Civ4 AI Survivor Season 5: Game Three Writeup

This summary for Game Three was written by Eauxps I. Fourgott. Many thanks for volunteering to put this report together!

At the outset, Game Three looked very likely to be taken by one of the two seeded leaders present. With three other high peaceweight and no extremely low peaceweight leaders in the field, and a relatively insulated, spacious plot of land with some choice terrain (including a nearby triple gems site), it looked like the uber-peacenik, Gandhi, had an ideal setup to culture his way to a fourth consecutive opening-round victory and set an AI Survivor record. But on the other side of the coin (and the map) was Julius Caesar, one of the best conquerors in the competition, and in addition to an all-around decent starting spot, he had iron right outside his capital, guaranteeing that he would have access to the mighty Praetorians from a very early date. An early Caesar elimination seemed all but impossible, and with such a peaceful field it looked very likely that he would leverage his praets to carve a path of conquest around the map on his way to a dominant victory.

The real wildcard in this game would be Suleiman, who started between the two favorites to win and was in general the strongest fighter in this bunch besides Caesar. Suleiman and JC had an identical peaceweight of 4, at the low end for this match, which would predispose them to be best buddies, and this resulted in Caesar being generally favored over Gandhi in the prediction contest. An early attack by Suleiman on Gandhi would be a deathblow to his chances at winning, but if he for some reason decided to turn around and attack Caesar, then that would throw a massive wrench into the match. Thus, at least to me, the Ottoman leader was the big one to watch going into this game – northern leaders Frederick, Elizabeth, and Hammurabi felt like virtual non-entities, especially with their lackluster previous records.

The first city placements followed one of two different patterns. Caesar, Freddy, and Hammurabi all chose to largely forsake the landgrab with their second cities, the two northern leaders planting on the coast in their backlines while Caesar headed southeast into the tundra. Hammurabi’s placement in particular looked bad, as he was the leader most squeezed on land to begin with and then chose to claim some of the tiny bit of land he was probably guaranteed anyway! Meanwhile, Gandhi, Suleiman, and Elizabeth all headed straight into the space between the three leaders with their first settlers. It looked like the effect of this might be to squeeze Gandhi somewhat (although getting a holy city there would help with that) while leaving more space available for Caesar and Frederick in the west.

Meanwhile, a race quickly started to see who would found the second religion. Gandhi was guaranteed to pick up Hinduism as the only leader to start the game with Mysticism, but that left a wide-open field for the other initial one. Frederick, Suleiman, and Hammurabi all went for it right away, while in the meantime Caesar and Elizabeth both started out with Hunting research – nobody researching the more powerful worker techs at the beginning of the match! Julius soon made his bid for an early religion as well, going straight from Hunting to Mysticism. To nobody’s surprise, Gandhi founded Hinduism with an initial research of Meditation. After he finished that research, almost everybody else seemed to lose interest in going for a religion, leaving Hammurabi an uncontested path to Polytheism and the interesting religion choice of Taoism. This wasn’t the best early sign for Gandhi, with a would-be ally and close neighbor founding a competing religion. Meanwhile, Caesar put his Imperialistic trait to good use, building a super-early, super-quick settler in his capital and founding his third city on Turn 17!

Suleiman started the game with stone right outside his capital, and he put it to good use by building a super-early 6-turn Stonehenge. Meanwhile, his third city went south of his capital, while Freddy headed straight east with his third settler, leaving a nice wide-open field for Caesar early on. Elizabeth’s third city, Nottingham, drew special attention, as she decided to settle right against the borders of Suleiman’s capital – she had evidently been going for a corn resource in the first ring, but with the culture from Stonehenge in the rival city, she’d likely never even be able to control that tile! As the landgrab phase wore on, most of the leaders seemed to prefer securing their backline territory to expanding outwards. Caesar was pumping out settlers but sending them all south or west to tundra and coastal locations. Frederick was similarly pushing to the northern tundra with his cities. On the other hand, Suleiman was doing a good job of expanding in all directions, going all four ways with his first four settlers, and moving up past the troll city of Nottingham to take a spot that Liz really should have picked up while she was still sitting on just three cities, the last leader to found a fourth. In general, it looked like the two more militaristic leaders were doing a better job of expanding while the peaceful ones were slow to move.

Caesar’s big break came a few turns later, as he founded an aggressive plant of Mediolanum going right towards Frederick. This city seemed to lock up the border with Germany and ensure that Rome would get the larger share of the land. In the meantime, though, Caesar’s economy was tanked from his rapid rate of expansion (seven cities when nobody else had more than five), and he had yet to research Mysticism so all except his first city were still completely without culture. He’d need to put some work in to realize his empire’s potential, but the potential was definitely there. Meanwhile, Suleiman made an aggressive plant of his own, cramming a city right outside the southern border of Gandhi’s holy city. If this city could hold its own in culture, it would be a nice barrier to Indian expansion, but whether it could hold its own in culture was still in question at the moment.

As the map got close to being filled up, it became clear that between Gandhi’s northern-based starting position and Caesar and Suleiman’s strong expansion, the northern civs were getting squeezed out to be as irrelevant as they seemed at the beginning of the game. Gandhi hadn’t done the best job of expanding, but he’d done some, and so Hammurabi quickly felt the natural squeeze of his starting position settling in. Freddy had settled a decent core for himself, but Julius’s more aggressive expansion had given him a bigger chunk of land that seemed set to make him a dominant leader in this game. In the meantime Freddy sat in a perilous position, with no copper in or near his territory and Iron Working not yet researched. Elizabeth had done a pitiful job so far, with only four cities, minimal culture, and still no Agriculture researched yet! Her troll city of Nottingham was now under serious cultural pressure from Istanbul, as Stonehenge was worth a cool 16 culture per turn thanks to the 1000-year double coming nice and early with his early build. If Liz crammed enough units in Nottingham then it wouldn’t flip, but it only controlled three very weak tiles now and was a complete waste of a spot for her – even if it got some culture in, Istanbul would still culturally dominate the land around it. Suleiman was atop the scoreboard right now and that corresponded to his strong position in the game. He’d executed one of the best landgrabs and was able to easily culturally control his territory thanks to the Stonehenge build, had an extremely weak northern neighbor, and still some decent land to expand southwards into.

Elizabeth might have had only three real cities, but that didn’t stop her from researching Monotheism to found Christianity as a third distinct religion. Just what she needed – predisposing her eastern neighbor to dislike her while she was still extremely weak. Her situation was continuing to look bleak, and Suleiman converting to Taoism shortly thereafter didn’t make it any better. Meanwhile, Julius was working on Iron Working, which meant the Prateorians were about to be unlocked. That wasn’t going to be good news for anybody else. He did provide us with some levity, choosing to go for the Pyramids in a size 1 tundra city with 234 turns to completion, but he also finally got around to researching Mysticism, unlocking monuments for his cities to finally pop their borders. Caesar was the scariest leader in this game by far.

The first war of the game came on Turn 92, but it was a pretty questionable one:

Liz, with just four cities, one of which was super-vulnerable and weak, decided to attack Suleiman, who had seven solid cities and was the current game leader. She must’ve been desperate with so little land, and willing to do anything to try and salvage her situation, but this didn’t look very good for her. Her attack stack was a meager five units, which immediately turned tail and headed back into Nottingham when they realized just how doomed they were. Suleiman didn’t immediately commit to a big attack, but it was already clear that he would not be losing much from this war. Meanwhile, in true troll fashion, Caesar conquered a barb city on the extreme eastern edge of the map behind the Indian borders. Much more significant was him finally picking up a religion – Christianity. Freddy had converted to Christianity as well, which meant that suddenly Caesar was inclined to be more friendly towards him and Liz, and less friendly towards Suleiman. We got the payoff of that conversion not long afterwards:

This threw a massive wrench into the game. Most of the crowd had expected Caesar and Suleiman to be best buddies due to peaceweight, but instead they were going at it early on – the early-game power leader versus the early-game score leader. (Additional editorial note from Sullla: this was the single biggest moment of the whole game. Everything that took place afterwards flowed from this initial Roman invasion. The one thing that Caesar absolutely needed to avoid was an attack on his fellow low peace weight neighbor and he went and did it anyway. A single random spread of Christianity into Roman territory ended up having a massive influence on this game's outcome.)

It didn’t look too good for Suleiman, though, as he had already been wasting units trying fruitlessly to capture Nottingham (which Liz had wisely packed full of units) and now had to bear the full blow of a Julius Caesar Praetorian assault. On the other hand, Julius didn’t have Construction yet and wasn’t going for it, while Suleiman already had the tech. But we soon found out that that wouldn’t matter: catapults or no catapults, the Praetorians were strong enough to punch through and take a core city from the Ottomans right off the bat. The writing was now on the wall for Suleiman. Meanwhile, Julius converted to Hinduism on this turn, adding more uncertainty to the diplomatic mix. Previously, he’d been inclined to buddy up with Liz and Freddy, but now he had Gandhi’s religion instead. Between that and the fact that Suleiman was now most definitely not going to attack him, Gandhi was looking to be in pretty good condition right now as well, and he’d already taken the top spot on the scoreboard from Suleiman. Adding to the Ottoman leader’s troubles, Caesar got Construction researched to add catapults and elephants to his growing arsenal.

At this point we identified Hammurabi as the leader to watch out for. He was sitting in a solid second place, but as the only leader practicing Daoism, he was looking at everybody else with a wary eye and could conceivably attack any of them. But he was preempted, as Freddy made his move:

Um, OK? Small as England was, it still sat between the two leaders, and it was hard to imagine this war going anywhere quickly, especially with Hammurabi actively researching Feudalism for longbows. Frederick did start the war off by successfully capturing Borsippa, but it was isolated in Babylonian territory and would be tough to hold. By extension this put Gandhi in an even better position, now the only leader peacefully teching while the rest of the world fought. Everything was going his way right now. But it was also going Caesar’s way. Freddy’s random attack of Babylon removed the possibility of him backstabbing Caesar, while the Roman army rolled over Gaziantep, leaving Suleiman with just five cities remaining. Suleiman did make a noble effort at fighting back, sending a large stack that was able to recapture Bursa, but it was clear that he was just prolonging the inevitable. His attack couldn’t go any further, and Caesar responded by slowly but surely sieging and taking the city of Ankara.

Meanwhile, Frederick and Hammurabi signed peace pretty quickly, Freddy handing over the city of Borsippa in the treaty to ensure that neither leader gained from the war. That did serve to slow Hammurabi down and thus help Gandhi, though – Babylon was sniping some wonders from under India’s nose, but Freddy’s attack stalled him enough to allow Gandhi to pull ahead decisively in score. That left just the Rome-Ottoman war as the only real event of note, as it continued to grind on. Caesar wasn’t prosecuting the war too efficiently, making a number of failed smaller attacks, but it was only a matter of time. Meanwhile, Gandhi was now researching far faster than any other leader, and building cultural structures like a man possessed. This had become a true Caesar-Gandhi showdown, both leaders doing what they did best and doing well at it so far. Finally, Caesar’s full stack arrived at Istanbul, taking out the Ottoman capital and breaking Suleiman’s back. But right afterwards, the game took a sudden twist:

Freddy decided to give a shot at backstabbing Caesar! Attacking the Romans seemed like a pretty poor proposition at this point, but this was probably the best shot Freddy had of making it work, with the majority of the Roman army busy over in Ottoman territory. He was able to take the border city of Mediolanum right away, but his long-term prospects were doubtful, especially as his attack stack was defeated soon after marching farther into Roman territory. This really served to make Gandhi’s situation even better – Rome now would not be coming for him after finishing with the Ottomans, and he had even more opportunity to keep building, building, building! (Additional editorial note from Sullla: this was the other huge turning point in the game. Caesar was close to wrapping up his Ottoman war and then would have had time to consolidate economically followed by running over Frederick or Gandhi. Instead, the German invasion dragged out the ongoing Ottoman war, ruined Rome economically, and left Gandhi free to continue developing in peace. The sequence of events in this game could not possibly have gone better for India.)

Meanwhile, Elizabeth finally made a move, successfully wrestling Konya away from the Ottomans. Between that and the capture of Istanbul finally relieving the cultural pressure on Nottingham, she was finally up to five good cities! That said, she was still clearly doing the worst of anybody except Suleiman. Caesar decided to halt his conquest of the Ottomans with just two cities remaining, in favor of turning against Germany. At Mediolanum his big stack hit the big German stack – and the Romans emerged from the tussle as the clear winners, shredding the bulk of the German army, recapturing the city, and moving into Freddy’s original territory. That said, this was not going to be a fast conquest – Freddy had castles in all his cities, plus Chichen Itza, giving him a full +125% defensive bonus in each city. Once again, the circumstances favored Gandhi, who despite having a couple of wonders sniped by Hammurabi was pulling further and further ahead and getting harder and harder to potentially stop. Meanwhile, Caesar’s halt to the attack seemed to open the door for Elizabeth to score a kill against Suleiman, but her first assault fell just short, and then she got blindsided:

Hammurabi was making his bid for relevance in this game, trying to absorb the feeble English into his empire, and he got a quick payoff, as his initial attack at York succeeded with minimal trouble. That already put the English down to just four cities with nowhere to hide, and suddenly it looked like Liz might displace Suleiman in the First to Die slot. Meanwhile, Freddy had been packing and packing units into the besieged city of Essen, but to no avail, as the pride of the Roman army was victorious once more, shredding Freddy’s army yet again and taking the city along with any hopes for German relevance.

After that, the game just plodded along for a while. Freddy continued to spam units, and a Roman assault on Berlin ended with bunches of wounded units on both sides, but both stacks still standing, prolonging that war. After his early success at York, Hammurabi had trouble capturing the rest of England, making a big assault on London that fell just short. Suleiman remained at war with both Rome and England, but they had both ignored him and allowed him to live on, with just one city after his aggressive early plant of Samsun finally gave in and flipped to Gandhi. Over 210 turns into the game, all six leaders were still standing – and while everybody else was fighting to a standstill, Gandhi continued teching up.

Finally, things started to happen again. After ages and ages sieging Berlin, Caesar finally pushed through and took the city – importantly, also capturing Chichen Itza to remove that advantage from Frederick’s arsenal, and probably marking a tipping point in their war. Meanwhile, Hammurabi and Elizabeth signed peace, Hammurabi’s big move having gained him only a useless, culturally squeezed size 1 city while costing quite a bit of effort. But Liz was still at war with Suleiman, and this peace treaty freed her up to finally go after his final city again. At this point she had a tech edge over him, plus four cities to one, and that was enough to finally do him in at the very late date of Turn 228.

I believe this takes the record as the latest First to Die in AI Survivor history. [Almost but not quite: Season 2 Game Three had a First to Die on Turn 241 and Season 3 Game Two had a First to Die on Turn 286! Common theme of these games? Gandhi was present in all of them!] Poor Suleiman really didn’t do anything wrong this game, and was off to a good start, but then was the unfortunate target of the ol’ Praetorian smackdown, through no fault of his own. Caesar briefly converted to an opposing religion, and for that brief window he was probably just as likely to attack Suleiman as he was his other neighbor, Frederick, so he chose to go for the neighbor that was exerting cultural pressure on him. Suleiman really looked like he should’ve been a dominant force this game, but it just didn’t work out for him. Elizabeth was rewarded for her persistence by getting a kill credit, although all she had gained from this entire war was a single city – that final Ottoman city would be flipping to Gandhi.

At this point in the game, the final result looked pretty clear – Gandhi was far ahead and had his choice of Spaceship or Cultural victory, while with Caesar’s inevitable conquest of Germany continuing, he was in an unassailable second place. At this point, the only questions were just how soon the game would end, how Gandhi would win, and how many leaders would survive to the Wildcard game. There wasn’t much to watch for the next while – Caesar continued taking German cities, but not a lot else was happening. Gandhi did complete the UN and get easily elected Secretary-General, but it looked unlikely that Hammurabi would give him the support he needed to win a Diplomatic victory, and Gandhi didn’t bring up the resolution anyway, leaving the UN as a simple side distraction. Eventually, Caesar reached a tipping point in the war against Frederick, as Germany simply had too few cities to reinforce, leading to the last few falling very quickly. Freddy exited the game in fifth place:

At least Frederick succeeded in having an impact on this game! His landgrab wasn’t good enough to give him a shot at victory, but he built up a decently strong civ and then played spoiler by backstabbing Rome at a critical moment. Without that attack, Caesar would’ve quickly finished off Suleiman, and then could conceivably have attacked Gandhi next, completely changing the course of the game. Instead, while Freddy’s attack doomed him to elimination, he successfully steered the game decisively in Gandhi’s favor, forcing Caesar to spend many long years conquering him while giving Gandhi all that time to continue peacefully building. Freddy might not have survived, but his mark on this game was much greater than we originally expected.

Meanwhile, Caesar had conquered a nice big span of territory and could now finally work on getting his economy properly running. His big problem in this game had been that he spent ages and ages fighting first Suleiman and then Frederick – while he ended with big gains, his economy was really bogged down during those wars, especially with the high war weariness he had to deal with from about the siege of Berlin onwards. That resulted in even little Hammurabi and Elizabeth teching faster than he was, and he was now so far behind Gandhi that an outright victory no longer appeared feasible. While second place was probably still in the bag, barring a smackdown from Gandhi, Caesar had let the win slip away.

Still, losing all the war weariness from fighting Frederick and Suleiman was a big boost to Caesar, and he had taken a lot of land. Almost instantly his economy started to look much better as befitted a civilization of Rome’s size. But he wasn’t done fighting yet, declaring war on the weak English civilization next. So much for the “best friends” outcome that had originally seemed so likely when Caesar hopped into the war with Suleiman, and so much for all the ages they’d shared a war against Suleiman. Liz was clearly doomed, stuck at just four cities and against a Roman army that hadn’t gotten any weaker. It only took 17 turns for Caesar to finish her off:

Elizabeth had a terrible start to the game that doomed her to irrelevance, but she fought pretty well after that. While her attack of Suleiman seemed like pure suicide, she was able to hold on against him, and then found her own religion and somehow spread it to Caesar to get him to save her, eventually managing to finish off Suleiman herself. She did a lot better than it seemed like she would at the end of the landgrab phase, with a surprising amount of agency, but she was never close to competing with the rest of the field.

Caesar now had over 40% land area and was finally looking really strong. He had no chance of ever coming close to Gandhi in terms of tech, but a Diplomatic victory was still on the table if he could get Hammurabi to vote for him somehow, and if he was able to get enough early gains in a war with Gandhi (after conquering Babylon), he could in theory still win by Domination. This game was a lot more open than it had seemed fifty turns ago. But Gandhi was still in the pole position, only about fifty turns away from a culture win and quickly closing in on the end of the tech tree. The bigger question seemed to be whether Hammurabi would survive to the wildcard game, or whether Caesar would wipe him out as well – or whether Caesar would attack Gandhi, and what would happen in that showdown.

For a long time, nothing really happened. Gandhi was closing in on both a Cultural and a Spaceship victory – his first two cities both hit Legendary, with the third of Varanasi just 32 turns away at the same time as Gandhi had 4 spaceship techs left to research (five if he went for Stealth as well). It looked like he was slightly closer to a Spaceship victory, but it would be close. But even as he approached his coronation, Caesar decided that it was time for some last-minute fireworks:

This didn’t seem like a good idea for Caesar – he was attacking with infantry and cavs, but Gandhi had tanks, mechs, and mobile artillery at this point, and was pretty much equal in the power graphs. Caesar was taking his shot at glory, but it was likely to be too little, too late. As it turned out, there was surprisingly little action. Both leaders lost some soldiers, but the military counts were pretty comparable on both sides, and no cities were changing hands. Caesar’s eastern barb city that he’d taken so, so long ago, and that didn’t control any tiles anymore, had a gigantic stack in it that wandered in the southern tundra, but they weren’t capturing any cities or getting wiped out. But eventually Gandhi got to the stack and wiped it out, and then signed peace with Caesar, resulting in a largely pointless war. What it had done, though, was briefly distract Gandhi from teching, and that plus his decision to research Stealth resulted in a much closer contest between a Spaceship or a Cultural victory, with a Cultural win now looking more likely. With the last spaceship tech a single turn away, we checked Varanasi and it was 11 turns to Legendary. Two turns later, Gandhi launched his spaceship, slightly too late to beat out the Cultural win… except wait, what had happened at Varanasi?

Gandhi, what did you do! Now a Cultural win was three turns behind a Spaceship win! And it could still jump back in front, if Gandhi decided to turn on the Culture slider at the last minute. This was coming down to the wire for those who hadn’t predicted a Domination win!

Oh yeah, and then Hammurabi decided we needed a little more action at the end of the game and decided to suicide against Caesar. You do you, Hammurabi. While he had a slight tech edge over Rome, both his production base and his standing army were much smaller than Caesar’s, and the fact that this attack was a mistake was quickly confirmed as Caesar completely annihilated the stack trying to attack London. The game was too close to over for this to have much of an effect, though, Caesar only taking the city of York before Gandhi won.

But how did Gandhi win, exactly? Right after Hammurabi attacked, we checked the status again, and it was now seven turns to a Space victory, and just six to a Culture victory! A couple of turns later, Culture jumped back again, now two turns behind Space. At this point the crowd figured out that these fluctuations were due to Gandhi changing the specialists in Varanasi – in the final case, he turned them all into Engineers so that he could finally build the Manhattan Project. That made all the difference, as Varanasi was still two turns out from Legendary status when the spaceship arrived:

Gandhi won Game 3 with a Space Race victory, while Caesar moves forward in a dominant second place. As we mostly predicted pregame, this game was all about the two seeded leaders playing the way they played best, with Caesar conquering the majority of the map while Gandhi played an excellent all-peaceful game. Ultimately, the major breaks in this game all broke Gandhi’s way. Nobody attacked him until he was too strong for it to matter, with the rest of the field all getting in other wars with each other rather than touch him. I think Caesar still could have potentially won with a more efficient conquest, but he was inefficient when taking over the Ottoman empire, and then Frederick put the nail in the coffin by attacking him at the most inopportune time for Rome, and then defending extremely well to slow Caesar down enough to give the win to Gandhi. For most of the game, Caesar simply didn’t dominate as much as it felt like he should have, so it feels right that Gandhi takes the win over him. Gandhi did get some lucky breaks, but he also had a solid start, and he’s now set an AI Survivor record by winning his opening round match in four consecutive seasons, so he must be doing something right. I personally was with the majority in picking Caesar to win, but when considering my prediction for this game, I strongly considered picking Gandhi precisely because even if the peaceful civs didn’t dominate the game, Caesar might conquer too slowly to stop Gandhi from winning peacefully, and that’s exactly what happened.

Meanwhile, Hammurabi survives to compete in the wildcard game. He was probably doomed from the start this game because of his overly-crowded starting position, and he was surprisingly strong given what he had to work with, but he still wasn’t particularly impressive. He tried to play the same game as Gandhi, was decidedly outclassed in that department, and when he got his one big shot and moving up in the game by conquering Elizabeth, he bungled it badly, failing to conquer a four-civ empire after his initial attack on York. Especially compared to Gandhi and Caesar, he did not deserve to move to the playoff round from this game.

On the whole, while the two favorite leaders did indeed dominate the game, this was otherwise a wacky, unpredictable matchup. I doubt many people foresaw Elizabeth and Frederick making the two most critical moves of the game – I certainly didn’t – and even when all was mostly said and done, Gandhi continued to make it interesting for us down to the final turns by keeping us guessing how exactly he would win. An entertaining and enjoyable Game Three, on the whole. Hopefully the rest of the season continues to build on the strong start we’ve had!