Civ4 AI Survivor Season 7: Game Two 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

Mansa Musa of Mali
Traits: Financial, Spiritual
Starting Techs: Mining, Wheel
Peace Weight: 9
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: 8 First Place Finishes
Best Finish: Season Six Champion
Total Kills: 8
Overall Power Ranking: 48 points, 2nd place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Mansa Moneybags is the best AI leader in the game when it comes to pure economy and it's not a close comparison. He is an absolute fiend when it comes to research, even under our settings where Mansa's well known propensity to engage in tech trading gets disabled. Mansa Musa benefits from an amazing pair of economic traits, Financial for endless cottage cheese and Spiritual to avoid ever wasting turns with the AI's frequent civics shifts. The Malinese civ has an excellent unique unit in the Skirmisher and a passable unique building in the Mint. The biggest downside here comes from the poor starting techs, and if Mansa chooses to chase after an early religion, he can lock himself out of connecting early food bonuses for quite some time. On that note, Mansa has a surprisingly heavy religious preference including a lesser Religion tech preference paired along with his dominant Gold flavor. He's one of the most likely leaders to found a religion despite not starting with Mysticism tech. Mansa's strategy otherwise tends to be predictable: blanket the landscape in cottages and tech like a banshee. He's extraordinarily good at doing this even on a limited number of cities; we've repeatedly seen a Malinese empire with five cities still leading the pack in tech. If Mansa ever manages to amass a large amount of territory, may god have mercy on your soul, because he will plot war at "Pleased" and isn't afraid to lay the smack down despite his 1.6/10 aggression rating. Mansa Musa is always a dangerous opponent and will usually win the game if he doesn't get roughed up by his neighbors.

Past Performance: Mansa Musa has been dominant in game after game, repeatedly teching out in front of the rest of the field and then ruthlessly crushing all challengers. He's won eight times in thirteen total matches, all of them first place finishes. Mansa won his opening round match each of the first three years before finally breaking his streak in Season Four with a poor showing. It was the rare game where Mansa failed to connect his resources and found himself caught off-guard by an enemy attack. Most of the time, however, Mansa has been able to secure enough breathing space to open up a tech lead and swat away his opponents. His performance in Season Three's opening round match is one of the most dominant that we've ever seen, winning by Spaceship as early as Turn 282 while also being within one or two cities of triggering Domination. Mansa has made it to the championship game twice at the end of Seasons One and Three, only to run into low peace weight fields of opponents and find himself the odd man out each time. All of the other AI leaders with extremely high peace weights have fared far worse in AI Survivor, a testament to the strength of Mansa. It is important to note that Mansa seems to have been hurt more than just about any other AI leader by removing the default Deity starting techs, as his Season Four and Five performances were notably worse than in the first three season. Nevertheless, despite repeated hostile diplomatic environments, Mansa crushed all three of his matches in Season Six to win the overall championship. Even if the alternate histories revealed that this was an unlikely result, it was still an immense achievement for a high peace weight leader to take home the crown. Mansa's economic power is unrivaled and he's always a threat to win any game in which he appears.

Pool Two Leader

Suryavarman of the Khmer
Traits: Creative, Expansive
Starting Techs: Hunting, Mining
Peace Weight: 1
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: 3 First Place Finishes, 2 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Championship Game: Season One
Total Kills: 9
Overall Power Ranking: 28 points, 9th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Suryavarman has a lot of power packed into his kit even if it sometimes seems to be pulling in six different directions at once. He has the quintessential early game trait pairing of Creative and Expansive, two traits that help to drive expansion and to claim land quickly. This was a popular trait pairing for a long time in unmodded Civ4 Multiplayer games, often chosen ahead of Financial leaders to get off to a roaring start. Suryavarman's Khmer civ is a bit weaker, with decent starting techs and adequate unique features in the Ballista Elephant and Baray without having anything of game-breaking strength. As far as Suryavarman's AI personality goes, he has a surprisingly aggressive setup for someone with good economic traits. Suryavarman has a high aggression rating (7.6/10), a very low peace weight, and a fairly high emphasis on training units (6/10). However, Suryavarman also positively loves building wonders (8/10), an odd fit for someone with his militaristic bent and expansion-focused traits. He will heavily emphasize religion in his diplomacy and carries a special penalty for anyone who refuses his demands. Along with the Creative border pops, this is not an easy neighbor to live alongside. Suryavarman's tech preferences are Gold and Culture, and he will indeed plot war at "Pleased" relations. He can be a highly unpredictable leader, either charging into multiple wars or sitting back to construct wonders in peace.

Past Performance: Suryavarman's previous appearances have reflected his somewhat erratic nature as an AI leader. He was the winner of the first ever game of AI Survivor in Season One, via the United Nations of all things, and took second place in a very difficult field from a tough starting position in the playoffs. Suryavarman had a weaker performance in the following championship game, suffering elimination while still taking a respectable third place. Since then he's been all over the map, everything from an elimination at the hands of Pacal in Season Two to an elimination in the Wildcard game in Season Three to an outright victory in the Wildcard game in Season Four and an absolutely crushing victory in the opening round of Season Five. Those repeated trips to the Wildcard round mean that Suryavarman has shown up in a lot of games, thirteen of them in total thus far. Any leader with the rare combination of low peace weight together with good economic development makes for a dangerous opponent, and even if Suryavarman has been somewhat scattershot in recent seasons, he always has that potential to become a major threat.

Unseeded Leaders

Augustus of Rome
Traits: Imperialistic, Industrious
Starting Techs: Fishing, Mining
Peace Weight: 8
Declares War at Pleased Relations? NO
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish, 2 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Playoff Round: Seasons One, Five, and Six
Total Kills: 1
Overall Power Ranking: 10 points, 28th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Augustus is one of the less noteworthy AIs in the game. His traits are Imperialistic and Industrious, which is a combination seriously lacking in synergy: Imperialistic wants you to get out there and claim the map, while Industrious wants to build wonders instead of settlers. He also gets the uber-swordsmen in praetorians and the less powerful forum, though the increased great people points do synergise with Industrious wonders. Lastly, Augustus starts with Fishing and Mining, a generally poor pair unless he starts on the coast. Augustus has a personality full of synergies and anti-synergies. To start with his synergies, the most notable thing about the Roman Emperor is his love of wonders (8/10), which works well with Industrious. He also gets the forum, which isn't fantastic but does allow him to generate more great people with those wonders. Lastly, his low aggression rating (4.6/10) means he is generally in a position where tying up his cities on large projects isn't a total disaster. However, because of that low aggression rating, Augustus typically doesn't make use of the biggest reason to play the Romans: Praetorians. Sure, they can stabilise a defence if he's attacked early, but Augustus is pretty unlikely to go on the offensive. He tends to ignore the Imperialistic half of his trait combination, and Augustus is unlikely to claim the lion's share on the map. Other than that, Augustus' numbers are in about the middle of the scale, and he has production and military flavours. He's a generally run-of-the-mill AI with a particular penchant for wonders. Augustus has a strong and mediocre trait, and a strong and mediocre unique item. Unfortunately, he focuses on the wrong half of both.

Past Performance: Augustus falls into the category of "one good game" for past AI Survivor seasons. He tends not to settle very much of the map despite being Imperialistic, and generally sits in the corner not doing much until someone stronger comes along and bops him, as in Seasons Two (Roosevelt), Three (Stalin) and Four (Huayna Capac). The exception to this rule was in Season One Game Five, the only time Augustus was able to use praetorians to full effect. In that game, he first used them to stabilise an attack from Ragnar, then counterattack when the Viking leader foolishly returned for round two. From there, Augustus was able to coast to second place using his incorporated Viking lands, but it wasn't a dominant showing, merely a competent one, and he was immediately torn apart in the playoffs for what is one of the fastest eliminations in AI Survivor history (Turn 106). Augustus backdoored his way into a somewhat lucky second place finish in his opening round game of Season Five but couldn't manage to advance in the playoffs. His best game was an opening round Domination victory in Season Six which once again resulted in a playoff round elimination. Suffice to say, Augustus has not been particularly impressive thus far, and he will have an uphill battle to make something of himself this season.

Bismarck of Germany
Traits: Expansive, Industrious
Starting Techs: Hunting, Mining
Peace Weight: 6
Declares War at Pleased Relations? YES
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish
Best Finish: Playoff Round: Season Six
Total Kills: 4
Overall Power Ranking: 9 points, tied 29th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Bismarck has the Expansive and Industrious traits, a below average combination probably most useful for the half-cost granaries and forges. As a German leader he gets the Panzer and Assembly Plant unique items, both of which are fairly strong on paper but come so late in the game that they may as well not exist, excluding very fringe circumstances. Lastly, Bismarck gets Hunting and Mining, which can make him slow to improve his food resources early in the game. Bismarck's main quirk is that he's a rare leader with only a single flavour: Military. Unlike most of the other leaders with just one flavour though, Bismarck's other preferences aren't particularly geared around it; he's otherwise a pretty standard AI. Bismarck has an average aggression rating (5.6/10), unit (6/10) and wonder (6/10) build preference, and a neutral peaceweight at 6. He's basically a generic AI that's more likely to be ahead instead of behind in military tech, but a little slower on the economic front.

Past Performance: Bismarck was historically among the worst performing leaders in AI Survivor before breaking out with a dominant opening round game in Season Six. Prior to his appearance in the Season Five Wildcard game, the German leader hadn't just died in all his games; he'd been first or second to die in every single appearance! The poor performance of Bismarck has been somewhat inexplicable on the surface. Part of it is likely due to a high preference on military; while Bismarck is often ahead in military tech early on, he tends to fall behind in most other areas in the game. For example, Bismarck is a rare leader that will sometimes research Archery tech first, despite being unable to connect any food resources, putting him in the same slow-start category as religious leaders without the upside of founding a religion. He's also been surprisingly feeble in military conflict, usually rolling up to die underneath a stronger neighbour. This record of futility was flipped in Season Six when Bismarck crushed his opening round game, with the alternate histories revealing him to be even stronger than the community expected on that particular map. Whether this was a one-off fluke or the start of a great turnaround is the question going forward for Bismarck.

Hannibal of Carthage
Traits: Financial, Charismatic
Starting Techs: Fishing, Mining
Peace Weight: 2
Declares War at Pleased Relations? NO
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish, 2 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Playoff Round: Seasons Three, Four, and Five
Total Kills: 7
Overall Power Ranking: 16 points, tied 18th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Hannibal has one of the better trait combinations and can be a highly dangerous contestant if he successfully balances his military and economic strengths. Hannibal has the always-useful Financial trait and combines it together with Charismatic, which can often come in handy given how the AI struggles to manage happiness in its cities. In the rare case where Hannibal manages to build Stonehenge, he'll be off and running against the rest of the field. Carthage as a civilization is notably weaker, with subpar starting techs for anything other than a coastal start and a horse archer unique unit that takes a strength hit compared to the base unit. Hannibal is a militaristic leader in terms of personality, with a fairly high aggression rating (7/10), low peace weight, and Military for his research flavor (paired together with a lesser Gold preference). His build unit rating isn't quite as high (6/10) and Hannibal is undercut to some degree by failing to plot war at "Pleased" relations. When Hannibal does well, he's able to conquer additional territory and then make it economically profitable through use of his Financial trait. However, he will also sometimes pick foolish conflicts and stall out his economy with too much warring in a way that even Financial cottage cheese can't rectify.

Past Performance: Hannibal underperformed during the first two seasons of AI Survivor before finding his footing in his more recent efforts. He was a popular pick to win his opening round match in both Seasons One and Two, then ended up disapponting the Carthaginian backers by suffering an early exit followed by a trip to the Wildcard game and another elimination in Season Two. Hannibal had his best showing in Season Three with a dominant victory in his first match against the pregame favorite Mao Zedong, but was unable to avoid a thorough beating at the hands of Caesar in the playoffs. Season Four featured a thoroughly confusing opening round match with both Hannibal and Hammurabi, which turned into a close second place finish behind a culturally-dominant Stalin. Hannibal then found himself in the "group of death" playoff match and wasn't able to advance through a field stacked with several of the top leaders in AI Survivor history. Hannibal finished second in an extended duel with Saladin in Season Five's opening round game before falling to an unleashed Gilgamesh in the playoffs. The Carthaginian leader also had one of the most hilariously weak starting positions in recent years in Season Six, leading Hannibal to slow-build a settler over 80 turns in a jungle-choked second city. He's shown that he can compete with the best leaders at least some of the time, needing next to demonstrate more consistent results instead of flashes of potential.

Lincoln of the Americans
Traits: Charismatic, Philosophical
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Fishing
Peace Weight: 9
Declares War at Pleased Relations? NO
Past Finishes: 1 First Place Finish
Best Finish: Playoff Round: Season One
Total Kills: 2
Overall Power Ranking: 7 points, tied 38th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Lincoln can essentially be thought of as a slightly less extreme clone of Gandhi. He's almost as pacifistic in nature without taking things to quite as ridiculous of a degree. Lincoln's trait combination is pretty lackluster, depriving this peaceful leader of much of an economic foundation to work with. Philosophical in particular doesn't seem to do much for AI leaders who always run a gazillion specialists at all times. Lincoln is not helped either by his American civ with all of its uselessly-late unique features. Lincoln as a leader is extremely peaceful in nature with an exceedingly low aggression rating (0.8/10). He won't declare war at "Pleased" either so Lincoln rarely winds up initiating much in the way of conflict. Unlike Gandhi, he will at least train an average number of units (4/10) and therefore doesn't collapse instantly when attacked. Lincoln's an easy neighbor to get along with, as he rarely makes demands and doesn't hold much interest in religion. Unfortunately he also doesn't have any clear path to winning a victory, as his traits aren't great for pure economy and he doesn't have anything beyond half-cost universities to help with culture. It all adds up to a mixed bag, a nice guy leader who's too friendly to attack anyone while also lacking the tools to run the Mansa Musa or Darius playbook.

Past Performance: Lincoln won his very first game in the debut season of AI Survivor and has done essentially nothing since then. His Season One match held an atypical field of mostly high peace weight leaders, and once Ragnar + Kublai Khan were gone, Lincoln was able to sit back and win a big peaceful lovefest. All seven of Lincoln's points were scored in this initial game and he's been unable to muster anything since. He did come close to making the Season One Championship in another high peace weight playoff grouping but mostly it's been a series of early exits at the hands of more militaristic neighbors. Lincoln was First to Die in his opening round match in Season Two and saw another early exit in Season Four. The best he's managed was a Wildcard appearance in Season Three, where he again suffered a quick defeat. It's become clear that Lincoln's win in Season One was an unlikely result and he's an underwhelming choice for AI Survivor. Only in very specific circumstances can he emerge on top and claim a victory.

Suleiman of the Ottomans
Traits: Imperialistic, Philosophical
Starting Techs: Agriculture, Wheel
Peace Weight: 4
Declares War at Pleased Relations? NO
Past Finishes: 2 Second Place Finishes
Best Finish: Championship Game: Season One
Total Kills: 5
Overall Power Ranking: 9 points, tied 29th place (out of 52 leaders)

Personality: Suleiman is a fairly standard militaristic AI leader tied to a good civilization and a bizarre pairing of traits. This might be the least synergistic pairing of traits in Civ4, with Imperialistic favoring rapid expansion across the map while Philosophical works at cross-purposes through the running of specialists. At least Suleiman does get to take advantage of Imperialistic, a consistently successful trait for AI Survivor purposes. He also benefits from the Ottoman civ, which features excellent starting techs and two useful (if not overpowered) unique features in the Janissary and Hamman. Suleiman's AI personality emphasizes military aspects but not to an overwhelming degree. He has a high aggression rating (7/10) and does like to train units (6/10). On the other hand, his peace weight is in the middle of the scale, he doesn't make a lot of demands against other leaders, and he won't declare war at "Pleased" relations. Suleiman surprisingly doesn't care much about religion at all, although he has decent odds to found a later religion because his tech flavors are Culture and Military. His setup is a mixed bag overall, with conflicting leader traits and several different points of emphasis in Suleiman's personality. The various parts can occasionally come together into a larger whole but not on a consistent basis.

Past Performance: Suleiman had by far his best outing in Season One when he made it all the way to the championship game. This was a lucky turn of events since Suleiman was a distant runner-up in both his opening round game (behind Huayna Capac) and his playoff game (trailing Zara). He was the First to Die in the Season One Championship and we speculated at the time that Suleiman might have been fortunate to make it that far. Subsequent seasons have proven that to be true with Suleiman failing to advance back to the playoffs again. He was eliminated in the opening round of Seasons Two and Four and Five and Six, while in Season Three Suleiman survived long enough to make the Wildcard game. He came within a whisker of taking second place in that matchup before falling just short on the scoreboard to Pacal. Suleiman also did manage to pick up two kills in those seasons despite not advancing, a sign that he was at least somewhat competitive in those matches. Overall Suleiman is a decent AI that falls somewhere in the middle of the pack, just not an individual likely to appear again in the championship round.

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

This time the community was almost evenly divided between Mansa Musa and Suryavarman as far as who would win the game. Four different leaders were all popular choices for the always-tough to pick Runner Up spot followed by Lincoln running away with the First to Die category. This was one place where the community agreed that Lincoln was in for a rough time. Finally, Spaceship was by far the most popular victory type with Domination and Cultural having roughly equal odds among the submissions received thus far.

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!

SkipperXIV: This game comes down to how well Mansa and Sury get along. Hannibal is really the only other potential power in this game, everyone else is most likely a non-factor. If mansa can get Sury to stay off his back, then he will almost certainly be able to win via space or culture totally unmolested. If Mansa and Sury are at odds, though, then there's every possibility than Sury will gobble him up and take the win himself. Hannibal has a chance to sneak a win out from under Mansa and Sury if the two of them get caught in a death war with each other and he can roll over Lincoln and Suleiman. Ironically, Lincoln and Suleiman appear to have the best starts but given their lackluster performances in the past that probably doesn't mean much. Bismarck and Augustus have decent starts at best and can likely be expected to be total non-factors as always.

ZincAlloy: Okay Hannibal, this is it. Your big chance. Mansa's on the map, but he's got a weird coastal start. And even if he tries something, your pal Suryavarman is there to get in his way. Meanwhile, you've got the techs to make use of your coastal capital. All you have to do is go south and beat up Lincoln. Got that? Go south, fight Lincoln. Not east. Not all the way across the map to fight Augustus for no reason. Go south. Prove you deserve to be a pool two leader. Go!

Mansa da man: Alright, so there's two kinds of people. Mansa fans and closet Mansa fans, we all want to see our boy do well! As a Mansa fan, I'm only really interested in him so let's look at his chances here. First off, that's a very nice food heavy capital although Mansa is hurt by his starting techs a bit, he'll probably go for Fishing early and he should. Outside of the capital though, there are a few problems. Jungle to the South and lots of Desert/Plains North of that with no river close by and worst of all, no food resources is going to cause some early game problems for Mansa, especially compared to those blessed with Floodplains and Gold resources. Ideally his second city is close enough to borrow a food resource from his capital and then he can push forward towards the river and corn/pig resources. All that said, Mansa has a lot of room compared to say, Hannibal, who I foresee as getting squeezed very early, especially since Suryavarman is likely to push towards his more fertile and juicy West with Creative border pops. And with the Jungle and Mountains limiting Augustus and Bismarck, Mansa hopefully gets the room he needs to expand and tech in the corner in peace while his insane capital pumps out Settlers. Speaking of peace, the one big thorn in Mansa's side is likely to be Suryavarman who has good lands and is actually competent. Mansa can probably keep him at bay with his Skirmishers but doesn't really want to face anyone else. Hopefully Bismarck returns to his incompetent self and Augustus does his own thing in the corner like he normally does. With Lincoln as bait for the other warmongering leaders, we could have another Mansa win in store! But once again, that opening is key because lack of food makes the usual cottage sprawl quite difficult. Let's see how it goes!

Kharush: First two religions are open for anyone. If Mansa Musa tries to get a religion, he probably fails to get one due to the starting positions and workers are on a holiday after building an efficient road network. That road network is not enough for transporting food from capital to other cities.

Willow Arkan: I'm going to bet on Surry and see Hannibal as a natural ally. They also have Lincoln to just wreck south of them and a lot of space between Surry and Mansa to expand. I think he might be able to parley success in land grabbing and conquest to outperform a possibly bloodied Mansa. Pretorians keep Augustus alive, but later in the game I can see him suffering at German hands.

Alpha 26: Mansa is a strong leader for sure but his land is weak. Lots of desert and jungle, but no river. The fishing start will delay his development too. So, I don't think he has land to win the game and he has Surry as a difficult neighbor. Surry on the other hand has good land in the capitol and a river for cottages. In my games Surry is always such a pain, I hope he is here too to the other leaders, especially Mansa. Additionally, he is the only AI that can declare war at pleased besides Bismarck, so he has the potential to stomp a weak first to die Lincoln or even Mansa. I don't expect Bismarck to do much, but I don't think he is first to die because his hunting starting tech and the ivory tiles give him some early commerce to get through the archery-first-poison pill faster. Hannibal has potential too but I think he can't declare war at pleased but he has a low peace weight, so he can also stomp Lincoln instead of Surry. Plus, he is financial with fishing starting tech with a fishing start. So his position is much stronger than Mansa's. So I'll pick Hannibal for first and Surry for Second with Lincoln first to die.

Khnud: This map seems perfect for Mansa, drawing a pretty isolated start in a corner. Chances are he'll be left alone to win on culture or build the spaceship while the central civs all duke it out due to border tension. Mansa's only drawback is his land is pretty bad, but with deity bonuses he'll be fairly alright anyway. My pick for second place is Hannibal, him being aggressive with a weak neighbour means he'll likely attack Lincoln and gain some more land for himself. Hannibal needs to attack early though, because chances are he'll miss out on the iron resource otherwise. FTD is a toss up, but I'll bet it's one of the central civs. Let's go with Suleiman.

OleDavey: Even though he has an isolated start, I think Mansa is in a game with too many low peace weight leaders to be left alone teching away. Rome has copper at the start and a lock on iron to the south, I'm willing to be this will be the game that Augustus goes big, stomps Bismarck, and then techs to space from there while Sury derails Mansa's game.

Eauxps I. Fourgott: "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!" -Attributed to Otto von Bismarck, circa 2500 BC

LaserGuy: It's really hard to bet against Mansa Musa, but I actually kind of hate his position. His land is really lacking in food and strategic resources outside his capitol. Seafood start is also not ideal for him. I think the evil AI civs of Sury and Hannibal have a decent chance to carry this game; both have great starts, are natural allies, and have good positions close to each other. If Sury and Hannibal don't act quickly though, it's likely going to be another Mansa runaway as none of the other leaders are particularly inspiring.

Tincuradan: Mansa Munsa is dangerously isolated, with plenty of land to cottage spam and a solid coastline to the north. He is the most likely to win this by out-teching everyone. Second will probably be the one who does best in struggling with their neighbour, and I think Suleiman has the easiest time of it. Bismark has a great start but not much land, he will probably struggle conquering the Praetorian Peacenik to his east. Augustus might even be bailed out by Mansa if his religion spreads via the coast. Hannibal and Sury are both close and aggressive, so will likely wage destructive conflict that goes nowhere. Suleiman will out-expand and corner Lincoln. They might be religious friends because of that river. But even if Lincoln isn't food, he'll be irrelevant. Suleiman can then turn to a weakened neighbour but he'll be behind in tech to Mansa.

riverrunpast: Augh. The southern phalanx of high PW leaders all have some nice land and features at their capitols to recommend them, yet despite how badly Game 1 went for me, I am deciding to double down on the two low PW leaders being natural allies and taking over the game together. Surry's a strong AI and his capitol and surrounding land is pretty good; Hannibal starts with Fishing tech, so he should be able to hook up his seafood resources and plant his deity settler on the flood plains and river just to the south. Apologies to the king Mansa Musa, but despite his rosy diplomatic situation, he's rocking a seafood start and crummy terrain with no rivers in sight. I can't see him getting off to a good start, and peace weight dictates that Surry will be looking to get into his face. Augustus Caesar is my dark horse candidate to win as the strongest of the high PW leaders in the south.

BigBadBen: It's tough to pick against Mansa, and likely incorrect, but I'm gonna do it here. His land outside of his capital sucks, and with Sury as a neighbor, Mansa is a very likely target for Sury's aggression. So, I'll pick Sury to win with the gold start (and if he claims the nearby stone, his inevitable Pyramids attempt only takes half as long). Hannibal for second, he should profit some from Lincoln's downfall, but can't backstab so he runs out of room to expand. Lincoln first to die, bordering Hannibal and Sillyman isn't likely to end well for him. Just for some extra craziness, I'll pick a diplo win too.

Slashin': Suryavarman has a GORGEOUS start...and little else. The name of the game here is coalition building and suryavarman's chances of building one are concerningly low. his PW situation is wildly out of place, with only Hannibal as the only natural ally on this map and he looks particularly squeezed in his corner of the map with fairly mediocre land quality. Yet that may not even be a true guarantee, as there are no leaders with mysticism this game, making the two most likely leaders here to get a religion sury with his bfc gold tile and minority culture flavor and his neighbor suleiman with a beautiful start and early flood plains tiles for the commerce lead. MM is the only other leader with a religious/cultural flavor to vie for a religion, but a commerce deprived start and a lack of fishing means he won't be competitive for the early religion race. Suleiman has the advantage here, with a luscious river network that connects to Hannibal, Lincoln, and Bismarck's capitals ripe for Islamic proselytization. Even if religions don't spread in Sulei's favor, sury's creative pressure may very well bring tempt Suleiman into a protracted war and diminish the effect both of their outstanding effects could have. Sury better hope to snowball or he may find himself amidst too many enemies looking to annex the kingdom of Khmer into their own provinces. FTD looks like a stong case here, but he'll put up a good fight before going down.

Mansa while isolated, has an ill-fitting start with very low food output around his vicinity. It's expected he'll get to a slow start, and even with being left alone, may just expand too slowly to be truly competitive for first place. Augustus has the best diplomatic situation, a sheltered position, a decent start with flood plains galore, and an entire southern tundra to exploit his imperialistic trait amidst a wartorn continent. I expect he'll get out to a slower start than sulei and Sury, but with practically no chances of sabotaging his own game, seems a strong contender for a peaceful wincon via space. Second is harder to call, the most likely candidates being either Suleiman or Bismarck depending on who better partitions Khmer territory. However, we know how dangerous mansa can be left to his own devices, and mansa 2nd is a hedge in case the expected mansa/augustus comes to fruition for half points. As for hannibal and lincoln, I don't imagine they achieve much outside of their eternal 1v1 and ticking up the war counter. Here's hoping they both survive to score me some wildcard points down the road in fantasy.

Amicalola: Ooh, it's one of mine! We're huffing full Fantasy Copium now: Suleiman gets 2nd and waltzes into the championship from that beautiful playoff start... or more likely, someone else does instead, grumble grumble. Watch it be Lincoln, or worse Augustus. >:(

Fluffball: I HATE Musa's start here and don't really feel him winning; the AI absolutely panics around deserts, jungle and forests. But he's just so much better than everyone else on the map I have to go with it. Even if he only wins 1% more often than someone else, I think he wins most often.

Bernn: I'm sure Mansa Musa will naturally get a lot of support this game, but I think he's in a deceptively precarious position. That awkward coastal forest capital will slow him down a fair bit, but he's also gonna run up against Suryavarman's Creative borders real fast, and the border tension on top of their huge peace weight difference will almost assuredly lead to trouble. He's not quite my choice for FTD (Lincoln's my pick there) but I think he'll be a second tier power who has to work hard to stay in the game. Sury looks great with that wet rice + double gold right there for the taking, and surprisingly I really like Suleiman here. Double wet corn with as Agriculture a starting tech is just beautiful, and he's aggressive enough to throw his weight around if need be. Overall prediction: Sury expands strongly and probably takes a bite out of Mansa, then blasts off into space. In the south, Suleiman becomes a major power after devouring Lincoln and ends as a respectable #2 behind Sury.

Plains-Cow: Augustus and Lincoln both have a plains-cow tile start, but Augustus' cows long to go to space. Since cows raised on the harsh plains with a dream of wandering the stars touches the soul, I cannot help but sympathize with their goal. Also Lincoln's cows have mad cow disease, so he's probably first to die.

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