A small but influential nation on the Atlantic coast of the Iberian peninsula, Portugal emerged as a nation independent of Spain in the 12th century AD. Portugal led the drive for colonization and discovery in Europe, and the sprawling nation of Brazil is a legacy of Portuguese ambition. Though during the height of Spanish power Portugal came once again under Spanish dominion, Portugal regained its independence late in the 17th century. Today, Portugal continues to be a prosperous nation, active in the European economy and world affairs.
Portugal is accurately historically portrayed as Expansionist and Seafaring, with the carrack as its unique unit. While extremely complimentary traits in real life, the game mechanics of Civilization III seem to give a Portuguese player an uphill battle from the start. While not bad traits individually, they have a sort of negative synergy between them. Both traits are very map dependant- Seafaring is of course best on archipelago and small continental maps, while the Expansionist trait shines best on pangaea or large continent maps. With these two contradicting traits, a Portuguese player has difficult decisions to make in the very first screen of the game. It has been said that Portugal’s advantage is having one optimal trait no matter what the starting conditions, and this is true, but if one trait is optimal, then the other is useless. Having one great trait is still worse than having two OK traits. One of Portugal’s redeeming qualities, however, is that its goody-hut popping scouts allow it to gain an early tech lead. Combine this with Portugal’s fast-moving ships and scouts to quickly contact other Civilizations, Portugal can shine as an early tech-broker, and a crafty player can turn this early advantage into a game-defining lead.
As a peaceful builder, Portugal can only succeed in the way that all Expansionist civilizations can- by sheer numbers. A Civ that has no half-priced culture buildings, or even any growth or production bonuses, Portugal will not shine culturally in the early game. However, a Portuguese player has an advantage in the early scouting of the game. Scouts and fast-moving curraghs will allow for an excellent understanding of local geography. This gives a player the ability to place cities at the best locations, and quickly grab desirable resources. So, to compete as a builder, Portugal must attain a significant empire in the rapid expansion phase, and even though a Portuguese player will not have the oldest culture buildings, they could have a great number of them by the late medieval ages.
Portugal’s warmongering abilities are dubious. Portugal usually cannot compete with powerful aggressive neighbors, as it has no production bonuses or cheap barracks to compensate. It can, however, boast an impressive navy. With half-priced harbors pumping out veteran ships, faster ships, and a higher chance of surviving sea and ocean crossings, Portugal can threaten its overseas enemies long before most other nations have built up naval defenses. The Portuguese unique unit, the Carrack, is one of the first powerful naval units, comparable to the Byzantine Dromon with a defense of two and a higher attack. The Carrack also has the ability to cross ocean squares, and is available with Astronomy. Of course, no unit is obsolete faster than the Carrack. If it was available earlier in the tech tree it would be remarkable, but Navigation, available one tech after the Carrack, allows ocean crossing. Frigates and Galleons, two techs later, make better warships and better transports. On a good note, the Carrack costs no more than the unit it replaces, and if the rate of tech discovery is slow, then it can still carve out a niche for itself. Even if Portugal manages to capitalize on its benefits and build a strong navy, a navy does not give Portugal the ability to take and hold territory, only the ability to reach out and surprise a neighbor. If Portugal does not strike quickly and decisively, it will eventually be pushed back, and if a war reaches Portugal’s borders, Portugal’s best chance is usually to counterattack with its navy, distracting the aggressor.
The potential to be a strong naval power and colonizer does not fully compensate for Portugal’s intrinsic flaw: two traits that are contradictory to each other in nature. If a player starts on an island, the Expansionist trait quickly becomes useless. If a player starts on a large landmass, the Seafaring trait loses its value. A poor builder and an awkward warmonger, Portugal is a challenge for most players. Overall a 3rd rate Civilization.
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