Civ4 AI Survivor Season 6: Championship Game Writeup

This summary for the Season Six Championship was written by Eauxps I. Fourgott. Many thanks for volunteering to put this report together!

After another wild season of AI Survivor, we had arrived once more at the Championship game. Following an opening round filled with upsets and unexpected results, the season had settled into a more predictable pattern in the playoff round, with most of the historically stronger leaders coming through with strong performances. That resulted in a murderer's row for the Championship field, full of leaders with strong reputations and promising a fantastic conclusion to the season. Headlining the field were three Financial leaders: Huayna Capac, Pacal, and Mansa Musa. They'd combined for five Championship appearances in the first five seasons, and each had made it into this year's final on a pair of dominant economic victories. Now, though, they'd have to contend with each other as they sought to race to a tech lead. Joining them, and promising to spice things up, were two more militaristic leaders in Cyrus and Catherine. Both had the Imperialistic trait to try to gobble up more of the map than the Financial leaders, and would need to snowball off a major conquest in order to surpass them and take the title. Finally, the odd man out of this bunch was Churchill. Saddled with weak traits and having never accomplished anything prior to this season, he was expected to be an also-ran, and a lot would need to swing in his favor in order for him to have a real chance at winning.

As always, the Championship would use a custom map with mirrored starting positions, rather than the more random maps that the rest of the competition uses. We once again were using the map that had hosted the championships for Seasons Four and Five, meaning that the terrain around each leader's starting position was exactly identical. As in the previous games played on this map, this resulted in many of the leaders settling their cities in identical locations - for example, five of the six leaders settled their second city in the same mirrored spot, and four of them placed their third city in the same spot as well. This trend, plus the nature of the map itself, meant that no leader would really stand out as making especially good or bad decisions with their early settlers. As for the early religions, nobody sprang for one out of the gates here, all choosing to at least research a couple of worker techs before going that route. Eventually Pacal and Mansa founded the first duo of religions (Taoism and Islam for this game) in the T20s, and that plus their close proximity on the map guaranteed that they would be forming rival factions in this game.

The big story early in the game was the lack of rapid expansion by the three Financial leaders. All three were slow to build more settlers, as Cathy, Cyrus, and Churchill all got out to five cities before any of the Financial leaders had founded a fourth city - and before Mansa or Pacal even started work on a fourth settler! On the other hand, Cyrus and Cathy were both leveraging their Imperialistic traits to quickly churn out settler after settler and gobble up the map, but all those cities started to crash their economies, forcing them to limp along in their research for now. Cyrus was also suffering from lack of culture as he was refusing to tech Mysticism. Of the three Financial leaders, Huayna was expanding a bit faster than the other two, but between having the two Imperialistic leaders as his closest neighbors and having a pair of barbarian cities pop up in inconvenient locations, he was getting boxed in more quickly than anybody else. Mansa had the best early economy, but some aggressive plants by Cathy to his south were limiting his options as well. Pacal had the most space of the three, but was doing little to fill it or otherwise stand out in this game.

But despite the early disparities in settling, things normalized as the landgrab phase went on. At a certain point Cyrus and Cathy simply stopped founding cities, and everybody else started founding more. As a result, everybody had between 7 and 9 cities at the end of the landgrab phase, with no huge disparities in that regard. The leaders at this point seemed to be Pacal, the only leader with 9 cities despite his slow start; Huayna, who'd been able to settle a decent number of cities, capture one of those barb cities, and secure a position near the top of the scoreboard; and Cathy, whose early plants combined with the Creative trait had allowed her the most time to develop all of her cities and put her atop the scoreboard. On the other hand, Mansa had been leading the early economic race (thanks to many turns of deficit research from a pair of early Great Merchants), but having a bit less land and fewer cities than most of the field was clouding his prospects. Churchill had largely stalled out, not doing much of anything after his quick push to five cities. He had founded a few more later on, but done nothing of note yet. He and Cyrus had also both refused to tech Mysticism and put culture in their cities, limiting their early growth; Cyrus had exploded out to a quick city count, only to stop, fail to expand his borders, and see Pacal claim some sites that really should have been his, neutralizing his early lead.

The diplomatic situation was evolving in an interesting fashion. Mansa was the favorite for First to Die, since his peace weight was far higher than anybody else's, but he was doing a good job of spreading Islam around and gaining converts. He started with Churchill, almost certainly forging an iron bond between the two leaders, then was able to convert Cathy and Huayna as well. Those two alliances would be more tenuous, but he was at least giving himself a better chance of not being attacked by them, and in a clever and significant move, he was able to tech Monotheism and bury the third religion right before Huayna would have finished it to found his own. Things were looking good for Mansa in this regard - and correspondingly, not looking so good for Pacal, who'd only managed to spread Taoism to Cyrus. He might have the highest city count before the wars broke out, but he was in danger of getting dogpiled. With this situation, the first war of the championship was no great surprise:

Huayna Capac struck first, and took a border city on the second turn of the war. He also researched Construction a few turns after declaring, putting him in great shape to make further gains... but this great strategic plan was ruined by terrible execution. Huayna was in no danger of a counterattack from Pacal, but his further attacks in Mayan territory were horribly disorganized and accomplished nothing, instead embroiling the two leaders in a largely fruitless conflict. With the other two Financial leaders locked in war, Mansa was able to continue building on his tech lead. He'd built the Temple of Artemis very early on, and while it had seemed a questionable choice at the time, it had produced multiple Great Merchants whose trade missions allowed him to continue deficit research for ages and race up through the tech tree. He was also founding religions left and right, and if he continued to be left alone, a Cultural victory was a very real possibility.

But the real one to watch right now was Cathy - she continued to top the scoreboard by a fair margin, and soon started plotting war. She could declare war on any other leader in the game, and her choice of target would be an important factor in the game's outcome. Turn 120 was a critical turning point in the game, as Cathy revealed her target: Mansa Musa. But he wouldn't be fighting alone, as Churchill declared war on Cathy on the same turn! Had he declared a turn earlier, or Cathy a turn later, she would be in a 1v1 situation where her larger size would give her a good chance of winning, by sheer force of numbers if nothing else. Instead, she was now unexpectedly embroiled in a two-front war. Churchill's initial attack against her failed utterly, but it was still an important distraction from her attack on Mali, who already had longbows and soon maces. With multiple opponents, one of whom had a much better economy than her, Cathy was in real danger now.

Cathy's two-front war continued to be the main story for quite a while, with not a lot else of interest happening. Huayna captured a second city from Pacal before signing peace, having knocked Pacal out of contention but not become a runaway himself. A few turns later, Cyrus declared war on Huayna, but this war proved inconclusive, with no cities permanently changing hands before they signed peace. Thus the focus remained on Catherine. She had drawn first blood in the war, taking one of Mansa's cities, but he was able to then clean up her attack stack and take one of her cities in retaliation. With Churchill just suiciding his siege-free stacks against a border city on a hill, this war stayed in stalemate for a while - but then Churchill added catapults to his army, mounted a new assault, and captured the city. The two-front war was starting to take its toll on Cathy, and without any help in the fight, she couldn't keep pace with her opponents. Slowly but surely, Mansa and Churchill started to grind her down. Churchill retook the captured Malian city and gifted it back to Mansa, then in a critical pair of sieges, the two leaders took Cathy's two northernmost remaining cities. That pair of captures dropped her all the way down to last place on the scoreboard, a stark contrast to the comfortable first place she'd been in at the start of the war. Huayna, Pacal, and Cyrus were content to just sit back and do nothing as Russia burned, and so Mansa and Churchill continued their conquest. Cathy was able to get castles in her cities, but their only effect was to make the sieges take longer to pull off. They didn't change the outcomes at all.

Elsewhere on the map, not much else happened for a long time. Ever since Huayna's attack, Pacal had been sitting inertly in his place, not doing much of anything other than sneakily building the Sistine Chapel to make a potential Cultural victory harder for Mansa. He had a decent tech rate, but not as good as Mansa and Huayna's. Huayna was the score leader at this point in the game, having assumed that position when Cathy fell from it. He was still behind Mansa in tech, but he was gaining ground and closing the gap. The long period of peaceful building suited him well, but it was about to come crashing to an end:

Cyrus came back for Round 2. He was rather behind in tech, but Huayna's tech lead was purely economic, not military. He'd chosen to go down the Scientific Method path rather than beeline Rifling early, and so it was Cyrus who would have the military tech edge once he researched Gunpowder at the start of the war. Cyrus also had a LOT of units, his main attack stack over 70 strong. Huayna was virtually equal in power, and crammed a bunch of units into the first attacked city, but to no avail. Cyrus slaughtered his garrison, then turned his giant stack around and killed the attack stack that Huayna had sent into Persian territory. That set Cyrus definitely ahead in power, and Huayna was falling into the same trap that's killed many an economic leader, researching all sorts of economic techs while ignoring the Rifling that might save him. Meanwhile, this war also guaranteed Cathy's demise. Pacal was the only leader that could help her now, and by this point he wasn't strong enough to turn the tide on his own. Not that he even tried, as Mansa and Churchill were never attacked throughout their joint war. They sealed the deal on Turn 192, Churchill striking the killing blow as Cathy exited in sixth place.

Cathy really didn't do anything wrong in this game, and didn't particularly deserve to be the first to die. She had the best opening of anybody, using her landgrab traits to great effect, and was in the pole position heading into the first wars. Her attack of Mansa was well-timed, primed to succeed and knock him out of the game while there was still opportunity to do so, and if left alone she probably would've become a runaway. But then Churchill came in at the worst possible time, getting her stuck in a two-front war right away, and with neither of her opponents willing to sign peace and nobody ever coming to give her any relief, she couldn't keep holding on, and that was that. Cathy didn't have the best season on the whole, this game seeing her only truly strong start, but she at least was able to make her first Championship, and she'll undoubtedly continue to be a crowd favorite.

So, Mansa had just come out on the winning side of war that saw his opponent eliminated. You'd expect that he'd be a total runaway at this point, and the rest of the championship would be his cakewalk to victory. But that actually wasn't the case - Mansa had only taken three Russian cities in the war, as we once again saw him failing to build and commit enough units to the assault. Churchill had done all the heavy lifting in this war, and been appropriately rewarded with the lion's share of the cities, and so it was Churchill who now had far more cities than anybody else and occupied the top spot in the scoreboard. Mansa was ahead of him in tech and culture, but Churchill now had a very real chance of winning this game and becoming the unexpected champion. In the bigger picture, this was currently an incredibly close game. On the turn of Cathy's elimination, Churchill, Mansa, and Huayna were all within 70 points of one another on the scoreboard, and Cyrus could easily rocket up if he successfully conquered a significant amount of Incan territory. Of the remaining leaders, only Pacal didn't seem to have a potential path to victory at this point.

And so, of course, it was Pacal who made the next move, with a rather foolish war declaration on Churchill, who was ahead of him in every metric. Pacal's initial attack didn't even come close to capturing the border city that he targeted, and the power graph soon provided a graphic illustrating how poor of a choice this war had been. That disparity would only get worse once Churchill researched Rifling a few turns into the war, and Pacal seemed to be in big trouble. Soon afterwards, Mansa made his big play for the title: he was turning on the culture slider! Given his relatively small size and lack of great conquest options, Culture did seem like the most likely way for him to take home the title. The problem was, he didn't have three big cultural cities! His third city was at just over 3,000 out of 50,000 culture when he turned on the slider, with only a +100% cultural multiplier from buildings rather than the optimal +300% or more, and in a baffling move, he wasn't even running Free Speech civic! So a victory wouldn't be coming in anytime soon. But it would still come in if nobody else won quickly enough - the pressure was now very much on for the other leaders.

Good news came for Mansa in the following turns, as the leaders who had been on the defensive in their wars were managing to stave off elimination. Pacal realized how much of a mistake he had made, and handed one of his cities over to Churchill in exchange for peace. He had lost a total of two more cities in this war, but was still alive for now. Meanwhile, Cyrus had managed to completely throw away his advantage in the war with Huayna Capac. After taking the first couple of Incan cities, he sent his stack at the next one... only to fail to bring siege weapons and just attack into 60% defenses in a city on a hill. His attack stack was obliterated, and soon afterwards Huayna FINALLY researched Rifling to alleviate the situation. Cyrus sent another attack stack, with siege units this time, but the rifle defenders made the difference and that stack was wiped out to a man. As the war continued to grind on, it seemed like Cyrus still had the advantage - Huayna had rifles, but he wasn't building enough of them to completely halt Cyrus's assault. But he was able to successfully slow it down, and Cyrus finally decided it wasn't worth the trouble anymore, signing peace after taking a couple more cities. Huayna had held, and he was still the tech leader in this game thanks to Mansa having turned off research. But just as importantly, both this and Churchill's war with Pacal had been inconclusive, with none of the leaders involved snowballing ahead. They mostly served to buy more time for Mansa.

Then the game entered a phase of bizarre and inconclusive happenings. Mansa and Huayna both began to plot war, only to later on abandon their plans, and still later pick them back up! We were waiting for one or both of them to do something, but their indecision was resulting in a lack of actual action. This was particularly strange for Mansa, who turned off the culture slider and started teching again when he began his plotting (at the same time as he finally adopted Free Speech, no less), only to later turn the slider back on once he changed his mind - then turn it back off once more as he started plotting again! He couldn't seem to figure out what victory condition to pursue. Elsewhere, Churchill went back to war with Pacal... but Pacal had signed a defensive pact with Cyrus, causing Churchill to be bogged down in a two-front war. That ultimately proved inconclusive, and Churchill would sign peace with both enemies, picking up only a single Mayan city in the peace treaty. He'd dealt yet another blow to Pacal, but not a fatal one, and he was failing to capitalize on his advantage in size and military.

After Churchill's treaties, the world continued in uneasy peace for a while. Earlier in the game, Huayna had converted from Islam to Taoism, joining Pacal and Cyrus and souring Mansa and Churchill's relations with the rest of the world - Churchill in particular was unpopular now, as the only practitioner of Islam (Mansa had gone into Free Religion). Tech-wise, most of the leaders were roughly even by this point, four of the five at the same general area in the tree. Huayna had a very slight lead in techs actually researched, but Mansa and Churchill had the highest research rates at this point thanks to their conquest of Russia. Pacal was a bit behind, but he'd beelined the Mass Media route of the tree, cleaning up all the wonders there (and denying them to Mansa's cultural attempt) and building the UN to open up the remote possibility of a Diplomatic victory. The only leader who seemed well and truly out of contention by this point was Cyrus, who had simply fallen too far behind in tech and would now be fighting at a disadvantage wherever he might strike. His window of opportunity had closed and he had no path to victory at this point, but a win by any of the other four leaders remained on the table.

Finally, the peace was broken: Mansa Musa attacked Huayna Capac! Mansa got the edge in this war early, capturing a city on the turn he declared, then turning around, attacking Huayna's own attack stack, and wiping it out. But he also refused to commit as fully to the assault as he could, building Research or Wealth instead of units in most of his cities, and then, a few turns into the war, he turned on the culture slider for a THIRD time! Elsewhere on the map, Churchill finally went back to war against Pacal. Pacal would quickly research the military techs he lacked to invalidate the tech lead that Churchill started the war with, but Churchill still had a massive edge in production and power. Cyrus was staying out of these conflicts - a wise move at this point, since any serious war would probably end in backwards Persia's elimination.

The Mansa-Huayna war ultimately ended with a peace treaty after Mansa had captured three Incan cities. It wasn't a total conquest to put Mansa atop the scoreboard, but it was enough to firmly put him ahead of Huayna for the rest of the game, and as he kept running the culture slider, it became clear that the game had finally reached a tipping point. Mansa's third city had been ages away from going Legendary at one point, but over time he'd stacked more cultural multipliers in it and swapped into Free Speech, and now it was starting to close in on the 50,000 mark. Nobody else was close to a victory at this point: Diplomatic was off the table as neither faction was big enough to win the vote, everybody was multiple conquests away from enough land to win by Domination, and the spaceship was still a long way off on the tech tree. Mansa was now strong enough to withstand an attack from anybody except Churchill, who was his best friend and would never attack him. It looked like we would indeed be seeing the Mansa Musa cultural victory.

But Pacal would not live to see the game's end himself. Nobody ever intervened in his war, and there was no stopping the English attack, not when Churchill had such a huge lead in city count. Pacal was able to hold out for long enough that he was still alive just 8 turns from the game's end, but no longer than that. It was a poor game from him after he'd suffered from an early attack by Huayna Capac, one that dealt a big enough blow to permanently put him on a level below the other leaders in the game. With the smaller territorial base that the early war left him with, he wasn't able to keep up with the tech leaders or find good prospects for conquest, and between that and his relatively passive AI personality, he ended up not doing much of anything in this game except for slowing Mansa's cultural push by denying him important wonders. Pacal has been successful enough across the competition's history to make it clear that he's one of the better overall leaders - his excellent traits and economic bent make him a better techer than most, and he's going to be a threat to win on many maps. But he's also not quite at the top tier, and the title continues to elude his grasp.

And with Pacal's elimination, the championship was basically wrapped up. Churchill had actually gotten out to a huge lead, over 1000 points ahead of all the other leaders on the scoreboard thanks to conquering most of two different rivals. He of all people would be the only leader to score kills in this game, and if it had continued to a Domination or Spaceship ending, he would surely have won. But the Churchill championship was not to be - he was still far away from an actual victory, and had bought Mansa the time he needed to finish off the Cultural win. Seven turns after Pacal's elimination, Mansa's third city hit Legendary, and that was that:


Mansa's peaceweight left him in a sticky situation for this game, and he needed things to break his way in order to win. But he did a good job of setting things up diplomatically, and his strong spreading of Islam was the first big turning point in this game. Pacal only managed to convert one leader to Taoism early on, while Mansa spammed the missionaries needed to convert everybody else to Islam, putting himself in a much better situation while also sniping the third religion from Huayna to stop him from adopting his own faith. Probably because of this, Huayna ended up ignoring Mansa in favor of focusing on his religious enemies of Pacal and Cyrus, and Churchill became Mansa's best friend for life. That still wasn't enough to save Mansa on its own, as Cathy attacked him despite the shared religion and would've killed him if not opposed - but then Churchill came in with the second and biggest turning point of the game, declaring on Cathy and trapping her in a two-front war that she couldn't win. Churchill did all of the heavy lifting in that war, practically winning it by himself with minimal input from Mansa, but that still put Mansa in a position where he had more cities than the other Financial leaders, and his economic power was able to carry him to victory from there in a game where nobody was able to become a true powerhouse. Overall this was a much less dominant victory than we're used to seeing from Mansa, as he saw most of the big cultural wonders sniped by Pacal, never was able to hold onto a really big tech lead thanks to his cultural attempt, and aborted that attempt multiple times in a strange performance. Was he struggling more than usual or just toying with the other leaders? We'll leave that up to the audience to decide for themselves. In any case, Mansa does end with the trophy, and his overall performance across AI Survivor - far better than anybody else's except Huayna Capac's - makes him deserving of being among the champions, even if this particular game wasn't his most impressive showing.

Churchill finishes the season with a highly appropriate second-place finish given the game he played here. He was the biggest influencer of the game's outcome, making the single biggest move of the game and killing two of the other leaders. He set up Mansa's victory perfectly and put himself in a position where he could potentially win, but then failed to leverage his advantage to actually claim the victory, content to sit back in peace for far too long. Overall, this season was a decent breakout performance for Churchill, and one that highlighted his particular niche well. His poor traits and military tech preference make him a weak leader in the early going, which in a lot of games can be enough to tank his chances right then and there, but if he survives at a decent size for long enough, those same preferences make him fairly good at fighting later in the game. He'll stay at peace for long enough to gain a tech lead over those leaders who stay at war for ages and ages, but also focus on the important military techs to unlock better units early, unlike many of the peaceniks. In contrast to leaders like Mansa and Huayna, he'll focus entirely on the attack once he's at war instead of getting distracted with endless infrastructure builds, allowing him to actually leverage his military advantage effectively. He's still too willing to go to peace at times, as we saw in this game, and that, plus his weak early game and mediocre economic skills, prevents him from being a particularly good AI leader. Nevertheless, his skillset does at least allow him to succeed when things line up right for him, as they did in this season. Another Churchill championship run doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon, but he's not the biggest pushover in the competition.

As for Cyrus and Huayna, both played largely solid games, but with one glaring flaw each that kept them from victory. Cyrus's big problem in this game was his economy - he crashed early on from his rapid rate of expansion, and was never able to truly recover. He still got out to a decent size and was able to successfully war against Huayna despite their tech gap, putting him solidly in third place, but eventually his weaker economy set him back too far for him to have a chance at fighting anybody else. His single-minded focus on attacking Huayna also did him no favors, and a backstab of Churchill or Cathy at some point may have served him well. Overall this was his best season in years, but it was still a far cry from his dominant Season 2 performance. Meanwhile, for the most part Huayna played an excellent game here, and he was very much in the running to win for a long time. He expanded better than the other Financial leaders, put in a smart early strike to cripple Pacal, and took the lead once Cathy got stuck in her war, taking advantage of Mansa's cultural shenanigans to race out to the tech lead. However, his biggest weakness came to the forefront in this game: military. The third major turning point of the game was Huayna's subpar defense against Cyrus; he put Rifling research off for far, far too long, and then didn't build enough rifles once he finally unlocked them, thus allowing Cyrus to gain several cities from him and weaken him significantly, turning a winning position into one that couldn't quite keep up. Later on, he lost decisively in his war with Mansa despite having tech parity, putting him fully out of the running. Huayna ultimately finished in fourth place, but with a little more focus on military, he could've steamrolled this game and won by a mile. So he won't become AI Survivor's first two-time champion - at least not this season - but Huayna does maintain his position at the top of the Power Rankings, as AI Survivor's single most successful leader.

Thus concludes the sixth season of Civ 4 AI Survivor. Click here to move onto the Conclusions page for a further breakdown of the performances seen in this season...