The fourth game of the opening round was the first match that lacked a clear favorite in the picking contest. Stalin had the most support from the community but still attracted only about a third of the votes and this was largely seen as a wide open field. He would have to contend with two other potentially unpredictable militaristic leaders on the southern side of the map in the form of Alexander and Brennus. The northern side of the map held the game's high peace weight leaders, Hammurabi and Elizabeth and Charlemagne, along with the game's other Russian leader in Catherine. While she had a bit of a squeezed position in the extreme northeast, Cathy always has the potential to stir up trouble in these games. There was every reason to think that this game would be prone to wild swings of fortune depending on who the warmonger leaders would choose to target with their aggression.
None of the AI leaders did anything particularly foolish with their starting Deity settlers. Brennus and Catherine both caught a minor break when they were able to send their settlers to the west and clear out a bit more space for themselves instead of getting squeezed further against the eastern seaboard. In the religious race, we thought that the two leaders who started with Mysticism (Brennus and Charlemagne) would found the game's two religions and create a north/south split for the religious diplomacy. Charlemagne stayed true to form and founded Christianity in the northern city of Prague right out of the gate. However, Brennus opted to start the game with Animal Husbandry research for his cow and pig resources, and while that was a good decision from a growth curve perspective, it allowed Hammurabi to found the other early religion in the form of Judaism. This resulted in both early religions popping up on the north side of the jungle belt and the high peace weight leaders suffering from two divided faiths. It wasn't a good sign for them that Charlemagne would be pushing Christianity while Hammurabi would be following Judaism.
Over the following turns the AI leaders pushed out their settlers and gobbled up the map as always. Hammurabi was the early score leader thanks to having a Holy City with expanded borders and building an early Stonehenge. He wasn't expanding particularly fast but the handful of Babylonian cities were high quality plants. Elizabeth was also slow to expand and didn't seem to be getting as much out of her fertile starting position as she should have. Her local resources were excellent but didn't match up particularly well with England's Fishing/Mining starting techs. Charlemagne inexplicably sent all of his early settlers to the west and that was music to Cathy's ears as she was able to claim most of the disputed territory along their shared border. Catherine could have been completely irrelevant in this game if Charlemagne's early Holy City had been planted to the east instead of the northwest and it was a stroke of serious good fortune that northern Russia had sufficient room to expand.
To the south of the jungle belt, the warmonger AI leaders were struggling to some extent due to a lack of nearby copper resources. Stalin was fortunate enough to have a copper resource only four tiles away from his capital to the southwest, however he refused to settle in that direction and also would not research Mysticism tech. We've seen this happen a number of times before with Stalin, and his failure to expand borders at any of his cities left southern Russia weaker than it should have been. Alexander similarly refused to research Mysticism and lacked his own copper although he'd been able to settle an early ivory resource for happiness and that was helping him out a bit. It looked like we would have to wait until these two leaders could tech up to Iron Working and connect iron before any action would break out. The strongest of the southern leaders looked to be Brennus early on, which was a bit shocking given how little land he had been expected to claim. Brennus built the Great Wall and it genuinely seemed to be helping at keeping the barbarians out of his hair. He had been able to push due north and grab a fair share of the available territory which was by no means guaranteed on this map.
The following turns continued to remain peaceful despite having a good number of aggressive AI leaders. Stalin captured the barbarian city of Nubian due south of Alexander but then the Greeks settled the copper resource which was supposed to be taken by Russia. This left their borders a confusing tangle of overlapping colors which seemed likely to drive future conflict between the two leaders. Hammurabi built the Oracle and the Great Lighthouse and established an early Jewish Shrine to make him the clear research leader. If he could somehow find a way to get past six cities then he'd have a chance to be legitimately dangerous. The early religions began spreading around the world and the presence of Hammurabi's shrine likely contributed to making Judaism the world's most prominent faith. Elizabeth converted first and then, crucially, Alexander followed suit. Even Brennus somehow picked up Judaism from a random spread and also joined the fold. The only leader to convert to Charlemagne's Christianity was Catherine and the two of them looked to be in some degree of diplomatic trouble given that four other leaders were practicing a rival faith.
But there was one leader who was in even more trouble from a religious perspective and that was Stalin. He was unlucky enough to have Hammurabi's minority religion of Buddhism pop up in his territory and prompt a conversion, thus leaving southern Russia with a faith that no one else in the world was following. Add in the patchwork quilt of overlapping borders with Alexander and it was a recipe for disaster. Alexander was "Annoyed" with both Stalin and Elizbeth (he was "Annoyed" with the English at +3 relations due to peace weight differences!) and one of the biggest tipping points in the game was which direction he would point his armies. The dice roll wound up sending Greece against southern Russia and that spelled doom for Stalin:
This was a humongous moment in the game; if Alexander had chosen to launch himself at one of the high peace weight leaders to the north, the remainder of the game would have played out in completely different fashion. It will be fun to see how things look in the alternate histories where that will surely occur in many repeat matches. In this game, however, Stalin was caught completely off guard and his scattered western holdings collapsed immediately. Two of them fell on the same turn as pictured above, the former barbarian city of Nubian and the border city of Novgorod. With Stalin's cities lacking expanded borders and having no cultural defensive bonuses whatsoever, these isolated locations were complete sitting ducks against Alexander's massed phalanxes and swords. Stalin's expansion had been very good and in an alternate world where Alex menaced someone else he could have been quite strong given time to develop. It was not to be in this game though.
Things only grew worse when Alexander captured the Russian city of Novosibirsk on Turn 111. Since Stalin had bungled away his copper resource earlier, the iron undernearth this city was the only source of metals in the whole Russian empire and the flow of that resource had just been severed. Stalin was unable to build any units better than archers, chariots, and eventually horse archers. With Alexander having catapults in hand to reduce the defenses of his remaining cities, it looked as though Stalin might be knocked out of the game at a very early date. However, while Alexander continued to make progress against the remaining Russian cities, he stalled for a long time outside Moscow and did not deliver the quick knockout blow that had seemed inevitable. This delay on the part of Alex would open up the chance for other leaders to influence the game's outcome rather than the situation becoming an unstoppable Greek snowball like the previous season's Zara-fueled romp.
Up in the north, Charlemagne had earlier attacked Elizabeth on Turn 113, no doubt due to the religious divide between their two empires. These two should have been natural allies due to shared high peace weight and the presence of two competing religions was a bad sign for both of them. No territory changed hands between Holy Rome and England before Catherine decided to leap into the war herself, neatly backstabbing the only other Christian leader in the world. Cathy was able to run over the border city of Augsburg only to find herself stuck afterwards due to a lack of siege units. Charlemagne's highly promoted Protective defenders and omnipresent city walls made attacking at this stage of the game nearly impossible. As a result their war stalled out with no further territory changing hands. Charlemagne and Elizabeth continued to grind away at each other in a destructive war that made little progress while thoroughly wrecking their mutual chances to win. With Hammurabi continuing to build wonders in an oblivious state, it wasn't the greatest showing for the northern leaders thus far.
Meanwhile, Alexander continued to push through the remaining Stalin cities in the south. His pace of conquest was slower than it should have been, thanks to some poor usage of siege units, however there was little that Stalin could do to change the tide of battle in the long run. Eventually Stalin's accumulated stock of metal-based units ran out and the chariot/archer forces were no match for more advanced Greek units. When Moscow fell on Turn 159, the dam finally burst and a tidal wave of Greek units washed over the remaining Russian cities. But Alexander would ultimately be denied the kill credit for his conquest, as Hammurabi limped into the conflict during its final turns and took two cities for himself, including the last Russian holdout in Orenburg:
Even though Alexander failed to land the finishing blow this had still been an enormously successful war for the Greeks. Their territory had more than doubled in size and Alexander was now the clear top AI on the scoreboard. He was far stronger than anyone else in military might and it was only a matter of time until the next opponent was targeted for attack. Alex had hit Stalin at the perfect time and took all of the fruits of Russian expansion for himself at relatively little cost. Yet despite how amazing this war had been, it was still hard to avoid the feeling that Alexander could have and should have pulled off the conquest even faster. That might have been enough to land the last two Russian cities and gather himself to hit his next target even sooner. Time was very much a factor because the vultures were already circling overhead and looking to devour some of the weaker leaders in the field.
Foremost among them was Elizabeth. She had never been in a strong position in this game and her long, draining war with Charlemagne left the English civ in a poor state. Catherine launched an invasion of England on Turn 161 and it didn't take very long for the cities to start falling. Elizabeth had Chichen Itza for an additional 25% city defense and it made no difference at all. With some modest help from Charlemagne, the armies of blue Russia systematically reduced the defenses of the English cities and captured them one by one. This conquest was much faster than Alexander's trip through southern Russia and we had a bit of a race as far as who would be First to Die. Elizabeth held out barely half a dozen turns longer than Stalin and then exited the game on Turn 180:
Given her position on the map, I suspect Elizabeth will be First to Die most often in the alternate histories. She barely managed to avoid that fate in this game despite the good fortune of having Alexander attack Stalin instead of heading north. Perhaps there will be some other matches where the high peace weight leaders avoid splitting the early religions between them and she'll have better outcomes. It felt as though England was stuck right on the religious dividing line between Judaism and Christianity and suffered as a result. In any case, Catherine picked up five additional cities for herself out of the ruins of Elizabeth's territory and brought herself into rough parity with Brennus and Hammurabi on the scoreboard. She remained in a dicey position thanks to running Christianity and had to hope that she avoided aggression from Alexander and the heretofore peaceful Brennus on her southern border.
To no one's surprise, Alexander was already plotting war again and the obvious new target was Charlemagne. Holy Rome continued to practice a different faith while also sitting at the other end of the peace weight spectrum, making future conflict nearly inevitable. The Greek units surged across the border on Turn 190 and there was never a doubt about how the war would play out. Alexander's main stack had roughly 100 units inside and there was nothing that Charlemagne could do about that much concentrated military might. He built castles only to have Alex's siege units knock them down. This slowed down the pace of conquest a little bit, but only a little bit, if that makes sense. There were simply far too many Greek units to be stopped and Alex avoided the "one single catapult hitting a city for 30 turns" conundrum that often befouls the AI. Brennus piled into the war when it was about halfway finished and the Celtic stack would wind up taking a single city, the Christian Holy City of Prague. Everything else went to the Greeks and they wrapped things up 30 turns after they started:
This was a war that went more or less perfectly for Alexander. His pace of conquest was excellent given the castle defenses and Protective longbows that he had to chew through and he took everything aside from a single city. That one city would end up being extremely significant, however, since Brennus found himself in control of the Christian Holy City. Alexander and Brennus were "Friendly" with one another and looked to be a lock to take the top two spots in this game thanks to shared faith and similar peace weight and mutual military struggle bonuses. However, that single city capture opened up the possibility of Brennus flipping into Christianity and ruining his relationship with Alex. It would be an impossibly stupid move from a diplomatic standpoint but we've seen worse from the AI leaders in the past. Sure enough, not even ten turns later Brennus switched over to Christianity and dropped down to "Pleased" with the Greek leader. Brennus was living dangerously and this had the potential to blow up in his face in the worst way possible.
But Brennus wasn't the target of Alex's attention, at least not for the moment. There was a much softer target in Hammurabi sitting there to the northwest and peace weight difference induced the Greeks to declare a new war on Turn 234. Catherine had already kicked off the festivities a dozen turns earlier and captured one of the Babylonian border cities in the north. The Russian armies were much, much smaller than the Greek forces though and there was every reason to believe that Alexander would snowball right through Hammurabi as he had already done with two previous nations. However, due to a bizarre sequence of tactical maneuvering, this was not at all how the war played out. Alexander had a massive stack with well over 100 units present, including lots of siege units. He was making good use of those catapults and trebuchets, taking the time to knock out the defenses of the Babylonian cities before attacking. Catherine's much smaller Russian army did not have any siege units present for whatever reason and therefore she would attack Hammurabi's cities immediately. The net effect was Alexander removing the defenses of each enemy city and teeing them up for Cathy to capture them! This was a huge deal because Hammurabi had built most of the game's wonders, including massive prizes like the Mausoleum and the Statue of Liberty. Despite having by far the largest military, Alex only took two Babylonian border cities while Catherine acquired all of the rest including the capital:
This was an exceedingly unlikely outcome resulting from the downfall of Hammurabi. It had required Russian units to find themselves in exactly the right place at the right time over and over again in a weird fluke of RNG luck. But the net result was enormous: Catherine essentially took the entire Babylonian territory for herself including all of the juicy lategame wonders. Alex had been far out in front of the rest of the scoreboard when the war began and yet now Cathy was within striking distance. Even better from the Russian perspective, Brennus' decision to flip into Christianity had now gained her a religious ally and another potential target for the Greek armies. Just a short time earlier, it had looked as though Alex would crush through Hammurabi and then complete his Domination victory by eliminating the heathen Russians. Instead, Cathy had been the one to gain the spoils of Babylonian territory while gaining an ally in the process. It was quite a reversal in a short span of time.
Naturally Alexander wasn't going to stop his warring ways anytime soon. The big question was whether he would target Catherine or Brennus with his next attack. The Greeks had the largest army by a good margin but did not possess any kind of a tech lead; in this regard Alex was his typical self and had failed to develop his research infrastructure. We didn't have to wait very long as Alexander began plotting war almost immediately and launched his forces against... Brennus! Yes, the capture of that single Christian Holy City from Charlemagne had been a total poison pill for Brennus as it torpedoed his relationship with Alexander. They had been "Friendly" for most of the game but the flip into Christianity had ruined everything. Alex's main stack had more than 300 units in it now including 237 cavalry (!!!) and there was no stopping that from taking whatever it wanted. Brennus was slightly ahead in tech with Assembly Line researched but, well, 237 cavalry was 237 cavalry after all.
Catherine was largely content to stay on the sidelines while Alex went through the slow process of grinding through the Celtic cities. Brennus put up an impressive fight using his interior lines of defense and slightly more advanced units. He was essentially able to stop any of the random probing attacks that the AI likes to make but couldn't do anything about the monster Greek stack. Alex slowly moved that thing around and used it to take cities one at a time. Brennus whittled away at the main stack and eventually knocked it down to about 100 units but the damage had already been done and the Celtic core was in ruins. Cathy was using this time to push her research and slowly eeked out a narrow lead over the Greeks in tech. Eventually she decided to help out Brennus by entering the fighting herself:
But the damage had already been done by this point as Brennus was a shattered remnant of his former self. While Cathy had some initial success against the Greek border cities in the west, it soon became clear that the Russians would not be enough to stem the tide of war. When Alex captured the Russian core city of Krasnoyarsk (interrupting a spaceship part under construction), Catherine decided to sign a peace treaty and escape the fighting before it could get any worse. This was a mistake on the part of Alexander who should have kept the war going in the hopes of capturing more Russian cities. He was getting extremely close to the Domination limit but it looked like Brennus' territory was going to be just a little bit short of what he needed. With Cathy out of the picture for the moment, however, there was nothing to stop Alex from completing his conquest of the Celts. Nothing except the United Nations - aha, a last second lifeline for Brennus with a "stop the fighting" resolution! This was exactly what the Celts needed! Now how did that voting go?
What in the... Alexander voted to STOP the fighting with his armies on the cusp of victory, only to see the war continue because Catherine and Brennus voted *AGAINST* the resolution?!? Amazingly, the mere 13 votes held by Brennus in his one city were the difference between the vote passing and failing. He could have saved himself from destruction and instead voted "No" in a suicidal fit of pique. This has to be one of the dumbest moves we've ever seen in AI Survivor and Alex punished Brennus for his stupidity by eliminating him on the very next turn. This was idiocy on a titanic scale that had to be seen to be believed.
With Brennus out of the way the game was down to its final two leaders. Both Alexander and Catherine had spaceships under production but Cathy had a critical lead of about three techs. There was no question that she would launch first and win the race to Alpha Centauri. That meant that the only remaining drama was whether Alex could hit the Domination limit before Cathy finished the space race. After his Celtic conquests came out of resistance and popped their borders, the final land amount for the Greeks wound up at 58% out of a needed 62%. If Cathy hadn't managed to gain the Babylonian territory against all odds, if Alex had continued his war with Cathy instead of granting her peace... These were the small differences between winning and finishing in second. But the Greeks wound up just a little bit short of the necessary land requirement and thus it was Catherine who emerged victorious from this game:
I think that Cathy's win was a somewhat unlikely result that won't end up being one of the more common outcomes when we revisit this game in the alternate histories. She was the recipient of many breaks of luck when it came to the diplomacy in this game: avoiding Charlemagne settling in her direction in the early game, never getting attacked by any of the Jewish leaders despite running Christianity the whole game, capturing all of Hammurabi's core cities despite having a much smaller army, and Brennus taking the one poison pill city that induced him to flip into Christianity and then take the punch from Alexander instead of her. Every winning leader in these games needs some good fortune to break their way but it felt as though Cathy wound up with more than her fair share in this particular match. In any case though, we'll get to see two very entertaining leaders move on to the playoff round to cause more mischief there. Thanks again for following along with this season of Civ4 AI Survivor!