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FreeCol beginners' guide

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Preliminary advice to a newbie who has been flounderingEdit

User guideEdit

Your computer probably has a detailed user guide somewhere among the files you added with the actual game driver. Typically they might be in c:Program Files\FreeCol\, with FreeCol.pdf, the Guide, taking up 3 megabytes but having an html version available from the website. Beginners may benefit from these pages and a few others:

A small deficiency in the current game could be that the game itself does not direct you to look at that Guide. This site is developing a copy and more specific links.

Main menusEdit

Near the top left of the main map screen you find drop-down menus. Open each to see what it covers. Early reading may be profitable, but the advice below should be enough for several turns.

First movesEdit

Before your ship movesEdit

Some players want to find land near the middle of the map - as in chess, control of the centre has advantages. Use the minimap at bottom left, pressing "minus" as many times as necessary to reach the "total map" view, to work out where you are. Decide whether you want the middle or a semi-polar position.

One step at a timeEdit

Then, one step at a time, move initially due west (so as to see five new tiles instead of the three you would see if going northwest or southwest) then if you get a turn or two of no sightings maybe go north or south towards your chosen destination. Heading for the polar regions carries a higher risk of sailing for several turns without sighting land. If you reach the icebound borders, turn west (or restart: you may have wasted too much time and be at a serious disadvantage compared with other nations).

At each step, look at the five newly discovered tiles. If one or more shows a little coastline along an edge or at a corner, continue straight ahead for one move to see more land, or do a right-angled turn if the only land in sight requires that.

LandingEdit

As long as you are adjacent to at least two contiguous land tiles that do not contain a colony or native settlement, prepare to send a man ashore: preferably your military man if you have one. Right-click on the ship then click the chosen man; he will then blink showing that he's ready to move. Use an arrow key to move him onto an unoccupied river tile if any, or as near westward as you can. You will now see several new tiles and may be ready to choose a colony site, although you are likely to need another turn or two.

Don't disembark your other man at the same place unless sure that it's good enough for your first colony. A bit of movement by each will show what inland tiles are available.

If a man is on a river tile, he can step to another river tile using only one-third of a movement point, thus seeing much more country per turn.

First colony siteEdit

The early Civilization on-screen hint system, familiar to many players, was not infallible. When it said "This looks like a great place to start your first city" it might be overlooking the fact that one more step could bring you to a much better site; for example, one with four bonus tiles instead of only two. Similar cautions apply here. Choose your first site with some care but not infinite care: of major importance is that you start producing something early. Usually you will want saleable materials to earn gold to buy more resources (such as horses and muskets) and recruit or train more colonists. However (particularly if you have started with large amounts of gold), it may be equally or more important to produce liberty bells so as to hasten the arrival of the most useful Founding FathersDe Soto, Minuit, and maybe Magellan.

Use of native land: very important point early in the game. In the original Colonization and in some versions of FreeCol (but not 0.9.5 or 0.10.0), you can build on a tile owned by natives (and use whatever your central tile produces) but you cannot farm or mine any such tile (or develop it except at great expense) until Peter Minuit joins your congress. In FreeCol 0.9.5 or 0.10.0 you have to pay even to build a colony on native land. A small village owns the eight tiles it adjoins (and may claim others if it's restricted by water on one side), but bigger ones extend two tiles out in all directions except where another settlement has a closer claim. Right-click tiles in question to see whether a tribe's name appears, or switch your display option to show tile ownership. (A colony can run quite well even if completely surrounded by native tiles, so long as it produces at least two food in its central tile. It will probably be good for only one colonist. In the early stages, that's not bad: each unimproved colony produces, in addition to what its workers produce, one cross whatever its size and one bell if its population is no more than 2.)

Which tiles are available for a colony to exploit? Each colony enjoys the production of its central tile with no manpower needed; and it can use a colonist (of whatever description) to farm or mine each of the adjacent eight tiles unless it is occupied by a native village or owned by one or being exploited by a nearby colony. However, water tiles cannot be used until you have built docks.

Essentials:

  • adjacent to the ocean by at least a corner (so that produce can be shipped out)
  • not on a mountain or arctic tile
  • enough food (not counting any ocean tiles or any tiles owned by natives): no problem unless you are on a desert with only mountains or ocean available; but the more the better; plains give you most food (five tons per turn; six with a river), and savannah is just one ton behind

Desirable factors include:

  • being on or adjacent to at least one bonus tile
  • being on a tile that includes a river (which should speed movement of units in at least one direction); being next to a river tile is second-best
  • being adjacent to at least one forest tile not native-owned; that's for lumber for buildings - lumber can be imported from later-created colonies, but that can be awkward and time-consuming
  • being adjacent to a small native settlement (so that your ships and later wagon trains can trade with natives in a single turn), preferably diagonally, but having at least one good food tile not owned by natives; however, that costs money in the latest versions of FreeCol
  • being only one whole turn away from the high seas, to minimize the time taken to send ships to and from Europe - four sea tiles for a Caravel; five is OK if your ship is a Merchantman

Starting first colonyEdit

As soon as you can see a satisfactory site in terms of the above, prepare to build on it. One of your men will have to be sitting on it then be ordered to "Build": hit "B" or use the orders menu.

Once you have a colony, you have at least one colonist in it, though he may be hard to find. He may be in that nine-tile minimap at top left or in a building in the top right panel needing scrolling. Right-click on him and see if you get any ideas about other things he could be doing. If your other man was on the same tile, he will appear at bottom right. He may still have movement points, so don't touch him on the colony screen if you may want to move him this turn.

If your central tile produces (as is almost certain) two or more tons of food, you may be best to have your colonist converting the other product into something more valuable for early sale. But a raw material from a bonus tile may add more value per turn. Check the trade report (on the Reports menu near top left of the main screen) to evaluate prices: the first number is what you get when selling in Europe.

Early travelsEdit

Don't send your only soldier far away unless he wants to try some risky aggression. You will find good value in having defenders eventually. His first job could be just searching for a good site for the next colony and revealing nearby native settlements and LCRs for scouts to visit later. Then he may get some tools for plowing or roadwork. But he could be best to join the colony quite early, or build his own, and earn gold or create Liberty Bells.

Rivers, as mentioned above, are similar to roads, i.e. units travel three times as far per turn as they do on unroaded land. In the original game you could not cut corners on rivers; here you can, and can even jump from one river to an unconnected river if their tiles adjoin.

Now what can the ship do?Edit

Once your ship is empty, a bit of coastal exploration may be good for a couple of turns to show you your next colony site. Then it should call at the colony to take the first cargoes to Europe or try to trade with natives.

Ships transport units and goods. Units (colonists and artillery) can leap across the beach, but you have to go right into a port to load or unload goods. Drag them; if you want to move fewer than there are, hold "Shift" while dragging, to get a dialog about the number. Then on the Orders menu you can tell the ship where to go, such as the European port you came from. You can also micromanage it so that you can trade with coastal native villages or ensure that it reaches the High Seas exactly where you want it to (which may be closer to another colony if you want it to go there on return from Europe).

In EuropeEdit

In Europe you unload the stuff and get paid. Then you can recruit or train more colonists or purchase artillery, ships, and goods. However, you will probably never want to purchase any goods except trade goods, horses, tools, and muskets (in roughly that order chronologically). Drag goods in the same way as in a colony; if you try to drag more than your gold will pay for, the screen will tell you you can't, so use "Shift" to get what you can afford.

What else to do with a ship in EuropeEdit

Take any colonists who are on the docks: they have decided to pay their own way.

Buy 100 trade goods early and see if you can make a big profit selling to natives, initially from ships, later from wagon trains too. Six times the purchase price is not too rare in version 0.8.0, though you usually get more per unit if you offer smaller quantities, which may require that you leave some in a port, because with any sale to natives you have to offer all or nothing, 1, 10, 50, up to 100, whatever is in a hold.

Buy at least 2 horses as soon as you can, and bring them back to your colony to start growing each turn. Try to put two horses in each colony that is producing extra food, so that you can grow your own horses instead of having to always buy them. Buy 50 horses once you can afford them, and give them to:

  1. a soldier to make him a dragoon and increase his powers; or
  2. a non-military colonist so that he can make profitable visits to native villages.

Mounted units can travel four times as far per turn, in open country. Forests (except scrub forest) slow them a bit, with mountains, rain forest and wetland forest taking three of their four movement points, the others taking two. Moving on rivers, mounted units can go much farther, regardless of the terrain.

Back to the New WorldEdit

You then send the ship back to the New World, where it will reappear after a few turns exactly where it entered the High Seas.

New ships all enter the main map at the original starting point.

Visit the nativesEdit

First visit with scoutEdit

The first scout that visits any particular native village gets a gift after talking to the chief. It's usually hundreds of gold pieces, sometimes over a thousand. On a minority of occasions it will be information about nearby lands (six tiles in each direction), which may save you several turns of exploration in the early stages but can be of no value after you have discovered nearly everything.

Therefore, as soon as you have 50 horses (bought in Europe), "mount" one of your colonists and send him off visiting, so that he's the first to visit as many villages as possible, especially if they are near other Europeans' colonies. Initially he will earn far more than by sitting in a colony producing. Send out more when you can, in different directions.

A scout on a ship may be able to visit one village per turn, even if he has to step ashore to visit an inland village. Stepping back on board next turn will still leave points for a new visit if the ship can reach a suitable place.

TradeEdit

Make as if to enter a native settlement with either a ship or a wagon train that has goods on board and some movement point left. It may be in a colony or outside. A dialog will ensue (and that will end the carrier's turn).

Selling to natives is usually better than selling in Europe for the products each settlement is particularly interested in. (For versions up to 0.7.4, natives changed their minds after each visit, as in the original game, and a word-processor table was desirable to keep track of who would probably buy what.) In addition to haggling for what you offer, they often invite you to buy something, which may lead you to consult the trade report (F9) for prices. Some bargains can be had.

It is wise not to trade with a village you have not visited with a scout: that trade will count as the first visit, so there will be no gift when a scout visits.

Learn a skillEdit

Any "free colonist" or servant can visit a native settlement to learn a skill. The settlement teaches only one, so keep track of which settlements have done with teaching.

PlowingEdit

Don't plow forest land before you have a warehouse (or if you have one but it is holding a lot of lumber) unless you are prepared to waste some of the resulting lumber. Do plow your colony's central tile early if it is not forest or hill, so as to raise production.

GeneralEdit

For minute-by-minute play, look again for the word "Colopedia" in the left-hand group of menus near the top. Expand its "folders" to look at individual items. Check the attributes of terrain types. When ready to build, look for things like "lumber mill", "docks", and "warehouse", usually the first buildings worth having (in that order).


If you have been blundering around spilling goods out of your depot and producing nothing with some units, it could be a good idea to start a new game, slowly, with greater knowledge, such as the above hints and a bit more. It is depressing to play out a game where you have wasted movements and resources through not knowing that something very much better could have been done with them.

Part 2Edit

When you reach the 16th century you will be looking for more detail about matters such as colony placement and roads and plowing and factories. See /Part 2.

StrategiesEdit

For overall strategies, see FreeCol strategies.

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