Civ4 AI Survivor Season 5: Game Eight 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:

The final opening round match of Season Five pulled together an eclectic group of leaders. The headline attraction was Pool 1 leader and Season Three champion Stalin, back for another run at the title. Stalin backed up his Season Three performance with a repeat trip to the Championship game in Season Four and he'll likely draw a lot of support from the community in this match as well. This game also included a Persian mirror match with both Cyrus and Darius making an appearance. Cyrus is better at expansion while Darius has the better teching and economic development... assuming he can survive long enough to put those traits to use. Elsewhere, this game also included militaristic nutjob Genghis Khan, religious zealot Isabella, and isolationist peacenik Washington. Finally there was another leader with excellent economic traits in Willem, an underperformer in the first three seasons who made a run to the Season Four championship. If he ever bothers to research Rifling tech, he'll have a good shot to take home the first place prize.

Pool One Leader

Stalin of Russia
Traits: Aggressive, Industrious
Starting Techs: Hunting, Mining
Peace Weight: 2
Past Finishes: 4 First Place Finishes, 2 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Three Champion
Total Kills: 10
Overall Power Ranking: 34 points, 3rd place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Stalin has unexpectedly been one of the most dominant leaders in AI Survivor history, compiling a staggering track record of success that we're still not entirely sure how to explain. His traits are nothing special, with the Industrious trait largely acting as a detriment to AI performance and Aggressive never grading out as anything better than average. Stalin has undoubtedly been helped by his Russian civilization, with its decent starting techs and powerful Cossack unique unit. Understanding why Stalin has repeatedly crushed his opponents requires a deeper dive into his AI personality. He has a low peace weight and an above average aggression rating (7.6/10) while avoiding the truly nutty behavior of someone like Montezuma or Genghis Khan. Aside from a somewhat high build wonder rating (6/10), most of Stalin's AI ratings are in the middle of the spectrum and don't stand out one way or another. He loves espionage spending (10/10) but that's about it. What's unusual about Stalin is the fact that he doesn't care about religion at all, showing as little interest as Mao with miniscule shared faith bonuses and differing religion penalties. This may be a factor in his repeated victories as Stalin doesn't get hung up on the religious diplomacy and can act as he sees fit. He otherwise has Military and Production tech flavors and, of course, can plot war at "Pleased" relations. For whatever reason, this overall package has been extremely successful in prior seasons of AI Survivor.

Past Performance: Stalin didn't accomplish much during the first two seasons of AI Survivor, then exploded out of nowhere during the following two seasons and completely owned the competition. He scored 31 of his 34 points in Seasons Three and Four, taking home four first place finishes, nine kills, two repeat appearances in the championship game, and the overall title of Season Three Champion. No one was more successful over those two seasons, and Stalin's Season Three outing was a total stomp from start to finish. He took part in three games, all of them first place finishes, and also set the record for most kills in a single season with seven. Stalin has furthermore shown the ability to win in multiple different fashions, scoring Domination and Spaceship victories and even one Cultural victory. He has been completely ruthless at destroying his rivals, pouncing again and again on moments of weakness in the other leaders. At times it's felt as though a human was playing as Stalin against a bunch of AI turkeys. Thanks to making the championship game two seasons in a row, we actually haven't seen Stalin get eliminated in a match since his opening round game of Season Two! Whether he can keep this streak going is an open question but it's been a wild ride over the previous few years.

Pool Two Leader

Cyrus of Persia
Traits: Charismatic, Imperialistic
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Hunting
Peace Weight: 3
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish, 3 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Two Championship Runner-Up
Total Kills: 6
Overall Power Ranking: 17 points, tied 10th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Cyrus has Charismatic and Imperialistic for his traits, with Imperialistic being so good that it makes this a pretty good combination. There�s also some synergy there, as Charismatic happiness is a bigger deal with more cities to use it in. He gets the notably less useful Immortal and Apothecary unique items, but he has very good starting techs with Agriculture and Hunting; Cyrus will quickly be able to improve basically any food resource he has. Cyrus has a pretty high aggression rating (7/10), builds a fair number of units (6/10) and loves wonders (8/10); this guy does it all. He cares an average amount about religion (big bonus for sharing, small malus for difference), and his flavours are Military and Growth. It creates the image of another of the snowball leaders, and Cyrus� game plan seems to be building a lot of cities with Imperialistic, getting them tall with Charismatic and his Growth flavour, and then crushing a neighbour or two once he has an advantage in food and production.

Past Performance: Well, if that�s Cyrus� game plan, it�s worked out pretty well so far. Cyrus has only won a single game, but he�s placed a strong second three times as well, never too far from the game�s victor. Cyrus was runner-up to Mao in his Season One opening game, and was almost able to pull away from his neighbours before getting dogpiled in Playoff Game One. Then, in Season Two, Cyrus had his best year, again getting a strong second in his opening match, before a deserved first place in his playoff game. He was even nearly crowned champion that year; stupid Huayna Capac and his upset Cultural Victory. Several longtime AI Survivor fans still refer to Cyrus as the "True Season Two Champion." Still, the point remains that Cyrus tore up the competition in his first two years, and we were expecting big things from him in Seasons Three and Four. Unfortunately, Cyrus failed to deliver on those expectations. He hasn�t survived an opening game since Season Two, though he�s been pretty unlucky. In Season Three, Cyrus was afflicted with constant attacks from both sides, first in sensible wars by Brennus, then nonsensical sabotage from across the map by Zara, in a game any leader would have struggled in. Then, in Season Four, Cyrus expanded out to a strong size and was one of the "Big Three" in the midgame, before a couple of unlikely attacks by fellow Big Three member Catherine set both of them back. This resulted in both of their eventual deaths at the hands of Isabella, who they should have been working together against in the first place! The pattern here is that in the last two seasons, Cyrus has lost not because of his own stupidity, but that of other leaders. When he�s allowed to actually play the game, Cyrus has put out some very consistent results, and he�s definitely not a leader to underestimate.

Unseeded Leaders

Darius of Persia
Traits: Financial, Organized
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Hunting
Peace Weight: 8
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish, 2 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Four Championship Game
Total Kills: 3
Overall Power Ranking: 12 points, tied 18th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Darius has arguably the best pure economic traits in the game, with Financial and Organized. While he�s stuck with the weak Immortal and Apothecary, he also gets fantastic starting techs in Agriculture and Hunting, allowing him to improve his food resources quickly. Darius has one of the better set-ups overall, and thanks to his traits and starting techs, begins the game already slightly ahead of the field. Darius is clearly an economic leader in most ways. He has Gold and Growth flavours, and those combined with his traits mean Darius should almost always be able to construct a good economy. He loves building wonders (8/10), and unlike many of the other peaceful leaders, he builds enough units to defend himself too (6/10). That�s lucky, because he also has a high peaceweight of 8, and will often be target for attack from the more aggressive leaders. Lastly, Darius himself isn�t necessarily going to build in peace, he actually has an average aggression rating (5.2/10), and he can and will claim more land by the sword if necessary. On paper, Darius probably has one of the best setups in the game; he�s a peaceful leader with amazing economic traits, but he�s also willing to defend himself and fight for more land.

Past Performance: Alongside Victoria, Darius is one of the biggest puzzles of AI Survivor. Theoretically he�s undoubtedly one of the strongest leaders in the vein of Mansa Musa or Huayna Capac, and yet the victories just haven�t materialised for him in the same way. Darius made it to the Wildcard Game in Seasons One and Two, and came second in the latter year, but fell quickly in the playoffs afterwards. He was even worse in Season Three, failing to expand and quickly being dogpiled by the other AIs. Finally, in Season Four, we saw some success from Darius, as he outteched the competition for his first victory in his opening game, before nearly winning his playoff game as well, stupidly tossing Charlemagne the win after dominating the entire game. However, Darius then got an unlucky field in the Championship, being the only high peaceweight leader, and was quickly torn apart. So why hasn�t it all worked out for Darius like it has for Mansa? It seems like there is, at least, an easy answer. Time after time, Darius is slow to expand. His strong games come when there is lots of land around him, and it matters less, and his early losses come on the smaller maps where the other AIs claim it first. Darius� traits mean that with even land, he can out-research almost any other AI; he just struggles to get to that point! Look at the map carefully when evaluating Darius� performance; on the larger maps, he�s got a pretty good chance of an upset victory thanks to his traits. On the smaller maps though, it seems Darius� starting techs aren�t good enough to boost his expansion; he just doesn�t build enough settlers, and gets outproduced (and eventually wiped out) by the AIs that do.

Genghis Khan Temujin of the Mongols
Traits: Aggressive, Imperialistic
Starting Techs: Hunting, Wheel
Peace Weight: 0
Past Finishes: No First or Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season One Wildcard Game
Total Kills: 2
Overall Power Ranking: 2 points, tied 40th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Temujin is a comically over-aggressive leader who routinely self-destructs with ill-advised military ventures. His Imperialistic trait is good for expansion but the pairing with Aggressive carries no economic benefits at all, leaving Temujin to crash his economy in game after game. The great khan is routinely one of the most technologically backwards leaders, inevitably causing him to flame out and lose to more advanced neighbors in the later stages of each match. The Mongolian civ is well above average thanks to the Keshik and Ger unique items, and Kublai Khan has been able to use them to good effect in his appearances. However, Genghis Khan is fatally undercut by his obsession with all things involving war. He has an exceedingly high aggression rating (9.5/10), he builds tons of units (8/10), he will demand tribute constantly (10/10), and he has the lowest peace weight in the game. Temujin only has a single flavor for his tech research, Military, and he'll go to great lengths to beeline Military Science for his grenadiers while still lacking Aesthetics. This is not a complicated leader to understand: Temujin is going to attack his neighbors early and often.

Past Performance: Like many of the other obsessive warmongers, Temujin has also struggled in his AI Survivor history. His most impressive performance came in Season One where he was handed an unfairly weak starting position and managed to survive against adversity into the Wildcard game. This was the Mongol leader at his best, churning out endless units to keep himself alive in the wake of repeated invasions. However, Temujin was never close to competing for a win in that game, and he's never been in contention in any of his other games either. The Wildcard game from Season One served as a perfect example of Temujin's self-destructive tendencies, as he picked a fight with a much stronger Zara Yacob and found himself booted out of the competition. The same result played out repeatedly in the following seasons, with Temujin attacking his neighbors again and again, stunting his economic development through endless wars, only to be rolled up and eliminated sometime towards the end of each game. Mindless aggression rarely works well in the long run, and Temujin only has two kills to his name despite all of those many invasions.

Isabella of Spain
Traits: Expansive, Spiritual
Starting Techs: Fishing, Mysticism
Peace Weight: 6
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish
Best Finish: Season Four Playoffs
Total Kills: 3
Overall Power Ranking: 8 points, 26th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Religion, religion, religion. Isabella is a religious zealot and cares more about her faith than just about any other AI leader in the game. Her "Spain on a Lake" techs are good for founding one of the first two religions and pretty much nothing else, but they will ensure that she'll get some kind of religion and then defend it to the death. Either you are a treasured practitioner of the one true path or you are heathen scum that must be wiped from the earth; there's little subtlety or nuance to Isabella's diplomacy. Her Expansive/Spiritual traits are decent without being spectacular, although it must be said that the AI doesn't do a great job of leveraging the Expansive trait properly. Spain's Conquistador and Citadel unique items are similarly "OK" without having any sort of game-breaking potential. Isabella can be a difficult neighbor to live alongside since she will constantly demand tribute (8/10), and to no one's surprise, demand that others adopt her religion (10/10). Isabella has exactly one research flavor: Religion. Starting to sense a trend here? This obsessive emphasis on religion tends to lead Isabella into founding more religions than she needs and launching ill-advised crusades against rival faiths. She's a one-dimensional cartoon character who only cares about one thing.

Past Performance: Isabella's religious mania has fared poorly in four out of the five games in which she's appeared. Most of the time Isabella will hog a whole bunch of religions and then self-destruct in spectacular fashion with a series of pointless wars. She's not quite as insane as Montezuma but she's not that far off either. Her cities will spend far too much time building temples and monasteries and more missionaries rather than the infrastructure which would actually be helpful in winning the game. The one exception to this pattern was Isabella's opening round game in Season Four, where she shocked everyone by winning a Domination victory in impressive fashion. This seems to have been a highly unlikely result, with Cyrus and Catherine knocking one another out of contention and allowing Isabella to sweep in and claim the win. It certainly wasn't repeated in the playoff round when Isabella clung to her own unpopular self-founded faith and was eliminated. She seems to have had one lucky game in which she scored all eight of her points, and it's dubious as to whether she can repeat that performance again.

Washington of America
Traits: Charismatic, Expansive
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Fishing
Peace Weight: 8
Past Finishes: No First or Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season One and Three Wildcard Game
Total Kills: 0
Overall Power Ranking: 0 points, tied 47th place (out of 52 leaders - dead last place)

Personality: Washington has a pacifistic AI personality combined with traits that lend themselves towards combat, leaving him stuck in an ineffectual spot that has achieved basically nothing to date. He has the combination of Expansive and Charismatic leader traits, a setup that theoretically leads to highly promoted units and faster expansion through cheap workers and granaries. Unfortunately Washington's personality is designed to play a peaceful builder game, and these traits simply aren't as useful as what other economy-focused leaders get to play around with. Extra happiness and health in each city is OK and all that but they're nowhere near as good as being Financial or getting the free culture from Creative or the free civic swaps from Spiritual. Washington certainly isn't helped by hauling around the American civilization, with its incredibly late-arriving unique features and only decent starting techs. Washington the AI has a low aggression rating (4.3/10), a high peace weight, and won't declare war at "Pleased" relations. He doesn't make many demands and typically acts as a great neighbor aside from a penchant for espionage spending (7/10). However, Washington inexplicably has Military and Growth tech preferences, causing him to prioritize military techs that he won't use and ignore development-focused research. It's a bizarre tech prioritization system that badly undercuts his performance. When combined with mediocre traits and the weak American civilization, it's easy to understand why Washington has struggled in past seasons.

Past Performance: Washington has a record of failure in AI Survivor, much like the early stages of his real-life military career. Washington has repeatedly been eliminated without ever scoring a single kill or coming close to taking home a victory. His best showings were two appearances in the Wildcard game during Season One and Season Three, both times following sluggish "sit in the corner and do nothing" opening round games. Washington was eliminated in both of those Wildcard matches despite the generally low level of competition that prevails in them, as well as being eliminated in his opening round matches in Season Two and Season Four. Washington's Season Four appearance was typical of his past showings, with a decent early game but with no efforts to increase American territory by snowballing ahead through conquest, leading inevitably to being swallowed up by a rampaging Huayna Capac later on. Wahington favors a passive style of gameplay and his associated leader traits and civilization simply aren't strong enough to win via that route.

Willem of the Dutch
Traits: Financial, Creative
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Fishing
Peace Weight: 4
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish, 1 Second Place Finish
Best Finish: Season Four Championship Game
Total Kills: 2
Overall Power Ranking: 9 points, tied 22nd place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Willem has one of the strongest economic setups in the game and he's been held back thus far only by his poorly-chosen set of research priorities. Willem has one of the best possible combinations of leader traits in the Financial + Creative pairing. Not only does Willem benefit from the free border pops and the Financial commerce bonus, there's even some basic synergy between the two in the form of cheap libraries. Willem's Dutch civilization is significantly less powerful, though it does have decent starting techs and can become strong if the Dikes ever show up in time to matter. As an AI leader Willem has middling scores in almost every category, lots of 4/10 and 5/10 ratings across the board. His aggression rating is about average at 6.7/10 and his peace weight also sits in the middle of the scale. Willem has a very low religious emphasis and he won't found his own faith very often despite his strong economic abilities. The single biggest weakness for Willem comes in the form of his tech preferences: he has Gold and Science flavors, which turn out to be one of the worst possible combinations for military tech. Willem has repeatedly refused to research Rifling technology to a ludicrous degree, in some games finishing Assembly Line and Flight (!) techs before picking up Rifling. This has led to his elimination at the hands of much less advanced civilizations as he needlessly fights with muskets against rifles. We have a general rule for Willem: if he makes it to Rifling tech then he wins the game; otherwise, he finds himself getting eliminated.

Past Performance: Willem has everything needed to be a strong leader for AI Survivor purposes and it was perplexing why his performance was so bad during the first few seasons. He successfully combines together great economic traits with a low peace weight and willingness to declare war at "Pleased" relations - this guy should be the second coming of Huayna Capac! Instead, he suffered early eliminations again and again during the first few seasons. Some of this was bad luck, as he drew a tough field of opponents in Season One and then a starting position crammed between Hannibal and Tokugawa in Season Two. Still, there's no avoiding the fact that Willem was underperforming his fundamentals, and when he was eliminated again in the opening round of Season Three, everyone was ready to write him off as a failure. This narrative flipped around in Season Four, however, with Willem finally living up to his potential by taking second place in the opening round (a game where he finished with the highest score) followed by a Cultural victory in the playoffs. He was on track to win the outright title in the Season Four Championship before a stubborn refusal to research Rifling tech doomed his efforts. It's clear by now that Willem is a serious threat to win any game in which he appears if he actually bothers to research military techs. It's his constant Achilles Heel and it will dictate how far he makes it in any match.

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

Game Eight was another match with a clear favorite in the picking contest, with roughly half of the community submissions choosing Stalin to win the game. The Russian leader performed extremely well in Seasons Three and Four which no doubt helped to convince a lot of hearts and minds. Willem also had a bit of a following and no one else was able to muster up more than a trace of support. The Runner Up category offered no such clarity with opinion split between half the leaders in the field. Cyrus, Willem, Stalin, and Isabella all pulled at least some support from the community here. First to Die was more lopsided with almost half of the contest entries choosing Darius as the first leader to exit. Then as usual opinion was split between Domination and Spaceship finishing results with almost identical submissions for each option.

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!

Bobchillingworth: Predicting Stalin to win on the basis that he could conceivably attack any of his neighbors in any order and do well, particularly Washington, who will occupy a fair chunk of territory but otherwise remain largely inert. Stalin doesn't care enough about religion to get stuck in a toxic relationship with Isabella, who will probably drag down the Dutch after Willem founds and converts to one of the latter faiths, and the lack of copper means he probably won't launch his first invasion stupidly early. Cyrus has an oddly low peace weight, so he'll likely do okay by virtue of Genghis preferring to sabotage Darius and/or Willem.

Sir Colville of the Dale: Wait a minute... Is this the first time we could see the Hydra in AI Survivor? And are the smaller heads actually going to eat the big one? That's the real story here, not Stalin's perfect positioning.

ZincAlloy: I see Washington has been banished to the corner of irrelevance where he belongs, very good. And while I dream of a Persian Pair Power Hour, only Cyrus will see glory this match: Darius is first to die. To many low peace weights (and Isabella) surrounding him. I'm betting on an exciting game where Stalin conquers the entire south (eventually), but Cyrus wins a culture victory from second or third place. And for a non-existent bonus point, I'm predicting Willem survives long enough to research rifles!

Alhambram: Three leaders got good start for their starting techs: Isabella, Darius and Washington. However high peaceweight of Darius between Stalin and Temujin shall doom him. Isabella shall found 2nd and Holy City at river gems and tech away with claims,gems and holy shrine. Cyrus is doing well but his biggest mistake is going be founding 2nd religion and Willem is going be squeezed between Isabella and Cyrus and also forget to tech rifling again. Temujin and Stalin won�t research mysticism till turn 100 roughly and get behind others in terms of economy. Finally Isabella shall steamroll all civs with advanced units except Washington who is tucked away in corner safely.

BohemianSpoonyBard: Arstotzka would clearly stand trial of time! Its superior industry and army would conquer weak Kolechians of East then the reactionary Impor of North and then it would succeed in the Revolution! Glory to Cobrast... err, I meant Arstotzka!

MirrorG: Stalin has lots of juicy, high peace weight targets all around him, only slowed by the fact that if Isabella plants her holy river along that city, she could catch all three civs south of her in her religion. He may be able to get some help from Cyrus in making something of a low peace weight bloc, but with Temujin in the mix I think that corner of the field is going to be 'preoccupied' most of the time. My bet is Isabella catching Stalin in her religion and thus keeping the heat off her as he plows his way through Washington and Darius before eventually snowballing like Alex did last week.

c0lors: Stalin has a nice start, is well positioned to eat both Washington and Darius, and isn't Isabella. I usually like Cyrus, but I can only touch the hot stove that is "the AI can't improve any tiles around their capital with their starting techs and might just torpedo their own game to spite my picks" so many times in one season.

Tristan: I�m hesitant to pick Stalin because I see both of Stalins scouts went south towards the tundra, which is where he might settle (something I learned in the Game 7 from Justinian). I like Isabella to drop a center of the map Holy city to block a lot of people off. Don�t love the coastal start but 4/7 leaders start coastal. There�s also not a lot copper, which is something I like about Isabella�s start. If Willem founds his own later religion, I think that gets him eliminated by Isabella and her religious allies but I don�t see a very early elimination of anyone. If Cyrus gets bogged down in war with Genghis Khan, i think he eventually wins, but it takes him awhile. Whereas Isabella will hopefully plan a more well-timed attack.

Eauxps I. Fourgott: Ugh, this game was a mess to try and predict. I'd much rather see a game with Persia dominating, but I feel like Willem and Stalin have the best positions on the map. The only problem... neither of them has early copper!!!! Ultimately, I'm taking a gamble and picking them anyway, hoping that Izzy waits to attack until they get Iron Working and are secure. (Cyrus also doesn't have copper and is squeezed, which is why I have him as FTD, and I doubt Darius or Washington will pull the trigger on such an early attack.) If that does happen, then Financial will carry the day and Willem will go to space. At least, that's how I predict it will go. Would love to see the unlikely scenario where Darius and Washington partition Stalin early on and go to dominate the game instead.

Dark Savant: Stalin might ordinarily be an easy choice for winner, as he's got a lot of space and starting wet corn, but he's got no easy copper. That's proven time and time again to be a serious problem. This looks like a good time as any to bet on Persia and Persia doing well.

Amicalola: Ok, my picks are pretty weird here. The theory, at least, is that I think Willem is criminally underrated. Yes, the rifling thing is bad, but it doesn't matter every game, and Darius/Washington are here to take the heat for my man early on. He wins an early spaceship, I think. Meanwhile, Isabella actually has a seafood start, meaning she won't be dead in the water (heh) early on with her religious preferences. I think this is a rare game where her crusades can be successful, and though Willem will win, Isabella might have the most land by the end. Darius and Washington are the distractions for the aggressive leaders until Willem goes all Mansa on them later in the game. These two die at some point, while a couple of the aggressors probably survive to the lategame; no idea who, so it's lucky that isn't a scoring category. Early spaceship, go Willem!

Gargantua: A lot depends on whom Temujin declares on. Odds are Darius would be the victim. This won't proably be very effective because of strategic ressource distribution. Wilhe may use this opportunity, either by dogpilling, or by flipping captured cities with his dominant culture. I think Stalin has kind of the same victory conditions. But his starts is slightly less good and he couls have the problem of avoiding mysticism. The joker is Izzy. I hope, Wilhem will get her religion and avoid early aggression.

eyser24: The deciding factor for this game will be whether Stalin or Isabella rises in the east. Stalin's biggest weakness is that he is one of the AIs that may delay getting Mysticism and culture in his cities. I am liking his start though as he has a lot of land and even if he gets crowded in on one direction, he will have room to expand. If he survives, he can easily eat up Washington to the east, and/or Darius, and from there balloon. So if he does do the skipping Mysticism thing, he can come back from it like how Julius Caesar had a good game earlier this season. Isabella also has a huge chance of dominating the east if Stalin flounders and doesn't get culture. I think she is a scary AI if she is on the right side of a religious divide, and that could cause her to take out Stalin. There are many variables here, but I think Stalin is more likely to outperform Isabella based on starting location. Looking at the west, how does Cyrus not dominate? Genghis will collapse after ruining Darius's game, and Willem will be overwhelmed by Isabella and be a failure like in every game he has been in. Cyrus will come out on top and compete with either Stalin/Isabella, and the eastern power will have more land and thus be able to beat Cyrus in a 1v1.

RonJenzy: I mean, this is Stalin's game to lose, but as we've seen that's apparently the name of the game this season. Still, I can't in good faith vote against him. I think Cyrus is a good pick for second, as long as Genghis stays out of his hair long enough to get going. Darius is first to die because Washington's weird starting position protects the latter, while Darius is just kinda sitting in the middle of a bunch of low peace weight leaders. I mean, Willem could in theory win, I wouldn't blame someone for picking him, but I just don't see him being able to tech in peace in a game with several strong warmongers, especially since all but Cyrus plot at Pleased. I think it's more likely that Stalin and Cyrus carve up the map. I have a hard time choosing between Domination and Spaceship, but I think Cyrus would take too much of the map to let Stalin get an easy win, and could hold out against Stalin long enough to where the spaceship lands. But knowing my (and many others') luck this season, we're gonna see Isabella win by Domination on turn 275 with a strong second place by the Mongolians.

Japper007: Willem looks to be of to a good start ...but wait did I just hear Stalin's theme music??? *USSR anthem plays* Unbelievable Stalin with the steel chair!!!

Agni Neres: This is looking to be an interesting game! Four of seven AI are backstabbers who declare war at 'pleased' relations. Isabella finds herself in heaven, with seafood for her Fishing tech and, as the only player with Mysticism, unchallenged for as many religions as her petty little heart desires. Balancing the scale is the unfortunate Great Khan, who gets a seafood/flood plains start without Fishing, and more importantly no horses in sight for building his unique Keshiks. The middle of the board features two powerhouse financial leaders, either of whom could run away with the game. America and Blue Persia, on the opposite coasts, have an outside shot at Cultural victory should Willem and Darius deadlock. Stalin, surrounded by high peace-weight AI, looks to be the odd man out without a clear path forward. Those last two playoff spots will be well earned by the winners.

Bernn: I really don't like Cyrus's start in this game: he's saddled with a seafood heavy capital that doesn't work well with his starting techs and he's very liable to get squeezed by at least one of his neighbors. If Temujin settles north and grabs that copper, he could start putting some serious early pressure on Cyrus and I'm actually going there and putting Cyrus as my First To Die because of it. As for the winner, I'm incredibly tempted to go with Stalin because of his amazing past performances, but I think his winning streak is due to end. I'm going all in on the underdog Darius. It's his time to shine.

CymbalXL: I am predicting that everyone will forget about Washington who is tucked away in that corner. That will be their doom as Washington will backstab Stalin when he's bogged down in a war with Darius/Willem. G Wash will do something like Alex did in Game 7, albeit slower, and cruise to domination victory. High number of wars since Izzy will cause religious tension. Late finish since there are some tough AI in this game.

eggpoison: Genghis Khan without horses or copper will rush himself into oblivion to the benefit of the Persias and the high peace weight civs. But only one Persia is destined with the correct peace weight...

* * * * * * * * * *

And finally we have these short story contributions from Wyatan and Slashin' that had to be included despite their length:

Wyatan: Her shriek sent the royal palace into a hesitant turmoil. General Cortez rushed noncommittally to the throne room. A messenger was groveling before the Queen, in an attempt to allay the fury his message had unleashed. King Cyrus had embraced the Dutch heresy.

The plan had been a solid one. Faithful Darius had turned his kingdom into the anvil onto which the mongrelian hordes would crush from the West, and the Russian rabble from the East. President Washington, blessed be his gentle soul, would be the Hammer from the East, with Cyrus as his western counterpart. But he had betrayed. His armies scattered, chasing tundra barbarians. She knew who to was to blame, though...

She spotted Cortez. Her shrieking abated. In a surprisingly steady voice, she gave the order. "General, you are to leave immediately. Enough is enough. Bring me the head of the ugly little man." An outsider might understandably have been confused. But every one at the Court knew that "the ugly little man" did NOT refer to King Darius.

"Your majesty, may I ever so humbly suggest that we wait until the Dutch armies are off-position, readying for a southern assault ? It might also be advisable to pause the construction of the Great Temple, and re-allocate the craftsmen to the production of weapons and armours, for the time being." The sudden darkening of her expression made Cortez think that the messenger might have had the right idea after all...


- "The Mad Queen", Orange Press, The Hague.

Slashin': The clock struck midnight, yet no one heard. The people slumbered, the streets deafeningly quiet, and nary a light source was present with one exception: A dim bulb that meekly greeted the night through one studio window of a large apartment complex. Through that window sat a man hunched over his desk, pouring his being into the manuscripts that laid before him well into the night.

The man prided himself in two things. The first was a fondness for history. He had received a bachelors at a respected institution in history and followed it up with a masters and phd in the English nation-state variety. Memorizing dates were his narcotic and interpreting events his aphrodisiac. The more esoteric the knowledge, the more strongly it resonated and satisfied his being. The subject matter lent strongly to his second trait: an uncanny ability to recognize strong argumentation and use them to distill seemingly unrelated events into interlocking narratives. He leveraged these traits in a contest on an alternate historical simulator, where he had kept up with confirmed time travellers Kjotleik and ThreeLeggedChicken and espers Wyatan and smithy despite lacking supernatural abilities of his own. It got to the point the man had to make his predictions at the very start of these simulations, lest the ignorant masses cast his predictions as word of god and incorporate them into their own, nullifying the entire purpose of the contest. And yet, despite his unwavering confidence in his abilities, nothing could have prepared him for the worded art before him.

"...working men of all countries, unite..." Sullla whispered softly, his finger trailing every gripping word of the last sentence until at last touching worn binding.

Sullla was no stranger to astute political treatises on human nature, even if his discipline was one of historical retrospection and not of political argumentation. He had read the works of Machiavelli, the authoritarian scriptures of Hobbes, the foundational texts of Locke and Aquinas, and the critical theories of Rosseau. Each of these political theorists made good arguments, and Sullla could see support for them in his own encyclopedic understanding of historical events. And yet, for every event that supported their conclusions, he envisioned three others that contradicted their words. Sullla could parse fallacious arguments from genuine ones, as well as recognize logical inconsistencies in an author's examples on how a series of events would play out to support their arguments. And he was not impressed...until coming across the Communist Manifesto.

Never before had words resembled art for Sullla until reading about Marxist critical theory. The arguments in the foundational paper for an entire political movement were immaculate, the logic consistent from beginning to end, the fallacious arguments kept to a minimum if any. And the more the prose connected to him, the more it upset him that history had not played out that way...yet.

"So why...have events not played out this way in human history?" the man thought to himself. "Unless..."

He was in a timeline where events in the most unlikely of ways did not play out the way Marx had planned. It happened quite often in his simulations after all. Some leaders, particularly of the burger kind, had emerged sovereign in these unlikely timelines. When observing other concurrent timelines, it was clear that history had not developed correctly as other more capable leaders rose to supremacy over and over again. "I must be living in one of those errant timelines," Sulla pondered to himself. He turned his head and looked towards the familiar glow of his alternate history playing contraption. A dark thought loomed in his mind as thunder began crackling outside his abode. He would prove his theory correct one way or another.

He opened the simulator. Any outright edit would be too obvious and his viewers though varied, were not stupid. Most were familiar with the mechanics of the program and how maps were generated. No, he would have to be subtle.

The peaceful persian leader, Darius, had an excellent coastal start and a corner to himself. His cousin was in the middle of the planet, a spot ripe for expansion and a boon for his playstyle. During their slumber, Sullla teleported the leaders to each others palace, both being persian themed so the leaders themselves would not be suspicious of his involvement. Now Darius would be in a position to draw the ire of all four of his low peaceweight neighbors while basting himself in wondrous glory and letting the communists grab more land than they deservedly should. With some militaristic and diplomatic prudence, the communists would even be able to take those highly developed persian cities for themselves. As for the other Persian leader, he would have a good start without stirring up trouble near red borders. It would certainly be a strong civilization, second only to the dominance of the children of Lenin.

But what if against all logic the marxists were unable to leverage that start? No... they would need a further advantage. And Sullla had a fiendish idea with a cruel ironic twist, at least for the timeline he was living in. The continent originally oval shaped, was changed to have a weird extension of land towards the southeast corner of the map where the russians lay. It would look a little suspicious, but he could justify with the pretence of a 7th civilization. This would all but guarantee the communists a backrow of land to fill and Russia as a superpower in this timeline. They would even have that land kept warm and well developed by none other than the most venerated and praised leader of their mortal enemy in his world. Sure, Americans could praise the man's deeds to their heart's desire, but Sulla knew deep down that man was an inept leader when it came to governance.

The crackling thunder slowly emerged into a continuous guttural noise around his studio.

In contrast, the communists would be under the stewardship of the ruthless yet pragmatic premier, Josef Stalin. In contrast to the American leadership, Stalin would effectively push out the borders of his empire, and what he couldn't build, he could take from the doormats that sandwiched his large empire. And to ensure Russian supremacy, Stalin's northern neighbor would be a religious zealot with no other competing zealots in this world. This would all but ensure the russian people, little as they care for faith, would not accidentally find themselves at the diplomatic short end of a religious crusade. The russians would be the advanced people of the world, with their flag on the moon. And communist doctrine would spread across the cosmos as a russian spacehip set out for Alpha Centauri.

By now, the thunder emerged as a long continual deafening roar isolated around his complex. Neighbors would wake up and file a noise complaint about a storm localized entirely around their apartment. "Yes...this should be sufficient," the man thought to himself. Normally he was an unbiased and well mannered man who frowned on making edits in these alternate timelines. But he had a mission and something to prove. And no one would get in the way of that.

Game Eight Picking Contest Entry Form