Ranking the best and worst of the Civilization series

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survey fridays

In this new column, we ask you to rank and reminisce about PC gaming's biggest series. Look for the survey link in our Twitter and Facebook feeds each week, and the results every Friday. Previously, we ranked the Mass Effect and Call of Duty series.

I remember there being a lot of anger when Civilization V launched. It just wasn't Civ IV, the glorious, glorious Civ IV. But a few expansions (and a lot of mods) later, has public opinion changed? With the help of a thousand-plus survey respondents, I ventured to find out.

First, some caveats. I left out Alpha Centauri, because A) it dropped the Civilization name and B) it isn't fair to put a horse in a toddler race. Though I would love to see a horse absolutely smoke a bunch of dumb toddlers, who can barely walk, never mind run. It's a funny picture.

Anyway, I also left out any game not in the main Microprose and Firaxis series, which includes Civilization: Call to Power. We're left, then, with Civilization, Civilization II, Civilization III, Civilization IV, Civilization V, and Civilization: Beyond Earth. Among them, which is the best?

The best Civilization game

the results

Best Civilization

Click the icon in the upper-right to enlarge. Based on 1,049 responses.

According to my survey, Civilization V is the best Civilization. It seems public opinion did change. After a couple big expansions, a bunch of map packs and new civs, plus a ton of mods on Steam Workshop and otherwise, the majority like what Civ V has become. I have to agree: I still love Civilization IV, but if I were going to recommend any Civ to a friend, I'd have to start them with Civ V.

Civilization IV, of course, came in second with 21.6% of the vote. No other game in the series came close, which I first assumed was because most people in the survey started with Civ IV or Civ V. That's not the case: only 17% of respondents said that Civ IV was their first Civilization, and 22% said Civ V was their first. Many of you started with Civ III (22%), Civilization II (18%), or Civilization (18%).

As expected, several survey takers mentioned Civ V's easy-to-use mod support, expansions, hexagonal grid, and lack of unit stacking. "This one started out a bit uneven, but the two expansions ended up giving this one the most interesting choices per turn," said one person. "Also, I loved the addition of one-unit-per-tile and hexes—can't live without them now." That sums it up neatly.

On why Civ IV is the best, however, Leonard Nimoy came up (of course), as well as unit stacking and the expansions. It seems there are two camps: the no-stacking hex camp and the stacking square camp. It's one or the other, friends—declare your allegiance.

The worst Civilization game

the results

Worst Civilization

Click the icon in the upper-right to enlarge. Based on 1,049 responses.

This is no big surprise. According to my survey, the worst Civilization is Civilization: Beyond Earth. Had I included Alpha Centauri, I'm certain it would've been voted the best, so it's extra sad that its spiritual successor fared so poorly. A whopping 56.3% of voters declared it the worst Civilization, saying things like: "It's ugly, lame, and boring," "It's simply a space expansion for Civ V," and "It lacks personality." My goodness.

Civilization and Civilization III were the next worst, but each only gathered about 12% of the total vote. It's pretty clear that Civilization V is the absolute favorite, followed by Civ IV, and that Beyond Earth is the loser. We can roughly order the rest by considering the ratio of 'best' to 'worst' votes each got:

  1. Civilization V (11.58)
  2. Civilization IV (3.72)
  3. Civilization II (0.61)
  4. Civilization III (0.53)
  5. Civilization (0.13)
  6. Civilization: Beyond Earth (0.04)

Other results

86.3% of respondents said they've put over 100 hours into their favorite Civilization. 16.8% said they've played over 500 hours, and 11.3% say they've put in over 1,000 hours.

Most of you have won a game of Civilization by achieving a victory condition—only 3.9% said they haven't.

The most popular victory condition is Domination (44%), followed by Science (30%), Cultural (18%), and Diplomatic (6%). Almost no one likes the Time condition, in which you try to achieve the highest score within a certain number of turns.

51% of respondents agreed to make a Joint Declaration of Friendship with me, while 49% said that "making such a declaration at this point in our relationship would be premature." So, people are pretty split on joke questions.

Civilization V review thumbnail

Civilization stories

I also asked survey takers to share a story about a really good game of Civilization they've played. Here are some of the best (lightly edited for clarity).

"I'm not sure that this is my favorite game, but probably the proudest I've been. It's the game in which I gained the Bollywood achievement on Emperor difficulty in Civ 5. That requires that you win a cultural victory as India with just 3 cities. It was a real race to the finish line, because I was up against some serious powerhouses like Brasil (culture) and Korea (science). In the end I had to bribe several nations to wage war against Korea and nuked them myself for good measure to prevent them from building their final spaceship part in time. My waves of rocking musicians got me to culture victory probably only a turn or two away from Korea's science victory. It was my first game on Emperor difficulty and I couldn't keep the AIs in check by taking their cities due to the achievement I was going for, so I was very happy to get it just in time."

In Civ 3 I had an epic tussle with Cleopatra in one game with our empires at war for nearly 2000 years until all my horses suddenly became tanks and I rolled her over.

"In Civ IV, a grueling gunpowder-era war left me with 40-45% of the map, but technologically behind my two remaining rivals. Attacking either would ruin me and give the game to whoever was left alone, so I had to transition frantically into tech and a peaceful victory condition.

As I hit the modern era, my captured and reorganized territories from the last great war were finally turning profitable, but then disaster stuck - when, in last place, I hit modernity, it turned out that not one single pip of aluminum spawned on my half of the map! Double building time for all modern units and wonders when both my rivals had the aluminum bonus was untenable. I was finally catching up in research, but I couldn't build any of the fruits of my research.

When my general espionage bar revealed that both rivals were working on their Space victory, I made a plan - I signed a ruinous trade deal with the one that was further behind to give me that sweet sweet aluminum I needed, and sent a wave of Spies to sabotage the mine and SS part production of the leader. The last 100 turns of that game was one if the most vicious wars I've played in civ, all without a single shot being fired, a brutal race against time and resource shortages by all sides. When I launched the Alpha Centauri mission just three turns ahead of second-place China, it felt like a glorious accomplishment, not the admittedly dry usual endgame."

Kamehameha wouldn't be my friend right after I discovered him. After a few thousand years of a successful and booming trading relationship I nuked him for that.

"Civ 5, playing as Russia and I started on a mostly mountainous peninsula. I ended up out-expanded and out-teched by the Carthaginians and that evil slime Ghandi. With the navy of Carthage at my doorstep I went all in for naval tech. After a grueling 100+ turn war against a larger and more advanced foe I emerged victorious, and with a massive and advanced navy to boot.

With all of Carthage fallen the next logical course of action was to sail my great armada around the great sea taking every port I could find, while my inferior ground forces held the neck of my peninsula against all the remaining factions. In the end, I lost when Ghandi completed the science victory, but that massive struggle and the ensuing Great Sea Crusade was some of the most fun I've had in any Civ game."

Gandhi is an asshole.

"I was once caught in between two friends of mine. My territory was in the center of the continent, and theirs were above and below me. I befriended both of them since I was playing South Korea and not interested in domination at all.

Both of them were, however, and it wasn't long before they started sending me messages to band together and kill the other. Before I knew it both of their armies were gathered at my borders, requesting open borders and ready to mess the other one up. It eventually ended with me opening borders to both of them, but not declaring war on either. I let them slaughter eachother and began mass-producing military units. This eventually led to me seizing both capital cities. Good stuff."

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.