The second opening round game saw the community focused on an overwhelming favorite in the form of Huayna Capac. Chosen to win by more than 75% of the picking contest entries, the Incan leader had tantalizingly rich floodplains terrain surrounding his starting position and weak nearby neighbors in Hatshepsut and Suleiman. The poor Egyptian leader seemed a lock to get dogpiled out of the match thanks to her high peace weight while Suleiman was suffering from a jungle-heavy starting area that looked highly inhospitable. If Huayna Capac could overcome the somewhat cramped nature of his capital there was every reason to believe that he could run away with the match. Elsewhere, Saladin and Pacal were expected to compete for the early religions while Louis would build wonders and Napoleon would attack someone. Whomever would be the unfortunate victim of Napoleon's inevitable early aggression would go a long way towards determining the outcome of the game.
Huayna Capac was the recipient of the first big break of luck as Hatshepsut opted to send her extra Deity settler to the southeast of the Egyptian capital. This left more room for the Incans who happily settled next to a gold resource at the edge of the floodplains region. We were a bit surprised to see Huayna Capac ignoring an early religion in favor of a fast Wheel / Pottery route but that was probably a good choice to unlock Incan Terraces as soon as possible. There was a big race for the first two religions which went to Saladin and then a surprising Hatshepsut. Pacal had avoided chasing after a religion and that allowed the Egyptians to open with Mysticism into Polytheism to found Hinduism. If there was a loser here it was likely Suleiman who had spent the first 15 turns of the game pursuing a faith of his own without finding one. Later on Huayna Capac would be the first to reach Monotheism tech and establish Buddhism, leaving the game with three competing religions all located on the southern side of the jungle belt. It would take some time for them to spread but they would wind up having a major effect on the game's diplomacy.
The competing AI leaders continued pushing their settlers out onto the map to claim additional land. Hatshepsut kept placing her cities to the east, leaving more room for Huayna Capac and bringing her into close contact with Saladin who was concentrating on expanding to his west. The Incans didn't do a great job of taking advantage of this opportunity, however, as Huayna Capac proved to be slow to expand thanks to diverting production into a series of wonders. Suleiman was keeping pace with Huayna Capac despite his far inferior territory though of course he did have the Imperialistic trait to help out. Napoleon seemed to be pushing to the south as quickly as possible while Pacal settled a highly dubious Mayan city right on the contested border with Napoleon. There was every reason to believe that this would lead to hostilities with the temperamental French leader although Napoleon remained peaceful for the moment. Louis was being left alone for the most part in the southeast corner of the map but he was struggling mightily with barbarians, including having his third city razed by a barb archer on Turn 34. There was no excuse for leaving his city defended only by a warrior and this set Louis back a good bit. He was wasting a golden opportunity to expand into uncontested parts of the map.
As the game reached the Turn 50 mark, the central jungle region still remained largely unclaimed even as the plains to the north and south were being snapped up. The lack of expansion from Huayna Capac was beginning to be a troubling sign as he remained on only three cities. Even Hatshepsut wasn't going to leave that prime territory to her west unsettled forever. She had produced an extremely early Great Prophet from her unique building Obelisks and landed the Hindu Shrine at a ridiculously early Turn 36 date. This was likely a factor in the spread of her religion as Hinduism popped up in Suleiman's lands and prompted an Ottoman conversion. This opened up the possibility of at least one ally for Hatshepsut who otherwise seemed completely doomed in the diplomatic sphere thanks to her high peace weight. She was already the "worst enemy" of the five other non-Ottoman leaders in the game and that was a giant warning sign. On the other hand, Huayna Capac had his own self-founded Buddhist religion which neither of his neighbors was practicing and still lacked more than a handful of cities. Even the best economy in the game wouldn't matter if the Incans were the victim of early aggression.
Hinduism would also spread to Pacal and Louis over the course of the following turns. However, it did not spread to Napoleon despite his cities being the ones closest to Egypt on the map. Napoleon would pick up Huayna Capac's Buddhism instead and that was likely an influence on the first war that broke out shortly thereafter as Napoleon invaded Hatshepsut on Turn 90. He immediately captured one border city but then found himself stuck because his armies couldn't pass through Saladin's cultural borders:
Saladin had settled his cities in a weird northwestern line and as the fledgling settlements gained culture they cut off Napoleon from Hatshepsut. This was a problem because Napoleon and Saladin wouldn't sign Open Borders with one another; their competing faiths and mutual border tension had dropped them down to "Annoyed" with one another and thus both sides wouldn't open their territory to one another's units. With reinforcements unable to reach Hatshepsut's cities, Napoleon's offensive sputtered out after taking that initial border city and the two sides eventually signed peace without further territory changing hands. As for Saladin, he had been pretty unlucky when it came to the random spread of religion. No one else in the game was following Islam despite the centrally situated holy city for the religion. Eventually Saladin was able to flip Pacal into his faith but the dice had certainly been unkind to him in this regard. There was every reason to expect that he should have had more religious allies than what we saw in this match.
Meanwhile Huayna Capac had been teching like a monster and building seemingly every wonder under the sun. The one place where he had been negligent was expansion as the Incans were stuck with only six cities at the end of the landgrab phase. He would end up paying dearly for this mistake when Suleiman launched an invasion beginning on Turn 98. Huayna Capac was caught completely off guard and the Ottoman forces were able to capture the exposed Incan border city of Corihuayrachina:
This was a disaster for pregame favorite Huayna Capac who needed to be snowballing ahead off captured Egyptian or Ottoman territory, not desperately defending his five remaining cities. Given how much richer the Incan lands were as compared to the jungles of the Ottomans, there was no reason why Huayna Capac should have been this weak. He'd spent too much time off in wonder-land and simply failed to claim enough territory. Superior Incan technology would stalemate the war and eventually lead to the recapture of Corihuayrachina but the conflict would last for dozens and dozens of turns on end, grinding down both sides and sending them tumbling towards the bottom of the scoreboard. The random spread of Hinduism to Suleiman's territory was likely a huge factor in the outbreak of this conflict. Suleiman would switch over to Huyana's Buddhism but only after hostilities had begun. If the religions had spread a bit differently and the Ottomans had chosen a different target, we would have had a completely different game.
Hatshepsut had managed to secure peace with Napoleon after losing only a single city but she wasn't completely out of the woods yet. Saladin decided to begin his own invasion of Egypt a short time later on Turn 121. A successful conquest of Hatshepsut would catapult Saladin into the clear frontrunner spot for the game and the big question was whether Napoleon would decide to join in a general dogpile. We knew that Napoleon was plotting war again by moving lots of units around and it was only a matter of time until we discovered who was the target. The red uniforms of the French units charged across the border... but they were moving against Saladin, not Hatshepsut! Apparently Napoleon didn't like being blocked off from the south by the intervening Arabian cities and made a move to take them for himself. Then as if things weren't bad enough for Saladin:
Louis came charging in from the east to make this a 3 vs 1 conflict. It was a true backstab from Louis who was running the same Islamic religion as Saladin and had previously been "Pleased" with the Arabian leader. The unfortunate Saladin saw his strategic position undergo a complete collapse over the following turns. Arabian armies were deep inside Egyptian territory and had been making major gains against Hatshepsut only to find that they were completely out of position to defend their own territory. The unlikely allies began capturing Arabian cities in methodical fashion. Napoleon had the strongest push from the north, Louis advanced with his own army from the east, and Hatshepsut weakly recaptured some of her former cities in the west. Saladin signed a peace treaty with Hatshepsut as soon as possible but the damage had already been done. His two French adversaries were relentless and carved up the Arabian domains between them until Saladin was completely gone. Napoleon had the honor of delivering the final blow on Turn 162:
This was legitimately bad luck for Saladin. He'd been one of the strongest AI leaders coming out of the landgrab phase and there was every reason to believe that he would be one of the top contenders heading into the middle stages of the match. Saladin suffered from poor RNG when it came to the spread of his religion and then equally bad luck in terms of the war declarations of his neighbors. Napoleon could have gone after Hatshepsut or Pacal, neither of whom would have been able to stop his armies, and Louis choosing to backstab one of his closest allies was a cruel twist of fate. Saladin's invasion of Egypt could have been the move that catapulted him into first place and instead it backfired horribly. I suspect that Saladin will be an unlikely First to Die leader when we run the alternate histories later on down the road.
Normally there would be an interval of peace while the combatants from the previous war paused to catch their breath and integrate their new conquests into their empires. However, this game had Napoleon present and the French leader wasted no time in diving into the next fight. Hatshepsut began a highly atypical invasion of Huayna Capac on Turn 164, which would have been disastrous for the Incans still engaged in battle with Suleiman, only for Napoleon to counter-invade Egypt on the exact same turn. This second attack by Napoleon against the rump state of Egypt was far more successful than the first and it didn't take long for Hatshepsut to suffer a catastrophic collapse. One city after another fell and Hatshepsut exited the game two dozen turns later on Turn 185:
Even though this had been a short and painful game for Hatshepsut she did manage to avoid being the First to Die. I actually think this is better than she'll wind up doing in most of the alternate histories since Hatty managed to avoid getting attacked by both Suleiman and Huayna Capac in this game. I suspect she dies even earlier in most scenarios taking place on this map. Anyway, Napoleon's easy victory over Hatshepsut helped to propel him into one of the leading positions on the scoreboard. The borders of red France now stretched from the Arctic to the Antarctic in a narrow vertical line across the map. The other big winner of this war was Huayna Capac who was saved from potential destruction in a two front conflict. The powerful Incan culture even picked up a few additional cities at Elephantine and Pi-Ramesses as Napoleon gifted them over to the Incans after the fighting concluded. The shared Buddhist faith and mututal military struggle bonus meant that Napoleon and Huayna Capac were working more and more closely together which could be dangerous for the rest of the field.
There had been even more good luck for the Incans when Louis launched a bizarre cross-map invasion of Suleiman a little bit earlier. It was unclear what had prompted this decision - perhaps differing religions? - but the blue French units were able to steamroll through the Ottoman eastern border city and head deeper into their core. This was enough to get Suleiman to sign a peace treaty with Huayna Capac and conclude the long-running war that had been disastrous for both sides. The attack from Louis would stall out after taking two Ottoman cities and result in another peace treaty but it was clear afterwards that Suleiman was essentially a dead man walking. The Ottomans had become the Sick Man of Europe and it was only a matter of time until someone came back to finish them off.
Of course there was one additional AI leader in this game that had completely avoided all of the action thus far. Pacal's Mayans were left utterly undisturbed for the first 200 turns of the game and that was very bad indeed for the rest of the field. With the Financial trait in his back pocket and an AI personality that favored peaceful economic development, Pacal had been claiming all of the top prizes on the tech tree and extending his lead over his competitors. He picked up the Liberalism free tech and all of the best wonders from the Renaissance era forward, including the Taj Mahal and the pictured Statue of Liberty. Even though Napoleon and Louis had gained more total population and territory thanks to their successful conquests, it was dubious that they could keep up with Pacal's blistering tech pace after the Mayan leader had been given such an immense grace period to develop in peace. When Pacal opted to research Rifling tech at a reasonable time rather than delay it indefinitely in a Willem-esque throw, it looked like the game's winner might have already been sealed.
There were still plenty of hijinx remaining, of course. Louis restarted his war with Suleiman on Turn 216 and began methodologically capturing the remaining Ottoman cities. This wasn't a fast campaign since Louis was still operating with catapults against castle defenses but equally there was nothing that the Ottomans could do to push back against rifles and cavs with their medieval units. While that conflict was still ongoing, Napoleon started his own war against Pacal and shook up the diplomatic structure of the whole game:
Napoleon choosing to invade Pacal was no surprise; given their differing faiths and heavy border tensions, the bigger question was why they hadn't come to blows sooner. But the unexpected wrinkle in the diplomacy was a defensive pact that Huayna Capac had signed with Pacal a short while earlier which forced the Incans to join with their Mesoamerican brethren in the fight against Napoleon. This was emphatically not a war that Huayna Capac wanted to take on, not with many Incan cities exposed to Napoleon's forces and a huge French army ready to invade. In fact, Huayna Capac had been "Friendly" with Napoleon prior to the defensive pact triggering and it essentially forced him to attack his closest ally in the whole game. Let this be a warning to Civ4 players - be careful about signing those defensive pacts!
The timing of this attack from Napoleon looked to have been a bit too late. Pacal had just completed research into Assembly Line tech and he had already constructed factories across his empire, leaving Napoleon's rifle/cavalry force technologically outdated. The French leader decided that he would send the flower of his military off to attack a target that didn't have infantry protecting its cities - a very unhappy Huayna Capac! Over the following turns the Incans would be battered by a stack with something like 70 cavalry in it and saw their Egyptian acquisitions fall to Napoleon. This wasn't doing anything to help Napoleon defeat Pacal, of course, and in fact the French border cities were themselves falling to the Mayans. It was almost as though Pacal had Jedi mind-tricked the allied Napoleon and Huayna Capac into fighting one another while he took the spoils of war for himself.
Meanwhile Louis' separate campaign wrapped up with the exit of the Ottomans from the game:
This was a pretty hopeless start for Suleiman and he played it about as well as I think he could have. I try to keep the starts for these games as natural as possible but I wish in retrospect that I'd done a little bit more to beef up the Ottoman capital area. The terrain here was really nasty and whichever leader rolled this spot didn't have enough of a chance to advance. In any case, Louis had acquired a miniature second core for himself off in the northwest and that together with the losses that Napoleon was taking against Pacal was enough to boost Louis into second place. The two French leaders were having a rather intense competition for the runner up spot and the playoff berth that went with it, lots of leapfrogging back and forth in terms of points. The best thing that Louis could have done at this point was sit back and let Pacal tear his way through Napoleon; red France was in such bad shape that Napoleon had sued for peace with Huayna Capac to concentrate on dealing with the advancing Mayan columns. But Louis simply couldn't put aside his backstabbing personality as he touched off a new attack against Pacal on Turn 252. The two Frances were finally united together in a last ditch attempt to stop Pacal from winning the game.
This new alliance didn't seem like it had much of a chance to succeed. After all, Pacal had already reached Industrialism for tanks while Louis still hadn't made it to Assembly Line for his own factories and infantry. Nevertheless, Louis did have an awful lot of cavalry running around and the two French empires combined had significantly more total cities and population. The main Louis stack had nearly 100 cavalry in total and it walked up to the gates of Tartar to lay the Mayan city under siege:
With the entrance of Louis into the war, Napoleon was able to start recapturing some of the cities that he had previously lost. Pacal's score began dipping and he actually fell below Louis into second place. Was this actually happening, the sheer quantity of units held by double France overcoming the technological edge of Pacal? But then the French offensive began to slow down, largely thanks to a total failure on the part of Louis to bring enough siege units. He had a hundred cavs outside Tartar but only two catapults which were ineffectually bombing out 1% of the city's defenses each turn, leaving that enormous stack of units locked in place doing precisely nothing for long turns on end. Napoleon eventually decided to exit the war with a peace treaty on Turn 262 and Louis signed his own treaty nine turns later. Pacal had weathered the storm and come out without losing any of his core cities. There had been a legitimate chance to topple the Mayan giant for a moment and perhaps the two French leaders could have begun snowballing if Louis had been able to balance his stack composition a bit better. With the return of worldwide peace, however, it seemed unlikely that anyone could stop Pacal from racing to space.
Napoleon could only manage a little over a dozen turns of peace before he was back on the warpath again, this time choosing to go after a softer target in Huayna Capac rather than challenge the Mayan juggernaut again. This was terrible news for Huayna Capac who was amazingly still keeping pace on tech despite having only six cities. He could match Napoleon and Louis on technology but had no chance to compete when it came to production or military strength. French tanks began punching through the Incan border cities and it didn't seem likely that Huayna Capac could hold out long enough for the game to end in a Mayan spaceship. This was also significant because Napoleon could jump above Louis into second place by taking Incan territory and population for more score points. Perhaps sensing this, Louis embarked on yet *ANOTHER* betrayal by backstabbing Napoleon on Turn 290:
Sheesh Louis, do you think that was enough times switching sides? He had just fought together with Napoleon against Pacal and now moved to sell out the other French leader once the forces of red France had been committed into Incan territory. This proved to be a shrewd move, however, as the capture of Memphis was enough to leapfrog Louis above Napoleon yet again on the scoreboard. These two were incredibly close in terms of points and even had one turn where they shared an identical score if you can believe it. The competition for second place was clearly going to come down to the wire but this extremely late invasion appeared to have tipped the balance in favor of Louis. Once again Napoleon was forced to sign peace with Huayna Capac to fight off this latest threat, again allowing the Incan leader a reprieve to survive a bit longer. The two French leaders would also sign their own ceasefire on Turn 301 with the city of Damascus going over to Louis as the price of the treaty. This boosted Louis roughly 400 points ahead of Napoleon and essentially locked down second place barring any further shenanigans.
Pacal used this time to finish researching the tech tree while staying well away from the insanity of the two French leaders. He completed the final spaceship parts shortly after Turn 310 and the countdown for the spaceship's arrival was soon underway. And yet the violence in this game still wasn't done yet even with the Mayan spaceship on its way to Alpha Centauri. Napoleon launched his final invasion of the game against Huayna Capac, one which continued capturing Incan cities but lacked enough time to deliver the killing blow. Napoleon needed about a dozen more turns which he wouldn't get in this game. And in the most absurd twist of all, Louis decided to execute a final backstab by declaring war against Pacal. We had absolutely no idea what he was thinking and this immediately proved to be a horrendous mistake. Pacal had completely finished the tech tree and had access to all of the best lategame units while Louis was still missing the final generation of modern units. Mayan mechs and modern armor and mobile artillery absolutely shredded the armies of blue France and began capturing one city after another. It only took a couple of turns for Louis' score to plummet below Napoleon and knock him into third place. This was one of the dumbest possible ways for Louis to throw away a playoff spot and he nonetheless managed to achieve it. When Pacal's spaceship arrived on Turn 324 it wasn't even close between the two French leaders for the runner up spot:
Mayan tank columns took Paris on the final interturn and were punching deep into the core cities of Louis when the final curtain fell. It was quite a rollercoaster ride in this game but Pacal emerged as a deserving winner. He managed to avoid early warfare in a game where everyone else was left heavily scarred and then held off repeated challengers until finishing the tech tree. Pacal never declared war throughout the whole game and had much better diplomatic luck than Huayna Capac (who also never initiated a conflict). It was also a good showing for Napoleon who had his best game to date in AI Survivor with a second place finish and a pair of kills. His crazed aggression often flames out spectacularly but Napoleon managed to stay away from two sided wars in this game and never fell too far behind economically. As for Louis, it had been a great game right up until his concluding insanity against Pacal. He and Huayna Capac will get another chance in the Wildcard game which is shaping up to have an unusually strong field of competitors.
Thanks as always for reading and following along with this season of Civ4 AI Survivor!