Though many associate France with ancient Gaul due to geography, the modern nation of France has its roots in the early middle ages, when the Germanic tribe called Franks moved across the Rhine. The French, as the people came to be called, settled, converted to Christianity, and eventually flowered into a nation with a decorated military tradition, a rich culture, a vibrant economy, and a profound impact on history.
France is easily one of the most underestimated civilizations in the game. This is due partly to the abysmally poor AI handling of the nation, and partly to the strange aversion many Americans and Englishmen have toward the French. But don’t shortchange France just because of this, or because its pink. With a trait combination of Industrious and Commercial, France has the potential to be the greatest productive powerhouse of the game. Rarely does one see traits so perfectly geared toward a booming economy and highly competitive industry base.
France is one of the three civilizations that receive no half-priced buildings whatsoever. To many players, this precludes France from being considered a strong builder; and no doubt it is a disadvantage. However, a deeper look reveals that France does not have to be a poor builder. France can often have more sheer production than any player in the game: the fast Industrious workers make terrain improvements quickly, allowing for more shields worked by citizen laborers to be added to the extra number of shields Industrious cities receive. Combine this large number of total shields with the effect of the Commercial trait; fewer shields are stolen away by waste, resulting in a staggering number of useful shields. What improvements France cannot use its beefy production to build, it can use its formidable economy to buy. With those fast workers building trade-enhancing roads, Commercial cities generating extra gold, and the Commercial trait’s effect of staving off commerce lost to corruption, France can be an economic power of the greatest order. As any veteran Civ player knows, a strong economy can usually be translated into a tech lead, either through pouring money into research or just buying tech off other Civs. When played properly, few civilizations can keep up with France in these two of the most vital aspects of Civilization – industry and economy.
Of course, there are those who scoff at France as a warmonger, and the game does little to correct this impression. With a UU better suited to defense than attack, and no tangible military benefits, France is hindered but certainly not handicapped in its warmaking abilities. Once again, the vibrant French productivity is put to use here. If France can harness the power of its industry to mass-produce units, it can overwhelm neighbors with hordes of units, although such a strategy would detract significantly from France’s infrastructure building. While France can gain a lot from wars, it typically needs longer “breaths” in between wars during which to concentrate on infrastructure. France, although no slouch in the war department, is also by no means a first choice for a bloodthirsty player.
The French Unique Unit is the musketeer, and the usefulness of this tough little guy can vary wildly from game to game. While a phenomenal defender, by the time the musketeer is available, many players find themselves in a position where they’d rather pursue an offensive strategy. Defenders are of course needed to guard and escort an attacking army, but still the musketeer takes a secondary role. It is also a bit awkward to initiate a Golden Age with a defensive unit, but if you can pull it off its pretty nicely timed. If you find yourself hard-pressed, the musketeer is a defender second to none for its age. With a defense of 5 and defensive bombardment capability, the musketeer is only truly obsolete with the advent of tanks. For a builder, the musketeer is perfect to maintain your nation’s security while concentrating on the all-important Middle Ages builds, including aqueducts, markets, libraries, cathedrals, universities, banks and those great medieval wonders.
Productivity and economics are central themes to Civ3, and France excels at both of them. Veteran players can work absolute wonders with France, but French play is also very demanding. To make the most out of the French trait combo, a player must master early worker management and seriously micromanage citizen laborers. A lack of cheap culture buildings and a highly situational-dependant UU compound France’s problems. Despite being one of my personal favorites and its incredible potential, because of its demanding play-style and mediocre UU, I have to give France 2nd tier status, albeit highly placed in that second tier.
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