(Free)civ for absolute beginners - a short introduction

 If you've never heard about Civilization, you are in for quite an experience. Because, even though it can be debated whether this game or that game is "the best game of all times", where most of the argumentation will depend on the player's taste and personal preferences, nobody can deny that, if nothing else, Civilization can with full justification be called "Mother of All Games". 

Simply, if you consider the areas of human endeavour that different games cover, you can't escape the conclusion that Civilization - Covers it All.

Civilization is about human history. All of it, deep and wide. Ancient times? Check. Middle ages? Check. Industrial revolution? Check. Warfare? Check. Culture? Check. Infrastructure? Check. Politics and diplomacy? Check. Technology and development? Double check. You name it, Civ has it.

And yet, with all this content, it is not that complex to play compared to other games. Of course, it is complex, it has to be, with Everything crammed into it, but the ratio of complexity-to-content is pretty much the best there can be.

Of course, Civilization is not a Total Simulation. Every game has to be an approximation of things it is simulating. Some things always have to be left out. But for some reason, even though similar games and clones have appeared over the decades since Sid Meier's original saw the light of day, it seems that Civilization is still the only one that retained an "equal spread" over all aspects of human existence (see the checklist above) and also kept a relatively simple interface and a perfectly balanced learning curve to keep people interested for infinite replays.

And of all the versions, especially comparing to the commercial ones, Freeciv kept the straightforwardness of Civ 2 and Civ 3 and continued to build on that.

Anyway, enough of propaganda, if you are here to check what this game is about, time to lay out some basics so that you know what you are getting into.

 The game basics

There are two main levels of the game: 

1. Military and non-military units roaming the terrain, responsible for expansion and conquest

2. Cities that are, at a first glance, less spectacular to manage, but it is them that you have to operate well to win the game


Firstly, a huge majority of types of units are military and they do what you would expect military units to do: they attack and defend, conquer and hold terrain and that part is simple. We will not go into details here because you will learn technicalities in a more steady pace once you start playing. But the mechanics are simple: you move a unit into a tile occupied by enemy unit, combat occurs and, most of the time (if the attacking unit is not Bombarder class), one of them dies, end of story. Of course, different units have different attack and defense values, some units have specific capabilities and you will learn more about it in the in-game help as you go through the game.

Most important non-military units are Settlers (or Tribes) and Workers (later becoming Engineers). Settlers create cities and Workers improve terrain, clearing forests, creating irrigation (more food), building roads (faster movement and extra trade) and mines (extra production). There are also Caravans, Explorers and Diplomats/Spies that each have their role.

Various units can perform various tasks, such as Build City or Irrigate or Build Road. Most of those tasks have shortcuts, but all should be available in the menus on the top of the screen, so be sure to familiarise yourself with them.

Depending on many things - ruleset, government, other stuff - units may require upkeep from the city they were built in. Most of the time this is upkeep in money, but it can also be upkeep in production. As a rule, more units will require more upkeep: often some initial upkeep is free so it pays more to distribute unit ownership between more cities than to have most units owned by just a few cities. Details vary very much between rulesets and governments so check the details depending on the exact game you are playing.


You can choose how you want the game to look. Two main tilesets are shown above. There are also user-made tilesets and we can recommend  Hans Lemurson's Roundsquare.


As we said, cities make or break a game. The more you have them, the more powerful you are. 

Cities work the terrain around them producing three types of "commodities" from the tiles: Food, Production and Trade.

Food is accumulated in the city granary (not to be confused with the building of the same name that you need to build for it to have effect). Once granary is filled, city grows by one.

Production is used to construct city buildings (if you are new, use in-game help extensively) or units. There are also Wonders as special and unique buildings that give powerful bonuses, either just to the city or, sometimes, to the whole nation.

Trade is collected (some is lost to corruption) and divided into Tax, Science and Luxuries. 

Tax fills the national coffers with gold that you will mostly use to maintain buildings or accelerate production. Sometimes money will be needed to upkeep units to, and occasionally you may want to grab the opportunity to bribe enemy units or cities, if possible.

Science is accumulated in the national research pool. Once you collect enough, a new technology is developed.

Luxuries are usually not needed in the early game, but later on, as cities grow, you may have to use it to make citizens content or happy in order to avoid a revolt. You can also quell revolts by putting military units into cities, but it only works in earlier governments; once you reach Republic or Democracy, this will no longer be possible. A city will revolt if the number of unhappy citizens is bigger than the number of happy citizens. Also, if there are no unhappy citizens and more than half of the city population is happy, nice things happen. Which things exactly, depends on the particular game and the ruleset.

Distribution of Trade between these three is controlled by a simple menu. You can also pull population from working tiles around the city and employ them as Taxmen, Scientists or Entertainers to produce more gold, science or luxuries.

Picture above shows a typical early city outline. Number rows such as "310" and "202" represent population working the terrain around city and bringing home Food/Production/Trade. (In case you were checking and math doesn't add up: depending on the ruleset, Palace may add 50% to production, but only in some early governments.) 

Strategy tip: The backbone of your initial strategy should be to expand as much as possible. Since cities represent power, you should build as many cities and conquer as much terrain as possible. All other actions should support this: military units should defend your Settlers and cities, workers should improve terrain around your cities. The more cities you have, the more science and money you get.

Science and technology

Science and techs are the backbone of your nation's development. New technologies you discover allow new buildings, units and governments that improve your overall situation. Except the initial ones, all techs are organised into a tree, having one or two prerequisites and most of them leading to new technologies. The tech tree can also serve as an alternative help source because by right-clicking on a technology, you get a hypertext help window about everything this technology makes possible, including units, buildings and other things. The image below shows roughly half of the available techs in the default ruleset.

How to play

All Civ games, including Freeciv, are playable as single-player. To do this, simply go to Freeciv.org, download the latest version of the game and install it. However, it is always more fun to have company and for multiplayer games check the Community section on this site and join one of the multiplayer games. Of course, one doesn't exclude the other and you probably want to try both, but either way, having people to talk to, exchange advice, strategies and opinions always makes it more interesting. 

This was an indeed brief introduction to how the game is played. Of course, the devil is in the details: we haven't even touched diplomacy (which is relatively simple in single-player, but can get unfathomably complicated in multiplayer environments), terrain details, math stuff and different variants (rulesets) of the game. But all those things go beyond basics and it makes more sense learning them as you play; of course you are going to be terrible in your first few games, but we hope you will find the whole experience interesting to learn more and more, to become a great leader and to lead your nation to progress, might and glory.

More details to watch for

Since this is not a full tutorial, we will not go into mechanical details of the game, but will just note a few things that are not obvious, you need to be aware they exist and check and learn as you go:

* If you are playing with other people, don't miss the in-game chat! It is not the best piece of software you've ever seen and LT people usually use Discord, but it is the first line of communication in the game and people may want to tell you something, like "let's avoid war"
* Early governments force a penalty on terrain yield; you will want to advance to a more developed government or build wonders that remove the penalty
* In default Freeciv, excess food is wasted once a city grows, while Trade and Production are accumulated
* Units that achieve veteran levels can be significantly stronger than their default combat values, don't squander them

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