Civ4 AI Survivor Season 6: Game Seven Writeup

Game Seven featured the return of the extremely popular Mansa Musa as its top seeded leader. Although Mansa had experienced some poor outcomes in the last few seasons of AI Survivor, he remained a fan favorite and the runaway pick in the community to take home the top spot. The viewers also had a clear choice for the second place spot in Mao Zedong, with the Chinese leader frequently seeming to find himself in the runner up position during past seasons. The biggest concern for Mansa Musa had to be the low peace weight leaders on his borders, with Peter of Russia and defending Season Five champion Mehmed of the Ottomans occupying nearby prime real estate. At least Mansa would be able to benefit from having pacifist high peace weight Roosevelt on his western border who might draw aggression from Peter. Finally, Isabella was guaranteed to found a religion in the southeastern corner of the map and she had drawn some beautiful land around her starting position. If she was ever going to repeat her victory from way back in Season Three, this was the match to do it.

The game opened with the predictable founding of Christianity in Isabella's second city which she did send to the north of her capital. It was an open race for the second religion and Mansa Musa's cultural emphasis resulted in him founding Islam on a determined Mysticism into Polytheism beeline. No one else made an effort to chase the religious techs and this game would be characterized by a split between Christianity and Islam in terms of faith. The first big development that took place in this match was the popping up of a barbarian city in a hugely consequential location. Where the barb cities appear is almost entirely random; they will always appear in the middle of resource clusters but the vagaries of where AI units happen to be walking around on the map causes them to show up in different locations from game to game. When I've run the alternate histories on the same map I found that the barbarian cities would appear in many different locations on repeated re-runs and this was a major element in the games playing out differently.

In the match that we were watching on Livestream, a barbarian city popped up directly to the west of Isabella's capital in a rich floodplains valley at a very early date around Turn 35. This was a disaster for poor Isabella as the barbarian city immediately blocked her main avenue of expansion to the west and closed off access to some of the best territory in what should have been her core. Isabella was still able to expand in the immediate vicinity around her capital but this would stunt her growth over time. The AI goes into panic mode when barbarian units are right on top of them and Isabella was training warriors with City Raider promotions to attack the barbarian city while multiple settlers were sitting unused in her cities. Needless to say, this was horrible news for anyone who had chosen Isabella in the picking contest based on the strength of her starting area.

The standard overview image from Turn 50 captures how the barbarian city of Yayoi had pinned Isabella into her starting peninsula, with knock-on effects for the rest of the field. The biggest winner was Mehmed who had built Stonehenge at an early date and took advantage of the Spanish misfortune to push into the contested central portion of the map. The next Ottoman city was settled to the southwest of Ankara and this effectively closed off Isabella's access to the central jungles. Meanwhile, Mao was also off to a slow start thanks to drawing a seafood-heavy capital which had poor synergy with his starting techs. He would make the wise decision to build Moai Statues at an early date and later build the dual coastal wonders of the Great Lighthouse and the Colossus which helped Mao recover from his opening. The Chinese similarly benefitted from having an open area to the east that they could expand into over the following centuries.

On the northern side of the map, Mansa Musa was doing a fantastic job of expanding. He pushed out settlers in rapid fashion to the west and claimed disputed territory that easily could have gone to Peter or Roosevelt. It's always a bad sign for the rest of the field when the game's only Financial leader tops the pack in terms of total city count and Mansa was sowing the fields for future economic dominance down the road. His biggest weakness lay in the realm of diplomacy where the Malinese were the "worst enemy" of Mao, Isabella, Peter, and Mehmed combined. Any early aggression against Mansa could bring the whole enterprise crashing down since the Malinese lacked access to copper for metal units. Fortunately for Mansa, one of the biggest threats came from Peter who appeared to be trolling his opening. The Russian leader inexplicably assigned two cities to lengthy wonder builds despite not having stone connected and without having Mysticism tech to pop his borders! This was particularly weird since Peter doesn't have a high build wonder emphasis in his AI programming. In any case, Peter's cities sat with resources in the second ring going unused and his expansion came to a screeching halt as his top two cities sat around for ages working on expensive wonders.

Over the following turns we continued to watch in amusement or horror (depending on each viewer's individual picks) as Isabella bizarrely failed to research The Wheel tech. She had early copper, early gold, and lots of health resources but couldn't make use of them for lack of roads! It was unclear if this was also a result of the intruding barbarian city or if Isabella was simply being a moron. The Spanish eventually started building roads, connected the copper city to the rest of the empire, and trained axes to capture the barb city on Turn 70. It was arguably too late by this point though as the damage had been done and Isabella was sitting at the bottom of the scoreboard. She caught a break when her Christian religion spread to Mehmed and the Ottomans converted, although this was offset by Mao picking up a random spread of Mansa's Islam and following suit. The Chinese adoption of Mansa Musa's religion would wind up being one of the critical diplomatic events of the match.

When the first war broke out on Turn 81, it was Peter choosing to invade his American neighbors to the north. This was an important development simply because it meant that Mansa wasn't being attacked by Peter and there would be no early dogpile against the Malinese. Peter had fallen to the clear last place position and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that he had made a horrid mess of the early turns. The American city of San Francisco never should have been claimed by Roosevelt as it was a mere four or five tiles away from the Russian capital. The gold resource and multiple floodplains tiles surely would have been a big help to Peter and it was inexcusable that he had been unable to settle this location before Roosevelt. As for the war itself, neither of these two leaders were strong enough to conquer the other and they would engage in a mutually destructive conflict that sapped away their production for dozens and dozens of turns. This was the epitome of how *NOT* to start a game of Civ4.

In the religious diplomacy, Isabella's struggles meant that Mansa was able to spread his Islamic faith largely unchallenged on the northern side of the map. Roosevelt and Peter both would convert over to Islam and when combined with Mao's earlier adoption of the religion most of the world was following the crescent banner. Mansa added the Islamic Shrine and the Pyramids together on Turn 90 and he was cruising along in what felt like full control of the match. The only leader strong enough to challenge Mansa for first place looked to be Mehmed, who had benefitted from the weakness of Peter and Isabella to execute an impressive landgrab. As a Christian leader, Mehmed didn't much like the Islam practiced by Mansa Musa and there was a huge drag on their relationship due to peace weight. Would Mehmed be the one to stop the runaway Mansa freight train?

It looked like that was a "No" as Mao launched an invasion of the southern Ottoman territory. I immediately said on Livestream "GG Mansa wins" and while that was an exaggeration it wasn't too far off either. Mansa Musa's weakness was his diplomatic situation and thanks to a combination of religious spreads and fortunate RNG he had managed to avoid any early game aggression whatsoever. This wasn't entirely dumb luck as Mansa had been diligent about spreading Islam to his neighbors and expanding across the map to put himself in a strong position. On the other hand, Islam popping up in China instead of the closer Christianity was a nice break indeed and Isabella surely would have been beelining Christian missionaries into Mao's territory if she hadn't been set behind by the early barbarian city. Peter's insane trolling of his start had left Russia weaker than expected and then he chose to drag down Roosevelt in a war instead of going after Mansa. Finally, Mao choosing to attack Mehmed was perfectly logical based on how the religions had shaken out but still something that had been far from ordained at the game's start. Mansa Musa found himself in a position with the most territory and the best economy while all of the low peace weight leaders left him untouched. Things couldn't have gone much better for him.

From this point going forward the game was Mansa's to lose but of course there were still plenty of twists and turns ahead. The hijinx started as Mansa joining with Mao in the war against Mehmed on Turn 120. The Malinese didn't seem to have their hearts in the fighting though and Mansa signed a peace treaty without capturing any territory after about a dozen turns. The primary consequence was to draw enough Ottoman units north for Mao to capture a border city before the conflict in the south stabilized again. Peter and Roosevelt signed peace only to resume their war again fifteen turns later. Roosevelt was the aggressor this time and sniped a Russian border city at the outset of their second war. Once again they found themselves in a lengthy stalemate, albeit with Russia even weaker than before and holding on for dear life.

Then Isabella declared war on Mao to help out her Christian ally on Turn 148. This was a development that had the potential to threaten Mansa Musa down the road: if Mehmed and Izzy could partition the Chinese territory, that could leave the Ottomans strong enough to take on Mansa. However, the 2 vs 1 only lasted for a few turns before Mansa made the appropriate response:

He invaded the Ottomans for a second time and a general stalemate resumed. This game had turned into a surprisingly bloody affair with a high number of war declarations as everyone was seemingly unable to make progress in any of the conflicts. However, this was not a stable equilibrium given the gigantic advantage enjoyed by the Malinese in terms of economy. Sooner or later Mansa Musa would out-tech his rivals and start fielding units that they couldn't match. As far as this particular round of fighting, Mao and Isabella signed peace which meant that Mehmed found himself on the back foot. Mansa was able to capture two of his border cities and it looked for a moment as though Mehmed might be on the verge of collapsing. Then Mao strangely signed a treaty with Mehmed and gave him the reprieve that he desperately needed, granting enough space for the Ottomans to stabilize in the north against the Malinese. Mansa signed a treaty of his own half a dozen turns later to bring this round of warring to a close. No one had been decisively knocked out of the game but Mansa had only grown stronger and had surged almost 1000 points ahead of his nearest competitor on the scoreboard.

It appeared as though we would have a cakewalk Malinese victory from this point but there was still some drama remaining in the match. Isabella kicked off a new round of conflict by declaring war on Mansa Musa on Turn 179. Mansa was caught off guard by this new invasion and the Spanish were able to take back the former Ottoman border cities, liberating them over to Mehmed a short time later. Then Mehmed joined the fighting himself with a fresh declaration against Mansa and that meant real danger for the game leader. If he pulled one of those classic Willem paths through the tech tree and delayed Rifling tech, he could be overwhelmed by the combined forces of Spain and the Ottomans. Fortunately for the Mansa fans in the community, he once again came up with the correct response:

Mansa Musa picked up Rifling tech at an appropriate date and therefore reached the next tier of military technology in time to protect himself. This wasn't exactly a beeline since Mansa had researched both Democracy and Corporation techs ahead of time but it also wasn't one of those insane paths that we've seen from some AI leaders where they push all the way to Combustion and Assembly Line without Rifling. Mansa made his way to rifles and cavs at an early enough date that he was in little danger of being overrun. When Mao entered the new round of fighting by declaring war against Isabella on Turn 200, it more or less sealed a Malinese victory for the game. Mehmed and Isabella had a surprisingly strong showing in the north despite the early rifles on the part of Mansa, at one point even capturing the Malinese capital city. However, the economic advantage for Mansa Musa was completely nuts by this point in time and his units were only getting more and more advanced in comparison to his rivals. The GNP graph told the story of this game:

Yep, that was the classic Mansa Moneybags gameplay that we all know and love. The only thing that could defeat Mansa was a coordinated dogpile and that could never materialize so long as Mao Zedong was a determined ally on the southern side of the map. Mansa had gone into Free Religion civic by this point and no longer had a shared faith bonus with Mao but the two of them had scored a large mutual military stuggle bonus thanks to fighting the same opponents for so long. With Mao tying down Isabella in the deep south, Mansa was able to face Mehmed in a 1 vs 1 confrontation and the Ottomans simply couldn't win that matchup with medieval units against rifles and cavs. Mehmed kept trying, signing another peace treaty with Mansa at one point only to build up his forces and invade again, but without much luck. The tide had turned against him and the Ottomans soon found themselves in full retreat.

Elsewhere, the long-running war between Roosevelt and Peter eventually resulted in yet another peace treaty with no cities changing hands. Peter continued to act like some kind of drug addict by declaring war against Mansa Musa - was he TRYING to be the First to Die?! Mansa captured a single city and then peaced out with the Russians so that he could concentrate on the greater threat posed by Mehmed. There was no reprieve for Peter though as Roosevelt once again started a new invasion as the neverending carousel of wars continued. We found ourselves watching three unequal struggles play out simultaneously: Mansa against Mehmed, Mao against Isabella, and Roosevelt against Peter. The former leader was winning against the latter leader in each of these three conflicts although the pace of conquest was slow everywhere. Mansa had a massive tech advantage but wasn't committing many units, Mao was running up against Chichen Itza + castle defenses in Spain that took forever to siege down, and Roosevelt simply wasn't very strong. Each of these wars took long turns to conclude, with Roosevelt surprisingly finishing his campaign first:

Mansa should have been the first to conclude his conflict but he was more interested in pushing additional infrastructure over training units. Roosevelt took the prize instead as Peter found himself as a very deserving First to Die. The actions of the Russians were completely insane in this game and it's unclear why Peter's performance was so bad. He had strong local terrain around his capital and a relatively friendly diplomatic environment and failed to capital on any of those advantages. Elsewhere, Mansa finished up with the Ottomans ten turns later to cement his dominance over the center of the map, followed by Mao taking the final Spanish city on Turn 291:

It was a bit of an undeserved fate for Mehmed who had been the second-strongest AI leader for most of the game. He found himself on the wrong side of the diplomatic alliances and couldn't keep up with Mansa's superior teching in the end. As for Isabella, the presence of that barbarian city popping up in a horrible spot seems to have sunk her game from the outset. It's unclear at this point whether that was something which would take place in other games or if she had been supremely unlucky in a fit of bad RNG. It's something that we'll have to explore later in the alternate histories to get a better sense of whether she had been doomed by poor play or a terribly unfortunate dice roll.

Mansa Musa was more than a full era ahead of the other AI leaders on the tech tree and he could walk to any victory that he wanted at this point. Now that they had shared borders with one another and no common faith to boost relations, Mao dropped down to "Cautious" with Mansa though he didn't seem eager to pick a fight with someone so far ahead in technology. Mansa opted to run the culture slider at this point and head for a Cultural victory rather than look for space. The finishing date was probably about the same for both victory conditions since Mansa had a bunch of very highly developed cities. He only needed about 40 turns to get three cities up to Legendary status once he started running the slider and we could see that the finishing date would be somewhere in the Turn 320-325 range barring an unexpected development. As the turns ticked down, Mao began plotting war and we thought that we would have one more fight before the game ended. Well, we did get that final war declaration as Roosevelt attacked Mao (?!?) on the last turn before Mansa Musa managed to hit the victory threshhold. The fighting would have gone very poorly for Roosevelt if the match had continued; fortunately for him it was all over on the next turn:

It was an impressive victory for Mansa Musa who had both played well and had events break in his favor throughout the game. Mansa had certainly done the things that he needed to do during this game: expanding well, spreading his religion to his neighbors, attacking Mehmed to prevent Mao from being overrun, and pursuing critical military techs at an appropriate date. However, he had also been fortunate to have the diplomacy break in his favor time and again. No one attacked Mansa in the early stages of the game despite his high peace weight, Peter inexplicably trolled himself to leave the Russians a nonentity, Isabella was crippled by an unfortunate barbarian city, and Mao turned out to be the best ally Mansa Musa could ever want. The spread of Islam to Mao was purely random and a different religion popping up in China could have prevented the gamelong alliance that we saw between the two seeded leaders. Mansa had been both lucky and good in this game, the best possible result to ensure a victory.

This will be one of the top games for exploring alternate histories just because that barbarian city felt like it threw such a monkey wrench into Isabella's opening. I'll have to check it out later and report back my findings for everyone else. In the meantime, thanks for reading and I hope that you'll continue to enjoy Season Six of Civ4 AI Survivor!