A Beginner's Guide To
Civilization (Part Two) 

By Gihan Bandaranaike  

This article assumes the optimum 7 players playing the original "basic" boardgame. Part 1 dealt with game mechanics. Part 2 deals with strategies, concentrating on openings for each culture. Part 3 will deal with card analysis, strategy changes due to less players, rule changes in the Advanced game and will also give rules for "Hybrid Civilization" which incorporate the best aspects of the Advanced game whilst utilising components from the basic game only. 


The Progress Chart has 5 Epochs. Cultures start in the 1st Epoch, the "New Stone Age". 2 cities are required to enter the 2nd Epoch, the "Early Bronze Age". Civilization Cards from 3 different groups are required to enter the 3rd Epoch, the "Late Bronze Age". 7 Civilization Cards are required to enter the 4th Epoch, the "Early Iron Age". Civilization Cards totalling 1000 points are required to enter the 5th Epoch, the "Late Iron Age". In addition, in this last Epoch, values are listed on the Chart: a culture requires the stated value in Civilization Cards, Trade cards and tax tokens in order to enter, remain in and leave the square. The "winning post" has no requirements. If more than 1 culture finishes simultaneously, the winner is the culture with more points, including Trade cards and tax tokens. 

The Progress Chart, a term used in the Gibsons game, is called the Archaeological Succession Table (AST) in the Avalon Hill version (hence "AST order" is the same as Progress Chart order). The position of cultures on the Progress Chart, and not their size on the map, is the true indicator of who is winning as the game is a race to fufill all the requirements on the chart and finish first. 

Cultures have different starting locations and so some have geographical advantages whilst others are disadvantaged. Hence cultures have different Epoch entry times, some early (hard) and others later (easy), in order to maintain play balance between the cultures. Study the Progress Chart and know the starting zones of all cultures before choosing your culture. 


Looking at the board, a player will see that Africa and Egypt are isolated in the south, Crete starts in the centre and the other 6 cultures start in the north-west (Italy, Illyria, Thrace) and north-east (Asia, Assyria, Babylon). As land and city site shortages exist, new players should realise that to have all 3 NW or NE cultures in a game will create a lot of congestion in that area and undesired conflict. In most 7 player games, the 2 cultures not played will be 1 of the NW and NE cultures. In fact, a game of experienced players will avoid the Italy/Illyria and Assyria/Babylon combinations. 

However, you cannot legislate for beginners who do not appreciate congestion nor for players who have an irrational liking for playing a culture. Hence games with all 3 NW or NE cultures will occur. So, if picking your culture early and unsure of the players, as you do not want to start in a congested corner due to later choices, avoid the northern cultures - or, better still, ask if you can pass and choose last. As a personal preference, if with players who know the "4 City Opening" (detailed below), choose Thrace otherwise choose Egypt. Crete, Africa and Asia are next best, with Italy preferable to Illyria and Assyria to Babylon. However most cultures have their merits. 


The first problem a culture encounters is acquiring Civilization Cards from 3 different groups to enter the 3rd Epoch. The cheapest way is with Mysticism (30pts) and Pottery/Clothmaking (45pts) as Mysticism is in 2 groups. Egypt and Babylon are required to enter the 3rd Epoch in turn 7. But obtaining 75 points of Trade cards and taxes by turn 7 is not hard. There are only 3 Mysticisms. As cultures low down on the Progress Chart order choose first when acquiring Civilization Cards, this means the cheapest option is not available to cultures high up on the Progress Chart order. The next cheapest way is to get Architecture (80pts), another 2-group card, instead of Mysticism, which is 125 points by turn 8 or 9. This is far harder and dependent on skillful trading, hence risky. How much easier it would be for the cultures high up on the Progress Chart to somehow acquire Mysticism. The 4 City Opening achieves this - and also sabotages those cultures who expected to acquire Mysticism in order to advance into the 3rd Epoch. 

The 4 City Opening is available to Italy/Illyria/Thrace assuming only 2 of them are in the game. It is also usable by Asia and/or Assyria who, seeing the threat the 4 City Opening poses, have opted to react similarly. In the Avalon Hill game, with its different starting zones, Africa can also do this opening. It is simply the doubling of population for 5 turns to 32 tokens whereupon 4 cities are built at city sites, leaving a minimum 8 token city support. Next turn, at 16 tokens, a 5th city is built leaving a minimum 10 token city support. The plan is to ally with another culture also doing the 4 City Opening and, taking 4 Trade cards turn 5 and 5 Trade cards turn 6, one culture has 4 Grain (64pts) and the other has 4 Salt and 2 Cloth (68pts). Together with other Trade cards and taxes, the 75 points required is always achieved - in turn 6! 

Note 3 cultures can ally in a 4 City Opening for greater effect, one with 6 Salt (108pts), another with 6 Grain (144pts) whilst the third gets 3 Cloth (45pts) plus all the other Trade cards (27-88pts), but this requires trusting Trade to engineer. In this case, although the temptation exists to acquire Mysticism and sabotage other cultures, the players should hold on to their half-sets with the intention of trading for a full set in turn 7 (the third player, who holds 15 trade cards, should buy Mysticism with his non-Cloth cards).  


There follows a quick resume of recommended strategies for each of the cultures. It is beyond the scope of this short article to give detailed strategies. City sites are referred to by the names given to them on the Gibsons game. For full understanding, the Gibsons map should be laid out in front of you. Apologies to those who own the Avalon Hill game which does not name city sites. 


Africa must first make it clear that Sicily and Cyrene are African. Egypt, with plentiful city sites, will concede Cyrene but Sicily will be a problem if all 3 NW cultures are in play. Hence don't choose Africa if this is (or could be) the case! Africa enters the 2nd Epoch at end of turn 5. In the Gibsons game, Africa can only achieve a 31 Census in turn 5 (because, turn 4, the 16th token must be placed in a "3" zone, usually Carthage, hence does not double). Even then, Africa is unable to build Cyrene hence usually builds Leptis, Hadrumentum and Carthage, the latter cities severely limiting sea raids. A poor opening, recommended only if all 3 NW cultures are in play. 

A better opening would be in turn 4 (when at 16 tokens) to use 2 tokens to build a Ship at Hadrumentum and ferry over 5 tokens (embarking at Hadrumentum and Carthage) to the 5 total population of Sicily. Thus, in turn 5, with a Census of 28, Africa builds Syracuse and Leptis to advance into the 2nd Epoch - and has sufficient land for the remaining 16 tokens to occupy and continue doubling. In turn 6, Panormus, Cyrene and Hadrumentum are built (note that Africa must advance westward from the start to be able to build Cyrene in turn 6). Carthage is always built as late as possible as it is fertile and a platform to stage sea raids. Of course, if Italy is not in play, only 3 tokens disembark in Sicily with the other 2 tokens landing in Italy to partition Italy with Illyria. Africa is in a very strong position in a game without Italy. 

Africa's 9 potential cities are: Carthage, Hadrumentum, Leptis, Cyrene, Panormus, Syracuse, "1" zone in SW corner, "1" zone south of Cyrene and 1 other (due to its lack of city sites, Africa should build map-edge 12-token cities which are very safe from attack, the latter closing the Egypt border which keeps Egypt happy). However, to support 9 cities requires Agriculture or tokens outside its usual area. But, due to its easy Epoch entry times, Africa does not need to have 9 cities to win.  


Assuming only 2 of Italy/Illyria/Thrace are in play, they should do the 4 City Opening. One culture builds Tarquinii, Cumae, Tarentum and Apollonia, building 2 Ships with tax to build Corcyra as the 5th (and Olbia as the 6th). The other culture builds Istrus, Odessus, Byzantium and Potidaea, building 2 Ships with tax to build Chalcis as the 5th (and Eretria as the 6th). Engineering this can be tricky (remember co-existence) so plan your expansion carefully to ensure these cities can be built in turn 5 and 6. No further city sites can be gained unless you negotiate well otherwise you will end up annoying one of Africa, Crete or Asia. So to build more cities peacefully requires building 12-token cities in the "1" zones, ideally inland as your cities are coastal. Of course, should a neighbouring culture not be in play, that is the direction to advance and the allocation of city sites will be different. Like Africa, with easy Epoch entry times, Italy/Illyria/Thrace do not need to have 9 cities to win. Unlike Africa, these cultures do not have fertile land problems to support their cities so they can be generous when conceding non-city site zones to Crete who has severe land problems. 

If all 3 NW cultures are in play, they are at a severe disadvantage unless Crete is not in play. In this scenario, Illyria advances south every turn to reach Athens in turn 5 and to take over Crete's traditional role in the Aegean. Even so, the NW cultures are unable to do the 4 City Opening and so Italy and Illyria may have problems entering the 3rd Epoch in turn 8 (Thrace enters it in turn 9).  


Crete is tricky to play. Its opening needs careful thought and it suffers from a chronic fertile land shortage whilst being a target due to its access to plentiful city sites. Crete is for the negotiator as it must concede city sites for fertile land with neighbours. It must also take a low-Census strategy with many Ships as a mobile reaction force because its cities are central and coastal, hence are very vulnerable, especially to cultures with Astronomy. However, Crete does have easy Epoch entry times to compensate for its perverse glut of city sites. 

The opening for Crete is, in turn 3 (on 8 Census) to use 2 units to build a Ship in Knossos. 5 tokens are then transported to Sparta, Corinth and the "2" zone north of Corinth. To ensure Illyria does not already occupy this last zone, urge the 2 NW cultures to adopt the 4 City Opening and, if that doesn't work, as Crete moves after Illyria in turn 3, threaten to evict his tokens by attacking with 3 tokens. But a sensible Illyria will co-operate and concede. They should also give you the "2" zone west of Potidaea in turn 4 (after all, they have the very fertile lands in the NW) on the understanding that you concede Corcyra, Chalcis and Eretria to them. However, so bad is your fertile land shortage that you must, later on, persuade Asia to concede coastal non-city sites in the east; as Asia has no land problems, it should co-operate, especially as you are not disputing mainland city sites. 

Once 5 tokens are on the mainland, they double to occupy adjacent zones in turn 4 and, in turn 5, Sparta and Mycenae are built. Meanwhile Crete has 4 tokens from the 1 token left behind in turn 3. In turn 6, 4 taxes are used to build 2 Ships, at Athens and Knossos. The former picks up 4 tokens at Athens, drops 1 at Thera, picks up 2 at Phaestus and drops 5 at Rhodes. The latter picks up 4 tokens at Knossos, drops 1 at Rhodes and the other 3 in Cyprus (ask Asia if you can drop any in Turkey but a wise Asia will refuse this concession early on). You build Rhodes and Corinth to leave 6 tokens on the mainland (including Athens) and 2 in Crete. You also can keep all 6 Trade Cards you hold at the end of turn 6. In turn 7, with a 24 Census, you build Salamis and Athens to give you 6 cities and 12 tokens to support it (but you must use taxes to build 2 Ships in mainland Greece and Crete to ferry over 2 excess tokens from mainland Greece to Cyprus). With your 12 Trade cards, you hopefully Trade for a good set and acquire useful card(s), ideally Agriculture. 

Note that Crete has until turn 9 to get 3 different groups hence Crete does not need to acquire 2-group cards, preferring cheap and useful cards in order to make the 4th Epoch's 7 Card entry requirement. Crete is able to buy several cheap cards due to its 1200 finishing requirement. Notice also how no cities are not built in centrally located Crete, the population source, unless it is a last option. This is especially true of Knossos, the only "3" zone in the vicinity, far more valuable for city support. 

Following the above opening, Crete's 9 cities are: Knossos, Phaestus, Thera, Sparta, Mycenae, Corinth, Athens, Rhodes and Salamis. However, finding the land for 18 city support is a problem. Crete, like all cultures high up on the Progress Chart order does not need 9 cities to win. But, if ever in that position (which is easy if the land can be found for city support), Crete can then coast to a victory due to its easy Epoch entry times and 1200 points finishing requirement. But experienced players will not allow Crete to achieve this 9 city dominance and the easiest method is to attack its meagre city support tokens and capture its scarce non-city lands. 

More than the obvious acquisitions of Astronomy and Clothmaking (very aggressive), Crete must acquire Agriculture early to alleviate its land shortage. Otherwise, it finds itself vulnerably spread out all over the board, forced to filling gaps due to the range of its Ships and its usual later movement. 

Only if all 3 NW cultures are in play or you get a hostile Illyria unwilling to concede land or Asia is not in play should Crete alter its opening and open eastward in its turn 3 ferrying. But all 4 tokens must be placed in the eastern mainland if 6 cities are to be built by turn 7 (not a problem if Asia is not in play). Hence this is not the ideal opening. Nevertheless, Crete should still be able to coast into the 3rd Epoch despite opening east but may have problems acquiring 7 Civilization Cards for the 4th Epoch without suffering a set-back.  


Asia and Assyria are very straight-forward to play, assuming only 2 of the NE cultures are in play. In turn 5, with 32 Census, they build the minimum 2 cities, ideally in sites which can't be attacked next turn (or build a Ship next turn to ensure 6 units in Stock to avoid surrenders). In turn 6, with a 40 Census, they build another 4 cities, leaving 16 units to support 6 Cities. And so on, expanding at a doubling rate and building cities so that sufficient tokens are in Stock after tax to expand fully. In such a scenario, Asia should expand west at every opportunity and build the following 9 cities: Trapesus, Hatussas, Kanesh, Gordion, Troy, Sardis, Miletus, Aleppo and Palmyra. Asia should avoid isolating its tokens in northern Turkey by building cities around it. Also refuse Crete entry to mainland Turkey if asked early on as they will breed and be hard to expel. Later on, once Asia is stable, to avoid a war, allow Crete a few coastal lands in south Turkey as Asia has plentiful land. 

Meanwhile, Assyria should expand south at every opportunity and build the following 9 cities: Nineveh, Assur, Mari, Damascus, Jericho, Susa, Babylon, Lagesh, Ur (they all are inland cities!). The key strategic "3" zone south of Assur must be Assyrian (non-negotiable). 

Note that there is a bit of leeway here: should Thrace claim Troy (common and historical), Asia can build Sidon instead (Egypt still has 9 city sites). So, when there are only 2 NE cultures, there is neither land or city site shortages. As a result, Asia and Assyria have hard Epoch entry times and require 1400 points to finish. Hence they cannot afford to buy cheap cards with cheap commodities (they can just about afford to take the cheapest way of entering the 3rd Epoch) and so need to build 9 cities to do well and advance without set-backs. 

The first setback they may encounter is if the NW cultures do the 4 City Opening. In this scenario, these cultures must either risk good trading to achieve 125 points in turn 8 or react with a 4 City Opening as well (to pre-empt and take Mysticism before them) or one of them can offer to join the 2 NW cultures as a 3rd trading ally, which means Mysticism is usually spurned for better Cards. 

The major problem is if all 3 NE cultures are in play. In this case, Assyria usually builds Aleppo, Palmyra, Sidon and Tyre whilst losing Babylon, Susa, Lagesh and Ur as a minimum to Babylon who will usually insist on more and if refused, will attack Assyria. As can be seen, no culture will be happy with this congestion as it results only in widespread, wasteful conflict. So, like 3 NW cultures, avoid having 3 NE cultures in play.  


Babylon shares the same lands as Assyria, who starts extremely close by, whilst not being able to reach city-rich Palestine as fast as Assyria and having even harder Epoch entry times. This would be balanced by its position lower down on the Progress Chart order. However, the fact that Babylon is required to build 2 cities very early in turn 4 to enter the 2nd Epoch, keeping it small, makes it a far inferior choice to Assyria. 

No experienced player will choose Babylon if Assyria has already been chosen (if Assyria has not been chosen, the player will choose Assyria instead). In the situation where, choosing last, Asia and Babylon remain unchosen, an experienced player will usually choose Asia and give Babylonia to Assyria. The reason for the Babylon/Assyria incompatibility is simple: Babylon must build 2 cities in turn 4 to not suffer a set-back which means it must not lose a single of its 16 tokens in turn 4 as the remaining 4 tokens after building 2 cities are required for city support. Babylon moves after Assyria in the equal Census early turns hence can react to any Assyrian attack. But Assyria can place 2 tokens in turn 4 in each of the 7 city sites within Babylon's reach, hence to build any city will necessitate a conflict and a loss of Babylonian tokens (Assyria can afford to lose tokens) hence Babylon must suffer a set-back! An Assyria who finds himself with Babylon should use this threat to ensure Assyria gets Nineveh, Assur and Mari and make Babylon feel grateful for the concession of the cities by the floodplains. To actually cause Babylon a set-back, though fun in a spiteful way, will only cause trouble and create a warring neighbour so is not advisable; the threat is good enough. 

In a game without Assyria, Babylon does well, claiming the same 9 cities which Assyria usually gets. However, due to its 2 city build requirement in turn 4 (don't build floodplain cities until last), Babylon must re-expand to a 32 Census in turn 7 when another 3 cities are built. It then has 11 Trade cards in which to hopefully gain the 75 points cheapest entry method to the 3rd Epoch. But, when compared to Assyria who has 6 cities in turn 6, Babylon is obviously inferior to Assyria. 

Also, Babylon is helpless if the 2 NW cultures adopt the 4 City Opening as they, along with Egypt, will take the 3 Mysticisms. Babylon is almost certainly unable, in turn 7, to achieve 125 points, the next-cheapest method of entering the 3rd Epoch, hence must suffer a set-back. If it does manage to buy Mysticism and advance by spending 75 points, it is then unable to buy any more cheap Civilization Cards (because, if it does, it is very difficult to finish on 1400 points due to a maximum 11 Civilization Cards). Babylon's extremely difficult Epoch entry times is a flaw in the basic game (easily rectified by a house rule of postponing its 2nd Epoch entry time to turn 5).  


Whilst Egypt, like Babylon, also must build 2 cities in turn 4 and must acquire 3 different groups in turn 7, Egypt is not as disadvantaged and has an isolated position, fertile lands and plenty of city sites to make it a personal favourite. It is not hurt should 2 cultures adopt the 4 City Opening as it has first choice for the 3rd Mysticism. When 3 cultures adopt a 4 City Opening, they will keep their 6-commodity sets and go for the full set and better cards. Hence Mysticism is almost guaranteed and, unlike Babylon, Egypt can afford to buy a few more cheap Civilization Cards as it only needs 1300 points to finish. Also, despite also having to build 2 cities in turn 4, Egypt does not have Babylon's problem with Assyria as there is no neighbour to sabotage its progress. 

Egypt's best opening is to ensure that, by turn 4, a token is in Jersusalem, Petra and the "1" zones of the Sinai peninsula whilst 12 tokens build Hieraconpolis and Thebes (non-floodplain cities). This requires a bit of planning and a limited expansion northward. Having established your foothold in Palestine, Assyria/Babylon will not deny you Jersualem, Petra and 1 other (ask for Jericho and settle for Sidon). If the 2 NE cultures have carved their cities amicably, there may be a spare city site in Palestine which you should try to claim instead of building Akhentaen which is a highly fertile "5" zone. 

On the western front, magnanimously concede Cyrene to city site-hungry Africa on the condition that Africa later builds a 12-token city in the "1" zone south of Cyrene - and has no tokens east of these 2 cities (this is not unreasonable and is part of African strategy). Thus, building Jerusalem and Petra, with the 2 African cities in the west, by mid-game Egypt has effectively closed up both land borders with fort-like frontier cities. Also, most of its cities are inland whilst the coastal cities can be continually reinforced against armadas with excess population. This is an almost impregnable situation if it is ever achieved. Experienced players will not allow Egypt to achieve such security. 

Egypt's early strategy follows Babylon; in turn 7, it must build 3 cities (Memphis and any 2 Palestinian cities - don't close up the eastern border before building either Sidon or Jericho). With 11 Trade cards and tax, it is not hard to buy Mysticism plus Pottery (75 points) and enter the 3rd Epoch. The remaining Epoch entry times are also very early hence hard to achieve unless it builds all 9 cities: Hieraconpolis, Thebes, Akhentaen, Memphis, Sais, Tanis, Jerusalem, Petra and Sidon or Jericho. But to support these 9 cities requires either Agriculture or vulnerable tokens outside Egypt's closed borders hence Akhentaen must be the 9th city and is only built after Agriculture is bought. Alternatively, build a 12-token city in the map edge "1" zone west of Akhentaen as the 9th city instead of Akhentaen (or negotiate another city in Palestine). But to build all these cities quickly will require Egypt to build only 2 cities in turn 7 and an ensuing loss of a Trade card. This decision, like many in the game, is influenced by the strategies and number of cities of the other cultures.  


A criticism of the basic game is that if, amongst good players, you suffer a Progress Chart set-back, it is impossible to cause all the cultures ahead of you to also have set-backs hence you cannot win. 

Well, it is admittedly very difficult to get back as a front-runner in the Progress Chart race - but it is not impossible. The trick is (1) not to have another set-back and (2) ensure those lagging behind work together to sabotage the progress of front-runners. You may be the only culture behind but if you sabotage the progress of a vulnerable front-runner down to your level, you gain an ally to help you sabotage the others. Those lagging behind can only grow in number whilst front-runners can only diminish. Sabotage the progress of the most competitive players first as they want to win so will aid you. Leave any players you can manipulate until later as they will help you against "rival" front-runners. Leave any immature players until last and try to avoid dealing the final blow as they will want revenge. Judging a player's reactions to sabotage is vital here. However, if you are the front-runner and you are faced with a co-ordinated sabotage strategy, keep friendly and co-operative with everyone and vow mindless revenge as a deterrent (this is a hollow threat if you're competitive). 

When lagging behind, point it out during allocation of secondary victims of Calamities to show you are no threat and should not be a victim. You should be the benefactor of all Civil Wars. If you track Calamities, try to engineer the largest culture gets Civil War as you will benefit greatly. Always remember that your first priority is not have another set-back; only then can you sabotage.  


The obvious ploy is a trade embargo; if other players are envious of a player doing better, they could be persuaded to join in a trade embargo. Of course those lagging behind will keep to it as they realise they must play negatively to have a chance of winning. However, other front-runners will want commodities which the pariah culture has and hence they will usually ignore embargoes. 

A variant that works if you have as many cities as your target (and do not need to acquire many or expensive Civilization Cards that turn) is to Trade for the same commodity as your victim wants (because he holds a few of them). Explain this to all the other players and, as you are behind in the Progress Chart and you also have what they want, they should Trade it to you instead. Another ploy is to co-ordinate attacks on a culture. Against a high-Census culture moving first, it easy for other players to target undefended cities. Against a lean low-Census culture, the method is to swamp the tokens and reduce cities due to lack of support. The problem here is the Pyrrhic combat system. Encourage others lagging behind to attack but avoid attacking yourself unless the city will surrender as you must always keep your culture strong to avoid another set-back. 

The best way of destroying a culture is with Calamities. Conspire with all other players to pass all tradeable Calamities to the player. Front-runners, eager to see a rival front-runner weakened, will co-operate. Also ensure that Calamities with secondary victims target the player to the maximum. Of course, once the player has declared 2 Calamities, save any other Calamities for the next turn. And always follow-up and spoil ensuing coastal city rebuilding as the attacker loses few tokens to do this. 

Once a culture is a runaway leader with others lagging 2 steps behind, the only option is reduce it to zero cities. All players should agree on this but this is almost impossible if the culture has any inland cities, especially if they are adjacent to other cities, reducing attackable borders (coastal cities can usually be attacked by armadas using Astronomy). If the leader does not have Law, players must save 2 Calamities, "Civil Disorder" and "Iconoclasm & Heresy" until a turn when the runaway leader has no Calamities whereupon they (and no other Calamities) are traded to him - then invoke an embargo to prevent Law being bought. Without Law, the victim is reduced to zero cities and regresses whilst other cultures advance to catch him up. Organising this should be easy as all players will be united in catching up a runaway leader. 

The best time for an attack on cities is the turn before entry to a new Epoch as the attacked culture will be depending on the Trade cards from his cities to help him fund the Civilization Cards he requires. This is also the best time to invoke a temporary 1 turn Trade embargo as it is devastating in this crucial turn. Such embargoes actually work if players do not need sets of commodities that turn and hence have no reason to trade with the pariah culture that turn. 

Further subtleties in the Trade cards, Calamities and Civilization Cards, which can aid or protect against sabotage, will be dealt with in Part 3.

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 39


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