Rome as my NE Great Person farm was now running max artists in Caste System, continuing a flow of Great People, now that the Great Library's work was done. (Using an off-legendary city as the Great Artist farm seems like it should be optimal, but never seems to work out. For a Legendary city, the artists themselves produce plenty of culture and are well worth hiring. And it's rare to have a fourth site strong enough on food to dedicate to Great People, after taking the best three sites for the Legendarys.)
So I continued on tech: flipping Philosophy to get Machinery, both at late-civ prices, and used the accumulated trickle of EP (no slider now) to steal Optics. Whipped a caravel to sail each direction as usual. They contacted the last two civs (the identities of which I knew thanks to the little hiccup with the mod DLL for the Pitboss game.) This is an odd distribution of civs - five on one continent and two on the other? Did that happen randomly or was that set up on purpose for some reason?
I fear nothing.
Isabella did trade me Engineering for some of those old techs. She also demanded my world map and used it to "win" circumnavigation despite lacking Optics. Well, I've done that myself, so can't complain. :)
In 1500 AD, after saving some cash while building cathedrals, it was time to cut over to 100% culture slider. Two culture cities are already producing over 500/turn, and the third is at 300 with no settled artists (it will get the endgame Great Works.)
Wars not involving me continued, with a Genghis-Stalin war finally starting, after several rounds of each fighting Gandhi. I was somewhat lucky that Stalin never attacked me - he never got higher than Cautious and always outpowered me. But I could easily have defended with a Heroic Epic unit flow and now drafting.
Kept trading for tech parity even though I didn't really need it. Education got me Printing Press and Gunpowder, which in turn got me Guilds and Banking, and later a package for Mil Tradition. (Six for one from a lightbulb.) My Great Library city put out a surplus Great Scientist, who fired the 1-man Golden Age to adopt Mercantilism.
No need to build anything - no grocers, no banks, no universities, no jails, just pure culture.
As always, culture makes the GNP graph do some very silly things.
One last overview, where jack squat all has changed.
I even timed it perfectly with all three cities going Legendary in lockstep with no overflow. Antium had the Hermitage, a couple wonders, and two settled artists, getting to 50K all on its own. Rome had more wonders, one settled artist, and needed one Great Work. Arretium had been planned all along as the target for most of the Great Works, and got five now.
Cultural Victory in 1790 AD. OK, I'm sure many players won faster than that; our continent was certainly conquerable in the Praetorian era, and then it's a short hop to take one vassal on the far side for domination.
Did I miss the point of the game? Maybe some, but I was satisfied. I got to see enough of the espionage/Research/specialist economy, in crawling to Music and getting the Liberalism prerequisites, and then the culture exit was fine by me. As I'd guessed, Monarch AIs would never be strong enough to make a focused EE truly worthwhile, and trying to steal everything would just be tedious.
And it is indeed my fastest culture victory under normal conditions. Epic 22 was Tree Huggers, Adv 32 was Friendly Takeover, and Adv 31 was on Quick speed. The real agenda of the Illuminati was to force me onto the straight-and-narrow path to a culture victory.