two, including a triple(!) gems start. Mehmed waited 30 turns to research mining, and hopefully Genghis can make better use of his capital than Mehmed did.
Hatshepsut gets Victoria’s start from Real Game Two. Victoria struggled to expand, and the little land she did claim was quickly snapped up by Louis (Brennus in this game). Hatshepsut will have to expand more than Vicky did to have any success, and this, like Huayna, will be an interesting test of whether Victoria’s AI programming caused her demise, or if her start just didn’t have good expansion opportunities.
Joao gets Wang Kon’s start from Real Game Two. Wang was able to conquer Pacal in an impressive early invasion, before throwing away his lead in a duel-to-the-death with Louis. Wang won this duel, eliminating Louis in the process, but the war slowed him down tremendously, and Wang took third place to Gandhi and Willem. Perhaps Joao could find similar success in an early attack, or perhaps Wang was just lucky. We’ll soon find out.
Lastly, Roosevelt gets Willem’s start from Real Game Two. Willem expanded well early on, and fought a series of successful wars against Mehmed, resulting in the eventual annexation of Ottoman territory. Willem placed a strong second this game, and would have won if Gandhi hadn’t pursued such a strong cultural gameplan. Roosevelt strikes me as a far less powerful AI than Willem, and I’m interested to see if he can repeat Willem’s success this game.
The AIs largely settled strong second cities, with the exception of the jungle-buried Ethiopian and Egyptian starts. Huayna and Brennus founded Hinduism and Islam respectively, leaving both early religions in the middle of the map. Huayna, having researched Meditation first, and with no Agriculture tiles near his capital, had no improved tiles at all until turn 22! This would slow him down early on, as religions often do. Further compounding this was Huayna’s settling of a genuinely miserable third city, as Machu Picchu had no food bonuses and only a plains fur for good tiles.
By Turn 50, Brennus was starting to establish a clear score lead from the rest of the pack. He’d expanded well despite researching a religion, and his economy was also currently in good shape. If he could pick a strong attack target, his early game would look similar to that of Louis from Real Game Two, and that was a good example to emulate. On the other end of the spectrum, Hatshepsut and Zara were both struggling with the jungle surrounding their starts, and both had expanded out to only three cities. Both of them needed Iron Working to cut down the jungles, but they each still had room, and would be in ok shape if they could found more cities.
Roosevelt was building an impressive collection of wonders, starting with Stonehenge, then the Great Wall, and now starting the Pyramids, which he would also land. I thought this might slow Roosevelt down a lot, but he seemed to be keeping roughly on track as far as expansion went. Joao was expanding well, but had an abysmal GNP and had skipped Mysticism tech thus far, meaning he couldn't pop the borders of any of his cities. I expected his score to rise once he finally got some culture and cottages going in his cities. At the moment however, he was only researching at 2 beakers per turn!
Hatty’s failure to expand early on and Joao’s collapsed economy meant that Brennus was picking up land that really should have gone to the other leaders. Camulodunum was in a contested area and reasonable, but Durnovaria’s location was just silly. Hatshepsut, what are you doing??? This was playing out very similarly to how Louis got ahead in Real Game Two, with the other leaders near him failing to expand into this area of the map.
With that said, Brennus was suffering from a very serious problem that Louis had not had to deal with. He was currently the global pariah. Religions had spread in an unfortunate way for Brennus, as throughout the first 100 turns, Roosevelt, Genghis and Joao all picked up Huayna’s Hinduism, and Zara picked up Brennus’ minority religion of Judaism. Eventually, Hatty would align with Brennus’ Islamic faith, but Brennus found himself the worst enemy of most other leaders in the game.
Seemingly undeterred by this, Brennus launched the first war of the game, attacking Joao on Turn 77. After failing to capture Coimbra, Brennus continued to trade units with Joao to no real purpose, and the war would likely stagnate until one side reached catapults. Genghis Khan also attacked Roosevelt around this same time, in a war that would stalemate with no cities changing hands.
Oh yeah! Huayna Capac was taking a swing at Brennus, the two game leaders duking it out. Brennus signed a white peace with Joao on the same turn, clearly realizing he could not fight two opponents at once. Joao would need to use this time to rebuild his economy, which was still a complete disaster. Huayna and Brennus would each throw away massive stacks of units in this war, and they desperately needed to research Construction for catapults.
By Turn 100, the game had shifted significantly. Brennus was still leading in score, partly by slingshotting Monarchy with the Oracle, but his diplomatic position was beginning to catch up with him, as he fought first Joao, and now Huayna. Brennus would need to isolate an opponent before his neighbors could dogpile him. Huayna Capac was a clear second for the time being, and his fate was largely tied to his war with Brennus. If Huayna could conquer a rival’s core, his traits would make him nigh-on unstoppable. Genghis and Roosevelt were both currently in the middle of the pack and hated each other's guts, and if one of them could conquer the other, they would emerge as a major power. Zara and Hatshepsut had both recently risen in status from “irrelevant” to “within the pack.” Both had initiated policies of expansion over the last 50 turns, and were each on 8 or 9 cities. If they could build their economies to match those of Roosevelt and Huayna, they could be powerful players in their own rights. Lastly, Joao brought up the rear. He had somehow STILL failed to research Mysticism, and the only culture he had was from random religious spread. Joao’s already weak economy had been further hamstrung by his war with Brennus, and he needed to build his cities taller if he wanted to stay in the game.
This graph shows just how terrible Joao’s GNP was. I’m not exaggerating when I say he was somehow running an ancient age beaker output as other civs began moving into the Medieval era. The observer civ was actually on pace with Joao in GNP for a long time.
In the western hemisphere, Roosevelt was finally able to break through in his war with Genghis, taking the border city of Turfan. Genghis dropped down to last in score following this, and he and Roosevelt would make peace soon after, with Roosevelt fairly definitively the more powerful of the two. Huayna and Brennus also made peace around this time, with no cities having changed hands between them.
Uh oh. Not two turns after Huayna and Brennus signed peace, Zara decided to have a go at the Celtic leader. Brennus just could not catch a break! His exhausted army took Adulis, before recapturing the border city of Tolosa. Zara then took back Adulis, and then continued north to Durnovaria, before signing peace. It looked like Brennus’ constant warfare was starting to catch up to him, as he dropped back into the middle of the pack in score, and had been reduced at this point to 5 cities, the least of any leader in the game.
It was around this time that Huayna began a war with Egypt. Hatshepsut had never really gotten her economy off the ground, and was behind in tech. If Huayna could take the entirety of Egypt, that would put him pack into the driving seat of this game. He began by taking the border cities of Giza and Cimmerian, and began to drive deeper into the Egyptian core.
While all of these wars were going on, Roosevelt was starting to build up a scary GNP score. Roosevelt had built most of the game’s wonders and was establishing a serious tech lead. He would go on to reach Liberalism first, taking Astronomy as his free tech, furthering this lead. Huayna and Zara were roughly equal in second, and you can see in this picture that Joao had recovered somewhat from his disastrous early game economy, and was making himself relevant again. I sometimes prefer the “all-game” graphs, as their exponential nature tends to display growth far better. Roosevelts GNP didn’t look particularly impressive in the “50 Turns” graph, but on this one, he looked pretty scary.
Speaking of Joao’s increasing relevance...
Joao had clearly not forgiven Brennus for that early attack, and over the last 50 turns had been building in peace while Brennus had been stuck in one war or another. Joao came in guns blazing, declaring war on Turn 170, and opened the war with a golden age on Turn 180. After heavy fighting over the course of 30 turns, the Portuguese army completed a long but successful siege of Vienne, the Islamic holy city, which fell on Turn 200. Joao would follow this up by capturing the Celtic capital, Bibracte, on Turn 215, and then the war turned into a rout. Somehow, Brennus, the game leader for the first 150 turns, looked likely to be first to die.
If Hatshepsut didn’t die first, that is. Huayna Capac was pushing deep into her core now, as first Memphis, then Thebes fell on Turn 204. Smelling blood, Zara joined Joao in the war against Brennus, and captured Tolosa, before Joao finished the job, taking Verlamion and scoring the kill on Turn 237.
This was tough luck for Brennus, who’d played a genuinely strong opening game. He’d led in score for the first 150 turns, taking advantage of slow neighbors just like Louis had before him. Unlike Louis though, Brennus been dragged down by constant religious warfare early on, and had never been able to snowball his strong first 100 turns into a position of real power. First Joao, then Huayna, then Zara had all fought the Celtic leader, and by the time Joao came back for round two, Brennus was just exhausted. Just goes to show the value of religious allies in Civ IV, I guess. Joao on the other hand, had executed a serious turnaround, going from clear last place to at least in-the-running for second place. I was surprised the Portuguese leader had managed this, as his poor economic traits didn’t suggest a strong comeback was in order. Joao would need to continue to pick on the weak leaders to stay relevant however, as he was still behind in tech compared to the “Big Three,” who were at this point Zara (ahead in score, land and population), Roosevelt (ahead in tech) and Huayna (somewhere between the two).
While this was going on, Huayna’s invasion of Egypt had stalled out completely. Why was this, you ask? Well, largely because of Roosevelt. Roosevelt had beelined rifles on the tech tree and had attacked Huayna Capac despite “Pleased” relations between the two. This was pretty nonsensical, and highly unlikely, from a tech preference, diplomatic and aggression rating standpoint. With that said though, Roosevelt had picked a perfect time to strike, ahead in military tech AND with the Incan army off in Egyptian territory. He opened up by capturing Huamanga, a relatively unimportant border city, but the next city to fall was Cuzco, the Incan Capital! Huayna was eventually able to build his own rifles, but on the same turn, Roosevelt unlocked infantry, one of the game’s most lopsided matchups. Huayna, who’d been in a strong position all game, was suddenly in very deep trouble.
Here was where the world stood after Brennus’ elimination. Zara was clearly the topdog, if not a complete runaway, and was the favorite to win the game. Roosevelt and Huayna Capac were close in score, but Roosevelt seemed to be running a successful invasion of Incan territory. Roosevelt was still leading in tech, and if he could conquer Inca, he had the potential to overtake Zara. Joao had run a fairly successful catchup operation, and was in the wings licking his lips, waiting for an opportunity to push himself into second place. Genghis was extremely behind in tech, and was likely just hoping for a wildcard spot, while Hatshepsut was hilariously far behind, stuck on three cities and still at war with Huayna. Roosevelt’s entry into the war had saved her for now, but any question of advancing to the playoffs was completely gone. A few turns after this screenshot was taken, Huayna was able to rally his forces and retake Cuzco, and signed peace with the American leader for the price of Huamanga. This was really bad news for Hatshepsut, who was now the only leader at war with the Incans again.
Joao, high off his successful conquest of the Celts, must have been feeling pretty good about the turnaround he’d just experienced. Those good feelings evaporated on Turn 253, when Zara declared war and immediately began capturing Joao’s Celtic conquests.
Luckily for Joao, Zara signed peace after taking only all the Celtic territory, and the Portuguese leader, while knocked back down a peg, was still not yet out of the game. Meanwhile, Genghis had once again tried to take a swing at Roosevelt. Somehow, despite fielding Navy SEALs and tanks against riflemen, Roosevelt was still (!!!) unable to make headway in this war, and this was a true display of the peaceful American’s incompetence in warfare. Roosevelt was also racking up an absurd number of wonders in Washington and added to this collection were the Apollo program and the Three Gorges Dam in the late 200s.
After Roosevelt had signed peace with Huayna, the Incan leader had nothing to stop him completing his conquest of Egypt, and it was all over for Hatshepsut on Turn 289.
Despite easily outplaying Victoria’s game in Real Game Two, Hatshepsut had never quite developed her cities after her rapid expansion, and after falling behind in tech she’d been an easy prize for someone. By finishing this conquest, Huayna had put himself firmly back into second place, establishing a slight lead over Roosevelt. This was partly because of extra land from Joao’s weak culture, and Joao’s core was being badly squeezed.
And then, Zara decided he was done playing around. The Ethiopian leader had a significant, if not overwhelming edge in power, but after the first few turns of the war, it was clear that things were not going well for Huayna. Zara started out by capturing all of Old Egypt, and then he started moving on the Incan core. Then Joao decided to pile in onto poor Huayna. Joao must have realized that his only chance of catching Roosevelt for second place lay in claiming enough Incan territory to catch up in score, as a sort of right-hand man to the Ethiopian leader. Zara still didn’t like him one bit however, and Joao was walking a thin line here. Then, perhaps realizing Joao’s strategy, Roosevelt also joined in, and the dogpile was really underway. Huayna Capac was viciously torn apart in the following turns, and was eliminated from the game on Turn 324, when Zara took his last city of Vilcas. This was a deserved kill for Zara, who’d done most of the heavy lifting in the war. Roosevelt and Joao both managed to capture two cities, while Zara got everything else.
Huayna Capac had played a good game, way better than Pacal had with the same position. Unfortunately, he was just torn apart by the other, high peaceweight leaders, and by the time he died he was at war with every leader in the game except the irrelevant Khan.
Zara was now the clear runaway AI, leagues ahead of the world in everything except GNP, where he and Roosevelt were roughly equal. Roosevelt was ahead in tech, but Zara’s GNP was only going to grow as more Incan cities came out of resistance. It looked like the game would come down to a race between Roosevelt’s pre-existing tech lead and Zara’s enormous size. Roosevelt built the Internet and the Space Elevator, helping to keep his advantage going. Then, somewhat predictably, Genghis Khan did something really unpredictable: Genghis attacked with an army of infantry, cannons and cavalry against Joao’s tanks, planes, artillery and nukes. Yeah buddy, this is going to end well. Joao spent the first turn of the war completely eviscerating Genghis’ attack stack, and then nuking the Khan’s border city. Then he started advancing, taking three cities within five turns. Suddenly, it looked like Joao did indeed have a path to the playoffs: if he could take all of Mongolian territory and pass Roosevelt in score, and Zara was able to launch the spaceship first, Joao would take second place.
Unfortunately for Joao, it was not to be that easy. Zara entered the war on Genghis Khan’s side on turn 346, and he began, well, explosively. Nukes were landing all over Portugal, and even SDI wasn’t enough to prevent Joao’s cities from being blasted. None of this was enough to save the Khan, who was eliminated on Turn 348.
Genghis Khan had played a weak game from start to finish, and the only thing about this that was surprising was that he’d lasted this long. Just like Mehmed, Genghis had failed to take advantage of an amazing starting position, and had been behind in tech since the midgame. Eventually, he’d started yet another war that he couldn’t finish, and this felt like a very deserved end.
Unfortunately, this was a high note in an otherwise disastrous turn of events for Portugal. Joao was really falling apart now. Look at all that fallout! Zara was at 54% land area, and was pushing the domination limit of 60%. And yet, as this was happening, Roosevelt was able to launch the spaceship! Just nine turns till victory! Could Joao last that long?
Not even close. Just three turns after Roosevelt’s spaceship was launched, and with six turns to go, Zara had finished his takeover of most of the Portuguese core and won a Domination victory on Turn 355. Just like in Real Game Two, every leader left alive had something to be happy with this game. Zara had overcome a slow start and picked a series of successful wars to slowly emerge as the dominant AI in the East. First he’d sniped a couple of Brennus’ cities, then stolen the Celtic core from Joao, then started the dogpile on Huayna Capac, and had finished the game absolutely wailing on poor Joao. Meanwhile, Roosevelt had kept up a tech lead for the entire game, also landing most of the critical wonders, despite his small size. He had actually played a pretty strong game, the only shortcoming being his complete failure in his wars with Genghis. If Roosevelt had taken the Khan out 100 or even 50 turns earlier, he may have been able to launch the spaceship just a little bit earlier and go from a strong second place to an impressive underdog first. Lastly, although Joao had been near-death as Zara won the game, he’d overcome a particularly weak early game and would walk into the Wildcard game with two kills to his name. I’d written Joao off as a likely first-to-die candidate at about Turn 100, and I was genuinely impressed that he’d managed to make something of himself this game.
Here I want to talk about the similarities and differences between this game and the Real Game Two. Although the game played out completely differently, there are some trends across Real Game Two and this Alternate Game that bear discussion. Most obviously, the same three leader-starts that survived Real Game Two survived this game, and in fact the placing was the exact same, with Gandhi/Zara coming first, Willem/Roosevelt placing a strong second, and Wang/Joao coming a respectable third (with two kills!)
It's also worth discussing how each AI played their starting position and game overall. I’m trying to compare the worth of the map, AI personalities, and diplomacy in determining differences and similarities in their performance, and although all three will play a role to some extent in every AI’s performance, I'm going to try to needle it down to one. So, in order:
Brennus vs Louis: Brennus and Louis were both able to get off to a strong start, taking advantage of the empty northern land that was unclaimed by Victoria/Hatty. However, while Louis was able to claim a midgame lead by devouring Victoria and building plenty of wonders, Brennus found himself a diplomatic pariah and was attacked repeatedly, resulting in his eventual collapse. Seriously, there were about 10 turns after Brennus’ first attack on Joao where he wasn’t under siege by one leader or another. Thus, while both Brennus and Louis were destroyed by endless war, it did play out very differently. Honestly, I think the difference here wasn’t particularly map based or personality based; instead, it was largely diplomacy. If Louis had been as hated by every single neighbour as Brennus ended up being this game, and had his attack on Victoria been interrupted, I don’t think we would have seen such a strong Louis game. The other major difference was Hatshepsut’s relative success compared to Victoria. Basically, Hatshepsut played a pretty bad game, but not THAT bad, and that was a bonus to Louis and Gandhi compared to Brennus and Zara. Anyway, as far as map vs personality vs diplomacy, I’m gonna chalk this difference up to the third. Diplomacy.
Hatshepsut vs Victoria: First things first, Hatshepsut played a much better game than Victoria, who basically expanded out to three cities and then huddled up, waiting to die. Hatshepsut also struggled with early expansion though, and I think the map genuinely didn’t have a lot of good accessible city spots for this start. Everything that was there was largely buried in jungle, and that meant that until Hatty/Vicky got iron working, their starts were effectively neutered, as we saw in these two games. Even though Hatshepsut expanded rapidly post T50, it was too little, too late, as her economy never caught up to the game leaders, and like Victoria, it was only a matter of time before someone took her out. To be honest, I’d blame the map, and particularly the lack of good citysites, for the one. Map.
Huayna Capac vs Pacal: To get the obvious thing out of the way: it’s almost impossible to fairly compare any performance to Pacal’s in Real Game Two because he collapsed so early, under such an unusual series of circumstances. Pacal didn’t necessarily even play a bad game, expanding almost as much as Huayna Capac in Alternate Game Two, but he was completely gutted by Wang Kon. Wang’s attack was a perfect storm of swords and axes against archers and holkans, and we’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since, the closest thing probably being Justinian’s near-colllapse in the Season Four playoffs. Huayna Capac played a strong game, held the lead for much of the midgame, and in my opinion was largely unlucky to become a central low-peaceweight leader surrounded by angry high peace weight leaders. You’d probably have to run more games of Real Game Two to see if Pacal’s collapse is consistent, and if not, you’d need to use the version of Pacal that didn’t score the earliest elimination ever recorded to compare the two fairly. N/A.
Genghis Khan vs Mehmed: These guys both played horrible games, and neither should have lasted as long as they did. With that in mind, let’s look at what actually happened. I think there’s something very important to note here. While we all crowed about Mehmed’s unfairly good starting position, I’ve more and more come to think the opposite. Yes, he has a very strong capital, arguably the best in this game, BUT the land around is seriously crummy. See that jungle sugar resource to the north-east? That’s the ONLY food resource on Mehmed/Genghis’ little peninsula north of the capital, and there was no fresh water either. Every city to the north would be food deprived from the getgo, and despite getting about as much land as everyone else, that land was of genuinely subpar quality. After the initial 50-100 turns where the capital is most important, these two just fell behind in tech, production, and food, the three most important things in Civ4, and looking back at the map, it should have been no surprise. Mehmed/Genghis were also both pathologically unable to get along with their southern neighbour, and while that was definitely a diplomacy problem, Willem/Roosevelt were both much stronger than Mehmed/Genghis and also had arguably the highest quality land on this map, as opposed to the lowest, which can hardly be a coincidence. Thus, I think basically any leader in this start position is essentially doomed to fail from the start, particularly if they’ve a different peaceweight to their southern neighbour. Map.
Joao vs Wang Kon: Now we arrive at the living AIs. Joao and Wang Kon both had explosive starts, but where Wang Kon’s financial trait and succesful conquest of the Mayans were enough to keep his finances afloat, Joao had no such traits and instead fought a brutal stalemate with Brennus. Joao’s economy in the first 150 turns of this game was worse than just about anything I’ve ever seen a Deity AI pull off, and in fact the Observer civ probably could have established a TECH LEAD over Joao by T120 using just the Palace. Despite this, Joao did pull off an impressive comeback, almost singlehandedly killing Brennus and entirely singlehandedly killing Genghis. Unlike Wang Kon though, who would have had a real shot to win the game if not for his war with Louis, Joao was never quite able to put himself in a winning position, as he was never amongst the tech leaders even post-comeback, and his war with Zara pretty clearly showed how weak his was comparatively. I think this pairing is by far the strongest argument for personality being the deciding factor in these games, as to me, the biggest difference here is Joao’s uneconomic traits. Financial or Organised would have seriously helped him here, and Financial Wang Kon would have had a hard time running such a bad economy if he tried. Personality.
Roosevelt vs Willem: These guys both played strong games, particularly in terms of research performance, where they both held an iron grip on the tech lead and never let go. Roosevelt/Willem were probably competing with Mehmed/Genghis for the best capital this game, with riverside plains gold, corn, riverside pigs, and horses, with plenty of hills and forests as well. The difference to me was the surrouding land, with an extremely fertile floodplains valley to the north, as opposed to a dry, foodless grassland to the north. That most of their cities were on rivers certainly didn’t hurt the whole tech lead thing either. The other big similarity between Willem and Roosevelt this game to me was their inability to fight wars effectively. Willem needed several wars to finally beat Mehmed into submission, and Roosevelt was unable to do the same to Genghis Khan even when using Navy SEALs against rifleman. Yeesh guys, I think you might need to build some more units? So yeah, this one is tough to call on the most important factor, and I think you could make a reasonable claim for either case. Personality/Map.
Zara Yaqob vs Gandhi: The two game winners actually had a fairly unassuming capital. The amount of forest is really the only notable thing about it. Zara and Gandhi were both pretty slow with initial expansion, but because their northern neighbour was also slow, it didn’t matter too much, and both of these guys were able to claim most of the jungle on the west side of the map. From there, Zara and Gandhi’s paths to victory looked very different, with Zara fighting his succesful western campaigns, and Gandhi successfully not fighting any western campaigns, but the overall arc was the same. Once these two cut down the fertile jungles to their north, they had a powerful economic base to use for whatever victory they desired. Ultimately, I think the victory itself for these two can be somewhat thanks to the map, as they were each able to claim an unusual amount of high quality terrain to their north and west, and still have an east coast to backfill later on, but I think the differences in their games can be almost entirely based on personality and diplomacy. Diplomacy didn’t actively affect Zara very much in Alternate Game Two; he actively affected diplomacy! Zara was never attacked in this game, always the aggressor, and he simply picked his fights well, and picked when to end them well. Meanwhile, Gandhi was obviously not going to be attacking his neighbours, and was instead very lucky when he was also hardly attacked all game. Wang Kon’s invasion of France was probably the decisive moment of Real Game Two, as it got Louis off Gandhi’s back for the rest of the game. Honestly, it feels like a bit of a copout, but I think you could pretty equally choose land, diplomacy or personality to have affected Zara/Gandhi’s performance the most. Maybe a higher sample size would be needed to properly compare for winners and second place. Personality/Map/Diplomacy.
Lastly, something I didn’t really realise until writing this report is that even though the leaders were randomly assigned, many of the leader archetypes in the game were roughly the same. Mehmed and Louis, two aggressive low peaceweight AIs, were replaced by Genghis Khan and Brennus, two aggressive low peaceweight AIs. Victoria and Willem, two generally peaceful techers, were replaced by Hatshepsut and Roosevelt, two generally peaceful techers. Pacal, a low peaceweight financial leader, was replaced by Huayna, the other low peaceweight financial leader. The only leaders that were starkly different were Wang Kon/Joao and Gandhi/Zara Yaqob. This may have made the map and diplomacy seem disproportionately affective as a lot of the personalities didn’t really change, so maybe I’d need to run a few more games with new sets of leaders to really see what’s going on.
With that said, however, this game did actually suggest a certain degree of finality once start positions are picked. It’ll be interesting to see if this pattern keeps playing out as I run more games of Alternate Season Two. Another interesting test could be to use the same leaders from the original game, but to randomly reassign all the starting positions, to see if with the exact same personalities, the game plays out mostly similar or wildly different.
This is pretty much the first report I’ve ever written about a game, so if you stuck with it this far, thanks for reading.