Historically, the Malians were known for their very progressive society that put emphasis on education; it was one of the largest educational centers in the world that brought scholars from China, the Middle East, and Europe. To highlight this achievement, their team bonus increases the research speed for University technologies.
West African cultures (especially the Dahomey Kingdom) held women in high esteem, with local women even participating in the military. This is highlighted with their unique unit, the Gbeto, which is noted as the only trainable female military unit. In real history, Gbetos or Dahomey Amazons were usually equipped with rifles. Although in-game Gbetos do not use rifles as their weapons, the Malians have access to various gunpowder units.
The Mali and Songhai empires were known to be some of the wealthiest kingdoms in Africa; this was primarily due to the enormous natural wealth at their disposal from gold and salt mines, as well as their effective control of the trans-Saharan trade routes that carried valuable resources to and from the region. To reflect this, the Malians gain Gold Mining for free.
West Africa and the Sahel have sparse vegetation, with few trees. These limited resources meant that the Malians did not have as much of a reliance on lumber in their architecture (instead primarily utilizing clay and mud bricks). This is represented in-game with a -15% wood cost for all Malian buildings. Famous examples of this architectural style include the University of Sankore and the Great Mosque of Djenne (the Malian Wonder).
Horses played an important role on Western African cultures for centuries, with the Malians known for their tactical use in combat; while Malian cavalry was not as well equipped as their European counterparts, their effective leadership and raiding tactics made them a force to be reckoned with. This is represented in-game with Farimba which gives their Stable units +5 attack. In history, Farimba was a title for the military nobility of the empire, which commanded the cavalry in Malian armies.
Many foot soldiers in West Africa were fierce in combat, and often won battles with their superior coordination and maneuverability. Therefore, their infantry units from the Barracks gain additional pierce armor.
When playing a random map game against the computer, the player may encounter any of the following Malian AI characters:
Abu Bakr II (fl. 14th century): Also spelled Abubakri and known as Mansa Qu, may have been the ninth mansa ("king of kings") of the Mali Empire. He succeeded his nephew Mansa Mohammed ibn Gao and preceded Mansa Musa. Abu Bakr II abdicated his throne in order to explore "the limits of the ocean".
Mamadou: Mansa Mahmud II, also known as Mamadou, was mansa of the Mali Empire from 1481 to 1496.
Mansa Mahmud IV: The last great emperor of the Mali Empire according to the Tarikh al-Sudan, the West African chronicle written in Arabic in around 1655 by Abd al-Sadi.
Mansa Musa (c. 1280 – c. 1337): The tenth mansa of the Mali Empire. During his reign, Mali Empire reached its golden period. He is also considered as the richest man of all time.
Mansa Sakura (died c. 1300): A former slave who became the sixth mansa of the Mali Empire.
Mari Djata I: The same as Sundjata according to Ibn Khaldun, a North African Arab historiographer and historian, in the late 14th century.
Ouali Keita: Mansa Uli, also known as Ali or Wali in Arab sources, was the second mansa of the Mali Empire.
Soumaba Cisse: A monarch of Ghanaian Empire, ally of Sundjata Keita: 1235–1240.
Soumaoro Kante: Soumaoro Kanté, also known as Sumanguru was a 13th-century king of the Sosso people. Seizing Koumbi Saleh, the capital of the recently defunct Ghana Empire, Soumaoro Kanté proceeded to conquer several neighboring states, including the Mandinka people in what is now Mali.
Sundjata: Was a puissant prince and founder of the Mali Empire. The famous Malian ruler Mansa Musa who made a pilgrimage to Mecca was his grandnephew.
Tiramakhan: A 13th century general in the Mali Empire who served under Sunjata Keita. Traore expanded the power of Mali westward and set up the Kabu Empire.
The design for the Malian wonder is anachronistic by necessity. It is based on the current appearance of the Great Mosque of Djenne, but the mosque had been rebuilt in the early 20th century. The original mosque would likely have looked different, but no records exist that describe its appearance, so it remains unknown. The architect for the original mosque was from Egypt, so it is possible that it would have been similar to medieval Egyptian mosques in appearance.
The Malians are the only civilization that lacks the final attack upgrades for both melee and ranged units at the Blacksmith (namely Blast Furnace and Bracer).