Civilization III

Previously we looked at Alpha Centauri, and I made the claim that it represented one possible path to go forward after Civilization II, and the other path was represented by Civilization III. Both games are excellent and still fun to play today, even if they are not the latest thing to hit gaming. I hope to give you an idea of how to play Civilization III, and make a case for why you should give it a try.

In 2000, Brian Reynolds left Firaxis to found Big Huge Games, where he developed Rise of Nations. So the mantle of project leader for Civ III fell mostly to Firaxis CEO Jeff Briggs. Briggs got his start creating music for the MicroProse games, but moved into game design. Assisting Briggs on this project was the game programmer, Soren Johnson. But always bear in mind that many people participate in creating these games, not just the people who get the top line credit. As before, Firaxis functioned as game design studio. The production, distribution, marketing, etc. was handled by Infogrames, which had acquired the rights to the Civilization name for computer gaming.

As always, some things remained the same. It is still a turn-based game, you still start with a nomadic tribe settling down in 4000BC, you still have to decide whether to expand or defend, you still need to start researching technologies. That is the 1/3 that never changes in Civ. But other things do change. For instance, in previous Civs building a settler in a city reduces the population by one, representing the people added to the settler group. But in Civ III it reduces the population by two, which makes it more difficult to crank out masses of settlers. This may be a deliberate attempt to inhibit a strategy that many people used in Civ and Civ II, to just out-expand all of the AI players by cranking out settlers. In any case, it does slow down your expansion in the early game. And as we saw with Alpha Centauri, one of the new developments is that each civ in the game has unique features. Each civ has their own special abilities and their own special units. For instance, the Japanese civ has the Samurai in place of the Knight, while Rome’s unique unit is the Legionary, which replaces the swordsman. The unique units are a bit stronger than the units they replace, and you can see a list of the unique units on the Civilization Fandom site.

Each civ in the game also has strengths that give it advantages. A complete list of the strengths can be found at the Civilization Fandom site. For instance, one of the best is Agricultural, because it means you produce more food, and more food means more population, particularly in the early game. And because a settler takes away 2 population from a town or city, you have to get to size 3 before popping out a settler. If you produce more food, you will get to size 3 much quicker and get the jump on civs that don’t have this strength when it comes to settling land and establishing towns and cities. These traits also can affect the production of buildings. A Religious Civ can produce Temples more cheaply, while a Militaristic one produces barracks more cheaply. And building Wonders that match the traits of a Civ can trigger a 20-turn Golden Age once (and only once) for each Civ. This is explained at the Civilization Fandom site. Each civ also starts with two techs already researched, which can boost certain strategies in the early game. These are all early game techs, but if you have them already researched, you can use them right away instead of waiting until the research has been done. For example,the Americans get Pottery and Masonry, while the Germans get Warrior Code and Bronze Working. You can see the list of the different Civs and their unique units, strengths, and starting techs on the Civilization Fandom site.

Put it all together and it makes for a major change since Civ and Civ II. In those games there really wasn’t a big difference between the Civs, and you could use pretty much the same strategy with any Civ and be successful. But in Civ III, you need to consider all of the aspects of a given Civ and develop the right strategy. For example, you would not want to pursue a production-oriented strategy with Germany, because everything about Germany screams military. Its strengths are Militaristic and Scientific, and its starting technologies are Warrior Code and Bronze Working. But Americans would fit a production-oriented strategy very well. Their strengths are Agricultural and Expansionist, and their starting techs are Pottery and Masonry. So what the game is doing is making you consider what kind of victory path is suitable for the civ you are playing as. If you let the game give you a random assignment, you would need to make a rapid adjustment when you start. Or you can decide to try a certain strategy and select a civ to play that fits that style. But your choice of civ is now very important to how the game is played. And this also connects to the map type you select. If you are on a Pangea map the Seafaring strengths is almost useless, but on an Archipelago map it is essential.

Another major change is the role of Culture in Civ III. In Civ II cities had a fixed size, and borders didn’t really exist except by inference. In Civ III, each city has a border, and the border expands outward taking in more territory as the city develops its culture, and as you add cities and their boundaries expand, they merge into a single border. So obtaining culture to expand becomes important. You do this by building certain buildings and Wonders that give you culture. Buildings include Cathedral, Colosseum, Library, Palace, Research Lab, Temple, and University. Wonders all give you culture, but the amount varies. Even the Pentagon gives you 1 additional culture. And Culture not only defines borders and limits your expansion, it can also cause cities to “flip” from allegiance to one civ to a different one. So prioritizing the building of military units over other things can cause problems, since military units do not provide culture. Culture can help keep your people happy and make it less likely that your cities will flip, and perhaps even let you flip someone else’s city. You generate culture points every turn from buildings and Wonders, and these accumulate over the course of the game.

Another way to keep your citizens happy is with Luxury resources like Incense, Dyes, and Furs. Having one of these in your Empire can help make your citizens happy, but you only get this effect from the first unit. So if you have two units of Dyes, for instance, you should look for a chance to trade the second one away with another civ, and maybe get some gold or other resources in exchange.

Another significant change in Civ III has to do with Settlers and Workers. In Civ and Civ II, Settlers not only created new cities and towns, they also built roads, mines, irrigation, etc. In Civ III, these functions were split. Settlers only build cities and towns, they don’t do anything else. A new unit, the Worker unit, now is the one that can build these improvements. In Civ II, if you built a settler unit, you could use it as a Worker, but as soon as you used it to create new town you no longer had a Worker. In Civ III, you can can create Workers and use them throughout the game. And you need to do this. Irrigation provides increased food, which can help grow your population. Roads provide quicker movement between points, and increase your commerce revenue. And mines can provide additional resources top help your production.

Victory conditions

There is a detailed discussion of the victory conditions at the site, but the summary is:

  • Domination – You need to control 2/3 of the land surface and 2/3 of the civilian population.
  • Diplomatic – You can win election in the United Nations.
  • Culture – Basically, amass more culture points, but this can be done several ways.
  • Space – Be the first to launch a spacehip to Alpha Centauri. In Civ II you needed to be the first to land your ship.
  • Conquest – Wipe out all of the other players.
  • Histographic – Basically, the civ with the highest average score, but this is only used if no other victory has happened. Think of this as kind of a tie-breaker if no one has achieved any of the other 5 victory types.


There were two expansions to this game. Play the World was published in 2002, and added multiplayer to the game, as well as added civs and units. Conquests was published in 2003, and added nine more historical scenarios, such as World War II in the Pacific. Some of these scenarios added new government types as well.

Obtaining the Game

Civilization III is no longer in print, but you can still obtain it in a variety of ways. First, you can buy it used at the usual places, such as Ebay and Amazon. Second, you can get it at Good Old Games. They offer the Civilization III Complete version, which includes both expansions, for $5.99. And Steam has the Complete version for $4.99. So you can get a great game for very little money. Personally, I have a lot of games on Steam, but I recognize that it is not for everyone.

Other Information

Over-explaining Civ 3: The Expansion Phase

101 Tips And Tricks For Civ 3

Wikipedia: Civilization III

Civ 3 Government Tutorial

How To Play Your First Game Of Civ 3

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