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Freecol Ship.png
Challenge the New World...
FreeCol0 5 2 mapboard.jpg
Screenshot from FreeCol 0.5.2
Original author(s) The Freecol Team
Developer(s) SourceForge project FreeCol
Initial release January 2, 2003; 12 years ago (2003-01-02)
Stable release 0.11.6 / October 17, 2015; 38 days ago (2015-10-17)
Written in Java
Operating system dormant
Platform Java platform 1.5 or later, display 1024×768 or more
Available in 54 languages (
Type Turn-based strategy video games
License GPLv2

FreeCol is a 4X video game, a clone of Sid Meier's Colonization. Released under the GNU General Public License, FreeCol is free and open source software.

FreeCol is mostly programmed in Java and should thus be platform-independent. In practice, it is known to run on Linux and Windows, as well as Mac OS X (with some limitations). In February 2007 it was's Project of the Month.[1]

While remaining faithful to the original in terms of mechanics and gameplay, Freecol sports a new set of redesigned graphics. Moreover, in addition to the classical Colonization rules, it features an additional ruleset that incorporates ideas that didn't make it to the final version of Meier's game, requests by fans and original concepts like new European players with new national bonuses.


In FreeCol the player leads the colony of a European power from the arrival on the shore of the New World into the future, achieving one of a two of possible victory conditions: either gaining independence by declaring independence and subsequently defeating the dispatched royal expeditionary force or by defeating the colonies of all the competing European powers by the year 1600. To be allowed to declare independence, at least 50% of the player's colonists must support independence. This is achieved by producing liberty bells; 200 liberty bells turn one colonist from being a royalist into being a rebel. To be able to defeat the royal expeditionary force the player must train and build a strong enough army of his own.

Another important factor are the numerous natives. Native settlements can be traded with to gain gold or they can be conquered for treasure. Native settlements can also teach the player's colonists and turn them into specialist. Specialists are not necessary for anything, because in FreeCol any unit can be assigned any task, but specialist are considerably more productive when assigned in their trade. Most specialist can be trained for gold in Europe or come as settlers for free, but certain specialist, namely the "expert fur trapper", the "master cotton planter", the "master tobacco planter" and the "master sugar planter" can only be trained at certain native settlements.

FreeCol starts in the year 1492 with two colonists on a caravel on the ocean at the player's disposal. The player is the king's proxy and is supposed to lead the caravel to the shore and found a colony in the New World consisting of multiple settlements. The player gets additional colonists by producing food – every 200 food units a new unit, a "free colonist" appears in the producing settlement, by immigration from Europe, by converting the natives and by capturing unarmed units of competing European colonies.

The player may trade with Europe using various natural resources which are collected by cities or acquired from trade with natives. In each city the player can also build up industrial buildings to convert raw materials into processed goods, which sell for more in Europe, providing a significant economic advance. Some industrial buildings will convert materials into goods useful for running the colony, such as converting wood into Hammers and ore into tools.


The base rate production of ore when working a hill tile is 4. Using a specialist for this work, doubles this base production rate. Additional modifiers are added.

The game is based on a game engine with square tiles instead of the of hexagonal tiles of games such as Triple A and a settlement can cover a square of a total of nine such square tiles. There are different terrain types each enabling the production of different raw materials in different amounts. Present bonus resources are not additional but increase this amount.

Possible bonus Production base rates Terrain type Forest type Production base rates Possible bonus
Silver Ore Other Grain Lumber Furs Grain Other Ore Silver
Grain N/A 1 2 cotton 5 Plains Mixed forest 6 3 3 1 cotton Furs
Sugar cane 1 3 sugar cane 4 Savannah Tropical forest 4 2 3 Lumber
Cotton 3 cotton 3 Prairie Broadleaf forest 4 2 2 Game
Tobacco 3 tobacco 3 Grassland Conifer forest 6 2 2 Lumber
Minerals 2 2 tobacco 3 Marsh Wetland forest 4 2 2 Minerals
Minerals 2 2 sugar cane 3 Swamp Rain forest 4 1 2 Minerals
Oasis 2 1 cotton 2 Desert Scrub forest 2 2 2 Oasis
Minerals 2 N/A 3 Tundra Boreal forest 4 3 2 Game
Ore 1 4 N/A 2 Hills N/A
Silver 1 4 N/A N/A Mountains N/A


Human units[edit]

There are four types of human units: the petty criminal, the indentured servant, the free colonist and the converted native.

Units of the type converted native cannot be equipped to be pioneers, soldiers or missionaries and they cannot found settlements. When working a tile they get a bonus of +1, when working in a building they get a penalty of -2 compared to a free colonist. When the player sends any unit as missionary into an native settlement, every 200 "missionary points", one converted native joins the player and appears at the nearest of the player's settlements.

Units of the type indentured servant get a penalty of -1 at any task, and units of the type petty criminal a penalty of -2. In contrast to converted natives, both can be equipped like free colonists and can also found settlements. When a petty criminal is taught any skill, instead of learning that skill he turns into an indentured servant, and the indentured servant turns into a free colonist. All three types of unit can appear in at the docks in Europe, and the unit type free colonist can also be "born" in a settlement in the New World, every time it produces 200 food units.

If and when Bartolomé de las Casas is elected into the Congress, all the player's units of the type converted native existing in that specific turn, are transformed into units of the type free colonist.


Only free colonists can become specialists. A free colonist can learn any one skill and hence become an specialist in that trade. The player can remove a skill at will turning the unit into a free colonist again. FreeCol gives the player a couple of ways to get units with special skills:

  • Units appearing at the docks in Europe can be specialists, but their specific speciality is ruled by chance.
  • The player can also "order" a unit with a distinct skill to the docks against gold.
  • Learning by doing: low-level skills can be acquired by simply letting a free colonist doing a task long enough. Each turn the unit gains experience points in that task, and when reaching 200 experience points the free colonist will turn into a specialist, though there is a small and ever growing chance that this happens before reaching 200 experience points. Learning by doing is only activated for activities when working a tile, not when working in a building, e.g. master carpenters cannot be trained that way.
  • Teaching: any specialist can teach any free colonist his trade in a building for learning. FreeCol distinguishes three levels of skills, level one can be taught and learned in the school building, level two in the college building and level three in the university building. The specialist is placed in the building, hence is no longer available to do anything else then teaching, and the free colonist is assigned to him as pupil. One teacher can only have one pupil at a time. Without modifiers teaching a level one skill takes four turns, level two six turns and level three eight turns.
  • Native settlements: free colonists can be sent to native settlements and be taught a skill there in one turn.

Some of the produced goods can be equipped by the human units: tools are needed to build the tile improvements road, plowed field, or to clear a forest. Any unit equipped with tools turns into a pioneer. Though any unit besides native converts can be equipped as pioneers, units with the skill "hardy pioneer" are double as effective when conducting land working. Horses turn any unit into a scout, units equipped with muskets turn into soldiers, cannot be captured but must be fought against, and units equipped with horses and muskets turn into dragoons.

Bibles are not available goods, but any settlement with a church or a cathedral can commission any unit as missionary by equipping it with a bible. Though any unit besides native converts can be assigned as missionaries, units with the skill "Jesuit missionary" are more effective at this task.


There are six types of ship in FreeCol: Caravel, Merchantmant, Galleon, Frigate, Man of War and the Privateer. All can be build in settlements who contain the building shipyard or be purchased in Europe. The Man of War can only be build after the Declaration of Independence.


Wagon trains and cannons are further units available to the player. Both can be built in settlements like buildings and cannons can also be purchased in Europe.

Assigning tasks[edit]

The player can also assign people to resource gathering through dragging them to the location of the resource on the resource map in a city. The more specialized an individual is at gathering a particular resource, the more quickly the stocks grow. Through assigning more people to work in a city it will grow. However, more people working in a city also requires more food. Assigning people to work in buildings allows for the conversion of raw materials to finished goods; the more people assigned (most people you can add is three), the faster work is done. However, this will only happen when the raw materials needed are available; when materials are unavailable, assigned workers will continue to consume food.

People can also be assigned tools to work or muskets to become soldiers (tools and guns can either be produced in a settlement or purchased from Europe). If assigned tools, the person can be used to plow the countryside (increasing food production) or to build roads (making travel more efficient).

Plowing a tile increases the production of crops such as food, tobacco, sugar and cotton. Building a road increases the production of lumber, furs, ore and silver. It also reduces the movement points required to cross the tile. If a tile is both plowed and has a road, you get both benefits.

Founding fathers[edit]

Another concept used in FreeCol is that of the 'founding fathers'. By producing freedom bells, the player can elect them into the continental congress and once elected, each one provides the player with certain advantages. There are 25 founding fathers.

Trade Exploration Military Political Religious
Adam Smith Ferdinand Magellan Hernán Cortés Thomas Jefferson William Brewster
Jacob Fugger Francisco de Coronado George Washington Pocahontas William Penn
Peter Minuit Hernando de Soto Paul Revere Thomas Paine Jean de Brébeuf
Peter Stuyvesant Henry Hudson Francis Drake Simón Bolívar Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda
Johan de Witt Robert de La Salle John Paul Jones Benjamin Franklin Bartolomé de las Casas

Transportation of goods[edit]

Goods can be transported either by ship or by wagon train. Wagon trains are used to transport goods along land routes. This is useful to move needed materials between cities within the colony, to trade finished goods to port cities for transport to Europe, or to transport goods to Europe, Indian communities, or (sometimes) other players' colonies, for trade. Ships can be used to move finished goods for sale in Europe, or to purchase raw materials in Europe. People emigrating from Europe must also be transported by ship.

European Powers[edit]

Note: While new powers (those not boldfaced below) are allowed in FreeCol, they are disabled by default. They are easily enabled, and can be disabled again for anyone wishing to play with the original four powers (or any combination desired).

Nation Color Default names Starting units Advantage (default)
Dutch Orange Michiel de Ruyter, New Holland Soldier, Pioneer, Merchantman Trade (trade bonus -50%)
French Blue Jacques Cartier, New France Soldier, Hardy Pioneer, Caravel Cooperation (native alarm -50%)
English Red Walter Raleigh, New England Soldier, Pioneer, Caravel Immigration (religious unrest needed for new colonist -1/3)
Spanish Yellow Christopher Columbus, New Spain Veteran Soldier, Pioneer, Caravel Conquest (new convert bonus +200%, offense against natives +50%)
Portuguese Green Dom Manuel I, Land of [the] Holy Cross Soldier, Pioneer, Merchantman Naval (naval movement bonus +3)
Swedish Light Blue Charles XI, New Sweden Soldier (Master Carpenter), Pioneer (Expert Lumberjack), Caravel Building (+2 lumber, +2 hammers)
Danish Pink Frederick II, New Denmark Soldier, Pioneer (Expert Farmer), Caravel Agriculture (+2 grain)
Russian White Peter I, New Russia Soldier (Master Fur Trader), Pioneer (Expert Fur Trapper), Caravel Fur Trapping (+2 coats, +2 furs)

The inclusion of Portugal was always obvious, as its omission from the original Colonization had been criticized from the start. Sweden was also a clear choice, given the history of New Sweden. Denmark was proposed because the Danish West Indies gave it a colonial presence in the New World, though a bit late in game terms. Russia was more problematic as it never reached the New World until around 1800 (roughly the end of the game) and then only from the opposite side of the continent (in FreeCol, Russia begins on the East Coast like other players); however, its colonization of the New World is well known in North America and it was a very popular proposal on the project's forum, which led to its inclusion.

Two other countries which established colonies in the New World were also proposed: Scotland (Nova Scotia and Darien scheme) and Courland (Tobago). They have not been implemented because while legitimate, they are obscure. Scotland was wholly independent until 1603 but in a personal union through the monarch until 1707. Courland was technically a vassal to Poland and was never powerful or populous. A number of more fanciful powers have been proposed on the SourceForge page, none with any historical presence in Colonial America: Italy, Belgium, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and China, among others.


External links[edit]