Civ4 AI Survivor Season Eight: The Palau Arch-AI-Pelago

Special thanks to Willow Arkan for creating this year's banner!


After another annual break, the calendar has turned to 2024 and it's time to launch another season of Civ4 AI Survivor! This will be the eighth time in all that we're embarked on this venture. Back in Season One, I was still figuring out the format and running everything via forums posts at Realms Beyond. It was a bit of a rough process even if it was still fun. For Season Two, I switched over to Livestreaming the matches in real time, and that made things infinintely more fun for everyone with the viewers getting to comment on the action in real time. It's not an exaggeration to say that the running commentary on the Livestream was often much more entertaining than whatever the AI leaders happened to be doing at the moment. Season Three saw more refinements to the process, with maps selected ahead of time and blindly assigned to the leaders for purposes of fairness, and online straw polls/predictions recorded before the matches and included in a series of written previews. Season Four initiated the adoption of the correct starting techs for each civilization along with the implementation of a second AI-controlled observer civ so that we could watch the voting in the Apostolic Palace without fear of a religious victory taking place. Season Five ditched the Apostolic Palace and saw the largest turnout yet in terms of the community. Aided no doubt by the COVID-19 pandemic that left many people working from home, Season Five of AI Survivor exploded in popularity to reach an average of 250 contest submissions and hundreds of viewers tuning into the Livestream. At its height, I was averaging 150+ viewers across the length of a seven hour stream and topping 250 viewers at its peak. Season Six added a fantasy sports contest with auction bidding of the AI leaders running in parallel with the normal scoring competition for each individual game. By the time that Season Seven rolled around, the format for AI Survivor was pretty well established and I didn't see the need to do much more in terms of changes. Let's hope that we can keep things going strong with an entirely new competition here for Season Eight.

The basic tournament structure will remain the same from past seasons. The 52 AI leaders in Civilization 4 get randomly sorted into eight opening round games, half of them with 6 leaders and half of them with 7 leaders. Two leaders will advance to the playoff round from each match, the winning leader and the non-winner with the highest in-game score. AIs who survive the match but do not advance will get one final opportunity to make the playoffs in a Wildcard game played after the opening round matches. The Wildcard game has had as many as a dozen leaders and as few as six leaders in past years and it can get a little bit weird as a result. (The Wildcard game is also the only one that we run with Raging Barbarians turned on, and yes, we have seen an AI leader lose their capital city to the barbs!) This creates our field of 18 leaders sorted into three playoff games of 6 AIs apiece. Finally, we feed the top two leaders from each playoff game, the winner and the highest scoring non-winner, into a championship game and crown an overall winner of the competition.

For Season Four, we tried out a seeding system akin to what the World Cup uses when drawing teams into its groups. This proved to be a big success and we'll be continuing it for Season Eight. The top eight AI leaders based on past performance will be placed in Pool 1, and the next eight AI leaders based on past performance will be placed in Pool 2. Each of the opening round games will have one leader drawn from Pool 1 and one leader drawn from Pool 2. The remaining 36 AI leaders in Civ4 will be unseeded and can be randomly drawn into any opening round game. Here's a list of which leaders fall into which category:

AI leader rankings are based on our customized scoring system of past performances; click here for a link to the full ranking as of the end of Season Seven. AI leaders score 5 points for a first place finish, 2 points for a second place finish, and 1 point for each elimination of another leader. While this is a purely arbitrary system, it seems to provide an effective metric for evaluating prior seasons of the competition. The idea behind the seeding system is to stop the top AI leaders from hitting one another in an opening round "group of death" match while still preserving the random draw element that makes this event so much fun. Choosing to pick pools of leaders ranked 1-8 and 9-16 is of course another arbitrary decision but there's some logic to having one top leader and another secondary leader in each of the eight opening round games. Ties for seeding purposes are broken by whichever leader had the best previous season, which is how Suryavarman and Hannibal slipped into the final spots for Pool 1 and Pool 2 over their peers with the same total score.

The game settings will continue over from the last Civ4 AI Survivor competition. We use Deity AIs to speed up the overall pace of the game and reach victory results sooner. The map script is the default Pangaea, designed to keep all of the AI leaders in close contact with one another. Prior to the Season Three competition, I went ahead and tested out some games with Continents or Archipelago setups, and they just didn't work that well. The Civ4 AI doesn't really know how to run naval invasions, and there were lots of wars that just did nothing because the AIs couldn't reach one another. They need to be on the same continent from what I've found, and Pangaea works well enough for that. We use Normal game speed and Standard sized maps, with the one exception of dropping the sea level to "Low" setting for the games with 7 AIs to create a little more room for the extra competitior.

For the game options, the biggest effect on the gameplay is turning off Tech Trading. I'll repeat here what I wrote in the setup phase from past years: "When tech trading is left on, the AIs tend to stay bunched together with no one ever getting too far ahead or falling too far behind. With everyone fielding the same units, it becomes difficult for the AIs to attack one another successfully, and generally makes for less interesting games. But when tech trading gets switched off, all of the AIs have to sink or swim based on their own research efforts. This spreads them out much more widely on the tech tree, and once the laggards fall a full generation behind in military tech, they tend to get swallowed up by their more advanced rivals." With tech trading removed, we frequently see some AIs fall an entire era or more behind in technology, which prevents would-be conquerers from ignoring their economies and trading their way to tech parity. A balanced approach tends to work the best in these games, with alternating periods of warring to expand followed by peaceful consolidation. Woe to those who fall behind in military tech in this competition - it nearly always ends badly. We've also increasingly noticed the different research preferences of the various AI leaders in recent years, with the warmongers overly obsessing on military techs and some of the peacenik AIs refusing to pick up Rifling even as they're dying to foreign invaders. Turning on tech trading would remove this important aspect of the competition and make the overall setup a lot less interesting.

Otherwise, we turn off Vassal States to prevent the AIs from surrendering to one another. If they can vassal when losing wars, hardly any of the AIs ever get eliminated, and that's boring. We want to see bloodthirsty games! No escape, no mercy. We also turn off Events because they're kind of a Single Player thing, and the AI doesn't understand what they do. Similarly, we turn off the goody huts to prevent unwanted prizes from getting handed out to the AIs. We've been moving towards a less random and more standardized setup for the past few years and this seemed like an obvious next step. No more cases of someone getting lucky and popping a critical tech out of a hut on the first turn of the game - now they need to research their own stuff like everyone else. We also use Aggressive AI to spice things up and increase the number of wars. The big thing that Aggressive AI does is remove a flag that will stop the AIs from declaring certain wars. Normally they will not attack someone who has more than double their military power. Turning on Aggressive AI removes that check in their coding logic. This leads to occasionally suicidal war declarations based on diplomatic relations, and that's exactly the kind of thing we want to see!

The biggest change for Season Five was the removal of the Apostolic Palace (quite literally; I deleted the wonder from the XML files on my local computer). The Apostolic Palace had been the most controversial aspect of prior seasons from a gameplay perspective, with the AI civ that controls the Apostolic Palace often using it to shut down literally every invasion launched against them, or forcing everyone in the game to declare war on some hapless target. The argument in favor of the AP was that it introduces a wild and unpredictable element of chaos into each game which could be a lot of fun to watch. The argument against the AP was that a single wonder shouldn't have such a massively disproportionate effect on the rest of the gameplay, and in particular, it shouldn't become a magical shield that could shut down all aggression for hundreds of turns on end. I decided to run a poll question asking the community whether they wanted to see the inclusion of the Apostolic Palace for Season Five and the community voted decisively to remove it by a greater than 2:1 margin. The general consensus following the end of the season was that the gameplay had improved noticeably by leaving it out of the competition. We will not be bringing it back anytime soon.

New Changes for Civ4 AI Survivor Season Eight

The short answer to this headline is "not much". Since we've run seven full seasons in the past, we already have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't work for this format, and further changes to the AI Survivor setup should be minimal moving forward. We're maintaining the climate setting back at the default "Temperate" option after experimenting with some of the other climates in past years. This should create more balanced maps with fewer huge patches of desert or ice or jungle. We'll also continue to use the "Choose Religions" options so that we can avoid getting Buddhism and Hinduism as the dominant religions in every game.

I've also learned over the years about the best ways to run the AI Survivor event from an organizational standpoint. Following the pattern that began in Season Six, I'm planning to hold the draw for all of the opening round games at the same time, on Livestream several weeks before the first match begins (currently planned for 10 May 2024 at the usual noon Livestream time). I'll pick out all of the maps for the games ahead of time and then we'll fill in the leaders from the initial draw. This is largely being done to help save time during the season; by drawing the leaders and prepping the maps before the season starts, I won't have quite as much work to do on a week-by-week basis. I'll also be able to post the previews for all eight opening round games immediately following the draw to again save time and let the community get an early look at the upcoming matchups. Aside from helping to cut down on some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into AI Survivor, doing the early draw also allows us to implement one of the more popular community features:

Fantasy Civ4 AI Survivor

A number of people previously asked about instituting some kind of fantasy feature in past seasons and we were finally able to test it out for the first time in Season Six before becoming a recurring feature in Season Seven. We'll follow the same setup as before: the leader draw will take place several weeks before the first match of the season. I will then post all of the opening round previews so that everyone has time to study the upcoming games. One week before the start of the season, I plan to hold an auction draft on Livestream with a group of other community members as we bid on which leaders we want to fill out our fantasy AI Survivor teams. I think that this would work with as few as four or five other individuals but my preference would be to get eight volunteers for a league of eight fantasy teams. I entered the fantasy contest (and won it!) in Season Six but my preference remains to have eight participants, as we did for Season Seven, so that I can remain in an impartial moderator role when conducting the auction draft. Amicalola was the winner of Season Seven and has already indicated that he intends to return to defend his title! We'll run through the AI leaders and see who can put the best team together for the rest of the season.

If you're interested in taking part in the auction draft, here's a bit more information:

* Scoring will be based on our standard AI Survivor points system: 5 points for a first place finish, 2 points for a second place finish, and 1 point for each elimination of another leader. The further that the leaders on your team make it, the more chances they'll have to score points.
* Unlike the normal AI Survivor points system, players will also score 2 points for having a "First to Die" leader on their team. This should make the bidding much more interesting!
* There are no "positions" to worry about or a limit to the number of AI leaders that can fit on a team. Whether to have a small handful of favorites or a large group of underdogs is a choice that fantasy participants will have to make.
* To take part in the auction draft, participants will need to be available for 2-3 hours starting around noon (EST) on Friday, 24 May 2023. (It would be a good idea to check one of those world clocks to identify the correct local time.) You will also need to join the Sullla Discord channel and a microphone is strongly preferred for voice communication.
* This is open to anyone interested who can be there for the live draft though I will give first priority to those who haven't had a chance to participate in past years. I will feel free to give preference to longtime AI Survivor community members though; for example, noted superfan LinkMarioSamus always has a spot if he wants it.
* Current signups: Amicalola, seven more spots TBD

To get a better feel for what this looks like, here's the video recording for the auction draft that took place before the beginning of Season Seven. I also put together a lengthy written analysis looking back at the fantasy results for Season Seven after the full competition was over. I'll keep track of the fantasy teams and we'll see who winds up having the best season once the games start! We will also still be running our normal picking contest each week; see the details below for those who are unfamiliar with the process. The fantasy draft is more intended for the serious fans of AI Survivor (which we absolutely do have!) as opposed to the picking contest which requires minimal time investment.

Watching and Following Season Eight

Games will be Livestreamed on my Twitch channel linked below, with most games starting at noon local time (east coast of North America) on Fridays. I will archive the recordings on Twitch and post them on YouTube for those who have trouble accessing the Twitch videos. I'm also soliciting help once again in putting together the written reports on the games that took place, in the same fashion that we've done for the games from past seasons. Several folks submitted written reports for Season Seven (special shoutout to Euxaps I. Forgott who did most of these writeups) and it was a blast getting to see different spins on how the games played out. It will be a huge help if the community can continue to help shoulder the burden of doing the written reports and allow me to concentrate on streaming and administering the games. Thanks so much for your help!

For those who are new to our event, we run a picking contest for each game that serves as the biggest driver of interest in AI Survivor. We ask contest entrants to pick:

* The winning AI leader
* The second place AI leader
* The "First to Die" AI leader
* The victory type of the winner
* The victory date of the winner
* The total number of wars in the game

The closer that the pick gets to the correct answers, the more points that it scores. We track scores for both individual games and the overall competition so there's always a chance to win an individual round even for those who missed earlier matches. The picking contest system will continue to use a Google Forms submission, which was a massive timesaver in recent seasons as compared to originally compiling forum posts. The current bracket will always be visible online, and I'll do my best to update it here on my website, on my Twitch page, on the Sullla Discord channel, and at Realms Beyond. We'll have a forum discussion thread there, of course, which I'll link on this page once the competition has started. Most of the discussion has migrated over time to the Discord though which has its own dedicated channel for AI Survivor (and which remained highly active even during the long drought between seasons). Scoring remains the same from past years, with points for first place, second place, first to die, victory date/type, and total number of wars. With points for the top two AI spots along with victory date and number of wars, we had scoring drama right up to the end of most every game, even when the winner had long since been determined. Check out the links below for more information on the scoring contest and how to submit your entries.

With all that said, here's a big list of the relevant links that follows below. Enjoy the new season of AI Survivor!

Sullla Twitch Page

Sullla Discord Channel

Current Bracket and Standings

YouTube Playlist of Season Eight AI Survivor Games

Civ4 AI Survivor Season Eight: Leader Previews

AI Reference Guide from CivFanatics

Complete AI Survivor Archives

Next Game: Season Eight Game Six

Schedule: Season Eight Game Six scheduled for 19 July 2024 at Noon EST

Game Six Video Preview

Game Six Picking Contest Entry Form

Opening Round

Game One

Kublai Khan, Mao Zedong, Boudica, Churchill, Hammurabi, Peter
Game One Preview | Game One Livestream | Game One Writeup | Game One Alternate Histories

Game Two

Justinian, Gilgamesh, Bismarck, Catherine, Genghis Khan, Tokugawa, Wang Kon
Game Two Preview | Game Two Livestream | Game Two Writeup | Game Two Alternate Histories

Game Three

Huayna Capac, Hannibal, Frederick, Shaka, Sitting Bull, Willem
Game Three Preview | Game Three Livestream | Game Three Writeup

Game Four

Mansa Musa, Alexander, Pericles, Qin, Saladin, Washington, Zara Yaqob
Game Four Preview | Game Four Livestream | Game Four Writeup

Game Five

Pacal, Darius, Asoka, Brennus, Hatshepsut, Ramesses
Game Five Preview | Game Five Livestream | Game Five Writeup

Game Six

Stalin, Gandhi, Joao, Napoleon, Ragnar, Roosevelt, Victoria
Game Six Preview | Game Six Livestream | Game Six Writeup

Game Seven

Suryavarman, Charlemagne, Elizabeth, Isabella, Mehmed, Montezuma
Game Seven Preview | Game Seven Livestream | Game Seven Writeup

Game Eight

Julius Caesar, Louis, Augustus, Cyrus, De Gaulle, Lincoln, Suleiman
Game Eight Preview | Game Eight Livestream | Game Eight Writeup


Wildcard Game

Catherine, Willem, Zara Yaqob, Washington, Alexander, Pericles, Hatshepsut, Asoka, Brennus, AI Leaders TBD
Wildcard Game Preview | Wildcard Game Livestream | Wildcard Game Writeup

Playoff Game One

Hammurabi, Mansa Musa, Gilgamesh, Pacal, 2 AI Leaders TBD
Playoff Game One Preview | Playoff Game One Livestream | Playoff Game One Writeup

Playoff Game Two

Justinian, Ramesses, Frederick, 3 AI Leaders TBD
Playoff Game Two Preview | Playoff Game Two Livestream | Playoff Game Two Writeup

Playoff Game Three

Sitting Bull, Churchill, Qin, 3 AI Leaders TBD
Playoff Game Three Preview | Playoff Game Three Livestream | Playoff Game Three Writeup

Championship Round *SPOILERS WARNING*

Championship Game

6 AI Leaders TBD
Championship Game Preview | Championship Game Livestream | Championship Game Writeup