Age of Empires 3: Best Civilisations for Beginners

Find out which civilisations are the best for newcomers to the epic real-time strategy game, Age of Empires III Definitive Edition.


In the colonial blockbuster Age of Empires III Definitive Edition, there are 16 playable civilisations, ranging from the mighty British Empire to the great dynasties of China, with an African expansion currently in development, too.

Being spoilt for choice, it can be difficult to pick your starting civilisation when diving into your first single or multiplayer game. So, in this article, we explore the best seven civilisations for new players new to Age of Empires III.


1. British Empire

Civilisation Bonus: Manor spawns a settler when built.
Royal Guard Units: Musketeer (Redcoat) and Hussar (King’s Life Guard).
Unique Units: Longbowmen and Rocket.

Possibly the most balanced civilisation out of all of your options, the formidable British Empire can be as devastating in-game as they are in the history books. They possess a straightforward playstyle with solid military, navy, and economic upgrades, making them perfect for first-time players getting to grips with the Age of Empires dynamics.

The civilisation bonus that the British have is very useful when first trying to balance economic and military power, spawning a Settler with every Manor built. To add some extra fighting units, you can select a card in your deck which replaces the Settler spawn with a Longbowmen unit. With this bonus in effect, you can add 20 more Longbowmen to your army fairly early into your progression.

Another bonus to the British is the access that they have to the Rocket artillery unit. These powerful units excel at wiping pretty much everything off of the map with ease – especially if you upgrade them to Imperial Rockets via the Factory in the Imperial Age (V).


You’ll have to wait until the Industrial Age (IV) before you can start employing Rockets in your armies, as this is the earliest that the Factory can be built by shipping a Factory Wagon from your Home City. Still, once produced, the unique artillery unit will be sure to wreak havoc amongst your foes, especially when combined with a horde of Redcoat Musketeers.

A good strategy to ensure victory for Her Majesty’s Empire is to build as many Manors as possible in the early game to boost your economy, while taking advantage of the cheap but reliable Musketeers, Hussars, and the Longbowmen. While your economy booms, use your units to weed out your weaker opponents and crush them early on.

As the British Empire, you’ll need to be aware of any nations producing heavy artillery as you will suffer against them until you can start making your Rockets. Upgrading the Musketeer and Hussar units to their Royal Guard versions will make them significantly more useful to you and equally painful to enemy armies.


Strength in numbers is the key to succeeding in combat as the British Empire.

2. French

Civilisation Bonus: Begins with a Native Scout. Trains Coureurs des Bois instead of Settlers.
Royal Guard Units:
Skirmisher (Voltigeurs) and Cuirassier (Gendarmes).
Unique Units:
Coureurs des Bois and Cuirassier.

The French possess one of the best economic powers in Age of Empires III, mainly due to the Coureurs des Bois unit, which replaces the standard Settlers. Another edge that the French boast is their relationship with the Native American tribes: shown by the upgrade shipments available from your deck in the Home City and the Native Scout that they start with.

The Coureurs des Bois do everything that a regular Settler can do, but more effectively. Their resource gathering is 25 per cent faster, they have more hit points and greater attack, but that doesn’t make them effective in combat by any means – just less susceptible to early game skirmishes from enemies.

The bonuses don’t come without some drawbacks, though, as they train slower and cost 20 more Food. They also have a training limit of 80, compared to the Settlers’ 99, but with the faster gather rate, this isn’t much of an issue as it leaves more population room for your army. Furthermore, with the Home City upgrades available, they are the undisputed kings of the settlers.

The second of the French’s unique units come in the form of one of the best cavalry units in the game, the Cuirassier heavy cavalry. The Cuirassier only deals melee damage but does so as splash damage, making it very effective against large armies – especially when combined with Imperial Voltigeurs. However, the German War Wagon will easily counter your cavalry, so be careful when approaching them.

Requiring three population makes amassing a large amount of Cuirassier difficult, especially if you want to incorporate some diversity within your ranks. That said, all of the diversity that you need comes from deploying the Royal Guard units of the French, with the Imperial Gendarmes (Cuirassier) set as the frontline unit – tanking damage whilst dishing out splash damage attacks to wear down the opposing army – and the Imperial Voltigeurs (Skirmisher) set to sit back and rain bullets from a distance.

The increased economic power of the French makes them excellent for beginners to grasp other parts of the game before learning the finer aspects of managing your economy and military. Starting the game with a Native Scout lends a significant advantage in terms of map exploration, allowing you to uncover everything from Treasure to Enemy locations and plan accordingly. After all, knowledge is power. 

The relatively straightforward playstyle, the superior Coureurs des Bois, and solid military might are the main reasons why this civilisation is a fan-favourite.

3. Portuguese

Civilisation Bonus: Receives a free Covered Wagon with every Age and starts with seven Settlers.
Royal Guard Units:
Musketeer (Legionario) and Dragoon (Jinete).
Unique Units:
Cassador and Organ Gun.

The Portuguese civilisation can be a little trickier than the others in this article to get the hang of, but some important lessons in tactics can be learned from using this faction.

The bonus of having a new Town Centre every time you age up can be incredibly useful, either at bolstering your main settlement’s defences or branching out and expanding your territory. Plus, you can continue to train Settlers while you progress through the ages.

Building another settlement away from your starting position can both make you more difficult to eliminate and offer a different tactical approach when engaging enemies. Starting the game with an extra Settler is another boost for your early game economy, making it easier to utilise the Portuguese’s late-game strengths quicker than you would with some of the other factions.

They possess a formidable navy, good ranged infantry, and the best all-around Dragoon unit in the game. The Portuguese become even deadlier in the late stages of games due to the military improvements that you can access via shipments from the Home City that give your armies excellent buffs.

The Portuguese also have access to the fearsome Organ Gun, which will wipe infantry from the map in a blink. However, the unit needs protection against enemy cavalry and artillery, so adding Dragoons and Legionario to a few Organ Guns can create a devastating force.

One of the routes to victory with the Portuguese could be to utilise their ability to create Town Centres across the map, expanding your territory and economy. Then, when in the later ages of the game, you can utilise the powerful military upgrades before descending upon your enemies and crushing them with a mix of Organ Guns, Legionario, and Dragoons.

4. Germans

Civilisation Bonus: Receives Uhlans with every Home City shipment. Begins with three Settler Wagons.
Royal Guard Units:
Skirmisher (Prussian Needle Gun) and Uhlan (Czapka Uhlan).
Unique Units:
Settler Wagon, Doppelsoldner, and War Wagon.

When playing as the Germans, you’ll find that they have a good balance between economy – which is boosted by the powerful settler unit, the Settler Wagon – and military. The German military is backed by the free Uhlans that you receive with every Home City shipment, but it’ll take more experience than most other factions to earn shipments.

Although you start with just three Settler Wagons, they gather twice as fast as normal Settlers, but take up two population spaces as a result, and can only be sent from your Home City. Playing the Germantown Farmers card in the Fortress Age (III) will allow Settler Wagons to be trained from your Mills, albeit they come with a build limit of 20 and cost 100 Food plus 100 Wood. Unlike the Coureurs des Bois of the French, the Settler Wagon doesn’t replace Settlers.

With the Settler Wagons taking care of your booming economy, your army will likely include a fair amount of cavalry due to you receiving free Uhlans with every Home City shipment. This heavy melee cavalry boasts very high attack but lower hit points than that of its Hussar counterpart. When deploying them in battle, you should avoid heavy infantry units and any ranged cavalry. Instead, flank the enemy and target their artillery and ranged infantry. Uhlans can also make decent raiders early on in the game, stunting the development of enemy economies if used in a hit-and-run type tactic.

You have access to some other mighty units as the Germans, including the Doppelsoldner, which pairs with the Uhlan brilliantly early on. Whilst your Uhlans take care of the Doppelsoldner’s worst nightmare – artillery support and ranged infantry – your heavy infantry will be able to advance and take out clumps of hand infantry, cavalry, and even buildings with their splash damage effect.

In the later stages of games, you’ll be able to employ your Royal Guard unit, the Prussian Needle Gun (Skirmisher), which further compliments the Uhlan-Doppelsoldner combination, adding an advantage against heavy infantry to your army.

The last unit that you need to include in your ranks is the unforgiving War Wagon. Unique to the Germans, the War Wagon is a ranged cavalry unit that will efficiently dispatch any heavy cavalry that your enemy throws at you. This is especially true against the French’s deadly Cuirassier, which makes the German civilisation perfect for countering anyone using the French.

5. Ottoman

Civilisation Bonus: Town Centres produce Settlers for free.
Royal Guard Units:
Hussar (Bostanci) and Grenadier (Humbaraci Corps).
Unique Units:
Imam, Janissary, Spahi, Abus Gun, Great Bombard, and Galley.
Unique Buildings: Has a Mosque to train healers, colony, and unit improvements.

The great Ottoman Empire has a more complicated mechanic than the other civilisations included in this article. However, it is still a fun faction to begin your Age of Empires III campaigns. The bonus of their Town Centre producing Settlers for free allows you to focus more on other aspects of the game, including research and improving your military.

The Settlers gained from the bonus are trained for free, but this mechanic does come with its drawbacks. The training rate of the Settlers is much slower than any other civilisation, and they start campaigns with a build limit of 25. Still, both the build limit and speed of training can be increased by researching certain technologies at the Mosque.

Possessing a large number of unique units gives the Ottomans an original and potentially powerful army. This army includes one of the most effective cavalry units in the game, the Spahi. These are a heavy melee cavalry unit armed with a mace that deals splash damage to an area and even regenerates health, like your Explorer, but they cannot be trained and must be acquired via shipments from your Home City.

Regarding the Ottoman army composition, an expensive but effective method in the early game is pairing the Janissaries with the Abus Guns. The former is strong against cavalry, and the latter excels in combat against infantry and cannons.

Speaking of cannons, another unique unit that this faction boasts is the Great Bombard. Only available from your Home City and Factories, this super-heavy artillery will eviscerate any buildings and infantry that it comes across, albeit with slow movement and a slow fire rate.

The range of unique units and its civilisation bonus makes the Ottomans a fun and fresh change of pace while learning the ins and outs of Age of Empires III.

6. Japanese

Civilisation Bonus: Villagers cannot hunt. Shrines attract animals to generate resources.
Unique Units:
Ashigaru Musketeer, Atakebune, Daimyo, Flaming Arrow, Fune, Sohei Archer, Mortared, Naginata Rider, Tekkousen, Samurai, Yabusame Archer, and Yumi Archer.
Unique Buildings:
Cherry Orchard is a resource for Food. Dojo generates armies automatically and Shrines are Japanese homes.
Wonders:
Golden Pavilion, Great Buddha, The Shogunate, Torii Gates, and Toshogu Shrine.

The civilisations of the Asian Dynasties may not be the most beginner-friendly factions in the game, but it’s worth getting to grips with their individual mechanics, which in turn adds more variety to your experience.

One of the major differences between the Asian Dynasties and other civilisations is that they require you to build Wonders in order to age up. These Wonders will also grant you a variety of bonuses from economic to military buffs.

Still, out of the three available Asian factions, the Japanese are possibly the easiest to take to victory. The Japanese Villagers are unable to gather Food from animals, instead having to rely on Berry Bushes, Rice Paddies, and the unique Cherry Orchard – which you start with in any game.

Although you cannot hunt for Food, the animals you spare are attracted to Shrines and used to increase the resource trickle that your Shrines produce. As such, your placement of these buildings is very important if you’re to reap the maximum rewards. Not only do Shrines gather resources for you, but they also act as houses that increase your population limit.

Having the imperial Japanese army at your disposal is a great bonus to playing as this civilisation: their units are strong but expensive. They can deploy a Daimyo or Shogun, which are powerful heavy cavalry that can also train units, becoming mobile barracks, and they grant surrounding units a bonus to their attack.

The effect of the Shrine means that you can train fewer Villagers and use the spare population room to boost the numbers of your army, overpowering most other factions if you have the right units for the situation.

The renowned Samurai make up the frontline, using their sweeping splash damage attack to cull groups of enemies, in particular, cavalry and light infantry, in return for taking up two population. Behind your Samurai, you can either use Ashigaru Musketeers or Yumi Archers as support; both suffer against artillery but have the edge over heavy infantry and most cavalry, with the Yumi Archers possessing more range but less attack than the Ashigaru Musketeer.

If you then add the Naginata Rider as your cavalry unit, you can render enemy Skirmishers and archers obsolete. Finally, if you combine your current army with a few units of Flaming Arrows, any infantry that you approach will quickly be destroyed.

7. Lakota

Civilisation Bonus: Begins with 200 population but cannot build Walls until the Industrial Age.
Unique Units:
Axe Rider, Bow Rider, Cetan Bowman, Rifle Rider, Tokala Soldier, Tashunke Prowler, Wakina Rifle, and Club Warrior.
Unique Buildings:
Teepee provides a small hit point bonus to nearby units.
Unique Ceremonies:
Call the People Ceremony and Tokala Ceremony.

Akin to the Asian Dynasties, the Native American War Chief civilisations have slightly different mechanics to each other, and differ even more so to that of the European or Asian factions available. Each of the three War Chief civilisations possesses different Ceremonies that they can incur at the Community Plaza.

The Lakota also benefit from starting the game with their population limit maxed out, meaning that they don’t require houses to increase their population. Instead, they can build Teepees that grant an attack and hit point boost to nearby units. In exchange for this advantage, they cannot build Walls until the Industrial Age (IV).

Assigning Villagers to the Community Plaza as the Lakota can increase the potency of the Ceremony that you select. Two of these Ceremonies are unique to the Lakota. The Fire Ceremony increases the siege attack of all units, which is particularly useful as the Lakota don’t have any artillery units at their disposal. The second Ceremony is the Tokala Ceremony, which spawns Tokala Soldiers for your army.

In regard to the economy that this tribe can grow, the Villagers cannot mine gold in traditional ways. Instead, they must build a Tribal Marketplace adjacent to a mine to amass coin.

The War Chief acts as the tribe’s Explorer, but is much more powerful and has plenty of upgrade potential from Home City shipments. The Lakota War Chief is the fastest hero unit in standard games and increases the speed of friendly units in his vicinity by 20 per cent. They can also convert human Treasure Guardians to your cause.

The Lakota are master horse breeders, so cavalry makes up most of their strongest units. To support your cavalry against Pikemen and Musketeers, you can deploy some Wakina Rifles, Cetan Bows, or Rifle Riders to assist your main force.

The Lakota excel when they’re out harassing the enemy. Their early game units only cost Wood and Food, and the maxed population limit means that you can focus your resources on building an army early on, scout your enemy, pinpoint a weakness in their economy, and raid that weakness to cripple their attempt to build a solid foundation for growth.

If you keep these raids consistent and steady without over-committing a large force, you can effectively stunt the growth of your foes while still increasing your strength. This tactic makes the Lakota a devastating rushing force that can terrorise enemies into submission.

Now, you can get yourself stuck into these best beginner civilisations of Age of Empires III Definitive Edition, and start finding your favourite faction to reign supreme within the great age of exploration and conquest.


Dan Plummer

Dan has had a passion for gaming since an early age; when he's not gaming, you'll find him out with his dog.
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