Review: Children of the Nile
There are plenty of historical city-builders, but only two set in ancient Egypt that I know of. One is Pharaoh, an off-shoot of the classic Caesar series, and this is the other. Now over a decade old, Children of the Nile gave players the freedom to build great cities and earn prestige on vast maps, with a detailed citizen simulation that rivaled that of the Tropico series. It may be showing its age, but there’s plenty more reasons to take a look at it besides it being nearly the only game in town.
In Children of the Nile, you are Pharaoh, absolute ruler of your little patch of desert. From your palace you order the construction of homes and shops, direct the tasks of your citizens, and seek to raise your own prestige. That first point turns out to be blessedly easier than in most city-builders, because this game has a distinct lack of currency or building materials. Most homes are completely free to grant space to, and you need only wait for the residents to move in from whatever uncivilized village they’ve been grubbing around in. Basic shops and services are also free, and any key buildings beyond that require only a small amount of bricks to erect.
Right from the get-go, then, you are completely open to build and expand as you see fit. There ARE resources, of course, but the important ones are very easy to keep track of. Your most basic resource is food, which feeds your people and is used in your civic buildings as a sort of currency. The peasant class farms food for you automatically, but are limited in number by how many nobles you have. And your nobles are limited only by your ability to provide them services, most of which cost you additional food. This simple balance keeps the game on a steady pace of expansion, where you’re never really limited by resources and would really have to go out of your way to foul up.
As you expand you’ll start to run across the more granular resources, everything from papyrus reeds to obsidian quarries. Your shops need access to raw materials to make goods, and the most complex construction projects like statues and pyramids require special stone. As I mentioned, Children of the Nile operates much like Tropico where each citizen is modeled and must go about their day in real-time. This could threaten to cause bottlenecks and catastrophic failures as it does in the earlier Tropicos, but here your citizens have generous ranges of travel and stay focused on their tasks. You’ll still run into some folks too busy or lazy to go pray or shop, but the consequences of irritating your citizens is very mild and usually easily rectified.
There are dozens of buildings and services to construct, from temples to courts to tombs, and in most scenarios you’ll need to make the most of all of them. Key to the progression systems is Prestige, a measure of how respected your Pharaoh is. Prestige is needed to recruit more educated workers, key positions like priests and overseers, and is earned by constructing grand buildings and decorations, winning military victories, and other exploits. Prestige can also degrade over time and you lose some when your Pharaoh passes on, so it’s an element that requires constant attention. Usually the paths to earning Prestige in a given scenario are obvious, and the rest of the game is relaxed enough that you’ll have plenty of time to focus on your fortune and glory.
I did mention military victories and other exploits, because Children of the Nile is not content to give you just one plot of land to lord over. You also have a world map that shows all of Egypt and the surrounding lands, with points of interest marked. For a cost of food, envoys, and other resources, you can open new trade routes, set up labor camps for resources not found on your map (very useful for the limestone needed for pyramids), and attack barbarian encampments. Combat on the world map requires no interaction, you just send troops like resources, but in harder scenarios you may be attacked and will need to raise and outfit an army. It’s a pretty sizable undertaking but again there’s no real combat to speak of, your soldiers automatically seek out and destroy invaders.
You’ll find plenty to do in each of the game’s 15 scenarios, for the maps are enormous and offer multiple locations that would suit a city. Resources are also scattered liberally so you’re never really tied to a single spot except in the case of quarries. All of this is rendered in some chunky but serviceable 3D, complete with shadows and rising Nile waters, but the graphics are really where the game shows its age. Your cities can easily grow into huge, sprawling affairs that are hard to parse without the modern accouterments of depth of field and fluid camera controls. The sound design still holds up at least, with plenty of quaint sound effects and little dialogue quips from your citizens. As long as the dated graphics don’t throw you off this is a fantastically interesting and chill builder that’s easy to get into and hard to put down.