This is a continuing feature for Season Six 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:
We've had requests in past seasons for an overview screenshot of the map with the resource icon turned on:
It's hard for me to see much of anything with all of those little icons but you guys asked for it, you've got it! Now for a look at our individual leaders; note that the leader previews were written before the season started and don't always capture what took place in the opening round.
Pacal of the Mayans
Traits: Financial, Expansive
Starting Techs: Mysticism, Mining
Peace Weight: 2
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: 2 First Place Finishes, 3 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Two and Three Championship Game
Total Kills: 5
Overall Power Ranking: 21 points, 12th place (out of 52 leaders)
Personality: Pacal has a top tier trait combination, with the amazing Financial and the good Expansive, allowing him to get those Financial cottages up and running even faster. He also gets the bad Holkan unique unit and the good Ball Court, which adds a nice boost to happiness in the midgame. Lastly, Pacal gets Mysticism and Mining for his starting techs, a pretty crappy pair only useful for chasing a religion out of the gate. Pacal is a pretty standard economic AI in most ways, with a low aggression rating (2.8/10), though his unit preference (4/10) isn't as suicidally low as some of the leaders like him. His flavours are Culture and Growth, and you can usually expect Pacal to pursue an early religion right out of the gate. Pacal is one of the two leaders (along with Huayna Capac) who combine a low peace weight with a heavily economic style of play. With a peaceweight of 2, an ideal Pacal game probably sees the warmongers and peaceniks fight it out amongst each other while he sits back and builds an insurmountable tech lead.
Past Performance: Pacal's previous performances have been a real mixed bag, and he's a difficult AI to figure out. In Season One, Pacal played one of the worst games of the season, executing a poor landgrab and successfully aggravating nearly everyone else in the game until his final, inevitable, thankful demise at the hands of Elizabeth in the closing stages. Then, in Season Two, Pacal played a strong opening round game, followed by a near disastrous Playoff Game where he just squeezed into second place, and then a championship where he scored a strong third. Whew, bit of a mixed bag there. Next, Pacal again barely eked out a second place in the Wildcard Game of Season Three, narrowly beating out Suleiman of all people, and again he made it past the playoffs in second place, largely by screwing up less than the leaders not named Mansa Musa. He finished Season Three with an unremarkable championship showing in which he was torn apart late in the game after not really doing anything. Later, Pacal one-upped his performance in Season One by scoring one of the earliest eliminations ever in AI Survivor during his Season Four game. Though this was admittedly an unlucky tactical situation, Pacal didn't lose because he didn't have strategic resources: he lost because he refused to research the techs necessary to connect the damn things! Pacal's Season Five performance mixed a strong opening round showing with a disappointing elimination in the playoffs. With two terrible seasons and two Championship appearances, Pacal is one of the hardest leaders to judge. One thing is worth noting though: Pacal has only had one truly dominant game, and even then, Cyrus was a strong second place finisher. Meanwhile, all three of his second-place finishes were distant at best, near-death at worst, and in particular his successive failures to conquer Peter during his Season Three playoff game were a true display of incompetence. His non-playoff seasons have both been disasters of the highest order, and it's possible Pacal has somehow lucked his way into a higher power ranking than he deserves. Something to keep in mind, at least.
Bismarck of Germany
Traits: Expansive, Industrious
Starting Techs: Hunting, Mining
Peace Weight: 6
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: No First or Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Five Wildcard Game
Total Kills: 2
Overall Power Ranking: 2 points, tied 45th place (out of 52 leaders)
Personality: Bismarck has the Expansive and Industrious traits, a below average combination probably most useful for the half-cost granaries and forges. As a German leader he gets the Panzer and Assembly Plant unique items, both of which are fairly strong on paper but come so late in the game that they may as well not exist, excluding very fringe circumstances. Lastly, Bismarck gets Hunting and Mining, which can make him slow to improve his food resources early in the game. Bismarck's main quirk is that he's a rare leader with only a single flavour: Military. Unlike most of the other leaders with just one flavour though, Bismarck's other preferences aren't particularly geared around it; he's otherwise a pretty standard AI. Bismarck has an average aggression rating (5.6/10), unit (6/10) and wonder (6/10) build preference, and a neutral peaceweight at 6. He's basically a generic AI that's more likely to be ahead instead of behind in military tech, but a little slower on the economic front.
Past Performance: Bismarck has historically been among the worst performing leaders in AI Survivor. Prior to his appearance in the Season Five Wildcard game, the German leader hadn't just died in all his games; he'd been first or second to die in every single appearance! The poor performance of Bismarck has been somewhat inexplicable on the surface. Part of it is likely due to a high preference on military; while Bismarck is often ahead in military tech early on, he tends to fall behind in most other areas in the game. For example, Bismarck is a rare leader that will sometimes research Archery tech first, despite being unable to connect any food resources, putting him in the same slow-start category as religious leaders without the upside of founding a religion. He's also been surprisingly feeble in military conflict, usually rolling up to die underneath a stronger neighbour. For whatever reason, Bismarck has been utterly incapable thus far in AI Survivor, and even optimistically he'd be described as one of the worst leaders. While he did score a pair of kills in Season Five, Bismarck has still been eliminated five times in six games and never sniffed a top two finish. Try to expect nothing from the Chancellor; you're likely to be disappointed.
Victoria of England
Traits: Financial, Imperialistic
Starting Techs: Fishing, Mining
Peace Weight: 8
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: No First or Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Three Wildcard Game
Total Kills: 0
Overall Power Ranking: 0 points, tied 49th place (out of 52 leaders - dead last place)
Personality: Victoria gets the privilege of having the two best-performing traits in AI Survivor history: Financial and Imperialistic. This should allow her to get out to a fast start and have the economy to support it. She also gets the powerful Redcoat unique unit and Stock Exchange, both well above average in their own right. Victoria's only weakness on paper is her combination of starting techs, Fishing and Mining, which aren't garbage tier but are definitely in the bottom half of potential combinations. Other than her amazing traits and unique items, Victoria is a relatively standard AI. Her flavours are Gold and Growth. Her ratings are about average across the board with few exceptions, including aggression (5.1/10), wonder (6/10) and unit (4/10) build preferences. The main exception to this is her low likelihood to demand tribute (2/10). She has a high peace weight, and is likely to fight warmongers and befriend peaceniks, though unlike most high peace weight leaders she can declare war at "Pleased" relations. Victoria is essentially the quintessential average personality gifted with god-tier traits.
Past Performance: Victoria is one of the biggest puzzles of AI Survivor, and after five seasons it's becoming difficult to blame her unimpressive games on chance. She has performed remarkably poorly thus far considering her traits and unique items, and has yet to score a single point in the power rankings. Her only real game of note was the Season Three Wildcard Game, the only time Victoria effectively leveraged her Imperialistic trait to claim a large portion of the map. In that game, she threw away a certain spaceship victory for a faraway cultural attempt, making her most notable action... a throw. On the other end of the spectrum, Victoria suffered one of the earliest eliminations ever during her Season Four opening game, failing to expand and dying 1 vs 1 to a hungry Louis, a performance nearly rivalled by her disastrous game in Season Two. Like most of the "average" AIs, such as Joao and Washington, Victoria seems too indecisive to chase any game plan effectively, choosing instead to pursue a few poorly, and so far her traits have not meant the difference, leading to the bizarre situation where the leader with the best traits in the game is tied for last place. No one else has done a better job of turning something into nothing.
Shaka of the Zulus
Traits: Aggressive, Expansive
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Hunting
Peace Weight: 2
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish, 2 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Two, Three, and Four Playoffs
Total Kills: 4
Overall Power Ranking: 13 points, tied 21st place (out of 52 leaders)
Personality: Shaka gets the Aggressive and Expansive traits to play around with, two middling traits that create a roughly average combination, if well-fitted for conquest. He also has the below average (in AI hands) Impi, and the extremely strong Ikhanda for his unique items, an above average pairing that, again, works well for militaristic play. Lastly, Shaka has the Agriculture and Hunting pair for his starting techs, which allow him to get out to a fast start. If you haven't picked up on it yet, Shaka is all about the military. He's one of the "Crazies" who cross the threshold from "aggressive" to "nuts", and his aggression rating (9.2/10) is the fourth highest in the game. Like most of the other Crazies, Shaka's only flavour is Military, and he builds units at a frenetic pace (10/10) while ignoring wonders (2/10). Surprisingly, Shaka is quite unlikely to demand tribute (1/10), but other than that, he's a fairly standard hyper-aggressive leader. Shaka's traits, unique items and flavour are all pretty unhelpful in constructing an economy, and usually he doesn't even try. Expect Shaka to spend his entire game warring on the high peace weight pacifists (or anyone else, for that matter!), and his success to largely depend on whether those wars are successful or stall out.
Past Performance: So far, Shaka is undeniably the most successful of the Crazies in AI Survivor, ranked slightly above average as compared to the rest of the field (for reference, Ragnar, Temujin and Montezuma are all within the bottom third). Perhaps his lack of demands helps after all, making him less likely to become a global pariah, or maybe the Ikhanda is just that good. After a terrible first season, Shaka has made the playoffs three of the last four seasons. His most successful game was a Season Two romp in, admittedly, a below average field, but Shaka has achieved second place in two more games since. In Season Three, Shaka did this by largely staying out of the way of De Gaulle, but in Season Four he played another strong game, scoring himself three kills to boot, following an impressive zerg rush of Joao. Like many other middle-tier leaders however, Shaka has consistently struggled against the stiffer competition of the playoffs, where he typically gets outteched by more balanced (i.e less insane) leaders, probably best displayed in his Season Three Playoff Game, where he ballooned to an enormous size, but was so far behind in tech that he also popped like a balloon when confronted by Stalin and Justinian. Shaka is a complete lunatic but he was (temporarily) a seeded leader for Season Five - there must be a method to the madness.
Cyrus of Persia
Traits: Charismatic, Imperialistic
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Hunting
Peace Weight: 3
Declares War at Pleased Relations? NO
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, 14th 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 worked out pretty well for the first two seasons... and not so well since then. 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 the following seasons. Unfortunately, Cyrus repeatedly 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! In Season Five, Cyrus was undone by a failure to settle for metal resources in the face of an aggressive Genghis Khan. 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 if he can get rolling.
Zara Yacob of Ethiopia
Traits: Creative, Organized
Starting Techs: Hunting, Mining
Peace Weight: 6
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: 2 First Place Finishes, 1 Second Place Finish
Best Finish: Season One Championship Runner Up
Total Kills: 3
Overall Power Ranking: 15 points, tied 18th place (out of 52 leaders)
Personality: Zara plays with the Creative and Organized traits, combining to push a landgrab style of play and giving production discounts on a huge variety of buildings. For his unique items Zara plays with the Oromo Warrior, a slightly better musketman, and the Stele, useful for a cultural victory and not much else. Lastly, Zara gets the Hunting/Mining combo for his starting techs, which means he can be slow to connect his food resources, especially if he goes for a religion. Zara's numbers tend to be in roughly the middle of the board, including his aggression rating (5.6/10), unit build preference (6/10), wonder build preference (4/10) and even his peace weight, at a neutral 6. His flavours are Growth and Religion, an unusual combination that could lead to healthy and happy cities, while the last unusual thing about Zara is the huge diplomatic emphasis he places on faith. The diplomatic bonus for sharing a religion with Zara can go up to +8, and the penalty for religious differences is nothing to sneeze at either. Expect Zara's diplomacy to follow religious alignment to a tee, and when he finds himself on the wrong side of a coalition, Zara had better watch out.
Past Performance: Zara is one of the AIs with a pile of laurels for one season and literally nothing to show for himself since. All 15 of Zara's points were scored in Season One, as he clawed his way from the Wildcard Game all the way to second place in the Championship, in true underdog fashion. His path to victory usually involved staying out of fights pre-catapults, gobbling up a religious rival or two once they were unlocked, and then using the extra land to launch a spaceship (or straight up claim domination) before his allies. It proved to be a very effective strategy. However, since then Zara has struggled to make anything of himself. He played a weak opening game in Season Two and was unable to advance in another Wildcard game, and then in Seasons Three and Four Zara was outright eliminated by more aggressive AIs, first Caesar, then Kublai Khan. Each of these games displayed the downside of a heavily religious gameplan, as Zara threw away a midgame lead with a few unsuccessful cross-map crusades in Season Three, and in Season Four he ardently practiced a minority Christianity in a very angry, very Buddhist world. You can probably guess how that ended. Zara also suffered a shockingly early exit in Season Five, with Alexander setting a record by killing him on Turn 80! To find more success and repeat his Season One magic, Zara will need to be a lot smarter about both which faith he chooses to follow, and also which religious enemies he decides to attack. The writing is really on the wall by now that Zara is not an especially good AI and with each additional season his initial outing looks more like luck than skill.
Here's what the community was thinking based on the prediction contest before the game took place:
There are some games where the community doesn't have a collective opinion about what will take place; Playoff Game Two was not one of those games. There were strong favorites in every category of the picking contest and we'd have to see how well those favorites could hold up in the actual match. Pacal was an overwhelming choice to take first place with more than 75% of the contest entrants selecting the Mayans. We were on a streak of four consecutive Financial leaders winning their matches and the community was betting on that trend continuing. Cyrus was slightly less popular to finish in second place while still collecting more than half of the votes. The Runner Up category tends to be the hardest to choose and a leader taking more than half of the contest entries was a strong favorite indeed. Bismarck was similarly the top choice to be First to Die, likely because of his starting location in between Shaka and Pacal, and then Spaceship was the dominant selection for the victory type. Even a recent stretch of Cultural victories wasn't enough to induce more picks for an alternate peaceful ending.
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!
NotSpamBot: There are 4 techers, 1 lunatic, and 1... guy in this match. I expect Shaka to take Bismarck with him, so that leaves the techers to figure things out. And the peaceweight situation is not to Victoria's advantage. So Cyrus, Pacal, or Zara will win this match. And I have to exclude Zara on account of his past seasons. Which leaves us with formidable Cyrus and the swingy but often second Pacal. So that is what I bet on. With that said, I totally won't be surprised if Zara ends up devouring most or all of England and becoming terrifying. I just don't think it is as likely as Pacal getting spoonfed East Germany or Cyrus getting left alone due to Victoria's passivity and Shaka's German adventure.
delan: There's enough sketchy reputations in this game that it's tempting to pick the devils we know, but there might even be some logic to it. Cyrus and Victoria will get access to gold within their first 3-4 cities, and Pacal even has it at his capitol. Victoria doesn't have the kind of terrain that lets her really exploit Financial trait, though. Extra demerits to Bismarck for his overall bland terrain and having Shaka nearby, who has natural access to elephants and iron. Despite his fondness for building units, I have to think Bismarck is first to die, although I suspect Cyrus is going to want to eventually strike at Victoria based on peace-weight and the kind of border tension you get from having two Imperialistic peas in a pod. Zara Yaqob may found a religion and quarrel with Pacal, but they're so far from each other, separated by the jungle belt, and I feel like Pacal has the kind of capitol and space that he can overcome the lack of easily accessible Iron and find the win.
Duizhang_lu: Another game with an even split of goody two shoes and puppy eaters. I'm not sure who will come out on top, only that Shaka is likely to go down in a blaze of glory like so many warmongers this season (here's looking at you Ragnar and Temujin). Whoever wins, this should be bloody good fun!
BFH: The only conflict I can really see coming is Shaka vs. Bismarck, and the two most poised to benefit from their likely stalemate are Cyrus and Pacal, who also seem surprisingly to be the most competent AIs of this somewhat sorry bunch. Their land is also quite good, especially all that river region for Pacal. Although Vicky's position also looks promising I can't trust her at all after her history and frankly shocking previous game result. Don't think she gets to quietly place down 18-19 settlers undeterred this time around. Pacal's potential pitfall though is Zara (especially since it seems fairly likely they end up religious enemies). Pacal may also be too passive to intervene in carving up a worn-out Bismarck, and/or end up not claiming enough land. If he out-techs and conquers Bis or Zara he probably wins, but I think it's more likely he sits around in the corner and just lands in second place. Shaka probably would have a chance at top two as well if not for his tendency to torpedo into a rival an era ahead in tech in the midgame.
Bellpepper: This is a hard one for me to evaluate,. Pacal seems strong but I'm going to go with the Zara dream since he had such a cool 2nd place last time.
Eauxps I. Fourgott: Pacal starts next to the three higher peaceweights... but he has early copper, the only rival who does is on the other side of a jungle belt, and he has that tasty gold at his capital. Perfect situation for him to pull a Mansa and never look back after a roaring start, especially with Shaka guaranteed to distract his enemies later in a way that Darius would not. On the other end of the map, I feel like Cyrus has a solid setup to choose some smart wars and get a strong second place. First to Die is a crapshoot but if Pacal prospers, Bismarck is unlikely to.
Bobchillingworth: Everyone here has a legitimate chance to win; even Vicky, who has a lot of land available and is unlikely to be bothered early, and Bismack, who could potentially split an overaggressive Shaka with Cyrus, or an inert Pacal with Zara. I'm going with Cyrus as first, because I like his land and neighbor situation and think he's less likely than Pacal to stall out building infrastructure, with Pacal second because his start is undeniably great. Shaka as FTD because, as much as I'll be rooting for him to make it into the Championship, I don't think he'll be able to eliminate Bismark or Cyrus, and will instead likely fall behind and eventually be destroyed by a Coalition of the Aggrieved.
Eoghan Fallon: FINALLY long time fan, since whenever you were on your old server, I'm finally here to see it live. And its almost over haha! Just happy to be here! Civ 4 is probably my all time fave game since 2010, just played 12 hours yesterday Marathon/Emperor/Archipelago. Anyway! Cyrus to win because he usually does an excellent showing in my own games, voting Zara #2 as that's his tradition in Survivor. Shaka to die first simply because he might piss everyone off early with demands and succumb to technologically advanced armies but he is a great aggressive leader so who knows. Best of luck with rest of tournament and love your work for years.
Blindeli: Shaka attacks Bismarck, dragging both of them down. Victoria goes back to her usual inert self, waiting to be eaten by a more active leader (probably Cyrus in this case). Pacal and Zara get into a fight, which Pacal wins thanks to superior tech. Pacal then takes Zara's land and wins via space, maybe helping Cyrus clean up Victoria and/or Shaka before that.
Madmandoc: Pacal to win. Strong start, peaceful leader to south keeps him shielded while he develops. Ball courts are an excellent unique unit for the AI. Going with Victoria for second. She has a lot of space and two nice peninsulas to safely backfill. Zara is a peaceful neighbor, Cyrus is fairly benign and has no copper, everyone else is miles away. She will probably get to 10 cities safely and her unique unit pushes her toward rifling early. Bismark first to die. Shaka will relentlessly harass him and he is at risk of being on the bad side of a 2v1. Also sometimes doesn't get anything at all going for no clear reason. 11 wars. Zara, Vicky, and Pacal are calm and don't start much. Cyrus isn't too aggressive either. But Shaka will start 6 wars and Bismarck is known to get bribed in. Spaceship 312 for Pacal. Fairly early. I'm guessing that the later game will be a lot of Shaka v Cyrus or Victoria. Pacal should not have too much trouble getting there early. If Pacal goes culture, my picks blow up a bit.
Dp101: This prediction is largely based off of how game 8 went for Victoria. She's clearly capable of expanding at a terrifying rate, and being able to grab a wide swathe of the central grassland (starting under jungle, sure, but she shouldn't have issues with teching up to IW in a reasonable time) should put her on the path to success. Her not avoiding rifling due to UU should also help out. Shaka will probably go after Bismark, dragging both down, Zara is a wildcard due to how religion-based his diplomacy is, which just leaves Cyrus and Pacal. Cyrus is the one thing I worry about, low peace weight + moderately high aggression rating could spell trouble for Victoria. However, his copper is pretty much equidistant from him and Victoria, so I could see him being left with no metals until IW, at which point the era of longbows should be close enough for Victoria to survive any attack from him. Pacal I predict to be relatively untouched by his neighbours, so long as Bismark is occupied and Zara doesn't go after him for religious reasons, but I feel that Victoria is a stronger pure economic leader and so Pacal will only be able to manage second place. Of course, in the end Victoria probably just gets overrun early, but still, I want to believe.
Colors: Flashback to Season 2, Game 8 where Pacal in the east teamed up with Cyrus in the west to win by spaceship. Bismarck might have no metals and is Shaka's neighbor. Zara's land is bad and Vicky's is worse. The biggest wildcard this game is Shaka, who has dark horse potential if his early conquests go well.
BigBadBen: I finally got a winner correct last week for the first time this year, let's see if this can turn this into a streak! Bismark is a bit less doomed than Freddy was last week, mostly because Pacal is further away and less aggressive then Cathy, but I still think he's first to die. He's too close to a madman in Shaka, and Shaka really has no choice but to settle towards Bismark with the other directions blocked by ocean and jungle. (Of course, if neither Bismark or Shaka research mysticism, there will never be any actual 'border tension' despite how ugly their boarder may get...) I think Shaka attacks Bismark right away and Pacal jumps in after a couple of bloody inconclusive battles, ensuring Bismark's death and racking up 'mutal military struggle' between the winners. Victoria can't possibly get as much peaceful territory as her last game and she's really the only high peaceweight leader in the game with three low ones (6 peaceweight for Zara and Bismark isn't high, it's average). She also has no rivers, while Pacal has nothing but rivers at his start. I think Vicky and Zara will both self-found religions (Vicky is financial, Zara is a religious zealot) which will keep them apart diplomatically and surrounded by low peaceweight leaders. I don't see Cyrus or Zara doing anything especially competent, or Shaka snowballing fast enough without copper or a neighbor who doesn't build units, and there's a financial leader with a good diplomatic situation and a million nearby river tiles is in the game, so I'll pick Pacal to win by space (culture is certainly in play yet again) and Shaka gathering enough territory with endless wars to finish second.
Agni Neres: Tis the season for Cultural victories -- Cyrus and Pacal both can deliver this. Bismark FTD has a metals problem - though Pacal can also get into trouble there. Picking him just because of his proximity to Shaka. Wars should be lower than average with this field, unless pacts factor in. Should be an interesting game.
Pariakso: Pacal has a good start and is usually pretty good when he's not in war. Zara will probably have a different religion, but if Pacal can grab the copper, he'll be fine early on. Shaka is an interesting choice for second, but I think there's a decent shot with stone and marble in the beginning as well as good food. He also is not going to get himself into trouble until iron working, which he will hopefully be strong by then, especially with elephants. He is closer to Bismarck, so I will go and say that Bismarck will take a big hit from Shaka early on and struggle later.
bellarch: I can't really find a reason to pick against Pacal here. He's reasonably competent, and he has both a pretty nice starting position and nonthreatening neighbors. Pacal just wants to turtle in the corner and tech to space, and this is a good map for him to do that. Pacal is about the only thing I feel confident in, but I feel like the most likely second-place finisher is Cyrus. Cyrus is a competent AI with a good starting position, he shares a similar peaceweight with Pacal, and he has neighbors to feast on in the form of Victoria and Shaka. I don't think he beats Pacal to the finish, but I think he'll be set up to do well. That being said, I wouldn't be surprised to see Bismarck or Vicky in second. Finally, I actually think Shaka is first to die here. Bismarck has a nice start and Shaka does not, and Shaka's likely to do something to piss off Cyrus at some point, being . . . well, himself. He'll then find himself on the wrong end of a 2v1 and die. Zara and Vicky will be non-entities, but Cyrus will have his hands full with Shaka and Pacal doesn't like war very much, so they'll be safe for the early portion of the game.
Dagoth Gares: Smart money is on Pacal and a hanger-on. Good thing I'm not smart.