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Civilization (board game)

This article is about the original Civilization board game. For other uses, see Civilization (disambiguation).

Civilization is a board game designed by Francis Tresham, published in Britain in 1980 by Hartland Trefoil (later by Gibson Games), and in the US in 1981 by Avalon Hill. The game typically takes eight or more hours to play and is for two to seven players. The Civilization brand is now owned by Hasbro but is no longer published in the US.


The Civilization board depicts areas around the Mediterranean Sea. The board is divided into many regions. Each player starts with a single population token, representing 7,000 people , and grows and expands his empire over the course of turns. Each player tries to build the greatest civilization.

As each nation grows, adding more and more population to the board, players can build cities in regions they control. Each city grants a trade card to the owner, which allows trade with other players for any of nine commodities, such as iron, grain and bronze. Along with trade come eight calamities such as volcanoes, famine and civil war, which destroy population and cities. Trade cards are combined in sets to purchase civilization cards, which grant special abilities and give bonuses toward future civilization card purchases. The civilization cards grant access to abilities such as agriculture, coinage, philosophy and medicine.

The goal of Civilization is to be first to advance to the final age on the Archaeological Succession Table (AST). The AST contains fifteen spaces and players are advanced on the AST each turn. The AST starts at 8,000 B.C. and ends at 250 B.C. At several points, however, certain conditions must be met (such as, the civilization must have a certain number of cities) in order to advance. Since most civilizations do not meet the advancement criteria at all stages on the AST, games usually last more than fifteen turns.

Civilization is unusual in that it does not focus on war and combat as many games of its genre do. Instead, players are encouraged to trade and cooperate in order to advance. War and combat are entirely permissible, however, and are sometimes inevitable. In fact, the game is designed to limit player's geographical expansion possibilities, forcing them to deal with other civilizations militarily, diplomatically or otherwise if they wish their own civilization to reach its full potential.

Trade (via trade cards) is the most important activity in Civilization. Trade cards give the player's civilization wealth, which ultimately help the civilization advance on the AST. Cards are more valuable the more of one type the player possesses. For example, one salt is worth 3 points, two are worth 12 points, and three are worth 27 points. If a player possesses all the cards of one type, he effectively corners the market and gains the most value for his cards. Many "trade sessions" can become quite vocal and exuberant as players try to out-trade one another. Trades are done in groups of three or more cards. Since players are only required to tell the truth about one of the cards and the total points value they are trading, calamity cards can be slipped into a trade, thereby avoiding receiving the primary effects of the calamity.

Game Play

Game play starts with a single population token, which begins on a specified area on the edge of the map board. The area the first unit begins in is based on the specific civilization represented (ie. on the island of Crete for the Cretans or in Africa for the Egyptians). As the first few turns progress, the population expands exponentially. Each zone on the map has a printed number representing the number of population token which can be supported there. Eventually, the player will decide to convert some of his excess population into cities. Certain areas on the board (where cities existed historically) have a square printed in them to designated them as city sites, which require six population tokens to produce a city -- non city sites require twelve such tokens.

Those players who have built cities are permitted to receive trade cards with a commodity printed on them (hides, salt, cloth, etc.) later in the turn. There are nine decks, and players obtain progressively more valuable cards based on the number of cities they have. Those with five cities receive a single card from each of the decks one through five, for example. Players may have up to nine cities. Cards gain value exponentially, so two value "3" trade cards are worth twelve points, while three are worth twenty-seven points. It is to the player's advantage to collect multiple cards of a single commodity, as four or five of a single commodity can be quite valuable.

After all movement (population units and ships) and conflict has been resolved, trade begins. The various players trade their cards in an effort to gain multiple cards of the same commodity. After all trade is complete, players tally up the value of trade cards in their hands with an eye on purchasing civilization cards. These are available in a variety of arts, crafts, sciences, and more. Examples include: Astronomy, which allows a player's ships to sail across otherwise impassable zones in the middle of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and Agriculture, which allows all the player's areas to support an extra unit of population.

The downside of trade is that calamities are randomly hidden in the trade card decks. Some are played immediately, while others can be traded away. Many cause immediate destruction of cities, while others force the player to liquidate a considerable amount of his assets. In some cases, collateral damage can be meted out to other players as is the case with famines and epidemics. Calamities can reduce a player from first to last in one fell swoop, especially if the player is hit by several in a single turn. The nature of the game tends to allow players to recover within a few turns, however. Many of the calamities can be mitigated by specific civilization cards, such as Engineering (good vs. flood); this specific card is often purchased by the Egyptians, whose homeland is flood-prone.

The goal of the game is to advance through the Late Iron Age and become the most advanced civilization on the map board. This is accomplished through clever game play and purchase of several high-value civilization cards. A winning player will typically have Literacy, Law, Philosophy, Democracy and a variety of lesser value cards (but not too many of the low-value arts & crafts).


All the game expansions require the Avalon Hill base board game:

  • Western Expansion Map: Extends the game board west of Italy to cover Gaul, parts of Iberia, Britain and Northwest Africa. (Note that a version of this expansion was also available for the original Hartland Trefoil version of the game)
  • Trade Card Expansion: Adds additional commodities such as timber, silver and ivory which makes it harder for players to hoard higher value trade cards. Such deadlocks could cause game-play to drag. Advanced Civilization includes this expansion.
  • Advanced Civilization: Contains simplified trading rules and gives every civilization the possibility to buy all civilization advances. It also adds more trading cards, civilization advances, calamities and rules for up to eight players. It contains all the cards available in the Trade Card Expansion.

Computer Version

Avalon Hill's Advanced Civilization is a computer version of the board game (the advanced civilization expansion). The rules are slightly modified from the board version for computer play.

Similar Games

A projected sequel of the Civilization board game in the ages after antiquity drove to the development of Age of Renaissance, published by Avalon Hill in 1996. This game, designed for 3 to 6 players, has kept only a few features of Civilization, such as commodities (no longer collectible cards but territories) and the civilization advances (no longer cards but ticks in a check list).


Despite being out of print for several years, the Civilization board game still holds a loyal following. The Origins Game Fair holds a yearly tournament featuring the game, and awarded the game the Charles Roberts Award for Best Pre-20th Century Boardgame of 1982. Twenty years later, the new Civilization board game repeated its success, winning the Origins Award for Best Historical Board Game of 2002.

The creator of the computer game Civilization, Sid Meier, claims that he did not play the original board game before making his game, but was instead inspired by SimCity, Railroad Tycoon and Risk. The name of the computer game was later decided during its development. Meier and MicroProse obtained the rights to use the name from Avalon Hill. However, this claim is somewhat dubious as his co-designer remembers him owning the game at the time of development.


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