This summary for the Championship Game was written by Eauxps I. Fourgott. Many thanks for volunteering to put this report together!
After another season full of twists and turns, we had finally arrived once more at the climactic Championship match. Thanks to a particularly chaotic opening round that had seen many of the competition's favorites eliminated, this year's final game had a fairly unusual group of leaders; three were making their first career Championship appearances, while the other three had each only made the final once. This and the game's even balance of peaceweights led to a contest perceived as fairly open; both the second-place and first-to-die categories in particular had no leaders with over 30% of the vote.
The clear favorite to take home the title, though, was Darius, who had won two crushing economic victories to get to this point and was by far the best techer of this bunch. He had the map's highest peaceweight, leaving some doubt as to whether he could remain at peace for long enough to tech out in front, but going in he very much seemed like the "default" winner who would come out on top unless the others did something to stop him. His fellow high peaceweight leaders would be Ramesses, who had won a dominant cultural victory in the playoffs after holding on to survive a perilous opening round start in second place, but would face much stiffer cultural competition in this match; and Churchill, who'd made it here off a pair of distant second place finishes and brought the least economic strength to the high peaceweights, but would likely provide the most military muscle of the trio.
Among the low peaceweights, the favorite was Louis, the only leader besides Darius to win two games en route to the Championship. He had taken advantage of favorable positions and strong starts to coast from a leading position in both of his first two matches, and very notably was the only leader in the Championship who would declare war at Pleased relations, but his lack of conquests so far despite his fairly high aggression cast some doubt as to how well he would do here, on even ground. Joining him was former champion Mehmed, who was the most aggressive leader of the bunch and had made it here off of a weak second-place showing followed by a militarily dominant one; conquest was clearly going to be Mehmed's path to a repeat championship here. Finally, in the middle of the diplomatic divide was Saladin; with a peaceweight of 4 to Louis's 1 and Darius's 8, he was going to be a major wildcard, and his presence in the game ensured that the spread and adoption of religion would be a critical factor in how the Championship unfolded.
The first two religions of the game ended up going to Saladin and Ramesses, who respectively founded Islam and Christianity. This looked to put Saladin more on the side of the low peaceweights, but Ramesses at least took full advantage of his early religious pursuits: he used Mysticism tech to build a fast early Stonehenge, then used that and the priests unlocked by his free Obelisk to churn out a Great Prophet in record time and build the Christian shrine before Turn 50 hit. This gave him a great cultural foundation to start his game, although his early expansion was lagging, as was that of Darius. Louis and Mehmed had the fastest early expansion rates, and in a further promising sign for the two, early barbarian cities spawned near the other four leaders, but not near them, allowing them to avoid a barrier to further expansion. Louis in particular topped the scoreboard early thanks to all his free culture; Mehmed, along with his southern neighbors Darius and Churchill, were ignoring Mysticism tech and thus hurting for culture compared to the northern trio.
As the landgrab phase continued, Mehmed stalled out a bit on expansion, but Louis kept going. He continued to found more cities than anybody else, claiming a strong share of land, and also had the highest early population as he began to pull away from the pack. Saladin and Churchill were the next-best leaders in terms of expansion, but lacked the cultural strength to assert themselves as much or the food to expand their cities as fast. Ramesses' expansion had slowed as he was focusing on culture, founding and burying the Monotheism religion and pushing early Masonry to go for more wonders. Despite this push, though, he lacked the actual infrastructure to get those wonders up quickly, and instead saw most of them fall to various rivals even as his expansion flagged behind the leaders. As for Mehmed, he'd halted his expansion in favor of other plans:
This was an early war declaration, as Mehmed was making his bold move to try to get the snowball rolling early. He was attacking a Darius who had not yet gotten well-established, and in fact the target city of Susa lacked any sort of defensive bonuses whatsoever! However, it DID have a good number of defenders, and when Mehmed's attack came up short, it became clear that this would be not a successful sneak attack, but an early stalemate that effectively knocked both him and Darius out of contention for the win. This, then, further tilted the game in Louis's favor, as he was avoiding destructive early warfare and seeing one of his most dangerous rivals hamstrung without having to lift a finger. Instead, he focused his efforts on wonders. For all of the trouble Ramesses went to, he only built the Temple of Artemis in the end, as Saladin claimed the Oracle while Louis took the Great Lighthouse, Pyramids, and Hanging Gardens! Things looked dire for Ramesses's chances of winning, and then the nail in the coffin came from religious spreads: Islam spread to France and England, turning the second- and third-biggest nations on the map into reliable allies for Louis, while Christianity only spread to the stagnating Persian and Ottoman empires, giving no strong allies to Ramesses. We thus were now looking at a setup where Saladin or Churchill had a small chance of winning, but Louis was clearly in the driver's seat and faced no significant threats.
More action started to break out around Turn 125. As Mehmed and Darius had stagnated, the other leaders had wisely chosen to wait to declare their own wars until they teched Construction. But once they did, Louis came piling in against Darius, sealing the Persian leader's fate, while Churchill went for a more high-risk, high-reward gambit by attacking his religious rival Ramesses. Churchill's gambit ultimately didn't work out; Ramesses put up a stout defense at the city of Pi-Ramesses, and despite superior numbers Churchill proved unable to break through. He was in no danger, but he also wasn't getting anything out of this war. On the other hand, Louis was predictably much more successful against an exhausted Darius. He allowed Mehmed to throw away another stack against Susa before swooping in and taking the city for himself, and from that point on it was just a matter of using his far superior forces to siege down one city after another. He thus got almost all of the cities, but Mehmed was able to get two, including sniping the kill credit at Gordium. It took him 100 turns to capture two cities, but at least he got the kill!
As for poor Darius, he admittedly had a weak start with a poor expansion rate, but I think his fate was sealed regardless by forces outside of his control. Getting attacked at Turn 72 simply will almost never end well, and it eliminated any chance he may have had at recovering from his slow start; even if he had started stronger, this probably would have dragged him down and prevented him from getting out in front. The pile-in from Louis cemented his fate, and again, had he been stronger it would likely have broken his back anyway. Louis simply was both strong and had the luxury of sitting at peace while Darius fought for 50 turns, and there was no way for Persia to compete with that. Thus Darius was in fact done in by his poor diplomatic situation, as some people had expected. I'm sure he'll have some much better showings in the Alternate Histories, but true AI Survivor history will remember him as the first to die in this finale.
While Darius had been ground down, Saladin finally made his move for this game by joining Churchill in the crusade against Ramesses. Churchill had still made no progress in this war, but he had worn Ramesses down, and coming in with a completely fresh army gave Saladin a decisive advantage. Ramesses was at least able to get peace with Churchill, handing over the long-contested Pi-Ramesses for the privilege, but he had no answer to Saladin's invading force, which quickly sieged down and captured every city it came to. To add insult to injury, Louis and Mehmed both came piling in late in the war, making it a true dogpile. Saladin still got most of the spoils, with a total of five city captures (including the capital and Christian holy city), while Louis came up empty and Mehmed once again sniped two cities and the kill credit, as Ramesses exited the game in fifth place.
I think Ramesses lost his bid at the title very early in this game, when he beelined for wonders too hard and too fast. Focusing on techs like Masonry, Sailing, and Monotheism and tying up his cities on lengthy wonder builds limited his ability to strengthen his cities and found new ones, and when leaders with better infrastructure took most of those wonders anyway, Ramesses was left a step behind the leaders; he still had a solid empire, but three other leaders had even stronger ones. The spread of religions also worked against him, as all of the stronger leaders ended up practicing rival faiths; I'm not sure if he could have done this better or if it was just bad luck for him. The result, though, was an Egypt that had no path to victory, and while he could hold out just fine in a 1v1, his diplomatic setup led to a dogpile that spelled his doom. Overall Ramesses did very well this season considering his prospects at the opening of his first game, but the title still was not in the cards for him.
In the wake of the first two deaths, no leader had snowballed out to a huge lead. Mehmed, Louis, and Saladin had taken a total of four, four, and five cities respectively, nobody gaining a huge advantage from the wars. Louis was still leading this game, but only by a narrow margin over Saladin; Sal had gotten several of the medieval wonders and the Liberalism prize, and still had a shot at the title if Louis were to falter somewhere along the way. The other two leaders were clearly out of it, though; Churchill had done solidly, but was stuck back in third place as the only stronger leader to not conquer any territory. His failed conquest against Ramesses had put the lid on any chance he may have had at winning the game. He was still ahead of Mehmed, though, whose later conquests had not been enough to make up for his long earlier period of stagnation; he had decent odds of surviving the game, but none of actually winning.
The other notable result of this sequence of events was that everybody now enjoyed very good relations; all leaders were either Pleased or Friendly towards everybody else, thanks to shared religion and wars. Louis had flipped into Free Religion, but still liked all of his rivals; still, he was the only leader now who would be willing to plot war, and so clearly the one to watch. Churchill, Saladin, and Mehmed all settled into contented peace, while Louis decided that now was the time to pursue his win condition and flipped on the culture slider. However, this was not like Playoff Two where Louis had been dominating the cultural game and thus on the cusp of victory; Saladin had claimed a lot of the cultural prizes in this game, and thus Louis was nowhere close to a victory, with an ETA of Turn 390 at the time he flipped on the slider. He must have realized that this would have been a very slow, unreliable way to win, because soon afterwards he flipped the slider back off in favor of war preparations, and not long afterwards revealed his target:
Churchill! Louis decided he wanted the last high peaceweight leader off the map. At first it looked like this was a poor choice for Louis, as Churchill had finished Rifling right before the war's outbreak, allowing him to field Redcoats against the curassiers and musketeers that Louis was fielding. However, despite having the tech, Churchill failed to upgrade any of the units in his first city that came under siege, Louis had a large army that had never faced serious resistance, and thus he was able to kill the large English stack on defense to take the city. Churchill then further dug his own grave by converting to Confucianism, suddenly removing the giant diplomatic bonus he'd had with the other two leaders, and opening the door for Mehmed to attack him as well shortly thereafter. This was too much for Churchill; he was still the only leader of the three with Rifling, but his two opponents could both field grenadiers, and more importantly they had the advantage of sheer weight of numbers. He couldn't hold out against them, and soon his cities were falling like dominoes.
It had looked like he could hold out through the end of the game; Louis had flipped the culture slider back on after teching Liberalism and adopting Free Speech, and this had dramatically sped up his victory, now due for the early 260s. However, perhaps wanting to spite his rival, Louis turned it off again shortly before his victory would have come in, adding another 15 turns or so onto the timer, and that was enough time for him to strike the killing blow against Churchill, narrowly stopping Mehmed from stealing his third kill of the game. (Saladin stayed out of the fighting this entire time, still unwilling to attack anybody else. He pulled out to a significant tech lead but had no way to take advantage of it by now.) With Churchill out of the picture, Louis turned the slider back on one more time, and a few turns later it was official:
LOUIS XIV IS THE WINNER OF CIV 4 AI SURVIVOR, SEASON 7!!!
It was a very deserving performance by Louis, who proved that there was more to his first two wins than just a favorable starting position. Here on even ground, he still got out to a very strong start that allowed him to, for the third game in a row, top the scoreboard from the end of the landgrab to the end of the game. His Creative trait certainly helped a good bit, but he also legitimately expanded better than anybody else, and that gave him a decisive edge for the rest of the game. Like any win, there was some good luck in this one, this time in how diplomacy unfolded around him; he would have had a much harder road ahead of him if he'd picked up Ramesses's religion instead of Saladin's, or if Mehmed hadn't hamstrung himself and Darius so early on. But Louis also played capably, not making any mistakes himself, but instead waiting to fight until he could do so decisively, followed by making smart declarations against weaker foes that allowed him to continue to take territory while himself never facing invasion. The result was the strongest performance of any of his wins, and after this season's performance, I don't think anybody will question that his title was deserved.
Saladin finishes the season in an also-deserved second place, following a game that was overall strong without ever doing anything decisive for the win. Sal expanded well in this game, spread his religion well to create a safe environment where he was buddy-buddy with the other strong leaders, and then chose a good time to attack Ramesses and gain good conquests with minimal effort. However, he was stuck after that, clearly in second place but unable to do anything to challenge the even-stronger Louis. This was clearly a game that Saladin's AI package lost for him; his weak starting techs and focus on military and religion led to him getting the slowest opening of anybody, unable to improve most of his tiles for longer and thus not able to get off to as strong of a start at Louis, setting him behind. Then he had a golden opportunity to attack Louis with a tech edge, taking one of his Legendary cities and opening the door to win himself – but his middling peaceweight and refusal to declare war at Pleased meant that this could only happen if Louis directly provoked him, and that never happened. Saladin has established himself as a mid-tier leader for this tournament, better than some but not particularly likely to win most of the time, and this result bore that out. Still, battling all the way from the wildcard game to second place overall is no mean feat, and Saladin has come out of the tournament with his best season yet.
As for Mehmed, he could not replicate his Season 5 magic, and instead finishes in a distant and somewhat lucky third place. Mehmed's early attack was gutsy, and if it had worked out he would have been in great position to win the whole thing... but it was also a major longshot that needed some lucky outcomes to succeed, and when he didn't get those, he was left without a chance of victory. Thus he relied on getting Islam spread to him, cozying up to the leaders in power, and thereby avoiding any dangerous wars for the rest of the game, and while on the whole he did relatively well for himself given the situation he'd been left in, he clearly would have folded quickly if he'd ever fought either of the top two leaders. Mehmed continues to be a rather medicore leader for this tournament, as his title still represents his only game win in seven seasons, but he at least was able to survive to the end once more. The same cannot be said for Churchill, who had a similar position to Saladin after the landgrab, but then lost his shot at a win by choosing a poor war target, going after an undistracted leader who could stand up to his attacks and thus stall him out. That relegated Churchill to a finish outside the top two – his first since Season 5 – and while he was somewhat unlucky to get attacked by a Louis who had minimal border tension with him, his defense was also weak enough, and his decision to convert to Confucianism foolish enough, to make it clear that he was at fault as well. While he may have made the Championship twice in a row, Churchill also made a convincing case for why he's unlikely to ever win it.
Thus concludes the seventh season of AI Survivor, in another dominant winning game much like the others that characterized the playoff round. Click here to move on to further postseason analysis...