Review: Grand Ages: Rome

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Grand Ages: Rome is very unique as far as sequels go. The follow-up to Imperium Romanum looks and sounds very similar, but features entirely different systems under the hood. It’s a bit off-putting at first because they’re not necessarily improvements, just very different. There’s no clear superior between them, but a little time with this game will is bound to hook you for a good long while.

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The meat of Grand Ages is its campaign, featuring a wealth of scenarios that challenge you to raise and manage a Roman colony somewhere in the empire. You generally start with a single outpost, and from that singular beginning expand with homes, farms, shops, arenas, theaters, and more. Every scenario has a very clear objective that you must accomplish, this time without the quirks and surprises of Imperium Romanum’s tablet system. As you provide services to your plebeians you gain the resources needed to build more prosperous homes, which in turn can manage more complex services. It’s a very simple hierarchy of structures to work through, so most of your concern will be on finding space for them all.

What won’t be much of a concern is managing your resources, because they’re on a much more streamlined system than in the previous game. Instead of producing and stockpiling goods, each resource building provides a permanent, static number of resources for your settlement. That means building a logging camp produces 10 logs, full stop. When you build a new building, however, it doesn’t subtract from that number. If a house says it needs 4 logs and 4 bricks, you just need to have more than that threshold to build however many you want. What DOES subtract from your resource pools are upkeep costs, usually 1 or 2 units of a few resources per building.

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Trading also reduces your thresholds in exchange for denarii, currency needed for construction and upkeep. Money works more traditionally, being earned over time and spent directly from your coffers. You’ll need to pay a bit of attention to your economy so as to not go bankrupt, but even if you fall into the red you just enter a warning state where you have ten minutes to get back into the black. Your settlement can enter a lot of interesting states like this by building in certain ways, including building frenzies that speed up construction, divine blessings that improve services, and more. It’s a nice touch that encourages you to find different ways to expand, and can really change up your strategies.

Combat plays a larger role in Grand Ages, but units are a little easier to build and command, and the combat is more interesting with additions like experience levels. You can access military and other improvements through the research system, which simply requires a school to start with. The campaign also has a really cool progression feature in your character, who can level up and earn family wealth between scenarios. These resources can be used to unlock skills that improve your buildings or military, or buy estates that provide you with additional starting resources. This system does a lot to expand your options, even allowing you to find shortcuts past particularly troublesome resources.

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There’s a lot of improvements to take in, but not without a few drawbacks. As streamlined as the new resource system is, it responds much worse to surprises than the old one. Should you lose buildings to fires or angry gods (yes that can happen, build lots of temples!) when you are low on a particular resource, you might not have a clear path to rebuilding them. Fires are also much more common because riots now guarantee that at least a handful of buildings will be destroyed, so keeping your people happy is crucial this time around. You may also find yourself bee-lining to certain buildings even if they’re not optimal for your city because of scenario objectives and the hard caps your resource thresholds provide.

It’s just as pretty a game as Imperium Romanum, and shares the same quality audio and soundtrack to enjoy. The camera is a little harder to get nice screencaps with, but they’re worth doing with the more detailed buildings. In the end, I can’t really say which is the better game. Imperium Romanum has a little more personality with its individual citizens, and a little more flexibility with its resource stockpiles. Grand Ages: Rome feels more streamlined and polished, and adds some really interesting progression systems. Fans of more abstracted builders like SimCity will probably enjoy this one more, but no matter which you pick I’m confident you’ll find something to like.

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