This summary for the Wildcard Game was written by Amicalola. Many thanks for volunteering to put this report together!
Following smaller wildcard games for the previous two seasons, this year we had a nine-leader barbarian-filled fiesta. There were two pregame favorites going into the match. The first was Huayna Capac, who had a nasty diplomatic situation but a very sheltered position on the southeast coast. The second (albeit smaller) favorite was Gandhi, who had the opposite: a central position, but a great diplomatic situation. Lincoln and Louis shared most of the vote for first-to-die, likely due to their exposed positions and mediocre history. Louis in particular looked quite isolated in the jungle belt.
The first surprise of the game came when Gandhi opened with Agriculture, rather than the expected religion. Instead, Huayna Capac landed Buddhism for the south, and Wang Kon took Confucianism for the north. Otherwise, the raging barbarians made themselves known quickly, as by Turn 15 they were already rampaging around. There were few tile improvements to be found during the early turns, and the two favorites for first-to-die were struggling the most; Louis entertained us in the early turns by dancing around two workers and a settler, all unguarded. He lost a worker, and soon afterwards settled his third city without a garrison, losing that too! Lincoln was the other leader that really struggled with the barbarians. Unlike isolated Louis, Lincoln was more inexplicable; for whatever reason he just could not improve his land or settle new territory. The eastern Americans would never recover from their early barb struggles.
On the other end of the spectrum, Huayna Capac, Roosevelt and Gilgamesh had the most sheltered positions, and were making the most of them. By Turn 50, they had all settled their immediate area, with improved capitals working strong tiles. Lincoln, Gandhi, and Wang Kon were acting as meat shields for the former three respectively, and Gilgamesh and Huayna were expanding in crescent shapes around their slower neighbors. Other leaders were struggling; Zara and Gandhi were still on three cities, and poor Louis and Lincoln both held only their original two. Lincoln did finally get in on the expansion game on T60, settling his third city; it was nearly immediately captured by barbarians. Did you really expect anything different?
It was Wang Kon who launched the first war on Turn 83, against Louis. The initial Korean stack just barely failed to capture Paris, and the war stalemated quickly. As Wang Kon sent a second big stack towards Louis, Gilgamesh joined the war on the French side. The Korean stack turned around and wiped Gilgamesh's army to a man, but was itself slaughtered at Nibru. The war would stalemate for a time, after Louis backed out. At the same time, the barbarian cities began falling, as Pericles took the first on Turn 76. Meanwhile, on Turn 86, Gandhi researched The Wheel, and we got an explanation for his poor performance; Gandhi had bungled his economy spectacularly. It is unclear what caused this, as Gandhi had not struggled especially badly with barbarians, but it would cripple him for the remainder of the game.
By Turn 100, most of the barbarian cities in the middle of the map had been captured. Huayna Capac and Gilgamesh had continued to outpace the pack, and Huayna had built several key wonders including the Great Wall and Pyramids. Meanwhile Gilgamesh had expanded like crazy, even grabbing Zara's intended metal four tiles from the Ethiopian capital. His economy had been his main weakness, but he had finished the Great Lighthouse for 10 trade routes, and Sumerian research was rapidly improving. Meanwhile, dual pacifists Gandhi and Lincoln, as well as Louis, were the obvious runts of the game.
Huayna's Buddhism had become the dominant religion, with unsurprising conversions from Louis and Pericles, but also some lucky ones from Roosevelt and Gilgamesh. Huayna was in a much better diplomatic environment than his peace weight would suggest, thanks to those unlikely religious spreads. Meanwhile, Wang's Confucianism had not spread very far at all, with only Zara Yaqob converting thus far. Even that was not to last, as Gandhi teched an extremely late Monotheism to found the game's third religion in Hinduism. Gandhi desperately spread Hinduism to his neighbors and was able to convert both Zara and Lincoln, which at least made him some allies. Gilgamesh and Wang Kon's war remained static, and Wang Kon made the unusual move to Oracle Feudalism. This unlocked Protective longbows for the Koreans, and Gilgamesh finally saw the writing on the wall and made peace. Before long though, the next spree of wars began as the map filled up. The first was Louis attacking the far-stronger Pericles. This war stalemated after Louis' suicide attack failed, and their war dragged on for a long time. In an even sillier move, the next war was between Huayna Capac and Lincoln, and the fighting was started by… the American. His stack was instantly cleaned up (literally, after one turn) by Incan forces, and it looked like Huayna would go on to roll over the Americans. However, the Incan armies seemed confused and walked around in circles; Huayna had been plotting at the time, and perhaps Lincoln's attack had messed with his AI programming. In any case, that war ended quickly with a white peace, and Lincoln looked to have gotten extremely lucky.
The next war was started by Gilgamesh, who returned to Korea for round two. Gilgamesh had also built the Mausoleum, and this felt like it might be the first of several conquests in a Sumerian snowball. An enormous Sumerian stack marched into Korean territory, but then something strange happened. Wang Kon had a decent (but smaller) stack in the nearby forest, and Gilgamesh suicided his entire army into it. Things went from bad to worse, as Zara Yaqob entered the war, and immediately began capturing border cities. Zara had been pleased with nearly everyone, and it was pure chance that Gilgamesh had been his target. But this worked out perfectly for the Ethiopians, as they immediately captured several cities. Zara signed peace after only taking a few border cities, but the damage was done, and the once second-place Gilgamesh had been thoroughly knocked off his high horse. At the same time, Gandhi started a bizarre war against Roosevelt, promptly lost two border cities, and signed peace again; he was not exactly covering himself in glory this game. Someone on the livestream quipped that this was the first offensive war Gandhi had ever fought, and the results reflected that.
Huayna Capac got his revenge as he attacked Lincoln next. This time, the Incan armies were prepared, and cities began falling left and right. Huayna Capac also built his Hindu Shrine, and as Gilgamesh was being pounded, he took a commanding lead on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Wang Kon continued to gradually dismantle the Sumerian empire. The race for first to die looked like it might be close, but Zara rejoined the war and swung the balance. Zara and Wang partitioned what was left of Sumeria, and Zara took the final iceball city on Turn 205. Lincoln followed soon afterwards on Turn 210.
It was a sad end for Gilgamesh, who had been second place for most of the game thus far. His empire had been a strange, impossible-to-defend crescent, and unusually for Civ4, his poor tactical play had mattered more than his fantastically strong empire. When Zara had joined the fight just after the Sumerian army had died, there were simply not enough defenders to hold. The same could not be said for Lincoln, who had been inexplicably crippled by barbarians despite not having one of the more exposed positions. He had been clearly doomed from about Turn 40, and it would be very interesting to see if the pattern played out in the alternate histories.
Following these eliminations, there were three strong leaders, and there was everyone else. Wang Kon and Zara Yaqob were jostling each other for second on the scoreboard, each having claimed about half of Gilgamesh's territory. Wang Kon had received more and stronger cities though, and he began catching up to Huayna in technology. For his part, Huayna Capac had just finished up rifles as Lincoln died, and had a lead in both technology and land. Alongside what felt like virtually every wonder, Huayna had just landed Taj Mahal, Economics, and Liberalism for Military Tradition. But Wang Kon was a lot stronger than expected, and Huayna was far from running away with the game yet. He could not afford to turn off the gas, and apparently knew it; he immediately began plotting again, and Incan forces crashed into India soon afterwards. It looked like they would get stuck as Huayna only brought one siege unit to the siege of Varanasi, but it turned out Gandhi had so few units that cities began falling to raiding stacks of cavalry anyway.
As Huayna bullied his way through the Indian walls, Wang Kon and Zara could not afford to be idle either. Wang struck first, attacking Louis alongside Pericles. The French could offer even less resistance than Gandhi, and immediately began losing cities. Zara, not wanting to fall behind, attacked Roosevelt soon afterward. Initially he had less success, struggling to break through the fortified city of Boston. If Boston ever fell though, Roosevelt would be as doomed as the others.
What followed was a process of consolidation, as the three stronger leaders absorbed the weaker ones. Wang Kon and Pericles finished the process first, eliminating Louis on Turn 265. Louis had been correctly pegged by the community as having a vulnerable start against the barbarians, and he had never really recovered from it. Louis also played terribly though, losing a worker and city early, and fighting multiple stalemates with poor Pericles; it was hard to feel awful for him. Next on the chopping block was Gandhi, who died on Turn 274. Gandhi had played an appalling game, from failing to research The Wheel until after Turn 80, to launching a hilariously incompetent offensive war. He certainly deserved his fate. Finally, Roosevelt lost Boston right as Gandhi died, with Zara's new cannons likely making the difference. The Americans were gradually ground down, and Zara claimed the solo kill on Turn 297. Roosevelt had used his excellent and sheltered capital to expand effectively, and then done precisely nothing with that. He had failed to research Mysticism for ages, had never declared a war once, and had also failed to make any economic headway against Huayna or Wang Kon. Like Gandhi, he did not deserve to advance, and this was a welcome thinning of the pool.
After the consolidation period, it was time to look at victory conditions. Diplomacy was out, as neither Huayna Capac nor Zara Yaqob could garner the votes needed. Wang Kon and Huayna were neck-and-neck in research, with Zara a little behind. But following his kill on Gandhi, Huayna turned on the cultural slider, which would take 100 turns! Huayna needed to speed that up, or he would certainly lose to a Wang Kon spaceship. For that matter, Wang Kon was plotting war again; if he out-teched Huayna Capac by enough, the Incans might not even live to see that spaceship!
Indeed, Wang Kon attacked Huayna Capac before long, with his army trapped in Incan territory. Unlike in some past invasions, this did not induce Huayna to turn off the cultural slider, as Huayna continued to push for that belated victory. Korean armies initially failed to make much progress, but both sides were taking heavy losses; Zara Yaqob used the time to sneak up the scoreboard until he was neck-and-neck with the other two as well. Finally, just as Wang Kon looked to be making progress, a United Nations resolution stopped the war. Phew, said the 50% of contest entrants who had picked Huayna.
Wang Kon's spaceship had been on track to arrive long before Huayna's cultural victory, but now that the Incans were in peacetime, they belatedly set about increasing the cultural output in their legendary cities. But at the same time, Wang Kon was smart enough to avoid researching Stealth, which cut his completion time down too. As the gap got smaller and smaller it was impossible to tell who would win. For that matter, Zara had basically caught up in score, and whoever was slower might not even make second thanks to him. But eventually it became clear, after using a great artist to speed up his victory another turn, that Huayna Capac would be the one to cross the finish line first. Wang's spaceship would come four turns too late, and on the turn before Huayna's victory, there were only 40 points between Wang Kon and Zara Yaqob. Wang Kon had played an amazing game, managing to hold the tech lead despite being stuck fighting all game. Would it be enough to see him into the playoffs?
Not quite! Zara leapfrogged Wang Kon to end up ahead by five points, a tiny amount for this late in the game. For that matter, Wang Kon was only ten points behind Huayna Capac, and it is impossible to stress how close this game really was. Anything breaking Wang Kon's way would have been enough, from Pericles or Zara getting one less city in their wars, or even Wang getting the final Sumerian iceball spot. Still, Zara had also played a fantastic game, and only two leaders could make it to the Playoffs. Wang would have to try his luck again next year. (Sullla EDIT: This was an absurdly close finish on the scoreboard. Wang and Zara were *TIED* in score two turns before the game ended, then Wang Kon jumped 40 points ahead from completing a tech on Turn 331, and then Zara completed his own tech on the finishing Turn 332 and gained a couple of population points to edge ahead by 5 points out of 4330. It really doesn't get any closer than this!)
Huayna Capac had played a mostly excellent game, with the exception of the strange cultural victory attempt. This game probably would have been a lot less close if Huayna had just gone for space in the first place. He had picked up two kills alongside his victory, and Huayna has now made the playoffs in five out of six seasons. That level of consistency is unrivalled, with Kublai Khan being the closest at four. Zara Yaqob had started out a lot slower than Huayna Capac. His game had been reminiscent of Zara in Season One, gradually building up and picking smart wars of conquest. Zara had played the diplomatic game excellently, never being attacked once. His wars against Gilgamesh had brought into the fold of the consolidators, rather than being an also-ran like Pericles, and his war against Roosevelt had been exactly what Zara needed to pass Wang Kon in score. Zara has finally made it to the Playoffs again after four years, and has a chance to get his Season One mojo back.