Civ4 AI Survivor Season 7: Game One Preview

This is a continuing feature for Season Seven of Civ4 AI Survivor: a preview of each game before it begins, providing a quick summary of the leaders involved and how the community expects the game to shake out. We start as always with an overview of the map:

We've had requests in past seasons for an overview screenshot of the map with the resource icon turned on:

It's hard for me to see much of anything with all of those little icons but you guys asked for it, you've got it! Now for a look at our individual leaders:

Pool One Leader

Stalin of Russia
Traits: Aggressive, Industrious
Starting Techs: Hunting, Mining
Peace Weight: 2
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: 4 First Place Finishes, 2 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Three Champion
Total Kills: 10
Overall Power Ranking: 34 points, 5th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Stalin has unexpectedly been one of the most dominant leaders in AI Survivor history, compiling a staggering track record of success that we're still not entirely sure how to explain. His traits are nothing special, with the Industrious trait largely acting as a detriment to AI performance and Aggressive never grading out as anything better than average. Stalin has undoubtedly been helped by his Russian civilization, with its decent starting techs and powerful Cossack unique unit. Understanding why Stalin has repeatedly crushed his opponents requires a deeper dive into his AI personality. He has a low peace weight and an above average aggression rating (7.6/10) while avoiding the truly nutty behavior of someone like Montezuma or Genghis Khan. Aside from a somewhat high build wonder rating (6/10), most of Stalin's AI ratings are in the middle of the spectrum and don't stand out one way or another. He loves espionage spending (10/10) but that's about it. What's unusual about Stalin is the fact that he doesn't care about religion at all, showing as little interest as Mao with miniscule shared faith bonuses and differing religion penalties. This may be a factor in his repeated victories as Stalin doesn't get hung up on the religious diplomacy and can act as he sees fit. He otherwise has Military and Production tech flavors and, of course, can plot war at "Pleased" relations. For whatever reason, this overall package has been extremely successful in prior seasons of AI Survivor.

Past Performance: Stalin didn't accomplish much during the first two seasons of AI Survivor, then exploded out of nowhere during the following two seasons and completely owned the competition. He scored 31 of his 34 points in Seasons Three and Four, taking home four first place finishes, nine kills, two repeat appearances in the championship game, and the overall title of Season Three Champion. No one was more successful over those two seasons, and Stalin's Season Three outing was a total stomp from start to finish. He took part in three games, all of them first place finishes, and also set the record for most kills in a single season with seven. Stalin has furthermore shown the ability to win in multiple different fashions, scoring Domination and Spaceship victories and even one Cultural victory. He has been completely ruthless at destroying his rivals, pouncing again and again on moments of weakness in the other leaders. At times it's felt as though a human was playing as Stalin against a bunch of AI turkeys. Thanks to making the championship game two seasons in a row, we went two full seasons without Stalin ever suffering an elimination! Stalin wasn't able to keep that streak alive with opening round exits in Seasons Five and Six but it's still been a wild ride over the previous few years. Skeptics will point out that Stalin has achieved virtually nothing outside of his insane run in Seasons Three and Four so readers should be forewarned that his past stellar results may not be repeatable.

Pool Two Leader

Gandhi of India
Traits: Spiritual, Philosophical
Starting Techs: Mysticism, Mining
Peace Weight: 10
Declares War at Pleased Relations? NO
Past Finishes: 4 First Place Finishes
Best Finish: Playoff Round: Seasons Two, Three, Four, and Five
Total Kills: 2
Overall Power Ranking: 22 points, 14th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Gandhi is without a doubt one of the most unique leaders in Civ4. For traits, he plays with the powerful Spiritual, and the terrible (for AI Survivor) Philosophical, an overall unremarkable pair that lands at about average, the most important point being that Gandhi gets several half-cost cultural buildings. He also has access to the above average Fast Worker and Mausoleum. Lastly, his starting techs are Mysticism and Mining, a generally weak pair useful for pursuing an early religion and not much else; like many religious leaders, Gandhi often takes a long time to improve his tiles and connect his resources. Gandhi is the leader least likely to declare war in the entire game, with an aggression rating of 0/10. He also has the lowest possible rating for building units (0/10) and demanding tribute (0/10), essentially making Gandhi a hyper pacifist who entirely neglects his military and prays it won't come back to bite him in the rear. Surprisingly, Gandhi is also quite unlikely to build wonders (2/10); he doesn't waste time with those either. Rather than units and wonders, Gandhi spends the entire game laser-focused on one thing: cultural buildings. Gandhi is a rare leader with only one flavour in Civ 4: CULTURE. He pursues religions like a man possessed and puts his production bonuses to extremely effective use. It's not uncommon to see Gandhi desperately fighting wars of survival whilst simultaneously building his third or fourth temple in each city. It usually doesn't end well. Gandhi is probably the most feast-or-famine type leader in AI Survivor. If he is not attacked by his neighbours, he can rush out a cultural victory like nobody's business, but if he is, he collapses faster than any other leader in the game. An early war declaration from a neighbour can often ruin any chance of a Gandhi victory on the spot.

Past Performance: Gandhi's all-or-nothing playstyle has been surprisingly effective, and Gandhi has won almost every opening round he's played in thus far. Season One showed the nothing side, as Gandhi rolled a hostile group of neighbours and was devoured early on, attacked by 4/5 of the other players. However, in Seasons Two, Three, and Four, Gandhi has rolled low-skilled, high peaceweight games; in other words, his perfect field. Gandhi won all of these games and it usually wasn't very close. He's even scored a couple of kills! Gandhi has struggled in the playoffs so far, always drawing aggressive fields and being savaged early on, being First to Die in three of his four losses. He drew arguably the most hopeless starting position in playoff history in Season Five and was predictably eliminated despite a game effort at survival. Gandhi's success thus far should likely be viewed skeptically, as three of his wins have been against some of the weakest fields in AI Survivor history, and when he goes up against stronger competitors Gandhi has been thoroughly unable to keep up. Pay particular attention to which other leaders are in Gandhi's games when predicting his performance; it's especially important for him.

Unseeded Leaders

Hammurabi of Babylon
Traits: Aggressive, Organized
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Wheel
Peace Weight: 8
Declares War at Pleased Relations? NO
Past Finishes: 1 Second Place Finish
Best Finish: Playoff Round: Season Three
Total Kills: 2
Overall Power Ranking: 4 points, 48th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Hammurabi is another leader who has traits pulling him in multiple different directions. His profile includes the ill-fitting Aggressive trait paired together with a setup that otherwise leans heavily in the peaceful builder direction with Organized. This Aggressive trait is largely wasted on a leader who loves to build wonders (8/10), features a defensive archer unique unit in the Bowman, and has only one research flavor: Culture. Hammurabi will obsess over anything associated with cultural output and stands a good chance of founding an early religion despite not starting with Mysticism tech. His own Agriculture/Wheel starting techs are excellent and that's one of the best things that he has going for him. Generally speaking though, Hammurabi ends up having a wasted leader trait as he sits in a corner of the map trying to develop his culture. He has a high peace weight, a low aggression rating (5.5), and won't plot war at "Pleased" relations. Unless Hammurabi gets involved in a religious dispute, he tends to be somewhat of an inert AI leader. Not one of the more interesting AI personalities in the competition.

Past Performance: Hammurabi has achieved little to date in past seasons of AI Survivor. He was First to Die in his initial match in Season One after starting in the middle of the map and running afoul of Kublai Khan. A peaceful field in Season Two led to an appearance in the Wildcard game but nothing else of particular note. Hammurabi's most successful appearance took place in Season Three where he found himself in another high peace weight group of leaders and took a distant second place finish behind Mansa Musa before getting steamrolled in his playoff match. Season Four saw another quick elimination in a game where Hammurabi was never one of the leaders, and Season Five had another run of inert performances waiting to be killed by more dynamic rivals. All indications are that Hammurabi is a third or fourth tier leader for AI Survivor purposes, an unlikely candidate to emerge as a top contender unless conditions line up just right.

Isabella of Spain
Traits: Expansive, Spiritual
Starting Techs: Fishing, Mysticism
Peace Weight: 6
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish
Best Finish: Playoff Round: Season Four
Total Kills: 3
Overall Power Ranking: 8 points, tied 33rd place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Religion, religion, religion. Isabella is a religious zealot and cares more about her faith than just about any other AI leader in the game. Her "Spain on a Lake" techs are good for founding one of the first two religions and pretty much nothing else, but they will ensure that she'll get some kind of religion and then defend it to the death. Either you are a treasured practitioner of the one true path or you are heathen scum that must be wiped from the earth; there's little subtlety or nuance to Isabella's diplomacy. Her Expansive/Spiritual traits are decent without being spectacular, although it must be said that the AI doesn't do a great job of leveraging the Expansive trait properly. Spain's Conquistador and Citadel unique items are similarly "OK" without having any sort of game-breaking potential. Isabella can be a difficult neighbor to live alongside since she will constantly demand tribute (8/10), and to no one's surprise, demand that others adopt her religion (10/10). Isabella has exactly one research flavor: Religion. Starting to sense a trend here? This obsessive emphasis on religion tends to lead Isabella into founding more religions than she needs and launching ill-advised crusades against rival faiths. She's a one-dimensional cartoon character who only cares about one thing.

Past Performance: Isabella's religious mania has fared poorly in six out of the seven games in which she's appeared. Most of the time Isabella will hog a whole bunch of religions and then self-destruct in spectacular fashion with a series of pointless wars. She's not quite as insane as Montezuma but she's not that far off either. Her cities will spend far too much time building temples and monasteries and more missionaries rather than the infrastructure which would actually be helpful in winning the game. The one exception to this pattern was Isabella's opening round game in Season Four, where she shocked everyone by winning a Domination victory in impressive fashion. This seems to have been a highly unlikely result, with Cyrus and Catherine knocking one another out of contention and allowing Isabella to sweep in and claim the win. It certainly wasn't repeated in the playoff round when Isabella clung to her own unpopular self-founded faith and was eliminated. She seems to have had one lucky game in which she scored all eight of her points, and it's dubious as to whether she can repeat that performance again.

Pericles of Greece
Traits: Creative, Philosophical
Starting Techs: Fishing, Hunting
Peace Weight: 6
Declares War at Pleased Relations? NO
Past Finishes: 2 First Place Finishes, 1 Second Place Finish
Best Finish: Championship Game: Season Two
Total Kills: 3
Overall Power Ranking: 15 points, tied 21st place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Pericles is one of the best leaders at pursuing a Cultural victory and he's had a good bit of success with that strategy in past seasons. Pericles has the ideal trait combination for chasing after cultural pursuits with the Creative + Philosophical pairing, providing cheap libraries and universities and theatres. The Greek civ doesn't offer too much in this regard, with subpar starting techs and an unrelated Phalanx unique unit, although I suppose that the Odeon unique building comes at half cost and can provide more Artist specialist slots. Pericles the AI leader has a peaceful bent in general, with a low aggression rating (3.3/10) and a modest build unit preference (4/10). Pericles would clearly much rather spend his time building wonders instead (8/10), which he'll do with great frequency in each game. Unlike many of the other peaceful leaders, Pericles doesn't place much of an emphasis on religion and rarely founds one of his own faiths. His research flavors are Production and Science, which also makes him a bit of a strange bird since he doesn't have a Culture or Religion tech preference in there. Overall Pericles is an easy neighbor to live with, as he almost never makes demands and has a middling peace weight that avoids either end of the spectrum. He's a leader who wants to be left alone and can become very dangerous if he gets that wish.

Past Performance: Pericles has typically done well when he's managed to roll a field of high peace weight AIs and not so well when he hasn't. In Season One, Pericles found himself sharing a game with Elizabeth and Frederick and Darius, and once the low peace weight leaders were gone, it turned into a lovefest where he took home a Diplomatic victory via the United Nations. The playoff round was another story entirely, as Pericles was boxed in by a hostile Suleiman and ruthlessly eliminated in the midgame. He had his best outing in Season Two, with a Cultural victory in the opening round thanks to another group of high peace weight opponents, followed by a surprising second place finish in the playoffs despite starting next to Catherine and Tokugawa. Everyone expected Pericles to die quickly in that one and instead he survived and propsered. It wasn't enough to avoid elimination in the Season Two Championship game, however, as Pericles faced some very tough competition from a group of low peace weight opponents. Pericles has been unable to advance in the most recent seasons of AI Survivor, falling afoul of the "group of death" in Season Three and then sabotaging his chances in Season Four by launching a war against Lincoln (!) instead of a militaristic neighbor. That went as poorly as expected and resulted in another elimination. He was unable to handle Hannibal in Season Five's opening game and found himself suffering an ignominious First to Die fate, then was robbed in Season Six as he dominated the alternate histories but was relegated to the Wildcard game in the real match. Anyway, Pericles plays the cultural game well enough to have a real short of victory if he can draw a suitable field of opponents and avoid obviously destructive moves.

Shaka of the Zulus
Traits: Aggressive, Expansive
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Hunting
Peace Weight: 2
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish, 3 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Playoff Round: Seasons Two, Three, Four, and Six
Total Kills: 5
Overall Power Ranking: 16 points, tied 18th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Shaka gets the Aggressive and Expansive traits to play around with, two middling traits that create a roughly average combination, if well-fitted for conquest. He also has the below average (in AI hands) Impi, and the extremely strong Ikhanda for his unique items, an above average pairing that, again, works well for militaristic play. Lastly, Shaka has the Agriculture and Hunting pair for his starting techs, which allow him to get out to a fast start. If you haven't picked up on it yet, Shaka is all about the military. He's one of the "Crazies" who cross the threshold from "aggressive" to "nuts", and his aggression rating (9.2/10) is the fourth highest in the game. Like most of the other Crazies, Shaka's only flavour is Military, and he builds units at a frenetic pace (10/10) while ignoring wonders (2/10). Surprisingly, Shaka is quite unlikely to demand tribute (1/10), but other than that, he's a fairly standard hyper-aggressive leader. Shaka's traits, unique items and flavour are all pretty unhelpful in constructing an economy, and usually he doesn't even try. Expect Shaka to spend his entire game warring on the high peace weight pacifists (or anyone else, for that matter!), and his success to largely depend on whether those wars are successful or stall out.

Past Performance: So far, Shaka is undeniably the most successful of the Crazies in AI Survivor, ranked slightly above average as compared to the rest of the field (for reference, Ragnar, Temujin and Montezuma are all within the bottom third). Perhaps his lack of demands helps after all, making him less likely to become a global pariah, or maybe the Ikhanda is just that good. After a terrible first season, Shaka has made the playoffs four of the last five seasons. His most successful game was a Season Two romp in, admittedly, a below average field, but Shaka has achieved second place in two more games since. In Season Three, Shaka did this by largely staying out of the way of De Gaulle, but in Season Four he played another strong game, scoring himself three kills to boot, following an impressive zerg rush of Joao. Like many other middle-tier leaders however, Shaka has consistently struggled against the stiffer competition of the playoffs, where he typically gets outteched by more balanced (i.e less insane) leaders, probably best displayed in his Season Three Playoff Game, where he ballooned to an enormous size, but was so far behind in tech that he also popped like a balloon when confronted by Stalin and Justinian. Shaka is a complete lunatic but he was (temporarily) a seeded leader for Season Five - there must be a method to the madness.

Here's what the community was thinking based on the prediction contest before the game took place:

With almost 200 entries already locked into the picking contest, the community was strongly backing Stalin to win and Gandhi to be First to Die. There was no consensus at all about the Runner Up spot (usually the toughest category to choose) and opinion was split almost exactly one half / one quarter / one quarter across the Domination, Spaceship, and Cultural victory conditions respectively. This had all the makings of an entertaining first game: some people were going to be right and some people were going to have egg on the faces come Friday!

Finally, here are some of the best/craziest written predictions about what would take place during the game. There were many other excellent entries but I had to pick and choose my favorites to keep this from running on too long. Thanks again for the submissions!

LinkMarioSamus: To make a long story (somewhat?) short, I think Pericles will get the victory that eluded him last few seasons. Greece's starting techs are terrible, but he has a good neighbor situation with Gandhi likely to stay out of his way and Shaka as a potential dogpile target. It pains me to pick Shaka FTD here, but his tentative diplomatic situation is simply horrendous. To make matters worse, both of his neighbors have ancient era unique units which do a pretty fair job of shutting down the kind of early aggression Shaka bases his whole strategy around, so we're probably going to see him going down putting up a good fight before succumbing to the superior economies of his high-peace weight neighbors. As for the others, even though Stalin and Gandhi are definitely the best leaders here, I would not be surprised if they both ran into diplomatic troubles as well - Gandhi mostly with Stalin himself admittedly and Stalin with Gandhi and potentially also Isabella and Hammurabi as well depending on how religious diplomacy shakes out. I have to imagine additionally that Isabella won't get along with Gandhi either since they're bound to follow different religions - and even if they don't, Gandhi could easily serve as a potential target for the high-peace weight leaders with Shaka and Stalin out due to possible border tensions along with Isabella being willing to plot war at Pleased. This knocks the field down to Pericles, Isabella, and Hammurabi, and as Pericles probably fares the best of those three economy-wise I'll pick him to win. I'll pick Isabella second since she has more longterm potential than Hammurabi (who gets basically nothing after his unique building unlocked at Construction, though I guess the Organized trait probably helps him out better later in the game?) and is more willing to declare war and grab additional territory than he is, but admittedly her game hinges entirely on religious diplomacy.

jdpelgrillo: The Stalin/Shaka axis of evil will crush all who would oppose them, with Gandhi FTD. Isabella or Pericles will suffer the stone->capital Pyramids curse, and Hammurabi will end up with a wide border with Shaka that sparks cultural tension and leads to his downfall. When the dust settles, either a backstab will lead to a Domination victory, or the two will stay at peace and Stalin wins by Space.

LaserGuy: Stalin is in good position to crush a weak Gandhi and turn into an absolute beast. Shaka will probably cripple himself and Pericles in a useless war, Hammurabi is far enough away from the other and has lots of space that he can probably hold on for a 2nd place win by default.

LinkMarioSamus Part Two: I apologize for making another entry; please discard the previous one. I made my previous prediction thinking Shaka has a peace weight of 0, but apparently his peace weight is 2, meaning his peace weight situation is only as bad as Stalin's and Gandhi's and no worse. With that in mind, I'm picking Shaka to win for three reasons: he has a starting position fairly well-suited to his starting techs since he has plenty of arable land and can research Animal Husbandry immediately to hook up his cows, he comes off to me as the most fairly-ranked leader of this bunch, and Sullla said a long time ago that in the absence of a true economic powerhouse to bet on the most militaristic AI personalities. This game does have a real economic powerhouse in Gandhi, but I imagine Gandhi is prone to serious diplomatic problems with Stalin, Shaka, and Isabella and past that Pericles is a solid builder leader at best, Hammurabi is too geared towards the early game, and Isabella is a whole lot of who cares. I'm also going with a bit of a bold pick with Pericles 2nd and Stalin FTD - Pericles I think can just build in his corner fairly effectively while Stalin just seems like the kind of leader to fizzle out with an indecisive early game and get taken advantage of by his neighbors. I dunno, weird stuff always happens in the first game!

ManiaMusa: Shaka starts an early war with Pericles which stalemates before leading to his early demise (either in this war or a subsequent war after he has fallen behind in tech). Stalin will get involved in a few wars with Gandhi/Isabella/Pericles which are not that successful and ultimately end up with him being dogpiled as well. Isabella will just kind of exist and not really do anything strategically significant. Hammurabi will have enough room to expand, power up his economy/teching and then start/join in wars with good timing to seize more territory. At some point Izzy will get kicked off the island as well as she was not popular enough. Once it is down to just Hammurabi/Gandhi/Pericles then Hammurabi will be ahead in tech already and will be able to win the space race though Ghandi/Pericles may attempt a sneaky culture win as well.

dankok8: Shaka has lots of space to expand and several squishy neighbors with high peaceweight. I think Gandhi is in a lot of trouble as is Pericles who has little space to expand and is closest to the Zulu maniac. I think Izzy survives with Shaka because she will spread her religion to him so he will leave her for last.

SkipperXIV: I'm mostly rooting for Pericles because he's my favorite leader to play as, but I think he and Gandhi can coordinate since they're neighbors and have similar peace weights and game plans. I don't see Stalin and Shaka being able to work together, so I don't think they'll be able to pull out a win. Hammurabi is by himself, surrounded by leaders who are not very friendly so I think he's dead. Isabella's kind of a wildcard, hard to say what she'll do but her success is pretty contingent on how far her religion spreads. Even then, Stalin and Shaka don't really care about religion so it probably won't be enough to save her even if they both convert.

Dagoth Gares: I can't wait for Isabella to try and get Uncle Joe hooked on the opiate of the people, and then get rewarded with a nice backstabbing from her new bff.

Schmun: I think the balance is in favour of the warlike Civs here. Stalin and Shaka crash headfirst into Ghandi and Pericles. Whether Stalin actually wins depends on whether he can conquer and absorb Ghandi or just bog him down in a long war, but either way I think Ghandi gets weighed down defending himself so doesn't win. Victory condition is spaceship as I predict Stalin and Shaka will rack up positive relationship points fighting a shared war, leaving Stalin to tech his way to the end.

BigBlueBen: Stalin could find himself essentially out of the game by turn 10, if both Gandhi and Isabella settle towards him with holy cities. The mountains screw up the AI enough to save Gandhi from Stalin until he can research longbows, so he wins culture. Shaka takes the early score lead with a lot of room to expand before a suicidal attack in the mid game. Hammy screws himself over by self-founding a religion and earning Issy's ire while also neighboring Shaka. Pericles picks up Gandhi's religion and sits in a corner. Isabella takes second by eventually conquering most of the west, but can't get to domination in time (and attacking Gandhi that late would incur nuclear wrath).

Cyneheard: Stalin with a solid start and an easy target to his east? I'm either going to get this game very very right or very very wrong. Isabella's religious zealtory being matched with Stalin's atheism is also going to be interesting, and definitely how I could get this very very wrong.

RefSteel: In the alternate universe where I actually guess correctly, Shaka happily expands into the vast open spaces left empty by Hammurabi's focus on wonders, and proceeds to split Gandhi (who is also focusing blindly on wonders) with Stalin, then roll over Pericles, who his culture will by then surround -- and whose energies will have been going, of course, into his own wonders. Isabella will meanwhile be contributing meaningless microstacks to all of these wars with heathens, and will turn her distant-third standing into a cultural victory thanks to all her religious stuff moments before Shaka claims domination.

Amicalola: To be honest, I have no idea what's going to happen! I completely ignored this game in the Fantasy contest because it seems like anyone has a reasonable scenario of winning.

Bernn: Stalin's performance in the last few seasons has been pretty mediocre, but I think he's got the best shot to take this one home. That rich floodplain start of his is really nice, but more importantly his neighbors seem rather unimpressive. Hammurabi, Victoria and Shaka are buried in forest and are sure to get off to sluggish starts, and Gandhi and Pericles in the east will be off playing the culture game. We've seen before how individually strong leaders can be worn down and overwhelmed if the rest of the field doesn't share their peace weight, but I can't see a legitimate high peace weight coalition forming this time. The west is too stunted, the east is too passive, and between them there's the mighty Stalin and the madman Shaka. Stalin all the way this time.

eyser: Thanks for holding these again, and this is a great map to start with since I could see this going so many ways. I am choosing Pericles to win. His capitol is a great location, and I am betting that Shaka will not go east with his settler, giving him some room to expand. Stalin's start is also really good but I just don't trust him to research mysticism early enough and this will cause him to fall permanently behind. I am choosing him for second though since I expect him to be the more successful of the two warmongers and pretty big after his conquests. Gandhi will be the one who draws the ire of low peaceweights Stalin/Shaka, but also Isabella since I expect her and him to found the major religions in the game. Ultimately he will fall but Pericles will be able to avoid conflict long enough and expand well enough to survive if/when he becomes the target.

Fluffball: Seems unfair that Stalin was given two capital cities in Moscow and Delhi, was that a mistake? (Gandhi is so dead.)

Plains-Cow: Gandhi starts with a plains-cow tile, the best resource in the game, in his capital city. Plus it would be funny for him to win. Let's GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! (moo)

Game One Picking Contest Entry Form