Axiis has provided another summary for one of the Season Two AI Survivor games. We're getting close now to having written reports for all of the games from the second season. Thank you Axiis!
AI Survivor 2 Game 5: Finish What You Started
Game 5 would prove to be an unpredictable game. The map was slightly unbalanced, with three civs starting on the east end of the map, two in the middle of the map, and one civilization on the west side. Starting at the top, Hannibal spawned on a peninsula in the north. Tokugawa spawned in the southeast, and Willem split the two of them, starting in roughly the middle of the east end of the map. Both Hannibal and Willem are fairly moderate leaders with fairly strong civilization traits, though Hannibal is the more aggressive of the two. The closeness of their capitals, combined with Willem's creative trait, made their border a strong candidate for early conflict. South of Willem, beyond a thin strip of desert, sat Tokugawa's Japanese civilization. The Japanese of Civilization 4 are famously isolationist, and Toku's prickly personality can easily spark a war.
The middle of the map was split between two civilizations: Isabella, the game's leading religious zealot, and Frederick, an enlightened king whose low interest in the military and high peace weight are a bit odd given his historical achievements. Frederick had quite a bit of room to expand and a fertile core territory, but he was nevertheless a prime candidate for first to die. That's because he was sandwiched between Tokugawa in the east and Shaka, who loves all things military the way Isabella loves all things religious, to his west. Shaka's priorities are 1) research military technologies, 2) build a big ole horde, 3) mess up someone's day. Given Isabella's predilection for violent crusade, it wasn't much of a stretch to imagine that SOMEONE in the west would get taken down, and Frederick's high peace weight and disinterest in building large armies made him a prime target.
The second city placements of the AI were all mostly sensible, though Willem and Shaka probably stayed too close to the coast, lured in by the AI's thirst for grabbing as many resources as possible, quality of the land be damned. Hannibal and Willem both sent their initial settlers toward each other, turning up the border tensions immediately. Tokugawa similarly settled north towards the Netherlands, while Isabella and Frederick both made moves towards the center of the map along their respective rivers. Shaka's second city was perhaps the least impressive of the bunch, as he settled along the north coast to pick up a plains cow tile. Shaka would follow up this questionable decision by declining to improve his tiles, choosing instead to spam roads all over his territory. At the same time, he waited so long to build any cultural buildings that he actually lagged behind the culture count of the observer civilization at one point. It was an odd opening from the Zulu king.
To absolutely no one's surprise, Isabella grabbed the game's first religion and chose Christianity. Willem took down the game's second religion, choosing Judaism. Soon after, the AIs started planting their third cities. Willem and Hannibal both planted provocative third cities; Willem settled the Hague right next to Utica, the second Carthaginian city, while Hannibal antagonized Isabella by planting his third city right next to Barcelona, the second Spanish city. This location was totally swamped by Barcelona's holy city culture, though, and Hannibal was rapidly finding himself hemmed in by Spanish culture to the west and Dutch culture to the south. Isabella amplified this pressure when she built Stonehenge, which led to her popping a great prophet for the Christian shrine. The battle lines in the east were drawn when Hannibal sided with his southern antagonist and swapped to Judaism, which helped alleviate the tension growing out of Willem's oppressive culture. Relations would remain good enough between the Jewish leaders despite their tight border, staying cordial even when Willem dropped his fourth city on the Carthaginian-Dutch border. Though Hannibal's conversion calmed relations with Willem, it all but guaranteed that Izzy would be bringing down some holy war on someone in the east, and the impertinent Carthaginian settlement next door to Barcelona no doubt painted a target on Hannibal's back.
Willem's culture was giving Tokugawa some headaches as well. Toku was able to grab some of the land between Kyoto and Amsterdam, but Amsterdam was such a cultural powerhouse tht Tokugawa's new settlement couldn't control the key iron resource in its first ring for years. Stymied by Dutch culture in the north, Toku looked west to fill up the middle of the map. He continued to look west and south even when a pair of barbarian cities popped up on the eastern peninsula, though he was saved from barbarian aggression when he pulled down the Great Wall. In the center of the map, Frederick continued building himself a nice core, picking up some strong city locations in the fertile river valleys in that bisected the map. Shaka likewise put together a decent core for his empire, with his fourth city picking up a crucial copper resource. Shaka built on this strategic win with two moves that would have major ramifications as the game went along; first, he took advantage of Isabella's glacial land grab by snapping up the west coast of the continent up to the southern border of Madrid, the Spanish capital. He then helped himself out by adopting Izzy's Christian faith, ensuring strong relations with the zealous Spanish queen and prompting her to look east rather than south or west. Frederick would likewise join the Christian bloc, while Tokugawa would convert to Judaism, neatly dividing the map between the three eastern Jewish empires and the three western Christian empires.
With faithful Christians to her south and west and little more room for settling cities, Isabella turned to the thing she loves the best: spreading her faith by the sword. The Spanish culture pouring out of Barcelona allowed Isabella to attack Hannibal's westernmost city Hadrumetum on the turn war was declared. Hannibal was not expecting the Spanish Inquisition and he lost the city immediately, then failed to take it back with a quick counter attack. Unfortunately for the Spanish, Isabella was unable to keep up her momentum and the war rapidly degenerated into a stalemate, with Hannibal and Isabella trading stacks in the no man's land between Utica and Hadrumetum. In the north east, Hannibal left large swathes of his peninsula unsettled while the war with Isabella dragged on. As much as he would have benefited from the cities he left unfounded, his programming prevented him from sending out settlers while war raged on his western front.
Isabella's early declaration of war ended up leaving Hannibal's expansion badly kneecapped, while his economy suffered thanks to the burden his few extant cities had to bear. His strategy of whipping his cities relentlessly to counter the probing Spanish thrusts exacerbated his critical lack of happiness resources and further hampered his struggling economy. The continuous beatings failed to improve morale, and his research ground to a near standstill. Willem's early religion pop and Isabella's commitment to endless holy war left Hannibal unable to leverage his financial trait, and his economy and tech paid dearly for it. Hannibal would eventually recapture Hadrumetum, but the long war dragged on in a brutal stalemate. Isabella, for her part, seemed perfectly content to let the war with the heathens carry on, as she picked up wonder after wonder while Hannibal struggled to keep his empire afloat.
In the east, Willem was dealing with a problem of his own. He had a native source of iron, but an aggressive settlement from Japan swiped it out from under his nose. This left Willem in some dire straits, as his land was devoid of iron and copper. In fact, only a single source remained unclaimed near him, on the barbarian peninsula east of Japan. Willem moved quickly, settling aggressively along Japan's northern border before launching a campaign against the barbarian cities themselves. The curiously undermanned barbarian cities, which spawned with mere warriors instead of the archers that usually defend Deity barbarian cities, fell quickly before the Dutch army, and Willem quickly found himself ruling a sizable empire that looked an awful lot like a front runner. His conquest of barbarian Gepid finally gave him a domestic source of iron. He had ten cities, coreligionists to his north and south, and was doing very well in his beaker count.
As Willem subjugated the barbarians and Isabella and Hannibal settled into their endless war, the other civilizations were still busily filling out the map. Tokugawa expanded south and west, Shaka capped off his ultimately strong land grab by planting a couple cities in the southern tundra, and Frederick demonstrated some pretty awful judgment by shoving cities right on Shaka's doorstep. As the expansion phase wound down, each civilization began to think about the next phase of the game. Frederick, Willem, and Isabella all thought that meant religions, wonders, and economic development. Shaka and Tokugawa had other plans.
The next two wars went off at nearly the same time, on Turns 93 and 95 respectively. Tokugawa moved first - Toku really, really doesn't like having neighbors, and Willem just made himself at home on Tokugawa's northern doorstep. Religious affiliations notwithstanding, Tokugawa was ready to tell Willem to get off his darn lawn and moved on the desert city Middleburg on Turn 93. Tokugawa stripped Willem of his lone source of iron soon after when he moved on to Gepid, and then continued rolling up the Dutch flank with the capture of Nijmegen, opening the road into the Dutch interior. Tokugawa bypassed the remaining barbarian peninsula city, Yue Chin, and moved on Willem's core. Unfortunately for the Japanese army, Willem was finally able to research feudalism and field longbows to stabilize his southern border. Even more unfortunately for the Japanese army, Tokugawa didn't seem to think this was any reason not to try to attack fortified cities on hills, and the Japanese army was shredded by the Dutch army's new toys. Like the war between Hannibal and Isabella, the war in the south ground to a brutal stalemate.
The third war of the game was a different story. While Isabella was too distracted chasing wonders and religions to really push into Carthage and Tokugawa didn't have the tech to crack Willem's longbows, Shaka was both focused and up to the challenge. He eschewed every tech that didn't have a unit attached to it, jumping out to Construction and fielding an army of elephants and catapults. When he came calling for Frederick, he was ready. Frederick, on the other hand, was not. Despite his fertile land and provocative city placements, Frederick was woefully unprepared for the military machine Shaka had assembled. Frankfurt fell, and the German core was cracked open. Shaka rolled from one target to the next, hardly breaking a sweat while blowing through the undermanned German garrisons. From the moment the game's third war was declared, Frederick looked like he was going to make a quick exit from Game 5.
Perhaps inspired by Shaka's example, Isabella and Tokugawa both finally found some success in their respective wars. Hannibal was too slow in teching to Feudalism, allowing Izzy the chance to finally break through Hadrumetum's defenses with the help of war elephants. The Spanish blew through Utica before easily sieging down and capturing Carthage and dealing a hammer blow to Hannibal's chances to makes a comeback. To the south, Tokugawa had finally gathered enough forces to capture Yue Chi and secure the barbarian peninsula for himself. With his eastern flank consolidated, Tokugawa marched into the heart of Willem's empire and captured Amsterdam. The same turn Utica fell to the Spanish, the Japanese captured the Hague just across the border. In response to these disasters, Willem did the only thing he could think of - he researched Divine Right and popped Islam in one of his fringe cities. This may have been a strategic misstep.
With Frederick rapidly collapsing in the center of the map and Willem and Hannibal getting rolled up on parallel tracks in the north east, it seemed like the only real question left about this initial round of wars was who would be knocked out first - Willem, Hannibal, or the pregame favorite for this most dubious honor, Frederick. Shaka was not about to be outdone by his rivals, and answered the question with authority when he captured the last German outpost on Turn 155:
Frederick may have been unlucky drawing a war monger like Shaka on his flank, but he really earned his first to die medal - he was just useless in holding back the Zulu storm. Shaka won a valuable prize with his rapid conquest of Germany, and he took his time rebuilding the economic base of Germany before he even considered returning to military adventurism. And by that I mean he waited four whole turns before he ruthlessly stabbed his remaining coreligionist Isabella in the back on Turn 159.
This was only the fourth declaration of war in the game, and it seems to have been a hail mary from Hannibal to save his dying civilization. The Zulu armies were still kicking around in southern Germany, perhaps considering taking a run at the otherwise occupied Tokugawa, but whatever Hannibal offered must have been more than enough for the bellicose Shaka. His armies were out of position, but they were in far better shape than Isabella, who was at present building wonders in her core while her field army was up in Carthage finishing off the beleaguered Hannibal. Shaka may not have been ready for this war, but Isabella was really, really not ready for it.
Cordoba, one of the key engines of Isabella's cultural juggernaut and the home of the Statue of Zeus, was the first major prize to fall to the Zulu. Isabella was able to respond by capturing a couple of border cities, but it was all over when the Zulu death stack arrived from the frozen tundra of old Germany. All of Isabella's wonders couldn't save her from Shaka's army, which was over a hundred units strong by this point. Izzy had predictably invested heavily in the cultural side of the tech tree, which left her in a fatally bad position as the Zulu closed in on her empire. She concluded peace with Hannibal - the only true peace treaty of the game and only the second time a war had ended at all, by the way - and scrambled to gather whatever defenses she could muster. Hannibal, who looked like he was on his way out only a few turns ago, had to have been delighted to still be holding three cities in his little peninsula while Spain was smashed.
To Hannibal's south, Tokugawa was putting the finishing touches on his conquest of the Netherlands knocking them out on Turn 182. Willem had, like Frederick and Isabella, been saddled with a belligerent neighbor that exploited his predilection for economic pursuits. The Dutch had enjoyed a brief run of success, but Tokugawa launched his attack before Willem had a chance to consolidate his empire. The well timed Japanese invasion had left Tokugawa with a number of options to consider. He could go north and finish off Hannibal, or he could try to take down the Zulu juggernaut while Shaka was tied up in Spain. In the end, though, he decided on door number 3 and went after the rapidly collapsing Spanish on Turn 201. The Japanese captured Spanish occupied Carthage with ease and began swallowing up the hard fought gains Isabella had won from her inveterate enemy Hannibal.
Soon after, Hannibal made another major move of his own - he captured the barbarian city Cherokee on the north coast of his peninsula, bringing his city count all the way up to to four. Another boon came when he was gifted back his old capital Carthage, and then a sixth city from the Japanese invasion of Spain. Of course, most of the spoils from the fall of Spain went to the mighty Shaka, who captured the magnificent core of the Spanish empire. His conquests gave him control of almost every wonder of the world, as well as a sizeable economic base that powered his game leading research. Tokugawa won some minor gains from his Spanish campaign, but he was lagging way behind Shaka's technology level when Isabella was finally knocked out on Turn 216:
Isabella had been in a strong position for much of the game as one of the three belligerent civs that stole lunch money from their economically minded neighbors. Unfortunately for Isabella, she was just too slow. She failed to take key territory on the west coast, losing the land grab to the Zulu, and she failed to focus on knocking Hannibal out despite her very early war declaration. She faffed around with wonders and religions, and when Shaka finished off the Germans she was still grinding down the rump state of Carthage. Hannibal took advantage of her exposed flank and brought in Shaka who (like most leaders in this game), are way less interested in religion than the zealous Izzy. Hannibal's diplomatic coup knocked Isabella out of the game and left the map divided between the Zulu and the Japanese.
Of course, there was no question about whether Shaka would tech to a spaceship or seek a diplomatic victory. He took some time to upgrade his units to rifles and cavalry, lay railroads and consolidate his army along the Zulu - Japanese border, ensuring that he could fully leverage his technological advantage over the backwards Tokugawa. The inevitable war broke out on Turn 241, thirty five turns after the Spanish were eliminated, and the disparity between the Zulu and the Japanese was laid bare. Zulu rifles and cavalry shredded the longbow and musket heavy defenses of Japan as Shaka advanced across his eastern front. The hilariously low declaration of war counter ticked up to six as Shaka looked to settle all family business. This was not a game where peace treaties were made and broken - every war but one had been fought to the death, and in all honesty Isabella likely would never have made peace with the heretical Hannibal had she not been steam rolled by the Zulu.
It was obvious by now that Shaka would win the game. His tech advantage, helped by his rich German conquests and Tokugawa's simply abysmal economy, made his already significant numbers advantage insurmountable. The only question left was whether Shaka would roll over Tokugawa so quickly that Hannibal would be able to sneak into second place as Japan's score plummeted. In the end, Tokugawa held onto second place by the skin of his teeth, beating out Hannibal by about five hundred points. Shaka penetrated as far as the Japanese heartland, even blowing through the ancient border marked out by the Great Wall, but he wasn't fast enough to kick Tokugawa down to third before Zululand passed the domination point.
Hannibal probably deserved a third place finish in any case. His game never got off the ground, as Willem's aggressive expansion and Isabella's aggressive aggression kept him perpetually on his heels. His one real success was bribing the Zulu into war with Spain, an opportunity that only came because Isabella just would not stop building wonders in her core. Tokugawa had played a much stronger game, knocking over one of the pre-game predictions' favorite leaders in Willem and making some nice gains in the collapsing Spanish empire. Unfortunately, he was just outclassed by Shaka, and his typically lousy economy sank him in the final war. Nevertheless, it was a shockingly strong showing from the perpetual loser Tokugawa, and he earned his advance to the playoffs. Hannibal would have to hope for better luck in the wild card game. Shaka Zulu earned his victory, playing an excellent game after his rocky opening. He took advantage of his preoccupied northern neighbor and his pushover southern neighbor, and every war he fought honestly felt like a foregone conclusion. It was very interesting to see the “strong” leaders - particularly Hannibal and Willem - lose to AIs that are typically more punch line than contender. The AI personalities made this game unpredictable and entertaining, at least until Shaka so clearly pulled away.
Shaka and Tokugawa finishing in first and second place? What kind of madness was this?! I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Thanks for reading, and a special thanks again to Axiis for putting this excellent report together.