The opening game of Season Six featured a hotly contested match between leaders at the opposite end of the peace spectrum. On the one hand was Pool 1 leader and community favorite Julius Caesar, the leader with the most kills in AI Survivor history and a juicy looking starting position. On the other hand was the most pacifistic leader in the game, Pool 2 representative Gandhi, who had brought along a bunch of his high peace weight friends for company. The rest of the field was filled out with Pericles and Joao and Frederick and Sitting Bull, all of whom rank on the "good" side of the spectrum and none of whom will declare war at "Pleased" relations. With so many leaders who disliked fighting present in this game there was a natural dichotomy of potential outcomes. Would Caesar be able to snowball ahead from an early conquest and then murder the rest of the board while they sat on their hands? Or would Caesar be disliked by the rest of the group and get dogpiled before he could ascend beyond the conquerer's plateau? Opinions were split but the general feeling in the picking contest was that Caesar had the best odds to win out of any single leader.
We paid attention as always to the early settling decisions of the AI leaders and how the initial religions shook out. Gandhi sent his starting settler to the northwest, away from Caesar's territory, and the Hindu Holy City predictably popped up there on Turn 9. Up in the north, everyone settled to the southeast and left a large open area in the northwest which would remain unoccupied for centuries on end. The second religion surprisingly went to Joao's Portugal as he narrowly beat out Pericles, creating a situation where Christianity dominated the northern side of the map while Hinduism prevailed in the south. Joao's decision to invest heavily in religion at the outset of the game wound up being a bad one, delaying the critical worker techs that he needed to get his start off and rolling. He would end up getting squeezed on territory and struggled to accomplish much after playing a poor opening sequence.
As it turned out, Joao wasn't the only one stumbling about in the early game as many of the other leaders found themselves lurching from crisis to crisis. Gandhi built an early Stonehenge but neglected to do much in the way of settling cities, remaining stuck on a mere three settlements some 50 turns into the game. He also delayed The Wheel tech for ages on end which left his resources unconnected and his cities stunted on size. Pericles was one of the favorites in the picking contest and he was even worse off, as his third city of Corinth was captured by barbarians raiding down from the northern jungles. He did recapture Corinth only to have barbarians take it back again a dozen turns later! At least it had been size 2 when it was taken and thus avoided being autorazed. Frederick was in a similar position as his own fourth city of Munich was also captured by barbarians, visible in the Turn 50 overview screenshot:
Frederick further failed to research Mysticism tech for long turns on end, leaving his cities stuck with only their initial nine tile radius. The good news for him was a vast gulf of unsettled terrain to the north of Corinth which would provide Frederick future expansion opportunities despite his slow start. The only leaders who seemed to be doing well in the early game were Caesar and an unexpected Sitting Bull. Caesar was doing his typical Imperialistic thing by pushing out settlers and crashing his economy. He was able to get the nearby iron resource inside his borders at a relatively early date but held off on researching Iron Working for a long time. There would be no early Praetorian rush in this game as Caesar peacefully settled the map.
Meanwhile, Sitting Bull stunned everyone by taking and holding the score lead during these turns. The much-maligned leader ballooned out to nine cities in a hurry and made great use of the floodplains river valley where the Native Americans started out. Sitting Bull's city placements confined Joao to the eastern seaboard and the Portuguese would never have any real success in breaking out of that box. (Joao also decided to spend many of the game's crucial early turns building the Temple of Artemis in his second city rather than training settlers - not the best decision.) It wound up being a pretty unusual first 100 turns for the entire field of leaders: Gandhi wasn't expanding much at all as he cranked out wonders, Pericles and Frederick were failing left and right against the barbarians, Joao was too stunted on territory, and Julius Caesar remained unexpectedly peaceful. In fact everyone stayed peaceful because nobody other than Caesar was ever going to take much action in that regard.
The most important development taking place in the game was therefore the religious diplomacy. Frederick and Sitting Bull picked up Joao's Christianity to create a unified northern front while Pericles converted to the Hinduism of Gandhi's nearby Holy City. With Gandhi founding and burying the game's other religions, the key question was which religion Caesar would adopt. Roman territory was roughly equidistant between the two holy cities and it would likely come down to the randomness of how each religion spread. Ultimately Caesar wound up with a Christian spread and flipped into Joao's religion, improving his relations with the northern leaders at the expense of the southern ones. This made a war declaration against Gandhi practically an inevitability and we did finally see hostilities break out on Turn 108:
This was not the game's first war as Joao had sneak-attacked Pericles about a dozen turns earlier, briefly capturing a border city only to have it retaken by the Greeks. The two of them would fight a series of off-and-on wars that resulted in no territory changing hands, a wasteful sequence of conflicts that dragged both parties downwards for no strategic reason at all. But it was Caesar's invasion of Gandhi which was the real story of this game as the Romans had the potential to snowball ahead via a successful conquest of India. Gandhi had built tons of useful wonders - Stonehenge, the Pyramids, the Statue of Zeus, etc. - and if Caesar could gain hold of all of them while doubling his territory he could easily become unstoppable. The Romans ran right over the border city of Agra and then took the southern coastal city of Pataliputra a few turns later. Would anything be able to stop their march to the sea?
We kept an eye on the other leaders to see if anyone would jump into the fighting. Pericles and Joao were unable to join the war since they were locked up in their own conflict while Frederick and Sitting Bull simply appeared to be too peaceful. This was a prime opportunity to hit Caesar from behind while he was engaged with Gandhi and they were too peaceful for their own good to take it. Even Caesar flipping back into Hinduism wasn't enough to get them off their behinds and do something other than build away in their corner of the map. It looked like Gandhi was going to have to save himself here or else suffer elimination. Fortunately for India the next few Roman targets were both located on hills, with the cities of Vijayanagara and the capital of Delhi looking to offer stout resistance. There was a bloody battle for Vijayanagara but it ultimately fell on Turn 146 and that looked to be the beginning of the end for Gandhi. His capital was the only other city with any production whatsoever and as soon as it fell the Roman legions would easily sweep through the remaining Indian cities to complete their successful conquest.
But a funny thing happened en route to Caesar's triumphant victory. While he was able to take the city of Varanasi without any issues, the followup Roman attack against Delhi failed to punch through the city's defenses. For no clear reason Caesar attacked without waiting for catapult support and threw away a whole army. Then he built up another stack and facepalmed a second time to no avail. By the time that he brought a third army to the gates of Delhi, the longbows inside had gained enough promotions that they were able to survive even with the city defenses removed. Double promoted longbows in a city on a hill were no slouches and Caesar's stack of praetorians and elephants and horse archers simply weren't strong enough to gain traction. These lengthy delays were killing Caesar's economy and stagnating him on the scoreboard; Rome was only just unlocking maces while peaceful Sitting Bull and Frederick were well into the Renaissance era. In fact, even a successful Caesar conquest of Gandhi at this point probably wouldn't be enough to win the game as he had fallen so far behind the other leaders.
Caesar might have sat there forever outside the walls of Delhi but eventually the northern leaders finally awoke from their slumber:
We spotted that Frederick was plotting war and he chose to attack Caesar instead of the only other possible choice in Pericles. Either would have been a good move to acquire more territory against a weakened rival and the exhausted Roman civ was in no position to defend against invading German knights. Note that Frederick had actually eclipsed Sitting Bull to become the score leader thanks to settling so many additional cities in the northwest portion of the map. Caesar was extremely far behind in technology and had no chance at all when confronted with a fresh opponent. After suiciding yet another army against Delhi he began retreating back into his core and the rout never stopped. Gandhi was able to retake most of the cities that he had previously lost while Frederick began carving up the cities in the Roman core. Sitting Bull belatedly entered the war on Turn 206 but arrived too late to pick up much in the way of spoils. His biggest gains came from German captures that flipped over to the Native Americans thanks to cultural pressure after the war was over. Soon enough the fighting drew to a close with Sitting Bull blundering a chance to score the kill and Frederick deservedly mopping up:
Thus Caesar exited in last place as the first leader to suffer elimination in Season Six. His biggest problem was waiting too long to act against Gandhi. The Indian leader delayed connecting his iron resource until almost Turn 100 and a Praetorian rush that invaded India at an earlier date likely could have swept through Gandhi's weakly defended holdings without breaking a sweat. However, by waiting so long to initiate hostilities, Gandhi was able to connect his resources and put up a determined resistance that blunted the Roman advances. I wonder if we'll see a different outcome in some of the alternate histories or if Caesar was simply doomed by the peaceful nature of the leaders drawn into this game. Time will tell.
In the aftermath of Rome's elimination it was clear that Frederick and Sitting Bull were the big dogs. They were both well out in front of everyone else in terms of territory and technology and that didn't seem likely to change given the pacifistic nature of this field. Normally there would be another clash between the top powerhouses and further consolidation of the remaining players but nothing of the sort happened in this game as it was mostly a big lovefest all around. None of these leaders could declare war at "Pleased" relations and everyone seemed happy to keep teching along building up their own cities. Frederick and Sitting Bull seemed to be very evenly matched when it came to the tech race, with the Germans hitting Assembly Line tech first but also starving their cities for lack of health resources. For once Sitting Bull's favorite civic of Environmentalism came in handy to avoid that issue. It was anyone's guess who would be able to launch a spaceship first between the two of them.
We finally had some new action when Sitting Bull declared war against Joao on Turn 278. The Portuguese were more than a full era behind in technology and Sitting Bull seemed poised to sweep Joao off the map. City after city fell in rapid succession as the overmatched defenders in green were crushed by weight of superior numbers and superior technology. However, note that the United Nations was constructed on the same turn that the war began and the very first vote after Frederick was selected as Secretary General was to bring the war to a halt. Joao clung to life for the moment with three cities remaining, denying Sitting Bull a completed conquest which would have lifted him clearly above Frederick. Speaking of the United Nations, it was equally clear that no one had enough votes to secure the outright Diplomatic victory. Frederick could get reasonably close but he would never pick up Sitting Bull's votes and lacked enough population to hit the 62% requirement without the Native Americans. This game was headed for a different peaceful ending type.
But what peaceful ending type would that be? Right around the same time that Sitting Bull launched his short-lived invasion, Gandhi was turning on the culture slider in a bid for three Legendary cities. It seemed patently ridiculous that Gandhi could win the game, sitting down at the bottom of the scoreboard and with half his territory having been captured by Caesar earlier in the game. He was still researching Physics as a technology while the other leaders were all well into the Modern era at this point. And yet this was a game where no one would ever declare war on Gandhi so pushing for a Cultural victory wasn't particularly risky at all. Pericles even duplicated the same strategy by turning off his own research and beginning his own push via the culture slider. We looked at the Indian and Greek cities and found that Pericles would never be able to win before Gandhi hit three 50k culture cities so the Greeks were effectively out of the game. As for Gandhi, his victory date looked to be somewhere in the Turn 350-360 range. Could Sitting Bull or Frederick manage to win by Spaceship before the cultural finishing date arrived? It was going to be surprisingly close.
Then there was also the competition between Sitting Bull and Frederick as they both chased after their own spaceships. Sitting Bull was slightly ahead by a tech or two while Frederick had the higher beaker rate and was closing fast thanks to a late Golden Age and finally solving his health woes. It looked like it was going to come down to the dumb luck of who managed to avoid researching unneccessary techs like Stealth and The Laser. Meanwhile, Sitting Bull continued to leave Joao alive for no clear reason but Pericles decided that he wanted revenge for their earlier warring and invaded Portugal on Turn 321. Even as Joao was in the process of dying he continued trolling the rest of the field in the United Nations:
On two separate occasions Joao defied a United Nations resolution which would have imposed Free Speech civic on the rest of the world. This was enormously important as Gandhi was inexplicably not running Free Speech civic during his Cultural victory attempt and therefore he wasn't getting the +100% culture bonus in his cities. I think that he actually didn't have Liberalism researched yet as a technology and was unable to run Free Speech since it wasn't unlocked yet. Anyway, Joao's insane defiance of the UN vote kept Gandhi locked out of Free Speech and slowed down his Cultural victory attempt by a few turns. It was likely the difference between India finishing sometime around Turn 345 and finishing around Turn 355... and that would end up being highly significant indeed. Joao was eliminated by Pericles on Turn 336 but he had left his mark on this game regardless.
The final turns were unexpectedly dramatic despite no military conflict anywhere in the world. Frederick and Sitting Bull both detoured off the spaceship path at various points in time but Sitting Bull went for Stealth while Frederick skipped it. This was enough to cost Sitting Bull his earlier one tech lead and left the two leaders almost exactly tied in the space race. Sitting Bull launched his spaceship first on Turn 335, however he launched with only a single completed engine component which meant that it would take 12 turns to reach Alpha Centauri. Frederick was slightly slower and launched on Turn 337 with a fully intact spaceship, needing 10 turns to reach its destination among the stars. We therefore had a Turn 347 finish for Sitting Bull... and a Turn 347 finish for Frederick. A same turn tie! In those situations the winner is determined by turn order so we expected Frederick to win by virtue of being listed first by alphabetical tiebreaker. Meanwhile, Gandhi reached two Legendary cities and had a third city sitting at 47k culture. It looked like he was going to fall short by about four or five turns. His lack of Free Speech civic thanks to Portuguese trolling appeared to have been enough to swing the outcome.
Turn 347 dawned, two spaceships landed simultaneously in Alpha Centauri, and the winner was...
Frederick by a whisker! Turn order had indeed carried the day and left him the victor. I suppose the Germans hopped off their spaceship slightly faster than the Native Americans or something like that. It was a fitting ending seeing as how Frederick and Sitting Bull had been neck-and-neck with one another for practically the whole second half of the game. It would have been fun to see them clash on the battlefield to determine the winner but of course their peaceful AI personalities prevented that from ever taking place. Amazingly both leaders who had previously never scored a single point in AI Survivor history will both be moving on to the playoffs. What a showing.
There was one more twist remaining in this game even though the winner had already been tallied. Some of the viewers spotted that Gandhi had generated a Great Artist on the final turn of the game. We clicked the "One More Turn" option to check out what he had been doing with that Great Artist on the final interturn and this was what we saw:
Calcutta was Gandhi's third near-Legendary city with 47,000 culture on the final turn of the game. Gandhi's Great Artist had popped up in his capital and moved six tiles towards Calcutta, as far as it could move on roads in a single turn. Gandhi was quite literally a single turn away from moving that Great Artist into Calcutta and using it for a culture bomb to send him over the 50k requirement and win the game himself. And he would have won any tiebreakers by virtue of being the Pool 2 leader and getting precedence in turn order. If Gandhi had researched up to Railroads technology he also would have won the game - he just couldn't move the Great Artist fast enough in a single turn to reach his last Legendary city. So we had a same-turn tie on the Spaceship and then Gandhi missing out on his own Cultural victory due to a lack of enough movement points on his Great Artist spawn. Holy cow, what a dramatic ending to a wholly peaceful finish!
We'll finish with Eauxps I. Fourgott's summary of this game as posted in the General Forum at Realms Beyond:
That was not a particularly competently played game by anybody. But that helped it be all the more entertaining!
Julius Caesar: Despite having a field stacked against him in terms of peaceweight, in the early going it looked like JC still had a beautiful setup to turn this into another dominant romp. He had one of the strongest openings, a nice, juicy neighbor for conquest in Gandhi, and was unlikely to be backstabbed before finishing that off. Any sort of efficient conquest and he would've at the very least had a very strong chance of winning. BUT, his conquest was anything but efficient! He took forever to research Iron Working, he didn't attack until after T100, and once he got the easy border cities, he took his sweet time to go for Gandhi's core. I and I think most of the crew still thought the Gandhi conquest was inevitable, but even when Caesar should've had the decisive advantage, he then stonewalled on Delhi and was somehow unable to capture it after multiple attempts. What was wrong with him there?!? His woefully and uncharacteristically incompetent attempt at conquest doomed him. Maybe he could've competed with Freddy and Sitting Bull near the end if he'd been left alone to finish of Gandhi, but it would've been a huge uphill battle with how far he'd fallen behind. His converting to Gandhi's religion right before attacking him was also not ideal and may have caused Freddy's big attack that killed him. I wonder how differently things would've gone if, following that, Caesar had turned north and attacked his new religious rival Joao? Ultimately, yeah, as the only low-peaceweight leader in a group of high-peaceweights, Caesar did not have the most advantageous setup this game. But there were also advantageous aspects to it that made a successful performance absolutely possible, and he failed to capitalize on those. A more incompetent military game than normal doomed him here.
Joao II: I don't think there was a lot he could have done here, to be honest. He had one of the worst spots on the map, crammed up against a corner, and then his closest neighbor Sitting Bull ended up being a rabid expansionist in this game. Sitting Bull would've been a suicidal war target, and probably a backstab of Caesar wouldn't have worked either, at least not until Freddy attacked, at which point Joao wouldn't have been able to gain much. He had little in the way of expansion prospects, nothing in the way of conquest prospects, and so from his start alone a win was likely ruled out. That said, he didn't do anything to deserve anything other than his eventual ouster either - his early expansion could still have been better and he ought to have gotten one or two of the spots that Sitting Bull settled, and he didn't make efficient use of his poor start either, with both Pericles and Gandhi doing better in that regard. And he managed to be the pariah of the world, so that not even the UN could prevent his ultimately deserved elimination.
Gandhi: What a comeback! Gandhi has the other worst starting position of the game, not only stuck at the extreme southern edge of the map but also the closest neighbor of Julius Caesar and a natural enemy to him. Very strong chances for first to die, and he didn't do anything in particular to try and prevent that. He didn't even execute a good landgrab! For that poor early game, he definitely deserved to not win. But he also deserves credit for his continued resistance against Caesar - while luck was definitely a big part of why he ultimately survived, his great defense at Dehli kept the Roman conquest at bay and made that possible, and the fact that he managed to reconquer all but one of his original cities during the collapse also showed that he wasn't a complete nothing of a leader here. And then he just, just barely missed out on a cultural victory, only a handful of turns out! The fact that he was able to do this despite having all but one of his core cities captured early on speaks to the strength of his cultural gameplay and shows that Gandhi is pretty much always a threat to sneak out a victory as long as he's alive. But make no mistake, he wasn't robbed here. Even leaving aside the great luck of Freddy coming in to save him from an otherwise inevitable Roman conquest, Gandhi made too many mistakes to get the victory. If he'd either played a better opening OR chosen to run Free Speech civic lategame instead of whatever else he was running, he probably would have gotten the win. If he'd done both of those, he would've taken it handily. But he did neither, and between that and his near-conquest, you really can't make an argument that he deserved to be the winner here. But there's a good chance that his resistance will be rewarded with a favorable setup in the Wildcard game - if he doesn't get eviscerated by the Raging barbs!
Pericles: I thought Pericles had a very favorable setup here, and, while ultimately incorrect, I still don't think my choice to back him in the picking contest was an illogical idea. The problem was that he executed an absolutely terrible opening, taking forever to build more settlers to expand past four cities, and losing his third city to barbs - TWICE! If he plays this part of the game with any sort of competence, he can get a good stretch of territory, take some away from Freddy's holdings, and then be in a good position to run away with the game. As it was, he did pretty well from about T100 on given what he had, building his way to a solid third place, seizing on his best chance of victory by beelining for the UN, and ultimately getting the last laugh on his arch-enemy of the game, Joao. But his early-game failures left him too far behind, and without any real avenue to victory from that point on. In theory he could have had better diplomacy, or absorbed western India and become a power from there, but in practice, given limitations such as willingness to declare at Pleased, that was never going to happen. I would expect that Pericles looks a lot better in the alternate histories. But he wasn't screwed over here - he threw away the game himself with the opening. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the Wildcard game - depending on who else makes it there, I wouldn't be surprised if he and Gandhi are two of the favorites there.
Sitting Bull: Sitting Bull actually did something! Kind of. He had a fantastic opening to put him in the lead early on, and then largely just sat on that, teching up and doing nothing else as nobody bothered him all game. Thanks to the problems plaguing the other leaders throughout the game, that was still almost enough for him to win, but still not quite. Sitting Bull's lack of aggression was definitely his undoing here. Had he been faster to stab Caesar, it could've been him instead of Freddy who took the lion's share of Rome and he could've become the runaway leader instead of getting just one and eventually two cities. Had he gone back to finish Joao off instead of just sitting around after the UN halted his conquest, he would've easily edged out Freddy in the space race. Instead he just gave a belated attack on Rome, and an attack on Portugal that came later than it ought to have and was cut off early. He played better economically than any other leader this game, but he never seized on that or leveraged it to a winning position. Ultimately, yeah, he was screwed over a bit by turn order here, first losing an extra Roman city and the kill credit to turn order, and then losing the Space Race on the same merits. But had he been just a little more proactive, he would've won easily, so you can't say this was an undeserved second place.
Frederick: Honestly, the bigger surprise here was how narrowly Freddy won. He had a lot go right in this game - he got a better-than-normal plot to expand into thanks to Pericles's bad opening, nobody did anything against him all game, he made an excellent decision to backstab a weakened Caesar and was rewarded with most of Rome, and he made a savvy move with the UN, stopping Sitting Bull from fully absorbing Portugal and undoubtedly winning himself the game in the process. But given all of that, I would have expected him to have a much more dominant game, snowballing ahead after conquering Caesar and becoming the game leader. He just didn't play that well economically, starving his cities with early industrialization, not doing as well culturally as Sitting Bull, etc. Had he gone on to more military activities, that approach may have served him well, but since he stayed at peace for the rest of the game, it kept him back and allowed Sitting Bull to keep pace. So ultimately, despite getting probably the most land to settle into out of anybody, being the one leader for most of the game to make a decisive military strike that paid off, and never being attacked all game, Freddy only won by the narrowest of margins. Had Sitting Bull gone back to war with Portugal, or ignored even one of the optional spaceship techs, or even had the "Sitting" left out of his name so that he went before Freddy in turn order, Frederick would not have won. He didn't completely throw his game, but aside from that he did about as poorly as possible with the hand that he had, and luck was definitely a factor, as savvy play from either of his two rivals would've given them the win instead.
As I said, not very good play from anybody this game, but that was a big part of making it so entertaining! Gandhi squeezing out the cultural victory would've been a good ending regardless, but there was a very real chance that we would've had a Caesar domination-fest or a runaway Space victory from Freddy or Bull if any of those leaders played better. Instead, we get the closest finish in AI Survivor history. I'm all for it! Meanwhile, two of the four leaders coming into the season with 0 points managed to top the leaderboard this game, while simultaneously showing why they had 0 points coming in. Neither Freddy or Sitting Bull had a particularly impressive game here even if they played better than anybody else - both had a lot of missed opportunities and could've done much better. I would expect more fireworks in the playoffs from Gandhi or Pericles, if they make it in via Wildcard, than from either of the actual leaders here. But who knows, maybe this will be the wacky season where we somehow get Sitting Bull in the championship!