Galactic Civilizations III – How To Win – Part I

Introduction  – Part 1


If you don’t know anything about the Stardock game, Galactic Civilizations III, then this post won’t help you in any way other than by possibly providing you with some form of entertainment. I wish you luck in that direction. This is serious business.

I, for one, have fallen in love with the GalCiv gaming series. I don’t normally speak ill of the dead, but I must blame this debilitating flaw of mine on the late, beloved Gene Roddenberry. He, after all, is the sole reason for my space-faring 4X gaming addiction. I blame him and no one else. It can’t possibly be my fault.

Introduction – Part 2

I like introductions, what can I say. They allow me time to ramble on without actually saying anything. Don’t test me– I may throw a Part 3 your way…

Let me say right off that winning Galactic Civilizations 3 (GC3) is not necessarily child’s play. Many people on the Steam GC3 forums have sounded like they were about to shed tears because they simply “didn’t get it” and “could not win”. They complained that their understanding of the game was inadequate. There was no documentation. They didn’t have a clue. And so forth. Apparently, the mystery was mystifying. I even saw a person who complained that after 100 or so hours of game time they just “couldn’t understand how to win.”. 100 hours?! Ha! They have no clue…

GC3 is complex. It is deep. And it will take time, a lot of time, before you “get it”. Once that lightning bolt strikes, however, it becomes a piece of cake. I think the game is won by understanding it. Therein lies the challenge. Once you understand it, the AI doesn’t stand a chance in hell. The more you know, the dumber the AI seems to get.

Playing against human players will be an entirely different scenario. Using the strategies I lay out in the following paragraphs will probably not work against them unless you are lucky enough to run into a human player who is as stupid as the AI. Do not despair, I’m sure they’re out there… in numbers… just sayin’.

Note 1: If you own the Mercenaries Expansion DLC, then please be advised that I will give some exceptions to my “rules” as we progress.

I like notes nearly as much as I like introductions, so…

Note 2: I didn’t learn all this stuff on my own and I want to give credit where credit is due. I watched many hours of game play on YouTube and have read a lot on the Steam Forums about different GC3 strategies. I will tell you about those most clever people and provide some links at the end of this post.

Note 3: The following points are all made with two presumptions in mind:

  • Huge map or bigger
  • Normal difficulty level or higher

Note 4: The higher the difficulty level, the better. Higher levels will ensure the AI has more stuff to trade. Abuse the weak Trade System in this game to the max. Get Gold from the Minors and Tech from the Majors. I’ll mention this again later. It’s a critical point.

Shame or Fame

I have over 1200 hours invested in this game. I don’t know if I should be bragging, or ashamed of myself. There are 2000 normal work hours in a year. I’ll let you do the math.

The bottom line is that I know pretty much how this game works. Is that an achievement? I’ll leave that for you to decide. I don’t think I’ll be lying on my death bed complaining, “Gee, I wish I’d gotten better at Skyrim…”

No matter how you feel about addiction of any kind, if you want to win GC3, I’m here to tell you how to do just that in this article. Read on…

In The Beginning

in-the-beginning-light-bulbWinning can be achieved if you begin the game ‘correctly’. That is to say, if you fixate on some simple rules-of-play right from the get-go, you are almost guaranteed a win, no matter which Victory Condition you may choose. You can build massive fleets of ships to obliterate your opposition, choose to make Alliances and win in a perfectly peaceful way, Research Technology and win via intellectual means alone, or reach Ascendance. Each Victory condition has its own set of complications and nuances, but the decisions you make in the Early Game will make or break you.

It really doesn’t matter which course you ultimately choose, the beginning is the crux of it all, and that is what I’m here to talk about.

I must tell you that the first part of the game is so important that it will take a while to explain it all. After that, it boils down to a lot of plain old common sense– Do I need this now? Get it. If not, then get something else. Basically, get what you need right now and forget about the rest of it for the time being. Always ask yourself the same question, every turn, “What do I need at the moment?”, and “How do I get it as quickly as possible?”



Make sure Tech Brokering is disabled. You don’t want to trade a hard-won Technology to a Minor alien only to have them trade it to a Major! Control those trades as much as possible.


At every planet, make sure Auto-Upgrade Improvements (buildings) is disabled. You’ll find this on each individual planet’s Governor Screen.You want the infrastructure to be built before expending resources on upgrades. That can come later…

This game allows you to set up auto-governors. They will automatically choose which buildings to put on your planets and when and where. This will save you a lot of micromanagement but will also cause your planets to develop as stupidly as the other AI planets in the game. If you want to win, you will have to take control of your own destiny. At least some micromanagement is necessary.

Later in the game, when you begin running out of high-class planets, you will find yourself colonizing lower-class (4, 5, and 6) planets. You’ll do this if for no other reason than to keep them out of opposing hands, or claws, or tentacles, or whatever. When this happens, and those planets are not in strategic locations (eg, next to  an enemy), you may want to allocate a Governor there. Basically, set it and forget it. It’s one less thing to think about, and mid to late game, you’ll have plenty to think about. Trust me.

Note: I like to rename planets according to their specialties. For example, I’ll rename a manufacturing-focused world to “M – <planet name>”. This will group all the “M” planets together in the Planet Lists. You can use any system you like, or none at all. I find it simpler to keep things organized when I have 40+ planets to deal with. I use “E” for Economy worlds, and “R” for Research planets. There are a couple special cases, a Trade World and a Hyperion World,  that I’ll talk about a little later.

Race Choices, Traits and Abilities

alterianI’m not going to delve deeply into race choices and traits. The reasoning is that it’s probably a book in itself and ultimately doesn’t matter when you  give the following strategy a go. I don’t care which traits all the Artificial Intelligence (AI) have, I will still beat them. And I don’t care which traits you may choose for your own personalized race, either. Once you master this game, it simply won’t matter in the long run.

To help get you started, though, here are a couple things to think about:

Race Choices

Your choice of which race to play the game as entirely depends on which Victory Condition you’d like to aim for. You want to beat people up? Drengin or Snathi should work for that; they have strong manufacturing and military abilities. To effectively choose one, you will have to look at the traits and special abilities of each race until you find one that meets your intended goals.

I almost always play using a race I’ve created myself, a Custom Race. I played a lot of The Elder Scrolls games and liked the Argonians and this led to the creation of a GC3 race of the same name whose home world is Argos. Not very original, I know.

Traits and Abilities

gc3-traits-abilitiesThe traits I like are Productive (a manufacturing boost), Clever (for a Research bonus), Dense (Mass – so I can put more components on my ships), Observant (Sensor Power – increase line of sight), Fast (Moves per turn – speedier ships) and Organized (Logistics – to put more ships in fleets).

The Colonizers Special Ability will give you a free first building on every new planet you colonize (not the Home Planet or any in the Home Group). Since a couple factories are my first choice for any new planet, getting a free one right off is a great benefit.

Intuitive will give a large number of Research Points at the beginning of the game. This, in turn, gives a head start in the Technology Tree which you will definitely need on higher difficulty settings. At any difficulty level above Normal, the AI gets a lot of free techs to put them ahead of you. The higher levels don’t make the AI smarter, they just get advantages over you, and that’s what is supposed to make the game harder.

This type of advice causes great contention among GC3 gamers. “Advice” is the key word here, so please accept it as such. Ultimately, as you learn the game and develop your own style of play, you will undoubtedly decide on your own races, traits and special abilities. And I predict that you’ll eventually end up being just as contentious as the rest of us.

Victory Conditions

gc3-victory-conditionsI always leave them all enabled. The Victory Options are available in-game, so it might be possible to change these settings even after you’ve been playing for a while. I don’t know this from personal experience; I’ve never tried it.

Conquest and Research victories are plain time-consuming. You’ll know you’ve won long before you will actually see the Victory Screen. If that’s your cup of tea, then go for it.

Influence Victory is merely owning more territory on the map than anyone else (75%, I think), and holding that advantage for a certain number of turns (10, I think). This will also take many turns to accomplish.

Alliance Victory is by far the shortest route and can be accomplished relatively quickly. I’ve seen huge maps with four AI beaten in 50 turns. Stardock was apparently traumatized when they saw this happening so they “nerfed” the settings to make it more difficult. They need to “nerf” it some more because I still think it’s the easiest victory available in the game. Too easy, in fact.

Ascension Victory has proven elusive to me. You have to own the majority of the Ascension Crystals on the map. You must also accrue a significant number of Ascension Points to win. You get one point per crystal per turn and you need in the neighborhood of 3,000 points (it probably fluctuates depending on difficulty level). This can’t be done without extensive research in certain technological areas that I don’t normally explore.

You must also defend your Ascension Crystals because once the AI figures out you are heading towards this victory type, they might start attacking them. You’ll know they know because they will start whining about it and they won’t like you anymore. Awww…

Given all the research you need to do, and all the military oomph you will eventually need, the Ascension Victory strikes me as the most daunting to achieve. Oh, and you’ve got to find all those crystals in the first place, which are scattered randomly all over the map, too! Many may be located inside enemy territory. All in all, not an easy task, I’d say.

You can bet that I’m going to give it a go someday, for sure. For that, I’ll set up the smartest, most militarily robust race I can come up with. We’ll see what happens.

Turn Limit is one that I never concern myself with. The limits are so high that if you haven’t won the game long before the time expires, you are doing something terribly wrong.

The Early Game Is The Game

If you get the first 100 turns “right”, you’re going to win every time. It’s just that simple. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing on a Huge map or an Insane map, against one or 20 aliens. The focus is the same in each and every case. The only thing that changes is the timing, and your understanding of that concept will be directly proportional to your experience.

The first 20 turns are so critical, in fact, that I will only focus on them in this post. If you don’t get them right, you’re going to be in trouble anyway. The next 80 turns won’t make much difference unless you’re really clever and are able to play a unique game of catch-up. I’ll leave that to you, mighty warriors.

The First 20 Turns

There are a few things you need to get “your mind right” (thinking of “Cool Hand Luke“) from the start:

  • You need the other races to like you (Diplomacy (almost two techs free with Intuitive))
  • You need to be able to pump out Colony Ships every couple of turns as soon as possible (Manufacturing)
  • You need speedy ships (Hyperdrive Plus Engines (free with Intuitive))
  • You need to have Manufacturing on your Home World up and running full-bore as quickly as possible (Factories/Colonization/Malevolent Ideology)
  • Research needs to be a concern, second only to Manufacturing (Trade with Majors)
  • Money means nothing in this game; it’s easy to come by. You need it, but you don’t have to spend resources to get it (Anomalies/Trade with Minors)
  • You don’t need a significant Military presence before turn 60. You’ll get free ships in the meantime, anyway. Yes, they’re junky ships, but it’s enough to make the AI think twice about attacking you

If you get all of the above working ASAP (before turn 100), you’re on the right path towards winning this game.

If this game is a marathon, then the early game is a sprint. If you play at higher difficulty settings (anything above Normal), you are beginning behind the starting line. Your goal, in the beginning, is to not only catch up to your opponents, but to pass them by. More planets, higher populations, and more research are paramount. That is why these first few turns are so important; you can’t afford to make debilitating blunders here.


As promised I will give you a couple links to the creative people who made this GC3 Guide possible:

Icemania – I only have a link to a Steam guide that he published a while back. It is now a bit out-dated due to new developments and versions of GC3 having been released since it was written. You will notice many similarities, and differences, between his guide and this one and he deserves much credit for helping me when I had questions.

I don’t know how to contact him, so if anyone reading this has the answer to that question, please let me know.

Macsen – Macsen is a unique case. He seems to have been born with an innate sense of timing and strategy-type gaming skills. What’s more is that his many YouTube “Let’s Play” videos are pleasant to listen to, unlike others who appear to be pure nut-cases or others still who can’t speak two words without using some sort of vulgarity– “Profanity is a weak mind trying to express itself forcefully” ~ Spencer W. Kimball

Macsen has his slip-ups, of course, but they are few and far between, and all the more humorous because they seem somewhat out of character. Great stuff!

Macsen is pure pleasure to listen to and if you want to learn something about a game, I highly recommend him as the go-to guy. Subscribe to his channel and hit that “Like” button; he is worth every minute of your time. In most cases he will try to explain his reasoning and justification for a particular “move” during game-play. He is the main reason I felt the least bit qualified to write this article in the first place.

He is also very responsive to any comments and/or questions you may pose– even on older videos that he has published.

In the next installment of this article, Galactic Civilizations III – How To Win – Part II, I will delve more deeply into goals you should strive for by the turns. In the meantime, I welcome any and all questions/comments you may have.

Stay tuned and have fun!


4 thoughts on “Galactic Civilizations III – How To Win – Part I”

  1. very interesting. I am coming off a very fun and loving over 10 year relationship with World of Warcraft due to the latest round of silly “let’s make it fair” update to Legion and needed a new game to dabble in.

    This game is from Steam? It also sounds like a much highly done re-do of an older MS-Dos game – Master of Orion (MOO). I loved that game. Though to be honest MOO 3 destroyed it.

    Well, Thank you Richard.

    1. Richard Pedersen

      Hi Ashley,
      Yes, you can get it on Steam or Stardock, the creator.

      Actually Galactic Civilizations seems to be a combination of two older games, namely, “Space Empires” and “Master of Orion”. As soon as I played GC2, I saw “Space Empires” written all over it. Aspects of MoO can be seen as well.

      There is still some work needed, but it’s a great game. If you like 4x, turn-based, space-oriented games, this will fill the bill nicely.


  2. Steve Anderson

    Unfortunately having found your How To Win 4 part series 18 months after you wrote it has shown me that a LOT of things have changed since you wrote the series. I tried your “advice” and found that it wasn’t working very well for me. Too many zero level planets near me. Anomalies not dropping enough credits to keep me solvent and going negative commerce is killing my economy. So I’m going to take what you wrote here and try to make it work with the game as it is now. Probably going to take quite a few start overs to figure it out. Thanks for the “advice” just the same.

    1. Richard Pedersen

      Hi Steve,

      I haven’t laid eyes on that post since I wrote it so long ago. I’d be surprised if there was anything much in that post that still applied today.
      Today’s game can still be won by using the colony spamming strategy, but it’s not as easy, and the early game now ends sooner than it used to. (I’m speaking of Crusade, here.)

      That first turn is all-important and you must get as much done in that turn as you possibly can: shipyard, colony ships, infrastructure, exploration– this all needs to be set up during that first turn.

      Crusade is much more challenging these days than the vanilla game ever was,

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