Every Civ game, ranked from worst to best

Civilization games ranked

We’ve had to wait longer than usual, but with Civilization VI out now a new dawn is breaking once again on the venerable 4X series, ready to give us a fresh take on the fantasy of guiding a nation from the dawn of time through to the near future.

Related: find out more about Civilization 6 in our review.

Even though the basic formula remains the same, the devs have never rested on their laurels, always rejigging the visuals and mechanics between entries in bold and drastic ways. Sometimes it’s worked, and sometimes it hasn’t. But 25 years on from its inception and going stronger than ever, it’s fair to say that Civ has - to quote the original's box - ‘built an empire to stand the test of time.’

As you're about to see, and then subsequently spit your cup of coffee all over your screen like a sitcom character, we've included the Call to Power games. We've also omitted Beyond Earth and Alpha Centauri, even though the former carries the Civ nomenclature and the latter carries the Meier name.

Why? Because Civ games, to us, are about guiding a people from prehistory to the future, journeying through recognisable periods of human history and doing it on Earth. While CtP deviates from that formula slightly, it's still very recgonisable as the classic Civ experience. Beyond Earth and Alpha Centauri? Well, their names say it all.

Which entries propelled Civ to glory, and which are best left in the past? Join us as we chart the series from its ancient era to the modern day, and rank each of the Civilization games from worst to best.

8 - Civilization: Call to Power

Civilization: Call to Power

Purists will scoff at the inclusion of Activision’s ambitious yet shambolic stab at the great empire-builder, but it marked a blip in the history of the series that’s kind of fascinating.

Call to Power arose out of legal tussles between Activision and Microprose over the board game origins of the ‘Civilization’ trademark. Made without Sid Meier, Jeff Briggs and co at the helm, it was Activision’s first stab at the Civ franchise, which perhaps explains why they seemingly crammed every idea into it that a single game could possibly hold.

Featuring outlandish ideas like space warfare and underwater cities, as well as a whole wealth of sneaky units like lawyers, slavers, televangelists with televisions for heads and, errr, steampunky blimps that beamed advertising onto enemy Civs, Call to Power was nothing if not ambitious. It was marred by a poor interface and bad implementation however, with all the extra content making the game feel bloated and unfocused, with the late-game feeling like a hellish rabble of conflicting ideas that, frankly, was a bit grim to be a part of. 

Let’s just call it ‘Franken-civ' and move on...

7 - Civilization II

Civilization 2

Civ 2 probably deserves an apology for being put in line right next to the black sheep of the family, because it really is a far superior game. It took the series out of a top-down view into a more immersive isometric perspective, expanded the number of techs and playable civs, and deepened war and diplomacy.

Yet when I upgraded from Civ 1 to Civ 2, I remember that for all its added polish and depth, it felt somehow colder than the original; little things like the fact that leader screens were just generic portraits, the static city view, and those awful video clips of advisors dressed up like they were going to a Roman-themed uni party.

Not that those niggles stopped me from pouring half a decade of my life into it, and remembering its sweetly 90s soundtrack to this day. Just like every other Civ game - it ranks among the greatest games of its time.

6 - Civilization

Civilization 1

Where it all began. It’s fitting that one of my enduring memories of Civ is that pixellated cutscene of a young Earth smouldering into existence, because that’s precisely the role this game played for the series - setting the scene for generations to come.

With its blocky bird’s-eye view, only seven leaders and a comparatively small tech tree, of course the original is also technically the crudest, but it had some flourishes that gave it a big personality. 

Meeting each leader was a treat, and your negotiations with them would be dramatised by their contorting, shifting faces as you inevitably pissed them off for calling them an ostrich or not handing over your techs to them. The city view – fully animated by gorgeous sprites – remains the best in the series, and the different looks of the advisers when you changed government were a great touch. It had a charm that was unmatched until much later in the series.

5 - Call to Power 2

Civilization: Call to Power 2

If the purists were scoffing before, they’ll be choking on their self-righteous lentils that Call to Power 2, which doesn’t even have the word ‘Civilization’ in the title, makes it onto this list among the Sid Meier thoroughbreds.

For all intents and purposes it is a Civ game, and Activision’s second and final stab at the Civ formula was a big improvement on its bloated predecessor. Yes, there are still slavers and those blasted lawyers being a nuisance, but the improved interface, better diplomacy, and ability to automate units make it much enjoyable. It even introduced a couple of innovations like cultural borders and ‘armies’, both of which were taken on in subsequent games (the latter appears in Civ VI as the 'combined arms' mechanic, where you can stack certain military units with others to make them more effective).

Call to Power 2 cut out its predecessor’s underwater cities and space colonisation, but still has its share of interesting features - like global warming and futuristic army units – that spiced up the gameplay. The source code for the game was released in 2003, and if you do want to give it a crack you can buy it at GOG. It’s best played with the CtP2 Apolyton patch, which fixes many of the bugs and improves AI (nice to see that there's someone out there actually cares about the black sheep of the Civ extended family).

4 - Civilization III

Civilization 3

The oldest Civilization game that manages to feel timeless, thanks to a spit-and-polished pixel aesthetic, lovely animations, and deep systems that remain a central part of the series to this day. Civ III introduced Civilization traits, endowing each civ with more individuality, and encouraging different strategies depending on which one you chose. It built on the idea of national borders established in CtP 2, and was also (regrettably) the last Civ game to have a city view.

Civ III had a few maverick features too. You could monopolise strategic resources and luxuries then sell them on for a premium, had to deal with corruption in distant cities, and even faced the occasional volcanic explosion. Best of all, leaders would wear clothing befitting of their era; who wouldn’t want to see Abe Lincoln wearing a fur hat and jerkin in 1000BC?.

With the Play the World and Conquests expansions, Civ III remains a rich and pleasantly pixellated entry that’s still a joy to revisit. 

3 - Civilization V

Civilization 5

In a huge overhaul, Firaxis ‘de-stacked’ units and changed the map from a square grid to a hex grid for Civ V. This helped make maps feel more geographically natural than ever before, and wars far more satisfying, as good tactics and positioning could often defeat a far bigger force. City-States were a welcome new feature too.

Civ V was far from perfect upon release. The AI was bonkers (not in the ‘fun-at-a-party’ way), vassalage from Civ IV was dropped, and espionage felt over-simplified. With the expansion packs Civ V truly came into its own, though the fact that these were required to make the it shine meant that the game felt like it went backwards before truly moving forwards.

Gods and Kings reintroduced religion, now more customisable and robust, while Brave New World added in Tourism and Ideologies, both of which combated the series’ trademark late-game lull. Check out the Civ V Community Patch Project as well if you want an interesting rejig of the rules, better AI, and the reinstatement of Civ IV features like vassal states and deeper espionage. 

This is undoubtedly the most polished Civ to date, and held top spot on this list until my heart made me do a last-second u-turn. Much like Civ II to Civ I, this just lacked that extra ‘something’ in relation to its predecessor...

2 - Civilization VI

Civilization 6 achievements

It's not easy to rank a vanilla Civ game and compare it with entries that had a couple of expansion packs and several years to come to full fruition, but at the same time it's kind of irresistible.

Where Civ V pared back on many of the great features introduced in its predecessor, the latest entry retains just about all of them. Religion, tourism, espionage and city-states are all here, and have been rejigged to offer the deepest Civ experience yet, which is deceived by the bold, colourful visual style that looks incredible in motion.

The big decision to de-stack cities, spreading them across several tiles with separate zones for different building types, was an inspired one, forcing you to be more tactical about city placement. The option to merge different unit types and form armies, meanwhile, gets rid of the unit clutter that oft plagued Civ V.

From the scrawled maps that have replaced the dreaded Fog of War, to the Wonders that now stand proud and massive on their own tiles, to the art style of the leaders (whose personalities are now bolstered by new 'Agendas'), Civ VI feels a fitting celebration of the series on its 25th anniversary. The AI remains chaotic, but with patches and expansions inevitable, Civ VI has the potential to claim the throne.

For now, however, the King (or Deity?) remains unchallenged...

1 - Civilization IV

Civilization 4

Remember the charm I prattled on about while discussing the original Civ? Well, this is where it made a triumphant return - with full 3D graphics. From that sweeping, lovely menu music (Baba Yetu), to Leonard Nimoy sagely giving you inspirational quotes each time you discovered a technology, to the fact that in the late-game you could seamlessly zoom out into space and see the whole world, Civ IV was a real charmer.

It wasn’t just superficial, either. Religion as a tool of control made its debut, and with the expansions we got fantastic features like vassal states and espionage (I’ll never forget my successful death-or-glory mission to sabotage Mansa Musa’s spaceship production and steal the Space Race victory).

For all its charms, Civ IV was still flawed. War was an unstrategic slog consisting of the infamous Stacks of Doom, the late-game dragged on (despite the inclusion of corporations in the Beyond the Sword expansion), and religion was never as effective as it could’ve been.

Even though going back to it now is surprisingly tough after playing the complete version of Civ V, the depth and presentation of Civ IV, and its role in progressing the series, wins it the top spot.

So there we have it. The definitive Civ rankings so you don’t need to do them yourself (or get enraged about how wrong we are). 

Paladins
Sign in to Commentlogin to comment
killias2 avatarhuldu avatarShriven avatarlxapeo avatarRobert Zak avatarMountain_Man avatar+12
lxapeo Avatar
3
lxapeo(4 days 23 hours played)
1 Year ago

Couldn't be bothered to put Civilization: Beyond Earth on the list either?

3
MrJinxed Avatar
897
1 Year ago

Not only that, but what about Civilization Revolution 1 & 2. Surely they need to be on such a list too.

Oh well, at least they got the number one spot right. Civ 4 is in my book the best of the lot, though admittedly I never put more than 11 hours into civ 5. I just didn't strike a chord with me for some reason. I should probably try it out again before 6 hits the market.

2
xNuke Avatar
438
xNuke(10 hours played)
9 Months ago

Isn't beyond earth just a reskin of Civ V?

1
Kristo256 Avatar
37
9 Months ago

It's pretty much that, the only thing it changed was the tech web

1
killias2 Avatar
2
1 Year ago

Nice list. I've never played the CtP series, but I've always had a perverse interest. See also the Zelda CD-I games.

One qualm: if you're counting Call to Power 2 (without Civ title), why not Alpha Centauri?

2
Robert Zak Avatar
10
1 Year ago

'Perverse interest' really is the best way in which to approach the CtP games (though comparing them to Zelda is maybe a bit harsh!). It's kind of fun to embrace the weird dystopian world that CtP envisions from the modern age onwards.

I feel like Alpha Centauri had different goals to the main Civs. Despite its 4X affiliation, it seemed awkward to compare a tightly-storied game set among alien races to the more sandboxy, decidedly Earthly Civ series.

Call to Power 2 was a bit of a liberty, but it was the direct sequel to what was technically a Civ game, offered the same 'guide an empire' fantasy, and even inspired certain features seen in subsequent games. It's an under-appreciated nugget of Civ history!

1
Mountain_Man Avatar
729
Mountain_Man(2 days 1 hour played)
1 Year ago

Alpha Centauri is a Civ game for all intents and purposes. It was Sid Meier's clever way of making a Civilization game during a period when he didn't have the rights to the franchise.

1
Cattlesquat Avatar
2
1 Year ago

It hurts me to see CtP2 credited with "establishing" the national borders concept, when it was clearly established by Alpha Centauri which shipped at least a year earlier! AC doesn't necessarily belong in a list of Civ's, but don't credit a me-too with one of its lasting 4x innovations!

2
Seriously1977 Avatar
3
Seriously1977(100 days 7 hours played)
1 Year ago

OK... credibility has been lowered. The advisors were part of the charm of Civ II. My copy, I could play the game without the disk, but it would not play the advisors (or wonder) movies. It made me WANT to put the disc in my computer. I especially loved when they began fighting amongst each other. It made me feel like I truly was a leader of a great civilization...

2
huldu Avatar
243
1 Year ago

My ratings would be very similar. The games I played the most is probably civ 1 and 4. Civ 1 just being civ 1 and when that was new, you played the hell out of it.

1
Shriven Avatar
3437
Shriven(81 days 19 hours played)
1 Year ago

Lists! Maor lists!!!

My civ v playtime is stupid...

1
Mountain_Man Avatar
729
Mountain_Man(2 days 1 hour played)
1 Year ago

Civ 4 or 5 could have easily taken the top spot. They are at least equal in my opinion, although I much prefer 5's combat mechanics.

1
Glen_Runciter Avatar
222
Glen_Runciter(1 day 16 hours played)
1 Year ago

yeah, I liked that you had to make kind of an actual frontline with your troops, rather than just putting all of them into one huge deathstack.

but overall, it was just not different enough to deserve the top spot

1
1850's Avatar
1
1 Year ago

How as about the app Civilization Revolution 2? I'd love to hear other people's impressions on that one.

1
Earthangel Avatar
1
Earthangel(80 days 7 hours played)
1 Year ago

My ranking is slightly different: I also thought that Civ IV would be the best game ever. But CIV V proofed me wrong. I never played Call to Power II. But your critique on it is too harsh. Settling under water and in space was really interesting and solution brought additional complexity. (I understand some people didn't like that but you could turn it off). I think it was a bold step from Civ III even though maybe not everything worked out perfect. I actually preferred it to Civ I-III. Civ V is by far the best thanks to BNW and steam workshop. I agree that CtP should be in this list and colonization + the sci-fi CiVs should be in a different list ( To hard to compare). Thanks for making the list.

1
Aever Avatar
605
1 Year ago

Civ V is probably superior to IV, after all the expansions and patches. Not allowing units to stack seems like a small change, but its effects run surprisingly deep, changing the way the player approaches combat.

1
Duderonamy Avatar
2
1 Year ago

For my money, Civ-2 was by far the best and still is. Beautiful Graphics and 3D aside, it had its own "Cadence" and play-ability that is unmatched in what came next. Graphics seem to be the only advance that gaming can come up with these days.

1
Ishtenos Avatar
5
Ishtenos(10 days played)
11 Months ago

"Your lack of CivNet is troubling."

Kidding, although the leader animations were hilarious. It was essentially Civ 1 with upgrades and multiplayer prior to the release of Civ 2. My list would also be Civ 4 as #1, Civ 5 as #2, but I would have done Civ 2: Test of Time as #3. Then CivNet, followed by Civ 3, and finally Civ 1. Both Call to Power games would be last on my list, I bounced off each pretty hard and found them a bit too different.

Not including Beyond Earth or Alpha Centauri, would have to give some hard thought as to where they fit.

1
Genyl Avatar
1
Genyl(21 days 23 hours played)
9 Months ago

I believe the majority believes Civ V is slightly better than Civ IV but nothing wrong about the other way around, Civ IV is still 2nd best strategy game in my book.

However ranking Civ VI so high has to be a product of the novelty. Civ VI does have the potential in it with very nice mechanics, but at this point it stands as a mutilated game. The UI and graphics are no better than Civ5 but what really kills the game is the worst AI ever delivered which totally destroys the excitement even at deity level

I personally liked both call to powers, nothing wrong to include them in the list

1