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By default, the Freeciv world is made of squares arranged in a rectangular grid whose north and south (or sometimes east and west) edges end against the polar ice, but whose other two edges connect, forming a cylinder that can be circumnavigated. Other topologies are available as a server option.
Each square contains some kind of terrain, and together they form larger features like oceans, continents, and mountain ranges.
Terrain serves three roles: the theater upon which your units battle rival civilizations, the landscape across which your units travel, and the medium which your cities work to produce resources. We shall consider each role in turn.
Terrain affects combat very simply: when a land unit is attacked, its defense strength is multiplied by the defense factor ("bonus") of the terrain beneath it. See the page on combat for details, and the catalogue below for which terrains offer bonuses. (Rivers offer an additional defense bonus of 50%, i.e. the terrain-specific bonus is multiplied by 1.5.)
Sea and air units always expend one movement point to move one square — sea units because they are confined to the ocean and adjacent cities, and air units ignore terrain completely. Terrain really only complicates the movement of land units.
Land units - movement "speed":
- Moving across easy terrain costs one point per square; moving onto rough terrain costs more. The cost for each difficult terrain is given in the catalogue below.
- The explorer, partisan, and alpine troops travel light enough that moving one square costs only 1/3 point (except that they can use railroads like anyone else).
- Other land units move for only 1/3 point per square along:
- rivers, which are natural features that cannot be altered (except by transforming land to sea and back again), and
- roads, which can be built by workers, settlers, and engineers.
- With the railroad advance, roads can be upgraded to railroads which cost nothing to move along — units can move as far as they want along a railroad in a single turn! Beware that roads and railroads can be used by any civilization, so an extensive railroad system may offer your enemies instant movement across your empire. Railroads cost three settler-turns regardless of terrain.
Cities always have roads inside — and railroads, when their owner has that technology — which will connect to (rail)roads built adjacent to the city.
With the bridge building advance, roads and railroads can be built on river squares to bridge them.
Squares within range of a city may be worked. Cities may be built on any terrain except Ocean or Glacier.
When cities work terrain there are three products, described further in working land: food points, production points, and trade points. These three are so important that we specify the output of a square simply by listing them with slashes in between: for example, "1/2/0" describes a square that each turn when it is being worked produces one food point, two production points, and no trade points.
Every type of terrain has some chance of an additional special resource that boosts one or two of the products. Special resources such as gems or minerals occur both on land and along coastlines. Terrain transformation can make resources inaccessible; for instance, if an Ocean square with fish is transformed to Swamp, there will no longer be a bonus from fish for that square. Players familiar with the commercial games may note that the dispersal of Freeciv specials does not have any regular pattern.
The catalogue below lists the output of each terrain, both with and without special resources.
There are several ways to improve terrain.
As soon as they are created, workers, settlers, and engineers can:
- irrigate land to produce more food or
- build a mine to yield more production points
(but not both on the same square). Once built, a mine or irrigation system may be destroyed by further alteration of the terrain, if the resulting terrain is unsuitable for the improvement.
To irrigate land, the player must have a water source in one of the four adjoining squares, whether river or ocean or other irrigated land; but once irrigated, land remains so even if the water source is removed.
Terrain not suitable for irrigation or mining can often be altered to become more suitable to the player's needs — attempting to irrigate a forest, for example, creates plains (which can then be irrigated in the normal way). More radical changes ("transformation") are mentioned below.
Roads and railroads are improvements that have been mentioned under "Transportation". They can be built on the same tile as other improvements (such as irrigation). Note that roads and rivers enhance trade for some types of terrain, as shown in the catalogue below, and railroads increase by half the production output of a square (while also retaining any trade bonus from roads).
- In a fortress, units are killed one by one (ignoring the game.ruleset option "killstack"), and defence is doubled. Fortresses also extend national borders, and once Invention has been researched, units in a fortress have increased vision.
- In an airbase, air units (including helicopters) are also killed one by one and allowed to refuel, but also open to attacks by land units. Paratroopers can be launched from airbases.
Both take three settler-turns to complete, regardless of terrain. Only workers and engineers can build airbases.
After Refrigeration has been researched, irrigated tiles can be improved again by building farmland (at the same cost as irrigation), increasing by 50% the food production of the tile if the city working it has a supermarket.
Only engineers can directly transform land, with the results detailed in the catalogue below. For transforming swamp to ocean, one of the eight adjoining squares must be ocean already. To allow transforming ocean into swamp at least three of eight adjoining squares must be land. Load the engineers on a transport to move them on the right place on the ocean. The new swamp will have a river if built adjacent to some river square's single mouth.
Note that engineers have two movement points per turn to invest in their activities (moving or static), and thus complete all improvements in half the number of turns specified in the catalogue.
Two or more units working on the same square under the same orders combine their labor, speeding completion of their project.
When a unit's orders are interrupted (which can be done just with a click on the unit), its progress is lost. This will also happen if the unit's former home city is conquered or destroyed.
Any special resource on a tile is lost after a transformation by workers, global warming, or nuclear winter. It would reappear if the tile can be transformed back to its original terrain. Oil on a glacier is lost after the transformation to a tundra, and reappears after the additional transformation to a desert.
The user who hosts the game has the option of including up to 500 villages (also called huts), primitive communities spread across the world at the beginning of the game. Any land unit can enter a village, making the village disappear and deliver a random response. If the village proves hostile, it could produce barbarians or the unit entering may simply be destroyed. If they are friendly, the player could receive gold, a new technology, a military unit (occasionally a settler; and sometimes a unit that the player cannot yet create), or even a new city.
Later in the game, helicopters may also enter villages, but overflight by other aircraft will cause the villagers to take fright/flight and disband.