Week 17 with the Ethiopians is completed. I played 32 games over the course of about two weeks with a roughly even win rate.
Ethiopians were an interesting challenge in particular because I couldn't find any build or strategy suggestions for the October patch (i.e. after all rebalancing), so I spent the first few days theorycrafting and practicing different openings. I settled on the opening I described here but found that the FF was too greedy in most matchups so often I went for age 2 gascenya, shotel, and the cannoneer shipment instead. The advantage of this composition is that you only need a single upgrade in age 3 and it upgrades both unit types by 25%, plus a 10% boost to the neftenya as well. I basically never made cavalry (or palace units) at all, shotels felt quite strong and the extra upgrade never seemed worth it. Ethiopians are actually the only civ in the game that have both a musk-type unit in the gascenya and a shock infantry unit, which I think is a really strong combination.
I enjoyed the challenge of working out my own build and it was very satisfying to see it work out reasonably well, reaching a rating that for me is among the highest I've achieved with any civ so far (mid 1400s). Unlike with some other civs, I haven't found any one cookie-cutter strategy or timing that really stood out; the civ is just overall well-rounded, has interesting units available and even a limited age 2 boom option with monasteries and abuns. I would like to play them more, but queue times have been getting longer since the AoE4 release so we'll see how things go.
This completes the challenge.
Thank you to everyone who posted, upvoted, or messaged me in game with your feedback and suggestions! I really appreciate the input and encouragement!
(bringing this back for the new civs that came out since the initial challenge)
Week 18 with the Mexicans is completed. I played 40 games over the course of a week with a 57% win rate and a new highest ever rating.
Before going into ranked, I prepared 3 builds that I thought would be relevant for different matchups: an irregular/salteador timing into age 2 pressure (general purpose), a hacienda boom (against a defensive boomer like Japan or Ports on land), and a revolt FI (against a turtle like Dutch). Perhaps the meta has shifted from what I expected because I never ran into a defensive opponent so I almost always did the age 2 play. This worked very well; irregulars are good early with their overwhelming numbers and when they fall off in later age 2 I usually shifted to a salteador/chinaco composition. The high siege makes it very difficult for opponents to build outside of TC range and it's often possible to pick off a stray house, market, or even wonder that can be sieged from outside the TC radius. The games I lost were usually either due to opponents having lots of hunts in base that I couldn't deny, sneaking vils off somewhere without me noticing, or me committing too hard to a fight rather than keeping them pinned down.
Mexico was fun, I liked being able to set the pace of the game most of the time, although I would have liked an opportunity to use the other strats I prepared as well. I remember almost a year ago during the Aztec week I had big problems being on the offensive keeping up the pressure without losing too many units. This worked much better with Mexico, I'm not sure if that's due to the civ or because I'm doing something different from back then.
Next up will be the Italians after the upcoming balance patch is out.
Week 19 with the Italians is completed. I lost count but I think I played around 40 games, dropping 150 rating points in the process (albeit from a record high with Mexico).
It took me a while to figure out how to play the civ and I still don't think I'm quite there. I found age 2 musk/huss to work very well in some matchups; Italy has a pretty good early economy (I'd say on par with France thanks to free vils and many market upgrades) that scales decently in age 2 thanks to vils from Church techs and such. Musk/falc in age 3 also worked pretty well in some matchups.
However, I had big problems against civs where musks were weak, so basically anyone with good skirmishers. Skirm/goon is much easier to macro than pavise/goon due to the different resources needed, plus the fact that pavise need an upgrade and at least one card to stand up to skirms. I still haven't really found an answer to this dilemma; I can win early age 3 with a musk/falc push, but if it goes into extended age 3 I usually lose.
The most fun build for me was a musk semi-FI I did against defensive civs like Dutch and Ports. Pushing with the 25 musk shipment, another 25 or so vet musks, and lots of artillery at 10-12 minutes is quite powerful, and bersaglieri are a great followup since they're shadowteched to IV, bypassing the annoying need to upgrade and card dead-end pavise.
Italy was fun, but my struggles in age 3 were really frustrating. Against civs I knew I couldn't hit hard and fast enough before they got to age 3 I felt like I was guaranteed to lose.
Next up will be the Maltese but I think I'll take a few more days to experiment with Italy first.