Civ4 AI Survivor: Championship Game

After a long series of games, we've finally arrived at the championship match itself. Six leaders have climbed atop their fallen brethren and emerged to contest this final challenge. Everyone in this game has had to finish in the top two multiple times to advance. In theory, we've weeded out the weak leaders and the ones who simply got lucky in their opening match. We'll be crowning a champion today from one of the following six personalities.


Justinian was the surprising winner of Playoff Game One, as well as the runner up from the opening round Game Two. To give an idea of the magnitude of his upset win, Justinian wasn't picked to come out on top by even one person in our prediction contest. Zero out of 37 entries! Justinian is going to have to lean heavily on his Imperialistic trait and get out to an early lead in this one if he expects to take the ultimate prize. Justinian as an AI leader can essentially be summed up with the combination of religion + military. He loves to found his own faith, and he loves to prosecute it with religious zeal at the end of a drawn sword. Justinian has little in the way of economic traits, so he'll have to rely on his amazing cataphracts to push the more peaceful leaders around. If you favor Justinian to win, it's probably going to be through Domination. He's not a spaceship or diplomatic kind of guy.


Suryavarman was the runner up in Playoff Game One, and the victor in the first game in the competition. He had a tough corner start in that last game, and still managed to advance anyway, largely by staying out of Justinian's way. Suryavarman hasn't had a truly good starting position yet in either game, and yet he's nonetheless managed to make it to this game. The Khmer leader has a dangerous trait combination in the Creative/Expansive pairing, allowing him to claim land quickly and get the development snowball rolling faster than anyone else. He's just as aggressive as Justinian, and unlike Justinian will plot war at "Pleased" relations, but he doesn't care about religion to the same degree. Suryavarman is also one of the rare economic leaders who has extremely low peace weight as an "Evil" figure. He's a difficult and prickly figure to get along with in diplomacy. This unusual combination of awesome traits along with an aggressive personality makes Suryavarman an exceedingly dangerous figure.

Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa is arguably the favorite going into this championship game. Mansa was the winner of Playoff Game Two, and also the winner of Game Two back in the opening round. He is the only leader to appear in two games and finish in first place in both of them. I wrote all the way back in 2006 that Mansa Musa had the "winning" AI personality (just as Tokugawa has the "losing" AI personality), and nothing appears to have changed since then. What makes Mansa Musa so strong? For starters, he has the amazing trait pairing of Financial and Spiritual. It's well known that Financial is the best economic trait in Civ4, and Spiritual makes a great compliment because it saves the AI from all of the turns that they would otherwise lose to Anarchy with their dumb civic swaps. Mansa the AI loves to trade, with anyone for anything at any time, and this makes him a good neighbor who can often stay out of pointless wars. Mansa is also specifically programmed to favor cottages and windmills for his tile improvements, which again synergize perfectly with his Financial trait. Mansa doesn't need much in the way of cities or population to be dangerous. If he ever gets them, the game is probably over. Mansa's one weakness is that he can be too peaceful, with the third-lowest aggression rating in the game and a saintly peace weight as a "Good" leader. Oddly though, he can also declare war at "Pleased" for some reason. If Mansa gets left alone, however, he becomes all but impossible to out-tech, and stop from winning some kind of economic victory.


Elizabeth makes it to this game as a dual runner up. She came in second place in Playoff Game Two, and earlier in Game Six of the opening round. The best way to describe Elizabeth is a weaker version of Mansa Musa. These two leaders share a great deal in common. They both have outstanding economic traits, with Elizabeth having Financial/Philosophical instead of pairing Financial with Spiritual. I would argue that Spiritual helps the AI more than Philosophical as a trait, since they always get a ton of Great People regardless. Both Elizabeth and Mansa are exceedingly peaceful, with very high peace weights, and Lizzy can also plot war at "Pleased" for some reason. Elizabeth also has the special AI programming designed to emphasize cottages and windmills with her workers, another reason why she also researches so well. Like Mansa, Elizabeth's greatest weakness is coming under attack before she has a chance to run away in technology. Elizabeth has a lower unit rating than Mansa (she's at 2/10 for training units to his 4/10), and this is one reason why Elizabeth tends to run a greater risk of being killed early. Nonetheless, Elizabeth is still one of the best economic leaders in the game, and she will pose a major threat to win through space or culture.

Zara Yacob

Zara is the leader that we've seen the most in this competition. He made it to the championship through the hard route, via the Wildcard game. Zara finished a distant third place in Game Two, then won the Wildcard match, then won Playoff Game Three. Considering that Zara finished third in his opening round game to Mansa Musa and Justinian - who also made it to the championship! - it's rather incredible to think back on how much talent there was in that initial Game Two. Zara has a strong trait combination in his own right with the Creative and Organized pairing, if not quite so good as some of the other leaders here. Zara's path to victory looks much like Suryavarman's, expanding rapidly and claiming territory in the early game and then snowballing from there. Both of Zara's wins followed that path, as he stayed peaceful in the early game until he had an economic lead and then went militaristic from there. The field's going to be tougher than ever here in the championship, but Zara will have a fighting chance. He's yet another leader who can plot war at "Pleased" relations, and Zara will compete with Justinian over the religions on the tech tree. Will Zara's fourth appearance of the competition result in a gold medal?


Suleiman honestly feels a bit out of place here. He's another leader who makes it to the final by virtue of two runner up finishes, in Playoff Game Three and Game Four of the initial round. Unlike Elizabeth though, who was a dominant figure in both of her two runner up appearances, Suleiman was getting thoroughly pasted by much stronger leaders at the end of both of his previous apperances. I honestly think that he's the weakest leader in this group by a wide margin, and mostly slipped through to this position due to some lucky breaks. Suleiman is a very average AI leader, with mediocre traits (Imperialistic/Philosophical) and run of the mill ratings in most categories. I doubt that anyone would have expected Suleiman to reach this point before the competition started. Random luck suggests that someone would stumble their way into this position who doesn't really belong, and that's my take on Suleiman. Prove me wrong, Ottoman sultan!

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This final game therefore has a very strong field of leaders. We have a couple of outstanding economic leaders, militaristic leaders who know when to pick their spots for war without becoming insanely aggressive in the Shaka/Montezuma mold, and leaders who specialize in rapid expansion to claim the map in the early game. Everyone other than Justinian and Suleiman can plot war at "Pleased" relations, so expect to see lots of action before this one is through. Let's go to the map and get this game underway.

Instead of a random map, I created a customized setup for the championship. The six leaders randomly drew lots for their positions, and then were placed equidistant from one another around the outside edge of a Donut map. All of the starting 21 tile radiuses for their capitals are mirrored, and I did my best to balance out their surrounding terrain as well. The map uses "Balanced" resources so all of the AI leaders have access to all strategic resources, I've balanced the map for luxury purposes, and I've placed six gold resources on the coasts halfway between the leaders for them to contest. There are no stone or marble resources on the map either. The map isn't completely mirrored of course, and the positions of rivers and forests and peaks likely make some areas more desirable than others. There are limits to how much time I'm going to spend doing edits on a map for a game like this. Nonetheless, this should be the fairest map that we've used to date by a wide margin. All of the AI leaders have an equal shot. It's time for them to show what they've got, as we crown a winner out of competition.

Interestingly, all of the AI leaders sent their starting Deity settler to the south, except for Justinian at the bottom of the map who had no choice in the matter. The south looked to be slightly more cramped here out of the gate, while Elizabeth was sitting pretty with slightly more land than her rivals. Each of these second city locations was a strong spot, nothing overly stupid. Some of them would need border expansions to collect their food resources, of course. Justinian was the only one of these leaders who started with Mysticism tech, and so it was unsurprising when he went for Meditation tech out of the gate and founded Buddhism in his second city. Elizabeth immediately swapped off of her own Meditation research and began working on Polytheism. She founded Hinduism in her own second city on Turn 14. Looks like it's going to be Buddhism in the south against Hinduism in the north for this game.

Justinian was the first to three cities by several turns, putting his Imperialistic trait to good use. The Byzantine leader used this third settler to claim the gold resource between himself and Mansa Musa, a nice pickup. Zara managed to beat Suleiman to the punch for next to three cities, despite not having the Imperialistic trait. Zara settled directly on his copper resource for some reason, never quite sure why the AI does that. The early laggards in expansion were Mansa Musa and a surprising Suryavarman (huh?) They were the last two to plant their third city. Suryavarman was already running into border overlap with Justinian:

Thessalonica's holy city culture has already swallowed up the gold resource in this region, and Justinian's third city (Adrianople) was in the process of doing the same thing on the other side of Byzantine territory. This was a surprisingly good start for Justinian. He was not one of the favorites in this game, but he was off and running in the early going.

Elizabeth went on to found Judaism, removing a potential third religion from the worldwide pool. Both Mansa Musa and Zara are pretty big fans of religion; I wondered if either one of them would be able to land a latecomer and turn it into a faith with a decent following. Elizabeth also had the game's first barbarian city pop up just to the west of her capital. That could prove to be a boon or a setback, depending on how she ended up playing things. There were legions of barbs roaming around in the interior of the map, posing a serious threat to traveling units, even with the massive Deity combat bonuses that the AI get.

Suleiman was the first to four cities, making this bold stab into the center of the map. He had to run a successful landgrab, or else the Ottomans stood little chance against this field of far superior economic rivals. I wondered if this move would step on the toes of Suryavarman or Justinian. In the north, Zara was beginning to push up against the borders of England. Most leaders wouldn't like that, but Elizabeth is one of the most peaceful leaders in the game, she might not care. Elizabeth had four nice cities in her own right, and looked to be off to a good start as well. Mansa Musa and Suryavarman were the two who were struggling the most here, for reasons that were hard to understand. Mansa's slow opening was due to his city placements, his second and third cities both had all of the resources in the second ring. He'd been waiting, slowly, for borders to expand with a monument in each city before he could do much of anything with them. As for Suryavarman, I honestly didn't know what was up with him. No one has better early game traits, and his early game wasn't achieving very much.

This was certainly a busy corner of the map. Elizabeth and Zara were both competing over this land, although neither one had taken the gold resource along the north coast as yet. Elizabeth's secondary religion of Judaism had spread to Zara, causing a conversion on the part of the Ethiopians, and that wasn't going to help diplomatic matters one bit. This seemed like a decent region for later conflict. There were also two barb cities up here, and who would capture them was anyone's guess. Elizabeth was being held back by a lack of happiness resources; she was researching Monarchy tech for her wines and Hereditary Rule civic, which would help her quite a bit. Alternately, she could go settle those gold resources just outside her borders!

Suryavarman went ahead and built Stonehenge, despite being the leader who probably least needed the thing in the entire game. Strange choice there. Suleiman was spamming out his settlers just as he did in the last game, placing two cities right on top of Suryavarman's territory. That looked like a dangerous choice to me, given Suryavarman's militaristic tendencies and heavy cultural pushing power. Your funeral, Suleiman! Indeed, barely two turns after I typed that line, the Khmer initiated our first war of the game:

Heh. That one, I did see coming. Look at the ridiculous position of Konya, unable to control even its own first ring tiles. With such an early war declaration, I wasn't sure how this one would play out. Would this slow the two sides down in the landgrab, or would one of the two emerge on top and become a superpower? We'd have to watch and find out.

I also have to highlight what was going on with Mansa Musa. The guy was simply not expanding, still stuck on his three little cities and increasingly boxed in by Zara and Justinian. Both of Mansa's neighbors were gobbling up land by the bucketful; that's another Byzantine settler to the northwest of Kumbi Saleh about to plant Justinian's seventh city. Adding insult to injury, Justinian would beat Mansa to the Oracle a few turns later and take Metal Casting tech with it. So Mansa was struggling to expand for reasons I didn't understand, and he furthermore researched to Code of Laws and founded Confucianism. This converted the Malinese to a religion that no one else practiced, placing a huge target on Mansa's head. What in the world was going on here? Mansa, you don't want to follow the Augustus Caesar playbook! It's not a good idea!

Talk about an extreme rarity for one of these AI games. The little Ottoman city of Konya was auto-razed by Suryavarman, since it had never reached size 2. I don't think I've seen a single city razed in any of the previous games of the competition. First blood in the war went to the Khmer.

Second blood in the war also went to the Khmer. The Ottoman city of Samsun had been lacking a road back to the rest of Suleiman's cities, making it impossible for reinforcements to arrive. The city also had no tile improvements at all. Once Suryavarman put together a small stack of swords and axes, it fell easily. This whole war wasn't going well for Suleiman at all. He should have picked better spots for his cities. One consequence of all this was the fact that Elizabeth was quietly settling much of the land to the northeast of the Ottomans. Most of this land that by all rights should have gone to the Ottomans was increasingly flying the white banners of England instead. That could prove to be extremely important down the road, even as both Suleiman and Suryavarman continued to build more units in their conflict.

The barb city of Etruscan to the east was also captured by Suryavarman a few turns later. The Khmer were bullying their way into the middle of the map and increasingly becoming a force in this game. Suleiman tried to recapture the lost Samsun, but he was far short of the units needed to achieve that goal. The Ottomans only had four cities, and Suleiman's traits were rather weak now that the landgrab was coming to a close. I doubted that Philosophical would do much to help him.

Here was the center of the map towards the end of the settling phase. Note that Mansa Musa was completely locked out of this area, Byzantine and Ethiopian borders limiting the Malinese to a mere four cities. Despite that handicap, Mansa was STILL the tech leader in this game, having founded Christianity in addition to Confucianism. The man is simply ridiculous when it comes to anything economic. Up to the north, Zara did most of the work in knocking out the barbarian archers inside the city of Alemani, only for a wandering English sword to swing by and take out the last defender to capture the city. Nice pickup for Elizabeth.

In the war between Suryavarman and Suleiman, they were in that awkward period where everyone has city walls for defenses, but no one has catapults yet to remove them. This is normally an era where no one is able to capture much of anything, and lots of attacking units die in horrible fashion. I kept an eye on it, but indeed little seemed to be happening. Suryarvarman needed to tech to Construction to make further advances.

Just when I think I've seen everything in these AI games... Elizabeth killed all but a single barb defender in the barbarian city deep in her backlines, only to see a Mansa Musa skirmisher (who had been camping out next to the city for the last thousand years) take out the final archer and capture it. Now there was a single Malinese city on the other side of the world from the rest of Mansa's territory. The stuff that goes on in these games boggles the mind.

After 90 turns, most of the land on the map had been claimed. Justinian and Zara were competing closely for the top spot on the leaderboard, although I thought that Zara was in a better position due to his superior research. Zara has been a real revelation in these last few games, expanding well and then marshalling his way into a tech lead repeatedly. Elizabeth was also looking very strong, and she was about equal with Zara in tech, but the English didn't have quite as much territory or population. Losing that barb city to Mansa was a surprisingly large blow. Suryavarman needed to win his war with Suleiman to have a legitimate shot of taking this game, he wouldn't be in a strong enough position otherwise. The Khmer economy was a step behind its rivals in research power. Finally, Suleiman and Mansa were the clear weaklings of this game. The Ottomans were losing this long ongoing war, and Suleiman didn't have the production base to match Suryavarman in an extended campaign. Catapults were likely to be his undoing. As for Mansa, his economy was amazingly good for only having four cities... but he did only have four cities. With an unpopular world religion, I figured it would only be a matter of time until Justinian took a swing at his smaller and weaker neighbor. If a Byzantine invasion did appear, I thought it was unlikely that Mansa would manage to hold out for long.

The following turns were relatively quiet. Suryavarman and Suleiman continued their ineffectual war, exchanging units in largely pointless fashion, no territory changing hands. Lots and lots of swords and axes and chariots dying along the border, like something out of a medieval tragedy. Justinian built the Buddhist shrine and Elizabeth built the Hindu shrine. (Note: the AIs always produce tons of Great People on Deity because they run so many specialists all the time. Thus nearly every holy city always gets its shrine in these games. This is another reason why Philosophical seems to be fairly pointless as a trait for the Deity AIs.)

Yep. Tiny Mansa Musa with five cities was still the tech leader. Never doubt that mustache.

Things remained strangely peaceful. There was a lot of dislike between the leaders with varying religions, they simply chose not to go to war. I couldn't believe that Justinian hadn't made a move yet, he didn't like anyone other than Suryavarman due to shared religion, and Justinian is well above average in aggression. Nothing so far. Perhaps he was waiting for his cataphracts. I mostly continued to watch the ongoing Khmer/Ottoman war, where Suryavarman somehow still failed to capture Bursa. They'd been fighting over that spot for centuries now, with oceans of blood spilled between the nations. No change in either side since the earliest days of the conflict when Suryavarman took the two cities right on his border. Hmmm, not the most interesting game so far. Something happen, pretty please?

Here's a look at Mansa's little core while waiting on bigger developments to take place. Despite these few cities, Mansa still built the Statue of Zeus and claimed the free Great Artist for being the first to Music tech. Simply unbelievable. For the curious, Justinian built the Pyramids (although he didn't revolt into Representation civic) while Elizabeth constructed the Mausoleum. There were other wonders built, but those were the important ones.

Finally! Suryavarman eventually broke through at Bursa and captured the city. This isolated Gaziantep from the rest of Ottoman territory, and ended the stalemate that had been going on for dozens and dozens of turns. I was just happy to see something happen for a change. Suleiman had recently teched his way to longbows, and it seemed likely that he'd be able to turtle a while longer behind his defenses. That said, the Ottomans were finished as a major power in this game, and Suleiman remained the odds-on favorite for the First to Die category. (And yes, Mansa Musa will found Taoism next turn when he finishes his Philosophy research, if you were watching the corner of that screenshot.)

More turns continued to pass. Justinian built the Apostolic Palace, the Great Library, and the Parthenon, making use of a Golden Age that he triggered with one of his innumerable Great People. The AIs were powering through the Medieval era, and getting ready to enter the Renaissance. Suryavarman ran his armies around in circles for a while, then eventually realized that he should go capture Gaziantep. He did so on Turn 136, limiting Suleiman to his original three cities. Probably not too much longer for the Ottomans to draw breath if the war continued.

Justinian was the first to discover Liberalism, taking the totally awesome tech of Divine Right with it. Oh Justinian, you and your religious tech preferences! The sad thing is the fact that Divine Right didn't even have Islam remaining, the religion had already been founded by Zara a little bit earlier. What a total waste. Nonetheless, Justinian remained in first place in score, and he was doing surprisingly well economically in this game. Justinian had been cleaning up wonders left and right, and he looked set to get a few more from the collection of Sankore / Notre Dame / Sistine that he was currently building. (Elizabeth would eventually get Notre Dame, but Justinian would get the rest.) Was Justinian going to win this game purely through economic stuff? That can't happen against Mansa and Elizabeth, right?

Whoa! I totally missed this military buildup on the part of Zara. Good thing I managed to capture the screenshot before the war declaration message disappeared. Zara apparently wanted to dine on some Malinese steak. There was a massive disparity between Zara and Mansa on the power chart, and I do mean massive. Mansa Musa was in for a serious thrashing if he didn't conjure up units in a hurry. This was the one fatal flaw in Mansa's AI: yes, his economic power is almost unrivaled in this game, but does he build enough military to stay safe? We were about to find out here.

The city of Gao had four longbows on defense. It was being attacked by about 30 Ethiopian units, including five trebuchets and two catapults. This was a laughably lopsided fight, and Gao was captured immediately without Zara breaking a sweat. Even as those units rested, a separate Ethiopian invasion force of elephants and trebs was heading for Kumbi Saleh, the double holy city where the bulk of Mansa's army was located. It looked like there might be a decisive battle over there soon.

At the same time that Zara was on the march, Suryavarman was advancing on the few remaining Ottoman cities in the west. The capture of Bursa earlier had been the tipping point in their conflict, and it was all easy sledding downhill from that moment on. Ankara was the latest conquest, and there were huge numbers of Khmer ballista elephants, maces, and catapults pushing deeper into the Ottoman core. We were now in a race to see who could survive longer in their respective wars, Mansa Musa or Suleiman. It looked like it was curtains for both of them in the near future.

Through some kind of cosmic coincidence, Mansa and Suleiman would both lose their capitals on exactly the same turn:

Apparently one of them also lost a Great General in the fighting. You rarely see that in these AI games, the AI loves to use their Great Generals as super specialists instead. It's not unusual to find as many as six or seven military instructors merged into their capitals by the end of these games. In any case, these two nations were clearly finished now. Check out the power graphs:

Four leaders very close together, and two leaders on death's door. The AI is very good at smelling weakness in this game and going after the runts of the litter. It didn't take much imagination to see who that was at this moment in time.

Suleiman had no fewer than eight workers taking refuge in his final remaining city. Unfortunately for Suleiman, workers do not make very good defenders in Civ4. He also had three longbows and a spear inside Edirne, brave fellows manning the walls against the Khmer hordes. The lads died bravely, but die they did. End of the road for Suleiman:

I thought coming into this game that Suleiman was the weakest of these six leaders, and this game didn't do anything to disprove that theory. (Remember, I write the introduction before the game takes place, and no, I don't go back and edit things to make myself look better. I was someone who thought that Ragnar would dominate his opening round game, for example.) Suleiman had weaker traits and an average AI personalty compared to the other leaders in this final game, so he needed to compensate with a very successful landgrab in the early game. Instead, he gave away all of the territory to his northeast to Elizabeth, and found himself caught in a destructive war against Suryavarman when the Ottomans settled too aggressively on the Khmer border. It was the kind of high risk strategy that Suleiman had to chance to win this game, only it didn't work out. Congrats to Suleiman regardless for making it this far into the championship match. I think he was kind of lucky to be here, but it's impressive nontheless.

As for Mansa Musa, he wasn't in much better shape. Ethiopian knights were rampaging across his territory, snapping up everything in sight. Djenne was already down, and Kumbi Saleh only held out a few more turns:

The entire core of Malinese territory was now under the control of Zara. We therefore bid farewell to Mansa Musa... oh wait, he's still alive! Yep, that one city up in English territory was still holding out. If Mansa somehow survived to the end of the game on his One City Challenge thing, that would be absolutely incredible. I mean, if anyone could pull that off, it would have to be someone like Mansa. I doubted the AI would allow that, however, and indeed stacks of Ethiopian knights and oromo warriors began the march up to the northwest. Elizabeth and Zara were good friends and shared Open Borders, so there was nothing to bar Zara's path to the last holdout of Mansa Musa.

While that was going on, we had a new geopolitical development:

I guess warring the entire game up to this point wasn't enough for Suryavarman. He thirsted for more battle! This war was explainable along peace weight lines, where Elizabeth ranks very high and Suryavarman ranks very low. They were predisposed to dislike one another before the game even began. With two large nations going to war, it should be quite a show. Suryavarman was higher in power for the moment, but only by a small amount, and I didn't like his chances in the long run. Elizabeth was substantially ahead in tech, albeit not in anything military for the moment. It wouldn't be long before she grabbed Gunpowder and Rifling techs though, and then the Khmer would be facing off against redcoats. Suryavarman was going to need to hit hard at the very beginning of the war, while he still had the advantage of veteran troops from his Ottoman conquest.

The Khmer were able to capture the English city of Alemanni with their stack of doom at the outset of the war. According to the power charts, Elizabeth took a sizable beating here without inflicting too much in the way of return casualties. She was attempting a counter siege of the Khmer city of Gaziantep, where English units bombed out the defenses but then had to be broken off as Suryavarman's reinforcements poured into the city. The opening turns of this conflict were not going well for the English. Suryavarman had already passed Elizabeth on score. She needed to be researching Rifling tech, not Democracy! Silly AI.

As all this was taking place, Ethiopian units finished their trek to the north, and the clock struck midnight for Mansa Musa:

No magic Cultural victory this time around. Mansa Musa played the early game horribly here, not enough cities and not enough land claimed. He was able to hold the tech lead for a while even with his paltry territory, but Mansa was not able to escape the iron law of Civilization in the long run: expand or die. Mansa was an absolute beast in this competition, winning his two previous games outright. He ran out of luck this time, finished off by Zara Yacob. The amazing thing is that Mansa saved Zara's life way back in Game Two, when Zara was on the verge of destruction at the hands of Mehmed. This would preserve Zara's life for the Wildcard game, allowing Zara a second chance at the competition. Zara would make it all the way back here to the championship, winning the Wildcard game and Playoff Three, only to eliminate his mentor. The student had become the master, it seems. What an odd fate for those two leaders.

This was the overview map with Mansa out of the picture. All four of the surviving leaders still had a legitimate chance to win from this position, something that we rarely see at this late date. Justinian remained the score leader for the moment, although he didn't have the most population or territory. The Byzantines were the surprising tech leader, up five techs over Zara when I took this picture. Justinian had also completed the Taj Mahal for a free Golden Age, and he was about to finish the Statue of Liberty as well, a very big deal on this map. Would he be able to maintain that lead? Zara looked to be in the next best shape, now tops in land area and close to the lead in population. Zara had excellent economic traits, and his research was only going to grow as he incorporated the Malinese conquests into his empire. Suryavarman was the furthest behind in research, but coming on very strong given his military success. He was actually tops in population after absorbing all those Ottoman cities, and Suryavarman looked to be winning his current war against the English. As for Elizabeth, she had the best pure economic traits of the remaining leaders, but she'd have to put them to good use for them to be effective. Elizabeth was doing the pacifistic AI thing where they research literally everything except the military techs that would save them. If she continued to ignore Gunpowder and Rifling techs, she'd be in serious trouble against Suryavarman's continuing attacks. Use your redcoats, you silly girl!

Elizabeth finally, belatedly, now began to head for Rifling tech. She'd already picked up Democracy and Corporations techs, plus she still needed to research Gunpowder and Military Tradition. Some of these peaceful AIs are too focused on internal development for their own good. Justinian was the first to land Communism tech, taking the Great Spy in the process. Suryavarman was still attacking with swarms of knights, bypassing the English cities on the border to strike at Hastings in the back lines. Why did he pick this spot? Who knows! Despite the lack of strategic sense, the attack was successful:

Devil of a place to be attacking. Why not attack Canterbury instead?! Anyway, southern England had enemy knights crusading about in large numbers, and the tile improvements were getting pillaged badly. I was starting to feel that Elizabeth had missed her moment to act in this game. She'd simply waited too long to research towards more advanced units. Elizabeth had the research power, or she HAD had the research power, she simply failed to use it properly. Now it might be too late. The English economy was suffering badly, and there were a lot of those blue units marching across the border.

Elizabeth did eventually make her way to Rifling tech, and the presence of redcoats immediately stablized her defense. The redcoats were not very impressed by Khmer knights and maces, even if there were a lot of them. Combined with the massive castle walls in every English city, the redcoats put a tourniquet on the bleeding that Elizabeth had been going through. If only the English had researched over to them a dozen turns earlier!

That was not good news for Elizabeth. The last thing that she needed was Justinian entering this conflict. All the redcoats in the world weren't going to be much use against the threat posed by a combination of Khmer and Byzantium. I was caught off guard by this attack, and it took me some time to find the invasion stack. Justinian had moved through Ethiopian territory, sending a group of rifles and cavs into the eastern part of England. Now the question was whether Zara would choose to get involved in this escalating conflict; he didn't like Suryavarman very much at all. Zara and Elizabeth were good friends, and so too were Justinian and Suryavarman. I was secretly hoping for a massive 2 vs. 2 scenario to decide the winner of this game.

I thought that Elizabeth might be able to hold off Suryavarman at Canterbury. That was a city on their mutual border, on a hill, which had about eight redcoats inside. Suryavarman slowly bombed out the castle defenses, and then sent in the dozens of knights and cuirassiers that had been massing outside the city. It was a bloody battle, but victory for the Khmer was assured. This opened up the soft underbelly of the English empire, allowing Justinian's soldiers to leap further ahead themselves. York was the next target, and unlike the Khmer, Justinian had cannons with his invasion to remove the city defenses much faster. It fell easily:

Justinian generated two Great Generals in the successful attack. Imperialistic along with "never fought before in the whole game" translates into a lot of Great General points. Somehow Elizabeth now managed to secure peace with the Byzantines, I had no clue how she'd managed that. The Khmer remained at war for the moment. The English interior had been completely ripped apart, Elizabeth's remaining territory consisted of a ring of cities along the coast. Five cities remaining. How the mighty had fallen.

Waves and waves of Khmer cuirassiers still continued their attack on Elizabeth, pillaging the ground as they went. Suryavarman's main stack was up to 50 cuirassiers now, an impressive display of force. Unfortunately, Suryavarman didn't have Steel yet for cannons, and apparently he'd lost virtually all of his catapults and trebuchets to date in the fighting. This meant that the campaign continued at a snail's pace, a single catapult bombing away 1-2% of a city's castle defenses each turn while the rest of the invading soldiers stood around doing nothing. If you ever want to stall out an AI attack in Single Player, kill all but a single catapult, and watch them freeze up for the next two dozen turns. (You don't want to kill ALL the catapults, because then the melee units will simply attack. Leave exactly one siege unit alive, and they'll sit in place doing nothing.) The gaps in their AI logic are painfully obvious at such times.

While the long grind of war continued in the north, perhaps the more important competition was the research battle between Justinian and Zara. The two of them were virtually dead even here, each of them pumping out around 1600 beakers/turn with nearly all of their cities building "Research". That's not to say they were equal on the tree, since Justinian was seven techs ahead when I counted. Still, it was clear that Zara's larger size and extra population was closing the gap with Justinian. (Zara was tops in both population and territory according to F8.) Justinian had also used up quite a few Golden Ages already, while Zara popped a fresh one shortly after I took this picture. If the two of them went to a space race, it would be extremely close.

The war between Elizabeth and Suryavarman had been stalemated outside Coventry for ages now. It felt like the Western Front, zero territory changing hands even as uncounted lives were lost. That equilibrium was shattered eventually at the hands of Justinian:

Justinian had factories and power plants galore by now, railroads crisscrossing his territory, and plenty of infantry and marines and artillery. Elizabeth's redcoats suddenly didn't seem very impressive anymore. A veritable wave of gray units crashed over the English border, destroying everything in their path. Elizabeth put up a better defense than I expected, as she managed to fight off the initial probing forces despite the massive disparity in numbers. She had just discovered Assembly Line, and used her treasury to upgrade redcoats to infrantry at a frantic pace. I was honestly surprised here, I thought that the Byzantine would roll right over the English without breaking a sweat. Elizabeth was fighting for her life, and holding on by the skin of her teeth. (This was due at least in part to the severe lack of siege units that Justinian had built, but give credit where credit is due.)

Nevertheless, Elizabeth was still impossibly outnumbered, and there was only so much that she could do. Eventually, Justinian's units forced their way through the gates of London and captured the English capital. Justinian seemed to be favoring marines for some reason, probably because he didn't have oil yet for his tanks. (All of the oil on this map was water-based, requiring Plastics tech for offshore oil rigs. Justinian did have the tech, and he was in the process of connecting his oil.) London's capture split the remaining English territory in half, leaving scant chance it could ever be reunited. I doubted that anyone would be able to put this Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Alright, now the game gets interesting again. Get that popcorn smiley ready. Zara had held poor relations with Suryavarman for a long time, and he finally decided to act on it. Gaziantep fell in the immediate sneak attack, and the recent Khmer conquests in England looked to be up next. Suryavarman had a gaping weakness: he was EXTREMELY far behind in tech by this point. I mean, Elizabeth was more than a dozen techs ahead of Suryavarman, and she looked positively ancient compared to Justinian and Zara. I went ahead and counted because I was curious: Suryavarman was 22 techs behind Zara. That's well over a full era in tech, approaching two eras. This looked like it was going to get ugly.

As we've seen time and again in these games, the AI leaders who were ahead in research began relentlessly mopping up the ones who were behind. Justinian now had his offshore oil connected, and he began turning out tanks and gunships in large numbers. Justinian overran Zapotec, leaving Elizabeth with three scattered cities remaining. (Suryavarman was still besieging Coventry. It was down to 17% defenses now, still dropping about one percent per turn. Good grief!) Zara was pounding Suryavarman in the central portion of the map, taking out Samsun and Etruscan with ease. Zara was making use of his Open Borders with Justinian, moving along Byzantine rails to hit the Khmer cities without the difficulty of walking through enemy territory. The power graphs were diverging again:

It was the same thing from earlier in the game, two leaders crashing and burning on their way out. Suryavarman did have one victory of note though: he finally attacked and captured the city of Coventry after that endless siege. He lost much of his army in the process though, and Elizabeth wasn't the opponent that Suryavarman needed to be worrying about right now. Yet another war where there were no winners, only losers on both sides.

Elizabeth lost the race for survival with Suryavarman:

She'd had a real chance to win this game as little as 50 turns earlier. Suryavarman was the biggest reason why Elizabeth's game fell apart, initiating a destructive war that cost both of them dearly. Of course Elizabeth didn't make things easier on herself, determinedly avoiding all of the military techs that could have allowed her to turn things around. That's the biggest weakness of these peaceful AIs, their love of all the economic stuff on the tech tree, along with their low unit emphasis ratings, together can combine to put them in very real trouble. We therefore bid farewell to Elizabeth, who just misses out on the medal podium, stuck in the dreaded fourth place position.

The Khmer were still breathing for now, although Suryavarman was hardly in an enviable position. His core was getting blasted to pieces by Zara's armies, and more cities were falling seemingly every turn. The Ethiopian offshore oil was now connected, and the tanks and airplanes were on their way. To give you an idea of how far behind Suryavarman was, he didn't even have Rifling tech yet! Or Replaceable Parts, for that matter. Tanks against rifles are an absolute slaughter, so how about tanks against muskets and longbows? Not good. Suryavarman might as well put spears on defense, that always worked in Civ3, right? It didn't take long before the Khmer capital had fallen to Zara:

Suryavarman's core was getting knocked over like dominoes. The defensive resistance was totally feeble, I saw longbows and pikes trying to defend these cities against the Modern era forces of Ethiopia. With railroads in place to speed reinforcements to the front lines, the Khmer cities collapsed incredibly fast. Don't blink or you'll miss them. Ummm - was Zara going to win by Domination here? He was piling up an awful lot of population and territory as Suryavarman continued to fall apart. This could turn into a very interesting ending.

While Suryavarman continued to be thoroughly depanted, Justinian completed work on the United Nations, prompting our first election:

Zara had now moved past Justinian in population, and he would control the UN going forward as the Secretary General. However, there was no chance of Zara (or Justinian) winning a Diplomatic victory, since the two of them would split the vote. No one was going to get the 62% of votes needed to win, plus also collect a vote from another ally. It looked as though this game was going to have to end through Domination or Spaceship.

Cities continued to fall to Zara nearly every turn. There was no stopping the Ethiopian forces in their relentless assault. At times, paratroopers dropping from the skies were strong enough to take cities in their own right, something that should pretty much never happen. I tried to calculate if a complete conquest of Suryavarman would be enough to trigger Domination, and gave up because it would be too close to eyeball. We'd simply have to see how it played out. Zara held a vote for Diplomatic victory in the UN, but of course he didn't have enough votes or enough support to win that way. No one voted for him, same as in the Secretary General election. The game went on.

Here was another picture of northern Khmer as the collapse continued. It was amazing how Suryavarman had managed to amass so much territory, only to fall to pieces when he came under attack from a more advanced rival. As we all know in the Civilzation series, tech is king. Suryavarman had held about a third of the world's land area at the height of his powers, and he still exploded like a popped balloon when confronting someone more than an era ahead in tech. There simply was nothing that the Khmer could do.

I'm pretty much out of words to describe the rest of this war. The Ethiopian tanks rolled over everything, and Suryavarman died on Turn 271:

Suryavarman had gotten off to a slow start in this game, only to explode outwards through his conquest of Suleiman. The Khmer fought and fought and fought, spending almost the entirety of the game at war with one neighbor or another. This generally served Suryavarman well, since he acquired a lot of territory and outlived three other rivals. However, Suryavarman never quite got his economy running at full speed in this game, and he was soundly defeated by the superior technology of Zara. Suryavarman can hold his head high, coming away with the bronze medal for his third place finish in this competition.

And then there were only TWO leaders remaining! From 52 leaders at the start down to the final two. Who was going to take the crown and emerge as our overall winner? Justinian still had the advantage in the space race, and there probably wasn't enough time left for Zara to turn all of those cities into productive contributors to the Ethiopian empire. Justinian needed six more techs to complete his spaceship, while Zara needed ten more techs. That was a definite lead for Justinian, if not a huge one. On the other hand, Zara was sitting at 60% population and 51% land area, with many cities still in resistance. He needed 64% in both categories to win through Domination. Was the land taken away from Suryavarman going to be enough?

For that matter, there was no guarantee that these two leaders would stay peaceful with one another. Justinian was "Cautious" with Zara, which meant that a war was very much in play. Zara was "Peaceful" with Justinian, but Zara is a leader who will plot war at Pleased relations. No safety there either. A lategame showdown between these two with first place in the overall competition at stake, that would simply be amazing to watch. I was not-so-secretly hoping to hear the war horns blare.

Both leaders continued to work on their respective spaceships. Justinian held a persistent lead of five techs over Zara, as the two of them marched in lockstep through the final portions of the tech tree. The numbers needed for Domination were also exceedingly close - check these out:

Zara was that close to winning the game through Domination. He had the population requirement, and he was barely five percent short on territory. But all of the captured Khmer cities were now out of resistance, and it seemed clear that Zara was going to be just short by that slimmest of margins. Zara would have to steal tiles away from Justinian via culture if he was going to win (or go to war and conquer a city), which did not look likely in the few remaining turns. So close and yet so far away. Justinian's war against Elizabeth had not been pointless after all. Without the territory conquered from the English up in the north, Zara would have won this game. Even as little as two or three cities changing hands would have been enough to do it.

It looked like it would have to be space, after all. Justinian finished the tech tree on Turn 284, and began work on his final remaining spaceship parts. For a wonder, he was building them in fairly intelligent locations, no tiny size 3 cities working on the SS Engine. Justinian launched his ship on Turn 287, when Zara still had three techs remaining to research:

Zara now absoutely had to take action. If he didn't attack Justinian and capture some cities in the next ten turns, the clock on that spaceship was going to run out, and he would lose the game. This was the time when decisive leaders would seize the moment, and carve their name into the heavens by rising up to meet the challenge. It was a moment for bold gambits and far-sighted strategic vision. The AI Survivor championship was sitting there, waiting to be claimed!

Unfortunately, as well as Zara had played in this competition, he was still a Civ4 AI. Therefore it was no surprise when he did absolutely nothing over the next ten turns, leaving Justinian to win a Spaceship victory on Turn 296:

Justinian wins the first AI Survivor challenge!!!

Zara had almost double the population and double the territory of Justinian, and he'd also finished the entire tech tree. His own Ethiopian spaceship was only a dozen turns behind the Byzantine one. I would imagine that their colonists met somewhere on Alpha Centauri down the road. But in the end, a win is a win, and Justinian was the victor in this game. Did anyone seriously think that Justinian would be the overall winner of our competition when all was said and done? He certainly came out of nowhere to take the final prize!

This game didn't play out the way that I expected at all. The biggest factor in the ending result was likely the poor early game from Mansa Musa, I don't think it was a coincidence that the top two leaders at the end were the ones that bordered Mansa. His failure to expand at the start allowed both Justinian and Zara to amass more territory than they otherwise should have gotten. Zara in particular expanded heavily towards Elizabeth, and this didn't wind up hurting the Ethiopians because Mansa did so little to push out settlers. The other great revelation in this game was the economic power of Justinian. Through some combination of smart city management - for the AI! - and control of most of the game's wonders, he established a tech lead and never lost it. I kept expecting Zara to catch up to Justinian and pass him, only it never materialized. Justinian was about six techs ahead in the medieval era, the same six techs ahead in the industrial period, and Justinian finished the game in essentially the same position. Zara could never fully close the gap.

Justinian seemed an unlikely leader to take this competition, but after some thought upon the conclusion of this competition, he makes a lot more sense. Justinian's traits are an excellent combination for the AI. Imperialistic was one of the surprises of this event, as Imperialistic leaders consistently performed well again and again. The trait clearly helps the AI expand in the early game, and put them in a position to snowball from there. Spiritual is another strong trait for the AI, largely preventing them from their own stupidity. The AI nearly always adopts every new civic as they research them on the tree, which causes them to lose many turns to Anarchy. Spiritual saves them from this foolishness. Saving 10-15 turns of Anarchy in a 300 turn game makes a very real difference indeed. In addition to those traits, Justinian also gets access to one of the best unique units in the game in the form of the cataphract. We didn't see it used here, but it made a huge difference in Justinian's conquest of Hatshepsut in Game Two. Add in a willingness to go to war and amass territory, and you have a formidable combination. Justinian's weaknesses are an excessive focus on religion, and potentially too much aggression leading to unproductive conflicts. When he's able to avoid those pitfalls, like here and in Playoff Game One, Justinian is a dangerous leader indeed.

These were the final Demographics. I think this may have been the closest ending we've seen in terms of stats, although not in the actual question of who would win. There was little drama here, it was obvious that Zara couldn't get a spaceship off before Justinian. Both surviving leaders had enormous and powerful empires.

Final Standings

1) Justinian
2) Zara Yacob
3) Suryavarman
4) Elizabeth
5) Mansa Musa
6) Suleiman

The final bracket for the Survivor game can be seen above. There's still plenty to be said in terms of thoughts and analysis, which I'll be putting in a separate conclusions page. Go on to the next section for a final wrapup session.