Axiis continues his amazing work with another writeup for the final opening round game from Season Two. Thank you Axiis!
AI Survivor 2 Game 8: Reaching Across the Map
The final game of the first round brought the seven remaining AI leaders together on a unique map. The pangaea continent was bisected by a sizable inlet in the center of the landmass, dividing it into to two wings. The west wing hosted Cyrus of the Persians, Genghis Khan of the Mongols, and Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire, while the east wing was home to Pacal of the Mayans, Suryavarman of the Khmer, and Washington of the Americans. Sitting in the middle of the two sides astride the inner sea was Napoleon of France.
This was a particularly ominous set up for Washington, who was the sole leader with a “good” peace weight. Washington has military and growth flavors, but he was nevertheless the favorite for first to die due to his obvious lack of natural allies. His neighbor to the east was Pacal, who combines the awesome Financial and Expansive trait pairing with an AI that strongly favors growth, culture, and wonders. North of the Maya and northeast of America was Suryavarman of Khmer, whose Creative and Expansive traits seemed to promise a strong early game expansion. Surya and Pacal both are rated as “evil”, making them naturally hostile to poor Washington, though Suryavarman’s higher aggression rating made him one to watch for an early war. Napoleon landed west of Suryavarman and north of Washington, and he looked like a real wild card for this particular map. Napoleon, like Suryavarman and Pacal, has a very low peace weight, but unlike his two eastern neighbors Napoleon is all about building the largest military he can support and using it at every opportunity. His willingness to make war is offset slightly by his disinterest in religion - he is a true opportunist who will absolutely declare war at Pleased relations and is willing to pick a fight with anyone. Odds were good that he would go after Washington thanks to peace weight, but no target is off the table for Napoleon.
To make things even more interesting, Napoleon wasn’t even the most aggressive civilization on the map. That title went to the great Khan Temujin, who spawned on the west side of the map. Temujin has a 9.5 aggression rating and matches Napoleon’s love of all things military. Unsurprisingly, Genghis Khan is yet another evil leader who makes sure his neighbors always live in interesting times. Suleiman of the Ottomans was sandwiched between the hyper aggressive Mongols to the west and the hyper aggressive French to the east. Fortunately for the Turks, Suleiman was no shrinking violet, boasting a respectable aggression rating of 7/10 and a military flavor. Unlike his neighbors, Suleiman is merely “neutral” in peace weight and is generally moderate in his AI flavors. Rounding out the evil league of evil was Cyrus, yet another military-centric leader with 7/10 aggression and another low peace weight. Cyrus balances his military flavor with a strong preference for growth and for building wonders, though his violent neighbors demanded more units and fewer grand works of art.
That makes five AI with a military flavor, five with an evil peace weight, and five with an aggression rating of 7/10 or higher. In other words, it was time to crank up the war declaration counter and trim down the Wildcard game. Game Eight was going to get wild.
The game opened with some portentous moves. Temujin directed his first settler towards his neighbor Suleiman, while Napoleon of all people made a strong move for the first religion. Washington’s rough territory seemed like it would amplify his diplomatic struggles, while Pacal snagged some nearby floodplains with his second settler. Suryavarman left the center of the east wing wide open by sending his second settler southeast towards Pacal, while Cyrus grabbed a very nice second city to his east towards France. Napoleon sent his settler north, cleanly dividing the two wings of the continent and securing iron and wine for his civilization.
Napoleon grabbed the game’s first religion and took Christianity, while Pacal took Islam and picked up a holy city to counter Suryavarman’s creative cultural pressure. Pacal would go on to grab the game’s third religion, founding Buddhism in Chichen Itza. In an unusual twist, Pacal’s second religion would be the dominant religion in his empire and in the game generally, though it would take some time to get there. In the west, Suleiman made the foolish decision to go for a stone-less Pyramid build, which crippled his expansion and opened the door for the Mongols to snap up most of the west coast of the continent, land that really ought to have been Turkish. Cyrus benefited from Suleiman’s silly choice as well, as he grabbed most of the disputed land between Persia, Turkey, and France. Back on the east wing Washington was busily aggravating his bad diplomatic situation by expanding aggressively north, planting a straight line of cities that ended with Atlanta sitting between Surya and Napoleon. This bold move flagrantly disregarded the fact that Washington was already the worst enemy of Napoleon and Pacal on Turn 50. In Washington’s defense, though, Pacal was clearly too focused on tech and wonders to be much concerned about diplomatic grudges; Pacal put his energy towards the Oracle and used the free tech to found his fourth religion, Hinduism, with theology.
With the map starting to fill out, it was time for the first round of wars to begin. Right on cue, Washington and Napoleon started doing some serious military build up. The religious situation was very unusual for an AI Survivor game in that there were four religions active in the east and one in the west, which of course made the east all the more combustible. Pacal had decided to commit to Buddhism, while Suryavarman converted to Pacal’s original religion, Islam. Napoleon was of course riding for his native Christianity, while Washington wisely secured his eastern flank by converting to Buddhism. The west would eventually get religion when Suryavarman founded Confucianism and spread it to Mongolia, though the idea that the Great Khan would be mollified by sharing their religion was hopeful at best. With so many religions and so many tight borders amplifying tensions, it was no surprise when the wars kicked off on Turn 76 with Suryavarman launching himself at America. Unfortunately, he failed to consult the AI Survivor series write ups to find out what happens when a stack of ancient units attack a fortified hill city without catapults in tow. His initial attack quickly flamed out, and Suryavarman could only watch as Napoleon opportunistically built on Khmer’s hard word, declaring war on poor Washington on Turn 83 and bringing enough firepower to take Atlanta from the Americans. The war also distracted Suryavarman from his east flank, which was snatched out from under him by Mayan settlers. Surya’s loss was Napoleon’s gain, and the little corporal quickly added Hun, a barbarian city that wound up in American hands, to his war gains.
The Great Khan of the Mongols was not one to be outdone in wanton aggression, and he launched a war of his own on Turn 78, declaring on his coreligionist Suleiman while the silly man was still busy putting the finishing touches on the Pyramids. The Pyramids would finally complete a few turns into the war, allowing Suleiman to jump right into... Hereditary Rule. In return for getting access to Hereditary Rule a few turns early, Suleiman had fallen massively behind on his expansion, having lost the center of the map to Persia, the west to the Mongols, and the north to a series of barbarian cities. He wasn’t quite crippled, but Temujin’s attack would further kneecap Ottoman expansion. To add insult to injury, Genghis Khan repeatedly captured and razed the tiny city of Diyarbakir the desert northwest of Istanbul, forcing Suleiman to refound the city twice before it was able to grow to size two and stop getting autorazed. While the two empires skirmished in the north, a sizeable Mongolian stack attacked the core of the Ottoman empire and captured Edirne, Suleiman’s second city. Temujin tried to keep the momentum going with an attack on Istanbul itself, but his army could not crack the city and the Mongols were forced to come to the table and make peace with the exhausted Ottomans. Suleiman survived the Mongol invasion, but he paid dearly for it, losing Edirne to the Mongols and handing Diyarbakir over in the peace deal. Nevertheless, he was alive.
Perhaps seeing no value in sharing a religion with the Mongols, Suleiman swapped over to French Christianity. The Mongols would follow suit for a time, but Temujin eventually converted his empire to Islam. With Cyrus converting to Mayan Buddhism, the religious blocs wound up being three Buddhist civilizations - Maya, America, and Persia - in the south, while the north split between Christianity in France and Turkey and Islam in Khmer and Mongolia.
As peace returned to the west, a stalemate settled over the east. Boston was proving difficult to capture, and multiple waves of French and Khmer attackers failed to dent the American city’s stout defenses. Pacal occupied his time with some very aggressive wonder building and teching, pulling down basically every wonder - including, critically, the Apostolic Palace. In the west, Cyrus was building up for something, but it wasn’t very clear what he had his eyes on. The stalemate finally broke when a fresh French army was finally able to break through Boston’s walls with the help of a giant pile of war elephants. France moved up to siege New York, while the Khmer army invested the capital of America. Unfortunately for Suryavarman, he launched an attack on Washington too soon and was cleaned up outside the capital, and then suffered a further humiliation when one of his aggressive city plants on the Mayan border flipped to the overwhelming culture of Chichen Itza. Despite this small victory for Washington, his larger strategic situation continued to deteriorate when he foolishly wasted his precious resources attacking fortified hill longbowmen and subsequently lost New York to the French. Washington, always the favorite for first to die, was pretty clearly on his way out.
As the eastern stalemate was breaking, Cyrus broke the short lived peace in the west with a declaration of war on the Mongols. Temujin had a sizeable stack in theatre when the Persians made their move, but his army took a beating from Cyrus’s main stack. Sweeping the Mongols aside, the Persians moved up to the border city of Beshbalik and took it from the Great Khan. Cyrus next liberated Edirne, which he gifted back to the Ottomans to avoid dealing with the massive Ottoman culture crush he was facing around his new conquest. With Temujin on the ropes, Suleiman swapped to Police State civic and started a serious military build up. He would take his revenge, oh yes. The time was right to jump in on his collapsing enemy. He declared war on Washington.
Yes, Suleiman swerved everyone and took a wild swing at the Americans rather than take revenge on the Mongols. Surprisingly, this quintessentially silly move did not immediately blow up in is face, and he managed to snipe the American capital out from under the French. Sure, Suleiman could have snapped up some of Mongolia’s northern cities as the Persians rolled over their core, but he did manage to capture a capital city, albeit on the wrong side of the continent.The Ottoman’s sudden proximity did not change Pacal’s game in the near term. While Cyrus was besieging the Mongol capital and the French were picking over the bones of the dying American empire, Pacal was cruising right along, picking up techs at an astonishing rate. He was of course first to Liberalism, and was enjoying a Mausoleum powered golden age from the Taj Mahal at the eye poppingly early date Turn 143. For all his culture and tech though, Pacal was actually well behind Napoleon and Cyrus in the power rankings despite being a full era ahead of them in tech. Cyrus had taken full advantage of Mongolia’s weakness, while Napoleon had managed to come away with almost every prize from the three way dogpile of Washington, having only lost the capital city to the game’s resident troll, Suleiman. He fulfilled Washington’s first to die destiny on Turn 151, consigning him and his high peace weight to the dustbin of history. Washington had not played a particularly bad game, but did not play the flawless game he had needed to play to make it through this particular round.
With Washington dead and the Mongols halfway out the door, the question was obviously where Napoleon would swing next. He had bad relations with both Pacal and Cyrus, and had, true to form, never stopped building up his army. Suleiman had continued his military build up too, but that had to be destined for the Mongols, who still had four or five cities right on his doorstep and was little more than a rump state ripe for the picking. Except, Suleiman was building up his Mongolian attack force over in Washington. Could Suleiman possibly be dumb enough to go after the Mayans?
Of course he could! Suleiman took his shot at the king and crossed into Mayan territory with his early medieval army as Pacal was getting started on the Statue of Liberty. However, despite Pacal’s massive economic and cultural advantages, he was actually dragging his feet getting to the key military techs like Rifling and Military Tradition. If Napoleon jumped into the war too, Pacal could be facing some seriously interesting times. But Pacal had some tricks up his sleeve, including a supremely fortuitously timed Apostolic Palace vote. As the Ottomans poured into Mayan territory on their cross map crusade, Pacal pulled Genghis Khan and Suryavarman into the war with the Apostolic Palace, then bought peace from the Ottomans. Just like that, Suleiman was facing a two front war with his army wildly out of position. To make matters worse for the Ottomans, Cyrus had peaced out with the Mongols after capturing their core, leaving a reasonably sized rump state on Turkey’s western border. Pacal’s strong Apostolic play wrong footed the Ottomans and bought him more time to dick around before getting around to the military techs he obviously needed with Napoleon prowling on his border.
Speaking of Napoleon, he had grown restless after the conquest of America and decided to pick a fight with Cyrus. If they had followed through on this fight, it would have been very interesting to see if the survivor could have taken on the Mayans after swallowing up their rival. Instead, the two empires enjoyed a massive, four great general spawning bloodletting at Persia’s eastern stronghold Gordium, then agreed to peace. The only real upshot of the brief and violent war was that relations between Cyrus and Napoleon were permanently ruined.
This left the war between the Ottomans and the Khmer-Mongol alliance the only action on the board, and what action it was. Suleiman recaptured the repeatedly razed Diyarbakir before swinging his whole army east to capture a small Mongol enclave on the opposite side of his territory, then dragged his whole army back west to continue attacking the Mongol rump state. As this action was slowly unfolding, Suryavarman arrived in southern Turkey with a sizeable stack and one (1) trebuchet. The siege of Korrya proceeded at a blistering rate as Surya’s lone treb plinked down the city’s defenses to the tune of 5% a turn. Suryavarman was once again in on the action, and once again failing to get any results for his efforts.
Back east, Pacal had not forgiven or forgotten the Ottoman’s impertinent attack, and he was ready to kick the Turks back to the other wing of the continent. Having finally gotten around to Rifling, Pacal put together a reasonably sized stack and took his revenge on Suleiman. He easily blew through Washington’s outdated defenses and began the long march to Turkey, marching through Napoleon’s territory to get there. Napoleon, perhaps seeing the riflemen marching away and perhaps seeing Washington available for the taking after Suleiman swiped it out from under him during the conquest of America, decided to attack the ascendant Mayans. Pacal was unprepared for this sudden onslaught, and the French finally captured Washington and pressed on into the Mayan empire. Pacal countered with an attack on Atlanta, which fell to the Mayan assault but was unable to hold against a combined counterattack from Napoleon and Suleiman. The Ottomans retook the city, though it was destined to return to French. Pacal, his hands full with Napoleon’s massive army, agreed to peace with the Ottomans and hunkered down to weather the French storm while he gathered an army capable of striking back. In an odd twist, Suleiman gave Atlanta back to the French, then received Washington from the French. Napoleon’s bizarre decision to give away the old American capital once again left Suleiman on the border of a very peeved Pacal. Suleiman extricated himself from war with Suryavarman as well, which finally left him in a position to finish off the somehow still hanging around in this game Mongols.
While Suleiman finally finally finally turned his eyes west to the easily attainable Mongol prize, Pacal was struggling to deal with the French. Pacal had the tech yes, but Napoleon had the numbers, and they say quantity has a quality all its own. Pacal bought Suryavarman into the war against France to buy himself some breathing room, but he lost two more cities to the French before Napoleon’s stars changed. As a Khmer stack advanced on Atlanta, news came in from the west that Cyrus had declared war on France. Napoleon’s habit of picking fights finally came around to bite him as a Persian invasion fell on the French core.
A two front war against the game’s top two powers is only going to go one way in the AI Survivor series. Once Pacal gathered his army, Napoleon’s reign came to an abrupt end. The twin Buddhist empires partitioned France, with the Mayans swallowing up France’s American holdings while Cyrus captured the French core. While the Buddhist bros bashed Bonaparte, Suryavarman got in on the action by sniping France’s northeastern city before peacing out with Napoleon. Pacal’s army of infantry and cavalry came pouring out of Maya’s fancy new factories, while Persia’s massive army of riflemen were just too much for Napoleon to handle. Had Napoleon decided against his pointless attack on Gordium years before or had taken his opportunistic thrust at Pacal when the Ottomans first attacked the Mayans he may have been able to pull something off, but he was simply swamped by his bad decisions. And so his empire came crashing down. Like Washington before him, Napoleon was driven into the icy tundra of Philadelphia on the south end of the continent before finally getting knocked out of the game on Turn 242 by a storm of Mayan paratroopers. Napoleon had been a blast to watch, but he had done a very, very bad job of picking his fights after Washington was eliminated from the game.
Amazingly, Temujin was around to watch l’empereur go down in flames. Despite Suleiman’s utterly decisive advantage, he reduced the Mongols to one single city on the west coast and agreed, for some secret reason, to peace, leaving the Great Khan to rule a single city on the west coast. Temujin fortified this supremely weak position by converting over to Buddhism and signing a defensive pact with the increasingly irrelevant Khmer, ensuring that whoever finally eliminated him would have to at least think twice about it. With Cyrus pleased with all his Buddhist bros, it looked like it was up to Suleiman to finish off the Mongols once and for all. Perhaps regretting his inexplicable decision to give the Mongols a stay of execution before, Suleiman once against declared war on his inveterate enemy, defensive pact or no. Being a one city empire, the Mongols folded fast. Temujin finally bit the dust on Turn 254 long, long after he had any right to be in the game. The real question was whether one of the two mighty southern civilizations would intervene in the war between their northern neighbors. That turned out to be a no, as the two northern antagonists peaced out after Suryavarman captured a single Turkish city on the Ottoman periphery that had only recently been dropped into the opening left by the collapse of French culture in the north.
The Buddhist coalition finally broke up when Cyrus and Pacal both swapped over to free religion. Happily for them and sadly for the viewers, the two great powers remained fast friends, confirming their stable alliance with a defensive pact. However, the loss of the coreligionist bonus meant that relations chilled between Cyrus and Suryavarman, while Pacal still harbored a grudge against the Turks’ foolish invasion that precipitated the war against France.
The final phase of the game kicked off when Cyrus got bored and decided that he didn’t want to see Suryavarman in the playoffs, declaring war on the unready Khmer on Turn 268. The mighty Persian army came pouring across the border and, unburdened by siege equipment, attacked the Khmer cities without pausing to drop their defenses. If the two armies were in any way comparable this could have been a critical error, but the two armies were not comparable, and Cyrus rolled right through Suryavarman’s core at a shocking speed. Not to be outdone, Pacal decided to take his revenge on the Ottomans, who still somehow occupied Washington. Declaring war on Turn 280, Pacal unleashed his shiniest end game toys. Mechs, mobile artillery, and gunships poured out of Mayan territory and tore through the thoroughly backwards Ottomans, who hadn’t even reached factories. There was not much drama to the fight, as Suleiman was reduced to frantically building grenadiers to fight off waves of mechanized infantry.
It took 31 turns for Cyrus to finish off Suryavarman, eliminating him on Turn 289. Pacal, by contrast, had reduced the Ottomans to a single lifeless city by Turn 298, having killed every defender in the city with his gunships. Suleiman, the game’s leading troll, was knocked out in a lightning campaign that lasted only 19 turns. Washington, the prize Suleiman had gone across the continent to steal out from under the French, turned out to be a poison gift that lead him to foolishly declare war on Pacal years later. When Pacal returned the favor, Suleiman found himself outgunned and overwhelmed, and now he was gone. Suryavarman likewise was pushed down the memory hole by an overwhelming invasion. He had been very involved in the game - indeed, he had launched the very first war of the game and stayed in it until his rival was dead - but he never got much of anything from his moves. Suryavarman turned into a case study of wasted action that improved his rivals’ positions far more than his own. When Cyrus came calling, Suryavarman had no way to resist, and despite being on the winning side for most of the game, he was wiped out in a hurry. In retrospect, it’s a little cold that Pacal just let his long standing ally get swallowed up like that, but that’s the game in AI Survivor.
With the map split 51%-45% between the remaining two friendly empires, the twin campaigns to take their quartet down to two would be the last action of the game. Pacal, who was always way, way ahead in GDP and beakers, raced through the last of the tech tree and finished his spaceship soon after. After the requisite ten turn waiting period, Pacal’s starship arrived at its destination on Turn 316, and Pacal moved on to the playoffs as the winner of Game Eight. Cyrus likewise advanced as the silver medal winner, and the two ensured that no other AIs in this game would come back to haunt them after the wild card round.
Pacal had been the clear leader throughout the game, and his final campaigns against France and Turkey were the payoff to his massive tech lead. He had no doubt benefited from his three neighbors on the east wing getting stuck in a long war early in the game and he was fortunate that Cyrus jumped in on Napoleon when he had, but in the end Napoleon was attacking Pacal right as Pacal was starting to roll out infantry and factories. Similarly, Cyrus had benefitted from Temujin going after Suleiman instead of turning south, and he turned that opening into the conquest of the Mongolian core. Cyrus had not had the easy road Pacal had enjoyed, but he timed his wars immaculately and wound up conquering the better half of Mongolia and the core half of France after both of those empires had been bloodied in prior wars. By the time he went after Khmer, he was firmly in second place and had played a strong diplomatic game to get Pacal to side with him over Maya’s neighbor and longtime ally Suryavarman. Pacal was the clear winner, but Game Eight was the rare example of a strong, meaningful second place finish from another leader.
With the first round finally wrapped, it was time to move on to the Wildcard round and the playoffs. Thanks for reading!