Let’s Rank The Civilization Games, Best To Worst

Let’s Rank The Civilization Games, Best To Worst

Oh boy. This one hurt. When we first fired this feature up, this was the first series I wanted to cover, seeing as it’s both incredibly popular and dear to my heart. But when I sat down and tried to actually rank them, I gave up. I just could not wring my hands tight enough to sort between them.

After a few weeks’ stretching and hand-wringing exercises, though, I think I’m ready. Maybe. Sort of. Please don’t hurt me.

What made separating these games tough is that, when you look at them as a whole, they’re so similar. While nips and tucks have been made, and systems introduced and overhauled, many of the most basic mechanics have remained almost untouched in over 20 years. This speaks volumes as to how enduring the series core design is, sure, but it also makes picking between games a lot harder than a franchise where, say, the first game has almost nothing in common with the first.

A few notes before we begin: only the primary Civilization titles are being included. That explains why the original Colonization is not at the top of the list, and also why Alpha Centauri and Civilization Revolution are also missing. This list was hard enough as it was when only dealing with the five main games.


1. Civilization IV

It was a close-run thing. As someone who plays epic maps to conclusion, the fact this game has “unit stacking” makes the endgame laborious, and Civ V’s new unit design is a big reason I love it so much.

But I just couldn’t ignore the fact that, outside of that, this is the perfect Civilization game. No wonder Civ V had to go making so many radical changes, because it was the only way a proper sequel could be justified. Even the little touches, the icing on the cake, were the best. Think the Grammy award-winning theme song, or Leonard Nimoy’s narration, which culminates early on with his “pig iron” intro.


2. Civilization V

In many ways, this should be number one. Like I said above, the way units are arranged on the map was a revolution, and a welcome one for those pursuing military campaigns. The Gods & Kings expansion was the most logical and complete execution of religion the series has yet seen, allowing it to emerge as the separate cultural force that it is, rather than having it act as some form of sub-state diplomacy. The leader screens are some of the most beautiful things PC gaming has ever seen.

But the diplomacy… oh, God, the diplomacy. The computer AI in Civilization has always been a fickle beast, but the longer you played Civ V, the more you realised your opponents were absolutely bonkers, and no amount of adjustment or difficulty sliding could fix that.


3. Civilization III

Implemented religion and, more importantly, national borders for the first time and did an admirable job of it. I know a lot of people who still think this is the best game in the series, and I appreciate why; you can almost look at it as the pinnacle of early Civ games, the perfection of the formula laid out by Sid Meier’s original before IV and especially V started rolling up their sleeves and really messing with stuff.

Civ III also has, I think, the best map editor of the series. And even over a decade later, still looks damn pretty.


4. Civilization

Yeah, I put the original above Civilization II. I shouldn’t be, I know, and this is going to sound crazy, but do you know what I loved most about the original game? The full-screen imagery that for the most part has never been seen since. Think rioters marching in a city, or even better, the diplomacy system where you’d get to see medieval rulers in modern business suits.

That stuff was great. I miss that.


5. Civilization II

Sorry, Civ II. You were, and in many ways still are, an awesome game. Your Second World War scenario is maybe the most underrated joy to be found in the entire series, as it’s good enough to stand as its own game. But somebody had to come last, and that somebody is you.


  • I had my order before reading the article, and that was exactly mine. Although I’d throw Alpha Centauri in below IV and above V. What a game.

    • Hmmm… I know Alpha Centauri’s not technically part of the Civilization series (though in many ways it’s actually the epilogue of every Civilization game) but it deserves to be in the list nonetheless. I’d put it in third place, after Civ 4 (I believe Civ 5 should take top spot, followed by Civ 4).

      Also, the console version of Civilization deserves a mention, too, if only for the fact that it made a fairly successful attempt at boiling down the central gameplay to something that could be completed in a matter of one or two hours by more casual gamers (as well as not being totally impossible to play using a console controller).

    • Personally, I though Alpha Centauri was superior (gameplay, not graphically) to IV. I think IV is overrated as 1-3, especially 3, whilst being older games, had fantastic playing experiences. IV seemed to lack something. It was very glossy and had some great elements, but lacked a certain substance and atmosphere compared to the others. V was nice, but it felt much the same as 4.

  • Oh boy, the people aren’t going to like this.

    I agree with you though, except I wouldn’t have put II after I, but that’s just me.

  • What about Civ Revolution? Or is this list only for the pc versions?

    Also, my fav is Civ 5, followed by civ 3. (my first entry into the series)

    • A few notes before we begin: only the primary Civilization titles are being included. That explains why the original Colonization is not at the top of the list, and also why Alpha Centauri and Civilization Revolution are also missing.

  • Do the Call to Power games count? At least the first game carried the Civ name. My brother is absolutely crazy for the Civ games, and I remember we had CtP and that it was mildly controversial (from memory because it wasn’t made by Sid Meier?) but that’s about all I know about the game.

  • Being a Civilization virgin, can I start playing Civ IV without any prior knowledge or skill of the series? Or should I start with one of the older versions first?

    • Just get Civ 5 and the Gods & Kings expansion pack. I believe they’re quite discounted on Steam at the moment. Just be sure to clear you calendar for the next few months.

    • No, start with Civ III or Civ 1. Civ IV isn’t a great game, it’s probably the worst on this list here as much of the esence of what made Civ such a great game was lost in IV. V’s not bad, but do yourself a favour and try 3 and 1 first. 2’s not okay, but it’s much, much better from a modding perspective since it’s so easy to use, you don’t need ANY modding experience.

  • Too bad he didn’t want to include the side games. It would have been interesting to see where he placed Civ:Rev, Colonization, SMAC/X and Civ 5 Mobile, as well as the Call to Power series if he really wanted to fill out the list.

    As for the list how it is, I’d place Civ 2 higher, if only because of the standalone expansion Test of Time, which I really like.

  • Might have to finally break the seal on my freebie Steam CD Key for Civ V and give it a run with patches.. I think I got Civ V as a freebie when I got XCOM.. either way.. it’s been gathering digital dust since then.. I played number 2 and 3 the most, from memory.. and I really do enjoy the game.. so definitely will have to give it a try..

  • I’m sorry but I have to disagree with everyone. Civ 1 is the king and it should be on top of the pile. The original game was so revolutionary that it did in effect build the 4X genre. And despite turn based games getting less attention they still live on with games like Endless Space doing well on Steam.

    Out of the mainstream my favourite Civ-like would have to be Master of Magic. I still play that bad boy today and have it permanently situation in storage for whenever I need a fix.

  • 5>4>3>2>1

    4 and 5 don’t have the “whack-a-mole” version of pollution management. 2 was my entry into the series, never played 1.

  • Civ 5 became a disappointment for my friends an I. Multiplayer seems like a low priority, which is a shame because the AI is batshit insane. Even if you can look past the lack of unit animation in Multi, the performance is poor and turns would take longer and longer to process on the AI side as games get longer.

    We skipped gods and Kings because it appears they did little to nothing to improve multiplayer, which is a shame because games like this are awesome with likeminded people.

  • I would have 5 at the bottom. I didn’t like 5 at all. For mine they screwed the game up and made it non-intuitive.

    I would have to have 1 at the top for sentiment’s sake and because it was revolutionary. It was literally the first PC game I ever owned- being able to convince my father it was educational was the key factor (with an assist to my friend Lachy who had a copy himself and plied me with information about bronze working and phalanxes one day at school after playing it- remember this is pre-Wikipedia kids!). I played so many, many hours of Civ 1 and 2.

    I would also have Alpha Centauri at the very top if we were including that. AC is on the very short list for my favourite game of all time in any genre on any platform (along with Final Fantasy 6, Chrono Cross, Deus Ex and the original Super Mario Bros).

  • Anyone remember master of magic, back in the days of the 486?

    From my faded memories, that was a fantastic game which was essentially a fantasy mod/version based on the first CIV game, cept for combat which was isometric.

    Another great game that deserves an xcom like remake I think, that and Masters of Orion 2

  • 4 > 2 > 3 > 5 > 1

    I still play 4 daily – imo it is the pinnacle of Civ.
    2 is next because I still dust it off occasionally, it is different enough to be fun now and then.
    3 gave me many hundreds of hours of playtime, but I haven’t touched it since 4 came out.
    5 – utterly disappointed with this game. I don’t find it enjoyable at all, it feels like they gutted the game and rebuilt it simply to be different. I place it above 5 only for the pretty graphics and a couple of novel concepts such as one unit per tile and city states.

  • Civ 1 was my first ever PC game and I’ve played every sequel since.
    But Colonisation was always a little more enjoyable for some reason.
    Bring on a sequel to that using the Civ V engine!!!

    Oh, and I hated the removal of unit stacking!!!

  • With respect: what a ridiculous article.

    What are your criteria? Are you seriously comparing things like graphics on Civ V to Civ I/II and calling it a fair fight?

    In the context of their time of release, surely the order is II>I>IV>the other two.

    In the context of all time importance, surely the order is I>II>IV>the other two.

    In the context of longevity the order would be II>IV>I>the other two.

    Your gushing about Civ V ignores the fact that it’s quite a controversial and divisive game, and doesn’t mention the areas where it is frequently criticised at all.

    And to put Civ II dead last on any list of… well, anything… it really makes it tough to hold yourself out as someone knowing anything about PC gaming.

    Just my opinion, of course.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!