Civ4 AI Survivor: Game Eight

This is it, the eighth and final opening round game before we move on to the playoff round. These leaders have been eagerly waiting in the wings for their chance to take the main stage. It's kind of a strange mixture here, I can't see any obvious common tie that links these leaders together. Three of them come from the Warlords expansion, I guess that's something? In any case, here's our final group of competitiors.


Asoka is the less famous of the two Indian leaders, also probably the leader most commonly thought to be a member of the opposite sex. I can't even remember how many people on the CivFanatics forums thought that Asoka was a woman, it must be the long hair. Anyway, Asoka has Spiritual and Organized traits, a pretty nice pairing with good economic benefit. He has the Fast Worker unique unit and the Mausoleum unique building, both of them well above average for unique replacements. When played as an AI, Asoka heavily favors religion and culture. He has religion and science flavors for his research, and with Mysticism as a starting tech, Asoka will very commonly found his own faith at the start of the game. Asoka AI also likes to demand that others convert to his religion (8/10 rating), loves to build wonders (8/10), and doesn't hold much interest in units (2/10). Asoka has a low aggression rating at 3.7 out of 10, and he's considered to be a "Good" leader on the peace weight alignment scale. Asoka is another one of those AIs who will do very well if left alone, but has a tendency to get run over by more militaristic leaders when he focuses too much on religions and wonders. Either case could play out here.


Bismarck has been played quite a bit in our Multiplayer events, especially in smaller Play By Email games, when he can be paired in an unrestricted combination with civs like India or Mali. Bismarck has Expansive and Industrious traits, meaning that he's virtually guaranteed an early wonder of his choice if played correctly. The combination of cheap granaries and cheap forges can also be very strong. Bismarck is unfortunately tied in this game to the German civilization, which has two very late unique items in the Panzer and the Assembly Plant. They usually arrive too late to matter. Bismarck the AI only has one research flavor: MILITARY. Unlike some of the other suicidally aggressive AI leaders with this flavor, however, Bismarck is much more balanced in his preferences. His aggression rating is just a touch below average at 5.6 out of 10, and he's right in the middle of the peace weight scale. Bismarck AI also has middle of the road ratings for wonders and units, both of them sitting at 6/10. In other words, Bismarck will heavily emphasize military techs, but he won't be as crazy in declaring war as someone like Shaka or Montezuma. This setup may suit him well. We'll see if Bismarck AI can play a savvy game of realpolitik.


Churchill is another candidate for the worst trait pairing in Civ4. He has the thoroughly awful Charismatic and Protective duo, a combination that offers no economic advantages and very little in the way of direct combat power either. It's not exactly a power combo. Churchill is the third English leader that we've seen, bringing once more the powerful Redcoat and Stock Exchange. As an AI personality, Churchill has military and gold flavors. His numbers are fairly average for the most part, although it's worth noting that Churchill disdains wonders (2/10 rating) and likes to spend on espionage (7/10). He has a moderate aggression rating at 4.3 out of 10, and a neutral standing in peace weight. Churchill is fairly bland as an AI leader, there isn't a whole lot that makes him stand out from the crowd. He'll have to play a strong game to overcome the weakness of those pathetic traits.


Cyrus finds himself in the role of another leader who had his traits changed in Civ4's expanions, and not for the better. Cyrus now has Charismatic and Imperialistic traits, a weak pairing that doesn't offer too much in the way of economy. It does let him get off to a decently fast start, but there are other leaders who fulfill the same role and do it better. Cyrus brings along the Persian civilization's Immortal unique unit and Apothecary unique building. Neither one has ever impressed me very much, not unless you're abusing AI archers on Marathon game speed with immortals. Cyrus AI has military and growth flavors for his research. He's a surprisingly aggressive leader (rating 7/10), although this is tempered somewhat by Cyrus' love of wonders (8/10). This mixture doesn't really make that much sense, and we saw earlier how Gilgamesh AI struggled with a similar setup. Cyrus has a low peace weight, one point above leaders like Catherine and Stalin from our last game. He will be predisposed to dislike someone with high peace weight, such as Asoka. I honestly don't have a whole lot more to say about Cyrus, he's somewhat aggressive but not enough to be interesting like Ragnar or Temujin.


Hannibal has one of the weaker Financial pairings, mixing the game's best trait along with Charismatic. It's... OK, I guess? None of the three extra traits added in the expansions have ever been that interesting, although I think we need to thank Firaxis for not doing the typical expansion thing and making all the new traits super overpowered. Hannibal is the only leader of the Carthaginians in Civ4, who have the Numidian Cavalry unique unit and the Cothon unique building. These ones are fairly average, not too weak or too strong. The Hannibal AI was apparently programmed from a Roman point of view, as Hannibal is clearly considered to be a villain with this setup. (I guess the winners do write the histories in this case.) Hannibal AI has military and gold flavors. He doesn't bother with wonders much (2/10), his unit emphasis is slightly above average (6/10), and Hannibal is notably above average in aggression rating (7/10). Hannibal AI gets rated as an "Evil" leader via peace weight, which is kind of unfair to him historically. In any case, he'll be a likely figure to stir up some trouble in this game, particularly if he starts near one of the leaders on the opposite end of the alignment scale.

Mao Zedong

Mao is one of the best leaders in the game to be saddled with the Protective trait. He pairs it alongside Expansive, so at least Mao gets one excellent trait to play around with. His Chinese civilization has the Cho-Ko-Nu unique unit and the Pavilion unique building. The AI probably doesn't build enough crossbows to make this too useful, although they will get the free Protective promotions if they show up. As an AI, Mao has the unusual distinction of being the leader who cares the least about religion in the whole game. He attaches almost no benefit or malus to shared/separate religion, and Mao has a rating of 0/10 for "Demand You Convert to His Religion." He simply doesn't care. Mao has growth and production research flavors, a very unusual combination. I'm curious to see what kind of route through the tech tree that produces. Mao AI doesn't focus too much on wonders either (2/10), but he does have a soft spot for espionage (8/10). He is slightly below average in aggression rating (5.7 out of 10), and Mao is considered to be an "Evil" leader by peace weight. It's actually a very low number, only one tick above Montezuma (and De Gaulle, heh) for the lowest spot possible. Someone at Firaxis was not a fan of the Cultural Revolution, and probably with good reason. In any case, Mao is made rather unique by his disdain for religion, his unusual research flavors, and his extremely low peace weight. What that means in the context of this game though, I have no idea.

Wang Kon

Wang Kon is the other Protective leader with a second good trait, in this case pairing it with the Financial trait. This is almost enough to make Wang Kon a viable leader in our events. Almost, but not quite. (Side note: the way that Firaxis gave the Protective trait to a bunch of Asian leaders is arguably racist, and at the very least in rather bad taste. We've got Churchill and Charlemagne as Protective leaders, and then Gilgamesh, Mao, Qin, Saladin, Sitting Bull, Tokugawa, and Wang Kon. This deserved a little bit more tact.) Wang Kon is the only Korean leader, and has the Hwacha and Seowon unique items. These both work rather well in the hands of the AI, especially the hwacha since the AI loves to build catapults in vast numbers. Wang Kon AI has gold and science flavors, a clear economic emphasis for his research. He is very average in all of his ratings, although Wang's aggression rating is higher than you might expect at 6.1 out of 10. In every other way he's a peaceful economic guy, but not that one. Wang Kon has a high peace rating as "Good" leader, same as Asoka. He could develop and become a major force in this game if he's able to avoid some of the more testy leaders at the other end of the peace weight scale.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Normally this is where I would try to preview the game and outline what I think is going to happen. However, I genuinely have no clue what we're going to see in this game. We have a more or less totally random collection of leaders here with no unifying theme behind them. They could take this game in almost any direction once it gets underway. Rather than prattling on, let's go ahead and get started. It's our final match of the opening round - who's going on to the playoffs?

The map itself was one of the more unusual ones that I rolled during these games. After a lot of rejects, I found this one with the land stretched out into a twisty snake-like setup. Normally I have to pass on these continents, since they tend to be heavily unbalanced in favor of one starting position or another. This one actually had all of the AI leaders beginning in reasonably balanced locations, good enough for us to keep this map. I wondered how things would play out here as opposed to the more blob-like setups that we normally use. Would that make the game more peaceful, or less peaceful?

Mao surprised me by founding his second city with the free Deity settler on Turn 4. That was the earliest I had seen to date in any of the eight games. Normally the AI will settle around Turn 6 or 7. There were other important developments taking place within the first ten turns elsewhere. Hannibal sent his settler straight south, and Churchill sent his settler straight north, on a direct collision course with one another. Hannibal settled his city first, possibly winning the spot due to turn order, and that left Churchill in a rough position. Everyone else had their second city down on Turn 6, while poor Churchill was still wandering around with his extra settler for a long time afterwards. He moved it all the way back into the capital again! Sheesh. It sat there for a turn, then began slowing moving south. It still wasn't planted yet on Turn 12, when I took this overview picture:

Talk about a disaster for Churchill. This was the worst opening I had seen from any leader to date. Churchill would finally get his second city down the next turn, to the southwest of London in a big patch of wines. Making matters worse, Hannibal would win the Buddhism race on Turn 13, founding the religion in his second city right on the border with London. I was pretty surprised that Hannibal took the first religion despite not starting with Mysticism tech, over Asoka and Wang Kon who both did. Asoka and Cyrus both raced to Polytheism tech as soon as Buddhism had been taken, and much to my surprise, Cyrus was the one who won that tussel. This meant that both of the early religions went to non-Mysticism leaders on the western edge of the map, leaving Asoka and Wang Kon locked out for the moment. There was no way that would last; we were certainly going to have a three or four religion game here. Sure enough, Asoka followed up his failed Polytheism research with an immediate push on to Monotheism. Interesting, very interesting.

Asoka was looking pretty good over here in the very early stages. He managed to get his coveted early religion, and missing out on Buddhism / Hinduism prevented them from spreading to his neighbors. Now everyone over here in the east would likely be Jewish. Notice that Asoka founded Judaism on this turn and also landed a free spread into his third city at the exact same time. That's possible due to the way how religious spread is calculated, always looks weird though. In the west, Churchill somehow managed to get his third city out before Hannibal and Cyrus despite the extremely late second city. (To be fair, both of them founded their third city the next turn.) Bismarck was the one lagging the most on expansion now, apparently not sure where to send his settler.

Asoka was the first to four cities, hitting the mark before Bismarck hit his third. The German leader eventually settled far to the northeast, in a patch of floodplains and gold resources. Good stuff if he could manage to hold that location long term. Wang Kon went after an early Stonehenge, and he would eventually land that one. Hannibal favored the Great Wall instead:

Look at Churchill getting horribly squeezed again by Hannibal's culture. The two of them were already "Annoyed" with one another, and this seemed a likely ground for our first conflict. It could also appear on the other side of the Carthaginian empire too, since Cyrus was the Hindu founder, and none too pleased with Hannibal either. He'd stepped on a lot of toes in his immediate neighborhood already. Meanwhile, Bismarck was sitting in last place in score, struggling to build cities. I don't know why, his land was quite strong, with corn + pigs + iron at the capital and lots of hills to mine. Barbarians couldn't be that much of a problem, not with the Deity combat bonuses, right?

The map was effectively split into eastern and western halves by this patch of rough territory and the presence of these barbarian cities. They were blocking too much interaction between the two AI groups, and the leaders in this area had both expanded mostly in the opposite direction. Eventually though, these cities would go down and we'd start to see some more contact between Mao and Bismarck. Who captured these barb cities would have a pretty big impact on the ultimate fate of this region.

Wow, quite a settling race down here at the South Pole between Churchill and Mao. I'm not sure why they prioritized this area so much, but they certainly wanted this land for themselves. Making this situation even more complex was the lack of Open Borders between any of these AI leaders. I've noticed this in game after game after game, none of the AIs prioritize Writing tech in their research. They'll go deep into the religious part of the tree, and they love to pick up Iron Working, but they'll all skip Writing until they have no other choice. It must have a very low weight in their flavor system. Anyway, this means that no one can sign Open Borders in the early landgrab phase, and no one can pass through the territory of another nation. A city like Chengdu can find itself suddenly cut off from the rest of its civilization. All of this creates a lot of border tension. How much longer could the peace hold?

Asoka was on a wonder building spree at the moment. He had a marble resource near his start, and turned that into the Temple of Artemis and the Oracle, grabbing Monarchy with the free tech. Asoka was also going for the Pyramids, but without stone and with a lot of competition, I didn't think that he'd manage to land that one. Time would tell. Then the war horns suddenly blared for the first time this game:

Hannibal going after Churchill. Their shared Buddhist faith was not enough to overcome their border tensions and difference in peace weight. The attack at Hastings went on for three straight turns, with the defenders slowly getting cleared out one by one. Hannibal finally captured the city on Turn 77 with a single attacker remaining. (Churchill took it back on the interturn, only to see it go over once more to Hannibal.) Given the difficulty of attacking into a Protective leader at this stage of the game (with walls everywhere and no catapults), I didn't expect Hannibal to make much more headway in this conflict. What would really shake things up would be an intervention by Mao or Cyrus. If either leader suddenly turned this into a 2 vs. 1 war, then we might start to see a real shakeup.

This was the overview situation after 80 turns of play. Most of the land was claimed by now, and the only city to change hands via war so far was the unfortunate Hastings. Asoka was the clear leader at the moment, with the top score, his own self-founded religion, and several wonders. Asoka was second in GNP behind Wang Kon and tied with Cyrus for first in Food. Everyone was heavily bunched in military power, no one too far ahead or too far behind. Cyrus and Hannibal were effectively tied for second place behind Asoka, powered along by their religions. I expected the two of them to clash violently at some point, and the winner of that duel to emerge as one of the game's true giants. Wang Kon was doing very economically, but he was out of land to expand and had few prospects for more cities. If he could somehow take some land away from Asoka or Bismarck, then he'd be in a very strong position. Churchill was also heavily squeezed down there in the southwest, only with a far weaker economy. He seemed likely to be on the losing end of the conflicts in that part of the world, putting up a good fight in the process but eventually falling apart. As for Mao, his score was low because his economy was not in very good shape, but I liked his longer term prospects. Mao had a lot of cities in the center of the map, and they'd eventually start to pay off. He had picked up almost all of the barbarian spoils in that region. Finally, Bismarck was still in last place, his territory stretched out in a weird north-south line. I still didn't understand why he'd been struggling in this game. There was no reason to perform this poorly given his excellent traits and good solid surrounding land. Too many problems with barbarians, I guess?

The Pyramids eventually were taken by Hannibal, as expected. He would use them to revolt into Representation civic, one that tends to help the AI since it loves running specialists so much. The final barbarian city in the middle of the map (Zhou) would end up going not to Mao or Bismarck. Instead, it was captured by... Wang Kon?! That was certainly unexpected. I wondered what sort of trouble this would get Wang into. It was about a thousand miles away from the rest of his cities. Then about five turns later, Confucianism was founded in that isolated city of Zhou. It popped up there because all of the other Korean cities were thoroughly Jewish:

With so much shared faith between these three leaders, it seemed unlikely any of them would go to war with one another. For the moment they were all "Pleased" with one another, which ruled out any war declaration from Asoka or Wang Kon. However, Bismarck will declare war at Pleased relations (as you would expect from his historical personality), so there was still the potential for some action in the east. Maybe Bismarck would pick his spot here at some point.

Hannibal built the Hanging Gardens on Turn 92, putting his stone to more good use. He also signed a treaty with Churchill the same turn, bringing the world back to peaceful coexistance. Amusingly enough, Churchill had recaptured Hastings on the previous interturn, only to give the city right back in the peace agreement. Why Churchill, why? You took the city back on the field of battle! I don't get the AI sometimes.

Now Churchill had another headache to deal with, as Mao decided to attack from the other side of his territory. Note that Mao had converted to Confucianism for the moment; the free Confucian missionary from Wang Kon's nearby holy city had moved and converted Beijing to the religion, and that was enough to prompt the swap. No idea how much longer Mao would stick with this minority world religion. As for the invasion, Mao was obviously targeting the city of Nottingham that jutted out into Chinese territory, but I wasn't sure how much success Mao would have here. That spot had city walls and a lot of defenders inside. Furthermore, Churchill had researched to an early Feudalism, and had longbows defending his cities. Protective longbows at that. Mao was researching Construction, and he'd need catapults if he expected to pull off a city capture. Lots and lots of catapults

While Mao and Churchill traded units in the south, Cyrus had quietly taken over the top position in score. This was largely due to size, as he had 10 cities now and Asoka only had 5 cities to his name. The Indian leader was still cranking out the wonders, building the Mausoleum and using a Great Prophet for the Jewish Shrine. Later he added the Hagia Sophia and the Apostolic Palace. Still, he was going to need to pick up some more territory somewhere if he wanted to be a true powerhouse, and I wasn't sure that I saw Asoka being aggressive enough to do that. Cyrus was building units in all of his cities, and his power had been exploding on the bar graphs. I figured it was only a matter of time until he declared war on someone, with Hannibal being by far the most likely target.

This was certainly unexpected. Wang Kon going to war agaist Mao?! Was Wang going to carve out a pocket of territory for himself on the other side of the map? Tianjin only had two archers on defense and was bowled over easily (after Wang slowly bombed out the walls with hwachas over many turns, of course!) making this a successful surprise attack. I had no idea where Wang Kon was going to go from here.

What in the world?! I'd been watching Cyrus slowly walk his army across the map for the last dozen or so turns. First I thought he had to be going after Hannibal, nope. Then I thought it must be Mao who was the target, also not the case. Instead, Cyrus wanted to cross half of the continent to go attack Korea?! Huh? I guess it had to be a peace weight and separate religion thing, but this was really bizarre. Cyrus actually had units trickling across Carthaginian and Chinese territory in small stacks, all strung out in a line. Persia was highly vulnerable to an attack if Hannibal decided to try something, with units so far away from home. Cyrus was in first place by a mile in power on the charts, so I didn't think this would end up going too well for Wang Kon. Zhou went down almost immediately to the Persian assault. What a strange history that former barbarian city had gone through in this game.

Cyrus and Wang Kon continued to trade units in the area surrounding the two former barbarian cities. Cyrus captured Tianjin, but then Wang's Korean reinforcements made their way down from the north and retook Zhou. Churchill and Mao also continued their war, still with no cities having changed hands on either side. Then I noticed a big stack of Indian units creeping its way across the map. Oh no, not more of this craziness! Where was Asoka sending his units? It turned out that Hannibal was the target, in another one of these conflicts that made no strategic sense. Then Bismarck declared war on Hannibal the same turn. Bismarck! This was our diplomatic situation:

Everyone was fighting at least one other leader. Most of these wars were taking place between eastern and western leaders. We had a group of high peace weight + Jewish leaders over in the east, contending against a group of low peace weight + Buddhist leaders in the west. Was this another Cold War on our hands here? It was utterly baffling to watch so many units trudging through neutral territory to go fight wars on the other side of the earth. What's going on in this game?!?

All sides were running around with elephants in large numbers. Ivory was common on this map, and those who didn't have it were able to secure it in trades from those who did. My observer civ was asked to join these conflicts constantly, three different times on a single interturn once. Stop whining you guys, argh! Many of these wars were more for show than anything else, not too much fighting actually taking place. The Indian stack tried to move into Carthaginian territory, only to get wiped out to a man in enemy territory. Not exactly surprising given their respective geographic positions. The biggest battle took place at Zhou (again that city!) where the main Cyrus army clashed head to head with the main Wang Kon army. The Koreans were decisively beaten and lost this engagement, which boded ill for their chances to retake Zhou or Tianjin. Here's what the military overlay looked like:

Pure chaos. It didn't help either that the Persian and Korean colors were nearly the same shade of turquoise. I didn't think we'd see much interaction between their civs when I rolled the map, apparently they just couldn't avoid fighting! The minimap was a constant impressionist painting of different colors, all swirled together as the units blended with one another. China in particular had so many nations clashing inside its borders that it was nearly impossible to tell what was going on. Cyrus and Wang Kon fought on the plains of Germany, Asoka and Hannibal battled across the hills and valleys of China. Mao and Churchill were the only ones fighting a war that made any sense, still locked in stalemate on their mutual border. Mao could not crack the defenses of Nottingham, and none of Churchill's attacks ever seemed to make much progress. Churchill was all defense, no offense. Engineering tech was now popping up in the hands of most of the leaders, and castle defenses made invasions that much more difficult. Well over 100 turns passed now, and still no leaders eliminated, or even coming close to elimination. What an odd game.

Finally some of the leaders began to drop out of these destructive conflicts. Bismarck called off his phony war with Hannibal without ever doing any fighting that I could see. That was a purchased war alliance from Asoka, and one thing I've noticed is that the AI often doesn't fight very hard when bought into a war. They look to make peace as soon as possible when they're merely going through the motions.

150 turns played thus far, and very little decided for the game as a whole. I can't recall any of the previous seven games reaching this point without having at least one leader dead or dying. This one was a struggle to figure out. Cyrus was in the lead for score, and his civilization also held the top spot in food and power. The Persians were only in the middle of the pack with GNP though, and their long running war against Wang Kon hadn't served much of a purpose that I could see. Cyrus had picked up those two little cities in the middle of the map, and that was it. I continued to be amazed that Cyrus and Hannibal had never gone to war over their religious differences. Bismarck had risen from early game irrelevance into second place, a real surprise with this group. That was largely due to the way in which Bismarck had avoided warfare for the most part, while everyone else sacrificed units in largely pointless bloodletting. I wondered if and when Bismarck would make his next big move. Asoka was holding onto third place by virtue of his excellent GNP; it was a competition between Asoka or Bismarck for the Liberalism race. The two of them had also landed most of the recent wonders, with Asoka taking the Parthenon, Shwedagon Paya, and the Sistine Chapel. Bismarck had built the Colossus, the Statue of Zeus, the Great Lighthouse, the Great Library, and Notre Dame. All of them were probably more useful for score points than anything else, although Asoka had taken advantage of Shwedagon Paya to adopt Free Religion civic.

As for the rest, they were largely being dragged down by endless warring that produced no tangible results. We know how badly the AI tends to perform in standard wars, when sieging cities located right on their borders. At least in these cases they can reinforce their attacking forces while they slowly bombard down city defenses. In this situation, however, the AI leaders had to march so far away that they struggled to reinforce their invasions, and their units were often outdated by the time they reached their intended target. Endless units were dying, but the map itself was static, no cities changing hands. If anyone was going to crack, it would probably be Churchill, since he'd been fighting for almost 100 turns now and had only five cities to his name. But with Protective trait and castles everywhere, nothing much was happening. Maybe we'd have to wait for cannons to arrive to see things start to move. What a weird game.

Finally a breakthrough eight turns later. After endless centuries of struggle, Mao finally broke through at Nottingham. He removed the defenses with his catapults and then captured the lightly defended city with a bunch of swords and horse archers. This was a crushing blow for Churchill, who was reduced to four remaining cities, and one of them a fairly useless iceball location in the extreme south. Mao had been able to secure a peace treaty with Wang Kon a little bit earlier, and I think that helped him focus his units more clearly on his western neighbor. Now it might only be a matter of time for the English leader.

On the next turn, Cyrus and Wang Kon finally brough their strange war to its conclusion. Cyrus had actually been sieging one of the Korean core cities in the far northeast when they signed their treaty. While peace reigned for now, there was a lot of built up hatred on both sides. I figured we'd see more conflict between East and West before this game was over. Now the only wars remaining were the largely fake Hannibal vs. Asoka conflict, and the much more interesting Mao vs. Churchill struggle. Outside of the wars, Bismarck made news by being the first to Liberalism. He used it to take Gunpowder tech, ha! Never seen that one before. It made sense give Bismarck's research flavor though, all military stuff all the time. Bismarck would be very dangerous if he chose to attack someone here, and he wasn't diplomatically constrained from doing so with anyone. All of his neighbors were fair game.

Well speak of the devil. I did not write that previous section after the fact, it just worked out as a perfect little bit of foreshadowing. Bismarck chose an excellent moment for his attack on Cyrus, waiting until after the Persians were tired from a long battle and then slipping in to go after these distant colonies. Cyrus had a huge army though, so this wasn't going to be a slam dunk. In fact, despite what this screenshot might suggest, Cyrus actually took on this attacking force and slaughtered it in a very large battle outside Tianjin. Wow. Quite a reversal there. Bismarck finished the Taj Mahal for his free Golden Age at the same time, and this was not going to be over quickly, but Cyrus had withstood the first blow.

Periodic Indian stacks kept walking over to Hannibal's territory to get dumped on by the Carthaginians. I still couldn't understand why Asoka didn't sign peace, those little ministacks were never going to accomplish anything. Asoka needed to pick a different target, or start pushing for a Cultural victory, or something else. In the ongoing Mao vs. Churchill war, the English had lost another city, York going down to a Chinese assault on Turn 175. London was also under siege now, and it seemed like only a matter of time until Churchill became the first to be eliminated. He'd even lost access to metals now, and was reduced to building horse archers and longbows. Not good. And then for no reason, with Churchill completely on the ropes, Mao signed peace and let him off the hook. Completely inexplicable decision, what the heck. London would have fallen in a few more turns, and then Mao's victory would have been certain. What were you thinking, dude?!

There was a huge battle outside Cologne where Cyrus came up just short of taking the city. There were five or six heavily injured defenders in there at the end, with the city holding on by the skin of Bismarck's teeth. Taking that spot would have been a massive gain for Cyrus; instead, the endless stalemate continued in this game. Bismarck had a slight tech advantage, cuirassiers to lots of knights on the part of Cyrus, but now the Persian leader was heading for Military Science and grenadiers. That might be enough to turn the tide, although he'd have to rebuild much of his army after the devastating losses in German territory.

Then, in the "I'm too stupid to live" department, Churchill decided to take a swing at Hannibal. Yes, you read that correctly. No, it wasn't the other way around. Churchill declared war on Hannibal, who was far stronger than him in every conceivable Demographics category. This was done by the machinations of Asoka, who bought Churchill into the war against the Carthaginian leader. Still, no amount of binge drinking on the part of Churchill should have been enough to get him to agree. Don't you see what you've done, Churchill? You've doomed your people to certain death! Doooooooooooooooooooooooomed!

Cyrus and Bismarck eventually signed peace with one another. Net result of the war: zero cities changing hands. So many conflicts between leaders without any kind of resolution taking place. I have to admit, it's been hard writing about this game. Normally some kind of obvious narrative starts to appear over time as the game goes on. This one though, it's complete chaos everywhere. Reporting on the action has been harder than expected.

Well that was shocking. Just shocking, I tell you. Hannibal eventually captured London from Churchill, something that everyone other than Churchill must have seen coming a mile away. Asoka had even bought Wang Kon into the war against Hannibal again, although Wang seemed to have little interest in fighting from what I could tell. All of those bribed wars started by India were wracking up some serious diplomatic penalties, Hannibal had a score of -17 with Asoka. You almost never see the AI reach a score that low. As for Churchill, he had two cities left, and continued to take a curb-stomping from his neighbors. It had been a rough game for England, under assault seemingly from the opening five turns of the game. Churchill needed better traits to turn around the unfriendly environment, ones that he simply didn't have. All that Protective does is make a losing struggle take longer to close out.

In Churchill's final days, he was attacked by both Bismarck and Mao in addition to Hannibal. Talk about piling on the weakling, sheesh. Carthaginian, German, and Chinese units all rushed after the last city of Coventry. This was like seeing grown men beating on a toddler, tough stuff to watch. Mao was the one who won the race to the city:

Farewell to Churchill, the longest lasting "First to Die" that we've seen thus far in the competition. He lasted over 200 turns! Churchill had been given a tough spot in this game, and he seemed to have everything go against him from the very early stages. From getting crowded out of a city spot in the opening turns, to the endless declarations of war leveled against England, Churchill was always on the defensive in this one. Protective let him fight for a while, but it couldn't turn back the tide. His decision to attack Hannibal, even if purchased by Asoka, was an act of pure suicide. (Asoka even weaseled out of the war a half dozen turns later. Some friend!) As for the victors in this war, Mao had done extremely well for himself. By capturing every English city other than London, Mao had emerged as a major power in his own right. Hannibal and Mao enjoyed "Friendly" relations and a secure border with one another, which could allow both of them to expand further. Where Mao would go from here was hard to say.

With 210 turns in the books, very little had been settled to date. There were a bunch of different leaders jockeying for the top two positions, and underdogs lurking with the possibility of an upset diplo or culture win. Cyrus still retained the top spot in score, and he also held the lead in power for the moment. He had a new challenger in Mao, however, who had equalled Cyrus at a dozen cities. Mao's great disadvantage was his economy, as his GNP was last in the game and he was the furthest behind in technology. I expected him to close the gap with time though, now that he had added those English cities. Hannibal and Bismarck both sat a little behind them, still waiting for a chance to leap up into the first spot. At the bottom were the eastern duo of Asoka and Wang Kon, both of them sharply limited on land. They had great economies, but they really needed more cities. I wondered if one or both would try to go for a Culture victory, which would likely be their best chances. Nothing of the sort yet.

The diplomatic situation was even more strange. All of the eastern leaders tended to like one another, and wouldn't go to war. Similarly, the western leaders generally were on good terms as well (if not quite so strong), and they also refrained from conflict. Most of the wars to date had been those weird cross-map struggles, and that's where I expected future wars to break out. Hannibal in particular was upset, he was "Furious" with both Asoka and Wang Kon. There was just one problem: Bismarck wouldn't sign Open Borders with most of the western leaders. They had no way to reach Asoka and Wang! The big question was therefore whether the western leaders would go after Bismarck next, or spend the rest of the game sitting around frustrated at their inability to reach India and Korea. Bismarck himself was fairly unpopular (Hannibal and Cyrus were "Annoyed" with him, while Mao was "Cautious"), so I expected we'd see more fireworks before this one was finished.

Again, I swear I wrote the above paragraph before this happened! Getting better at calling these wars, it seems. We only managed to go three turns before Cyrus declared war on Bismarck. The Persian leader had lots of grenadiers for this round of fighting, plus he was in the process of researching Rifling tech. Strangely, Cyrus did not have Nationalism or Military Tradition yet, so no cuirassiers or cavs. Cyrus had about double the power of Bismarck on the bar graphs, which didn't sound too good for the Germans. (Also a good question: why did Cyrus head for Cologne first instead of the much easier to attack Tianjin?) In any case, it didn't matter because Cologne fell immediately after Cyrus marched his main stack up there. No need for any siege units, the massive group of grenadiers easily forced their way into the city. I smelled trouble with a capital "T" for old Bismarck.

Cyrus headed towards Berlin next, proceeding up the west coast and ignoring all of the German cities on his eastern border. Then his units turned back south towards Hamburg, then back north towards Berlin again. I have no idea what was going on here, the commander in charge must have been snorting something good. One thing that I did notice: both Cyrus and Hannibal dialed down their science spending after picking up Rifling tech to do mass unit upgrades to rifles. The AI is pretty smart about this. That sent both of their power skyrocketing on the charts, as all of the old longbows and medieval stuff was outfitted with modern weaponry. The landscape around Berlin was also pillaged fiercely by the invading units, torn up all over the place. And then we had to wait as two trebuchets slowly bombarded down the castle defenses over the course of nearly a dozen turns. As the slow siege of Berlin continued, Mao decided to intervene himself:

Mao wanted the low hanging fruit of the cities on his northern border. This was a pretty smart move, given the amount of effort that Bismarck was expending against Cyrus. While it's true that Mao's army didn't even have Gunpowder tech, he did have tons of units with collateral damage. His army of knights and war elephants would do fine if he could apply enough of that at these lightly defended locations. Tianjin fell quickly, and the push to Frankfurt was next on the Chinese agenda.

The Persian attack up at Berlin ultimately ended in failure. Cyrus waited too long with his slow siege, allowing Bismarck to tech up to rifles and cavs. They held in a very bloody battle with mass casualties on both sides. Cyrus would have to come back again with a new stack. Interestingly, this war was hurting Cyrus' science rate quite badly. Bismarck had the Statue of Zeus and the war weariness for the Persians was appalling, even with the AI discounts that they get. Cyrus had to run some culture slider to cover it:

It's rare to see the AI in that kind of shape from war weariness. Get some jails or Police State civic, pronto!

Mao did manage to capture Frankfurt from Bismarck, with knights and cho-ko-nus against rifles and cavs. Hooray for the collateral damage on those cho-ko-nus! It definitely wouldn't have worked otherwise. This did cost Mao most of his medieval stack, but it seemed like a worthwhile move to me. As for Bismarck, he was reduced to four cities at this point, and even with Germany's strong military techs, it was questionable how much longer Bismarck could keep the war going. He was simply going to be overrun by weight of numbers when up against two empires so much larger in size.

That's about as thorough a pillaging job as I've ever seen from the AI. Bismarck was still holding in Berlin and Hamburg for the moment, but his tech had completely stopped advancing now that his cottage economy was ruined. This couldn't last that much longer, not with Mao pushing towards Rifling tech for his own rifles and cavs. Cyrus and Bismarck were even waging a weird naval war around Berlin, with frigates and ships of the line against ironclads.

Hamburg finally fell on Turn 266. Mao had done most of the work, but due to Cyrus being first in turn order, the Persians were the ones who captured the prize. That felt like a backbreaking moment to me, the lengthy siege finally ending with an offensive breakthrough. Only three German cities remained. Perhaps even more importantly, the cultural borders were now cleared to reach Asoka. The Indian leader could no longer count on Bismarck to protect him from Hannibal and the other western leaders. In the main conflict, Bismarck still defended himself with an incredible rearguard action. His capital had the Ironworks for +100% production, and his second city had Heroic Epic for another +100% unit production. Each of them was pumping out a new unit every turn, despite the fact that they were both frantically starving to death from lack of food. Bismarck was certainly doomed, but wow, what a fight he was putting up. Dozens and dozens of turns passing without those final German cities falling.

Amid everything else, I saw a large Hannibal stack slowly heading off to the east. There was only one possible target here:

Remember how Asoka bribed leader after leader into war against Hannibal earlier? That added up to "Furious" relations, and Hannibal had been waiting for a chance at revenge. Now that Mao and Cyrus had cleared the path through German culture, it was time to strike at the hated Indian puppetmasters. Hannibal had a pretty nice stack here, roughly 35 cavs and 25 rifles. Hannibal even had three artilley pieces, one of his most recent techs. Asoka was ahead in GNP and ahead in techs, but he didn't have anything much in the way of a military edge. Given Hannibal's massive advantage in power, this didn't look good for Asoka.

In the other war, Munich actually fell before Berlin. Mao claimed the prize despite the vast distance from his homeland in the south. Somehow the German capital continued to resist, a shelled husk of a once great city. Persian frigates had bombed out the cultural defenses, after a long running naval struggle against Bismarck's ironclads. He'd lost his coal resource to pillaging though, and that had swung the advantage back to Cyrus' older ships. On Turn 285, Berlin had been smashed down to size 9, still starving, with a single cannon and two caravels left for defense. It finally was captured by Cyrus the next turn, after oceans of blood had been spilled. Persia now took over ownership of the Great Lighthouse, the Great Library, the Colossus, Notre Dame, the Taj Mahal, and most importantly the Statue of Zeus. This cut Cyrus' war weariness in half, and allowed the process of recovery to begin at home. That was a huge reason why Cyrus had seen such a drop on the scoreboard, all his cities were size 10 or smaller. They'd starved down uncontrollably due to war weariness. Statue of Zeus is no joke!

There was only one German city remaining, Essen, located in a desert up to the north. Even as Persian and Chinese units raced to finish it off, Asoka held an Apostolic Palace vote that threw the game into total chaos:

Whoa! What a twist! Now Hannibal was at war with every single leader in the game. Holy broken AP mechanics, Batman! I had no idea what to expect next from this turn of events. Would the other AIs prosecute this war against Hannibal, or would they look to sign peace almost immediately? How badly would this damage existing relations between former allies in the west? Would this be enough to save Asoka from otherwise certain destruction? Asoka had just thrown a massive monkey wrench into the game. Madness!

It was still too late for Bismarck, who exited the game on Turn 292.

If that AP vote had been held just a little bit sooner, Bismarck might have been able to rally and turn this around. As it was, he was killed through a thousand pinpricks. Cyrus and Mao bled him over and over again, grinding him down through a war of attrition until there were no cities remaining. Bismarck traded units favorably at every stage of this war. He simply could not hold out against overwhelming numbers. For a while there, it was something like 30 cities combined against 4 cities, and the 30 cities were struggling mightily to make progress. Nice job by Bismarck, ultimately not enough though.

As for the artificial war created by Asoka, the strategy seemed to be working. Hannibal's stacks were targeted by all of the other leaders, and both Cyrus and Mao began to send invasion forces into Carthaginian territory. The big Hannibal stack in Indian territory, which had successfully taken the city of Varanasi, was hit by the Persian and Chinese stacks, whittled down and eventually destroyed. Asoka sneakily reclaimed his city, after getting his former enemies to do all of the dirty work. Then, even as all of the Persian and Chinese units turned around to attack Hannibal, Asoka sold them out and signed peace with the Carthaginian leader. Very clever move, I've got to say. Asoka had played the game as a total jerk to his military allies, but it seemed to be working.

The map looked quite a bit different with the disappearance of Bismarck. Most of northern Germany had been swallowed up by the expanding borders of Korean and Indian cities. Wang Kon had already crammed a smaller filler city to the south of Essen in some truly terrible land. This area would have looked a lot different if Hammurabi had been able to hold onto Varanasi. There was now a substantial Persian presence in what had been the German core, along with a larger Chinese presence further to the south. As far as the top spot went, Hannibal and Mao were extremely close to one another in score. Hannibal was the GNP and tech leader, he'd already built his Apollo Program and was researching Industrialism for tanks. Mao was the furthest behind in technology, roughly a dozen techs behind Hannibal, but he now had the most land and most cities. Cyrus was in a similar position, his cities finally regrowing now that they didn't have to deal with the crushing war weariness from earlier. Asoka and Wang Kon were likely relying on a Diplomatic or Spaceship victory here. Neither had shown any signs of going for culture as yet.

Despite Hannibal's excellent economy and pole position on the scoreboard, he remained at war with Cyrus, Mao, and even Wang Kon. There were a lot of units moving around on his borders, especially units coming back from the victorious German war. Mao might be behind in tech, but he did have a whole lot of cavs.

Uh oh, that was a bad sign for Hannibal. With the fall of London, there were only seven remaining Carthaginian cities. Although Hannibal had the tech advantage, that still might not be enough here. The Cyrus stack on the right side of this screenshot was the core of his army from the previous war, a gigantic stack of rifles, grenadiers, and cavs. Hannibal might simply get overwhelmed by the superior production of his neighbors. He needed those tanks desperately. (Hannibal founded Sid's Sushi corporation on the turn after this screenshot, but I wasn't sure that was the kind of help he needed. The AI rarely gets enough seafood resources to do much with that one.)

Hastings was taken by Wang Kon, of all people, creating even more confusion on the map. Hannibal's infantry and machine guns and artillery were being overwhelmed by weight of numbers. It was the same thing that we had just seen in the German war, outdated units slowly powering their way through a more advanced opponent with a limited number of units. The invading armies once again tore up the landscape, pillaging tile improvements as they went, further damaging Hannibal's war effort. It was going to be tough to build tanks with all of the mines and roads ripped apart. I kept an eye on the critical oil resource in the middle of Carthaginian territory, just outside the reach of the attackers for now. It was eventually disconnected on Pi turn, Turn 314.

A few turns later, Utica had fallen as well and the rout seemed to be on in full. Hannibal could no longer produce modern units due to his lack of oil, no more tanks or airplanes. He desperately needed both, but was forced back on marines and artillery pieces. To make matters worse, the invading forces were now beginning to field the same generation of military tech. Cyrus and Wang Kon both had Assembly Line, they were adding their own factories and coal plants and infantry. Mao was a bit further behind, still catching up though. Hannibal was fading fast, he barely held off an attack by Wang Kon against his capital. The city of Carthage stood with half a dozen heavily injured units inside. With Hannibal falling apart, Asoka now picked this moment to re-enter the war himself. What a sneak! I didn't see Indian units doing much of anything, perhaps they'd show up at some point.

Well now, this was certainly a surprise. Asoka decided he wanted to use the ongoing war in the west as a cover for his move against the Persian cities on his border. It was a savvy time to invade Cyrus, since the Persian core had no way to reinforce these cities. Cyrus couldn't get his units through Carthaginian territory, leaving these four cities extremely exposed to Indian attack. I didn't think Asoka had such a ruthless move in him! Berlin and its treasure trove of wonders fell immediately. All these turns played so far, and it was still completely up in the air which leaders would take the top two playoff spots.

Only a dozen turns since the last screenshot and Carthage was nearly gone. Mao had taken Carthage (the city), Utica, and Hippo, and after the long process of repairing that heavily damaged terrain was done, he'd be a monster in this game. (Seriously, check out that bare ground. This was a Greenpeace dream come true!) Amazingly, Hannibal was STILL the tech leader, pushing now for Satellites, but it was too little, too late. I continued to be amazed at how that one Apostolic Palace vote had completely reshaped the game's diplomatic situation. If I allowed the AP religion in my observer civ, Asoka probably would have won a Religious victory. Fortunately we don't stand for that kind of nonsense cheese.

Hannibal was eliminated on Turn 343. He was done in by the machinations of Asoka, him and his meddling Apostolic Palace! Before that infamous vote, Mao had actually been "Friendly" with Hannibal. Mao would never have declared war on Hannibal under any circumstances normally. Instead, Mao ended up capturing all but one Carthaginian city, taking him up to 22 cities and the clear dominant position in the game. Mao and Cyrus were on excellent terms with one another, but I pitied Asoka and Wang Kon if Mao decided to pursue Domination as a victory condition. Mao was "Annoyed" with both of the eastern leaders, and he had the highest power by a country mile. Despite all the turns played to date, there were still more surprises yet to go before we selected a winner.

This was the latest date that we'd reached in any of these games so far. Mao looked to have finally emerged as the game juggernaught, after nearly everyone else had taken a turn in the top spot on the scoreboard. He was finishing up Communism tech, and State Property civic looked like it would be a perfect fit for his civilization. After that, it was still neck-and-neck between the other three leaders for the runner up spot. Asoka was the furthest ahead in tech, Cyrus had the most cities, and Wang Kon had the most defensive position. I still could not predict how this one would play out.

The one ongoing war was over here in the east between Cyrus and Asoka. The Indian leader had stormed out of the gate in this war, capturing Berlin and Hamburg and Cologne in rapid succession. Asoka's offensive had stalled out at that point, however, and Cyrus managed to rally his forces in a defense of Zhou. After the Carthaginian war came to a close, he counterattacked and took back Cologne into the Persian fold. At this point the war appeared to stall, as Cyrus was unable to overcome the superior tech of Asoka, while the Indian ruler couldn't penetrate past the superior numbers of Cyrus. The Persians needed their own tanks, and they were still some distance away at this point. The real issue was what Mao would do. He was the 800 pound gorilla, and everyone else lived in fear of the Chinese powerhouse.

Guess that answers that question. Mao apparently was tired of seeing that Korean blight upon his landscape, and decided to purge Wang Kon from the earth. Mao had refused to sign Open Borders with Wang for some time, and that meant that the entire Korean army from the war against Hannibal was stuck in this little pocket of culture. There were almost 70 Korean units in there, none with any chance to escape. This was a brutal ethnic cleansing, and I feared for Wang Kon as soon as Mao tidied up in the west. (For the curious, the Legendary city was one of Asoka's. He had two cities at 50k culture, but no third. The last one that he needed was still about 80 turns away from hitting 50k, which wasn't going to happen without running the culture slider.)

The Hastings pocket fell within the first three turns of the war, none of the Korean units escaping. Wang Kon wasn't content to sit back on the sidelines though, as he sent his home army off to invade the Chinese frontier. This happened extremely fast now that the AIs all had rails running through their territory, and a large Korean army of tanks and paratroopers and SAM infrantry put the Chinese city of Frankfurt under siege. Despite Wang's best efforts, this did not succeed, and after about eight turns of heavy fighting, Mao managed to clean up the entire Korean attacking force. The power chart looked like this:

Savage losses on both sides, but Mao was better able to afford them. He could trade evenly, or close to evenly, and still come out ahead given his enormous size. Furthermore, Mao was on the cusp of discovering tanks, and once he equalized with Wang Kon in tech, there would be little that the Koreans could do. It was only the presence of armored divisions that was allowing Korea to hold on as well as they'd done so far. Lots of cavalry vs. tank battles out there, which Mao was winning only through horrible losses and sheer size.

Long turns of fighting passed without much happening. Mao teched his way to tanks, and began to field them in large numbers. Wang Kon would attack at Frankfurt, then get cleaned up on the Chinese counterattack. Mao's biggest problem was the fact that he didn't have Open Borders with Asoka, making it very difficult to reach Korean territory. Difficult, but not entirely impossible:

There was a narrow window up through Cyrus' culture at Berlin that provided access to Korean territory. Cyrus had received Berlin back in the peace treaty he'd signed with Asoka earlier. It was the one place that allowed Mao to go on the offensive. For whatever reason, the AI wasn't taking that chance and instead Mao was mostly puttering around doing little of interest. His units could surely overwhelm Wang Kon, if he'd just move them up there!

Now that was more like it. Cyrus joined the war against Wang Kon, and together the combined Persian/Chinese force of 175 units moved into Korean territory. That was one of the biggest stacks I'd seen to date in these games, and of course all of the attacking units weren't on that one single tile. Mao wanted his city of Essen back. Who cared if it was a totally pathetic desert city, it was the principle of the thing, darn it! Munich was overrun instantly, and the rest of the Korean cities started falling like dominoes. Wang Kon curled up under his bed sheets and prayed that he would wake up from this. It's all a bad dream, it's all a bad dream...

The truly crazy thing was watching these immense stacks of Chinese and Persian units funneling through a cultural choke point a single tile wide. Without Asoka gifting the city of Berlin back to Cyrus earlier, neither Mao nor Cyrus would have been able to reach Wang Kon's territory. Truly amazing. Asoka had somehow managed to sacrifice yet ANOTHER leader to his enemies! Inadvertently this time, but still.

Half of Korea gone, half of Korea yet to go. Mao had picked up every city capture thus far despite a major contribution from Cyrus. The two of them were essentially equal on tech, Mao perhaps slightly ahead at this point. Tanks backed by air power tear right through defenders, it's such an amazing contrast from the tedious catapult and trebuchet stacks versus castle defenses from earlier in the game. I was most amused by the mass paratrooper drops that Mao was doing, he'd land two dozen of them at once outside some of the Korean cities. On Wang Kon's part, he was lucky that he had a source of oil up in his extreme northeast. Otherwise he would have been even more screwed than he was... and he was pretty screwed. There was a considerable naval battle taking place on the high seas as well, with lots of destroyers and battleships blasting away at each other. The Chinese and Persian ships were winning control of the seas by sheer weight of numbers, and taking out the defenses of the Korean cities with their bombardment ability. This only sped up the conquest that much faster.

Fun as it was to watch this, the war ground on to its predictable end. Mao took most of the Korean cities, but Cyrus grabbed the last two, and he was the one who eliminated Wang Kon on Turn 405.

Look at that, we've actually reached the countdown timer up in the top corner. Most of us who played Civ4 have almost never seen that thing, since we typically win the game in Single Player long before it ever appears. This had been an extremely long game. The victory date predictions on this one are going to be fun to read. Anyway, Wang Kon simply made too many enemies over in the far west of the continent. His remote position shielded him for most of the game, but he simply had no chance against both Mao and Cyrus. When they could finally reach him with their armies, Wang Kon fell apart like a paper tiger.

We were down to a mere three civs remaining. Again. It was time to look at true endgame scenarios here. Asoka was the furthest along to a spaceship at the moment. He needed six more techs to complete all of the spaceship parts, then he had to build the parts, and then launch and wait for the spaceship to arrive. Unfortunately for Asoka, he was really lagging on the final super expensive techs, even while building Research in all cities. His better chance for victory might lay in the cultural path. Asoka already had two Legendary cities, and his next closest city of Pataliputra was at 41k culture. If only Asoka had turned on the culture slider! Like 100 turns ago! He'd have won easily. Instead, at the current rate it would take 38 more turns to reach the 50k mark. Could Asoka survive that long? Both Mao and Cyrus were "Annoyed" with Asoka, and given the immense disparity in power between their civs, I didn't think it would take that long before one or the other went on the attack. That was what this game was going to come down to, whether Mao and/or Cyrus decided to fight one final war against Asoka. As for the United Nations, no one had even built the wonder yet! Yes, it's true, 405 turns into the game, no UN so far. Asoka was building it now, and that might open the route to a Diplomatic win for someone. If Asoka were nominated against Mao, then Cyrus would vote for Mao and that would be it. How was this one going to end?

When the United Nations vote was held for Secretary General, it was indeed Mao against Asoka. As expected, Mao easily won the vote with the assistance of Cyrus. Now the game would be over if Mao simply held a diplo victory vote. Would he do so? Or more stupid civics resolutions that don't matter? The first vote was for Free Religion civic. Turns were ticking away, Mao had caught up to Asoka in the tech race and was about to pass him. But the cultural countdown continued!

Only 20 turns now and dropping. Mao and Cyrus had to do something soon, or Asoka was going to win by culture, almost despite his own best efforts to sabotage himself. The second UN vote was held, this time for Free Speech civic. It also passed, not that anyone cared. The third vote was for Open Markets. My god, is this really happening? The game's going to end this way?

NOPE! We had some last minute fireworks here, as Mao declared war on Asoka. But it might have been too late already, as the two dozen turns Mao and Cyrus spent doing nothing had pulled Asoka to within a fingernail of victory. Pataliputra was going Legendary in ten more turns! Could Mao get to the city and raze it before it was too late? This one was coming down to the absolute wire, we were in for a photo finish.

Mao had vast numbers of modern armor invading across the Indian border. Unfortunately for him, he had chosen the wrong side of Asoka's territory to attack. Pataliputra was on the eastern side of the Indian Empire, not the west! I noticed that Asoka had a crippling resource hole: no aluminum! This meant that he could only build tanks, not modern armor, and his military forces were taking it on the chin as a result. Hamburg was down, in the hands of the Chinese. Only eight more turns left though before Asoka hit Cultural victory. Varanasi was under siege. In fact, Asoka only had five more cities left in total, and he needed to hold onto Delhi, Vijayanagara, and Pataliputra in order to claim a culture win. They were his eastern most cities, the ones furthest out of the line of fire, but HOLY CRAP is that a lot of Chinese modern armor. FIVE MORE TURNS LEFT before Pataliputra hits Legendary status!

What's this now, Mao calling for the Diplomatic victory vote? Calling for it now, with the game so unbelievably close?! Are we writing a Hollywood script here? Enough rhetorical questions, here was the result:

Diplomatic victory on Turn 433, with Cyrus voting Mao - and himself in second place! - into the playoffs. Asoka gets relegated into the wildcard round. What an amazing finish!!!

Here's our overview picture at game's end. Mao rose over the course of the game from humble beginnings, ultimately controlling all of English and Carthaginian territory, along with part of Germany and most of Korea. He was the one who emerged from the endless rounds of warring into a position of dominance, probably because he was the only one fighting someone on his border (in the form of Churchill). Mao was behind in technology for most of the game, only to climb the entire tech tree as he grew in size. He hit Future Tech on the turn that the final UN vote went through. Mao actually won most of his wars while behind in tech, suggesting that weight of numbers often is more important for the AI than advanced technology. Not always, but it was enough in this case.

Cyrus found himself in a strong second place, if nowhere close to Mao. It's still hard for me to believe that Cyrus and Hannibal barely fought at all in this game, only at the very end when forced to do so by Asoka's Apostolic Palace resolution. The two of them had founded different faiths in the extreme early game, had a huge border over in the west... and somehow the two of them never really came to blows. Instead, they spent most of their time contesting with leaders on the other side of the map in the east. Cyrus carved out those territories in German territory, and spent vast amounts of time and his people's lives defending them against all comers. As I said, it was a weird game. Cyrus likely would have done better if he hadn't been crippled by war weariness for such a long time. Bismarck's Statue of Zeus was a major reason why Cyrus fell behind in technology.

And then there was Asoka:

The Indian leader played an amazing diplomatic game, one that was just barely enough to ensure his survival. Asoka realized in the midgame that he could never survive against the larger and more warlike leaders to the west. He therefore chose to play a stalling game, sacrificing leader after leader to his enemies in exhange for more time to push towards space. Bismarck was the first to go, and the Germans bought a good 100 turns for Asoka before they fell in the end. Then right when Hannibal was in the middle of his invasion push, and India seemed certain to fall, Asoka called his decisive Apolstolic Palace vote. That was one of the biggest turning points I've ever seen, flipping the world diplomatic picture and getting everyone to declare war on the Carthaginians. Hannibal died, and Asoka survived. Then Asoka again managed to buy more time as Mao and Cyrus killed off Wang Kon instead of choosing to fight him. In the end, there was no one left to protect India, and Asoka's destruction was nigh.

However, he was inches away from winning by culture at the end. It was an incredibly near run thing! In the picture above, Asoka had only four cities left. He could afford to lose Bombay, but he could not lose any of the others because those were his three Legendary cities. Delhi and Vijayanagara had gone Legendary ages ago, they were both around 70k culture at this point. As for the last one, Pataliputra:

49,000 culture!!! FOUR turns away from winning! If Asoka had run the culture slider at all, he'd have won dozens of turns earlier. The game was that close. Would Mao have been able to reach this city in those last four turns before Asoka reached Legendary status? It would have been an absolute photo finish. Makes you wonder.

Final Standings

1) Mao Zedong
2) Cyrus
3) Asoka
4) Wang Kon
5) Hannibal
6) Bismarck
7) Churchill

After 433 long turns, we had our final playoff bracket set. Mao moved on to the knockout stage in first place, with Cyrus going through in second. The Persian leader had to be thanking his lucky stars that Mao held a Diplomatic victory vote, or else he'd have been sent to the wildcard game. Instead, Asoka will have one more last chance to make it into the playoff field, along with the third place finishers from the earlier matches. This was a game that I'll remember for a long time.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Yeah, OK, we have to know how this would have played out without the UN diplo victory, right? After the game ended, I ran the next four turns to see if Asoka could have held on. Mao advanced on with his terrifying army and captured the city of Bombay without breaking much of a sweat. Asoka now had to hold all of his remaining cities or he'd have no chance for a Culture win. Mao was also nuking Asoka repeatedly, lots of tactical nukes flying around on all sides. Cyrus declared war on Asoka with three turns left on the countdown, adding swarms of Persian units to the mix and even more nuclear detonations. Much of what was left of India was glowing in the dark in these final turns. Still, Mao had not managed to take Pataliputra, and we were down to a single turn left. Asoka's city had 49,900 culture inside!!! It came down to the Turn 437 interturn, and the result was.......

IT WAS A TIE?!? I think? Pataliputra hit Legendary culture on the same turn that it was captured by Mao's tank column. Both messages appeared on the screen at the same time. Uh, so, what the heck happens in this scenario? Would Asoka have won by culture, or would it have failed to go through because he lost the city on the same interturn? Paging our mechanics experts! I'm sure that someone can explain this one. Regardless of how the victory mechanics would have played out, it's nothing short of incredible that this game would have come down to interturn processing order. After 437 turns of competition!

What a game. I have nothing more to say.