Civ 3 Game Overview: Complete Game Analysis

Latest posts by Erin Jamieson (see all)

Civilization fans have been abuzz as Civilization 6 comes to an end– which makes this a perfect time to look back at overviews for older, classic games in the series, like Civ 3.

Civ 6 has gained many avid fans, but this iteration, headed into its 5th year, is coming to an end. Developers announced on the official Civilization Twitter account that Civ 6’s final update would be in Spring 2021. For fans of Civ 6, this may come as disappointing news, but the update, to say the least, will be a memorable one.

The last update, free for all players, will include a “A Chonker” on content, in the developer’s words. Leaders will get an update in the form of new abilities and buffs and potentially a balance alteration. What’s capturing many Civ 6 player’s attention, though, is the ability to play on an expansive map with every leader in their respective, historically sound locations.

With patch notes approaching 4,000 words in length, there’s no doubt that the developers are trying to wrap up Civ 6 with a lasting impression.

With no new Civilization game confirmed yet, and for new players wondering which Civilization version is best to start with, news of the end of Civ 6 actually means there’s no better time than to revisit a classic: Civ 3.

I’ll give you an overview of the game that first got me started playing Civilization and captured my attention for its dynamic systems and hours of gameplay– a game, in some respects, that still holds up surprisingly well in 2021.

Civ 3: Getting Started

civ 3 getting started

Civ 3 is a true classic, and while the graphics may not be as updated as Civ 6, I’d argue that it’s still a great game to play, a true testament since it made its debut now over two decades ago.

Civ 3 didn’t just capture my attention– it’s also, to do this day, is praised by critics, earning an impressive 90 out of 100 score on Metacritic. The 2001 Civ game had been touted as having addictive gameplay, a user-friendly interface, expansive strategy gameplay, and powerful tools for building and managing civilizations. For its time, it was also praised for its attention to detailed audio and graphics.

I’ll guide you through the main mechanics of the game and how to get started.

Step One: Select a Map Size

Once you install Civ 3 and open your game, you’ll be taken to the main menu. From there, you’ll have a few decisions to make. The first decision you’ll make is the map–the world you’ll be playing in. From the map size to climate, these decisions will certainly impact how challenging, and long, your game will likely be.

Your choices are Tiny (up to 3 opponents), Small (5 opponents), Standard (7 opponents), Large (11 opponents), and Huge (15 opponents).

As you can imagine, there are pros and cons for every size. My personal preference is standard– it seems like the perfect balance to get to interact with unique different civilizations, but the map is generous enough you’ll have a bit of time to explore before meeting all of your opponents. If you’re new, I wouldn’t recommend Huge, which can make for a long game, or Tiny, which requires you to develop your civilization quickly.

Step Two: Selecting Map Type

Your map type includes how the land formation, climate and age– and barbarian behavior.

Land Type

Land formation choices include Continents, Pangea, and Archipelago. While Pangea consists of a connected mass of land, Continents and Archipelago both have islands. Islands can be an advantage or disadvantage: you may get more time to prepare for enemies, but it’ll be harder to trade with allies, and it’ll take longer to execute military interventions.


You can choose everything from very wet to arid climates. I normally opt for a climate that is neither entirely wet nor dry. You’ll also need to select temperature– typically, a warm climate is going to be the most conducive for developing your civilization.


Age is simply what time period you’re starting in and impacts how the terrain appears. 5 billion is a pretty flat map, while 3 billion is quite mountainous, and 4 billion between the two. I prefer 4 billion– as it provides the coverage of mountains and leaves plenty of room for easier infrastructure projects, such as building roads and mining.


Barbarians include regular warriors, horsemen, and also armed galleys. With allegiance to no one, barbarians can ambush you. However, this also allows military units to gain experience upgrade and a source for gold to fund your civilization. Your choices refer to how active those Barbarians will be, from Sedentary to Roaming, Restless or Raging. You can also randomize. I recommend Restless or Roaming.

Step Three: Select Your Civilization

civ fandom 3

The most interesting part of starting up your game is making your choice of civilization. Keep in mind that every civilization has one world leader (they will take on a period-appropriate new style as the game progresses, but you’ll have the same world leader you start with). When I was quite young and first starting dabbling, I’d select a world leader or culture I was interested in, but there’s actually some strategy for whom you pick.

Each civilization has a ‘type’ that indicates where its main advantages lie–but notice that several civilizations are under more than one category.

Commercial Civilizations

Includes: Greece, France, England, and India

Commercial civilizations have the advantage of lower levels of corruption, and a small addition of active commerce for each city—these excel at building more quickly and making city improvements. With the extra income, you’ll have more ability to build your cities quicker than some opponents. The final bonus is they already have writing technology, which allows you to establish embassies, which means that city will have diplomatic status.

Expansionist Civilizations

Includes: United States/ Americans, Iriquois, Zulu, Russia

Expansionist civilizations in Civ 3 give you a few advantages to build additional cities and explore more quickly. Scouting units are given a faster speed than any other type of civilization, and these civilizations also begin with the Pottery technology. Pottery is not immediately tied to expanding, but it is a required technology for making maps later on.

Industrious Civilizations

Includes: Americans, Chinese, French, English, and Romans

Industrious civilizations provide additional shield protection, making them well suited for either barbarian or adversary attacks. But they also allow workers to become more efficient through the Masonry technology, meaning building roads, mining, and related tasks like irrigation take less time to complete.

Militaristic Civilizations

Includes: Aztecs, Japanese, Germans, Romans, Zulu

Military-oriented civilizations start out with the advantage or more features for barracks and walls. But they also have a direct advantage for military troops in a longer-term sense, with experience gained more quickly and upgraded units able to reach faster speeds. An additional bonus is starting with archers.

Religious Civilizations

Includes: Indians, Egyptians, Iroquois, Japanese, Aztecs, Babylonians

Religious civilizations have the advantage of moving more quickly in terms of culture and potentially keeping citizens more satisfied. With such civilizations, you can build religious and cultural improvements more quickly, such as temples. Unrest and your own citizens rising up against you are less common, and you also won’t have to endure a period of anarchy that is normal as the government transitions.

Scientific Civilizations

Includes: Chinese, Germans, Greeks, Persians, Russians, Babylonians

Scientific civilizations in Civ 3 allots you a generous additional technology you won’t need to work towards for every era of the game. Educational buildings, such as libraries, can be built more quickly, and overall technology and research tend to advance quickly- which can even result in a cultural influence boost. The technology you’ll begin with is Bronze Working.

As you can see, there is no one right civilization to play– it all depends on which advantages matter most to you. You’ll also have the option to either directly select your opponents or randomize your opponents.

Civ 3 Unit Types


Civ 3 Units

As you can see, there is no one right way to start your Civ 3 game, but some thought should go into your starting settings. Once you have made your decisions, it’s time to play the game. This overview section will cover the core mechanics and basics that you need to know.

Every turn you can build, make decisions regarding everything from culture to technology and diplomacy, and, of course, control. You’ll start with one city, your capital, and a mostly black map, which will fill in as you explore.

While I won’t go over every unit, there are specific unit types you can buy from your city, which largely fall into a few categories: settlers, workers, and military units, as well as general explorers.


Never underestimate the power of workers. Workers can build roads, mine for resources, make irrigation improvements, and more.


Irrigation can be performed near any body of water and increases food production for your citizens.

Roads & Railroads

Roads allow you to move units more quickly and also increase commerce. It’s beneficial to build roads between cities, as well as to mines.

Clearing Jungle, Planting Forest

Clearing away from the jungle can improve the contentment and health of your citizens and make it useful for other projects. Planting forests can only be done after you research Engineering.


Mining is very useful, allowing you to add additional protection and a direct source of resources. I recommend connecting roads to mines and your cities.


Settlers allow you to establish new cities. This is essential, of course, for expanding your civilization’s influence– whether from a military or even cultural view. If barbarians are especially active, or if you’re in the middle of a conflict, I recommend having settlers accompanied by a military unit.

Military Units

Military units can either move across the map or stay in a city to defend it. You may have several military units defending a city at a time. Keep in mind that you’ll want some military units to defend both your cities and colonies, but exploring and meeting barbarians can help them gain experience.

Experience allows them to upgrade to veteran units, which have stronger defense and attack. The levels for each unit are conscript, regular and veteran. After a unit reaches veteran status, it can no longer improve.

Every civilization has unique military units, and you’ll work your way up to mode advanced units by building military buildings like barracks, as well as investing in research.

Civ 3 Diplomacy

Civ Diplomacy


Diplomacy plays an enormous role in Civilization III gameplay, even if you’re more military-oriented. From trade agreements and embargos to peace treaties, it’s important to be aware of your options once you start interacting with NPC players.

Right of Passage Agreement

This agreement allows you to pass through another country’s land without it being seen as an act of aggression.

Mutual Protection Pacts and Military Alliances

No matter how confident you are, it often pays to make a wise military alliance or protection pact, especially if there are many or onerous opponents. Mutual protection pacts last twenty turns and works as a short-term alliance: if one player is attacked, the other player in the agreement will also be forced to declare war. Military alliances are longer-term and make you formal allies in war.

Peace Treaties

When you first meet any civilization, you’re not at war. But peace treaties can be negotiated if you wish to end a war. Sometimes this will require negotiating resources or even cities, but keep in mind that not every civilization will accept your offer no matter what- this is more typical of military-oriented civilizations.

Trade Embargos

Trade embargos may be made with an ally against another nation, cutting off trading from your two nations for that nation. This is an indirect way to reduce the resources potentially coming to that nation, but of course, it also comes with its own risks.

Governing in Civ 3


While diplomacy and military interventions play a large role in Civ 3, even greater is the everyday decisions you’ll make that influence government, technology, religion, and cultural improvements.

Government Types

You’ll need to select a government style. Each comes with its own unique advantages and disadvantages. You can change government types throughout the game, but keep in mind that doing so can cause civil unrest and comes with risks of its own. Some government types will only become available as you research further.


Anarchy means you do not have a government– this happens during civil unrest. Worker efficiency is cut in half, no taxes are collected, and no research can be conducted. This is the one state that has no real benefit.

A Note About Civil Unrest

To end anarchy– and the civil unrest underlying it–you’ll need to go inside your city and look at what citizens are demanding. Corruption and high taxes are some causes, as well as prolonged war. You can provide entertainment, make building and cultural improvements, and potentially sign a peace treaty.


Under communism, worker efficiency is normal, with an option for hurried forced labor. The leader has full control, which cuts back on both waste and corruption, increasing productivity. However, trade is more limited, and you may be at a higher risk for unhappy citizens.


Democracy increases worker efficiency to 150 percent and gives you the option to rush production by paying them more. Commerce especially thrives, but this government can pose challenges during the war, as citizens are less tolerable of war under this form of government.


Under this form of government, efficiency is normal, with an option of forced labor for quicker production. It’s not ideal for a few reasons. While you have full control over both the military and your citizens, there is less personal freedom, and construction may be slower.


Monarchy in Civ 3 allows normal worker efficiency, with the option to hurry production by paying citizens. Production is notably improved from some forms of government, mostly Despotism, and loyalty from citizens tends to be high. That said, waste and corruption can pose challenges.


Under this form of government, worker efficiency is normal, with the ability to rush production by paying citizens. Economic freedom and commerce both benefit, but as is the case with democracy, citizens are more vulnerable to civil unrest during times of war.

Technological Advancements

A technology tree, along with advisors, will help guide what you research and when in Civ 3. Research allows for the building of greater cultural significance, develop new systems of government and religions, and build up your military.

Research is all driven, in turn, by different time periods. In order to advance to a new time period, you must have completed research in that area that does not either have a circle or cross marking. The ages include Ancient Times, Middle Ages, Industrial Ages, and Modern Times.

How to Win in Civ 3

There is no single way to win Civilization III- and there are different ways to accomplish your objectives. Essentially, you win by conquering– through cultural influence, military might, or a mix of both– and having the world in allegiance to you.

To win, a multifaceted strategy is normally best. Build at least one important alliance so that you don’t risk being undone by adversarial alliances. Focus on military and expansion some- but not at the risk of not investing in building cultural wonders and keeping citizens content. If you have little culture or unhappy citizens, you risk revolts from your own.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can Civ 3 run on Windows 10?

Answer: Civilization III was not originally intended to run on Windows 10, but the good news is that it can run when using compatibility mode. To do so, navigate to your Civilization 3 folder and right-click on the file called setup. Select to run compatibility mode and the correct operating system.

Question: Can you play Civ 3 online?

Answer: Civ 3 originally was single-player, offline only. However, Civ fans can now also play online via a Steam update.

Final Thoughts

Civilization 3 provides endless features and endless hours of gameplay, but this overview should help you get started with the basics. Interested in buying Civilization 3? Buy Civilization 3 Complete on Steam for just $4.99.

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