Sirian's Great Library - Strategies for Civilization III
Ancient Conquest

Whether out of preference or necessity, one of the first and most basic gambits available to Civ III players is that of undertaking to expand your territory via military aggression in the ancient era.
Militaristic races enjoy a few minor benefits in this endeavor. Firstly, Walls and Barracks are built at half cost. So are harbors and coastal fortresses, but you aren't likely to have access to those early on. However, the half cost can allow young cities to get in on the military action, providing you more than just your capital for supplying troops. Secondly, militaristic civilizations promote more often. Elite units have a chance to produce leaders, while they are sturdier and more likely to survive engagements, as well as stronger, so it helps to have your units promoted more often. If your civilization is militaristic, this gambit may appeal to you as something to attempt. Even if you aren't militaristic, though, you may still want to attempt this gambit. It will take you a little longer to prepare for your war (you WILL need barracks) but you can still be successful.
Whether you are militaristic or not, in order to make this work, you will need to devote your entire civilization to the war effort. This does not automatically mean assigning every city to building military units nonstop. Quite the contrary, you still need to expand, and your settlements may need to improve their culture rating to increase their range to include key strategic resources, or just to get some culture going while its still early enough to matter. Being too weak culturally can cause you major problems later in your game. You will have to balance all these concerns in the moment, but you certainly don't have time to be building costly improvements yet (even granaries, in some cases), nor attempting any world wonders. An ancient conquest is difficult at best, because it takes time for your units to march into enemy lands, during which they can build more defenses or heal wounded units. So you have to go in force. You have to be relentless. There can be no turning back, it's do or die.
Your starting circumstances will dictate the situation. If you are isolated with one or two other civilizations on a small or mid sized continent, you should be able to control your own fate and to consolidate any gains you make. There can be two objectives: capturing enemy cities, or destroying them to replace them with your own. Be ruthless! If you are going to play a bloodthirsty game, out of greed or because you have little choice, commit to the philosophy you are undertaking and smash your enemy with an iron fist! Pillage their lands to smother their growth, their ability to rebuild. The only thing I should warn you about is making diplomatic deals. Short periods of peace may at times be to your benefit. Just don't make any deals except ones that say "lasts until war is redelcared". You don't want to tarnish your word unless absolutely necessary, as it will be important later in the game for your civilization to command respect amongst its rivals.
If you are in the midst of a mass of civilizations on a large land mass, you can ill afford to raze captured cities, as neutral parties may descend like vultures to claim more territory, and you can ill afford to open up multifront wars. Choose your enemies carefully, prosecute your war with a vision in mind, some specific objectives, which may or may not include wiping out a particular opponent.
Learn not to overextend. There are times when you must press an advantage while you have it, but other times you may risk collapse and defeat if you spread too thin, or set yourself back by committing before you have insufficient force. The last thing you can afford is to expend your entire army in the field and go down to defeat. The time it takes to rebuild and redeploy is steep. That's also why you must build barracks in the towns you plan to use for cranking out soldiers.
Another key element is use of civilization-specific troops. Several civilizations have their unique troop available in the ancient era. It's now or never for their military glory, so make sure you acquire the necessary technology and resources to build your special unit (if you have one available) in large quantities. If you can trigger a golden age, you will overwhelm the enemy through greater production and superior numbers and power. Use every advantage you can get. The Persians in particular can be an unstoppable force if Immortals are put quickly into the field. That requires iron, however. Even standard swordsmen represent strong offense.
However, you may not be able to wait that long. If you opt for the ancient conquest gambit from the very start of your game, because your own lands are poor (too dry, too hot, too cold, too rugged, too small) you may not be able to wait. Use archers if you must. Pick up rocks and throw them. Whatever it takes. Once you start down this road, you will have no choice but to follow through. Get horses or iron if you can, to upgrade your troop quality. If the enemy has Masonry and builds walls, you could be in for a very rough time. In that case you will need fast units who can attack and retreat when losing, so that you can combine several of them to take down a difficult defender.
If your conquest takes place a bit later, you may have access to catapults. Bombardment is historically a devastating weapon of war, and in Civ III it's no different. Sid has grandly captured endless military possibilities with this simple change to the game engine. Now the strategies involving artillery support for ground troops are richly complex. If you have catapults on hand, they attack from range at no risk to themselves. They can only soften up the enemy, but that's often precisely what you most need: a wounded enemy to pick on.
The Greeks and Romans make for extremely difficult opponents in ancient times, thanks to access to troops with defense value of 3. Yikes. Proceed against them at your own risk!
Supporting your armies with workers may well make or break you. Your troops need roads to reach the battlefields more quickly, and they may benefit from the construction of forts if you have advanced that far. Speed is the ultimate weapon of war, more vital even than firepower in most cases. Deliver your troops to the front lines quickly, to replace losses or mass your forces for an assault.
This isn't likely to be a problem, but even so, for an ancient war of conquest, you need to be a despot. Despots can control four units per settlement (units include troops and workers/settlers, but not captured enemy workers), before it starts to cost money to support them. Monarchs can only support two per town, more from larger settlements, while republics must pay for every unit and may suffer war weariness. Only despots are suited for extreme aggression in ancient times. As your army grows, you also need to expand the number of cities you control, so that you may increase the number of troops you can field without cost, or reduce the costs already being incurred by a large army.
In regard to research, with all your effort going to the war, you aren't likely to be able to keep up with science. Rather than try, it may benefit you to decrease science to a minimum (one unit is enough, or one scientist). The maximum time it takes to make any discovery is 32 turns, representing the advances your people will make on their own even without any government funding. Rather than discover something in 24 turns, at 4 science per turn, it MAY pay off for you to drop science to a minimum and make a discovery in 32 turns, and build your cash reserve in the mean time. You can use that cash later on to buy advances from other civilizations, or to help catch up your cities in production.
Finally, know when to shift phases. No matter how successful you are in the ancient world, your vast armies will eventually become obsolete and you will need to modernize. The ancient conquest is a gambit that will shape your entire game, but the war phase itself must end or at least experience periods of rest, during which you expand your cities and build improvements. If you have acquired enough territory during your wars, you will be in a strong position via sheer size to be able to compete with the rest of the world in times to come.

- Sirian

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