Civilization (1980 board game)

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Civilization box cover
2nd US version of Civilization
Setup time15 minutes
Playing time3–12 hours
Random chanceLow
Skill(s) requiredStrategy, tactics

Civilization is a board game designed by Francis Tresham, published in the United Kingdom in 1980 by Hartland Trefoil (later by Gibsons Games), and in the US in 1981 by Avalon Hill.[1] The game typically takes eight or more hours to play and is for two to seven players. The Civilization brand is owned by Hasbro, and currently published by Gibsons Games.

Civilization is considered to be the first game ever to incorporate a technology tree (or "tech tree"), a common feature in subsequent board and video games, allowing players to gain certain items and abilities only after particular other items were obtained.[2][3]


The Civilization board depicts areas around the Mediterranean Sea. The board is divided into many regions. Each player starts with a single population token, and attempts to grow and expand their empire over successive turns, trying 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 eleven 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. However, war and combat are entirely permissible, and are sometimes inevitable. In fact, the game is designed to limit players' 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 a player's civilization wealth, which ultimately helps their civilization advance on the AST, and they become more valuable as the player collects more of the same type. 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, they effectively corner the market and gain the most value for their 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.


A game starts with each player having 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 (e.g. 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 tokens which can be supported there. Eventually, the player will decide to convert some of their excess population into cities. Certain areas on the board (where cities existed historically) have a square printed in them to designate 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, unless one or more type of card has been used up. Players may have up to nine cities. Cards gain value quadratically, so two value "3" trade cards are worth twelve points, while three are worth twenty-seven points. The first two decks have two types of cards, for number one it is hides and ochre, and for number two, it is papyrus and iron, these two different types of cards do not add up in value together. 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), starvation, 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 their 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).


Civilization by Hartland Trefoil (1980).

Civilization by Avalon Hill (1982): 1st edition with a cover depicting an antique Greek temple, an Egyptian fresco and some baskets; the board with the map is a one-piece multifold. 2nd edition with a cover showing three heads - a Roman legionnaire, a Greek man, and a Minoan woman above the Pyramids. The board consists of two separate pieces.

Civilization by Gibsons Games/Welt der Spiele/Piatnik (1988): English and German version. The cover shows six members from people around the Mediterranean Sea.

Civilisation by Descartes (1989): French version. The cover shows a grayhaired male, a Roman temple and the Pyramids in the background.

Civilisation by Gibsons (2018)[4]: UK version. The cover shows a Roman officer and an Egyptian noblewoman.


  • Western Extension Map (1988): Usable with the Hartland/Trefoil and the Avalon Hill version. Extends the game board west of Italy to cover Gaul, parts of the Iberian peninsula, the British Isles and northwest Africa. (Note that a version of this expansion was also available for the original Hartland Trefoil version of the game)
  • Trade Card Set (1982): Usable with the Avalon Hill version. Adds additional commodities such as timber, silver and ivory to reduce the frequency of calamities, reduce the risk for a shortage in low value trade cards (which disproportionately hurts the players with the most cities), and increase the challenge of making large sets.[5] Advanced Civilization includes this expansion.
  • Advanced Civilization (1991): Usable with the Avalon Hill version. The Advanced Civilization expansion 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 Set.
  • Western Expansion: Usable with the Gibsons Games edition. It comes with additional trading cards. The map slightly differs from the Avalon Hill western extension. The additional trading cards are different from the Avalon Hill Trade Card Expansion.
  • Eastern Expansion Map (1995): Usable with the Hartland/Trefoil and the Avalon Hill version. Adds Persia, Sumer, Samita and Indus people and covers the areas of Persia, the westernmost parts of the Indian subcontinent and Arabia. The map has the imprint "Civilisation Eastern Extension Unofficial Version". It was published in Alea Magazine #21 (Spain). In addition there are five new civilization cards.

Computer versions[edit]

Incunabula was the first computer emulation of the board game by Avalon Hill (1984, for MS-DOS). Besides the main game, it included two shorter variants, one eliminating trade and one that includes only trade.

Avalon Hill's Advanced Civilization was a 1995 MS-DOS computer version of the board game, incorporating the Advanced Civilization expansion. The rules were slightly modified from the board game for computer play.

Similar games[edit]

A projected sequel of the Civilization board game in the ages after antiquity drove 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).


Steven Savile commented that designer Francis Tresham "created a thinking gamer's game, one that deserves to be played around a table with friends — especially the cheerfully scheming sort".[6]

Tony Watson reviewed Civilization for Dragon magazine #70 (February 1983).[7] He commented: "Once in a while, a new game comes out that proves that there is still plenty of virgin territory out there for game designers to explore and plenty of room for innovative and imaginative approaches to those subjects. Avalon Hill's release, Civilization, is just such a game."[7]


Despite having been out of print for several years, Civilization 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.[8]

The game shares the name and the basic broad themes of expansion, development and conflict with the computer game Civilization by Sid Meier. The computer game is otherwise unrelated to Civilization.

Although the success of the Civilization computer games series has led to multiple board games, starting with Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame in 2002, none of these games has any direct relation to the Civilization board game discussed here.


  1. ^ "Civilization Rules of Play" (PDF). Avalon Hill. 1981. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
  2. ^ "Civilization". BoardGameGeek.
  3. ^ Ghys, Tuur (September 2012). "Technology Trees: Freedom and Determinism in Historical Strategy Games". Game Studies. 12 (1). ISSN 1604-7982. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  4. ^
  5. ^ General Magazine, Vol 19, No 4, p. 9
  6. ^ Savile, Steven (2007). "Civilization". In Lowder, James (ed.). Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 62–65. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
  7. ^ a b Watson, Tony (February 1983). "The Dragon's Augury". Dragon. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR (#70): 71-72.
  8. ^ "The 1982 Origins Awards". The Game Manufacturers Association. Archived from the original on 2012-12-16.

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