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Note: This introduction was written for Freeciv 2.1-beta2 GTK2 version

Starting with Freeciv[]

Freeciv is much much more than a game: In Freeciv the game players can decide what the rules will be! This means that unlike nearly every other computer game, Freeciv can be a different game each time you play. This opportunity comes with some cost. Especially at first, a player trying to tackle all the subtleties and nuances of this complex gaming experience can get a little lost. It can even be overwhelming.

No need to panic: The opportunity to make the game complex also means you can make it quite simple to play. You can even get up and playing one of the default scenarios within a matter of minutes.

AIs: Artificial Intelligence Players[]

You can play Freeciv solo, with one or more artificial intelligent players (AIs) run by the computer, in real time and worldwide by hosting a game through the internet, or it can be played in any numbers of combinations of these. For example, two human players could play with many AIs, all run on two machines connected to one another.

Among the many possible rules settings is the ability to make the AI players play with a complete knowledge of all the players' positions and the effects of all of the rules, or (if it's the sort of day in which you just need to beat something) you can set up the AIs to play like rank beginners — all without offending your family or friends! If you are the analytic type, you can pause the action and observe all of the players — even taking over the play of one or more AIs, if you like.

Freeciv basic structure[]

All this complexity means that to make the most of Freeciv you really do need to "wrap your brain around" its basic structure.

To begin with, Freeciv uses two different programs: A "server" to run the game, keep track of all the players' moves, make the AI moves, keep track of the game rules for this game, show the effects of the nuclear blast on that small but irritating tribe of invading barbarians, etc., and one "client" for each human (I'm making some assumptions, here…) playing on their computer. So for a game session consisting of three human players and six AIs, you will need one server (in some versions called civserver.exe) and three client (sometimes civclient.exe) programs running at the same time. The server program can run on the same machine one of the players is using.

As you probably could guess, the single server program is where all the rules for this particular game are kept; the client program(s) each track the commands for their respective player(s).

Therefore even for a solo game — one human player and any number of AIs — you need to run both the server and the client programs. For a game with fourteen human players and sixteen AIs, you would need one server and fourteen clients running.

Available in many languages: machine and human[]

You can play Freeciv with players running computers with different operating systems (e.g., Windows, Linux, Mac) in a variety of human languages (French, Croatian, Spanish, English, etc.).

In order to keep the amazing flexibility of Freeciv, the community of gamers who manage the game's growth and development first create (or alter) the generic code, then compile it for a specific computer operating system (thus making it work with a Windows, Linux, Mac, etc.).

Here is one more benefit from Freeciv's development as an "open source" program: If you are a little more adventurous try one of the "nightlies", the up-to-date-without-all-the-bugs-worked-out versions. Just remember that these in-between versions are not bug-free. In fact, one of the reasons for making these available is that experienced players can spot bugs and report them so that our Freeciv community can make the "stable" versions as clean as possible.

To start playing Freeciv, however, you really only need the client version for your computer in the language you choose to play. Once you start this program you can then join a game already in progress, or (better) a game that is about to start.

You will then logon to this game and choose (or assume, if the game has already begun) a player, with nationality, country flag and a mandate to be the last one standing (or the first to the moon, the one with the highest score at some point. . .the game is flexible, to be sure!). From that point you will enter the game as that national leader and start making moves.

Hosting your own game session[]

If you are ready to start hosting a game, you will need to start the server that will run on your machine, make some decisions about the game rules, physical setup, number of players, etc. and create the framework within which your new game will be played. Other players, running their individual client programs, will contact you to join your game. Once you get the number of players you desire (also configurable) the game will then start on each player's computer.

There are several ways of setting up a game as a solo player (with or without AIs). The simplest is to use one of the versions that has been especially designed for one-person play. This version combines both the server and the client into one program, so you can start it up, make all the rules choices and start playing.

The game sequence[]

The sequence of events needed to start a Freeciv game looks something like this:

(1) start the server program on the server computer,

(2) choose the setup options and the rules for this game,

(3) invite players to join and wait for them to start their individual copy of their client program and to contact your server--and for you to start your own client if you plan on playing as well as hosting the game,

(4) wait for each player to create their own "ruler," nation and client options, (NOTE: unlike some other strategy simulation/games, the name or gender of your leader and the nationality you choose to play will make no difference to gameplay (i.e., there are no special abilities or attributes available to one player and not to others--in Freeciv gravity works the same for everyone)),

(5) once all players are ready to go, begin the game on the server and wait for it to create the playing map for this game.

(NOTE: For the sake of (re)playability and to introduce a bit of simplicity among all of the available complex choices, you can choose one of a couple of default rulesets. If you choose the default rules, you can still go in and change some particular details, if you wish. Or you can create your own set of rules and save it for future quick game start.)

An easy plan for starting a multi-player game[]

To start a multi-player game, type civclient in a shell; alternatively select the Freeciv shortcut from your Start menu/Dock/Applications menu. When the main menu shows up, click Connect to Network Game, then click the Internet Metaserver tab and the Refresh button there. If this is your first time connecting to the Freeciv Pubserver, you have to create an account. This is done simply by entering a username and password and then trying to connect. If the connection fails, the username might be in use. Look for game in "Pregame" state, possibly with nonzero players, connect and wait there for more players. Type /create name to get a computer enemy and /start to begin.

The goal[]

In Freeciv you build cities, which in turn can build armies to attack the other players. This part will assume you are playing with a default set of rules and are playing to win by either eliminating the other players or being the first to send a ship with new colonists to Alpha Centauri.

With default settings, you start with 2 settlers, 2 workers, and 1 explorer. Using the numeric keypad, move the settlers to a good location (see below) and build a city by pressing b (for build). You can move diagonally, by the way. Freeciv is turn based; every unit can move once per turn. The turn ends when everyone clicks Turn Done or when a timeout is over.

In a city, you can also build improvements which can help the city grow and prosper. Some improvements let a city grow. You should also build wonders, as they can give the player very important advantages; for instance the Apollo Program lets you see the entire map.

Cities also produce units, which can be used for various purposes, from fighting wars to enhancing infrastructure. Different strategies depend on different focuses between things external and internal to a city.

For most players, the ultimate goal of the game is to win either by using military units to conquer all opposing civilizations, or by using massive scientific knowledge and production to build a spaceship to send to Alpha Centauri before your rivals can do so.


Cities extract resources from the square they're built on plus one nearby square for each inhabitant; you start with 1 inhabitant. The resources are: Food (to grow cities), Production (to build settlers/armies) and Trade (for research and money). Click a city to bring it up for management. Click on a used square on the small map to remove your worker (and turn him into an entertainer, see below), then click on an unused square to place your worker. The default placement is usually good.

  • Food: All food from the used squares is added to the granary. Every inhabitant uses two food per turn though, and settlers built by this city require one or two also. When the granary reaches 20 food, the city grows to size 2 and can use an additional nearby square. Settlers can irrigate (press i) nearby squares if there is water adjacent, which increases food by one for some square types, see table below. The square under the city gets a free irrigation.
  • Production: The production you get from a square can be used to produce military units or settlers. Producing a settler reduces the city size by 1 and can only be done in cities of size 2 and larger. Some units require one production every turn (upkeep) for as long as they're alive. You can change the unit or building to be produced in the city report, or buy unfinished units. Settlers can mine (press m) some square types, which increases their production; see table below. The square the city is on gets one production if otherwise zero.
  • Trade: Trade can be turned into tax, luxury or science. Science lets you research new military unit types. Tax yields money, which you can use to prematurely complete a city's production. Luxury creates happy inhabitants. You can select the distribution of your trade by pressing Shift+T. Corruption reduces the amount of trade that a city delivers; the further away from the capital, the more corruption. Settlers can build roads (press r) which add 1 trade to some square types, see table below, and allow for faster movement. The square the city is on gets a free road.

Inhabitants can be happy, content or unhappy (shown by different icons in the city window). If there are more unhappy than happy inhabitants, the city falls into disorder and stops producing anything. The first four inhabitants of a city are content. Additional ones are unhappy and must be made content either with temples in their cities, with wonders (see below), with luxuries or with entertainers.


In the Reports menu you find the Science report. There you can decide what to research. You can select an immediate field to research and a long term goal that the next immediate will be selected from. Most research fields have dependencies on other fields to be discovered already. After discovery of new knowledge, you can build new types of military units, new wonders or use new governments. This window pops up whenever research in one field is completed.


The type of government you have affects how many resources your cities can extract from the land. You can change government by researching the new government type and then starting a revolution (in Government menu, will take a few turns). The government types are:

  • Despotism: This is your initial government type. Each square that yields more than 2 of anything (food, production or trade) has that yield reduced by one. Settlers use one food per turn for upkeep, first 3 military units per city are free. Tax/luxury/science rate can only be set to 60%. High corruption.
  • Monarchy: No more resource reduction. Settlers use one food. The first 3 military units per city are free of upkeep. Maximum tax/luxury/science rate is 70%. Corruption is small. One of the best governments for balance between military service and goods.
  • Communism: Resources are normal. Settlers use one food. First 3 military units per city are free. Max tax/lux/sci rate is 80%. Cities produce veteran Diplomats. Corruption is small.
  • Republic: Each square with trade gets another trade unit. Settlers use two food, and one production. All military units use one production point. One military unit away from homecity creates one unhappy inhabitant. Max tax/lux/sci rate is 80%. Corruption is small.
  • Democracy: Each square with trade yields one more trade production. Settlers use 2 food and 1 production, military units 1 production. One military unit away from home makes 2 unhappy inhabitants. Tax/lux/sci rates are unlimited. Your units and cities cannot be bribed. If a city is in disorder for more than 2 turns in a row government falls into Anarchy. No corruption.


Each wonder of the world can only be built by one player and only in one city. Other cities can build and send caravans (after you research Trade) to help in building wonders. The most important wonders are:

  • Magellan's Expedition: Sea units can move 2 squares further per turn. Requires Navigation
  • Leonardo's Workshop: 1 obsolete military unit upgraded per turn. Requires Invention
  • Michelangelo's Chapel: 3 unhappy inhabitants become content in every city (4 after discovery of Theology). Requires Monotheism
  • J.S.Bach's Cathedral: Creates 2 happy inhabitants in every city. Requires Theology
  • The Pyramids: Reduces the amount of lost food when one of your cities grows or shrinks by 25%. Requires Masonry
  • Great Wall: Acts as having a city wall in every city. Requires Masonry

Square types[]

Tile F/P/T Name Irrigation Mine Road Defense Move
Groundtypes Ocean - - - - 1
Grassland F - T - 1
Plains F - T - 1
Desert F P T - 1
Tundra F - - - 1
Forest - - - +50% 2
Jungle - - - +50% 2
Hills F PPP - +100% 2
Mountains - P - +200% 3
Swamp - - - +50% 2
Glacier - - - - 2

These are the food, production and trade yields of all squares under Monarchy. Note that the fields in the second and third column are rare. For the initial government type (Despotism), reduce all numbers above 2 by 1. For Republic and Democracy, add 1 trade to each square with trade. Irrigation/Mine/Road shows the increases in food, production, and trade when those improvements are performed by a settler, worker or engineer. Defense is the increase in defense power you get when attacked on such a field. Rivers add 1 trade and 50% defense power; they also ease movement along them. Squares with increased defense power are harder to walk past (horses get slowed down) except for explorers. You can identify any square (or unit) by middle-clicking it.

Military units[]

Unit Name A D M Requires Remarks
Milunits Explorer - 1 3 Seafaring No slowdown by rough terrain
Settlers - 1 1 - Builds cities, improves land
Diplomat - - 2 Writing Can subvert cities and bribe units
Caravan - 1 1 Trade Carries production to wonders
Phalanx 1 2 1 Bronze working OK defense against most land units
Horsemen 2 1 2 Horseback riding Good invader of emptied cities
Trireme 1 1 3 Map making Carries 2, turn must end at coast
Caravel 2 1 3 Navigation Carries 3 units
Ironclad 4 4 4 Steam engine Strong attacker of coastal cities
Destroyer 4 4 6 Electricity Like ironclad but faster
Cruiser 6 6 5 Steel Much stronger than destroyers

Military units are characterized by three numbers: attack power, defense power, and movement speed. Those three numbers plus the production cost are what you see when changing production. When unit A attacks unit B by moving onto B's square, A's attack power is matched up against B's defense power. If A has attack power 2 and B has defense power 1, then A has about a two-thirds chance of winning (more info in the Freeciv manual). The survivor often becomes veteran, which increases his attack and defense power by 50%. Being built in a city with Barracks makes a unit veteran, too.

Rivers and some terrain types increase the defense power of the defender, see table below. Units in cities enjoy a 50% defense power increase as well. Damaged units have red bars in the bottom left corner, they move more slowly and have their attack power reduced. They recover slowly (faster in cities or when fortified).

Pressing f will fortify the unit, which increases defense power by 50%. Pressing s will put the unit on sentry; they will wait until healed or until an enemy unit moves to an adjacent field. Pressing g lets you select a destination to go to. If an enemy is there, it will be attacked. Military units can take enemy cities when there are no defenders left. Defended cities have a little flag in their top left corner. If you lose your capital, you get very high corruption and your kingdom may split.

If several military units are on one square, the strongest one defends. If it is defeated, all units die (except in cities). Sea units can attack land units but not vice versa. Some sea units can carry land units, just move onto them at the coast. Loaded units have a + in their bottom right corner.

Diplomats are very powerful. They are easy to defeat but can incite revolts in enemy cities (the city becomes yours), steal technologies or bribe enemy units. Diplomat actions can be performed directly from a ship. Defending diplomats in cities may prevent them.


The first time you run into another player's unit or city, the diplomacy window will pop up. At this stage, the other player (if an AI) will offer you a temporary cease-fire. You are free to refuse and go to war immediately, but unless you have built up your army beforehand, it is recommended that you accept. A cease-fire lasts for 16 turns, after which it might either be extended or turned into an armistice which runs for another 16 turns and if not broken will automatically turn into a proper peace treaty. Depending on your actions and relations to other players, you might be offered an alliance. An alliance is the ultimate relationship with another player in which you may freely enter the other's territory and cities and share technology and maps.

Before you go to war with another player, it is recommended that you prepare well. There are two main reasons for another (AI) player to declare war against you: You are allied with that player's enemy, or you are the largest and richest civilization in the world. As a final tip, always keep an eye on the other player's attitudes towards you. If you are refused an armistice, then it is a good sign that the player is preparing a war against you. Take necessary precautions so that you are never caught off guard!

Winning strategy[]

Art of freeciv 1

Much of the fun in Freeciv comes from playing with different sets of rules. Because of this, no one approach to the game will always work well. In that many of the game rules can be set in the server one or two changes may change the flavor of the game entirely. Especially in the one-person game in which the computer runs "artificial intelligent" players (AIs) it is easy to start up a game to watch the effects of one or more setting changes--and to start up a new game with new rules variations whenever you choose. Here are a couple of strategies to Freeciv that tend to work well in different multi-player (with more than one human player) scenarios. Most multi-player games are played using /set generator 3. This creates one island for every player plus some small empty additional ones. Here's one standard strategy to play these.

  1. Find good settling spots. A good settling spot must at least yield 4 food (from the two squares used) and as much production as possible. Don't look longer than, say, for 3-4 turns. Whales and pheasants are the best resource to be close to. Grassland and plains are good to settle on, wheat/oasis/buffalo even better.
  2. Once you built the city, set its production to settlers. Bring up the science report and set research to Alphabet and the goal to The Republic.
  3. As soon as any city reaches size two, click it and set all workers on production fields using the little map. As soon as you can afford it, buy the settler.
  4. Keep producing nothing but settlers and have them build nearby cities. Make sure the new cities get good food and science output.
  5. When The Republic is only one step away, set goal to Navigation. When Republic is reached, set research to Map Making and immediately start a revolution (from Government menu). Once you're a republic, build roads on used squares. See image for an example.
  6. VARIANT: If you get discovered by an enemy, build ships as soon as you can, and defending units like warriors and phalanxes if necessary. You may choose to collaborate with neighbors, use Players menu to find out who to talk to.
  7. When Navigation is only one step away, set goal to Steam Engine. When Navigation is reached, build a couple of caravels to explore your neighborhood and settle nearby islands. VARIANT: It's often useful to research Trade before Steam Engine so you can build wonders.
  8. Once most spots on your island are taken, start building roads, preferably on grassland and plains. Use the roads to move faster and gain trade.
  9. As soon as Steam Engine is reached, build lots of ironclads. Increase tax rate to buy them. Accompany them with horsemen on caravels. Find neighbors, kill their city defenses with the ironclads and invade their cities with the horsemen. Place ironclads in conquered cities for initial defense.
  10. After Steam Engine, you may want to research Electricity and Steel to get even better ships, destroyers and cruisers. Once you got Steel, set tax rate to maximum and put everything into war.

If you play on the default generator, there are three possibilities:

  • If you have your own island, play like above.
  • If you have a shared island but your enemies are far away or you can have peace with them (which usually is preferable), you can play mostly like generator 2, just research horseback riding and bronze working right after republic (gives horsemen and phalanx).
  • If your neighbors are close and you can't have peace or alliance, research horsemen, monarchy and feudalism to defend. Then play like generator 2, only try to attack cities just after you got the new offensive unit (horsemen, knights). Consider building some Barracks. VARIANT: Research horsemen and the republic. Now build diplomats and bribe enemy cities of size 1-2 and attacking units. Also research map making to allow for surprise attacks off the boat. When your opponent is no urgent threat anymore, set your science back to maximum and research gunpowder or navigation.

Further reading[]

A lot of documentation is found on the Freeciv home page, namely the Manual and more Tutorials (some outdated). And once the game is running you can check the help function for a complete list of wonders, military units, science advances and government types. Also check the Orders menu to see what a unit can do.

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