Immerse yourself in living history with 0 A.D.

Ancient Times Reloaded

Article from Issue 263/2022

Steer the fortunes of ancient civilizations in the real-time strategy game 0 A.D. and revive history.

Maybe you liked history at school, or maybe you just found the subject boring. But in any case, it's worth taking a look at the 0 A.D. real-time strategy game [1], which takes you back to the year 1 (there is no year 0 in our calendar) and puts the fate of an ancient culture in your hands. Buildings, units, and technologies are based on real history. The game brings history to life without players getting bored.


The beginnings of 0 A.D. are rooted more than 20 years in the past. Strangely, the development of the game has still not progressed beyond the alpha phase, although this does not detract from its fun factor. The current version (at the time of testing), Alpha 25 "YØauna," was released on August 8, 2021. The successor, Alpha 26, had already entered the Feature Freeze phase (the point at which new features stop being added to the current alpha version) by April 2022.

0 A.D. is one of classic Linux games, and all popular distributions have it in their package sources. But if you install the game via your distribution's package manager, you will probably not get the latest version, which is why I would recommend downloading the latest release from the project's website [2]. You will find packages for various distributions along with matching installation instructions. 0 A.D. is also available in the AppImage and Flatpak package formats. (AppImage is a distribution-independent package format for Linux. Programs can be started immediately after downloading without installation. Flatpak is a cross-distribution alternative package manager.)

Back to the Past

The uncluttered home screen shows the most important functions in the menubar top left (Figure 1). This is where you start a new game or campaign, host a multiplayer game, or create and edit maps via a map editor (see the "Map Editor" box). A tutorial for learning the game can also be found in the list.

Figure 1: The start-up screen is uncluttered. You can use the menu on the left to enter the game.

Map Editor

0 A.D. comes with its own map editor, Atlas, which you can use to create your own maps and campaigns. To do this, click on Scenario Editor in the left sidebar on the home screen.

To get started, it's best to start with a single-player match against the computer. To do this, choose Single-player | Skirmish from the menu in the upper left corner. A window will open in which you can make all the necessary settings for the new match (Figure 2).

Figure 2: 0 A.D. offers a variety of settings. In particular, you decide on a civilization whose fate you want to direct and choose a map.

Then, in the area at the top, select one of the 13 civilizations whose fate you want to steer, as well as the civilizations of the computer opponent. Among others, you can go for the classic Gauls vs. Romans (see the "Choosing a Civilization" box).

Choosing a Civilization

Each of the 13 civilizations available in 0 A.D. offers its own special characteristics (Figure 3), including specific buildings and technologies, as well as specifics of civilization development. The respective heroes of each civilization are strong warlords who lead the troops. The special characteristics of each civilization are based on historical events. A detailed overview can be accessed via the start screen Learn to Play | Civilization Overview menu.

Figure 3: Each civilization comes with its own special features that influence the course of the game.

In the field for the computer opponent, you will see a gear icon to the left of the civilization drop-down menu. You can press it to set the difficulty level of the computer opponent and whether the opponent should adopt a defensive or offensive approach.

Then, in the right pane of the Map tab, set a suitable location for the encounter. For example, you can move the Gauls vs. Romans encounter to the Gallic highlands. Switch to the Players tab to adjust the number of players, the population limit, and the starting resources.

Game Type lets you define how the winner is determined. The game uses Conquest by default, meaning that the winner is whoever destroys all of their opponent's buildings and units. Another option requires you to slay your opponent's king before you can leave the field as the victor.

You can also replay battles from history: On the home screen, click Single Player |New Campaign in the left sidebar to start one of the campaigns and replay historical battles. The list of available campaigns is currently quite short, but one can always hope that more will be made available in the future.

If you prefer a less warlike scenario, you can choose the game type Capture Treasures. The winner here is whoever collects all of the treasures scattered over the map and keeps them for a certain amount of time. You can also select the Miracles game type. The goal here is to build wonders for your civilization and protect them against destruction by the enemy for a certain time. You can also combine the individual game types.

When you get started on your first encounter, it makes sense to use the Ceasefire slider to prevent attacks for up to 45 minutes. Otherwise, very soon the opponents will be at the gates of your young empire. If all the conditions are right, you can start the game by pressing Start Game!.

Collecting Resources

At the start you have an administrative headquarters and citizens (Figure 4), who are divided into citizens (females) and citizen soldiers (males). The citizens are civilian-only units. They collect resources and construct buildings, but do not carry weapons. Citizen soldiers move around either on foot or horseback. Those on foot gather resources and construct buildings, but also carry weapons and use them to defend themselves against attacks. Mounted citizen soldiers limit their resource gathering to hunting. But they also make themselves useful by exploring the area or fending off attacks.

Figure 4: At the start of the game, you have only an administrative headquarters and some citizens. You now need to collect resources: Berries and free-roaming pigs are available as food; trees, stones, and ore are used for building and forging.

You can select a unit by left-clicking on it, while the right button lets you define a destination for the selected units. The first thing you want to do is to replenish your stock of resources and forage for food, wood, stone, and metal. If you choose the Gallic civilization, your people will initially consist of four citizens, plus four citizen soldiers on foot and one mounted citizen soldier.

Select one of the four citizens and then right-click on a berry bush near the administrative headquarters. The citizen will now start picking berries and deliver her haul to the administrative headquarters.

Besides berries, free-roaming animals also provide a source of food. Near the administrative headquarters there are some farm animals – depending on the map, for example, pigs, sheep, chickens, or goats. In the wider surroundings, there are also wild animals running around – again, depending on the map, deer, wild boars, bears, wolves, zebras, giraffes, lions, elephants, wildebeests, or crocodiles. Select the mounted citizen soldier and send him hunting by clicking one of the animals with the right mouse button. He also delivers his prey to the administrative headquarters. If your settlement area is by the sea, fish also serve as a food source.

Only limited quantities of natural food resources are available. This means that your civilization needs to cultivate crops and raise livestock to prevent running out of food (Figure 5). To do this, left-click on one of the citizens. Symbols for everything they can build will now appear in the lower part of the screen. If you decide on the Field icon, you can establish a field near the administrative headquarters. Fields are always resown, providing a renewable food source. Use the two remaining citizens to farm two more fields. If you hunt all the free-roaming animals, you will need to build a pen and enter the livestock business.

Figure 5: Sustainable food is obtained by farming and raising livestock.

Next, send one each of your citizen soldiers to the forest to chop wood, to a stone pit to mine stone, and to an ore mine to procure metal. The citizen soldiers also deliver these resources to the administrative headquarters. Depending on the distance between the resource source and the administrative headquarters, a lot of time can be lost on the move. This is why it makes sense to dispatch the fourth citizen soldier, who is not currently doing anything, to build warehouses near the forest, the stone pit, and the ore mine. Resources can now be delivered to the warehouses, which saves a lot of time.

On the left in the bar at the top of the screen, you can see the levels of resources you have for food, wood, stone, and metal, as well as the number of citizens currently working to obtain a resource.

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