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The New Player’s Guide to Freeciv-Web

by qrtv

Introduction

Scope

This text is for new players who want to play against humans on Freeciv-Web. This strategy guide would also help against the AI, but has nothing specific to how to defeat the AI. The guide is general enough to apply to all Multiplayer (MP) rulesets. 

Intro: What is Longturn?

Longturn refers to a mode of play where each turn lasts 23 hours. A turn can take from a few minutes to half an hour or more if you're a big empire at the end-stage of the game. This format makes it possible to play a game with large numbers of human players around the world in different time zones. A typical game runs for about 120 turns, or 4 months. 

Joining a Longturn game

New games are periodically started. The best way to get notified about new games is through the Freeciv-Web Discord server. Games are found on www.freecivweb.org under "Longturn". 

Many of the "Unrated" longturn games are newcomer friendly.

To join Longturn games, you need a Google gmail account. Your email is never revealed, shared, or published. If you are still worried about online privacy, simply make a separate gmail account with no personal info. 

Each longturn game has a GameMaster, who is the referee for fair play. The Settings, Ruleset, and Description of the game are published on Discord by the GameMaster at the start of the game. Rulesets decide the rules of the game. Settings define options like the map, number of players, and victory conditions. MP2 rulesets are the preferred ruleset for longturn games. A letter code after MP2 refers to the revision of MP2. (MP2A = Avant-garde, MP2B=Brava, MP2C = Caravel, etc.) This guide is written with these rulesets in mind.

What do I need to know before starting?

Freeciv is a complex strategy game. Playing Freeciv without knowing the rules is like playing chess without knowing the rules. If you don’t know rules and strategies, you could end up playing around with archers and horsemen while your opponent attacks you with fighter planes!

Freeciv requires calculating and weighing different decisions. You should read the strategy guide further below before you start. You should also frequently consult the online Multiplayer II Manual for Avant-garde and Brava, or MP2-Caravel Manual for MP2C, or the corresponding version you are playing.

Playing against humans is different from playing the AI. If you can't beat the AI, don't expect to be a dominant superpower in a Longturn game. Instead, prepare to diplomatically negotiate and align yourself wisely. Try to profit from the dynamic struggles and change in fortunes of the superpower pacts. To get an idea of what skill level is necessary to be a strong nation: In a single-player game, you should be able to reach Republic by turn 40 and research the whole tech tree by turn 100. 

Diplomacy is very important in human games. Even in games where the Diplomacy Setting is turned off, there will be "under the table" diplomacy. Usually it's possible to win the game as an alliance. In theory, a lone wolf single nation can win by conquest, but as in real history, this almost never happens. A single nation can also win by being the first to reach Alpha Centauri in a spaceship. Beware of the settings of each particular game! They are announced on the forum and the Discord channel.

Alliances or political pacts usually win because there is a major advantage in cooperating from the start by trading techs and intel. Usually, different pacts and power blocks are formed early. If your nation waits too long to find friends, you might end up with no friends. In this case, it’s likely you’ll be targeted for conquest. In this case, you can still try to make friends with your enemy’s enemy, but it’s better to have support earlier.

Strategy guide

Superior strategy is generally about optimizing exponential growth of your population. This one factor is the fundamental foundation to optimizing growth in all other important areas: production capacity, economy, technology, and military power. Getting the balance just right between expansion, economic growth, technological development, and building an effective military... this is the key to success. 

👉🏻 Plan ahead! Experts create plans many turns ahead, already at the start.

On the first turn of play, you wake up as the despot leader of a nation in the year 4000 BC. You will usually start with 3 Settlers, 3 Workers, 3 Tribesmen, and a Caravan. 

👉🏻 The start is the most important part of the game, but luckily, the easiest part to train on getting right.

Basics

This guide is not a substitute for reading the Multiplayer II Manual. But it helps you simplify your focus on the first most important things to become a good player.

The world map is made out of tiles. Each tile represents a certain kind of terrain: for example, Forest, Hills, Grassland, etc. Each type of terrain gives a different output value if worked by your cities. Some tiles have special resources which make them worth more. If worked by a city, each tile gives a certain amount of Food, Production and Trade. Middle-click on a tile to see tile output. (Alt+Right-click also emulates Middle-click.) Look at the Terrain section of the manual to see a complete list of Terrain types. Each city can work the area of a 5x5 square minus the corner tiles. A city automatically works and gets output from the tile the city is on, and for each citizen in the city, it can work one additional tile. Instead of working a tile, a citizen can be assigned instead to be a specialist (a taxman, scientist, or entertainer.) A Taxman will give 3 gold, a Scientist will give 3 science, and an Entertainer will give 2 luxury. More about this is in the City section of the manual.

By using Workers, you can make improvements to tiles to enhance the tile output. You can even change the terrain type of some tiles: for example, changing Swamp to Grassland. The Terrain section of the manual covers all of this.

Getting Started

👉🏻 The first thing to do is explore the area with your Tribesmen (or Scouts, Caravans, Explorers, or any other units who currently have nothing important to do). This lets you see more of the map so that you can more wisely and optimally develop your new nation.

👉🏻 Next, you want to find the best possible locations for your Settlers to build cities. Every turn you do not have a city is a turn of growth that is lost. But don't be too hasty. It's always better to lose a turn or two to find the best nearby spots for your cities.

How to pick the best spots for cities

Food is the most important resource in the start. Quick growth is vital to tribal survival. A high food surplus allows your population to grow faster, which is the #1 goal of all dominant nations. Each city citizen needs 2 food. For example, a size 3 city uses 6 food. Generally, you want each city to get a food surplus of at least 2 food.

Production is extremely important too. Higher production is what will help you make Settlers to build more cities faster.

  • 👉🏻 All tribes start with the Despotism form of government. Despotism gets a +75% production bonus in your capital. You should usually build your capital in a spot that offers high production resources like Coal, Buffalo, Pheasant, Oil, or Peat. The first city you build will be your capital. This can be changed later, but at high cost. Be careful. 

Some tiles also produce Trade points. Some produce trade if you build roads on them. Trade is converted to gold, science, and luxury. Your tax rates determine how trade is divided into these three types. Luxury becomes important later in the game, when keeping your citizens happy is a concern. For now, most strategies keep tax rates at the default: 40% gold, 60% science, 0% luxury.

👉🏻 It’s important to remember that any tile that gives an output of 3 or more Food/Trade/Prod, will suffer a -1 penalty during Despotism. (Unless the city celebrates or has a courthouse or you build a special Wonder.)

Buffalo, Pheasant, Berries, Elk, and Coal are all solid choices for the tile to settle a city on, since you will get at least +2 Food and +2 Prod automatically from the first worked tile.

👉🏻 You get a +1 Food bonus on the city-tile for most types of terrain. Plains and Hills will therefore give +2 Food. Mountains and Deserts will give +1 Food. (Note: Deserts with rivers will give +2 food.)

Of course, it's not only the tile you settle on that's important, but the combination of surrounding tiles the city can use. 

It can also be good to settle a tile with an extra Food bonus: Oasis, Elk, Wheat, or Fruit.

  • In Despotism, Oasis, Elk, and Wheat give +3 Food. Fruit is especially good, giving +4 Food in Despotism. Sure, most of these only give +1 Prod instead of +2 Prod. But they can be a good choice when fast city growth gives quicker access to surrounding high production tiles.

👉🏻 Less often, it can be good to build cities on tiles that give +1 Food:  Peat, Gold, Iron, and Oil. You should either finish a Granary before reaching size 2, or have a high Food tile nearby to compensate for only getting +1 Food from the city-tile. (Or both.)

The "boring" Grassland terrain can still be a decent tile to settle on, especially if it has good tiles nearby. In Despotism it gives 2 food, 1 trade. It also gives a bonus +1 prod for the city-tile, which Grassland would not get if you settled on a different terrain tile nearby. When you change government, it will give 3 food without needing irrigation.

Corruption is another thing to have in mind when making your first 3 cities. In Despotism, corruption is horrible. The farther a city is from your capital, the more corruption it has. In general, if you make cities within 3 tiles of your capital, they can get 2 trade without suffering any corruption, giving you 1 science and 1 gold per turn. Farther away you will suffer losses in trade income, unless you compensate by using tiles with resources high in bonus trade. Diagonally spacing the cities from the capital makes less overlap and thus, more room for each city to grow.

You now have a basic idea of how tiles work, and how to consider the pros and cons for which tiles to choose for building cities. You now are ready to build your first 3 cities. 

Initial goals

👉🏻 Your first goal should be to quickly multiply your cities.

  • You can double the number of your cities roughly every 11-14 turns, until you run out of land.

👉🏻 Despotism is a terrible government for growth, so your second goal is to get out of Despotism and into a better government.

  • For this, you will generally need to research a better government. There are wonders which make Despotism somewhat less horrible, but Despotism is still very handicapped compared to more advanced government.

Your Workers aid in both goals by building roads. Roads are very important for two reasons. First, they let your Settlers move faster to the spots you want to settle. Secondly, Roads give +1 trade to most tiles, increasing gold and science output. And science will help you more quickly escape the dark ages of Despotism.

In addition to roads, Workers are important for other tile improvements. Irrigation helps you get more Food, which is vital to your growth goals. And on some tiles, mines can give you production bonuses, which will help you produce more Settlers faster. 👉🏻 Note: under the Despotism penalties for tiles making 3 or more, irrigated grass gives +2 food, the same as unirrigated. Try to focus on irrigating other tiles during Despotism.

Besides (1) settling as many cities as possible and (2) getting a better government, you have a third goal that is equally important. You need to keep an eye on your neighbors. It’s common for a neighbor to want land and resources you also want. They will also be tempted by the opportunity to conquer undefended cities. Keep your eye on neighbors and build defensive units if necessary.

👉🏻 In the early game, the best players usually make as many Settlers as possible, while somehow having the minimum military necessary to defend themselves and claim control over new lands.

Achieving the goals

For the two most important goals of multiplying your cities and getting a better government, beginners should consider two typical ways to achieve these goals. 

1. The Straight and Simple Method. While this is the "simplest" starting strategy, if followed cleanly, it's very under-rated in its solid effectiveness. Experienced players try lots of experimental variations which fall short of this basic method. Beginners who add variations to try to improve this method, usually perform significantly worse than just keeping it simple.

  1. Start researching Alphabet, and set your future tech goal to the next government you want, either Monarchy or Republic. (Set future goal with middle-click.)
    • Monarchy is somewhat more recommended for beginners, though by no means does that mean it's a worse choice for experts.
  2. Make each of your 3 starting cities build Settlers.
    • (In an emergency, Settlers can be changed to Warriors without losing any invested production points.)
    • When your cities reach size 2 they will be allowed to complete a new Settler. You will want it out as quickly as possible. Use highest prod tiles and possibly some gold to finish it faster.
    • After you reach 6 cities, repeat, going for a total of 12. At this point, you should be close to discovering the tech for a new government.
  3. Use Workers to improve only the tiles your cities will immediately use while size 1 and size 2, and only if doing this gives a bonus during Despotism.
    • All other use of Workers should be to make roads for Settlers to quickly arrive at your next 9 or 10 cities.
  4. After reaching your desired government, get Pottery next, and make Workers in roughly half of your cities. Also, choose one or two military techs to defend and claim new lands better.
  5. By now you should be trying to make an early ally or two, or at least a partner nation to trade tech with. In case you have found someone, one of you should get Writing tech and send a Diplomat to establish an Embassy, which makes it possible to trade tech.

Keep in mind, the first 4 citizens of a city are contented. This means they work without complaining or penalties. As you get more cities, the number of first citizens that are content is reduced. This depends on your form of government. For example: in Republic, you can have 13 cities with 4 citizens content by default. (Government section.) If you go to 14 cities, only 3 citizens will be content by default, and the fourth will be unhappy. As cities grow in population, it becomes a challenge to keep your citizens happy. You will need to invest in Luxury tax, Martial Law units, and/or Buildings or Wonders. (When a city has more unhappy citizens than happy citizens, it goes into Disorder and yields no output.)

As you finish your 12 or 13 cities and get very close to researching a new government, you may optionally want to sacrifice some growth for a few turns, and change some of your citizens to Scientists. This can be good if it helps you get the new government several turns earlier, if the sacrifice isn’t too high. Some good players favor doing this, while others don't. You can figure out if it’s worth it by considering the food and production you are sacrificing in order to get the gains earlier from the new government: less corruption and the elimination of the -1 penalty on resources 3 or higher. In any case, when you research the new government, you are ready for Revolution. After a turn of Anarchy, the new government takes effect, and you have completed the "Straight and Simple Method" for building your early empire.

2. The Pottery Strategy. This is not very different from the first method. It involves an extra step of researching the Pottery tech first. This strategy requires more skill, and can potentially give some slight advantages. But there is great risk of inferior performance if you are less skilled.

When you get Pottery, you can then build a Granary in 1 to 3 of your starting cities.  

Pottery tech allows making the Granary building, which helps cities grow faster. To understand this, we must first look at how cities grow from accumulated food. Let's take an example from MP2C (other rulesets will be similar).

  • For a city to grow from size 1 to 2, it needs to accumulate 20 food. Upon reaching size 2, food resets to zero. Then, to grow from size 2 to 3, the city now needs 30 food.
  • Let's compare this to having a Granary in the city before it grew to size 2. After a city grows to a new population size, a Granary gives you half of the required food as a free bonus. So, when a city with a Granary grows from size 1 to 2, it starts with 15 free food instead of zero food. With a Granary, growing from size 2 to size 3 takes even less food than growing from size 1 to size 2. (15 food.) But even more important is to consider that all cities keep their food after they shrink in size from building a Settler. If a size 2 city with a Granary finishes a Settler, it will have at least 15 food and need 20 to grow back to size 2. In other words, it only needs 5 food to regrow back to size 2. This gives two strong advantages: the city can use a third production tile much sooner for higher output, and also have the minimum size 2 needed for making a new Settler, also much sooner.

Choosing which of your cities to make a Granary in, depends a lot on which cities you plan to make the most Settlers. Typically, the cities suitable for a Granary are the ones who can tap extra high prod resources when they are at size 2. If you’re new to this strategy, it’s safest to make a Granary in just 1 city: usually the capital with a high production bonus. Cities that can reach very high production but at the cost of only getting +1 food, are also good candidates for a Granary: they can quickly regrow to size 2 to tap the higher production for making more Settlers. This means with a Granary, a city can stay size 2 most or all of the time. In the case of a third tile that offers high production, this means such a city can make Settlers much faster than others. But it must make enough of them to justify the initial delay and sacrifice in building the Granary first. With the smart use of gold or Tribesmen to accelerate purchase of the Granary, the delay can be kept small enough to help the city produce more Settlers than if it had not made the Granary. This is especially the case when one of the high production tiles offers low food, such as a tile with Iron, Coal, or Peat.

Before you discover Pottery, you will start making some other building in the cities where you want Granaries. When you get Pottery, you will change the building being built into a Granary, and all its accumulated production will shift into the Granary with no loss. Be careful:

  • To not finish the first building before you discover Pottery and switch the accumulated production into the Granary! A capital's high production bonus often finishes things fast!
  • To not grow to size 2 before finishing the Granary -- The Granary only gives the 15 free food at the moment a city grows to the new size.
  • To avoid the above 2 mistakes by learning a couple of clever tricks used by expert national leaders:
    • You can change a citizen working a high prod tile into a Scientist. This technique is triple effective because it (1) slows production to prevent completing the first building before discovering Pottery, (2) accelerates the discovery of Pottery, (3) reduces food surplus to avoid growing to size 2 before the Granary is in place.
    • In a high production capital, you could also just delay starting the first building for a few turns by first making a Warrior or doing a few turns of Coinage.

In all other ways, the "Pottery Strategy" is the same as "the Straight and Simple Method." After some practice, if you do either of these strategies correctly, then… congratulations! You should now have at least 12 cities, a decent government, and a nation competitively large and developed relative to the other nations of the world!

3. Other strategies. Freeciv is quite possibly the best strategy game of all time because it allows for so many countless strategies and individualistic playing styles. These two strategies are certainly NOT the only ways of achieving the initial goals. But they are solid, simple, time-tested. After mastering them, you'll have a secure foundation in the most important basics from which you can explore variations. Exploring variations prior to mastery can be a slow "school of hard knocks" Therefore, even though there are different strategies from those described in this guide, we strongly advise you to master these two strategies as a gateway into the infinitudes of the greatest strategy game of all time. 

Miscellaneous early game tips

The Workers unit

It's a general truism that the more expert a player is, the more Workers they will make. There is no way the original three Workers can improve the terrain for your first 12 or 24 cities fast enough. With fewer Workers, your growth will be badly retarded. Since your goal is to be an expert and the primary way to do this is to grow as fast as possible, at some point you will have to selectively make Workers instead of Settlers.

In high production cities, it's generally best to make Workers:

  • a) never, because it delays the Settlers who need to get finished faster, or,
  • b) only after the City already made two Settlers, or,
  • c) rarely, the capital city has accumulated so much surplus production that it can't make Settlers fast enough

👉🏻 In a city without a Granary, if making Settlers will reduce the population and result in the loss of a high production tile, this might be a better candidate for making Workers prior to the Settlers.

👉🏻 Recently founded cities that also have low production may struggle to finish Settlers in any reasonable time. These can be set to complete Workers sooner (because Workers cost less). This also allows them to stay size 2 longer for more production, since population won't be reduced by finishing Settlers.

The Tribesmen unit

In MP2B and onward, Tribesmen replace Explorers as starting units. They are multipurpose and good for exploring your initial area to choose good city locations. They are somewhat useful for helping your Workers get a head-start on working tiles, but they only work at half speed. And they are very useful for giving their life's work into Buildings or Wonders. Each Tribesmen who does the Recycle Unit command in a city making a Building, Wonder, or Coinage, will contribute 20 production points toward that goal, if done before Turn 20. Thus, Tribesmen give you an early boost in exploring, building roads, irrigating, and building the early buildings or wonders that will help accelerate your nation's growth. It is possible to keep your Tribesmen past turn 20, but at this point, their only use is weak defense or much slower exploration (perhaps keeping watch on an area from a mountain top.) Tribesmen are multipurpose and so there are many ways to use them. What should a beginner do with Tribesmen, then? There is no definitive answer, but a safe way for new players to ensure effective use of Tribesmen is to:

  1. First, explore your area for good locations to settle cities,
  2. Help with a few tile improvements such as irrigation or roads — especially, if there is a needed road over Forests or Hills where Workers would lose a turn by moving there,
  3. Before turn 20, recycle them into Granaries or an early wonder. The Sphinx is a good choice for a capital if it is losing significant output from the -1 tile penalties of Despotism. Chand Baori is a good choice for a city that would get a nice bonus from having a river and from recovering -1 penalties on food output — especially if you have an area that's difficult to irrigate.
  4. If and only if you have aggressive neighbors, you might keep a few Tribesmen to augment your armies and watch your borders. (However, you're throwing away 20 production points. For 20 prod points you are getting a unit that's weaker than Warriors, which only cost 8 prod.)

The Well-digger unit

This unit can help with starting positions with no water nearby. It costs a lot in upkeep for each turn. It’s very easy to mismanage. The most accepted opinion is to only use it if you need a water source for irrigation. This doesn't stop some players from building rivers for 10 turns. But you are warned, it seems good players are meticulous to only use Well-Diggers for as short as possible. Over-using the Well-Digger usually results in a punitive loss in the acceleration curve of early growth. If you still feel the need for a Well-Digger, make it in a city with a minimum surplus of 2 food and 2 prod. Quickly dig wells on 1 to 3 tiles, then disband it immediately in a city to recuperate 2 shields.

Capital Trade Routes

In the early turns, there are generally few (or no) choices better than making Settlers and then Workers. Later, however, there may be an opportunity to use a cheap commerce unit from your capital, like a Boat, and get a 4x one-time revenue bonus by sending it to a peaceful nation. The best time to do this is usually: right after Despotism after your capital gets to size 3 or higher, and you found a non-Despotic foreign neighbor city (low corruption city) with high trade. If this city meets the minimum distance requirements, you can get a nice one-time gold boost from setting up the trade route, which can help sling you into the next phase of your growth.

What now?

Now you should have over 10 cities, be either a Monarchy or a Republic, and doing comparably well to experienced players. Now it's getting really interesting!

(The end, for now. This guide will be expanded in the future)

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