Games that have proven their quality through their longevity have always influenced the medium, and while other titles have adopted many of their praised mechanics to the point of becoming "clones." However, it's not often that you can find completely free versions of said games unless the copyright has faded away somehow. That is the case with Transport Tycoon, for example. But even more apparent, is Sid Meier's Civilization. The well known Civ is also represented in this category by a faithful reimplementation in the form of FreeCiv.
FreeCiv can be played either by downloading and installing the desktop version (featured here) or in your web browser by choosing a web mode on play.freeciv.org.
The application looks very reminiscent of the nineties era of games. But considering that FreeCiv was released in 1995, and used to mimic the first ever Civilization game, the interface is quite adequate. You will need to get accustomed to a series of keyboard commands, but other than that, the point and click interface is straightforward. Learning to play FreeCiv if you've never played any Civilization game can be daunting at first. The rules are hidden under the hood, so to speak, and only trial and error can bring you up to speed on the most obvious of mechanics. For example, each city can support a number of units depending on its size. Also, every unit needs to be assigned to a city. Well, on the setup that I played you could acquire new units just by entering villages. So after a couple or so finds, I was beginning to wonder why my next Settler was failing to come out the assembly line. It was waiting for me to either kill or disband a unit just so that it could take its place. I didn't get a memo though.
FreeCiv supports an obscene amount of players on any map size. 150 to be more exact. Being a free and open-source game, it is also ripe for modifications and all sorts of content. The game as it is, features several map modes, from square-ish, to isometric, to hexagonal. You can tweak a lot of aspects before starting a game, and you can also download extra modules directly from the FreeCiv Modpack client app.
Speaking of clients, FreeCiv also contains a dedicated server application. The server is command line based and configuring it may take a while. But if you are a Civ junkie, you might want to have a dedicated server running 24/7 on a backup computer somewhere in the basement.
Looking over FreeCiv has only increased my appetite for playing a massive, sprawling empire game. Good thing I own the Clash of Cultures board game and that I just received the 4th edition of Twilight Imperium last week. But at times when face-to-face opponents are scarce, FreeCiv can fill the void in my stomach.