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Having played several of the Sierra Caesar games, plus the Egyptian themed Pharaoh, I was looking forward to having a go at Imperium Romanum. I really like the challenge of building a city from scratch, improving carefully to enhance the surroundings, which in turn brings in more demanding citizens with requirements for more entertainment and better quality foods and so on.
It's a careful balancing act: build too much too quickly and you'll be out of cash with not enough people to do the work; build things in the wrong place and you'll end up with rampant crime, fires and collapse; lose track of resources and your houses will be 'evolving' into grand villas one minute only to collapse into shacks the next because your supply chain just doesn't work efficiently enough.
There are three single player modes In Imperium Romanum with 'History' mode being the most interesting. In this you start from the very founding of Rome in 509BC and then follow its development and up to 120AD, taking in major events along this timeline. Important events and information are narrated as you go, providing you with some nice background information. In 'Rome' mode you just get to develop this city, building enhancements in order to create one of the major historical buildings. 'Scenario' mode gives you a blank canvas on which to build your city in one of the many countries of the empire.
Lo and behold, the senate had kindly sent me a couple of thousand denarii and I could carry on.
I did find that I got rather frustrated playing this game. Citizens seemed to be only briefly happy, incessantly demanding new luxuries, be it sausages, linen for togas or wine. And this doesn't just lead to stagnation of your city – no, your citizens will eventually go on the rampage, burning and pillaging all in their path. It seemed to take ages to settle them down again, meanwhile no-ones working and you've got a whole batch of buildings to rebuild. Keeping your citizens happy is obviously your main goal, but it isn't helped by the lack any quick & easy to use way of seeing why they might not be happy. Back in Caesar3 we had overlays for all your populations needs – you could instantly see where there was lack of access to water, which houses had places to worship, where your entertainers were reaching. Here you need to click on individual buildings to see their 'zone of influence' which can become rather a chore when your city reaches any significant size.
Objectives, in those levels that contain them, are presented to you in a 'tablet' system. Each tablet bears a task or an event and you can have up to three on the go at any one time if you want to. This is a nice idea, but can cause some interesting situations. In one instance I had to build something or other but didn't have enough cash to do it. I was waiting for the city to catch up when I thought I'd see what the next tablet was. Lo and behold, the senate had kindly sent me a couple of thousand denarii and I could carry on. You might also be surprised by a barbarian invasion if you don't bother to build your barracks when asked to, only to turn over a tablet a bit later that informs you your about to be attacked!
Definitely worth a look for strategy fans and anyone who wants to dip a toe in the waters of historical city management.
And that brings us nicely onto the combat. I actually wish they hadn't bothered. I was never really a fan of it in earlier games in this genre and unless you're going to do it properly it's just going to end up seeming like something that not a lot of time was spent on. Granted, the Roman Empire was founded largely on conflict so it's understandable that it be included, but in Imperium it just seems to be about building a few different legions and sending them out to overwhelm the barbarians with no real thought given to any strategy element.
Imperium Romanum is certainly a good looking game that scales well depending on the hardware available – it ran quite happily on my laptop albeit with some detail scaled down. There are some nice weather effects and a day/night cycle of sorts, though I wasn't over keen on this as it made things difficult to make out for a while!
On the whole, Imperium Romanum is a well polished and thorough game in the Roman city-building genre. It doesn't bring anything particularly new, and lacks some features that would have made it much more satisfying to play, but it's definitely worth a look for strategy fans and anyone who wants to dip a toe in the waters of historical city management.
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