Civ4 AI Survivor Season 5: Game One Preview

This is a continuing feature for Season Five of Civ4 AI Survivor: a preview of each game before it begins, providing a quick summary of the leaders involved and how the community expects the game to shake out. We start as always with an overview of the map:

For our first game of Season Five, we have a typical mixed group of AI leaders duking it out for supremacy. Mansa Musa and Pacal will bring their economic might to the competition and do their best to out-research everyone else. Mansa will need to get out to a good start in this field of mostly low peace weight AI leaders. Joao has managed to roll a coastal start and looks to have a good setup for his traits. De Gaulle will likely compete with Pacal to see who can build the most wonders, while Mehmed searches for someone to conquer with his armies. Finally, Tokugawa finds himself in the middle of the map and will not be pleased to have everyone else tramping around his territory. Civ4's version of the angry old man telling everyone to stay off his lawn will be facing some tough competition here. Who do you think is most likely to emerge on top?

Pool One Leader

Mansa Musa of Mali
Traits: Financial, Spiritual
Starting Techs: Mining, Wheel
Peace Weight: 9
Past Finishes: 5 First Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season One and Three Championship Game
Total Kills: 6
Overall Power Ranking: 31 points, tied 4th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Mansa Moneybags is the best AI leader in the game when it comes to pure economy and it's not a close comparison. He is an absolute fiend when it comes to research, even under our settings where Mansa's well known propensity to engage in tech trading gets disabled. Mansa Musa benefits from an amazing pair of economic traits, Financial for endless cottage cheese and Spiritual to avoid ever wasting turns with the AI's frequent civics shifts. The Malinese civ has an excellent unique unit in the Skirmisher and a passable unique building in the Mint. The biggest downside here comes from the poor starting techs, and if Mansa chooses to chase after an early religion, he can lock himself out of connecting early food bonuses for quite some time. On that note, Mansa has a surprisingly heavy religious preference including a lesser Religion tech preference paired along with his dominant Gold flavor. He's one of the most likely leaders to found a religion despite not starting with Mysticism tech. Mansa's strategy otherwise tends to be predictable: blanket the landscape in cottages and tech like a banshee. He's extraordinarily good at doing this even on a limited number of cities; we've repeatedly seen a Malinese empire with five cities still leading the pack in tech. If Mansa ever manages to amass a large amount of territory, may god have mercy on your soul, because he will plot war at "Pleased" and isn't afraid to lay the smack down despite his 1.6/10 aggression rating. Mansa Musa is always a dangerous opponent and will usually win the game if he doesn't get roughed up by his neighbors.

Past Performance: Mansa Musa has been dominant in game after game, repeatedly teching out in front of the rest of the field and then ruthlessly crushing all challengers. He's won five times in nine total matches, all of them first place finishes. Mansa won his opening round match each of the first three years before finally breaking his streak in Season Four with a poor showing. It was the rare game where Mansa failed to connect his resources and found himself caught off-guard by an enemy attack. Most of the time, however, Mansa has been able to secure enough breathing space to open up a tech lead and swat away his opponents. His performance in Season Three's opening round match is one of the most dominant that we've ever seen, winning by Spaceship as early as Turn 282 while also being within one or two cities of triggering Domination. Mansa has made it to the championship game twice at the end of Seasons One and Three, only to run into low peace weight fields of opponents and find himself the odd man out each time. All of the other AI leaders with extremely high peace weights have fared far worse in AI Survivor, a testament to the strength of Mansa. Sullla long ago wrote that he had the "winner" AI personality and results have certainly backed that up.

Pool Two Leader

Pacal of the Mayans
Traits: Financial, Expansive
Starting Techs: Mysticism, Mining
Peace Weight: 2
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish, 3 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Two and Three Championship Game
Total Kills: 5
Overall Power Ranking: 16 points, 12th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Pacal has a top tier trait combination, with the amazing Financial and the good Expansive, allowing him to get those Financial cottages up and running even faster. He also gets the bad Holkan unique unit and the good Ball Court, which adds a nice boost to happiness in the midgame. Lastly, Pacal gets Mysticism and Mining for his starting techs, a pretty crappy pair only useful for chasing a religion out of the gate. Pacal is a pretty standard economic AI in most ways, with a low aggression rating (2.8/10), though his unit preference (4/10) isn’t as suicidally low as some of the leaders like him. His flavours are Culture and Growth, and you can usually expect Pacal to pursue an early religion right out of the gate. Pacal is one of the two leaders who combine a low peaceweight with a heavily economic style of play. With a peaceweight of 2, an ideal Pacal game probably sees the warmongers and peaceniks fight it out amongst each other while he sits back and builds an insurmountable tech lead.

Past Performance: Pacal’s previous performances have been a real mixed bag, and he’s a difficult AI to figure out. In Season One, Pacal played one of the worst games of the season, executing a poor landgrab and successfully aggravating nearly everyone else in the game until his final, inevitable, thankful demise at the hands of Elizabeth in the closing stages. Then, in Season Two, Pacal played a strong opening round game, followed by a near disastrous Playoff Game where he just squeezed into second place, and then a championship where he scored a strong third. Whew, bit of a mixed bag there. Next, Pacal again barely eked out a second place in the Wildcard Game of Season Three, narrowly beating out Suleiman of all people, and again he made it past the Playoffs in second place, largely by screwing up less than the leaders not named “Mansa Musa.” He finished Season Three with an unremarkable championship showing in which he was torn apart late in the game after not really doing anything. Lastly, Pacal one-upped his performance in Season One by scoring the earliest elimination ever in AI Survivor during his Season Four game. Though this was admittedly an unlucky tactical situation, Pacal didn’t lose because he didn’t have strategic resources: he lost because he refused to research the techs necessary to connect the damn things! With two terrible seasons and two Championship appearances, Pacal is one of the hardest leaders to judge. One thing is worth noting though: Pacal has only had one truly dominant game, and even then, Cyrus was a strong second place finisher. Meanwhile, all three of his second-place finishes were distant at best, near-death at worst, and in particular his successive failures to conquer Peter during his Season Three playoff game were a true display of incompetence. His non-playoff seasons have both been disasters of the highest order, and it’s possible Pacal has somehow lucked his way into a higher power ranking than he deserves. Something to keep in mind, at least.

Unseeded Leaders

De Gaulle of France
Traits: Charismatic, Industrious
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Wheel
Peace Weight: 0
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish
Best Finish: Season Three Playoffs
Total Kills: 4
Overall Power Ranking: 9 points, tied 22nd place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: De Gaulle's AI personality seems to have been created by a designer who was poking fun at various different French sterotypes. De Gaulle's trait combination of Charismatic and Industrious is underwhelming for AI Survivor purposes and doesn't appear to have much in the way of synergy. He does get to take advantage of France's excellent starting techs and solid Musketeer unique unit but that's about all that this leader has working in his favor. De Gaulle has a very low wonder-building preference (2/10), which largely serves to waste his Industrious trait, and mixes this together with obnoxious behavior towards his neighbors. He will make constant tribute demands (10/10) and civic change requests (8/10) that tend to make him unpopular with the other AI leaders. De Gaulle also infamously has the lowest resistance to capitulation in the game (0/10), and while that doesn't matter as much in a game without vassal states, he still makes few friends thanks to his peace weight score of zero. It's a confusing and incoherent AI personality that combines annoying behavior with a lack of the requisite ruthlessness needed to be a true conquerer.

Past Performance: De Gaulle had a terrible performance over the first two seasons of AI Survivor, suffering a quick elimination as First to Die in both of his opening round matches. He was ranked dead last, 52nd out of 52 leaders, following the conclusion of Season Two. Thus it was a gigantic shock to everyone when De Gaulle played a dominant match in the opening round of Season Three, scoring a first place finish and racking up three kills in the process. It was a game where De Gaulle devoured perennial doormat Frederick and then snowballed into runaway AI status with no one else even close at the end. He had no such luck in the playoff round as De Gaulle ended up being a speedbump to another impressive Mansa Musa win, and then in Season Four he couldn't manage to overcome stronger, better warmongers in the form of Caesar and Shaka. De Gaulle has therefore been outright eliminated in three of his four opening round games, scoring 8 of his 9 total points in his one strong performance. De Gaulle is far from the worst AI but he's probably not as strong as his ranking might suggest.

Joao of Portugal
Traits: Expansive, Imperialistic
Starting Techs: Fishing, Mining
Peace Weight: 6
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish
Best Finish: Season Four Playoffs
Total Kills: 1
Overall Power Ranking: 6 points, tied 29th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Joao is supposed to be the best leader at rapid expansion in the game, with his combination of Expansive (cheap workers) and Imperialistic (cheap settlers) traits. However, in practice the Deity AIs tend to be more limited by their economies as opposed to their capacity to train more settlers, and Joao hasn't stood out as being especially good at expansion. He hasn't really stood out at all, aside from having a name that's difficult for non-Portuguese speakers to pronounce, and Joao mostly sits in the middling portion of the AI category ratings. He trains units at an average rate, builds wonders at an average rate, cares about religion at an average rate, declares wars at an average rate, and so on. He even has a peace weight right in the middle of the scale. About the only semi-interesting thing about Joao is that he makes a lot of demands, both for tribute (8/10) and to switch to his religion (10/10). This is a boring leader overall with little in the way of a distinct personality.

Past Performance: Joao has similarly failed to distinguish himself as either a strong performer or a memorably bad leader. He was eliminated in a notably weak field in his Season One match, then went on to score his only victory in Season Two with an uninspired effort in the Wildcard game. It was an unusual 11 player setup where Joao didn't pull off any particularly impressive moves, instead largely teching along in a corner of the map until reaching the end of the tree. He made a repeat showing in the Wildcard game in Season Three with less successful results and suffered the fate of being First to Die in his only Season Four appearance. Joao's single kill in seven overall matches is a sign of his passive and generally unsuccessful gameplay style. He's never emerged as a dominant force in any of his games and it's easy to forget that he's even present sometimes. Out of all of the leaders who have won a game, Joao is potentially the most uninteresting.

Mehmed of the Ottomans
Traits: Expansive, Organized
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Wheel
Peace Weight: 2
Past Finishes: No First or Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Two Wildcard Game
Total Kills: 3
Overall Power Ranking: 3 points, tied 37th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Mehmed is a typical member from the group of militaristic AI leaders. He's not quite as crazy as some of his shared rivals in the Montezuma or Shaka mold, but he still acts predictably and starts a lot of trouble for his neighbors. Mehmed does have a pair of good economic traits in the Expansive/Organized combo, albeit both of them traits that the AI doesn't leverage particularly well. His Ottoman civilization also benefits from having excellent starting techs and decent unique features in the Janissary and Hamman. Mehmed's biggest problem is that he's too militaristic for his own good, endlessly picking wars and failing to leverage those economic traits to good effect. He has a maxed out preference for training units (10/10) and a high aggression rating (7.8/10) to go along with his low peace weight. And yet Mehmed also won't plot war at "Pleased" relations for some reason, often causing him to stack up units endlessly to no effect whatsoever. His research flavors are Military and an odd Culture, once again reinforcing how Mehmed tends to neglect economy in favor of more and more units. Mehmed has often been a popular pick from the community because he looks like he should be strong on paper, and yet he's let everyone down over and over again.

Past Performance: Mehmed has done a lot of fighting through the first four seasons but without translating those conflicts into a top two finish. He's often been a leading figure at various points in time before falling apart and collapsing in the later stages of the gameplay. Mehmed's experience in Season One was typical, as he conquered multiple rivals before getting chopped to bits by a more advanced Mansa Musa. He came close to taking second place in his Season Two match, and eliminated Bismarck in Season Three only to fall apart in a two front war afterwards. Mehmed does have the somewhat impressive feat of scoring three kills without manging a first or second place finish, tied with Napoleon for the most kills without ever sniffing the playoff round. This continues to feel like a leader who should be performing better and fails to do so through repeated self-sabotage.

Tokugawa of Japan
Traits: Aggressive, Protective
Starting Techs: Fishing, Wheel
Peace Weight: 1
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish, 1 Second Place Finish
Best Finish: Season Two and Four Playoffs
Total Kills: 4
Overall Power Ranking: 11 points, 21st place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Tokugawa is infamous for being the most isolationist leader in Civ4. He won't sign Open Borders with anyone else unless relations warm up to "Pleased", and he generally refuses to trade or interact with anyone else unless they share a mutual military struggle. Tokugawa suffers from one of the worst leader trait combinations in the game, with lots of unit promotions but little else to recommend it. He's also saddled with a weak civilization in Japan, which suffers from poor starting techs and the uselessly-late Shale Plant. Unfortunately the Samurai unit is nothing special in Civ4. Tokugawa's AI personality reflects his generally militaristic bent, with an above average aggression rating (7.3/10) and train unit emphasis. He makes it clear that he wants to be left alone by never asking for help (0/10) or demanding tribute (1/10) or making religious conversion demands (2/10). Tokugawa's best feature is probably his tech flavor, where he has the rare Science preference to go along with a lesser Military emphasis. This is likely the reason why Tokugawa has been somewhat decent at building an economy despite his atrocious leader traits. Long story short, this guy is basically an old man telling everyone to stay out of his yard while shaking a rolled-up newspaper.

Past Performance: Tokugawa is widely viewed as one of the worst possible choices for a Single Player game of Civ4, and he's exceeded expectations to date with two different trips to the playoffs. Tokugawa scored a runner up finish behind Shaka back in Season Two, and when we did some repeated playthroughs of that same setup, it emerged that he was clearly a top pick in that specific circumstance. In a very weak field of competitors, Tokugawa and Shaka repeatedly proved to be stronger than their peers. Tokugawa's best performance took place in Season Four where he stunned everyone by winning a dominant runaway victory. Again, this was another group of generally weak opponents but Tokugawa nonetheless smoked them well and good. Of course this doesn't mean that Tokugawa is one of the better AI leaders, as he's also had multiple opening round games where he stewed around not achieving anything with his isolationist ways, and Tokugawa actually managed to die to the Apostolic Palace (!) during his second playoff appearance. Still, this is a leader that has shown at least basic competency in past seasons, which is more than many of the other AI leaders can claim.

Here's what the community was thinking based on the prediction contest before the game took place:

The community predictions were heavily behind Mansa Musa and Pacal for this game. About 90% of the contest entrants had one of the game's two Financial leaders taking home the top prize. The second place category was the hardest to predict as usual, with everyone other than De Gaulle chosen by a representative sample of participants. The one category that De Gaulle topped was the ignominious First to Die selection, as the group largely didn't think much about his chances in this match. We also ended up with a Spaceship-heavy series of choices for the victory condition due to the presence of the strong economic leaders in Mansa and Pacal along with relatively weaker militaristic competitors.

Finally, here are some of the best/craziest written predictions about what would take place during the game. There were many other excellent entries but I had to pick and choose my favorites to keep this from running on too long. Thanks again for the submissions!

Eauxps I. Fourgott: Toku is an aggressive leader, in a central position... yeah, probably not going to end well for him. Mansa's in a perfect position to take some gains from that, and if he does that then it's over. He probably rolls over the chronically incompetent Mehmed, maybe takes out Pacal as well, then techs to space while his buddy Joao takes over much of France at some point.

MirrorG: Ahh, it's good to be back! Wasn't able to play for most of season 4, so it'll be nice to be able to work on my guessing game all season 5! As for my pics, Mansa is always strong, but he's being matched against several low peace weight + economic + militaristic opponents. I suspect that unless he can take out Joao without much difficulty he'll end up penned in by a bloc of Pacal, Mehmed, and maybe de Gaulle, of which Pacal's economy will snowball the quickest and allow him a relatively speedy victory. As much as I loved his performance last season, Tokugawa is royally screwed by being sandwiched between two warmongers from the start, especially with his reluctance to make friends, so he'll be out first.

jarrebesetoert: Normally, I'd pick Mansa with my eyes closed, but... he's going to be the worst enemy of everyone except Joao. He's got a peace weight of 9, Joao 6 and the others have 0, 1 or 2!! Therefore I'm guessing the other financial leader will win: Pacal. Mansa won't be the first to die, with his tech lead and elephants/skirmishers to defend himself, but I don't think he'll win against all these low peace weight enemies. I also don't see domination as a victory type, since all the other low peace weight leaders will probably love each other in the end. So, spaceship it is for Pacal. I might be mistaken, but I also don't see a lot of horses on this map, which means: no horses for Mansa, since no one will trade it to him (Joao only has one).

Fluffball: Mansa versus weak competition.... I don't know how you don't pick Mansa.

c0lors: The cold map should constrain the settlement phase and get the wars started faster. I see Mansa taking a beating early, but I don't think the AIs will be able to close the deal and land the killing blow on Mali. I am very tempted to go with peace weight and pick Mehmed or Pacal, but I also don't want to feel like an idiot when Mansa rides his starting gold and river valley to an insurmountable tech lead. Pacal looks less attractive because Japan is right next door and the land to his south is dry and will be heavily contested by the Ottomans. Anyway, I'm guessing the king stays the king, and Joao rides Mansa's coattails to a comfy second place.

Ichabod: Despite the peace weight difference, Mansa is way better than everyone else. He has copper and ivory (nice tile, nice unit) in his Capital, with a likely iron. Mehmed will likely fail to expand and die, but not that early. De Gaulle will probably go first due to lack of metal. Pacal as second place, since no one else seems to be able to do something worthy of note.

Charriu: I think the AIs with the best chances in this game are Pacal and Mehmed. Pacal has great economic traits and plays well with all the other evil AIs. He also has a good starting position and will likely found a religion and engage in a religious block with Toku. Mehmed has a great starting position with a lot of land to grab. A lot will come down to who dies first. I don't think Mansa will die first mainly because of skirmishers. Still this is a hard game for Mansa with all the evil AIs around him and only Joao being somewhat of a friend. Still Mansa will found the other religion and building a religious block with Joao. Joao also won't likely die first, because of lack of aggressive neighbors. This leaves only Toku and De Gaulle and here I think Toku has the upper hand with better promotions and being more aggressive. De Gaulles strategic resources are also a bit far off his capital. So De Gaulle will die first and probably by Tokus hand. Next to do die is probably Mansa by Mehmed with help from Toku and maybe even Joao. Meanwhile Pacal will build up a nice tech lead in the background. This will leave the Pacal, Mehmed and Toku as the leading players, but Mehmed and Toku will most likely show worse performance in the later stages of the game. So I give this game a win for Pacal with a Cultural Victory from the shadows.

David Anber: I’m a bad Civ 4 player but I’m good at predicting

Vincarius: The two leaders that stand out to me as potential winners are Pacal and Mansa. I've been jumping a lot between both. The game has 4 low peace weight civs which would suggest Pacal to be the favourite. However, I'm not a big fan of these low peace weight civs. De Gaulle has a poor start and poor AI plus will have a hard time grabbing copper or iron. Mehmed has poor AI, lots of room but a large part is tundra. Tokugawa is a poor AI with bad starting techs and he's squashed in the middle. So for me the question comes down to who I like more between Pacal and Mansa and for that I'll have to go with the latter. I'd say Mansa has the superior AI and a good position. Meanwhile, Pacal has a good position as well but could be cursed by the stone and his high wonder building and therefore has a larger chance of ruining his opening. With Mansa as the winner, Joao would be a sensible second place due to his high peace weight. For first to die I've picked De Gaulle as he does not appear to have copper or iron nearby. As for victory type and date I've gone with Spaceship T300 as both Mansa and Pacal are competent researchers.

Spambot: Mansa Musa FTD [First To Die]?! Well, it's a low peaceweight field and Tokugawa is RIGHT THERE with Pacal and De Gaulle to guard his flanks and perhaps even dunk on Moneybags. Mehmed has a lot of land but I have a feeling that Pacal is going to gobble up a lot of that. Tokugawa is NOT going to snowball from eating Mansa, as I suspect that he is going to attack pre Catapults and thus only ensuing that Mansa becomes too weak to survive the next attack.

Cuthraxys: It's probably more likely Mansa wins, but I want to see another Toku win please... He can roll up the inferior French quite easily, then stomp Joao/Pacal. While Mehmed fistfights Mansa who's on Physics, that's when the rising/setting sun empire 2-front wars into a sunny (dream) victory. Mehmed eats dust, barely in second place.

Brian Shanahan: Mansa wins, he's by far the best of this group and the peace weight difference won't hurt him too bad. Spaceship at around turn 330's my guess. Pacal's second because he's the best land to build into who's not Mansa and Toku's beside him so he'll get a free pass early on. Joao is first to die I think, he's too indescript as an AI.

pindicator: Let's be bold with our predictions to start a new season! I'm going to say that Mansa will be the outsider and first to go. His high peace weight will cause the other civs to eye him funny, and then landing a religion that the rest of the continent does not share will be the final straw. Militaristic Mehmed will come knocking. He won't kill Mansa in the first strike but weaken him enough to do it later on. Pacal will eventually tire of Tokugawa and absorb him, moving west, and we'll end up with a map where Pacal has half, Mehmed has a third, and Joao holds on with a little bit. Pacal wins by space.

Shpoko: Mansa returns to from in this one, as while the majority of the field here are low peace weight, they are all starting away from him. De Gaulle is cramped and has a poor resource situation, Toku has a poor economy, Pacal is likely to be a passive wondermonger, and Mehmed has no good food spots outside his capital. This plus capital copper gives Mansa the time to build up his tech engine. After that the baddies will likely come to get slaughtered by Mansa's superior troops, with J man picking up Mansa's religion and riding his coattails to a second place finish.

Amicalola: Look, I get it, Mansa is the Golden Boy. We all love him. This breaks my heart. But: He's surrounded on all sides by leader who WILL attack him, not if but when. It's not much better than poor Gandhi in that playoff game last season. If Mansa gets attacked 3 times before Turn 150, I don't care how good his economy will be by Turn 200: he'll be dead. Even if he somehow survives, he'll be constantly at war and wasting production on units, not to mention having his cottages pillaged. So the question is, who stands to gain the most from his demise? I think it will be Pacal, not because he'll gain territory; he'll probably stay out of it. Instead, he'll race out to an unbeatable tech lead while the three warmongers scrap with Mali, Portugal, and eventually each other. This is basically Pacal's ideal game: 3 pretty crummy warmongers who can't beat him in tech, and 2 poor souls for them to feed on (Mansa, Joao), while he sits it out in the corner, building. Space vs Culture is a tossup, don't know how to predict that. The question for second is whoever gains the most out of Mansa's demise, and (holy crap, this is exciting), I think it's Mehmed! He's got a great start including close luxuries, he's directly bordering Mali rather than a diagonal, and he's got the unit preference to actually take some cities. I think this is finally Mehmed's game! We uh, haven't heard that one before...

Sir Colville of the Dale: Mansa, this just isn't your day.

Game One Picking Contest Entry Form