Have You Played… Civilization III?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Civ III was the game that got me back into the Civilization series. Though, truth be told, I never got out of it – it’s just that the years without a new release happened to coincide with my time at university, where booze, unrequited crushes and PlayStation fighting games occupied almost my entire mind.

Even once I fell into a job which involved computer games, in its earliest years I was still clinging onto vague and misguided ideas of social acceptability, and so the big shooting game of the moment tended to be my main focus. When a colleague and friend took on the Civ III review and waxed lyrical about it, I openly mocked him for it. Civ was so nerdy. History? Turn-based? That’s so uncool, man. Never mind that most of my youth had been defined by playing historical and/or turn-based strategy games.

My mockery was water off a duck’s back. He was slightly older, and Understood. Instead, he passed me a copy of the game a few days later. Never one to turn down a free game at that early stage of my “career”, I took it home, installed and… Well, you know how this story ends. It’s how every story involving starting to play a Civilization game ends.

Civ III’s sort of the forgotten Civ. It didn’t start the series, it doesn’t have the infamy of the Civ II/Civ: Call To Power twin sequel rights argy-bargy, and it didn’t have the rapture that surrounded Civ IV’s double-whammy of 3D and meaningfully refreshing the formula. Civ III was the last of the classic Civilizations, and that means it carries a certain bunker mentality air of just trying to be an elaborate, slow and very, very computer game-y historical strategy title. There’s not even the slightest attempt to be, as my irksome 2001 self might put it, cool. And that makes me extremely fond of it, even to this day.


  1. teije says:

    The one I actually spent the most time on by far, and even though I find CivIV superior in most respects, I still judge all Civs in relation to CivIII, as if it was the “benchmark” for Civs.

    Favourite thing maybe – filling my empire’s landscape with those roads and rail patterns, even when there was no “point” to doing it.

  2. Halk says:

    3D simply does not make sense for a game like Civ. It creates more problems than it solves (see the fact that the new 3D Civs need a 2D view mode so you don’t lose the overview).

    That’s why I also still like Civ 3.

    But I have to admit, the graphics really haven’t aged well. A new, high-DPI 2D Civ would be awesome.

  3. Porkolt says:

    Toss whatever blighter it was that thought the Statue of Zeus’ ability was a good idea though.

  4. Arathorn says:

    I must admit I never really liked Civ III. Especially after no. 4 was released, it felt like an “in-between” game to me. Not the classic Civ II was, nor the modern and more complicated game that was Civ IV.

    Actually, Civ II remained my benchmark for the series (I’m too “young” to have played the first) until V came out.

    • X_kot says:

      Yeah, Civ III was the start of some ideas that would radically change (and improve, imo) the series, e.g., cultural borders, civilization traits, and strategic resources. However, it was a mix of old and new that needed more revisions, which is what Civ IV felt like to me: a better implementation of the good ideas in III.

  5. Nauallis says:

    Mostly I just remember the “Fantasy Realm” map script, which randomized the placement of both terrain and resources, so it was possible to have jungle/bananas growing on an ice/snow hill, and other bizarre combinations. Also I think it was the last time Civ maps let you wrap both East-West and North-South.

    Otherwise I’m happy to forget about it, except maybe as the ugly but necessary step between two awesome Civ games.

  6. Blastaz says:

    Although my favourite civ memories would be, aged 5, beating my dad’s score at civ 1 and the WWII scenario with civ 2, civ 3 is probably my favourite civ overall. It was so pleasingly logical; was the last game that truly rewarded a wide, jack of all trades empire; had a cracking ww1 where infantry and forts created total meat grinder carnage; and most importantly was the final civ I played before I discovered Paradox games.

  7. Neurotic says:

    Yep, Civ III is my personal benchmark for the series.

  8. Vedharta says:

    Civ 3 also had probably the biggest modscene with some huge total conversions.

    That and the historical scenarios that didn’t seem silly out of scale, dear lord have i played the Crusades scenario to death. (from Damascus all the way to London)

    • malkav11 says:

      Civ IV had a lot of mods, going so far as to include several with one of the expansions, and a variety of extremely impressive total conversions including one based on Dune and Fall From Heaven II, still one of the best fantasy 4X games ever made (and the mod that got its creator hired at Stardock to salvage Elemental). I’d be surprised if Civ III did better.

  9. suibhne says:

    I’d totally forgotten that Civ 5 was the first hex-based Civ game. Whoa.

  10. Andy_Panthro says:

    Oddly enough, nope. I skipped straight from the amazing CivII to CivIV, with this one completely passing me by.

  11. Cropduster says:

    I was still knee deep in Alpha Centauri at this point, and I stayed there until civ 4 was released.

    Still the only one I haven’t played, but Paradox games have killed my enthusiam for 4X these days. Each time I start a new game of Civ, AC or Endless Legend I see 15+ years of previous new games stretching out like a hall of mirrors and have to stop.

  12. Vinraith says:

    Funny, Civ 3 is the Civ game that put me off the series for many years and, consequently, got me in to Europa Universalis. I suppose I owe it a certain debt of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever want to play it again.

  13. E_FD says:

    This is the Civ game I spent the least time with, by far. I was fresh off playing Alpha Centauri when I got it, and Civ 3 just felt so backward and archaic compared to it, like they were completely oblivious to the refinements AC brought to the genre.

  14. LTK says:

    I got Civ III from the local library. Back then there was still sense in stocking CD-ROMs that you could check out for a few weeks. It was a hell of a lot easier than piracy, that’s for sure.

    I don’t remember it very well but I know I played enough to reach the modern age a few times, at which point I would inevitably drown in nuclear waste every time, no exception. That didn’t inspire much confidence.

    Years later I got a 2K games bundle on Steam, which held 50 games, Civ VI included. I gave it a go and followed the tutorial and other hints the game gave me, and ended up in a position where I had automobiles before I had cannons. It was weird. I felt like I was just mindlessly pressing whichever button was highlighted when prompted, so I didn’t stick with that either.

    Yeah, that’s how my Civilization story ends. With a sigh.

  15. malkav11 says:

    I played exactly two games of it and shelved it never to be played again. The new strategic resources system fundamentally broke it for me. As did the incredible (some might say cheating) AI build rate. I do remember the multi-millenium war my island-locked Egypt fought against their nearest neighbor, though – never quite able to make any sort of decisive strike because they could seemingly generate 3 or more military units per city per turn and while I would win most of the combats, attrition and a slower build rate always prevented me from capitalizing on it and they’d have a new crop of defenders immediately. It’s possible I might eventually have been able to solve the problem with a greater disparity in troop strength but lack of strategic resources prevented that.

    I was very skeptical of Civ IV when it came out and also implemented strategic resources, but it ended up being a far less punishing system in that game and as a result it was an interesting strategic consideration instead of a frustrating nightmare.

    Civ III is in my opinion easily the worst game in the franchise.

  16. Mr Coot says:

    “It’s how every story involving starting to play a Civilization game ends.” That would be saying to oneself in the late evening, ‘One more turn’, then wondering why the birds are tweeting outside, and the outside is not quite as dark as it should be. o.O

  17. wislander says:

    Really loved the soundtrack, and I miss how the leader portraits changed based on tech level. They should bring back Abe Lincoln in prehistoric furs.

  18. ey says:

    Civ 3 brought the series into the “modern era” with cultural borders, non-pixel-art graphics (although now quite dated), strategic resources, etc. Still has my favorite soundtrack.

    Civ II made you feel like a strategist playing a war game, while I think Civ III felt more like building an actual country. While Civ 4 is still the pinnacle of the series, Civ III was pretty solid for its time.

  19. Rainshine says:

    Plenty. I loved II, but III felt fresh for a good long while, and I alternated with long doses of SMAC after IV came out, because I really really disliked IV and wanted something more fun. That said, I really really don’t miss the absolutely awful starting positions I got every single game. Memory of a multiplayer session where it turned out every other player got space for at least five cities without neighbors, easy. Me, I got two cramped cities on tundra.