Beginner's Guide To Civilization (Part Three)

By Gihan Bandaranaike

This article assumes the optimum 7 players playing the original "basic" boardgame. Parts 1 and 2 dealt with game mechanics and strategies. This final part analyses the cards and summarises the main changes due to less than 7 players. Due to limited space, a separate article in the next issue will cover Advanced Civilization as well as rules for "Hybrid Civilization", a variant which incorporates the best aspects of the Advanced game whilst utilising components from the basic game only.


Study the table of points from commodity sets in the rulebook. The rules point out that Salt, Grain, Cloth and Bronze are potentially the most useful commodities. This is not just because a full set of any of them are worth over 200 points but also because most decent players will be on 6 cities minimum so there are plenty of players holding that card hence you can trade with them and get full sets quicker. However, Salt is usually collected by the weakest culture and Grain is valued by all players due to Famine. Very few cultures are large enough to value Spice, Gems or Gold (but collecting them long term is a good strategy, especially with a Trade ally, explained later). Cards from stacks 1-2 are, except in Epoch 2, just "secondary fillers" in most 3 card trades - but ask for secondary fillers that will give you mini-sets in them as they are still useful for cashing in points and when trading away lots of points for a commodity. Note that 2 secondary fillers are required to trade otherwise trusting double-trades are required hence the minor commodities have a use. .Anyway, for these reasons, Cloth and Bronze are usually the most useful commodities to collect.

As a personal preference, in 7 player games, Bronze is the best commodity to collect as you can potentially cash in a full set worth 216 points every turn. You must ensure that everyone is doing adequately (advise them if necessary) and on 6+ cities. If you are on 8-9 cities, after buying Gold if necessary, you have 6 valued commodities (Gold, Gems, Spice, Cloth, Grain, Salt) to trade and acquire the 5 other Bronze cards in play (assuming you picked up Bronze). Trading a Spice and a Cloth for a Bronze each should be no problem. Trading the Grain for a Bronze may require the help of a Famine but again should be no problem. You will probably need to give both Gold and Gems for a Bronze, trading with a 9 city culture, as neither has much potential for points and t here will be few 8+ city cultures in play to trade - but demand Salt as a secondary commodity for your 2 commodities. The reason is that the final 6th Bronze is held by the least ambitious player who has opted for Salt; he will not trade Salt for Bronze but should give it for 2 Salt or Salt plus all your other non-Bronze cards (remember the number of cards traded do not have to be equal). Always remember when trading to be nonchalant or, better, give an impression that you are doing them a favour; hence you should always insist they promise (renegable but usually kept) that you will not be a secondary victim of any Calamities they have etc. Of course, if you then cash in a full set of Bronze ostentatiously, players will feel conned so never draw attention to your successful trading.

The above example shows that it is often to your benefit that all cultures are relatively strong. Say you hold a half-set of 3 Cloth. A half-set of the 4 remaining Cloth was cashed in by another player last turn. You want to ensure that enough players have 5+ cities so that all those 4 Cloth are back in play for Trade. But you also make certain that you too pick up a Cloth (and avoid Civil War, the Calamity in that stack) and not find an empty stack, hence you must engineer a delicate balance. Thus, you may have a chance to spoil a player's city-building but, quickly working out that it is far more advantageous to you to let him build, you say to him "I know you want Salt: I won't spoil as long as you Trade your Cloth for my Salt." Even if he reneges (and he won't as your Salt will be very lucrative to him), you have ensured another Cloth is in circulation. So it is important if you are to trade well to ensure other cultures also do well. Hence we come to the concept of Trade Allies.

The 4 City Opening discussed before was a classic example of a Trade Alliance. This is where an agreement is made between 2 players to always exchange 2 commodities every turn with the disadvantaged trader getting some extra card as compensation. This Trade Allies concept only works when you and another player have more cities than everyone else, not just from a 4 City Opening but also later in a game. In this scenario, you both agree to trade Gold / Gems / Spice between each other every turn and retain them for the full set whilst trading the other commodities with the other players, none of whom are eligible to pick up these more expensive commodities. Trade Alliances work best with less than 7 players because you are more certain of picking up a second card of that commodity in the following turn.

When the 4 City Opening is adopted by 3 players, a Trade Bloc is formed which is potentially far more rewarding for all involved. The problem with Trade Blocs is that commodities have differing values so it is often difficult to engineer an equitable agreement of which commodity each player should collect. Trade Blocs also often require a trusting double-trade to exchange single Trade cards. Thus, although Trade Blocs are more profitable than a Trade Alliance, they are also more susceptible to a stab.

In Civilization, stabs rarely occurs on the map (limited to when a low-Census culture unexpectedly attacks, usually using mobile Ships). Rather, the best stabs occur in Trade. Passing a Calamity to a Trade Ally you no longer need, reneging on the second Trade of a double-trade, lying about a valued secondary commodity you are offering, all of these are examples of the classic stab.


Some generic guidelines about Calamities. When required to remove units, deplete all 3+ fertile zones to 2 tokens and lose cities whilst always fulfilling sufficient city support. The reason is that this allows maximum population growth to rebuild those cities. When reducing cities, reduce the cities in most fertile zones which can be rebuilt easiest. When allocating secondary victims, it is best to minimise players affected and allocate maximum losses (less enemies made but those made have been weakened to pr event attacks). Calamities with secondary victims are powerful levers during Trade, especially true of Civil War. Do not allocate losses to players doing worse than you unless you are leading (because they will return the favour if you do, whilst if you don 't, they should give secondary losses to the leaders). If this means you do not allocate your quota of secondary victims' losses, so be it, it is better to stay friendly. The same applies to trading on Calamities which should be saved and given to a leader/ rival at an opportune moment when he has no non-tradable Calamities visible (declared on receipt) to ensure they take effect. Always remember the order in which Calamities are resolved and that you may not be the main recipient of more than 2 Calamities. For example, if you lose cities in a Flood, Civil Disorder hurts you less, if you lose coastal cities in an Epidemic, Piracy hurts you less etc. Finally, always aim to buy the Civilization Card that reduce the Calamity you have - but only if it is part of y our credit strategy.

Trading on tradable Calamities warrants special attention. First, whenever stacks 6-9 become empty, everyone knows that someone has a tradable Calamity. Now, if it's the first time that the stack has become empty, many players will assume that the player who picked up the last card in that stack has the tradable Calamity and so, correct or not, that player will often find players unwilling to trade with him, which is a disaster for that player. If ever in that position, you are not allowed to discard the tradable Calamity nor reveal it separate from your other cards. You must hope that players are desperate for commodities and will risk trading with you. If you have been correctly identified as a holder of a tradable Calamity and you have not managed to trade it on, you should, in the Discard Excess Trade Cards phase, ostentatiously discard it (which you can do even if you have 6 or less cards in hand).

If you do hold a tradable Calamity unknown to others, the method of trading it on usually plays on the lie "the other 2 cards are Hides and Ochre" whilst in reality they are 1 Iron or Papyrus and a tradable Calamity. If you are told this in Trade, be very sceptical and, if there is a possibility of any tradable Calamity being held by the offeror, assume the worst and, after asking for different secondary cards, accept the deal only if you need that commodity for your highly lucrative full set and you are willing to suffer the Calamity for it. This lie is cliché and experienced players will not fall for it. Another offer is "the other 2 cards are Iron / Papyrus and Hides / Ochre" whilst, in reality, they are Salt and the Calamity. This will fool most players but you do lose a Salt and, in 7 player games, there is always one player who is collecting and hence values Salt (usually the weakest culture). A very subtle way is to hoard 2 tradable Calamities and, although on less than 9 cities, you quietly buy Gold, offer the previous deal (3 cards with 2 secondary cards worth 3 points) then say "wait a sec, I can give you another Iron/Papyrus" and up the offer to 4 cards with 3 secondary cards worth 9 points (2 x Iron / Papyrus + 1 x Hide / Ochre). Because you have upped the offer and offer more points, demand a secondary commodity off him. Of course what you are giving him is a Gold and 2 tradable Calamities but he will not suspect this - unless he is tracking Calamities.

A method for tracking Calamities has already been detailed. Despite tracking, you will eventually pick up a Calamity. Whenever you pick up a Calamity, you have also not received a commodity. The same applies to when a stack is empty. Now, although tradable Calamities will hurt others, picking up the commodity would generally have been more useful (Piracy is an exception as you profit from trading it on). So it is worth planning ahead during movement and when building cities to calculate when, in the sequence of picking up Trade cards (in ascending city order, AST order if equal), is the best time to pick up Trade cards so as to get as many useful commodities whilst avoiding disastrous Calamities. Some Calamities are just inconvenient and some are disastrous so it is worth looking at the various Calamities in detail.

Vocanic Eruption: this is not a worry if you occupy a Volcano zone with spare token(s) only but is more serious when you have a city in a Volcano zone because that city is removed and not just reduced as is the case with an Earthquake. In the case of Vesuvius and Etna, the adjacent zone is also lost, hence the only way to rebuild that city is to ferry in tokens - and you can be sure your neighbours are eyeing the empty city site as well. The ideal position is to have a spare token in a Volcano zone adjacent to another player's Volcano city so that, if the Volcano erupts, then other culture loses his city. It is for this reason that Italy and Africa should never share Volcano zones with the other (it doubles chance of Eruption) whilst Crete, with its plentiful city sites, should only occupy its Volcano city-site zone with a token and try to find his 9 cities elsewhere.

Earthquake: is a minor nuisance only and can be a good way of breaking through a wall of cities. As an example, playing Assyria, you built Jericho and Tyre whilst Egypt built Jerusalem and Petra. This was a convenient "closing of the borders" between you two at the time but now you want to attack and expand into Egypt. So an Earthquake breaks these borders at Jericho & Petra so that your superior numbers (from that adjacent strategic "3" zone) can now overwhelm Petra and ferry over the Red Sea into the Egyptian underbelly whilst your fleets threaten his coastal cities. Note also that Earthquake only reduces the city so you can easily rebuild the city if you choose a city site on a fertile zone. Because everyone builds adjacent cities, the threat of an Earthquake gives you an edge in Trade. And, as getting Earthquake only means the loss of a Iron or Papyrus, this Calamity can often prove very useful and also counts towards your maximum 2 Calamities a turn.

Flood: has no effect if you are not in a flood plain although loss of a Salt is annoying (someone is always collecting Salt, usually the weakest culture, which means 1 less player you can deal with). Note that if you are not affected by a Calamity, i t does not count towards your 2 Calamities a turn. If you are a flood plain culture, Flood is very serious unless you have Engineering to protect you in which case it is easy to recover from a Flood. Again, like Volcano, having a single token in a flood plain can damage another culture more so flood plains should never be shared by cultures.

Famine: is an oddity in that a secondary victim can be hit worse than the recipient. It also makes Grain an extremely valued Trade Card that turn. One strategy, Epoch 3 onwards, is to continually hold 2 Grain and have Pottery. By holding on to them, you reduce the Grain stack to 7 cards and so Famine should occur every turn in a 7 player game. You will pick up other Grains but they can always be traded away at a premium value to other cultures also with Pottery due to the continual Famine. Good player s will react to this hoarding by doing likewise, effectively losing a tradable commodity from play. The only disadvantage of this ploy is that it effectively reduces the number of Trade cards you can hold to 4 cards but, unless collecting Salt, this is enough for any half-sets.

Civil War: is potentially the most disastrous Calamity and can be devastating for a large culture. It is feared because the cities are not reduced (hence re-buildable), zones are not vacated (hence re-occupiable) but instead the units convert to another player, aiding that opponent and requiring conflict to evict them whilst making your homelands vulnerable to internal attack. The beneficiary must always be the player doing worst in the Progress Chart and on the map but not a neighbour who can consolidate on any border gains to ensure the losses are permanent. Try to nominate a co-operative player, and if nominated, be ostentatiously co-operative (it may get you nominated again) unless the recipient is a leader or it is the end-game. The units you choose first depends on the culture size of you and your nominee, usually 2 cities and 5 tokens. Choosing 15 tokens or 3 cities is a bad idea because a hostile nominee will also choose the same type of units, leaving one faction of tokens and another factions of cities without city support. If could have most tokens in Stock, choose a nominee with fewest tokens in Stock and give him the faction with tokens. He changes a few of them (increasing your Stock) and you do not lose the remainder because you now have the most tokens in Stock. Note that Philosophy is inferior to Democracy if your culture size is less than 60 units (8 cities, 20 tokens) but immunises you if you have most tokens in Stock.

Epidemic: the "no de-population" rule means that a culture without fertile plains or Agriculture will often be forced to deplete cities to 1 token, which is worse than being reduced. You should trade this and allocate maximum secondary Epidemic to cultures in this situation. Note that Medicine only slightly alleviates the recipient's Epidemic and only reduces the maximum that can be lost if chosen as a secondary victim hence players with Medicine are simply allocated to lose 5 units.

Civil Disorder: should be kept and traded to a strong, rival culture (8+ cities), ideally followed by spoiling the ensuing city rebuilding. As detailed before, this Calamity is best when combined with Iconoclasm & Heresy as they will cause a Progress Chart regression to a recipient without Law.

Iconoclasm & Heresy: should be kept and traded to a medium-size culture (5-7 cities). There is a temptation to give this to a culture on 4 cities, reduce it to no cities and watch him regress. Why? The culture is no threat to you (on 8+ cities) and you will certainly make a dangerous enemy who, because he is 2 steps behind everyone else and effectively unable to win, will derive most fun by attacking you continually for the rest of the game. Nor is this Calamity much use against a strong culture (8+ cities) as they could buy the Civics to reduce its effect and city reduction is just a minor inconvenience, rebuilt next turn in time for Trade. However, a medium-size culture will not regress and become a game-long enemy but it should nevertheless cause him major problems.

Piracy: is a great card to pick up and an awful card to receive if the trader has 4 Ships. If you pick up Piracy, keep it and, next turn, find some credible reason to build 4 Ships (perhaps you want to build that island city). Once built, the 4 Ships can be maintained without generating much interest. Then, whenever you are finally badly affected by a Calamity, trade the Piracy to an eligible victim immediately. When resolving Calamities, you lose/reduce cities and then immediately get them back with Piracy. This card can be bought by "buying Gold". Do not buy the last Gold in the stack as everybody will assume it is Piracy and refuse to trade with you (unless you have no Ships). If you have been tracking Calamities and, when it comes to your turn to pick up Trade cards, you know that the top card in the Gold stack is Piracy and it is not the last card, then is a good time to buy Gold and get Piracy as less attentive players will assume the last card in that stack is Piracy. Note that inland cultures (Babylon/Assyria) are usually immune to and rarely benefit from Piracy.


There are 16 Civilization Cards and you can only buy 11 of them. That means picking 5 cards that you do not want. Looking at the cards and the full explanation of their effects in the rules, you will come to the conclusion that the most useful cards for providing advantages in game mechanics are Astronomy (gives so much Ship mobility that Clothmaking's extra movement often becomes redundant), Metalworking (not only for attacking but also as a deterrent in defence), Engineering (makes your cities a bit safer from attack) and Agriculture (alleviates fertile land shortage as well as opening avenues of land attack). However you must not discount the cards that assist against Calamities: Pottery (for Famine), Engineering (if Flood-susceptible), Medicine (slightly alleviates Epidemic), Law / Democracy / Philosophy (for social Calamities) and Agriculture (reduced cities convert to more tokens). Hence, it can be seen that Agriculture and Engineering are very popular Civilization Cards with players as they provide both special abilities and help against Calamities.

However, this strategy places usefulness as the basis of choosing whilst a good player will base his strategy on "credit paths" to get the highest value set for the least cost. Of the 4 groups, cards belonging to the Sciences are the bargains because each provide a 20 point credit to Sciences bought later. Crafts provide 10 point credits and Arts provide only 5 point credits but also provide substantial credits to Civics, making them more cost-efficient. Finally there are the 2-group cards which provide credits to both groups and therefore very cost-efficient. Hence the cost-conscious player will plan a "path to full civilization", the 11 Civilization Cards he will hold, and the sequence to buy them which provides optimum credits (i.e. avoiding buying 2 cards from the same group in the same turn). Although Trade cards and treasury count towards the values listed at the end, it is best to aim to buy 11 cards totalling around the final value required (i.e. 1200, 1300 or 1400 points). This will invariably require buying Democracy and/or Philosophy, hence everyone buys Law, the pre-requisite, hence Literacy appears cost-efficient with its credits hence Architecture, Music and Drama & Poetry are credit-attractive. This is how you create a strategy based on cost-efficiency.

The most economical strategy is a Science / Arts strategy: Mysticism, Drama & Poetry, Music, Architecture, Astronomy, Literacy, Coinage, Engineering, Medicine, Law and Philosophy are a full set valued at 1220 points but can cost as little as 720 points to buy due to credits. However, most cultures need more than 1200 points to finish. So, from that list, substitute Drama & Poetry with Democracy and the full set is valued at 1360 points and costs as little as 850 points to buy.

However, to enter the 3rd Epoch requires Civilization Cards from 3 groups. This usually involves Mysticism / Architecture and Pottery / Clothmaking. The cheapest way the previous examples could enter the 3rd Epoch would be to purchase both Mysticism and Architecture which is highly unlikely. So we must include a cheap craft, let us say Pottery (Astronomy provides enough Ship mobility) instead of Music. The full set is now valued at 1345 points and costs a minimum 865 points to buy the realistically collectable set of Mysticism, Pottery, Architecture, Astronomy, Literacy, Coinage, Agriculture, Engineering, Medicine, Law, Democracy and Philosophy (a mainly Scientific culture).

That is fine if you manage to buy Mysticism but if you can't, instead of Mysticism, buy Agriculture for its useful ability. The full set is now worth a game-winning 1425 points but, because Mysticism would have credited you 100 points in Sciences alone, this set costs 1030 points minimum to buy. Note that your full set of 11 cards will now be Pottery, Architecture, Astronomy, Literacy, Coinage, Agriculture, Engineering, Medicine, Law, Democracy and Philosophy hence you have adopted a Science / Crafts strategy . Note also you will have all cards that make you resistant to Calamities.

As a personal preference, if playing a culture that should acquire Mysticism (i.e. Egypt or a 4 City Opening), aim for the 1345 points set detailed above else aim for the less credit-deductible 1425 points set detailed above. The next task is to plot your sequence of acquisitions so that you do not buy 2 cards from the same group as you are wasting credits they could give each other. This path must be flexible to accommodate amounts you can cash in, to fulfil any Progress Chart criteria (i.e. minimum 7 cards to enter 4th Epoch) and often due to the fact that the card has been sold out.

Here we come to another important, in fact critical, aspect of the game. There are only 4 of most Civilization Cards except for Mysticism (3 in a 7 player game), 6 Architecture, 6 Literature, 7 Law, 5 Democracy and 5 Philosophy. So take note of the availability of cards you want and, if they are popular, buy those cards early but avoid wasting credits (i.e. buying Literacy before Architecture). Always remember your credit-orientated Civilization Cards strategy and always try to stick to it.

The best way to win, playing a 1400 points culture, is to be in a strong position on the board, with valuable Civilization Cards but equal Progress with other players so as not to appear to be in the lead. Of course, if playing a 1200 points culture, you will probably have bought cheap Civilization Cards and so must engineer setbacks. This is a disadvantage for aiming for a low-value full set. Nevertheless, remember up to 6 Trade cards and Treasury tokens can count towards your total.


With less than 7 players, cultures start with more tokens in Stock (extra 7 to 55 tokens). With less than 6 players, the playable area of the board is reduced to retain land shortage. The number of Mysticisms in play are also reduced to keep it valued. A culture's starting zone may also change.

The main repercussions of less players are: (a) gaining commodity sets is slower hence buying Civilization Cards is harder resulting in more Progress Chart set-backs, (b) cultures collecting the same commodity is rarer so trade is less rushed, (c) Calamities appear less often thus cultures are more stable, (d) acquiring Civilization Cards in anti-AST order is less crucial as there are still 4 of most cards available in play hence early AST cultures are less disadvantaged, (e) cultures which enter the 2nd Epoch late have an advantage due to the extra tokens, and (f) cultures gain a corner advantage due to usual neighbouring areas being unplayable. In addition, in a 6 player game, as the whole board is still used with 1 less player, city site shortage is slightly alleviated.


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