Civ4 AI Survivor Season 6: Playoff Game Two Writeup

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

The second playoff game of the season featured a group of interesting leaders that promised to provide an eventful match. Six leaders had made the playoffs for the first time this season, and of those six, the two who had been most dominant in the opening round, Victoria and Bismarck, were appearing in this game. It would be interesting to see if either of them could replicate their smashing success from tough central starts - especially Victoria, who historically has been ineffective despite amazing traits, and had the stigma of being the highest peaceweight leader in this field. This game also witnessed the return to the playoffs of two stars of the early seasons: Zara Yacob, the OG runner-up, and Cyrus, the "true" Season 2 champion. Neither had been to the playoffs since their overall second-place finishes, and now that they'd made it via a pair of decent but underwhelming second places, they were looking to make their returns to glory. We also saw the return of the most successful of the crazy warmongers, Shaka, for his fourth playoffs appearance. Shaka had managed to scrape his way to a second-place finish from a horrible starting position in the opening round, and with a better start this time, he was sure to stir up some trouble and promised to be a major wildcard for the game. Finally, the picking contest's favorite in this match, with over 70% of the first-place votes, was Pacal. He had won the second opening round game with a dominant economic performance, and with two buddies to distract the higher peaceweights around him, a corner starting position, a gold resource at his capital, and the Financial trait, he was expected to do the same in this game.

To go with the rest of his array of advantages for this game, Pacal was also the only leader on the field to start with Mysticism. That allowed him free reign to found one of the opening religions even with researching two other techs first, and he founded Hinduism in a nice location that was pushing towards the center of the map. The second religion was taken by a surprising Shaka, who opened with Mysticism -> Meditation research to found Judaism in a backline location. Shaka went on to continue his uncharacteristic culture/religion gameplan by being the first leader to start work on Stonehenge... only to lose it to Creative Zara by two turns, thus wasting a lot of precious early production and setting himself back somewhat. The picking favorites Pacal and Cyrus both looked strong in the opening turns, both settling their initial cities in smart locations and taking advantage of the gold resources they started near. Pacal's economy was off to a roaring start thanks to his fantastic capital, while Cyrus quickly took advantage of his Imperialistic trait to start spamming out settlers. On the flip side, Bismarck, the heavy favorite for First to Die, played a horrible opening that made those picks seem like smart ones indeed. He sent his second city up into the tundra, kept hugging the coast with a third city that seemed certain to cause tensions with Shaka, and went merrily researching all manner of techs that wouldn't give him roads or culture for over 50 turns. This was more like the Bismarck we were familiar with from past seasons.

As the landgrab phase continued to play out, real separations started to form between the leaders. Pacal and Cyrus continued to lead the pack, both in expansion and tech. Cyrus was flinging out cities right and left from an early date, taking almost all of the contested land between himself and Vicky, while Pacal started a bit more slowly, taking his time on his fourth and fifth cities, but then began ballooning outwards, building double and triple sets of settlers while also capturing a barb city in his backlines to further bolster his count. Both leaders also had multiple early happiness resources to grow their cities bigger and pull further ahead. Despite his abysmal early turns, Bismarck also was churning out a decent number of cities, although a total lack of culture kept him at the bottom of the scoreboard for now. Shaka wasn't looking so hot, with a fairly slow rate of expansion thanks to those turns wasted on the failed Stonehenge build, but he at least wasn't facing a lot of pressure yet, with decent space to expand into, and he managed to shock everybody by building the Pyramids. Victoria and Zara seemed to be doing the worst 75 turns into the game - Vicky had wasted a lot of time building wonders, and so gotten very few settlers out despite her Imperialistic trait. Zara had a good start, getting out to five cities pretty quickly, but then just stopped expanding after that, and much of the territory he did have was buried in jungle. Both had seen most of the land around them gobbled up by Cyrus, Pacal, and each other.

This was, of course, good for their neighbor Pacal, who was going nuts on religion. He buried Islam as the Monotheism religion, and took Christianity as well after using the Oracle to slingshot Code of Laws. The only problem with this was that nobody on the map other than Pacal and Shaka had converted to any religions, so there was a very real threat of these later religions spreading to Pacal's neighbors, causing them to convert and worsening his diplomatic situation. Then he made a truly dumbfounding move - Christianity was founded in a city that he'd founded in the center of the map, and as a later religion came with a free missionary. Rather than burying it in one of his core cities, Pacal decided to walk him over into Persian territory and convert one of Cyrus's cities, causing Cyrus to convert to Christianity immediately. Pacal had just poisoned relations with a rival for no reason whatsoever, and this had the potential to come back to bite him in a huge way later on. On the other hand, maybe this really a move against Cyrus - Pacal soon started to spam out Hindu missionaries and swarm his neighbors with them. Vicky, Zara, and Bismarck were all converted in short order, and it looked like maybe Pacal was really marking Cyrus for future execution at the hands of his alliance.

But that was still in the future - for now, Cyrus had another threat to deal with. Unsurprisingly, it was Shaka who declared the game's first war. Shaka wasn't necessarily the guy Cyrus wanted to be tussling with, either: in addition to building his Ikhandas and being Aggressive for free promotions, Shaka had revolted into Police State using the Pyramids, helping him to churn out even more units. However, one advantage he didn't have was a means to deal with city defenses, and as a result his attacks went precisely nowhere, suiciding against well-fortified cities to no effect. This looked to be another one of those stalemate wars, dragging the two of them down while Pacal and his Hindu coalition would build up in peace... right, guys?

No, no they wouldn't! Given enough time, Zara would've built up a massive shared religion boost with Pacal and become fast friends with him, but he was a fairly recent Hindu convert and still only Pleased towards him when he decided to attack the Mayans instead. Zara made the first city capture of the game, sniping a lightly defended fishing village on the border. This war was highly significant, as it meant that Pacal would not get the chance to simply tech up in peace while the world fought. Then, a short time later, Bismarck declared war on him as well! This had moved from being a distraction to a serious problem. Bismarck quickly took and razed a junky border city, and now Pacal had to deal with enemies on both sides, despite having converted them to his religion a short time before. The good news was that Pacal's research strength had already started to pay off: he had already researched Feudalism for longbow defenders, he was facing the bottom two leaders on the scoreboard, and neither had Construction yet, so he wasn't in danger of folding immediately. Zara brought a big stack to the capital of Mutal and fought a pitched battle there, nearly taking the city, but the Mayan forces were ultimately victorious, and Pacal held.

This game had entered a state of flux, and that would only continue in the following turns, with a quick succession of war declarations and peace treaties ensuring that the situation wouldn't stay the same for long. A short while after Bismarck declared war on Pacal, Victoria made her move: a backstab of Cyrus! This caught Cyrus by surprise, and halted him in his tracks right when he'd started moving into Zulu territory. An assault on a Zulu city came up short, while Vicky's initial assault succeeded at taking a Persian border city, and so Cyrus soon signed peace with Shaka to focus on this new threat. Meanwhile, out in the east, Pacal managed a major coup: he was able to get a peace treaty with Zara first, then a few turns later with Bismarck as well. Pacal had thus successfully fended off the two-front assault, having lost two small border cities but keeping his entire core intact. With the wars over, he could now watch the shared religion bonus tick up his relations again, deterring future assaults and increasingly securing his position. He could now return to the peaceful teching that suited him so well, and that wasn't good news for the rest of the field.

With those peace treaties in place, the focus moved to Victoria, whose fortunes had turned rapidly after her initial city capture. Without Shaka to distract him, Cyrus had pushed back and recaptured his border city, and was starting to press into English territory when Zara plunged a dagger into Vicky's back with his own war declaration. What was with this guy and attacking his religious allies this game? In any case, it was now Vicky's turn to be in the two-front war situation, and with less cities than Cyrus or Pacal, she was not in as good of shape to deal with it. Zara was still attacking with Ancient era units against Vicky's longbows and maces, but his army was able to take advantage of her distracted state to immediately take a lightly defended city - one that she proved unable to recapture. This was the part of the game where offensive warfare is at its most difficult, and with longbows already in her cities and castle defenses coming up soon after war's outbreak, Vicky could huddle down and turtle for a while, but it soon became clear that she would fare no better than that in this war. Despite a good early-game economy, her chances at winning the game were now done.

As the turns went on, Pacal continued doing his thing while the rest of the world remained in flux. Shaka had declared war on Bismarck a while back, and while the war proved pointless for the two of them, who later signed peace with no cities changing hands, it did ensure that Bismarck would not attack Pacal again, instead allowing him to remain at peace and in no danger. This suited him perfectly, as he liked everybody on the map and could simply focus on building, building, building. He started racing ahead through the tech tree, building wonder after wonder, and this was starting to look awfully familiar from the last game. Cyrus even converted to Hinduism, making Shaka the only leader on the map who didn't practice Pacal's religion! Everything was falling into place. A while later, Zara bowed out of the war with Vicky with only the one border city in hand, leaving her and Cyrus grappling one on one once again. Cyrus was clearly winning, as Vicky could mount no offensives despite her turtling, but he had thrown away multiple attack stacks against a well-defended city on a hill. Finally, he chose a smarter target, marching to and taking a lightly-defended flatground city on the border instead. Left alone, he surely would have gone on from here to roll through the rest of England, but Vicky soon got the save she needed: Shaka attacked Cyrus, again! Hordes of Zulu invaders came pouring in, and set Cyrus right back to square one. He'd been winning his individual conflicts, albeit slowly, but just when he would start to push ahead in one, his neighbor on the other side would take a swing at him and stunt his effort yet again. Cyrus ended up handing the border city back to Victoria to secure peace and turn his focus back to Shaka - which looked like a necessary measure, as Shaka was able to push through and take a city, inflicting heavy Persian casualties. Without Vicky to worry about, though, and with the advantage of muskets and curassiers over Shaka's medieval army, Cyrus was able to rally and push back, retaking the city before choosing to sign peace and finally be out of war for the first time in many long ages.

Thus, the world was back at peace - and there had only been two lasting city captures to this point in the game! Bismarck had auto-razed his initial capture back when he backstabbed Pacal, so Zara's conquests from England and Maya were the only spoils of war. Cyrus had fought for years and years and years, and to his credit he was still in second place by a good margin, but all this fighting had ultimately profited him nothing and set him irreparably far behind Pacal. Pacal was thus the big winner of this enormous set of wars, having largely sat out of a long series of inconclusive conflicts and thus gotten the chance to build an enormous tech lead. He was about an age ahead of everybody else by this point thanks to his enormous cities and skill at peaceful development, and he'd already researched Rifling well ahead of the field to ensure military security as well. Just like in last game, there was a limited amount of time to act to stop the economic powerhouse - now that time was up, and it was just a matter of how Pacal would win, and who would go to the championship with him. World peace lasted all of two turns before Shaka was at it again, this time going back after Bismarck. The two were nearly even in military tech, so this offered better prospects for Shaka than his fight against Persia, and indeed, he was able to bring his weight of units down upon the German city of Stuttgart. The German garrison was hopelessly outmatched, they fell, and the next turn, Stuttgart was now bearing the colors of... ETHIOPIA?!?

Yes, Shaka had captured the city, only for Zara to then declare war on him and take it right back for himself! We'd seen Zara plotting for a while, and had assumed he was going back for another round with Vicky, but apparently he had a bone to pick with the Zulu leader instead. Now Shaka was the one in a 2v1 war - the fourth leader to experience that this game! - and it looked like his warmongering ways and status as the world's religious outcast might result in him being the first to bow out. Zara's attack ultimately went nowhere after stunning Shaka, as he gifted Stuttgart back to Bismarck and then came up short in an assault on the Zulu capital, but he'd opened up an avenue for Bismarck and his much better strategic position to start making gains while a new Ethiopian stack formed and marched across the world. For the first time this game, Zulu core cities were starting to fall.

Cyrus could've gotten some revenge and joined the dogpile, but he had other fish to fry: he was back at it with Victoria! They were still close to each other on the tech tree, but Vicky had swallowed the peaceful leader's poison pill and was avoiding Rifling like the plague, while Cyrus teched it during the first turns of the war. This edge, combined with the attacker's advantage and Cyrus's better production base, proved decisive. Cyrus pushed through and took two cities in short order, and now it was a race to see whether Shaka or Vicky would die first. Vicky had less cities remaining, but Shaka was the one with two leaders attacking him at once. Both were clearly done mounting meaningful resistance, their cities were falling like dominoes... but then, with both at just three cities remaining, a big event changed that picture completely: Pacal was going back to war with Bismarck!

Um, mayyyyybe sneak-attacking Pacal back in the ancient age hadn't been such a good idea, Biz! Pacal was ludicrously far ahead in tech at this point: the Mayans had unlocked infantry before anybody else in the game even had rifles, and Cyrus was the only one with rifles when Pacal unlocked tanks and later gunships. Biz would be using grenadiers against Mayan infantry and tanks, and that clearly wasn't going to go well for him. The Mayan army started ripping through Bismarck's territory like tissue paper, taking one or two cities on almost every turn. Even as Shaka and Victoria were huddled in their last pairs of cities, under siege from slow, methodical, medieval/renaissance attacks by Cyrus and Zara, the Mayan army ran roughshod throughout Germany, randomly attacking this city or that, but never spending longer than two turns attacking a single city. Incredibly, despite both being at just three cities before anybody else was under serious attack, neither Shaka nor Vicky would be first to die. Pacal's offensive was too devastatingly effective, he was too far ahead, and so despite having been far ahead of the other two, Bismarck was the one who exited the game first:

Germany was completely wiped off the map in 16 turns, yikes!

There's not a lot to say about Bismarck's performance this game. It was a very uneventful match from him, as he started out behind and spent most of the game at more or less the same level as the other lesser leaders, without ever having much of an opportunity to do anything to change that. He tried backstabbing Pacal in a 2v1 but only razed a single city for his efforts before Zara dropped out. He was strong enough to withstand Shaka's attack, but not enough to go on the offensive himself. So he just sat in his position, doing very little until Zara helped him to get the edge on Shaka... only to then be backstabbed back by a rival three generations ahead in military tech. It wasn't a horrible game from Bismarck, but it wasn't in any way a great game either. Overall, like his fellow German Frederick, he had a single blaze of glory this season, but I don't think that will be enough to substantially change his reputation.

Victoria exited the game a mere two turns later. For a while Vicky was looking like a serious contender here, and I think she would've had the opportunity to win if she'd expanded better. She kept pace with Pacal in early research and was in a good place when she backstabbed Cyrus. With a larger production base she might could have made that work, run over Persia, and become the game's juggernaut, with the same Financial trait as Pacal and a larger set of cities. However, her early expansion was bad despite having Imperialistic, as she wasted time chasing wonders rather than churning out settlers, and that put her in a place where she couldn't conquer Cyrus by herself. She didn't give herself enough viable options, and then the Zara backstab ended her chances. Vicky had one dominant game this season, but this game she was back to managing to waste having two of the very best AI Survivor traits for another zero-point finish.

Shaka's demise was delayed a bit longer, as Zara chose to siege down his final city with a single trebuchet for quite a while before finally attacking and striking the killing blow. After his strange early culture push, Shaka played this game the way he always plays - attack, attack, attack, trying to fight his way out of his corner. But despite having a much better starting area than he did in the opening round, he wasn't able to fight any more successfully, unwisely choosing the strongest neighbor to attack first, and from that being set back enough to not be able to ever make any lasting progress in his endless wars. Founding his own religion proved a poor move as well - while it helped him with early culture, he never spread Judaism well (Zara built the shrine after capturing the Holy City, and it was worth a mere 10 gold/turn), and ultimately he ended up as its only practitioner while everybody else followed Hinduism. That and his endless provocations made it only a matter of time until enough people attacked him to bring him down. Shaka has been more successful than the other major warmongers, but he's clearly shown that the warmongering way doesn't work so well at the higher levels of competition.

With those three leaders out of the way, we had just rather quickly halved the field of leaders, and the picture between the three survivors hadn't changed substantially. Pacal was a clear runaway and already closing in on the spaceship victory, and he had taken enough population in his conquest of Germany to ensure a veto bloc in the UN. To get an idea for how far ahead Pacal was here, he was researching Robotics at the same time that Zara was on Rifling, Cyrus was on Combustion (while still not having Education), and Shaka was on MUSIC! That left Zara and Cyrus to compete for second place, where Cyrus was clearly ahead of Zara in every category. The possibility did exist that Pacal would choose to attack Cyrus, allowing Zara to backdoor his way into second place, but Pacal isn't a very aggressive leader and was pleased towards both of them. Instead, it seemed that the major action for this game was now in the rearview mirror.

With the world at peace and nobody inclined to stir things up again, Pacal made his way through the rest of the tech tree in short order, launching his ship while Cyrus was researching Fascism and Zara was on Combustion. It, uh, wasn't very close here. Now the only question was if Pacal would choose to attack somebody in the final turns of the game. The AI often goes into war mode after launching their spaceship, ending the game in a blaze of glory... but as it turned out, we had no such luck this time. Pacal preferred to simply sit back, leave the status quo in place, and ride into his third championship with a very early Spaceship victory on Turn 286.

It was an utterly dominant showing from Pacal, who combined a favorable starting position with excellent play from start to finish. Despite a slightly slow start at expansion, he sped up in time to get a good landgrab. He successfully fought off a two-front war, then used missionary spam to convert almost the entire world to his religion and ward off future conflict. From there, he was able to leverage his economic skill to devastating effect, lapping the field multiple times. While the rest of the world got embroiled in fruitless wars, he kept building up until soon he was unstoppable. It was eerily similar to Mansa's victory last week, although I think Pacal was even more dominant in this game. He'll also likely have an advantage over Mansa in the championship game, thanks to his peaceweight - if that game goes anything like this one, Pacal will have the chance to take the title in a blowout.

Meanwhile, Cyrus played an excellent game in his own right, considering how he often got backstabbed at terrible times and had to fight multiple two-front wars. Leaders will often crumple quickly under that sort of pressure, but Cyrus was able to survive and thrive, never losing any cities of his own for more than a few turns and maintaining his second-place position throughout. Smarter fighting could've helped him to make more early gains against Shaka and Vicky, putting him in a better position, but ultimately I don't think it would've been enough to keep up with Pacal's peaceful development. That single Christian missionary from Pacal might have made the difference, causing Vicky to choose to backstab Cyrus over somebody else, although we'll never know for sure and he likely would have been her top target even with the same religion. In any case, Cyrus was able to hold strong the entire time, and eventually did run over Vicky to cement his position. He was miles behind Pacal, but clearly did far better than anybody else in this field, deserving to advance. He now goes to his second Championship game, where he won't be favored to win, but will at least stand a chance.

Finally, Zara finished in third place, his season now over. This was his most successful showing since Season 1, although it was never terribly impressive. Zara kept getting stuck in unfavorable jungle locations this season, forcing him to limp to Iron Working and hack his way out of the jungle before he could really come to power. That resulted in him never being able to get off to as great of a start as the other leaders in his games, while still being able to perform decently after finally getting settled, and this dynamic was reflected in his pair of third places and a last-minute second place. It certainly was in full effect here, as Zara got choked by the jungle and expanded slowly after his first few cities, resulting in him being boxed in by Vicky and Pacal. Starting next to the two early tech leaders did him no favors either, and so he was set too far behind to catch up, even though he took his best shot with an early attack on Pacal. Still, you can't attribute this fully to a bad start for Zara; with smarter fighting and war targets - earlier Construction for catapults against Pacal, attacking Vicky later on instead of Shaka - he could've made a better game for himself. Zara played okay, but not great, and it doesn't feel like he was robbed of a championship spot.

Overall, this wasn't a game with a lot of big twists and turns compared to some that we've had. The biggest factor in the game's outcome wasn't an event as much as the lack of an event - the fact that nobody made significant gains in wars for so long allowed Pacal to peacefully build, prosper, and reach his winning position, in a way that he might not have had a speedy conquest taken place instead. That dynamic of the early game, rather than any specific turning point, gave Pacal his winning position, unless perhaps you want to count his successful peace treaties as a turning point. After the prolonged period of stalemate, the big turning point in the game's dynamics came with the trio of successful conquests that knocked Shaka, Vicky, and Bismarck off the map and set up the game's final standings. Pacal was definitely winning the game by that point, but those wars made the final determination of who would come in second and who would die. On the whole, this was a very similar game to the first playoff game, right up to two more popular leaders advancing to the championship and another extremely successful game for the picking contest. We'll see if the final playoff game continues this trend, or if disorder and unlikely results will return to ruling the day. Until then, thanks to everybody for following along!