Once again, it was time to draw our AI competitors for the second game. As an even-numbered game, this time it would feature 7 AIs instead of the default 6 AIs. The random number generator spit out a much more peaceful group this time around.
Hatshepsut reminds me of Suryavarman, in the sense that it's a very tough name to spell that I nonetheless have down by heart given her popularity for our Multiplayer events. Hatty is Spiritual and Creative for traits, and brings along the strong Egyptian package of the War Chariot and Obelisk. When using Restricted leaders, this is a very powerful combination. Hatshepsut the AI has a strong focus on culture, religion, and building wonders. Her low unit emphasis (only rated 2/10) can get her into trouble with the more aggressive AIs. Hatshepsut is below average in aggression rating at 3.7 out of 10, and makes for an excellent neighbor in Single Player games. She's a tough competitor if left unmolested by foreign attack.
Here's the wildcard player for this particular round. Justinian has Spiritual and Imperialistic traits, and as the only Byzantine leader is renowned for bringing the mighty Cataphract as his unique unit. (He also has the unimpressive Hippodrome unique building.) We generally don't favor the Byzantines anymore due to their awful starting techs of Mysticism and The Wheel, but this doesn't matter for the Deity AIs, who all start with Agriculture, Wheel, Hunting, and Archery. Justinian AI has religious and military flavors, and heavily emphasizes building units (8/10 rating). He's well above average on the aggression rating at 7.6 out of 10, which wouldn't have stood out in the first game, but which sets him apart in this one. Justinian also has Theocracy as his favorite civic, which means he will never go to Free Religion. In short, Justinian is likely to found his own religion, and then hate everyone else who doesn't have it for the rest of the game. Expect him to dominate the game or get swiftly crushed depending on how diplomacy shakes out.
Mansa Musa is one of the game's economic powerhouses, with Spiritual and Financial traits. We're having a bit of a run on Spiritual in this game, apparently. His Malinese civ brings an excellent unit in the Skirmisher, and a decent building in the Mint. I once dubbed Mansa Musa as having the "winner" AI in the same sense as Tokugawa has the "loser" AI, since he favors trading and peaceful development. Mansa AI has gold and religious flavors, the latter of which you might not expect. He actually founds his own religion pretty frequently, despite not starting with Mysticism tech. Mansa Musa has a very low aggression rating of 1.6 out of 10; basically, this guy wants to be left alone to tech in peace. Mansa will be reigned in slightly by turning off tech trading (where he swaps techs like crazy), but he's still one to watch.
Mehmed is another excellent leader who has long been popular in our events. His trait pairing of Expansive and Organized gets him out to a fast start, and then keeps the surge going with cheap lighthouses, couthouses, and eventual factories. Mehmed's Ottoman civ brings along the Janissary unique unit and Hamman unique building, which is above average for a restricted leader pairing. As an AI, Mehmed is not what you would expect at all: he's actually very militaristic! Mehmed AI has military and culture flavors, along with the highest possible build unit emphasis (10/10) and an aggression rating of 7.8 out of 10. Don't be fooled by those builder traits, in other words. Mehmed will pump out a lot of units, and he's the most likely leader in this particular game to declare war. This could be a fox loose in the henyard for this match.
Roosevelt brings along Industrious and Organized traits, another pair geared more towards economic development. He is unfortunately chained to the American civilization, which means the Navy SEAL and Mall unique items. Still, this game may go long enough for those to come into play at some point. Roosevelt AI has production and gold flavors. Despite his traits, he's not programmed to emphasize wonders that much (only 4/10), which is somewhat of a surprise. Roosevelt AI is quite peaceful overall, with a low focus on training units and an aggression rating of only 2.6 out of 10. He's even easy to get along with when sharing a different religion, as Roosevelt places little emphasis on faith. This guy is fairly uninteresting, I don't quite know what to make of him.
You thought Mansa Musa and Mehmed were going to be the top economic leaders for this game, eh? Well as it turns out, Willem got randomly drawn into this game too! Willem has Creative and Financial traits, making him a near-universal ban for our Multiplayer events. He's held back somewhat by being paired with the Netherlands as a civ, who should have limited success on a Pangaea map. Their East Indiaman ship and Dike unique building are far stronger on water maps. Willem AI has gold and science flavors for his programming, and moderate emphasis on building units and wonders. In an interesting quirk, Willem cares almost nothing for religion at all, with a very small penalty for different faiths and equally small bonus for shared faith. He also has a strangely high aggression rating at 6.7 out of 10, which was not what I expected at all. So while Willem is programmed to emphasize gold and science, he's also programmed to declare war at a fairly high rate. Very unusual mix.
Zara is our last leader for this game, and yes, we drew the final two leaders in alphabetical order. Random numbers make for seemingly unusual results. Zara has Creative and Organized traits, bringing along the Oromo Warrior and Stele as unique stuff. I have a soft spot for Zara since he led us to victory in the Apolyton Demogame a number of years back. As an AI, Zara has growth and religious flavors. He sits in the middle of the table on most of the important numbers, like unit and wonder focus, and has a medium aggression rating of 5.6 out of 10. Zara AI also places a huge emphasis on religion, with a massive shared faith bonus (as much as +9 diplo points!) and a large penalty for differing faiths. Like Justinian, his favorite civic is also Theocracy. Zara AI therefore mostly follows a middle of the road path, but he carries a serious grudge over religion.
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Overall, this group has a lot of economic leaders and strong builder traits. At the same time though, there's a bunch of leaders who are passionate about their religious faith, and eager to do nasty things to those who don't share their beliefs. I expect this game to break down along religious fault lines at some point, and those differences to drive conflict between the civs. Only two leaders can advance out of this group, barring a possible wildcard, which means we're going to lose someone strong here. Who will manage to survive and advance?
Because of the extra leader in this game, I generated a Pangaea map with Low sea level, and this seemed to deliver a good amount of land. I kept the very first map generated this time, as it was easy to move my civ off into the ice without affecting the rest of the AI leaders. Right away, I noticed a heavy focus on religion from these leaders. Justinian immediately researched Meditation (and would go on to found Buddhism), while 4 of the other AIs started with Mysticism as their first tech. Only Roosevelt and Mehmed went for Animal Husbandry out of the gate. Willem drew the short straw on starting positions, getting the dreaded plains cow + dry rice combination. We'd have to see if this slowed him down. At least Willem had a lot of land to expand into.
Roosevelt and Hatshepsut both expanded towards one another, placing their second cities extremely close. I wondered in particular about Roosevelt, who drew a start in the center of the map with Creative civs on two sides, and aggressive leaders in Justinian and Mehmed to the north. Four different civs were chasing after Hinduism in the early turns (yes this group really likes religion!), but Hatshepsut was the winner by a single turn:
It popped up in Memphis, right on the border with Roosevelt. Tough luck for the non-Creative American leader. (Note the obelisk build in Memphis, with Creative and Holy City culture. Oh that AI logic!) This also established an immediate religious rivalry between Justinian and Hatshepsut, who were neighbors over in the east. I expected that this would lead to conflict at some point down the road. Hatty would then go on to found Judaism as well, burying a potential religion for someone else. This left the western part of the continent locked out of the religious race for the moment.
Uh oh, Roosevelt is in serious trouble here. He's already been boxed in by his neighbors, and we're only 30 turns into the game. Roosevelt actually moved out a settler, saw the location he wanted get claimed by Mehmed, and then moved the settler back into his capital again. Not exactly a good sign. He would eventually send that settler to the north, finally getting out to a belated third city. Roosevelt already looked like the early loser in the central portion of the map.
Hatshepsut used her obelisks to rush out a fast Great Prophet, which turned into the Hindu Shrine. On Turn 40! Sheesh, girl. This ensured that Hinduism would spread far and wide via passive dispersion. She researched up to Monotheism before researching Bronze Working, typical AI logic. Justinian meanwhile had his own plan to get a Buddhist shrine, via an early Stonehenge play:
This of course put even more cultural pressure on Roosevelt, with a mini-Creative civ located to his northeast. Then Roosevelt had another stroke of misfortune: Judaism passively spread to his second city, and he immediately converted to the religion. Now he was boxed in by his neighbor AND following a religion that no one else practiced. I seem to remember this happening in the first game to Ramesses, and it did not end well. How long before someone decided to take a swing at poor Roosevelt?
Fifty turns into the game, Hatshepsut and Justinian were effectively tied for the score lead, with Mehmed the next closest AI. I liked Mehmed's position quite a bit, as he had effectively been expanding and staying out of the religious turmoil going on to the east. Willem was also in pretty good shape despite his weak capital. Mansa Musa was dragging up the rear of the pack, oddly, even with all of that land to settle into. This may have been a disadvantage as much as advantage, however, as Mansa seemed to be having a lot of problems with the barbarians. Maybe he should have tried for the Great Wall. That wonder would go to Roosevelt, in another show of poor judgment. Was that really what you needed in this situation, Roosevelt?
I thought that the first war would come in the form of someone picking on Roosevelt. That didn't happen though, probably in part because Roosevelt was right among the leaders in power. Instead, conflict would break out in a totally unexpected place:
Zara sent a group of swords and axes after this border city of Willem. It was a good choice, actually. The Hague had only a single archer inside, and the spot couldn't be defended against this amount of force. Willem was also the lowest AI in power, while Zara was in first place. If Zara could snipe a city or two off of Willem, he could potentially cripple him and turn Ethiopia into a world powerhouse. The Hague did fall immediately, and I waited to see if the Dutch would be able to rally back and prevent further losses. This was the rare case where an AI caught another AI with his pants completely down, a totally successful sneak attack.
As you saw in the screenshot, Justinian also built the Oracle and took Metal Casting, which the AI picks in nearly every case. They always take the most expensive tech, and that's almost always Metal Casting at this stage of the game.
Zara and Willem continued to skirmish outside Nijmegan, the city coming close to falling on several occasions. Elsewhere, Zara captured a strategically located barbarian city in the middle of the map, opening the way to further expansion westward. Hatty similarly took a key barb city in the southeast, boxing in Roosevelt further. The Americans were still stuck with a mere four cities, and no place to settle any more. As for Mehmed, he built the Temple of Artemis in his capital and the Pyramids in Edirne; he was fortunate enough to have both stone and marble resources. This may have been a mistake, however, as Mehmed tied up his top cities on those wonders and was slower to settle the middle of the map than I expected. That land was increasingly being swallowed up by Zara and Mansa Musa, the latter of whom was really coming on strong now. With those pesky barbarians out of the way, Mansa was beginning to do what he does best, tech himself into a strong position.
Nijmegan also fell on the round date of 1000BC (Turn 75), leaving the Dutch with a mere 3 cities remaining. This was not what I expected from the mighty Willem! Was he going to be the first one eliminated from the game?
Zara and Willem continued to trade units at a rapid pace in the contested region around The Hague. They both generated Great Generals on the same turn at one point, as their stacks met and clashed head on. Elsewhere, Justinian did land his Stonehenge Great Prophet and used it for the Buddhist Shrine. There were now two major religious pairings in the game. Justinian and Mehmed were both Buddhist, forming a very powerful duo along the northern edge of the map. The other group was the bizarre match between Hatshepsut and Mansa Musa, both of them solidly Hindu, on complete opposite ends of the map. Weird. Roosevelt remained the only Jewish leader, and I felt that his days were numbered. Even in this fake world, the Jews were the ones being persecuted!
Check out this confusing corner of the map, where the borders of Mansa Musa, Willem, Zara, and Mehmed all ran together. Willem had managed to slip a pair of settlers up here despite his war with Zara, and boosted his city count back up to five once again. Unfortunately, it came at the cost of further border tension with Mansa Musa next door. Zara and even Roosevelt had now joined the Buddhist block of nations, forming a powerful alliance under the control of Justinian. Meanwhile, Mansa Musa sneakily built the Great Lighthouse, a perfect wonder for his economic personality. I expected that this would cause him to emerge as the GNP leader in time.
Sure enough, the aggressive settlements of Willem in the north prompted an immediate response from Mansa Musa. Even with his extremely pacifistic nature, he did not like those cities! This was also a function of Willem being last in power, which heavily weighs into the AI's decision-making when it comes to war. In any case, Willem was now forced to fight two opponents at once, and he appeared to be headed for an early exit. Willem was holding out for now, due to the defenses of his Creative culture. However, it was only a matter of time until his opponents teched to Construction and began building catapults. Hatshepsut was already on her way there, on the other side of the map. Middelburg fell on Turn 99, Mansa's soldiers headed further south, and I continued to wait and watch the ruckus.
Here's where we stood 100 turns into the game. Justinian continued to hold the score lead, with a series of close competitors trailing behind. The entire northern half of the map had mostly been converted to Buddhism at this point, while Hatshepsut had converted the southern half to her Hinduism. None of the other religions had achieved any real following, the world was polarized between the initial two. I was surprised by how low Zara was in score, since he had a large amount of territory. This was due to his low population, as he had only one pre-Calendar happiness resource, and his cities were stunted at low sizes for a long period of time. Zara was finally about to finish that tech and correct this gaping problem of his. At the bottom of the totem pole, Roosevelt somehow continued to survive despite his tiny size, and would even go on to build the Mausoluem (!) I don't know how the other AIs let him achieve that. Willem was holding on for the moment, slowly losing ground, likely to die as soon as catapults appeared on the scene.
Aww yeah, get yer popcorn ready! Justinian declared war on Hatshepsut on Turn 105. Top two leaders on the scoreboard, both the "worst enemy" of the other, getting ready to throw down. We knew this was coming, they both founded their own religions and had a massive shared border with one another. There was no chance that they could stay at peace for the whole game. Justinian's gods demanded it, he had to fight for the one true faith. Hatshepsut was much lower in power at the start of the war, but her situation wasn't all that bad. She had Construction tech already finished, and Justinian did not, so he'd be attacking into Creative culture with no way to drop the defenses. Hatshepsut also had ivory, which meant she only had to research Horseback Riding to be able to field elephants. I wondered if and when she would do so. In any case, this war was going to get very bloody in a hurry.
Over in the west, Mansa took another city from Willem, leaving the Dutch with a mere three again. Willem was having a rough game, to say the least.
I thought Hatty might be able to hold her border city, since it was on a hill and Justinian didn't have any catapults. Nope, it was not to be. Justinian brought a ton of units and simply overwhelmed the Egyptians. I counted 17 swords, 15 axes, 14 chariots, and 6 spears - and that was after many of the initial units died attacking Heliopolis. As they say, quantity has a quality all its own. These units were all double promoted via barracks and Theology civic, making matters that much more dire for Hatshepsut. Was Egypt on the verge of collapsing here?
And apparently the existing wars weren't enough, as Mehmed got into the fray by declaring against Roosevelt. It looked like the dead weight AIs were in the process of being pruned away here, swallowed up by their more powerful neighbors. To make matters worse, both Mehmed and Justinian were now beginning research on Construction, after having researched almost every other tech possible around it. That meant catapults on the way soon, and once the cultural defenses went down, the armageddon clock was ticking for America and Egypt. Atlanta fell to Mehmed on Turn 112, and there wasn't a whole lot behind it. Justinian nearly captured the Egyptian capital the next turn, coming up a few units short. Willem's capital continued to be battered almost every turn by waves of Malinese and Ethiopian units, throwing themselves against its cultural defenses in suicide waves. Seriously, get some catapults, guys!
On the power graph, it was easy to see why Hatshepsut, Roosevelt, and Willem were the ones being targeted. The military strongmen were throwing their weight around. While this was going on, both Hatshepsut and Roosevelt teched to Feudalism, which was a smart move in their situation. I wondered if longbows would be enough to save them. Roosevelt also attempted to build Chichen Itza in his capital, which would at least buy him some more time for defenses to be bombarded away. He didn't make it, as his capital fell on Turn 124 to Mehmed. The Ottomans picked up the Mausoleum in the process as their prize, a very nice souvenir indeed.
In the west, Mansa Musa managed to bully his way through the defenses of Amsterdam by sheer weight of numbers. He still didn't have catapults, he simply overwhelmed the defenders using those triple promoted swords. This broke the back of Willem, and the remainder of the war was consigned to mop-up duty. It only remained to be seen if Mansa or Zara would get those last cities. Mansa Musa was emerging as a huge power in his own right, approaching Justinian and Mehmed at the top of the scoreboard.
Over in Egyptian territory, Justinian failed in his attempt to take Thebes. He knocked the defenses down to zero, and still came up short on the attack. Many, many units died on both sides at the gates of Thebes. Justinian was spending a lot of resources here and not having too much success in his war, probably due to the much greater strength of Hatshepsut compared to Roosevelt and Willem. The power graph showed Justinian taking a real mauling without inflicting much damage back on Hatty. If the stalemate persisted much longer in that conflict, Justinian was going to be surpassed by his other rivals fighting easier wars of conquest.
Willem was finished off on Turn 135, the first leader to exit the game. Willem! I don't think anyone expected that. Mansa Musa claimed nearly all of the spoils of the Dutch war; Zara had been at war for untold centuries, and shed oceans of blood in the battle, yet he wound up with exactly two cities compared to the five captured by Mansa Musa. The Malinese leader was now a true giant, with the whole western coast under his control. In the span of just a dozen turns, he and Mehmed had leaped past Justinian, who was still unsuccessfully sending wave after wave of units into the Egyptian meat grinder. The religious war between Byzantium and Egypt had benefitted precisely no one, dragging them both down into the middle of the pack. Mansa and Mehmed were increasingly leading the bar graphs in all categories.
Roosevelt followed shortly in the wake of Willem. He'd been placed in a bad position from early in the game, and never really recovered. There were now two clear tiers of leaders, Mansa and Mehmed together at the top, and then a drop to the remaining three. Justinian had fallen far from his earlier period of dominance.
The map looked much different at the 150 turn mark compared to 50 turns earlier. Mansa Musa was the big winner in this round of wars, with his annexation of formerly Dutch territory. Mehmed had done nearly as well, and his score would only increase once the American cities came out of resistance and began contributing to his empire. Zara had done a lot of fighting but achieved comparatively little for his efforts. And Justinian and Hatshepsut, the former top two leaders in the game, kept on grinding each other into the dust. Northern Egypt had been devastated by the endless war, heavily pillaged by the Byzantines, the cities on both sides of the border whipped repeatedly. Each leader had comparable technology, and showed no signs of signing a treaty any time soon. True religious fanaticism.
Justinian had been building a whole bunch of wonders in the background while this was going on. He landed the Apostolic Palace, Chichen Itza, the Parthenon, Shwedagon Paya (this one rather amusing since Justinian will never swap out of Theocracy civic), Angkor Wat, and Notre Dame. Justinian also used his many Great Prophets to build the Christian and Taoist shrines, neither of which had any real following. It was debatable how much these wonders were actually helping him, aside from inflating his score tally.
Justinian and Hatshepsut did finally sign a treaty on Turn 153, bringing worldwide peace for the first time in almost 100 turns. They'd have to try and rebuild as best they could from their destructive conflict. In total, Justinian claimed one city from Hatty, the one he took on the second turn of the war. He gained just as much from peaceful means, as Mehmed gifted the culturally crushed city of Boston over to Justinian. The city of Philadelphia to the south was in equally bad shape, controlling only 4 of the 21 tiles in its radius. This was a problem for Mehmed, who had run over Washington without much trouble, but now found that many of his prizes were almost worthless due to neighboring culture. Mansa Musa, in contrast, enjoyed the full value of his Dutch conquests. This appeared to make a major difference.
It looked like we would have a long period of peace now that the world was out of the earlier round of wars. Hatshepsut researched to Divine Right and founded Islam, while Mansa Musa grabbed the Economics Great Merchant and used it to start a Golden Age. Then out of the blue, the war horns sounded again:
Whoa, I wasn't expecting this one. Mehmed declared against Mansa Musa, the top two AIs on the scoreboard and the top two in power rating. This had the possibility of dragging the two of them back to the rest of the field, or potentially seeing a massive juggernaut emerge if one came out on top. Either way, it would be worth watching. Strangely, Mehmed didn't have a huge stack ready to attack upon declaring war. His armies had been over by the Ethiopian border last I saw. Mansa was the one with roughly 60-70 units on his eastern border staring down Mehmed. Mansa seemed to be getting the better of the early fighting, although the presence of a castle in Mehmed's border city of Izmir slowed down his offensive. Both of them were in a Golden Age, popping out units left and right. Mansa had Taj Mahal under construction to trigger a second Golden Age, while Mehmed pushed his research towards Gunpowder. Janissaries should do extremely well against the backwards garbage that the AI always runs around with. I wondered if they would turn the tide here.
Nope, not to be. Mansa Musa and Mehmed signed peace on Turn 173, after just a handful of war turns. What a disappointment. They remained "Furious" with one another though, making a repeat episode likely at some point. Elsewhere, no sooner had the ink dried on their last treaty when Justinian decided to go back to war with Hatshepsut again. I think it was exactly 10 turns since their last treaty. This time Justinian was back with cataphracts in the mix. Lots and lots of cataphracts. Would that make a difference?
Somehow Zara won the Liberalism race - Zara! Mansa Musa had Corporation tech and not Liberalism. I swear, these AIs sometimes...
The secret to Mansa's success: check out that trade route income. Pair that with Financial trait, and you've got a recipe for GNP domination. Spiritual is another strong trait for the AI, since they tend to revolt into new civics every single time they discover them. Non-Spiritual AIs lose a lot of turns to Anarchy. Mansa simply has a trait combination and a flavor emphasis that works well for the AI.
This time the cataphracts made the difference. Even as Mansa Musa completed the Taj Mahal and launched a new Golden Age, Justinian finally scaled the walls of Thebes and took out the Egyptian capital. This left Hapshepsut with six remaining cities, and suddenly looking vulnerable. Perhaps Justinian would claw his way back into the top two spots after all, if he could absorb the rest of Egypt into his empire.
Yeah, that's 25 cataphracts along with another two dozen units on that tile. Justinian wasn't messing around, and he had a unit that was unbeatable against anything before rifles. Poor Hatty still didn't even have Gunpowder tech, much less rifles. Alexandria fell easily the next turn. From there it was on to Elephantine (Turn 194) and then Giza (Turn 196). Justinian was chewing through Egypt much the way that a human would do, attacking in fairly intelligent fashion down the east coast of the continent. Hatshepsut simply had no answer for those cataphracts. Her cities were going down like dominos.
How good are cataphracts? Justinian brute forced this city of Memphis with them, which fell on the next turn. Muskets and longbows, on a hill, with 60% cultural defenses? Not a problem. This was the Hindu, Jewish, and Islamic holy city, with valuable shrines present for the first two religions. 29 gold/turn for the Hindu shrine and 13 gold/turn for the Jewish one. Justinian now controlled all seven holy cities, with shrines present for five of them. Talk about a holy warrior!
In the final days of Egypt's collapse, Mehmed piled on as well with the intent of vulturing a city for himself. The Ottoman main stack had 83 units in it, about two thirds of them cuirassiers and grenadiers. Dear lord. These guys were not playing around. As a result, Mehmed would be the one to deliver the final blow and eliminate Hatshepsut:
That left the game with only four teams remaining. Justinian picked up six high quality cities in this war, bringing him right back into the competition. While Mansa Musa was the clear leader of the pack, and the most likely to take the top spot, Justinian and Mehmed were neck and neck for the second position. Zara Yacob took over the unenviable position as the low man on the totem pole.
Here's the overview map in the wake of Egypt's defeat. But no time for that, as another conflict broke out just as Hatshepsut exited the scene: Zara declared war against Mehmed. What the heck?! That looked like an act of pure suicide to me. Zara had long coveted the city of Philadelphia, the captured American city right on his border, but with the power graph looking like this:
Would you really want to provoke that sleeping bear? Zara tried an attack on the first turn of the war, it didn't work, his oromo warriors against cuirassiers and grenadiers, and then proceeded to curl up in the fetal position as the mighty Ottoman hordes crashed down upon his territory. The first border city fell on Turn 209, and Mehmed continued to advance deeper into the Ethiopian core. This war was admittedly hard to follow, since it was green against green on the minimap. Most of the dying seemed to be on Zara's part from what I could see.
Can you see that stack under the spy? There's about 75 units in there, mostly cuirassiers and grenadiers along with some older stuff. More cuirassiers were running around all over the place, and Zara seemed to have no answer. Why in the world did he start this war again??? Mehmed seemed to be responding to Justinian's successful war by saying, "Oh yeah? Anything you can do, I can do better!" The Buddhist conquerers were kicking some major behind.
Meanwhile, Mansa Musa was quietly surging half an era ahead in tech, getting ready to enter the Modern Age. He landed both Statue of Liberty and Kremlin, his workers were covering the land with railroads, and he was about to discover Assembly Line for factories and infantry. (By the way, he discovered Electricity, Assembly Line, and Combustion BEFORE Rifling. Dat AI tech path!) I was really wondering at this point how the game was going to end. Would Mansa go for space? Would one of the Buddhist brothers try to win via domination? Still so many questions to be answered.
Turn 220 saw both Justinian and Zara discover Rifling tech. I wondered if access to defensive rifles would give Zara the ability to hold out longer; he was really taking it on the chin up to this point, having lost three cities and essentially the eastern half of his original core. Then again, Mehmed had grenadiers in huge numbers, which meant that even rifles might be of limited use. The main Ottoman stack was approaching 45 cuirassiers, and even rifles weren't going to do much about that.
By Turn 230, Zara's empire was in full collapse mode. All of his outer ring of cities had fallen, from Lalibela in the east to Avar in the northwest. Zara was left with only his two original cities, and the three cities he had taken from the Dutch so long ago. If he couldn't get peace soon, he'd be entering the dustbin of history. I wondered if this decimated civ would prove a tasty meal for Mansa Musa and prompt him to enter the war too. Mansa was running around with infantry and machine guns and artillery, so he'd have his pick of any cities he wanted if he chose to join the dogpile.
Over the next two dozen turns, Mehmed continued relentlessly devouring the rest of Zara's formerly great empire. Justinian actually passed Mehmed in score at one point, only to be passed again as Mehmed's conquests pushed him ahead once more. The earlier Ottoman cuirassiers had all been replaced by cavs now, while Zara's technology was no longer advancing as his civilization dissolved around him. This would have gone much faster if the AI didn't insist on bombing down city defenses every single time, even when there were scores of units outside a city defended by five rifles. I'm not exaggerating about that either - I counted the main Ottoman stack, and it had 125 units in it, with about 70 cavs and 50 grenadiers along with a few siege units. Big stacks.
While this was going on, Justinian declared war on Mansa Musa. They didn't have any way to reach one another, and I saw little action between the two before they signed peace a few turns later. A war between Mansa and Mehmed, that would be the real deal. I'm not sure that would be a war that Mehmed would want either, since Mansa Musa was a full era ahead in tech by now, with air power and tanks galore. Rifles and cavs pale in comparison to 20th century tech.
Speak of the devil... Just as Zara was down to two cities and seemed certain to exit the game, fate intervened on his side. Mansa Musa declared war on Mehmed, setting up the endgame showdown that everyone wanted to see. Mehmed's superstack moved into Malinese territory, on the jungle tile highlighted above. Mansa's stack was inside Middelburg, much smaller but more technologically advanced. Mansa was actually higher in power by a good margin, and had the advantage of air power in addition to tanks. He even had the utterly broken mobile artillery, having already researched The Laser tech (!) Wow.
Within a few turns, it became clear that the war was not going well for the Ottoman side. Their massive 100+ unit superstack moved into Mansa's territory, then seemed to get stuck there and camped out on top of a jungle hill. I guess they were trying to heal there, but that simply wasn't going to happen, and instead they were flayed by air strikes repeatedly. Artillery and mobile artillery added more collateral damage, with the attacking units normally surviving to heal and fight another day. I was watching the size of the stack, and every turn a few more units died. Down to 80 units, then down to 60 units, and so on. Meanwhile, Mansa's attack forces were capturing back many of the Ottomans gains taken in the war against Zara. These recent additions to Mehmed's territory lacked cultural defenses, and were easy prey for tank columns. Finally Mansa moved out his own main stack of doom, and the Mehmed super stack was simply gone. One turn it was there, the next turn it wasn't. That was at least 50 units dead in a single turn. The power graph told the story:
Yikes. Zara and his two little cities were completely forgotten now. (Mansa actually gifted The Hague back to Zara eventually, taking him back up to three cities. Heh.) The situation had completely reversed from just ten turns earlier, with Mehmed now the one in full collapse mode. His Ethiopian conquests were knocked over like bowling pins in rapid succession, taken out by fast moving tank divisions with support from bombers and mobile artillery. (Imagine catapults that move at the same speed as horse archers - that's what those things are like!) Now Justinian was back into second place again as Mehmed's score continued to collapse. What an insane game!
But Mansa Musa still hadn't won this game yet. Even as his unstoppable military tore its way across the continent, destroying everything in its way, Mansa rather foolishly built the United Nations. This immediately backfired, as Justinian was his opponent and everyone else voted for the Byzantine emperor. If Justinian called a vote for the Diplomatic victory condition, he would almost surely win... unless Mansa could capture enough cities from Mehmed to reach a population block in the voting. Much was going to depend on what resolutions the silly AI programming decided to put up for a vote. Were they going to waste time with those civic resolutions and unified currency and such nonsense? Even more insane, Mansa was liberating many of these cities back to Zara, someone who had voted AGAINST him in the UN earlier. Ethiopia was magically being restored from the dead! I don't even have words to describe this madness.
The first vote was for Universal Suffrage civic. It passed with everyone voting for it, no attempt at diplo victory yet. The next couple votes were also for more civics resolutions, as my one city observer civ suddenly found itself in Environmentalism, Emancipation, and so on. More Ottoman cities continued to fall, more cities continued to be gifted back to Zara. He was up to 6 cities now, simply amazing. Mansa was keeping the Ottoman core cities that he took though, so he was still gaining from this conflict. All that we needed now was for the other Buddhist brother to get involved...
There we go, now it was a real party. Waves of Byzantine cavalry charged across the border; there were roughly 100 cavs in that screenshot above, including one super stack with 70 inside. Justinian had his own air power, with fighters and bombers at his disposal, but unfortunately he had neglected to research Assembly Line, and therefore had no factories or infantry. Mansa had just completed researching Fusion tech, and needed only six or seven more techs to complete the entire tree. I did not see Justinian changing the outcome of this war, to say the least. Lots of horses going to the glue factory to little effect.
Justinian did take over some of Mansa's recent conquests in Ethiopian territory; amazingly he also liberated some of them back to Zara. (That was an Ethiopian city captured by the Ottomans, then the Malinese, then the Byzantines, then liberated back to Ethiopia.) His cavs got in some good shots, and much blood was spilled. However, the main Justinian stack met with the main Mansa stack face to face, and it was the Byzantine stack that was wiped out. As I suspected, it was not enough to turn the tide of the war. True, Justinian and Mehmed both researched their way to Assembly Line, and began getting their own infantry and factories ready. Unfortunately for them, Mansa Musa had now completed the whole tree, and began sending out mechanized infantry and modern armor. This was even worse than the previous situation! Not good for the Buddhist clan.
This was the heavily fought over Ottoman territory. One thing that I should mention is just how damaged the land would get with every war. The AI pillages with units and bombards with air strikes like crazy, churning up the land everywhere. With so much death and carnage all over the place, workers had little time to repair the damage. Only when the front lines moved elsewhere could they begin to repair and repatch the terrain.
By the time that the UN Secretary-General elections rolled around again, the Mansa/Zara coalition had gained enough votes to take the chairman position away from Justinian. Would Mansa propose something more useful than the earlier civics resolutions? For some unknown reason, Mansa kept running his enormous stack in circles for some time, not advancing on any Ottoman cities even though he could easily take them. I have no idea what he was doing. War weariness may have been part of the problem, as Mansa had very heavy war weariness and could not go to Police State civic, due to the Universal Suffrage UN resolution that had already been passed. Mansa signed peace with Justinian eventually, probably to help alleviate some of this unhappiness. He continued to beat on Mehmed like a piņata, finally beginning to advance again once he had peace with Justinian. Maybe that triggered something in the cold circuits of his AI logic, who knows. Mansa seemed to get serious around Turn 310, plowing over one city after another. Zara even redeclared war on Mehmed in the final stages - Zara! Back from the grave like a zombie! He didn't capture anything, but it had to feel good for Ethiopia, getting a measure of revenge on his would-be conquerer.
The final blow fell on Turn 319:
It looked for much of the game that Mehmed was a near certainty to take the second spot and move on to the next round. Instead, he became the fourth leader to be eliminated, just another relic of the past. That left us with Mansa Musa in a vicegrip on first place, Justinian a bit further behind... and Zara still there, clinging to the third place spot. Zara! Thanks to liberations, he had NINE cities and was back to his full original core. What a bizarre game.
Mansa Musa had of course already finished the tech tree, and he was in the process of completing the final spaceship pieces. Mansa had canceled and restarted his spaceship parts so many times, he could have launched significantly faster if he'd had any clue what he was doing. Sometimes watching the AI is painful. Still, the spaceship was set to blast off on Turn 326... only Mansa finally called a Diplomatic victory vote, and won that instead on Turn 322.
I guess liberating all those Ethiopian cities wasn't a total waste after all, since Zara's votes just barely put Mansa Musa over the top. Freaking Zara, unbelievable.
Mansa Musa would have been close to Domination if he had kept the Ethiopian cities that he took from Mehmed, instead of liberating them back to Zara. He ended up at roughly 45% land area, and he needed 62% to win via that condition. Note the Manhattan Project under construction as well, Mansa had started and canceled that thing at halfway complete status at least five different times. I'd been wondering if we would see a nuclear fireworks show, but it never materialized. Justinian wasn't all that far behind in tech at the end of the game, note how he's building modern armor and researching Superconductor. While he never would have beaten Mansa to a spaceship win, Justinian finished in a very solid second place, much closer to the winner than Brennus compared to Suryavarman in the first game.
Then there was Zara, the only other survivor of this bloodbath. He was down to just two cities at one point, Nijemegan and Adulis in former Dutch territory. You can see that Nijmegan is still his capital, a relic of those dark days. If Mehmed had been only slightly faster in his conquest, Zara would have been eliminated, and then Mansa Musa likely would have won by Domination. Instead, Zara clung to life and managed to see his entire core gifted back to him over time through the liberation mechanic. Simply incredible. He's at least in the running for a wildcard spot now, although I think we'll see more deserving entries from other games. That's more than Mehmed or the others can say, none of whom have a chance to move on. If you can't prevent your civilization from dying, you don't deserve to advance to the playoffs. This is a "Survivor" competition, after all.
Here are the final Demographics from Mansa Musa's point of view. Yes, he did lead in everything, but not by nearly as much as Suryavarman in our last game. Justinian was a strong second place finisher.
1) Mansa Musa
3) Zara Yacob
Two games in the books now, Mansa Musa and Justinian join Suryavarman and Brennus in the winner's circle. Game three will be coming up next in a couple of days.