The Expansion Phase
Your primary tasks in the early game is to expand. That means settling more cities as quickly as possible. You also want to explore. So in your first city, you want to build a couple of scouts ASAP, followed by a defensive unit. You worker unit is developing the tiles within the BFC, and you need to get your population up to 3 before you can produce a Settler unit. But note that you don’t need to hit a population of 3 before you can start building the Settler unit. Your Build popup will tell you how long it will take to build a Settler unit, and your Food box will tell you how long until your population grows, So if it will take you 12 turns to produce a Settler, you can start as long as it will take 11 turns or less for your population to grow. Again, this is micromanagement, but in the early game that is worth doing. Meanwhile, your two Scout units are exploring the surrounding area. You are looking to accomplish three things:
- Find the lay of the land so you can pick good spots for your new cities;
- Find the other civilizations around you so you know where they are and who they are; and
- Explore the “Goodie Huts” and see what you can pick up from them.
You can focus your Scouts on this while building a Warrior to defend your city. This should be safe because Barbarians don’t appear right away, and other Civs are not likely to be sending around military units this early. Once this Warrior is done, press the “F” button (for Fortify) to have it stay in your city and defend it. By now you should be checking to see if you are ready to start building your Settler. If not, build another Warrior since you will want to protect your second city as quickly as possible.
As soon as you have a Settler unit, look for the best location for another city, and it should be around 3-4 tiles away from your first city. You want to look for things like fresh water (rivers, lakes), high yield tiles, extra Resources, and so on. Don’t worry about overlapping between the BFC’s of these cities. A completely filled BFC would mean a population of 21, and that happens rarely in any case. I find it works better to keep the cities fairly close, so three tiles between the city centers is pretty optimal.
If you already have that second Warrior, put it in that second city and Fortify it. If not, you can gamble that no one will attack and start with a Worker unit, and if you have not yet seen any Barbarians or met any other Civs it is probably a safe gamble. But even so, right after the Worker unit you will want to make sure you have a Warrior unit there for defense. You will want to develop this city the same way you developed your first city. Make sure your citizen is working a high food tile to start with so that you grow your population, and use your worker unit to add Irrigation and a Road. As this city grows, you will want to produce another Settler here as well, and you should probably start to think about having a Warrior unit to accompany the Settler from now on. Sending out Settlers without a military escort is taking a big risk since they can be captured by Barbarians or by other Civs.
As you locate other Civs, you need to consider that you will be competing for good city spots. If there is a good spot between you and the other guy, you may want to be the one who gets there first and snaps it up. And if you have other land “behind” you with no other civ in that direction, you can settle that last. This is called “Forward Settling”, and the best players will do this routinely. Your goal should be to get to about 10 cities as quickly as possible. Maybe you come up a little short, or maybe you get lucky and get a few more, but this is the objective.
An excellent guide to the early game is Cracker’s Opening Play Site.
There are only two City Improvements I would generally build early on. The first is the Granary. This building helps you grow your population. Without a Granary, you need to fill the Food box all the way before you get another citizen, and that empties to Food box. With a Granary, the box only empties half-way, so it takes only half as much added Food to produce another citizen. This is even more important when pumping out Settlers. I wouldn’t delay getting out the first couple of Settlers for this, but somewhere around having 3-4 cities I might build a Granary to improve my efficiency. Ultimately I would probably build Granaries in every city to help build up my population, but in the early game you have to balance competing demands on your resources.
The other one is a Barracks. You don’t need to build one in every city unless you have nothing better to build, but I would build Barracks in maybe 2-3 of my first 1 cities. Barracks allow you build military units that start out with Veteran status, making them stronger. With a few Barracks in a few cities you can turn out Veteran units to defend your cities, and when you are ready to go on the offensive you can build up a stronger set of units to attack with. Again, this is just early game. Other improvements will come along. You may be in a situation where City Walls are needed to add to your defensive strength, for instance. And as you move forward in time at some point you will want to start building Libraries to promote your Research, for example.
I don’t focus on Wonders in the early game. Yes, they can be very nice, but I know I will do better in my game if I have more cities rather than more Wonders. And you need to consider that if you conquer a city that has a Wonder in it, you will get that Wonder. If I have done it right, by the mid-game I should have the largest Civ on the map and can then build Wonders. And possibly have conquered a few as well.
Technologies and Research
The other civs will trade Techs with each other, and you should too. One of the reasons your Scouts are all over the Map looking for other civs is so you can do Tech trading. And you really need to since if you don’t you will fall behind in technology. I would focus on trying to obtain as many Techs as possible. Some Techs you will get from the “Goodie Huts” you explore, some you may get from your own research activity, but you should try to get as many as possible from other civs. I don’t worry about holding on to a “critical” tech to deny it to the other civ, since we’re all on the same research tree and if I don’t trade it, someone else will, possibly the next turn. So the other civ gets it anyway, but I don’t get the Tech they would have traded. I will also consider buying a tech from another civ if it as affordable and I can’t get it by trading. What I won’t do is sell my techs for cash only since my objective is to be the Tech leader in the game.
Here are a couple of videos by Suede CivIII that go into even more detail on the Expansion Phase.
- Over-explaining Civ 3: The Expansion Phase
- Overexplaining The Expansion Phase of Civ 3: Archipelago Edition
By the time you have gotten through the initial expansion phase and have your approximately 10 cities you should have some idea of your possible path to victory. Civ III introduced some new victory conditions compared to what Civ II had, and this is something that will continue to evolve through future versions of Civilization. The first thing is to evaluate your geography? Do you have easily defended borders? Terrain like mountains or swamps may slow down attackers, and the amount of coastline on your border is good for slowing down attackers as well. Mounting a seaborn invasion is tricky, and it is particularly hard to transport and land large stacks of units since the transport capacity of early units is low. The first naval transport unit is the Galley, and it can move two units. That is good if you want settle on another land mass, since you can transport a Settler and a Military unit to defend the city. But two units won’t go far in an attack. If you are surrounded by other players and have long land borders, that is going to be harder. Then you need to look at your neighbors. Some are known to be more aggressive, like Russia, Persia, and Babylon. And you can gauge them by the interactions you have. If they are moving troops around your borders something is definitely up. And if they start making demands like money or tech from you, they are certainly planning on war. And if your neighbors are headed that way, you don’t have a lot of choice, you need to start preparing for war yourself.
If everyone seems peaceful you can instead try one of the other victory conditions like Science, Diplomatic, or Cultural. In Civ III the Science victory is the same as it was in the first two Civilization games: Build a Spaceship to send to Alpha Centauri. The wrinkle in Civ III is that you win as soon as it is launched, you don’t need to wait for it to arrive. Diplomatic is a new one, based on being elected leader of the United Nations, and for that you need to be on friendly terms with the other Civs. So if you have been a bully to the others and then try to get elected, you will lose the game. Cultural is based on metrics of how much Culture your Civ is generating, and it is another new victory condition in Civ III. These victory types are a bit harder to master, so I would suggest for the new player that you either go for a military victory or a Science victory. That said, even if you are going for a Science victory, make sure your military strength is good. If your military is weak, the other civs will cast hungry eyes in your direction. For a Science victory I first make sure I have a good road network, both to produce revenue and even more importantly to move units around. Then I would try to have to 2 good Veteran defensive units in each city, and upgrade them as technology progresses. Early on that would be Spearmen (defense=2), then Pikemen (defense=3), Musketmen (defense=4), Riflemen (defense=6), and Infantry (defense=10). And for my border cities I would add City Walls. But note that City Walls are only useful for smaller towns, i.e. cities with a population of no more than 6. So you should be selective about building them, since building ones you don’t need simply wastes 20 shields of production.