Sid Meier’s Civilization!

The first Civilization!

It all started for me when I picked up a copy of the first Civilization. I don’t know exactly when that was, but certainly in the early 1990s since the game came out in 1991, and Civ 2 did not come out until 1996, and I had many hours put in by that point.

Although the first release was for DOS, the version I got was the Windows version which came out a little bit later. It was (and still is) a turn-based 4X strategy game (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate), and it introduced me to the experience of what all Civilization die hards call the One More Turn phenomenon. Many times I saw the sun rise (to my complete surprise) because I had been so focused on playing the game I paid no attention to the time. Of course, I was younger then and could get away with it. These days, staying up to 10pm is an all-nighter for me. The idea is that you build a civilization from the beginning, starting as a wandering tribe of nomads in 4000BC and finally ending with sending a ship full of colonists to Alpha Centauri. Along the way you build settlers to found new cities, build buildings to improve your cities, and military units to defend your cities, or to attack someone else’s cities. Then there are Wonders you can build along the way, starting with the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, but adding more wonders as you progress through time, such as Michelangelo’s Chapel or the Eiffel Tower. Some of these wonders give you empire-wide effects, as contrasted with the buildings that apply to a single city (and have to be repeated in each city where you want that benefit). And there is a technology tree where you learn new technologies that help you advance, unlocking new buildings you can build or new military units you can train. If you build your empire successfully and are the first to build the spaceship and land your colonists on Alpha Centauri, you win the game. The alternative path to victory is just to wipe out everyone else, resulting in a military victory, and for some players that was the preferred option.

The graphics were pretty primitive since this was developed for DOS and the relatively low-powered computers of the time, so it didn’t look like much, but the gameplay was great for the time. And if the actions I mentioned (researching technologies, building units, etc.) sound familiar, it is because the template created by Civilization was very influential on games that came later, so that by now they are considered standard game elements in a wide variety of games.

There was a classic strategy guide for the game called Civilization or Rome on 640K a Day (1992) by Computer Gaming World editors Johnny Wilson and Alan Emrich. I know I had a copy at one time, but it seems to have gone away, and to be fair I wouldn’t have a use for it now. But if you have an interest it can perhaps be found in used bookstores. As for the game itself, it is long out-of-print. I have a boxed set called Sid Meier’s Civilization Chronicles which contains the version from Civilization through Civilization 3, and you might find a used copy. But you can also play it online in a browser at Play Classic Games, which is an invaluable site if you are interested in reliving some of your early game experiences. But I can only recommend it for seeing what they games was like. They run the old games in a version of DOSBox, and while there is a way to save your game (and for something like Civ that really matters), it looks like you are sharing the Save space with other users, so I am not certain your save files will last for a long time there. Civ has always been a long game; after all, you are building an empire over a the span of some 6,000 years. In any case, the game was originally a 2.6 MB DOS game, and it looks like it. But remember that many DOS games back then fit on a couple of 640K floppies.

BTW, is a great resource if you want to check out classic games, and all they ask is that you buy them a beer, which apparently translates to about 10 Euros. Of course I made the donation.

However, if you really feel a need to play the game there is another alternative. There is a site called that has a lot of the old games, including the first Civilization. You can download it from here, then install DOSBox, which is available for a number of platforms, including Linux and Windows, and run the game in there. But you will need to get a copy of the manual. You see, in those days the way they did copy protection for many of Sid’s early games was to ask a question which could only be answered from the manual. The Civ Fanatics site has this at, and this page even helpfully has a section on the bottom with all of the Copy Protection answers. asks that you buy them a coffee, which costs $3, so of course I bought one.


You begin a new game by choosing the level to play at. There were 5 levels: Chieftain, Warlord, Prince, King, and Emperor. At the first three levels, the human player has an advantage over the computer players in terms of population growth, resources, research speed, etc. At the King level the players are all at the same level for these things, and at Emperor level the computer players have the advantage. Then you choose how many opponents you will have and how active the Barbarians will be. Barbarians exist solely to give you problems by attacking your cities and units, but you can make them more or less active as you choose. Then you choose your civilization from the list. Every civilization is different in terms of their propensity to be aggressive and militaristic versus peacefully developing their cities and doing research. You can read all about the different civilizations at the Civ Fanatics site. finally you choose the name of your leader. There is a default choice, but you can change it. For example, the default name for the leader of the Romans is Caesar, but you could instead make it Diocletian if you wished.

Once all of your choices have been made, the game begins. You have a tribe of nomads ready to settle down, and a small section of the map around them is visible. If you press “B” (for Build) a city will be built, and then you choose what to work on. A Militia unit will help with defense, or you could build another Settler to get a second city. If you get attacked by either barbarians or another civilization you will wish you had a military unit for defense. Then, you could also build a barracks first, which takes time, but means the units you build here have veteran status, which makes them stronger. If you build another Settler, it will reduce the population of the city by 1, which slows your building progress, but getting more cities is the way to build your Empire. Then you need to decide what to research. What technologies will you need first? So you can see that this games is all about making choices, and the choices you make have consequences. As an example, I started a game as the Mongols, figuring that would mean one less bloodthirsty opponent. In my first city, I built another settler right away, and used that to create my second city. Then I started on a Barracks so I could produce veteran defensive units. But before the Barracks was even done, Germany showed up and wiped me out completely. That was a very short game.

As you explore the map, more of it becomes available, and there are a number of reasons to do so. First, you want to find good sites for additional cities. Second, you want to find out who your neighbors are. If the Mongols or the Greeks are anywhere near you, you can expect war, and probably sooner rather than later. In that case, building units and preparing is a good idea. The Mongols are the worst, and a preemptive war to exterminate them is a good idea. The third reason is that there are Villages on the map, and when you explore them you may get a reward like money, a unit, or a tech. But watch out, you might instead unleash a horde of barbarians!

The units and buildings available are the same for every city, both for you and the computer players. But the Wonders are unique, only one of each can be built, so you are in competition with the computer players for each one you want to build. There are three ages in this game (Ancient, Middle Ages, and Industrial), and each age has 7 Wonders. You unlock the ability to build a wonder through the technologies you research. For instance, when you research Bronze Working you unlock the ability to build the Colossus, which increase your trade revenue. But while that is an ancient Wonder, you could build it later if no one else has built it. However, it is rare for wonders to exist for too long without being built by someone, and if you build it later you may not get full benefit. The trade effects of the Colossus expire upon the discovery of Electricity, for example.


Civilization (or Civ 1) was great in it’s day, but it has not aged well. To see what I mean, check it out at It spawned a whole ecosystem of 4X games, including all of the later versions of Civ, and all of the main gameplay elements are here. I lost many hours playing this game, but when Civ 2 was announced I was eager to see how it would improve upon the classic Civ 1

Screenshots are available at

Other information:

Sid Meier, MicroProse, and the Making of Civilization, by Kim Justice

The History of Sid Meier’s Civilization

What Has Changed in Sid Meier’s Civilization Series, by The Leaderboard

Civilization: How Sid Meier Built a Strategy Game Empire, by IGN Game Changers

25 years of Civilization: We talk with Sid Meier, by Eurogamer

Classic Game Postmortem: Sid Meier’s Civilization

Sid Meier’s Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games

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