Game Three Alternate Histories Spreadsheet
One of the recurring features of past seasons of AI Survivor have been our "alternate histories", running additional iterations on the same maps to see if the same events would play out again. Game Three had a surprising victory for Alexander gained at the expense of a stunning Justinian collapse from the top of the scoreboard. Was that something which would unfold in each game? This was a topic that called for more investigation with alternate history scenarios. Following the conclusion of previous seasons of AI Survivor, I had gone back and investigated some of the completed games and found that they tended to play out in the same patterns over and over again. While there was definitely some variation from game to game, and occasionally an unlikely outcome took place, for the most part the games were fairly predictable based on the personality of the AI leaders and the terrain of each particular map. Would we see the same patterns play out again and again on this particular map?
The original inspiration to run these alternate histories came from Wyatan. He decided to rerun the Season Four games 20 times each and publish the results. The objective in his words was twofold:
- See how random the prediction game actually is. There's a natural tendency when your predictions come true to go "See! Told you!", and on the contrary to dismiss the result as a mere fluke when things don't go the way you expected them to (pleading guilty there, Your Honour). Hopefully, with 20 iterations, we'll get a sense of how flukey the actual result was, and of how actually predictable each game was.
- Get a more accurate idea of each leader's performance. Over 6 seasons, we'll have a 75 game sample. That might seem a lot, but it's actually a very small sample, with each leader appearing 5-10 times only. With this much larger sample, we'll be able able to better gauge each leader's performance, in the specific context of each game. So if an AI is given a dud start, or really tough neighbours, it won't perform well. Which will only be an indication about the balance of that map, and not really about that AI's general performance. But conversely, by running the game 20 times, we'll get dumb luck out of the equation.
Wyatan did a fantastic job of putting together data for the Season Four games and I decided to use the same general format. First I'll post the resulting data and then discuss some of the findings in more detail. Keep in mind that everything we discuss in these alternate histories is map-specific: it pertains to these leaders with these starting positions in this game. As Wyatan mentioned, an AI leader could be a powerful figure on this particular map while still being a weak leader in more general terms. Now on to the results:
Game One | Game Two | Game Three | Game Four | Game Five
Game Six | Game Seven | Game Eight | Game Nine | Game Ten
Game Eleven | Game Twelve | Game Thirteen | Game Fourteen | Game Fifteen
Game Sixteen | Game Seventeen | Game Eighteen | Game Nineteen | Game Twenty
(Note : "A" column tracks the number of war declarations initiated by the AI, "D" the number of times the AI is declared upon, "F" the points for finish ranking, and "K" the number of kills.)
Typically we look at the alternate histories for the AI Survivor games after the season is over since it takes a good bit of time to run the 20 repeated playthroughs of each map. However, the combination of an unexpected result in Game Three together with a personal work trip that delayed Game Four for an additional week meant that I had the time and the desire to take an immediate look at Game Three. I had been completely flummoxed to watch pregame favorite Justinian race out to a massive lead in score only to be cut down to size by a combined attack from Ragnar and Alexander. The Greek leader had run right over Zara thanks to a pitiful defense on the part of Ethiopia and used that territory to snowball into an eventual Domination victory. I had to know whether this was typical in the alternate histories - had I misread the map THAT badly or was the match that we watched simply an oddball result?
It turned out that the answer was somewhere in between, not the most likely result while still being well within the bounds of realistic outcomes. Justinian was indeed the strongest leader on this map and the community wasn't wrong to make him the pregame favorite. He won the most times in the alternate histories, 8 victories in all (plus a couple of near-misses), along with having the highest survival percentage and the most total points under our scoring system. Justinian won 6 of the first 9 games that I ran and I thought that this might be a true juggernaut leader that we somehow missed seeing, only to find that he fell back to earth a bit by only winning 2 of the final 11 games. He lost a space race to De Gaulle by less than 5 turns in Game #14 though and threw away a victory in Game #17 by repeatedly canceling his spaceship part builds, however, leading me to believe that Justinian's true strength was probably a bit higher than what the data indicates here. Most of these games were one-sided Domination stomps but Justinian narrowly lost in a pair of the few games that were close.
Justinian had real competition though, as De Gaulle nearly matched him in score and Alexander wasn't too far off either. The key to understanding this map turned out to be looking at the two weakest leaders: Victoria and Ragnar. They were both total punching bags who found themselves getting run over by the other AIs in every game, with neither of them ever taking home a victory or even coming close. Ragnar had a single backdoor second place finish while Victoria had no top two finishes at all. In fact, Victoria gets the true dunce cap for the rare 0 point score in the alternate histories, zero top two finishes and zero kills across 20 replays of the map. Victoria was First to Die 60% of the time, including in 10 of the final 11 games that I ran (!), while Ragnar was First to Die another 25% of the time - it was pretty much always one of these two. They had noticeably weaker land than the other four AI leaders on this map and that was absolutely reflected in their respective performances. Ragnar's low peaceweight was the only reason that he survived to the finish in any of these matches at all.
With the weakness of those two leaders in mind, the rest of the gameplay started to make more sense. De Gaulle performed far better in the alternate histories (and the actual Game Three) than the community expected, not because he happened to be a strong leader in his own right, but because he had the good fortune to start next to the Victoria/Ragnar duo. De Gaulle was able to capture Victoria's land and use it as a springboard up to the top of the leader rankings in game after game. With both Vicky and Ragnar to pick on, De Gaulle wound up with the highest kill total in the alternate histories which was not a coincidence. His low peace weight helped him out as well since it tended to direct warmongering psychopaths Alex and Ragnar against other targets in many games. By way of contrast, Justinian was clearly the best leader of this group in the alternate histories and nearly always came out of the landgrab phase with a score and tech lead. His problem was the exact opposite of what De Gaulle faced: he started out next to Alex and Ragnar who were both completely insane. There were many games where Justinian looked like he was in a winning position only to have the two maniacs attack him simultaneously and derail everything (much as happened in the real Game Three). Alex could be sitting there at +8 relations, with shared religion and shared civics bonuses, and he would still go right ahead and attack Justinian anyway. This was the main reason why Justinian didn't win more often despite being the best leader of the group: neighbors who were totally nuts. When he was left alone, Justinian almost always won.
The other big thing that I wanted to test in the alternate histories was whether Zara would collapse as badly as he did in the Game Three that we watched. The answer to that question turned out to be "sometimes". Zara did not perform well on this map in the alternate histories, and his underwhelming result was my biggest misread of the setup. I thought that he would be able to fight Alex to a stalemate to unlock a Justinian victory - and that did happen some of the time, such as in Game #1, Game #3, and Game #20. However, the embarassing performance that we watched was not unique as there were other games where Alex rolled right through Zara, especially Game #7 and Game #12 which were virtual repeats of how the real Game Three played out. Zara's ability to defend himself fell along a spectrum, with the game that we watched falling at the bottom end of the scale and Zara's runaway victory in Game #15 sitting at the top end. I have no idea why he was so much more capable in some games than others; perhaps that barbarian city that popped up on top of Zara's iron in the real Game Three turned out to be the difference? In any case, Zara was an effective competitor in only a minority of games; his biggest role in the alternate histories was providing a stepping stone that unlocked De Gaulle or Alex or both.
If I had to sum things up overall, I'd have to say that Game Three wound up being rather unpredictable in the alternate histories. Yes, Victoria and Ragnar were completely hopeless and scored effectively no points between them. However, the other four leaders were very much in the mix as potential victors, with Justinian clearly the strongest of the bunch but De Gaulle, Alexander, and even Zara having non-trivial odds to put something together as well. The fact that none of these leaders had a survival rate higher than 65% speaks to the fact that no one was safe on this map and there were a lot of different ways that things could play out. While Justinian was definitely the "correct" pick to be the winner, I can't say that Alexander winning and De Gaulle coming in second place was terribly unlikely either. The Alex snowball into Domination was one of several possibilities that could and did play out in the alternate histories even if it wasn't the most common outcome.
Now for a look at the individual leaders:
Justinian of Byzantium
Wars Declared: 30
Wars Declared Upon: 45
Survival Percentage: 65%
Finishes: 8 Firsts, 4 Seconds (48 points)
Overall Score: 67 points
The Byzantine leader did live up to expectations in the alternate histories with 8 victories across 20 games that could have been even more if a little bit of luck had broken his way in the close games. Justinian's victories most commonly occurred when he conquered the weak Viking territories to his north and then used the additional size as a platform for further gains. Justinian routinely had the best economy and the most wonders coming out of the early game and a Byzantine victory was sort of the "default" outcome for the map unless Justinian was thrown off course somehow. Unfortunately for him, that happened quite a bit of the time because Alex and Ragnar were so rabidly aggressive. Most of Justinian's losses were a result of him getting stuck in 1 vs 2 wars as shared religion was not enough to make a firm ally of his bloodthirsty neighbors. I was surprised to see just how often Justinian was invaded with only 30 offensive wars against 45 defensive wars. It's honestly quite rare to have the top-scoring leader in the alternate histories with that many more defensive wars than offensive ones; normally a leader who's scoring lots of points is initiating most of the conflicts themselves. It was a sign that Justinian's religion didn't really help him that much in this setup as it usually does in his games. If there's a lesson here, it's that starting next to two lunatics is always going to be a risky proposition no matter how strong the leader in question might be.
De Gaulle of France
Wars Declared: 42
Wars Declared Upon: 30
Survival Percentage: 60%
Finishes: 5 Firsts, 7 Seconds (39 points)
Overall Score: 62 points
De Gaulle was mostly ignored by the community going into this game due to his terrible track record in previous AI Survivor games. As I mentioned above, he didn't stand out as doing anything particularly impressive but rather had the good fortune to start between the two weakest leaders on the map while having a favorable peace weight for this setup. De Gaulle and Victoria fought in basically every single game and it was exceptionally rare for De Gaulle to fight anyone else during the first 150 turns. He had the good luck to be in the stronger position and won against Victoria every time, literally every time since Victoria never managed to survive to the end of the game or land a single kill. Sometimes De Gaulle would pick up several cities even if he didn't do much of the conquering against Victoria, as other leaders also dogpiled the English queen and then De Gaulle's culture would swallow up their captured cities. De Gaulle also had the good luck to avoid early aggression from Alexander who typically threw himself against Zara or Vicky or Justinian. With his only opposition coming from the weak Victoria or (rarely) the only slightly stronger Ragnar, De Gaulle found himself in a leading position in most games. It was inevitable that he would win at least some of the time from there which eventually turned into 5 firsts and 7 seconds. He also had the most kills across the alternate histories, again largely thanks to Victoria's helplessness. We often talk about any leader winning from a godly starting position but sometimes a leader can perform well simply by starting next to the most feeble opposition.
Alexander of Greece
Wars Declared: 65
Wars Declared Upon: 20
Survival Percentage: 55%
Finishes: 4 Firsts, 5 Seconds (30 points)
Overall Score: 46 points
Alex was the biggest driver of action on this map as his wars tended to have the biggest influence on how things would play out. He was an absolute madman with 65 offensive wars against 20 defensive wars; there was one stretch in the middle of the alternate histories where he launched 22 invasions against 2 defensive wars over the course of six games. Alex most frequently attacked Zara and the success of his games was largely dependent on how well he performed in those Ethiopian adventures. This was not consistent from game to game as sometimes Alex ran over Zara without breaking a sweat and sometimes he became bogged down for dozens and dozens of turns. Less frequently Alex went after Justinian which was a high risk / high reward proposition; there were a few games where this resulted in Alex snowballing to Domination but other games where Zara jumped in from the other side and led to an early elimination. The worst outcome for Alex was an attack against Ragnar which he tried in Game #6 only to lead to Alex's sole First to Die result and again in Game #16 which was a comfortable Justinian win. Alex did better by working together with Ragnar to conquer the Byzantines and then backstabbing Ragnar later. We saw this happen in the real Game Three and it played out several other times in the alternate histories as well. Alexander's economy was frequently terrible and his techonological backwardness was the main reason why he only won four times, always by Domination; there were several games where he had equal territory to a competitor in the lategame and had no chance to win due to his poor teching. Still, insane aggression and nonstop training of units was more effective than I expected going into this game (thanks to a lack of AI competitors with strong economic traits).
Zara Yaqob of Ethiopia
Wars Declared: 15
Wars Declared Upon: 45
Survival Percentage: 40%
Finishes: 3 Firsts, 3 Seconds (21 points)
Overall Score: 29 points
Zara was the most disappointing leader on this map by a wide margin, handed a lovely starting position with floodplains galore and managing only a distant fourth place finish in the alternate histories. To his credit, Zara did win three times along with another three runner up finishes; in fact, he had a top two finish almost every time that he survived to the end of the game (6 out of 8 times). That was the rub though: he only made it to the finish line eight times which is far worse than anyone would have expected from his start. Zara frequently defended himself poorly when he came under attack and he played out the alternate histories in oddly passive fashion, with a mere 15 offensive wars against 45 defensive wars. That was a Gandhi-like pattern of pacifism which indicated that he rarely took action to snowball his position via conquest. Zara was in perfect position to take advantage of Victoria's weakness and yet he almost never fought her, I think one or maybe two wars between them across all 20 alternate histories. He took over her land exactly one time and often stood around doing nothing as Alex invaded Justinian, ignoring a juicy target for attack with all of the Greek units over in the west. Although Zara was usually stronger on this map than what we watched in Game Three, it's hard for me to see this setup as anything other than a missed opportunity for him. He really could have, should have done more with the scenario that he was given.
Ragnar of the Vikings
Wars Declared: 38
Wars Declared Upon: 14
Survival Percentage: 30%
Finishes: 0 Firsts, 1 Second (2 points)
Overall Score: 6 points
Ragnar is a poor leader for AI Survivor and he was handed a weak starting position that was heavy on jungle and desert tiles. Unsurprisingly this resulted in a disastrous performance with no victories and only a single distant second place finish thanks to getting backdoored by De Gaulle. Ragnar's most common target in the early game was Victoria, as we saw in Game Three, which did little to help him out and largely served to boost the performance of De Gaulle instead. Ragnar couldn't hold anything he captured over there in the east which made his aggression largely pointless. He also fought Justinian a decent amount of the time which was responsible for Ragnar's five First to Die results. This was another place where Ragnar's militarism served little purpose; when it went well against Justinian, Alexander tended to swoop in and take most of the spoils, whereas when it went badly against Justinian he just died. Ragnar had an equally ridiculous 38 offensive wars against only 14 defensive wars, a truly crazy tally given that he was always one of the weakest leaders on the map. Usually trailing civs don't seek out wars against stronger opponents! Ragnar had no good opportunities to make conquests, not with the strong Justinian and De Gaulle next to him, and he simply lacked the economy or territory to do anything peacefully. He's what Alex would have been with a weaker starting position, a warmonger who was too feeble to conquer anyone.
Victoria of England
Wars Declared: 8
Wars Declared Upon: 44
Survival Percentage: 0%
Finishes: 0 Firsts, 0 Seconds (0 points)
Overall Score: 0 points
She was totally helpless on this map, stuck with a jungle-heavy starting position and saddled with a peace weight wildly out of step with the rest of the field. My biggest regret from the picking contest for Game Three was not identifying Victoria as the obvious choice for First to Die; in retrospect, she should have been a runaway choice with her underwhelming starting position and high peace weight. Again and again she was dogpiled by war declarations from the other leaders, with De Gaulle and Ragnar and even Justinian charging across the continent to attack English cities. (Justinian's bizarre action in the real Game Three was repeated enough in the alternate histories that it wans't a total fluke even though it was uncommon.) Victoria having 8 offensive wars against 44 defensive wars really tells the whole story here; she might as well have been Gandhi on this map. The others refused to leave her alone and it was rare that she lasted much beyond Turn 150, with a dozen different First to Die demerits to her name. The doughnut hole score of zero points across the alternate histories conclusively demonstrates that what we watched in Game Three was the most likely outcome for poor Vicky.
This was one of the more entertaining sets of alternate histories that I've run in a while. Sometimes they can get pretty boring by the time that Game #12 or whatever rolls around, not this time though. There were lots of different outcomes in play, several different leaders with realistic chances to win, and tons of action thanks to nearly every game going to a Domination finish. The alternate histories are the most fun to watch when there's competition between the leaders for the scoring title across the 20 games, and that was absolutely the case here as Justinian raced out to an early lead followed by Alexander and De Gaulle trying to chase him down. Alex looked like the main competitor at first only for De Gaulle to have a run of 8 consecutive top two finishes that drew him into a dead heat with Justinian. In fact, the two of them were *TIED* with 61 points apiece going into Game #20 before Justinian took home his eighth and final victory to claim the overall top spot. My impression after watching these games is that Justinian was slightly undervalued and De Gaulle slightly overvalued as compared with what we would see from 100 repetitions of the map, however there was no doubt that it was close between the pair. We can clearly say in retrospect that De Gaulle was badly underbid in the fantasy contest where he went for mere pennies - whoops!
Thanks as always for reading, I hope you enjoyed this look back at Game Three!