This summary for Playoff Game One was written by Eauxps I. Fourgott. Many thanks for volunteering to put this report together!
The first game of Season 6's playoffs had a batch of leaders evenly split in terms of peaceweight, with three high and three low. The favorites in the picking contest were Mansa Musa from the highs and Catherine from the lows, both shining stars of the early seasons who'd fallen on harder times in recent years, only to bounce back with opening round victories this season. They'd be looking to follow their usual strategies to get to the championship, and over 85% of predictions guessed that one of these two would win, with Mansa the overall favorite. Flanking Mansa's northern central starting position were Darius for the high peaceweights and Suryavarman for the low, both leaders who had made multiple playoff appearances in the past, but weren't as dynamic leaders as Mansa and Cathy, and had made it to this game on rather weak second place finishes. The more consistently strong Sury threatened to be a major thorn in Mansa's side this match, while Darius would likely hide on the other side and try to figure out a way to out-tech him. Finally, Frederick from the high peaceweights and Napoleon from the low were both making their first appearances in the playoffs, as neither the Frenchman's aggressive nor the German's passive strategy had worked out for them in the past. Napoleon had racked up a strong second place finish and would look to be similarly successful from a corner start, while despite winning the season opener, Freddy was the overwhelming favorite for First to Die thanks to his central start that sandwiched him between Napoleon and Cathy.
The first religions were completely up in the air for this game since none of the leaders started with Mysticism. Mansa was expected to found one of them thanks to his religious AI preferences, but he instead opted to open with Animal Husbandry research to improve the cows and pigs at his capital, setting up a race between Catherine and Napoleon to grab the first religion. Both went for Meditation and Cathy started out ahead, only for Napoleon to push past her in research by connecting his first and second cities by road using his starting Wheel tech. That let him win the race by a single turn and found Christianity. Cathy was not to be deterred however, and went to research Polytheism instead, successfully founding Islam - just one turn ahead of Mansa! So Cathy got a religion, but at the expense of not researching any worker techs for the first 25 turns of the game. That put her in an economic hole to start the game, one that she'd have to work to climb out of for most of the rest of the contest. Suryavarman had also started out slowly this game, as Mansa beat him to his desired second city spot, causing him to walk his settler elsewhere and not found another city until Turn 10. It was looking good early on for the high peaceweights, especially as they all researched early Bronze Working to connect the copper at their capitals and ensure they wouldn't be helpless in the face of early attacks.
The game continued to look like a dream scenario for Mansa as the landgrab phase unfolded. Darius and Sury seemed to be deliberately leaving him space, settling to their north and south rather than claiming contested land. Mansa settled early on near two gold resources, which combined with his Financial trait to give him fantastic early research, while the low peaceweight leaders' economies crashed quickly as they expanded. Cathy didn't get the Wheel researched until Turn 58, both a symptom and a cause of her poor early economy. Darius had leveraged a gems resource at his capital to get comparable early research to Mansa, but was sitting on just three cities and making no effort to expand further. It was a fantastic start for Mansa, who just needed to build a bunch of settlers to expand to a large size and capitalize on this opportunity.
Frederick was the surprising leader of the landgrab, expanding quickly out to seven cities and capturing a barb city for eight. His score was still low and his potential limited while he refused to tech Mysticism and get culture in his cities, but he was setting himself up nicely and wasn't looking like the biggest pushover. Napoleon and Cathy had gotten quick starts to their expansion but then stalled out. Suryvarman continued to plant cities to his north, south, and east - everywhere except to the west where Mansa was. Darius similarly avoided settling towards Mali, placing his belated fourth city on the western coast instead. Freddy was pushing against Mansa more than his two closer neighbors! Mansa himself had delayed for a little while, locking up two of his four cities on wonder builds, but eventually he finished those up and started churning out more settlers, taking practically all of the contested land around him. Suryavarman got one desert hill spot, and otherwise Mansa cleared up all of the territory between the Malinese, Persian, and Khmer capitals. He was starting to open up a significant lead on the scoreboard, and still had some nice backlines to his north to fill in further. He was also plotting a war - potentially preparing to attack a weak Suryavarman who had no copper and no Iron Working?
But it was Darius, of all leaders, who declared the first war. Darius, who had just four cities, chose to march a mighty four-unit stack to attack Napoleon and his seven cities. The attack went about as well as you'd expect. This looked like it would tie down Darius and Napoleon for a long time in a mutually destructive war, as Darius had earlier managed to claim Feudalism by building the Oracle and so could stall out any French advances with longbows... but then Darius quickly decided to sign peace, as Frederick declared war on Napoleon from the other side. Rather than stick around and make it a 2-front war for Napoleon, Darius opted to drop out and abandon his chance at making any territorial gains, and then went on to convert to his self-founded religion of Confucianism, adding a diplomatic malus with all of the other leaders who followed the older faiths. Darius was currently neck-and-neck with Mansa as a research leader, but in every other respect this was looking like a spectacularly incompetent performance.
Napoleon was now locked in a conflict with Freddy, who was roughly tied with him in second place on the power charts. The obvious solution to this issue would be for Cathy to backstab Freddy and make it a 2v1... but right after Freddy declared on Napoleon, Mansa finished walking a big stack to Russia and declared war on Catherine. So much for that hope. Mansa had chosen to give Sury a pass after he'd converted to the Malinese religion of Judaism, and gone after the heathen Catherine instead. Unfortunately, he brought a large stack with zero catapults, and immediately attacked a heavily fortified city with walls on a hill. Every unit in his stack died in the initial attack, and it looked like Mansa was handicapping himself for no reason here - but this war would keep some pressure off Freddy, preventing Cathy from piling in against him for as long as it continued, and that relief allowed him to hold on for now.
Suryavarman now was now a critical swing player in this game. Up to this point he'd been ruled out from plotting war due to a lack of metals, but he was about to finish Iron Working, and that would also let him clear the jungles out of his land. Cottages were already going down in his clear land, and it looked like he was starting to build out of his weak start. This was the perfect time for him to intervene in one of the ongoing wars and swing the tide, and we didn't have to wait long to find out what side he would pick: Sury piled on in the war with Frederick. Freddy was now facing the dreaded 2v1 war proposition that his starting position had threatened, if not with the two leaders he was expected to face. He had been hanging on tenuously enough against Napoleon's attacks thanks to trying to squeeze in more buildings between his unit builds; with catapults on the horizon and a second army to deal with, his prospects were very bleak.
Mansa wasn't being much of a help, either. While he was distracting Cathy, he wasn't succeeding in accomplishing any more than that. Mansa sent a ton of units down to Russia, then suicided them against the walled hill city, causing one of the most dramatic single-turn power drops we've ever seen. Suddenly he no longer had a big lead on the power graphs; he had to now try to put together another big stack, and hopefully include some catapults this time. Meanwhile, distracted by this conflict, he was forgetting his backlines, and Darius managed to send some immortals up to the northern peninsula and capture a barb city that had popped up there, successfully increasing his city count by 25%. With one ally bumbling about with five cities, another one stuck in a nasty two-front war, and himself having just thrown away a ton of production, Mansa suddenly was looking like he might not be in such a great position after all. He soon signed peace with Catherine, taking no further losses, but what a waste of Malian production that war had been! He had to hope that the distraction he'd provided would be enough.
With that peace treaty, all the focus was on the attack against Freddy. For a moment, it looked like he would crumple immediately, losing two cities in one turn several turns after Sury's war declaration. But then he was able to bring in stacks from elsewhere, retake the cities, and defeat Napoleon's latest attack stack. Sury still didn't have catapults and was banging his head against the walled hill city of Cologne to no effect, and so Freddy was holding. Sury signed peace after throwing enough units against Cologne, and Napoleon took back one of Freddy's border cities only for the German to successfully counterattack and recapture it for a second time. A few turns later, Freddy was able to secure a peace treaty with Napoleon, having ultimately only lost a single tundra city. The world was back at peace, for now. Sullla EDIT: This was one of the biggest turning points of the game. Frederick lost Frankfurt and Essen simultaneously to drop down to six cities and looked to be out of the game soon thereafter. However, as Eauxps described above, the Germans were able to retake both cities and then sign peace treaties with both opponents to stabilize the situation. This had major consequences for the remainder of the contest.
Frederick had dropped to a distant last place on the scoreboard, but he was still alive and kicking. This was fantastic news for Mansa, who was taking advantage of his newfound peace to tech like a madman and start to extend his lead again. If Freddy could survive and continue drawing the warmongers' attention for long enough, Mansa would be unstoppable; right now his beaker rate was greater than Napoleon's, Cathy's, and Sury's combined! As for the others, all four were very close together, within 100 points of each other on the scoreboard at the signing of the peace treaty. None of the low peaceweights had managed to gain an advantage yet; Sury and Cathy lagged in tech but were starting to get their land better-developed, and it was anybody's game between the three of them. Darius was still on just five cities, but had managed to maintain a strong tech rate second to only Mansa, and was building an insane number of wonders in his cities. A Cultural victory might well be in the cards if he could survive for long enough, but his situation was still fragile and he likely wouldn't survive for long if he came under attack.
The peace lasted for just seven turns before Cathy came calling with her first war declaration of the game, coming in with an attack against poor Freddy. Her target was the city of Hamburg, which had just four units in it when she declared war - but then she waited to attack until she could bombard the defenses with her catapults, allowing Freddy to pack the city full of units, fight off the initial siege, and prevent her from getting a quick and easy city capture. A few turns later, Suryavarman made his next move: a war declaration against Mansa Musa! The Khmer leader had noticed Mansa starting to run away with the game and was prepared to do his level best to stop that from happening. However, this looked like a mistake; Sury didn't even have longbows or maces yet, while Mansa had just teched Gunpowder. He was about an age ahead in technology at this point, having researched techs like Education and Economics while the low peaceweights were still working on Feudalism and Civil Service and Engineering. It looked like the others were too late to stop the Mansanator.
They weren't too late to stop Freddy from surviving, though. Napoleon returned to war, and the long-expected 2v1 was on. This seemed to finally break Frederick's back - after long years of ceaseless fighting against two enemies, he barely got a chance to breathe before he found himself right back in the same situation. He spent the last of his strength defending against Cathy's initial incursion, and once Napoleon piled in Freddy simply couldn't defend any longer. German cities started falling right and left to France and Russia, with no more meaningful resistance coming. Napoleon and Cathy seemed to be coordinating on this, each going to different cities rather than overlapping their work, and that resulted in a quick conquest. Cathy took 3 cities, while Napoleon took 5, including the capital, and scored the kill.
The over 80% of people that picked Frederick as First to Die were absolutely correct. Freddy was stuck in a tough situation between two aggressive natural enemies, with a third nearby, which didn't leave him with a lot of options. He got minimal support from his natural allies too, with Darius completely selling him out and Mansa only ever distracting one of the three leaders at a time while doing nothing to stop the others. I'm not sure anybody could have survived this situation - but Freddy didn't do himself any favors, either, poking the sleeping bear with his initial declaration on Napoleon and on the whole failing to train enough units to put up a strong enough fight to last long-term without intervention. Freddy may have scored his first Power Ranking points this season and collected a win, but I don't think his general reputation is going to change significantly after this season. Still, he had fought valiantly for a long time, and the fact that it took over 170 turns to kill him was highly significant, giving Mansa the breathing room he needed early on to become a monster.
In the aftermath, Cathy and Napoleon were very close together and jockeying for second place. Napoleon had a few more cities, but Cathy was a better economic leader to offset that disadvantage. Darius still had an outside chance as well - he'd been continuing to tech surprisingly well for still having just five cities, and was still well ahead of everybody else except Mansa. Suryavarman was in deep trouble, though, as his invasion of Mansa had indeed proven to be a mistake. The classical Khmer stack was no match for the Renaissance forces of Mali, who even went and captured a border city before coming back and slaughtering Sury's big attack stack. From there the rout was on, and Mansa had already taken multiple Khmer cities by the time Frederick was eliminated. He continued methodically working down the eastern seaboard, taking city after city with no sign of stopping. But the others weren't just going to sit back and let him do it without interference: Napoleon quickly got his forces in order and backstabbed Mansa with a war declaration.
Napoleon was taking his last shot at stopping Mansa from winning. At first this felt like absolutely the last chance for the low peaceweights, who all hated Mansa with a fiery passion - but it soon became clear that it, in actuality, it was already too late for them. After having gone after techs like Democracy, Communism, and Physics first, Mansa had doubled back and finally queued up Rifling research, and it was due in two turns from Napoleon's war declaration, while the Frenchman himself was still back in the very early Rennaisance era in research - four techs away from Rifling even on a direct beeline. When his stack's attack came in on the Malinese city of Gao, the city was packed full of rifles and cavalry, and the French stack was cut to ribbons. Napoleon was fortunate enough to be able to quickly secure a white peace before Mansa came to roll over his territory with the new troops. Sury didn't get the same privilege, but Napoleon's attack had delayed his demise - focused on the new French threat, Mansa had stopped reinforcing his attack stack, and the offensive petered out with just three Khmer cities remaining. Just like in his opening round game, Mansa was now in a position to easily roll over a defeated opponent, but he was taking his sweet time to do it. While we waited for the last Khmer cities to fall, the last big twist in the game unfolded:
Not content to sit back, and instead making his play for second place, Napoleon declared war on his old enemy, Darius... on the same turn that Darius had signed a defensive pact with Catherine! Cathy moved first in turn order, signed the defensive pact with Darius, and then after that Napoleon's attack came in and he was suddenly caught in a two-front war. This was a spectacularly bad break for Napoleon that he couldn't have seen coming. Against Darius, he might have a shot - he was attacking with Musketeers and curassiers against Persian rifles and cavs, but he did have a major advantage in city count and production. But when also faced with an attack on the other side from an equally advanced and large civilization, he didn't have a chance. Cathy quickly sent a big stack in and started capturing former German cities. Darius, much more slowly, sent a much smaller stack in, but his advanced technology was good enough to start taking French cities as well. Napoleon's game had just been trashed - and at the same time, with everybody else distracted, Mansa's victory was more or less guaranteed at this point. With no possibility of a distracting backstab, he was able to get back to business in the Khmer war, and finally took Suryavarman's last city on Turn 227 to score his second kill of the season.
It hadn't been a great season for Suryavarman, even though he'd made the playoffs. He never really was able to get off the ground and running in either of his games, and in this one in particular, losing the initial settling race combined with having mediocre starting territory put him in a hole early on. Then he was too aggressive, and instead of working on teching up and recovering after finally getting out of his initial hole, he quickly went for an attack on a larger, more advanced Mansa, sealing his fate. Sury has performed well in past seasons, but this wasn't his year. With him out of the way, Mansa was now free to go back to teching, and he continued to enjoy an obscene lead over Cathy, who teched Rifling a single turn before Mansa finished up a delayed Assembly Line. They were close to being equal in city count, but Cathy was no match for Mansa's insane economy.
Meanwhile, Darius took a mere two French cities, the second one with a small but advanced four-unit stack, before deciding to peace out despite being on the cusp of unlocking Infantry to further his tech edge over the French. He could've taken a significant portion of Napoleon's empire here with France devastated by a two-front war, but he contented himself on a total of seven cities instead. It was like he was trying to play as unimpressive of a game as possible here. Still, the damage had been done. Napoleon had been ravaged already, and it wasn't getting any better for him. Even as he bizarrely delayed Rifling research, going for the likes of Scientific Method and Democracy instead despite his military flavor, Cathy picked it up to unlock her unique Cossacks and a generational tech edge. It looked like she'd romp through his territory and take it all for herself... only for her to sign peace a few turns after Darius, having taken over most of the German conquests but nothing else. Napoleon thus got a stay of execution, but he'd been knocked down to last place among the remaining leaders, and his shot at the championship was over.
The world was thus back at peace, but it was an uneasy peace. The diplo screen was a big ball of rage, as Darius enjoyed good relations with Cathy and Mansa, but otherwise everybody hated everybody else. Meanwhile, Mansa made his move for the victory: flipping on the culture slider! He had researched up to Mass Media to unlock the lategame cultural wonders, as well as Industrialism for tanks, but now his insane research that had been his biggest asset was going to stop. The question was whether the others could make up the difference before Mansa won. After he finished the crop of wonders, his third city was on pace to hit Legendary at about turn 330, and a little while later, after he'd finished building other things in it and set it to Build Culture, the date moved up to about 310. The clock was ticking.
The peace held for a long time, and it looked like we were in for a quiet conclusion to the game. Darius started plotting war, perhaps to try and actually fight for a second place spot - but then he thought better of it and canceled his plans, deciding to sit in the corner in third place instead. Apparently Darius was just phoning it in this season, and didn't actually care about moving on. Nobody else started plotting, either, and so Mansa continued racking up the culture, drawing closer and closer to a victory. The messy diplomatic situation in this game meant that a Diplomatic victory was not in the cards, and so we waited to see if anything else would happen before the end.
Finally, something happened: Cathy declared war and her cossacks swarmed into... Mali?!? Cathy, what are you doing? Mansa may not have been teching for the past 40 turns, but he still had infantry and tanks to Cathy's rifles and cossacks, and he instantly wiped out her invading force and took a border city. Now it was a question of if Cathy could hold out for long enough to stay in second place, or if Mansa would take enough of Russia for Darius - freaking Darius! - to backdoor his way into second before the cultural timer ran out. For a few turns this was a tense show, but it soon became apparent that Mansa wasn't committing a whole lot to this assault. Cathy was fortunate to be dealing with him, and not a more ruthless leader. He simply wasn't sending many units on the attack, and so despite her inferior tech, Cathy was able to keep this competitive and fend off the disinterested Malinese offensive, losing a few cities but then taking them back and protecting her core from capture. Ultimately both leaders still had the exact same set of cities as before the war started when Mansa's third city ticked over Legendary and triggered victory on Turn 305.
Mansa wins with an early Cultural victory, in an utterly dominant showing. If you give Mansa an inch he'll take a foot, and that was on full display this game. His neighbors didn't expand towards him, his natural enemies had rough economies early on, and wars unfolded such that Freddy didn't collapse immediately, and that was all that Mansa needed to leverage his insane economic skill to become the runaway tech leader in short order. He still led the field 60 turns after he'd stopped researching in the end! That led to him easily winning the game despite receiving a number of attacks and making an unsuccesful early attack of his own. He's now in the championship for the third time, and will be waiting in the wings to see who he has to compete against to try and get his first title.
Meanwhile, Cathy's suicide attack failed to come close to knocking her out, and she came in second place. Nobody except Mansa played a very impressive game here, but Cathy did as well as anybody. Her insistence on founding an early religion helped to put her in a bad economic place early on, but she managed to stay out of meaningful conflicts for long enough to recover from that, and then took advantage of dogpile opportunities to poach cities from both Freddy and Napoleon to put herself in a comfortable second-place position, which nobody except Mansa had a realistic chance of assailing. It's true that Mansa could've knocked her out if he'd cared to do so... but that was true for everybody else as well, and Cathy was no less deserving of this position than anybody else would have been. She thus advances to her first championship game, where she's sure to stir up trouble and give us an interesting finale.
As for Napoleon and Darius, they managed to avoid death, but their seasons are now over. Napoleon enjoyed his most successful season so far, being a significant competitor in both of his matches. He was a strong contender for second place here until he got caught in a 2v1 that wasn't really his fault and knocked him out of contention. His poor economic skills might have caused him to lose to Cathy anyway, but this was a respectable performance and not-really-deserved fall all the same. Darius, on the other hand, earned a lot of audience ire this season, nearly making it to the championship despite doing pretty much nothing to deserve it in either game. He was an impressive techer this game, managing to stay ahead of far larger empires the entire match despite his failure to expand, but that's about all the good that can be said for his performance, as he failed to expand, peaced out of multiple favorable 2v1 conflicts rather than trying to conquer more land, and in general did as little as possible to disturb the status quo or improve his situation. A lot of the audience breathed a sigh of relief when Cathy held and Darius missed the championship game. We'll see if he puts more effort into his performance next season.
The crux of this game was Frederick's performance. If he'd collapsed quickly, the door would've been open for the low peaceweights to dogpile on Mansa before he could get the tech edge, and it would have been Cathy, Napoleon, and Suryavarman as the top dogs. Instead, Freddy got a good landgrab that helped him to bravely hold out for a long time before succumbing, and while he still died in the end, he bought Mansa enough time to build his lead and assume a nigh-unassailable position. As pointless as it seemed at the time, Mansa's war on Cathy may have actually made the difference here, keeping her off Freddy's back, buying him more time, and by extension buying Mansa more time - Mansa coming through with the next-level strategic plays! Later on, the defensive pact shenanigans that tied the rest of the world in a 2v1 war removed the last doubts about Mansa's victory, while at the same time setting up Cathy's second place finish, thus constituing the other critical point in the game. For the most part this wasn't the most tense or eventful game, but it was still an interesting one, and it's always fun to watch Mansa leverage his incredible economic power.
It was also a very successful game for the picking contest, where the favorites in all three leader categories came through, leading to an average score of over 15 points! Between that success and the advancing of two audience favorites to the Championship round, the playoffs have gotten off to a roaring start. We'll see if the next two games can keep up the momentum. Thanks as always to the viewers and readers for tuning in!