Review: Imperium Romanum: Gold Edition

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It’s hard to look at a Roman city-building game and not think of the venerable Caesar series, but I encourage you to put it out of your mind. There are no wandering agents and maze-like roadways to be found here, but there is some solid construction and management. Having more in common with titles like Children of the Nile or Tropico, Imperium Romanum takes a simple system and spreads it across a bewildering array of scenarios and challenges.

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Each scenario sets you as the praetor of a city somewhere in the empire, anywhere from Alexandria to Pompeii to Rome itself. Most of the time you’ll be starting from just a forum and stockpile, but some scenarios give you a whole city right from the get-go. From there you have to build houses, mines, farms, woodcutters, and other basics to get the town running. Once your settlement is established you can start looking into trade routes, fortifications, temples, schools, and other advanced constructions. There’s a fair number of buildings to build, and you’ll be building most of them in each scenario.

What keeps things fresh as you bounce from province to province are the scenario conditions. Many will limit you in some way, like not having any wood or stone on the map. Instead you’ll get supplied by Rome while you get established, and then have to fulfill some goal or start trading to make up the difference. These goals and events are conveyed through the tablet system, which you can trigger whenever you want. You can accept up to three tablets at once, and they can give new objectives, bonuses, or serious curveballs. It’s an interesting system to direct the scenarios but some of the tablets can be unexpectedly brutal. One map tasks you with establishing a port, and one of the tablets about halfway through is a tidal wave that wipes out anything you’ve built up to that point.

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I know that sounds absolutely terrible, but Imperium Romanum is so relaxed and simple that it’s hard to get mad at it. Buildings are usually constructed swiftly and your resource production is very generous in its quantities. There is warfare as well, but it’s as simple as building barracks and sending your regiments out to conquer barbarians. About the only real frustration I’ve found is that our citizens have needs that must be fulfilled to keep them happy and out of trouble, and after six hours and as many scenarios I still can’t keep them from turning irate and rebellious. Even if you build them everything you can think of, some of them always seem to get mad about something.

Part of the problem is a lack of information available. You have almost no charts or graphs for your citizens or your resources, and clicking on buildings only gives general information about their contents. This means there’s a rough learning curve while you figure out how many wheat farms and bakeries it takes to supply your citizens with bread, but like I mentioned, the game is too relaxed to ever really punish you for it. There’s no fail state that I can see, and citizens never move out, instead opting to complain endlessly and maybe riot.

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The presentation does a lot to endear Imperium Romanum in spite of its shortcomings as well. The clean, detailed graphics make for picturesque settlements and countryside in every scenario. You can follow your citizens around and watch them gesticulate wildly as they chat or pray. Construction is a bit unpolished, going from a pile of materials to a whole building in the blink of an eye, but the buildings themselves are magnificent. The sound design is fine with its understated bustle and alerts, and it includes some oddly jazzy tunes as well.

While not one of the best city builders I’ve played, Imperium Romanum still manages to be one of the most enjoyable. The charming look and feel of the game, coupled with the simple building and tablet guidance, make this a great title to relax with. You’re bound to run into some small faults and frustrations, but odds are it will win you back across its wealth of scenarios. It might be a bit barebones, but there’s a good heart in there that makes it worth a look.

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