Civ4 AI Survivor: Wildcard Game

It's time to bring back the surviving civs from the initial round of competition. Before we get into the true playoffs, we have this initial Wildcard game between all of the leaders who didn't qualify in one of the top two spots in their respective games. These are the third place or fourth place leaders, often AIs who barely managed to avoid death by the skin of their teeth. Rather than calling this the wildcard game, it would probably be more accurate to refer to it as the "Last Chance" game. This is their final opportunity to avoid the headman's chopping block. No longer is it enough simply to avoid death, only the top two finishers from this match can move on to the true playoff round. Let's meet our returning competitiors once again.


We'll be going through this group in game order, not alphabetical order, since it makes it easier to remember each leader. Peter was the third place finisher from all the way back in Game One, where he infamously voted himself out of consideration by voting for Suryavarman in the United Nations. Peter had a strong starting position in that game, and did very little with it. He mostly sat around up in the northern tundra and built a few wonders while Suryavarman ran away with the match. Peter's greatest achievement was not dying and getting himself eliminated. For a quick refresher course on Peter the AI, he's a Russian leader with Expansive and Philosophical traits bringing the Cossack and Research Institute. Peter AI has science and growth flavors, he is one of the more aggressive leaders in the game (8/10 aggression rating), and he has an extremely low peace rate as an "Evil" leader. He's actually rated lower than Stalin and at the same ranking as Mao. Peter will need to be more active if he intends to follow in the successful footsteps of Catherine and Stalin.

Zara Yacob

Zara Yacob was the third place survivor from the crazy ending to Game Two. Zara managed to lose nearly his entire empire to Mehmed, and was down to his final two remaining cities, only to see Mansa Musa sweep in and rescue him from certain demise. The Ethiopian leader even managed to get back up to nine cities by the end of the game, as his entire core was liberated or gifted back to him. Zara probably didn't deserve his third place standing in Game Two, but he finds himself in this wildcard spot regardless, granted a second life in the competition. Zara the AI reigns over the Ethiopian Oromo Warrior and Stele with Creative and Organized traits. He has growth and religious flavors, generally places a high emphasis on religious stuff, and has a medium aggression rating (5.6 out of 10). Zara's peace weight places him in the middle of the scale, as an unaligned "Neutral" party. We'll see if he has better religious luck this time around.


Qin Shi Huang suffered a similar fate to Zara in Game Three. He was also down to a mere two cities at one point, pushed to the brink of death by attacks from Isabella and Joao, only to somehow secure peace with all aggressors and then reclaim lost cities via liberations and culture flipping. Qin didn't dominate in the least, but he did manage to survive. Perhaps his Protective trait helped him in that regard. It wasn't an impressive performance in any case, which is why Qin finds himself here, with his last chance to move on. Qin AI brings the Chinese Cho-Ko-Nu and Pavilion along with Industrious and Protective traits. He has production and growth flavors; strangely, that's three straight leaders with growth flavor for research, which is one of the uncommon ones. Maybe it helps the AI (?) Qin AI likes to build wonders, he has a low aggression rating (3.9 out of 10), and he's rated as an "Evil" leader according to peace weight. How's Qin going to do without Boudica around to save his behind?

Genghis Khan Temujin

This was one of the leaders that I wanted to see again in another game. Temujin had one of the weakest starts in any of the eight games from the opening round, a cramped and tundra-bound position in the southeast corner of Game Four's continent. He warred repeatedly with his neighbors to conquer more territory, with only limited success. However, Temujin's determined and desperate defense against Shaka bought him enough time for Huayna Capac to come in and smash the Zulus, allowing Temujin to survive to the finish. It was a gutsy performance with limited resources, and Temujin deserved another chance to strut his stuff from a less crippled position. Temujin the AI has the Keshik and Ger unique items to play around with, paired with Aggressive and Imperialistic traits. He has a single flavor: MILITARY. Temujin is off the charts aggressive with a rating of 9.5 out of 10, he loves to build units and demand tribute, and his peace weight score sits at dead zero, this game's version of Demonic Evil. It's never a boring game with the great khan around, and I'm eager to see what he's going to do here.


Here's a leader different from Temujin in just about every way possible. Washington was the only leader in the whole competition to avoid war completely. 51 out of the 52 leaders found themselves in at least one conflict, but Washington avoided it entirely in Game Five. I guess he took the historical Washington's advice to avoid foreign entanglements very seriously. Therefore, there isn't too much to judge Washington AI on from his initial outing. He sat in the southeast corner of the map building cities and not really doing much of anything in that game. Anyway, Washington AI has the Navy SEAL and Mall unique items along with Expansive and Charismatic traits. (Good luck with that unique stuff, buddy.) He has military and growth flavors, with the rest of his numbers being very average across the board. Washington AI has a rather low aggression rating (4.3 out of 10) and he gets classified as a "Good" leader in the peace weight scale. Hopefully Washington will be more active in this game and actually do something.


The first of two leaders from Game Six, Frederick was arguably the strongest third place finisher from any of our opening round of games. Frederick had a cramped starting position at the top of the map, and I pegged him for an early demise when I was watching his match. Instead, Frederick went on to dominate his neighbors culturally, and carved out a strong patch of territory with minimal fighting, most of his cities won through cultural push. He built a strong economy, and was one of the tech leaders at the end of Game Six. With all that said, Frederick benefitted enormously from having weak neighbors on his border, and the endless warring between Darius and Pacal that dragged down both of Frederick's nearby competitors. He may be faced with a harder task here. Frederick AI has the Panzer and Assembly Plant unique stuff, narrowly losing to Washington in the "crummy civilization" category. His traits are Philosophical and Organized. Frederick has a single research flavor: PRODUCTION, the only one in the game with this weighting. He doesn't like to build units (2/10 rating), he has a low aggression rating (4/10), and Frederick is considered to be a "Good" leader with the same high peace weight as Washington. Frederick wants to be left alone in these games, and he mostly achieved that in his opening match. We'll see if his luck continues in this game.


Darius returns from Game Six, same as Frederick, but his performance was significantly weaker the first time around. While Frederick finished in a strong third place, with a minor chance to take a spaceship win if things lined up right, Darius was hopelessly behind and a total non-entity. Darius had a tough spot in a cramped position, true, however he failed to achieve anything at all. He spent the whole game warring back and forth with Pacal, trading units and achieving nothing of note. The only reason that Darius survived was his high peace weight and therefore excellent diplomatic relations with his neighbors, Elizabeth and Frederick. This was mostly due to dumb luck; with more aggressive leaders nearby, Darius and his tiny power rating surely would have been attacked and devoured. In any case, Darius has incredible economic traits in Civ4, with the Financial + Organized pairing, and he gets a stay on execution here with another chance to survive and advance. Darius gets the Persian civilization's Immortal and Apothecary unique units. Darius AI has gold and growth flavors for research. (Seriously, so many growth flavors in this group!) Darius likes to build wonders (8/10), he's slightly below average with an aggression rating of 5.2 out of 10, and Darius is considered a "Good" leader via peace weight, same spot as Washington and Frederick. The three of them will be predisposed to be best buds with one another. Unfortunately for them, Qin and Peter and especially Temujin will not like them at all. Darius will need to do a lot more to make his way out of this game.


Asoka is our final returning leader, falling a mere four turns short of a Cultural victory in Game Eight. (There are no returning leaders from Game Seven; the Russians killed them all off!) Asoka was far behind Mao and Cyrus in his game, but almost managed to sneak out an extremely late win via the unexpected culture route. If he had turned on the culture slider at all - like seriously, running the thing even a little bit! - then he'd have taken the victory and Cyrus would be occupying this spot. Instead, Asoka will have to try to work his diplomatic magic once again, and parlay his pacifistic tendencies into an alliance with other like-minded leaders. Asoka AI comes along with the Indian civilization's Fast Worker and Mausoleum, and he has Spiritual and Organized traits. He has religious and science flavors, along with a love of building wonders (8/10 rating) and little interest in units (2/10). Asoka AI loves religion and will often found his own faith. He's not aggressive at all, with a rating of only 3.7 out of 10 and a very high peace weight as a "Good" leader in alignment. Asoka will need to find common cause with the game's other peaceful leaders, as his obsession with wonders and disdain for training units can otherwise get him into trouble very quickly.

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Here's another game with a sharp division between pacifist leaders and aggressive leaders along the dynamics of the peace weight scale. Washington, Frederick, Darius, and Asoka all generally want to be left alone, most of them emphasizing wonder construction and cultural stuff. They find themselves inhabiting the same world as a bunch of rabid wolves, in the form of Qin, Peter, and Genghis Khan Temujin. Especially Temujin, who could start a blood feud at an ice cream social. Zara is somewhere in the middle, not fully landing in either one of those two groups. The peaceful leaders have the stronger economic traits, but the militaristic leaders have the higher aggression ratings and the killer instinct (for the AI, anyway!) Someone is going to get out in front and start to snowball this game. Only two leaders can move on to the main playoff games from this point. Who's it going to be?

The presence of eight competing leaders necessitated a Large map for this game. We'll have a little bit bigger sandbox for these leaders to play around in. I didn't have to roll too many maps to find this one, and the main edit was deleting a large island off the northeast coast of the main continent. Why a Pangaea script generates those large islands sometimes is beyond me. Anyway, I thought that this map was reasonably fair in placing the AI starting positions, with perhaps a bit of a bias against Frederick, and an advantage of sorts for Zara up there in the north. With eight leaders in the game, however, it's never going to be perfectly even. I thought that this was close enough for our purposes... and to be honest, I wanted to see what Temujin was going to do with that central starting position.

One of the interesting things that happened immediately on Turn 2 was Asoka revolting into Slavery civic. What the heck? I scratched my head for a moment, then realized that he'd popped Bronze Working tech from a hut. Nice pickup there. That's why we turn off the goody huts for more serious Multiplayer stuff, they can be a bit unbalancing.

All of the AI leaders settled their second city quickly, no horribly botched openings like Churchill in Game Eight. Nothing too stupid that I could see from the second city placements, although Peter probably could have chosen a better spot. Every leader had a strong capital as well, nothing crippled or underpowered here. It would be up to them to develop their starts intelligently, or as much as that's possible for the AI. Asoka was the only leader with a Mysticism start, and it was therefore no surprise when he led with Meditation out of the gate and founded Buddhism in Bombay. That was somewhat bad news for Qin, who would have to deal with the expanded borders. Strangely, no one else seemed to care much about the early religions, as the leaders all went for some combination of Pottery, Bronze Working, and Animal Husbandry over Polytheism. Very unusual for the AI, it was almost like they were taking this game seriously, given the wildcard situation. Frederick finally went after the tech, and he founded Hinduism on Turn 25. Frederick would then win a very close race to Stonehenge, beating Washington by two turns and Peter by a single turn. This was good news for the German leader, as he was lagging in city count and probably had the least room to expand overall. Stonehenge would eventually turn into a Great Prophet for Frederick's Hindu shrine.

The northwest was the most cramped area in the early going. This was partly due to how the map was set up, partly due to the leaders settling on one another's borders, and partly due to Asoka's Buddhist faith spewing out culture in all directions. The land was rich in resources, but covered in vast stretches of jungle that slowed down movement from one empire to the next. I didn't think we'd see too much action here early, not until more of the map had been claimed. The AI generally doesn't get aggressive until it's out of open space to settle.

Peter used his stone to build an early Great Wall on Turn 38, the borders enclosing a miniscule 30 tiles of terrain. I know that this is purely a graphical effect and that it doesn't matter where the walls are located, but it was still amusing to see such a paltry ringed area. I was thoroughly unimpressed by Peter's opening, he had an awesome capital (corn, cows, ivory, stone, iron) and was doing the same sitting around inert thing from Game One. Peter could have been expanding much faster. In contrast, Temujin was the first to five cities, and sitting in a strong position:

If the presence of stone and marble didn't distract him, Temujin would be in good shape to continue expanding and amassing power. The central location wasn't hurting thus far. In fact, we often tend to think that the corner starts are better for AI performance, but in this game the leaders on the outer edges of the continent were getting swarmed by barbarians. Frederick, Zara, Washington, and Qin had all seen major barb problems to this point in time. I saw five or six barb archers running around in Zara's territory at one point. Zara's isolated northern start was going to be a long term advantage, but it wasn't quite that simple here in the early going.

To no one's surprise, Asoka also founded Judaism on Turn 55. Those religious AIs are never satisfied with just one faith, they keep going after all of the later ones on the tech tree as well. Judaism popped up in Asoka's border city with Zara, so we'd have to see if the minority religion in India would spread to Asoka's eastern neighbor. Speaking of Zara, he won a narrow settling race by what looked to be a single turn against Temujin, grabbing a spot in the middle of the central jungle. Ethiopian Creative culture would give Zara a longterm advantage in this part of the map. The khan would have to be content with a lesser spot nearby. Peter managed to take the barbarian city of Navajo in the deep south, a location quite a bit away from his core. This would either pay off handsomely down the road, or draw him into a destructive conflict with Temujin.

Over here in the west, Qin was now tied for the lead in city count with a half dozen settlements, and he would win the Pyramids race a few turns later. Qin was currently last in score, but that was largely due to the enormous tracts of jungle in his territory. Qin was researching Iron Working, and once he could start cutting down those trees, he'd have some excellent land on his hands. Qin needed to play the waiting game, and bide his time for later opportunities.

I noticed Temujin's power spiking on the power graph around this time, and that could only mean one thing. Who did he pick for his first war of aggression?

Asoka. That was a logical choice according to peace weight, if not for any kind of strategic thinking. India was probably too far away and had too much in the way of cultural defenses from religion for this attack to hold much chance of success. Still, if Temujin picked the right target, then maybe he could do something here. Varanasi was vulnerable, while Delhi most certainly was not. Naturally, the amazing artificial intelligence chose to attack at Delhi. Eight Mongol units charged the gates, none of them inflicted any casualties, and all of them died. It was quite a display of stupidity. Now Temujin had sunk most of his critical early game production into an attack that had gone precisely nowhere. This did not bode well for his chances of taking a top spot.

Qin surprised me shortly thereafter by declaring war on Washington. I thought he was more of a peaceful leader than that? Guess not. Qin's mighty attack force consisisted of a spearman, two chariots, and an archer. Hmmm, probably not going to break through the American defenses with that stuff. Probably wouldn't break into a convenience store either with that small of an army. This looked to be a non-event for the moment, beyond poisoning the diplomatic relations over in the far west.

Darius attacking Frederick?! What madness was this? I thought for sure that these guys would be happy and peaceful friends, not that we'd see an early war between the two of them. They got on so well together in Game Six! Anyway, Darius was sending a mixture of swords and immortals after the German city of Munich. It had no land connection to the rest of Frederick's territory after Darius cut the road (although it could still build swords and chariots due to the connection over sea), and I wondered how long the Germans would be able to hold on. Darius was amassing a pretty decent force for this stage of the game. In the west, the Chinese and Americans continued to clash along their mutual border, although it was more of a slap fight than anything else. Way too many chariots, spears, and archers on each side. All of those units are defensive ones, they stink at trying to capture territory on the attack. Asoka had meanwhile sent his own attack force into Temujin's territory. They achieved nothing of note, and died attacking the defensive walls surrounding the Mongol cities. How long until we get to catapults, again?

In the battle between Darius and Frederick, Munich narrowly staved off the attack around 1000BC. It was a near run thing for several turns, with a handful of heavily injured defenders holding the city to the last breath. Eventually German swords began to arrive in larger numbers, and managed to turn the tide of battle with their reinforcements. Despite the three simultaneous wars, we still hadn't seen a single city change hands. Varanasi had come the closest, the Mongol target in Temujin's war with Asoka. The Indian leader had been forced to whip there 6 times to preserve his rule - six times! It was unhappy at size 1. Who says the AI won't use Slavery civic in times of emergency need?

This was the overview as we approached the end of the landgrab phase. It's simultaneously both amazing how fast the AIs can fill up the map with their cities, and also shocking at how wasteful they are after you remember their massive Deity discounts on production. The leaders were tightly concentrated together on the scoreboard, with Darius holding a slight edge and then everyone else packed next to one another. They were leaping up and down in the rankings with each new tech discovered, no clear hierarchy at all. Zara was the one with the most cities, although they were mostly quite small as he continued to hack them out of the jungle. Yeba was the spot that Zara had claimed a half turn before Temujin, that looked like it might have been a crucial strategic grab. Ethiopia was quietly in a pretty good position here. Washington had also recovered from a bit of a weak opening, and he still had room for several more cities up there in the tundra. Those would be junk ice cities, but he'd still have them. There was also still some free land around the barb city of Phoenician, between Temujin and Darius. Both of them were occupied with their neighbor in the opposite direction, and that land between them was mostly unclaimed. In terms of research, a lot of leaders were finally on the verge of Construction tech, and hopefully that would introduce some fluidity to these wars. On the bar graphs, Temujin and Darius were the leaders in military, while everyone was still pretty bunched together in GNP. Washington and Qin were the lowest in research power at the moment, I guess due to their war dragging them down a bit.

I watched a stack of Peter's units slowly march their way up to the north for some time. At first it looked like Asoka was the target, but nope, they passed through Indian territory further to the northwest. That meant that Peter could only be gunning for one opponent:

Apparently he wanted to stir up some Cold War tensions and attack the Americans instead. This had the potential to be a decisive intervention. Qin and Washington were very evenly balanced in their conflict, and neither side had been able to break through the stalemate. However, with a dozen Russian units suddenly thrown into the mix, Boston was in very serious danger indeed. The city fell to Peter on the next turn, leaving me with the question of how he'd hold a city something like a thousand miles away from home. Zara was now the only leader in the game not fighting a war of some kind. (The Hanging Gardens were built by Darius, helping to keep him in that first place spot on the leaderboard.)

After spending five or six turns in the hands of Peter, the city of Boston was taken back by Washington in a furious counterattack. The American leader had stockpiled something like two dozen swords and axes in his capital (the city of Washington, heh) and then stormed out in a stirring rally. Peter's initial wave of units were now mostly dead, and it was a long walk up from Russia. Reinforcements were not going to arrive any time soon. Darius continued to walk stacks around in Frederick's territory on the other side of the continent. That war was entirely one-sided, always Persian units on the attack and never vice versa. Frederick had avoided losing any cities thus far though. I wondered how much longer that would last now that Darius had Construction tech in hand. And in our original war:

Temujin finally punched through Asoka's defenses at Varanasi. This was setup by an ill-fated Indian attack on Mongol territory about six turns earlier, in which Asoka's invasion force took massive casualties without achieving anything. Temujin also had Construction research finished, and this was particularly important for the khan, who had an ivory resource near one of his cities. The Mongols had no horses at all, and their Gers had done nothing to this point in time. With highly promoted elephants hitting the field along with catapults, Asoka might be in very serious trouble indeed. He only had five cities still standing. Asoka needed to recapture Varanasi and counterattack, but that looked less and less likely given the number of units that the Mongols were fielding. Temujin even became the first to discover Code of Laws, founding Confucianism as a religion; I think he used a Great Prophet on a lightbulb. A swap to a global minority religion would only make Temujin that much more likely to fight wars with everyone else on the board. Interesting, very interesting development.

Qin eventually cashed out of his war with Washington by signing peace, leaving Peter to continue the fight on his own. That struggle had achieved essentially nothing other than a lot of dead units. Maybe now Qin would be able to capture the two barbarian cities to his rear; the AI seems to struggle to capture barb cities when they're at war with another civilization. For that matter, Zara somehow still had a barb city deep in his territory, surrounded on all sides by Ethiopian culture. Simply amazing.

There was another breakthrough in the eastern war, as Darius finally was able to seize his prize at Munich. Catapults made the difference once again. Like Asoka, Frederick only had five cities remaining, and an increasingly untenable position. If Darius refused to make peace and continued to push on, he had the potential to emerge from this war as one of the game's giants. It wouldn't be very good news for the rest of the field if Financial / Organized Darius was the one with the most cities and the most territory!

Long turns passed with relatively little action. Peter and Washington made peace, bringing the conflict in the west to a close. Qin used this time to take the barb cities in his backlines, as expected. Zara's successful Creative landgrab and slow clearing of his jungle tiles eventually rose him up into the top position in score. I was still waiting for him to make his move, he'd almost certainly jump into one of these wars at some point. Temujin and Darius both made failed pushes forward, only to regroup and begin amassing their units once again, this time with more catapults. Asoka and Frederick were both researching Feudalism, the poor man's hope for survival. Would longbows change the course of these campaigns?

This was the biggest news in some time, Darius powering his way through the defenses of Berlin with a whole lot of catapult support. Our first capital of the game to be captured. Now Darius and Zara were virtually tied for first place in score. There was still a lot of German territory yet to go, but Darius was looking really strong here. He wouldn't even need to go to war again after this, with all of Frederick's land and those incredible economic traits, Darius would be all but unstoppable in a race to space.

Remember that barb city in the middle of Zara's territory? Somehow he was completely unable to capture the thing for centuries on end, yet Darius manages to get a sword up here and take the thing without breaking a sweat. These AIs do not make any sense.

Everyone who had Asoka in the First to Die pool will be happy to see this one. Qin decided that he wanted some Indian curry for dinner, and entered the war against Asoka on Turn 126. This was fantastic news for Temujin, who had kind of stalled out in his own offensive campaign. Repeated attacks against Bombay had failed to achieve much success. Asoka's longbows had seemed to make a difference in the fighting. However, the entry of the Chinese into this war was dire news indeed. Asoka's five cities were effectively fighting against the fifteen combined cities of his opponents, and that was a situation where weight of numbers was likely to proove the difference. Waves of Chinese swords, horse archers, catapults, and chariots were now racing across the border, eager to get their share of the spoils of war. As it turned out, Temujin moved first in turn order, and this allowed him to sneak in and take Bombay the following turn after Qin had thrown about two dozen units at the city. India was now bisected into two pieces, with three cities in the north and Agra cut off alone in the south. This felt like the tipping point for Asoka, I doubted very much he could come back from this position of desperation.

A few turns later, Peter declared war on Asoka as well and captured the isolated southern city of Agra. These AI sharks smelled blood in the water! Here's what was left of India:

Definitely not long now. By the way, Temujin still didn't have a road connection from his core cities up to Varanasi. He'd been walking units up there for several dozen turns now, no roads in place, moving one tile per turn across rough terrain. Quite a piece of work, these AIs. Anyway, the race was now on for Delhi and the remaining Indian cities. The only question was which of the invading leaders would manage to secure which patch of real estate. Of course Qin had other stuff on his plate to deal with:

Not the worst move, picking a moment where most of the Chinese forces were off elsewhere to invade. Washington wanted his revenge for the attack Qin had made on him earlier. That's the thing about these AIs, they can be very peaceful most of the time, but once the hate starts flowing between them, it's very difficult to turn it back off again. I guess they'd all been seduced by the Dark Side of the Force in this one. Interestingly enough, Washington did not have Construction tech for some reason, which would likely limit his success against the Protective longbows that Qin had for defense. Chengdu did fall easily enough, but the real question was whether Washington would be able to push on to further targets beyond the border. I guessed the answer would be "No", but we'd have to wait and see.

As for the remaining Indian cities, Qin was able to capture Delhi instead of Temujin. Unlike many of the other captured cities, it came with only a granary inside. Ouch! That was a bit unlucky on the capture dice roll. Temujin had picked up the Buddhist shrine in Bombay, for example, worth 25 gold/turn currently. Vijayanagara was taken by Peter, in another one of the strange geographic captures. Hopefully Peter would have more luck holding this city than his taking of Boston earlier in the game. Maces and crossbows were becoming commonplace on the battlefields now, with Frederick and Asoka getting left behind due to their weakened economies. Darius even had knights, and that might allow him to start breaking through the longbow defenses that had been protecting Frederick for some time now. In the west, Washington wasn't even attempting to attack the highly fortified cities of Qin. Instead, he was running around with horse archers and pillaging everything in sight, ripping apart the tile improvements across the length and breadth of northern China. Interesting strategy, it could work if the war dragged on long enough, I suppose. Eventually though, Washington gave up that idea, attacked, lost all his units, and signed peace with Qin. Ah, now there's the AI we know and love!

Appropriately enough, it was Temujin who finished off Asoka at his final city:

At no point in time did the great khan ever make peace; he had started the first war of the game and seen it through to a successful conclusion. Asoka had fought valiantly in this one, and in a straight up duel I think he would have survived indefinitely. It was the intervention of Qin and then Peter who broke this conflict wide open. There simply wasn't anything that Asoka could do once he was facing such a massive deficit in numbers. Apparently the "Evil" leaders all had one another's back in this particular war. Temujin ended up with three cities, Peter took two cities, and Qin had to be content with only one. The real question here was what Zara Yacob felt about all this, and how he would take to having so much overlap with Temujin on his borders. The Ethiopians and the Mongols had different religions and were not exactly on good terms. That seemed a likely source for future conflict, to say the least.

This was the overview after 150 turns, and in the aftermath of Asoka's elimination. Zara and Darius remained locked in a tight struggle for first place, both of them in strong positions to take one of the playoff spots. They were also the top two leaders in GNP, which wasn't too surprising for peaceful Zara. It was a lot more impressive for Darius, who had been at war for almost the entire game with Frederick. Darius had tried to attack the city of Hamburg multiple times, and continued to be driven back with losses. How much longer could Frederick continue to stall on the losing end of this conflict? I still thought it was amazing that they'd ended up at war, their corner of the continent seemed to have peaceful coexistence written all over it.

In power rating, Genghis Khan Temujin was still the leader of the pack. He was in a group together with Peter and Qin, the three of them having similar peace weight alignment and all of them on relatively good terms. The three of them were also bunched together on the scoreboard, just a little bit behind Zara and Darius. As for Washington, he had a lot of cities up in the northwest, but his diplomatic situation did not look good going forward. Peter and Qin were both enemies, and Temujin didn't much like him either. Unfriendly neighborhood for the Americans. Still, we were all waiting to see what Zara would do at this point. He was the only one who hadn't been to war yet, and Zara was "Cautious" with everyone around him. Temujin was "Annoyed" with Zara, and Ethiopia seemed a likely next target for Mongol aggression. Lots of border overlap and dissenting faiths on each side. Temujin's main army was even trapped in Pataliputra, behind Zara's culture, and the two of them wouldn't sign Open Borders with one another due to poor relations. Would this be the next flash point for global conflict?

The entire Mongol, Russian, and Chinese armies all headed down to the barb city of Phoenician after Asoka was dead. It really showcases how single-track the AI targeting system works, how this spot could be ignored by everyone while they were at war with the Indians, and then suddenly there's 50 units of three different nations all bearing down on the location. Temujin managed to capture the city due to the random chance of turn order. At least that was an outcome that made sense, given the nearby Mongol cities. As for the recent wonders, most of them had gone to Darius and Zara, the game's tech leaders. Darius built the Hanging Gardens, the Colossus, Chichen Itza, the Statue of Zeus, and University of Sankore. Zara had taken the Great Library, the Parthenon, Shwedagon Paya, Notre Dame, and the Sistine Chapel. Qin had the Mausoleum and Notre Dame, while Washington had built the Apostolic Palace for the Buddhist faith. Both stone and marble were plentiful on this map, and that seemed to encourage the AI leaders to try their hands at building lots of wonders. Not that it's hard to get the AI to build wonders at any point in time...

Whoa! Not the target I was expecting from Temujin. He wanted to pick a fight with Darius, of all people? That would be welcome news to Frederick, and we know how poorly the AI tends to fare in two front wars. Zohak did in fact fall to the khan, drawing first blood in this conflict. Nevertheless, this felt like one of those wars where the super aggressive leaders bite off more than they can chew. This had the potential to get turned around in a real hurry, especially if Darius was able to recruit someone like Zara into the war on his side. Temujin was taking a massive gamble here. He was either going to go big, or go home.

Much of Darius' army was off in German territory, where he was slowly bombing down the defenses of Hamburg. Three percent per turn, with a single catapult. It was about as stagnant as warfare in this game gets. Temujin's invasion force headed directly for the Persian capital of Persepolis, where he began his own torturously slow siege. Darius had Engineering tech and castles up everywhere, plus Chichen Itza for even more defenses, which would only make the Mongol attack that much more excruciatingly tedious. Zara appeared to be building up for his own attack, with knights in training in most of his cities. The Ethiopian stack was getting pretty big. Was it time to let loose the hounds of war?

When Darius finally attacked at Hamburg, his forces were completely slaughtered and didn't kill much of anything. That was a campaign that had been bungled very badly, Darius should have made much more progress when he was fighting solo against Frederick for so long. The Germans had been holding steady for dozens of turns now. The one piece of good news for Darius was that Temujin wasn't faring any better, his attacks also falling woefully short against the combination of castles + Chichen Itza. This was a poor time to go to war on the tech tree, the defensive side of war was heavily dominant. The only way to win was not to fight.

Frederick even managed to capture Berlin back from Darius. What an insulting setback! Darius had teched his way to Military Science for grenadiers, and I wondered how much that would help him. He needed to step it up badly, as Zara had now pulled out into a clear first place lead. Zara was also the favorite to build Taj Mahal, which would only snowball him further ahead. He would indeed land this wonder, as well as taking the Liberalism prize for a free Astronomy tech. Zara's path of pure peace seemed to be working perfectly, everyone else might be playing for second place in this one.

Darius and Temujin made peace shortly thereafter, the khan returning the city of Zohak in the treaty. This was a good deal for Temujin, as he was about to lose that city anyway in a few more turns. It was under attack from grenadiers and there wasn't any real way to stop the assault. This had been a poor choice of a war from Temujin, and he was lucky to get out of it without suffering further losses. As for Darius, now he could return to his endless struggle against Frederick with his full attention. That was the only global conflict at the moment, this had turned into a fairly peaceful game. Outside of Asoka's collapse, no one had lost more than a handful of border cities. Everyone's main core was still intact. Were we going to have an outcome with something like six or seven survivors, flying in the face of all previous games?

Literally on the very next turn, Washington declared war on Qin. I thought that this was another dubious prospect for expansion, as Washington was unlikely to make too much progress against Protective Qin, and there was the very real possibility that Peter or Temujin might jump in on the side of the Chinese. Peace weight considerations made Washington a vulnerable target off there in the far west. Indeed, the main American stack met the main Chinese stack in a pitched battle outside Chengdu, and it was Washington who came out on the losing end. Chengdu was retaken by Qin, rejoining the Chinese nation after a long period in enemy hands. Five turns into the war, Peter also joined the Chinese crusade against the Americans. No surprise there, called it ahead of time. A horde of Russian knights and war elephants stomped across the border, looking for Washington's blood. The American attack at Shanghai went nowhere, while the Russian invasion once again snatched the city of Boston into enemy hands.

It wasn't looking good for Washington. His capital was the next target, and I didn't see much of a chance for it to hold out, not against the power that Qin and Peter were bringing.

Elsewhere, Darius and Frederick had finally signed peace in their war. Frederick gifted the city of Berlin (not his capital, remember) back to Darius in the deal that cemented the peace. It looked very strange on the minimap, a square of Persian blue culture in the middle of German gray. They were both "Cautious" with one another, leaving the possibility open for a repeat engagement. However, the biggest news of the game continued to be Zara Yacob. The free Golden Age from Taj Mahal had propelled him even further ahead in GNP:

This wasn't looking good for the rest of the field. With universities and observatories and security bureaus and so on, Zara had the sort of infrastructure that other leaders could only dream about. He had finally replaced all that jungle with farms and cottages, and the economic benefits were easy to see on the bar graphs. If Zara chose to go to war with someone, they'd be very hard pressed to stop him. Still no movement from the Ethiopians as yet.

Oh boy. Talk about poking your head into the hornet's nest. Temujin decided that he would pick a fight with Zara, relying on the fact that the Mongols currently had a military superiority on the bar graphs. I doubted that would last for long once Zara went into wartime mode, so Temujin needed to deal some major damage right away, at the outset of this war. They both had the same amount of military tech - Zara simply had way more economic stuff elsewhere on the tree. Temujin must have been seething at the cultural situation around Pataliputra, where his army had been stuck for the last 50 turns due to lack of Open Borders. Well, they were moving across the fields of Ethiopia now! Could this insane gamble actually work, or was this going to get turned inside out in a hurry like the ill-fated Persian invasion?

Temujin amazingly managed to capture the city of Yeha with his initial strike force. This was the same turn that his Mongol civilization discovered Rifling tech, opening up rifles and cavalry. You crazy khan, was this hare-brained scheme actually going to work?!

Ummm, maybe not. The thing about super aggressive leaders like Temujin is that when their wars work out, they can grow to a fantastic size and keep growing ever larger, since they aren't afraid of fighting anyone and everyone. The downside, of course, is that their wars of aggression can also rebound back to hurt them in the worst possible way. Temujin had attacked the two strongest leaders in the game, and made enemies of both of them. That hatred was now coming home to roost at an awful time, with Darius sending rifles and grenadiers across the border. Temujin might be able to make his surprise invasion work against Zara, but against Zara and Darius at the same time? There was no possible chance. The Mongols were in dire straights now, this reversal having completely flipped the war on its head.

Qin and Peter had both made peace with Washington by now, leaving the wars against Temujin as the only action taking place. (Peter had messed up his war terribly, sacrificing all of his siege units in taking Boston, and then foolishly attacking the American capital without bothering to drop defenses. Lots of knights attacking into 60% culture + hill defense longbows and pikes. What a waste of units.) In the main conflict, Temujin's units were fighting bravely, but they were slowly being overwhelmed. The main Mongol attack force was flanked apart by cavalry as it tried to siege the Ethiopian city of Gondar. (That's a real city name in the game, not a LOTR shoutout!) Yeha was taken back next by Zara. Pataliputra was never attacked, despite being surrounded by a sea of Zara's culture. It actually flipped over to Ethiopia, after all of the defenders had been moved away. Yep, two Mongol rifles in the city, surrounded by 25 Ethiopian cavs, and they wouldn't attack because they had the wrong AI mission assigned. Had to wait on the city to flip culturally, unbelievable. The offensive from Darius was moving in slow motion, as he waited once again for his single trebuchet with the main army to bomb down castle defenses, yargh. Just when it seemed that all hope was lost for Temujin, fate intervened:

Another one of the "Evil" leaders decided to join the struggle against Zara. This was another questionable war from a tactical standpoint, as Peter was only just now finishing Rifling tech while Zara was laying down railroads and had already finished Steam Power. It only made sense from an ideological standpoint, as Peter evidently didn't like Zara for his medium peace weight status. I wasn't sure how much help this would be for the Mongols, but it certainly couldn't hurt.

Well, Peter signed peace with Zara all of two turns later, so that was a whole lot of nothing. Guess he didn't fancy this conflict after all. Meanwhile, Darius had finally conquered his first target, taking the Mongol city of Tabriz on their shared border. Temujin still had ten cities remaining, so he'd be hanging around for some time yet, but it certainly didn't look good for him right now. There were Ethiopian armies attacking at Varanasi and Old Sarai, Persian armies pushing on Turfan and Phoenician. Sooner or later one of these invasions was going to break through, especially now that both Zara and Darius had cannons to cut through the castle defenses. They're about five times faster than trebuchets, and I'm not exaggerating in the slightest.

Washington had also declared war on Qin yet again, but I refused to pay much attention to them unless something actually happened. I'd seen that song and dance play out with no lasting results three times already.

A dozen turns later, Mongolia was in full collapse mode. The outer ring of border cities had fallen, and Ethiopian and Persian units were racing for the inner core cities. This was no mere academic exercise either, as Darius and Qin were extremely close to one another for the all-important runner up position. Zara felt like a lock to take first at this point; he had Assembly Line tech done, factories and coal plants everywhere, and infantry / machine guns racing around the battlefields. Everyone else was a full generation behind in military tech. Darius and Qin though, they were neck and neck for second place. Qin seemed to be winning his war with Washington, as he was fielding rifles and cavs and cannons against Washington's Renaissance era force of muskets and cuirassiers. Still waiting on Qin to break through and start taking cities, but with cannons it might not be much longer. Darius would have to capture more territory of his own from Temujin if he wanted to keep pace.

Taking the American capital qualified as a major breakthrough out in the west. I guess the fourth time was the charm between those two leaders. Qin's military was nowhere near spent either, as he still had tons of rifles and cannons that had survived this assault. I wondered if he would be smart enough to head after New York next, which would slice Washington's territory into two halves that couldn't reinforce one another. From there, it would be easy to pick apart the remaining cities at Qin's leisure. But nope, despite having Washington totally on the ropes and unable to fight back, Qin signed peace a few turns later. This neatly trapped the bulk of Qin's army inside the city of Washington, where they were completely surrounded by American culture and unable to move in any direction. Smooth move. They would surely return to war at some point, but this had been the perfect chance for Qin to conquer the rest of American and lock down a top two finish. He was opening the door for Darius to grab that coveted position.

Things kept getting worse for Temujin, as he lost his capital in another brute force attack. Zara had infantry in large numbers now, and they weren't much impressed by rifle defenders. Ethiopia seemed to be getting the bulk of the spoils thus far, in part because Darius was so unbearably slow in his movements. Zara seemed more willing to throw away units in exchange for capturing cities, rather than waiting to bombard away every last percentage point from the defenders. Bombay and its Buddhist shrine went over to Zara in the west, while Turfan fell to the blue surge of Darius in the east. Temujin had lost the entire eastern half of his core, and had fallen to last in power. Frederick was actually above both Temujin and Washington in power, to give you an idea of how weak the Americans were. (Why did Qin sign peace, again?) The remaining Mongol cities continued to break apart in rapid fashion, we'd finally reached the point in the game where the AI can move relatively quickly from one target to the next. Zara had fighter planes all over the place, and he was using them for their air strike capability to weaken the Mongol defenders for his cavs.

Only three cities left now, all in the deep south. New Sarai went to Darius; Persian ironclads were plodding along down there in the southern seas, sinking any Mongol caravels that tried to emerge from port. Samarqand went to Zara's SAM infantry on the same turn that he finished his Apollo Program. Zara was even paradropping units next to the final city of Ning-hsia at the very end. They weren't enough on their own, but the bulk of the Ethiopian army was just behind them:

We bid a fond farewell to Temujin, who certainly makes his games interesting to watch. It was hard to feel this was anything other than a just outcome, as Temujin had picked fights with both of these leaders, and ultimately he simply poked one too many tiger in the eye. The hyper aggression that characterizes the khan simply hadn't worked here, too many battles and not enough economy. Zara had picked up 7 cities in the fighting (Darius landed 4 cities) and become even more of a runaway. He'd virtually have his pick of victory condition going forward. Zara was on terrible terms with Peter though, so he might not be finished conquering. For the moment though, the world returned to complete peace for the first time in many, many years.

On the overview map, it was clear how Zara's green culture had erupted down into the center of the map in the aftermath of his Mongol conquest. He was also the tech leader, and had cleaned up all of the recent wonders except for the Statue of Liberty, which had somehow gone to Qin instead. Zara was just beginning the Modern era in research, ahead of the rest but still with quite a few techs left to go on the tree. Qin and Darius remained extremely close for that second place position, less than 50 points separating them on the scoreboard at the time of this picture. Qin was slightly ahead in technology, up about four or five techs on Darius, despite the far superior economic traits possessed by the Persian leader. Qin was just finishing Industralism tech to open up tanks; he'd be a fool not to attack Washington and finish off the Americans to amass more score points. I had no idea if the AI would attack again though, their decisions rarely make much sense. Peter was also not that far behind, he trailed a bit more in tech. At the bottom of the scoreboard were Frederick and Washington, nearly identical in score at this point. Neither one would last long if they came under attack from the more advanced leaders surrounding them. Frederick seemed safe given the generally peaceful nature of Darius; Washington was in significantly more danger. I was also looking forward to the eventual construction of the United Nations, as there were quite a few leaders still alive and major diplomatic tensions between the Zara/Darius pair and the Qin/Peter grouping. It was difficult to predict what votes would look like.

We had close to a dozen turns of peace and quiet, but sure enough Washington came under attack again:

I'd been watching the northwest corner of the map, since this was the area where war was most likely to break out. Washington was very low on the power ranking scale, and that along with his high peace weight made him an irresistable target for "Evil" leaders like Peter and Qin. This war wouldn't be a slam dunk, however, as Peter was attacking with cossacks and rifles against Washington's own rifle defenses. As long as it was Peter alone, then Washington would probably be able to hold out for a while. The war would only turn into a rout if Qin decided to intervene, China having much more advanced military tech. Especially tanks, which do horrible things to rifle defenders. For the moment, the Chinese were staying out.

Funniest part of the war: Russian destroyers attacking and sinking American caravels in the waters surrounding Philadelphia. Wee bit of a mismatch there!

Philadephia fell to Peter, followed by New York. Washington (the leader, not the city!) was really taking it on the chin here, advanced technology or no advanced technology on the part of Peter. And hey, don't look now, but these city captures were pushing Peter's score up the leaderboard. He passed Qin and began to close in on Darius. If Peter managed to get all of the American cities, he could emerge in the runner up position, despite the illogic of having cities in the deep south and in the far north. Meanwhile, Zara continue to race through the final portions of the tech tree at breakneck pace. He was going for an early Robotics tech (and mech infantry) when he finished the United Nations, prompting our first Secretary General vote:

Wow, this was super close! Not in the Secretary General vote, of course, which Zara won easily. I mean the potential vote for a Diplomatic victory. Winning via the diplo vote mechanic required 62% of the ballots, or 747 votes in this particular election. Zara received 752 votes in the Secretary General election, which was 62.3% of the world population. It's tough to get much closer than that. The slightest variations in population could result in a won or lost diplo victory vote. I'd have to keep a very close eye on this and watch what happened.

American cities continued to fall to Peter's invasion forces. The Russian leader didn't even have Assembly Line tech as yet, but he was making up ground on Darius now and was only about 150 points behind in score. Could he capture all of the remaining cities in the north?

Apparently not. Qin finally went back to war, something he never should have stopped in the previous conflict. This would be their fifth war of the game, if you can believe it. That delay may have been enough to cost Qin a second place spot though, as Peter had already gobbled up the eastern half of America. I had no idea what the borders were going to look like when this was all over, it was getting to be a mismatch of Russian and Chinese culture in former American territory. This war became real interesting in a hurry when Zara chose to hold a "Stop the War against Washington" UN vote a few turns after Qin's entry. Check out the result:

It failed by 30 votes. Another close one! This meant that Zara would not be able to win a Diplomatic victory even if he held the vote, since the threshhold for a "Stop the War" resolution is exactly the same (62%). The American cities that Peter and Qin had taken gave them enough population to hold a veto block in the UN, even if they were far short of voting themselves into the Secretary General chair. Zara would need to pursue his own spaceship to win this game. And check out those scores for the runner up position. The three way race for second place remained incredibly close!

There wasn't too much to write home about in the ongoing war. Washington had no chance whatsoever, he could only feebly push back against the might of Qin and Peter like an elderly old man. Destroyers bombed out the defenses of coastal cities, fighter planes carried out air strikes against defending units, and columns of tanks and cossacks raced across the landscape in pursuit of their missions. But even as Chinese paratroopers were finishing off the last American diehards, the world suddenly had more important things on its mind:

Now this was news. Zara and his incredibly advanced army of mechanized infantry declared war on Peter. I'd mentioned before that there was bad blood between these two, largely stemming from Peter's cavalier declaration of war against Zara earlier during the Mongol war. The Russian tsar probably regretted that decision now, as scores of mechs rumbled across the border in pursuit of long awaited revenge. Peter had only just finished Assembly Line research, and he was still in the process of building his factories and coal plants. He stood little chance against an invading force of mechs, with full support from bombers and tanks. This was going to get very ugly, very fast, and not for the Ethiopians.

First though, there was some mopping up to finish:

Goodbye to Washington. He was never able to break out of his starting position in the northwest, despite repeated attempts to do so. Washington's biggest problem was finding himself constantly on the wrong end of a 2 vs. 1 situation against Qin and Peter. For whatever reason, Peter had decided to concentrate his efforts up in the far north, despite starting on the other side of the Chinese. This meant an eventual doom for Washington as a result of their long wars of attrition. He simply could not keep up with the superior production of two competing leaders. I'm sure it was small consolation for Washington to watch as Peter was in the process of getting torn apart by Zara's counter offensive. Too little, too late to save the Americans.

With the conquered American cities, Qin had now passed Darius in score. The split of American cities was exactly equal, with five going to Qin and five going to Peter. The Russian conquests were already under assault, however, as Zara's forces pushed forward simultaneously in the south and in the northwest. Peter's ancient Indian cities were the first to fall, Agra and Varanasi disappearing on the same turn. More cities in the south followed as Zara began to push into Peter's core. Suddenly, another interesting development popped up: Zara called for a Diplomatic victory vote in the UN. He'd been blocked before by the combined population of Qin and Peter, but with several cities changing hands from Russia over to Ethiopia, I was no longer certain that there were enough votes to stop Zara. It was going to come down to a few critical votes...

OMG what a twist! Darius changed his vote at the last second and didn't support Zara in his push for diplo victory. I honestly thought that the game was over here, this threw me completely for a loop. When I checked on the diplo screen, Darius was sitting at +6 relations with Zara in the "Pleased" category. Darius must have been in that narrow band where the AI will vote for you in the Secretary General election, but not in the actual Diplomatic victory category. What a tease. As for Zara, he would indeed have won the game here if he'd managed to get Darius' vote. That would have put him at 767 votes, clearly enough to take this thing. Zara must have been gnashing his teeth in frustration. Once again, so close and so far away.

Of course, this meant that poor Peter was in for more ass-kicking at the hands of the angry Ethiopians.

The tidal wave of green units continued to break across the fields of Russia. Zara had mobile artillery rolling around now too. He lacked only Composites tech and modern armor for the complete set of lategame military toys. Zara had founded both Mining Inc. and Creative Construction, which gave him more production than he knew what to do with. (Qin had founded Sid's Sushi, and the Chinese had spread their corporation far and wide as well.) Finally, Zara was also about to complete the Manhattan Project, which would throw the fun subject of nuclear armageddon into the mix as well. This game was definitely going out with a bang, not with a whimper.

My computer chugged for almost 30 seconds on the T305 interturn, and that could only mean one thing: major invasion taking place. Looks like Qin was joining the party.

Ah Qin. Such a good ally to your friend Peter. This was perhaps not the best idea in the larger strategic context of the game, however, as Qin merely had to sit on the sidelines and await Zara's spaceship launch to claim second place and a spot in the playoffs. There was no way that Darius would ever pass him in score, not without the Persians going back to war, and that seemed very unlikely. Instead, Qin decided to make a bid for bigger gains, taking on the world leader head on. And it's not like Qin was any military slouch, as he also had mechs and tanks and gunships. Qin grabbed one city in his initial sneak attack, and pushed into former India in search of more. Keep in mind too that the Manhattan Project had already been constructed. Both sides in this war were fully capable of firing off tactical nukes at one another. This was going to be quite the show. Popcorn time, anyone?

Zara was the first to go nuclear, dropping a bomb on the Chinese city of Bombay. All of the AI leaders were racing to get their SDIs completed, trying to provide some protection against nuclear war. Peter had only three cities remaining in his Russian core by this point, along with his four American pickups in the far north. Peter's power had actually fallen below Frederick's at this point, he had been thoroughly smashed. The heaviest fighting between Qin and Zara was taking place over the city of Varanasi. There were so many units there that it was nearly impossible to follow the action, well over 100 units on both sides. Both sides also continued to launch nukes at one another. Here was a view of the main battlefield:

There was quite a bit of fallout over here from the tactical nukes expended by both sides. Zara had also finished Composites tech, finally, and when he triggered a Golden Age at the same time, he was building a modern armor or other advanced unit in every city on every turn. There were so many units being traded around Varanasi that it almost defied logic. The Ethiopian advances against Peter had completely stopped, both empires were throwing everything that they had into this tiny region of the map. I lost track of the number of Great Generals born, we had long since run out of unique names for them. Amazingly, these two empires seemed to be evenly matched. Neither one could manage to break through. Qin was probably losing out very slightly, but it wasn't enough to be noticeable. It was strange to see so many units dying and yet the map remained static.

While this was going on, Zara managed to complete the entire tech tree and launch his spaceship:

Just a few more turns left to go now. It didn't exactly seem likely that someone was going to capture Zara's capital city before the spaceship reached its destination. Zara tried another diplo victory vote in the UN, which again failed due to lack of support from Darius. Qin wasn't that far off from Zara's population total either, he'd made some good use of Sid's Sushi to get an extra 3-4 population in each city, and that helped a lot in the United Nations. Zara also had massive war weariness from doing most of the fighting in Qin's territory, he had as many as 8 unhappy faces in his core cities. Zara was in the bizarre case of needing to research Future Tech for the happiness bonus!

Delhi finally was captured by Zara after many turns of fighting, and it seemed as though the tide may have finally turned in the war. Former India was a nuclear wasteland of fallout everywhere; Vijayanagara could have been renamed New Vegas:

Qin's power had now fallen below Darius, still respectable but not a match for Zara any longer. It had been a valiant fight, even if ultimately futile. Now could Qin manage to hold onto his second place spot before Zara's spaceship arrived? That was the key dramatic question as the very last turns played their way out. Varanasi fell next to the Ethiopians, as even more nukes rained down upon Bombay. That poor city had been hit three or four times now, rough place for the civilians to live. It was taken the next turn by Zara in another surge of modern armor. Zara was also beginning to revive his Russian offensive, beginning to look towards Moscow in the south, and extend up towards the former American cities in the north. Seattle was already his prize, snatched away from Peter with relative ease.

Given enough time, Zara would have continued pushing on until he reached Domination somewhere in the far northwest. But instead, time ran out on this game when Zara's spaceship reached Alpha Centauri on Turn 326:

Well they can't all be as close as the nailbiter in Game Eight. It was pretty clear from about the midway point that Zara was going to take this one. He managed to get out in front early on with his semi-isolated starting position and never looked back. Fortunately this game still had great drama for the runner up spot, which went back and forth many times over the final 100 turns. Go back and look at the earlier screenshots, Qin and Darius and even Peter all had legitimate chances to grab that last playoff spot. It was a pretty decent game overall.

Here's our final overview map. Despite the vast tracts of green culture, Zara wasn't especially close to Domination. He was only a little bit above 30% land area, and he was going to need 60% to win via that route. The fact that this game was played on a Large map size definitely made it more difficult to win through the military path. I also thought that the larger size was probably a net negative on the whole; it was too difficult for the leaders to conquer one another, and there weren't enough interactions between the corners of the map. Frederick never really interacted with anyone other than Darius, for example. Too far away from everyone else except maybe Zara. While it all worked fine for a single game, I felt that this reinforced my decision to go with Standard sized maps for all of the other matches.

When I looked back at this one in the rear view mirror, I thought that Zara winning his settling race in the central jungle by a half turn over Temujin was one of the crucial moments in the game. That was at Yeha, and Zara winning that spot allowed his Creative culture to dominate most of the equatorial region. The net result was 11 Ethiopian cities against 8 Mongol cities (since Yeha allowed Zara to get another city further west at Massawa in the same area later). If Temujin had gotten there first, then the Ethiopians have 9 cities and the Mongols have 10 cities at the end of the landgrab. Zara gets confined much more tightly to his starting peninsula, and he's never able to dominate to the same extent through purely peaceful means. Food for thought, at the very least.

The other big turning points were the wars at the two edges of the map. Peter's willingness to assist Qin in their war against Washington resulted in the eventual destruction of the Americans. This was the main reason why Qin wound up going through to the playoffs as the runner up. He'd never have been able to pull off that conquest without the help of the Russians. In turn, Qin saved Peter from certain elimination in the closing turns of the game. It was a nice story of friendship. Conversely, the inability of Darius to finish off Frederick was the main reason why he ended up in third place. (Hey, remember those two guys? Yes, they were in fact still playing in this game!) Darius certainly should have been able to eliminate the Germans after he took their capital at a fairly early date. Instead, his offensive petered out at Hamburg and they eventually signed peace with no further cities changing hands. Frederick limped on as a weak nonentity until the game's end. With five or six more German cities in hand, Darius surely would have take the second place spot and moved on to the playoff round. I couldn't feel bad for him either - I felt that Qin did more in this game, and deserved the spot more than he did. I mean, Qin was using Protective/Industrious traits against Darius' Financial/Organized, for heaven's sake. Darius should have taken that contest in a walk.

Zara's Demographics at the end of the game, for the curious. He was ahead in Food and Production, barely leading in GNP. Qin only needed about five more techs to complete the tech tree himself, he'd done an excellent job of catching up in research at the end of the game. (Much of that was due to severe war weariness affecting Zara, as mentioned before.) That said, if Spaceship had been turned off as a victory condition, I'm pretty sure that Zara would have eventually ground down Qin and Peter into the dirt and won by Domination, sometime many dozens of turns down the road. Zara was the clear winner, if not an overwhelming one.

Final Standings

1) Zara Yacob
2) Qin
3) Darius
4) Peter
5) Frederick
6) Washington
7) Genghis Khan Temujin
8) Asoka

Zara and Qin therefore move on to the playoffs. These remaining leaders are all finished, no more games left for them to play. Darius, Peter, and Frederick can take some solace in the fact that they did manage to survive, unlike their many predecessors who were eliminated. 31 of the 52 leaders had been killed off to this point, with 18 moving on the playoff round, and these three souls happy to still have their spleens intact. Their Hunger Games were finished. As for the two winners, we now had our full playoff bracket:

Three outstanding games left to go. Each game contained three first place finishers and three runner ups from the eight opening round games and the wildcard game. Only the top two leaders from each playoff match would move on from there to the final championship contest. It was time to get serious. Who wanted this thing the most? Which leader will bring home the AI championship?