The Civilization series of games, originally designed by Sid Meier, puts you in command of a small, primitive tribe in the year 4000 BC. You then steer your tribe through 6050 years of history, competing with a number of similar tribes to become the dominant civilization on the planet. This has proved a very appealing concept and the games have been hugely popular.

You progress by creating cities, because all production in the game comes from cities — although they derive resources from the surrounding countryside. Once you have a city, you can build public buildings and mobile units; and you can conduct scientific research, diplomacy, and trade.

Scientific research is important because it allows you to build more advanced types of public buildings and mobile units, and to change to more advanced forms of government (initially you rely on despotism).

Public buildings each have some specific benefit. For instance, temples and colosseums make your people happier and less inclined to rebel. Libraries and universities boost your research. Marketplaces and banks boost your income. Aqueducts and hospitals allow your cities to grow larger.

In Civilization III (Civ 3 for short), the concept of culture is introduced. Some public buildings, as well as providing their specific benefits, contribute general-purpose culture points to your tribe. If your cultural level exceeds that of your neighbours, you get various useful benefits. For instance, your city borders expand, you gain an advantage in diplomatic negotiations, your cities become more resistant to takeover, and their cities become less resistant to takeover. In extreme cases, their border cities may voluntarily change sides and join your tribe (seduced by your advanced culture).

The way to win in previous versions of Civilization was rather crude: you had to wipe out all opponents (the military option) or send a spaceship to Alpha Centauri (the peaceful option). Regrettably, in practice the military option was often easier because it could be achieved with lower technology.

In Civ 3 the ways to win are more varied. You can win by:

Civ 3, released at the end of October 2001, aimed to retain the advantages of its predecessors while fixing most of the defects, and in this it's been mainly successful. It includes some labour-saving facilities intended to reduce the need for tedious micro-management. Trade and diplomacy have been significantly redesigned.

See also

What's wrong with Civilization III (my own ideas)
The official Civilization III Web site
Civilization Fanatics fan site
My old Civilization II page