Playing Civilization III, Part 4

To Arms!

War is a matter of vital importance to the state; a matter of life or death, the road either to survival or to ruin. Hence, it is imperative that it be studied thoroughly. — Sun Tzu

There are actually two kinds of Military victories in Civ III. You can just wipe out all of your opposition, same as in Civ II. This is called a Conquest Victory. Or you can win by Domination, which means that 2/3 of the world’s land is within your borders, and 2/3 of the world’s population is within your borders. Now, if you think about it, even if you are trying to get a Conquest victory, you will hit the conditions to trigger a Domination Victory long before you get there. So why are there two Victory types? Well, when you set up a new game you have the ability to decide which Victory types are allowed, and you could decide to not allow Domination so as to let yourself go all bloodthirsty on a helpless world. We’re not judging you here, this is a valid way to play. And even if you aren’t going for a Conquest or Domination victory, you will probably need to take up arms at some point. So it helps to understand the basics. And I do mean basics. You could write a whole book on the military strategies in Civilization III.

So let’s start by looking at the three numbers that define each unit. They always appear as <Attack, Defense, Movement> when you are looking at building one. When you build your first city your only military unit is the Warrior <1,1,1>, so it attacks with a strength of one, defends with a strength of one, and can move one space in any direction on land. However, a unit with a movement of 1 can move three spaces as long as it is on a Road. Roads only use one-third of a movement point, so when you get to a unit with a Movement of 2, these units could move 6 spaces, again only so long as they are on a Road. So having Roads connecting all of your cities/towns is a strategic priority for war/defense, in addition to providing a Commerce bonus. Military experts talk about the benefit of having “interior lines of communication”, and you should take advantage of this. For example, the first mounted unit available is the Horseman, which is a <2,1,2> unit. So, nothing special on Defense, but enhanced Attack and Movement. So a group of Horseman units can move 6 tiles along roads in 1 turn, or 12 tiles in 2 turns. This could be enough to get them where they are needed on time as long as you have good defensive units in your border cities to hold up an attacker, until your Horsemen arrive for the counter-attack.

The first enhanced Defense unit is the Spearman <1,2,1>, and you should aim to get at least 2 of them in every border city, if not all cities, in the early going. And for any city that is no larger than size 6, a City Wall can add to the defensive strength. City Walls give a defensive strength of 8 against bombardment, but also add 50% to your units’ defensive strength, so that Spearman, when behind a City Wall, now has a defense of 3, not 2.

Of course, you won’t always be sitting in a city, and terrain can add to your Defense as well. Tiles that can give a defensive bonus are:

  • Marsh: +20%
  • Forest: +25%
  • Jungle: +25%
  • Hills: +50%
  • Volcanos: +80%
  • Mountains: +100%

You can also get a bonus from being across a river from the attacker, or from Fortifying the unit, and these bonuses are additive.

Taking advantage of these bonuses can mean life or death for your units. The way combat works in Civilization III is based on hit points. Every normal unit starts out with 3 hit points. But a Veteran unit will have 4 hit points, and an Elite unit will have 5 hit points. By building your units in a city with a Barracks they will start out as Veteran units, gaining the extra hit point. Otherwise, there is a chance that any unit that survives a combat will gain a promotion. And if an Elite unit survives a battle, there is a chance that a Great Leader will be produced. In any case, combat is done between units in a series of rounds where the Attack strength of the attacking unit is compared to the Defense strength of the defending unit, and then a Random Number Generator feeds into an algorithm that determines who lost that round. The loser loses one hit point. This continues until one unit has run out of hit points, and is then dead. The exception is that certain “fast movement” units have the ability to withdraw from an attack if they get down to one hit point.

Understanding the mechanics of combat can help you win more victories. For example, if you have a Warrior <1,1,1> and an enemy Horseman is bearing down, moving onto a Mountain and fortifying can be just enough to give you the edge in surviving combat.


As you progress through the Tech tree you discover Techs that unlock the capability to build new units. The earliest example is that the discovery of Bronze Working unlocks the ability to build Spearmen, and then the discovery of the Horseback Riding unlocks that ability to build Horsemen (but only if you have horses), and so on. You can find a good table of this at Civilization Wiki. But one nice thing introduced in Civilization III is the Unique Unit. Each Civ in the game has one, and it can be an important consideration. For example, the Iroquois has a unique unit called the Mounted Warrior. It takes the place of the Horseman, and is also unlocked when you discover Horseback Riding. The two units both cost the same to build (30 Shields), but while the Horseman is <2,1,2>, the Mounted Warrior is <3,1,2>, so it is 50% stronger on attack. And since it comes early in the game, the Iroquois are one of the easiest Civs to play since you can be very successful early on in wiping out any nearby Civ and taking their cities. The unique unit of the Americans, on the other hand, is the F-15, which comes very late in the game and thus is not very useful. In general, any Civ that gives you a powerful Unique Unit early on is probably easier for the new payer. A complete list of the Unique Units for each Civ can be found at the Civilization Wiki.

Now the Unique Units are worth taking advantage of, but one thing they cannot do is upgrade. Many normal military units have an upgrade path that allow you to spend Gold to upgrade units when you discover the Tech that unlocks the new unit. The upgrade path is different for each unit, and depends on what kind of unit it is, so Defensive units have one path, Foot Soldiers another, and so on. And this is another reason to have built at least a few barracks, since upgrades can only happen in cities with a Barracks (or for Naval units, a Harbor). As an example. an early distance unit, the Archer, can upgrade to a Longbowman when Invention is discovered, but that is the end of the path. Whereas our Spearman can upgrade to a Pikeman, which can upgrade to a Musketman, which upgrades to a Rifleman, which upgrades to Infantry, which in turn upgrades to Mechanized Infantry. So you could, in theory, have one unit that defends your city from the Stone Age up to the Modern Era. That said, is it the right thing to do? That depends on your situation. I do think it is important to upgrade your defenses as technology improves, since the other Civs will be looking at your strength in deciding whether or not to attack you. But if you do it by upgrading units, that will cost you gold (reduced if you have built the wonder Leonardo’s Workshop), whereas the other path is to just build new units. And if you disband the old units in the city building the new ones, they will add Shields to the build so it happens faster. I generally prefer to put my gold into maximizing my Science output, so I tend to build new ones and disband old ones, but I can see situations, such as ongoing conflict, where the speed of buying an upgrade is the most important consideration. So you should decide what makes the most sense to you in each situation.

Stacks of Doom

One area where Civ III changed things from Civ II is in stacking units. In Civ II if any one unit in a stack was killed, the whole stack was killed. In Civ III, that is no longer the case. Does that mean you should build huge stacks? Not necessarily. The main virtue of having a stack is that you can have a mix of defensive and offensive units, and that can help you survive in a war when your stack gets attacked. But you need to be careful that you don’t attack with a stack because the computer may decide to start the attack with your Pikeman unit <1,3,1> instead of your Knight <4,3,2>, and the Pikeman is most often going to die when used for attack. Now stacking can be useful for moving a bunch of units because you can send them as a single stack instead of doing it one-at-a-time. But don’t attack as a single big unit. In Civ IV the stacks of doom became a standard strategy, which then was nerfed in Civ V.


There is a way to combine units into more powerful ones, though. If an Elite unit survives combat, there is a 1/16 chance that it will generate a Great Leader. Great Leaders have two uses. First, they can be used up to hurry Wonder production, and this is the only way to hurry Wonders in Civ III. You cannot pay cash, there are no Caravan units you add like in Civ II, and if you disband a unit in the city that is producing the Wonder nothing gets added to the Production box. The other thing a Great Leader can do is create an Army. Armies can have 3 units combined, and the Army gets the combined Hit Points of all three units, making them much harder to kill. Armies cannot be broken up later, so it is a one-way transformation. And units within an Army cannot be upgraded, so if you were to create an Army of Swordsmen, all you ever have is Swordsmen, and even with the combined hit points it will start to lag by the time other players have Cavalry.

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