Civilization is one of the most consistently good video game franchises of all time. As a turn-based strategy franchise, it introduced the defining elements of 4X gameplay. It is also one of the games responsible for “One More Turn Syndrome”, where a player who wants to end their session says they will do it after one more turn, but ends up playing a lot longer and even losing track of time.
Initially developed by Sid Meier, there are six main games in the franchise, plus a few spinoffs, and even board games. Though the core gameplay has remained the same over the years—over 28 and counting—each game has brought its own mechanical and gameplay improvements. This has led to most gamers differing on which Civilization game they like most. But that’s why we’re here: to analyze all the Civilization games and rank them from the worst to the best.
10 Civilization: Call to Power
This game exists because Activision and Microprose could not agree on the origins of the board games’ ‘Civilization’ trademark. This was Activision’s first time making a Civilization game, and they did it without the direction or even input of Sid Meier, Jeff Briggs or any of the other brains behind the franchise.
The result was a mess where Activision threw everything and the kitchen sink into the game. Civilization: Call to Power had everything from blimps that beamed ads onto the enemies to underwater cities, lawyers, televangelists with TV heads and even space warfare. However, the implementation was anything but smooth, and the game is remembered as an ambitious mess.
9 Alpha Centauri
In a complete departure, Alpha Centauri took the Civilization games to space. It kicks off when the player’s spaceship reaches Alpha Centauri, and from there it’s up to the player to colonize an alien world.
On the plus side, Alpha Centauri allowed players to manipulate the terrain however they wanted. It also had a vast technology tree and decent sci-fi history. However, most fans did not take a liking to it, and it ended up selling fewer than the other Civilization games. Because the developers tried to make everything feel alien, from the setting to the gameplay, most players did not resonate with it.
8 Civilization II
Civilization II is a far more cohesive game than Call to Power and Alpha Centauri, but still not on the same level as the other Civ games. It scrapped the first game’s top-down view and replaced it with an isometric view. It also added a lot of polish, from deepening diplomacy and war to expanding the number of playable Civs and techs.
Despite these improvements, it lost a bit of heart from the first game. Leader screens were now only generic portraits, the city view was static and the advisors’ dressing left a lot to be desired.
7 Civilization: Beyond Earth
Beyond Earth was the spiritual successor to the earlier Alpha Centauri. It was also set on an alien planet where players had to seek their fortune after abandoning a dying Earth. The game had human factions fighting against each other to control resources and gain territory.
However, though a good game, Beyond Earth is not great. The leaders didn’t stand out and the various factions were too passive to be a serious challenge. This game’s primary appeal is the extraterrestrial setting, but everything else in Beyond Earth is just okay.
Though not as polished as its sequels, the developers put a lot of heart into Civilization. In fact, most people who have played it have enduring moments of the things they experienced. After all, it was a new kind of experience for most of them. The city view was fully animated, and when negotiating with other leaders, you could see their expressions change.
That said, the first Civilization game leaves a lot to be desired for gamers who have already played the sequels. For one, the tech tree was small, and the game only had seven leaders.
5 Call to Power 2
Even though it dropped the ‘Civilization’ name, Call to Power 2 is still very much a Civ game. It had many of the things that made its predecessor a strange game, like the lawyers and slavers. However, this was far more polished. Players could automate units, diplomacy was improved, and the interface was more user-friendly.
They removed some features, like space warfare and colonization along with underwater cities. However, they added features that helped to make the game more immersive, like futuristic army units and global warming. Though it’s not perfect, it becomes a lot better when played with the CtP2 patch, which improves AI and fixes a lot of the game’s bugs.
4 Civilization V
The developers made a major change to the franchise with this game: they altered the map from a square grid and turned it into a hex grid. Thanks to this, the maps looked and felt more natural than ever before. Civilization V also introduced city-states, which were a welcome addition.
When it was launched, Civilization V had a few problems, like the AI acting in erratic ways, espionage being too simplified and the loss of vassalage. However, they more than made up for it with the release of the expansions. From Gods and Kings to Brave New World, the game introduced and brought back essential features like religion, ideologies and tourism.
3 Civilization III
Civilization III introduced some features which have been part of the franchise ever since, thus making the game feel ahead of its time, even now. This includes its deep systems, beautiful animations, and polished aesthetics. The game also brought us Civilization traits, which made the civs even more individual and distinct from each other and encouraged different play styles and strategies depending on who you picked.
That wasn’t all. Civilization III also allowed players to deal with volcanic eruptions, corruption and monopolize luxuries and sell them at a higher price. Thanks to its gameplay and pleasing aesthetics, Civilization III is still a great game to play today.
2 Civilization VI
Civilization VI and V are not all that different, except for one major thing. Where Civilization V failed to introduce most of the features that would make it stand out until its expansions, Civilization VI included most of them from the get-go. If anything, VI improved all these features, like city-states, espionage, and tourism. The game also de-stacked the cities and spread them over several tiles. This made a simple thing like city placement more tactical.
In addition, the game replaced the Fog of War with scrawled maps, and Wonders could now be positioned on their own tiles.
1 Civilization IV
After the success of Civilization III, Civ IV went all-out in a way we haven’t seen in the franchise since. With full 3D graphics, the game had inspirational quotes from Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy, beautiful menu music, and you could even zoom out until you could view the whole world as one during the late game.
The game also made religion relevant as a way to control your population, and it introduced cool stuff like espionage and vassal states. Civilization IV is probably the most-loved game in the franchise, and it deserves to be top.