This summary for Game Seven was written by Eauxps I. Fourgott. Many thanks for volunteering to put this report together!
Game Seven's setup looked like somebody had taken a couple of wolves, dropped them in the middle of a sheepfold, and stepped back to watch what happened. Four of the game's six leaders - Pacal, Frederick, Elizabeth, and Hatshepsut - wanted nothing more than to be left alone to build and tech in peace. But right in the middle of this peaceful group were two highly aggressive leaders, Montezuma and Catherine, who were sure to cause plenty of trouble as long as they were in the game. Would the wolves tear the sheep apart and reign supreme? Would the sheep be able to band together and drive out the wolves? Or, perhaps, would one of the sheep manage to avoid notice and make it through while the wolves were busy with the others? The community picks for this game heavily favored the top two spots to go in some order to Catherine, the much more successful warmonger, and Pacal, the peacenik who was most likely to be left alone thanks to his low peaceweight.
This game started with a tight religious race. Montezuma founded one of the initial two religions, and the expectation had been that Pacal would found the second since he started with Mysticism tech. However, he chose to tech Hunting first instead of founding a religion, and that opened up a three-way race that Hatshepsut ended up winning. This was highly significant, opening the door for Pacal and Monty to easily coexist peacefully without a religious divide driving them into conflict. The real loser in this sequence was Catherine, who herself had opened up with a Meditation beeline, only to lose by a few turns with nothing to show for it. It would take her 25 turns to finally research a tech that she could put to good use in this game. This wasn't Catherine's only mistake either; she was playing a very sloppy opening. After getting Agriculture around Turn 25, she wasted more time teching Archery before going for Animal Husbandry, despite having a cow resource at her capital. She ignored The Wheel completely for far too long, not being able to lay down any roads until after Turn 60. She tied up precious early production on an early Stonehenge build despite being Creative and unlikely to go for a cultural victory. She did at least get some settlers out on the map - but she failed to move those efficiently, spending a lot of time moving them between her two existing cities, then losing more time when Hatty settled close to her northeast and a barb city popped up close to her northwest. When she finally did plant those two settlers, she had a gold and silver resource near her capital to take advantage of... only to found one of her cities ON the silver and the other three tiles away from the gold, leaving it impossible for her to ever work it since two other cities were already three tiles away from it, and thus wasting the commerce potential of both resources. Over half the prediction contest had picked Cathy to win this game, and she was disappointing them horribly.
Over westward, Frederick managed to do even worse. His early commerce was terrible and he made the situation worse by tying his civ up on a lengthy Iron Working bid, one that took forty turns to finish with his putrid economy. That left him stuck on five cities, unable to afford the maintenance costs on any more, unable to build anything as he didn't have the tech for any buildings and couldn't afford more units, stuck in complete stagnation for ages. To his north, Pacal was at least not falling flat on his face, but he had a slow opening with a capital ill-suited to his starting techs, and Montezuma quickly boxed him in towards the edges of the map with some fairly aggressive plants. Monty himself was playing a fairly strong opening as he often does, the real question was if he could maintain this performance as he got further into the game. The real leaders to watch here in the beginning were the two peaceful leaders to the east. Elizabeth had a very fertile location full of floodplains and teched Pottery as one of her first choices; the resulting cottage spam coupled with her Financial trait to give her a very good research rate from an early date, and if left alone she appeared to be a shoo-in as the tech leader. Meanwhile, Hatty's early expansion wasn't inspiring, but her Creative trait and early religion were helping her to claim a good amount of land, she had a lot of room to expand into, and she leveraged her unique building Obelisks to quickly get out a Great Prophet for a very early shrine for her religion. She was off to a good start in her quest to finally score the first points of her AI Survivor career.
However, things soon started looking more grim for Elizabeth. The trouble started when a roaming barbarian archer managed to overpower the garrison of one of her newly-founded cities and raze it to the ground. Lizzie then responded in the worst possible way: she completely abandoned expansion from this point onwards, sitting on just four cities and refusing to train more settlers despite still having tons of open land to expand into. As a result, she next started losing key resources close to her territory - Monty made a fairly aggressive settlement to snag a copper source 4 tiles away from her capital, and then some 20 turns after her fifth city had been razed - plenty of time for her to replace it - a recovering Cathy sent an aggressive settler up and took the spot herself! This was doubly disastrous as the new Russian city had Elizabeth's closest iron in its first ring, denying it to the English. That iron had been just four tiles away from Lizzie's capital, and THIRTEEN away from Cathy's, yet somehow Cathy ended up with it! Lizzie further dug her own grave by founding and converting to her own religion at Monotheism, making herself a diplomatic pariah on top of everything else, and just for good measure later plopped a city in the middle of Montezuma's territory to poke the sleeping bear in the eye. The only bright spot came when she finally finished a couple of belated settlers and grabbed some iron on the northern coast; she at least would be able to fight back, but a lot of damage had been done here and she had dropped from a frontrunning position into an extremely perilous one.
At the end of the landgrab phase, it was Hatty in the lead, as she'd settled the most cities and developed them fairly well thus far. She had profited in the short term from Lizzie's lack of expansion, gaining a couple of extra city sites that really should have gone to England, but in the long term her prospects were dicey as the rest of the map was favoring the warmongers - though she was doing her best to stay in their good graces by converting Catherine to her Buddhism. Montezuma was in a strong second place after spending an unusually long time at peace. He had strangely delayed Iron Working research for a long time, lacked access to metal units as a result, and so was unable to declare war. As a result, he'd had plenty of time to develop and peacefully expand, and the resulting strong empire combined with his bloodlust made for an intimidating combination. Among the others, Cathy was doing the best off the strength of her landgrab; her amazing landgrab traits and the follies of other leaders had allowed her to still get a decent share of territory, although her economy had a long way to go yet. Pacal over in the west had quietly expanded to a decent size in his little corner and would hope to tech his way to victory from there; he had just enough land that this could conceivably work, and adopted Monty's religion of Confucianism to try and stave off an assault. Liz and Frederick were the leaders really in trouble: Freddy had been horribly hamstrung by his research failure, still stuck on just five cities, and his economy was still putrid. He had a research rate of TWO beakers per turn on Turn 100, although in fairness he was running a (small) gold surplus at the time. But he also still lacked basic techs like Pottery, Mysticism, and even Archery at that point - yikes! As for Lizzie, she was still teching well but much smaller than her neighbors, all of whom practiced a different religion. Freddy of all leaders was the only rival to adopt England's Judaism, and it appeared to be only a matter of time for these two.
The fighting didn't start in this game until shortly before Turn 100, as Hatty and Pacal had been the only two leaders to hook up metals early, and they weren't exactly anxious to go to war. One of the first conflicts started as a mere sideshow, as Freddy amusingly took the one thing he had - units - and plowed a bunch of them into Pacal with a crazy war declaration, and proceeded to accomplish absolutely nothing. While Pacal was in much better shape and was bound to win eventually, for the time being this was just an irrelevant stalemate. Much more serious was the conflict that was soon brewing in the center of the map: Monty attacked Elizabeth for the game's first war declaration, and Cathy piled in against her soon afterwards to make it a true rout. Elizabeth would've had a difficult time surviving against just one of these attackers; with two attackers, who combined for triple the number of cities that she had, there was no question that she was doomed. She did make a game effort, researching Feudalism very early in the war and completely stalling out Catherine at a hilltop border city. However, Montezuma had catapults and a lot of soldiers, and Lizzie couldn't hold out against him at the same time that she was defending against Cathy. Monty's initial siege proved a smashing success, and it was all mop-up duty from that point on. As Catherine continued to suicide stack after stack against the border city, Monty ran around the rest of England, taking all the spoils for himself. Cathy eventually got that one border city when Monty came, wiped out most of the defenders, but ended a turn with just a couple left, allowing her to finish the job between his turns. That was the only city she got, though, as Monty's superior forces carried the day at every other city site, and Elizabeth exited the game as the First to Die shortly after Turn 160.
For the first 50 turns or so, this had looked like Elizabeth's game to lose. She had tons of land to expand into, amazing early research, and it seemed like she just needed to play it decently and not suffer terrible luck to take it in a cakewalk. But she misplayed the situation horribly, just horribly. Losing the one city to the barbs shouldn't have been THAT big of a deal, but her subsequent refusal to expand for ages on end afterwards spelled her doom. She let all of her neighbors grow more powerful at her expense, and all the teching she was doing in the meantime wasn't enough to get out in front, not when nations with double her production came attacking. She did have a rough position in this game between Cathy and Monty, and it's quite possible that they'd have worn her down and eventually eliminated her even if she'd done a good job earlier on. But there's no question that she deserved her fate in this particular match.
We were thus in a very unusual situation: the winner of this game was now very likely to be one of two lowest-ranked leaders in all of AI Survivor! Just by striking the killing blow on Liz, Montezuma had scored as many points as he and Hatty had scored, combined, across the competition's first six seasons, but now those two were unquestionably at the top of the pack. Hatty was still in first place at this point, having used this time at peace to go hog-wild on culture. During the war on Elizabeth, she'd founded the last three religions on the tech tree, built almost every single classical and medieval-era wonder, and researched up to military tech parity with Montezuma, as well as a giant lead in the non-military techs. Her military wasn't that much smaller than Monty or Cathy's, and at this point she could conceivably weather an attack from one of them, but what she really needed was for them to get distracted so that she could increase her economic lead.
For Monty's part, he was now very close behind Hatty in second place, and actually had a functional economy thanks to his early peace, Lizzy's fertile land, and possession of two shrines that were kicking in over 25 gold per turn for him. That long period without iron working and Cathy's failure to conquer any of England had been hugely impactful, allowing him to become much stronger than normal. If he could keep the snowball going, he could very easily win the game, although his power still wasn't that much higher than everybody else's and he was no runaway yet. As for the others, Cathy and Pacal were neck-and-neck for third place right now. Cathy was more likely to prosper by vulturing territory from another foe, while Pacal was clearly the better techer of the two. Finally, Frederick was in the process of being killed by Pacal, as they'd never signed peace from that initial war and it was finally becoming an important factor. Pacal had done an embarrassingly poor job of actually conquering Germany, but with as big of a lead as he had, it was only a matter of time, and the turn after Elizabeth's elimination, he took the capital of Berlin to reduce Frederick to just three cities remaining.
So now the big question, the one on which the outcome of this game hinged, was: who was Montezuma going to attack next? For the moment the answer was "nobody", as his strangely peaceful game continued. Not only did he not start plotting war right away again, he was also choosing uncharacteristically economic tech paths, ignoring Gunpowder and Rifling in favor of beelines for techs like Economics and Democracy. This suited Hatty just fine, as she continued racing through the tech tree, building almost every wonder, including the Taj Mahal while in a Mausoleum-enhanced Golden Age for 24 straight turns of juiced-up production, and taking the Liberalism and Economics prizes for good measure - but what she was NOT doing was teching the Rifling that would help secure all she had built. Meanwhile, Cathy also stayed at peace, but her chances at winning were clearly done - even if something happened to Monty and Hatty both, she would be stuck behind a Pacal who was finally finishing up his conquest of Germany. Frederick was eliminated on Turn 188, and his game here is on the shortlist for worst performances in AI Survivor history. We were blown away when Qin Shi Huang destroyed his early economy last season, but Freddy did an even worse job with his here, turning himself into a virtual nonentity by essentially putting his research completely on hold for over 50 turns. The fact that he was still researching ARCHERY at Turn 120, while on just five cities in a war that he started, sums up just how badly he had messed up. It will be hard for anybody to ever outdo this one.
Frederick's death marked the end of the first segment of this game, in which several incompetent performances had set the stage. Now it was time to get serious and really bring this all to a head. Monty was the one to kick things off... by declaring war on Hatshepsut! He was going after his biggest rival in the game and trying to cement his victory. Hatty still had military tech parity with Montezuma at the start of this war, but she had refused the chance to pick up an easy Rifling to get the edge, and in all those years of peace she hadn't bolstered her military at all. On the other hand, true to form, Monty had continued to stock up on soldiers and now had a significant edge in power. Hatty's hope now was to hold the line for a while, stall out Monty enough to finally get some military tech, or possibly some help from another leader. Could she force Monty to spend ages besieging her first city and hold back the tide?
The answer was no. Monty broke through at the first Egyptian city almost without breaking a sweat, and the situation was now looking grim for Hatty - she was doomed if nothing happened to stop him. Monty did start taking his time, though, as instead of moving on logically to the next city, his main stack wandered deep into Egyptian territory, then started marching around in circles without any clear purpose. Hatty had researched up to Steel and was now hitting the stack with cannons for collateral damage, and that seemed to be throwing him off. Hatty was still stubbornly refusing to tech Rifling, though, opting instead for a deep Mass Media beeline to continue her cultural pursuits. The worst tendencies of her pacifistic AI were on full display here. Then when Monty eventually did strike, he struck a grievous blow indeed, attacking and capturing her third city of Elephantine. This was one of Hatty's three potential Legendary cities, and a cultural victory would be significantly harder without it. But just as all seemed lost, help came from an unexpected source: A Cathy backstab against Montezuma! To be fair, this wasn't completely out of left field: Cathy had been Pleased towards Monty, but they had a ton of border tension, and when she'd been plotting war she'd been Pleased towards Hatty as well, so which side she joined had been largely a toss-up. In any case, this was just the reprieve that Hatshepsut needed, as the Aztec forces quickly turned and exited Egypt to deal with the new foe. Knowing that she couldn't handle the conflict long-term even with help, Hatty then quietly cashed out with a peace treaty, then immediately flipped on the culture slider in her bid for victory. She'd been set back somewhat by the capture of Elephantine, but her new third city of Heliopolis wasn't too far behind, and if she could hold out for long enough she'd win by Turn 300. But she never had researched Rifling before turning off research, so it was clear that she would collapse immediately if anybody attacked her again at any point.
Meanwhile, with Hatty dropping out of the war, Catherine's fate was sealed if it hadn't been already. She'd been able to push through and take one city with a stack about 60 strong, but she was still fighting with medieval units against Monty's rifles and cavalry in addition to having a much smaller production base by this point. Once the full might of the Aztec army came down on Russia, there was no chance, and Cathy quickly came crashing down. Just for good measure, Pacal attacked her as well to further speed up the rout, and while Monty got most of the spoils, the Mayan leader was able to get the last hit and score another kill. This had been a poorly-played game by Catherine, whose only saving grace was that, unlike Elizabeth and Frederick, she had still managed to do a decent job of claiming territory. The rest of her play was terrible though, as she repeatedly made bad research decisions to set herself back, couldn't fight effectively or take significant territory even when on the favorable side of a two-front war, and in the lategame made an exceedingly ill-advised war declaration to get herself knocked out. The window of opportunity to cripple Monty had been earlier, before he'd conquered England, and by this point Cathy should have settled for second place. But she went for the gold, and while an admirable sentiment, it was clearly the wrong move here.
We were now down to three leaders, and the victor was clearly going to be the winner of the unexpected Montezuma versus Hatshepsut showdown. Monty was by far the strongest leader on the map now, and his development pattern and multiple shrines had allowed him to avoid crashing his economy as the warmongers so often do. If this map played out to a conventional finish, he would surely win. But the clock was ticking on Hatty's Cultural victory, with about 30 turns left at Cathy's elimination. She just needed a bit more time, and she could still get through this! Could she pull it off as Monty turned to deal with the only other leader remaining? Or would he turn back to finish the job he had started earlier, and bring her hopes crashing down?
On Turn 267, the answer came: he chose to attack Hatshepsut. Monty was cutting it close here: he declared with only about 20 turns left before her victory, and once again sent his stack deep within Egyptian territory instead of logically going for the closest city. It was unclear whether the stack was headed for the capital of Thebes, or for a nearby, completely unimportant city. The tension was at a boiling point as there were now less than 15 turns remaining... but their intentions became clear when they moved next to Thebes, even on the same turn that Hatty's second city went Legendary, and the next turn they attacked and immediately took the capital. With one of her three Legendary cities gone, Hatty now had no chance, and so she just sat back, stunned, as Aztec and later Mayan armies ran through the rest of her territory, tearing through her civ with little drama now that her bid was ended. She had come so close to finally making her mark, to outright winning this game, but now she wouldn't even live to see the end of it. Pacal was once again able to sneak in the last blow and steal another kill from Monty, as Hatty exited the game, having scored zero points for the seventh straight season.
It was a tragic ending for poor Hatty, who for the most part had played a very good game and would have been a deserving winner. But while there was definitely some bad luck involved, forces beyond her control contributing to her demise, she herself had played a role in it as well. There was a period when she was at peace, her neighbors weren't researching Rifling, and she had the chance to quickly pick it up and bolster her defenses significantly, and if she'd done so then she might well have at least been able to stall Monty out enough to buy her the time she needed to win - if not getting the upper hand entirely! But as the economic AIs so often do, she instead ignored the tech to a suicidal degree, going for anything and everything except the guns that would bring her safety. Her general military ineptitude was also all too apparent during Monty's first attack, as she folded immediately despite having the slight tech edge and couldn't put forth any signficant resistance - even slowing him down a little bit could have made the difference, but she just couldn't pull it off. Her worst weaknesses as an AI were on full display here. With that said, it was also rotten luck for her that Elizabeth and Frederick played so badly and were so weak in this game, and couldn't last longer as distractions for the low peaceweight leaders. I don't think she really had the ability to save either of them here, and Lizzy's weakness in particular translated directly into Monty's lethal strength. And despite sharing very long borders and having tons of tension with Pacal and Catherine, Monty still came attacking Hatty next despite barely bordering her at all, Hatty getting screwed over here by peaceweight concerns and a roll of the dice. If things had gone just a bit more her way, she would have won a very early victory here, and it's a shame that instead she continues to be the only 0-point leader in AI Survivor. The case of Elephantine, the original third Legendary city that got captured, is also quite interesting - would Hatty have won if she'd kept the city? The other two cities had just barely hit Legendary when Monty captured Thebes, so it would have been an extremely close ending. My suspicion is that Monty would still have just barely stopped Hatty in time, but we'll never know for sure.
In any case, with Hatty gone, the game was all but over, and we were back to the familiar situation of the game winner being just below the Domination threshold and needing to get over the hump. It was a little different this time, as Monty was well over the land area requirement and just needed more population instead of the other way around, but the end result was the same. He was preparing to go back to war, knocking Pacal back and taking the victory by force, but before that could happen, his cities grew and Pacal's conquests shrunk enough to give him the victory anyway. Montezuma thus wins his first game in AI Survivor history! He's such a bad leader normally that we weren't sure he'd ever pull it off, but everything lined up perfectly in this game. Monty is often torn apart by multiple strong, pissed-off leaders, but he faced a particularly weak crew this time. Elizabeth's poor game in particular directly translated into his strength via an easy conquest, and Frederick and Catherine also messed up enough to pose no threat to him - what in other circumstances could have been a fatal backstab from Catherine was in this case just a suicide attack due to her poor play up to that point. That left the passive Pacal and militarily hopeless Hatshepsut as his only strong competitors, and with Pacal practicing his religion, Monty had an easy opportunity to roll over the opposition at his own pace. The other key factor that allowed Monty to succeed here was his own uncharacteristically balanced gameplay. He set aside his normal suicidal overaggression in this game, choosing to ignore military techs and wars in favor of bolstering his economy for long but not unreasonable periods of time, and that meant he could well afford his conquests while still keeping up in tech. Hatty was ahead of him in tech for most of the game, but not by a whole lot, and Monty still had a tech lead over Financial Pacal at the end of the game! These two factors combined perfectly to make him a lethal AI that nobody could stop after his first conquest, and I think he'd be a lot more successful if he played like this all the time. Montezuma thus is now going to the playoffs for the first time ever, where he'll join Suryavarman against several peaceful builders and one more as-yet undetermined leader. Will he continue this strong gameplay, or will he revert right back to the impotent psycho that we all know and love?
Meanwhile, Pacal moves on in second place as the lone survivor of the carnage - to borrow the analogy from the start of this report, he was the one sheep who managed to avoid notice during the alpha wolf's rampage. (Don't ask how this one sheep also murdered two others plus a wolf, okay?) Pacal played a conservative game and avoided messing up, which automatically made him one of the best leaders on this map. Sullla identified his starting position as being not very good in the pre-game, and the events here seemed to prove him correct as Pacal got out to a slow start and was never really a power player, factoring very little into the game's overall path. For the most part he played just fine to be the clear third-best leader after Monty the strong conquerer and Hatty the cultural queen, joining Monty in his wars to keep the target off his back and putting himself in an excellent position to advance, if never one from which he could win the game. On the other hand, the slow speed at which he conquered Frederick was pretty glaring considering how weak the German leader was in this game. Pacal should have rolled over him in the blink of an eye, and if he had done that, he could have potentially put himself in a position to assume a tech lead and squeeze out a win if the other leaders held out well enough against Monty. But Pacal is not much of a military leader, and as a result only very slowly took over his backwards neighbor. A better conqueror could have made more of this position and at least been in the conversation for a win, and in this light Pacal's performance is quite underwhelming, to say the least. Still, he's almost always a threat to pull out a victory thanks to his excellent traits, and is now on his way to the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons. Going up against Alexander, Qin Shi Huang, Gandhi, Darius, and one more warmonger from the Wildcard game, he'll have an interesting match on his hands.
There have been a lot of wacky games this season, but this one might have been the wackiest one of them all. The two official worst leaders in AI Survivor history turned into the two major powers vying for the win as their neighbors put on some of the worst performances we've ever seen, making for a match that was highly engaging, if painful at the end for Hatshepsut fans. Montezuma's victory further reinforces last season's lesson that any leader can win an AI Survivor match in the right scenario, and ensures that this will be one of the most memorable games of the season. It should be a fascinating one for the Alternate Histories down the line, as we see if all of this foolish or uncharacteristic behavior holds up on repeat playthroughs. Next comes Game 8, the final opening round match - can Genghis Khan, now one of just two leaders to never see the playoffs, duplicate Monty's feat? He'll be up against an interesting array of leaders, including two of our six former champions, and it should make for another interesting match. Thanks as always for watching and reading.