Maybe city-building games just aren’t for me any more. I used to love real-time strategy games, but then they all started looking and playing alike, and I eventually drifted off to other genres. Now something similar is happening to me with city-building games, except that it’s not just the case they seem identical; to all intents and purposes, they are identical.
Less than two years ago, three city-building games based on ancient Rome came out: Glory of the Roman Empire, CivCity: Rome, and Caesar IV. I guess it’s possible that three developers had the same idea at the same time, and they inadvertently released three very similar games within a three-month period. But now Bulgarian developer Haemimont Games, the makers of Glory of the Roman Empire, is back with Imperium Romanum, a sequel to their earlier game (the only one of the 2006 trio that I didn’t play), and guess what? It’s exactly the same thing! Why would a developer do such a thing? Or, perhaps more importantly, why would anybody play it?
Your goal in Imperium Romanum is to build and manage a Roman city, which means you have to construct houses (so your citizens have places to live), build up an economy (so your citizens can earn money and buy the goods they want), and keep everybody safe (by putting up walls and maintaining an army). The more prestigious a neighborhood is, the more goods the citizens living in it need, but the better work they do in their jobs, and so the key to the game is to create a large and happy population of citizens.
If you’ve played any other city-building game, then that previous paragraph should sound familiar. What makes Imperium Romanum “unique” is that it is geared more towards casual gamers, and so it’s not as complicated to play as some of the other entries in the genre. For example, in CivCity: Rome, to make bread you needed wheat farms, mills, and bakeries, you had to work out the right ratio of those buildings to keep them working at capacity, and you had to figure out the right number of those buildings to keep your populace fed. In Imperium Romanum, you only have wheat farms and bakeries, and one farm is usually enough for the entire scenario.
Do you want other examples? Consider the military part of the game. If you build a tower, then you automatically gain defenders for it, and they don’t require any upkeep. If you build a barracks (for your melee soldiers) then you just need to supply it with cloth and iron weapons, and it produces soldiers. You don’t have to recruit soldiers from your populace, and you don’t have to feed them or anything, and so it’s incredibly easy to maintain an army. Worse, the barbarians you face in the scenarios aren’t very powerful. They always have trebuchets (because, of course, barbarians wouldn’t be caught dead without trebuchets), but any time I had an equal number of my soldiers against their soldiers, I always won easily.
Or consider expansion. Every so often you encounter a situation in a scenario where there’s a marble quarry or a gold mine or some other resource far away from your main city, and so you have to create an outpost at the location to gather in the resources. But get this. Storage buildings magically share their resources, and so it’s trivial to get the outpost up and running. All you have to do is plop down a warehouse (for building supplies) and a marketplace (for food), and the outpost is good to go. You don’t have to worry about creating any sort of infrastructure at the outpost, and it doesn’t need to support itself.
Imperium Romanum has some other issues -- the interface isn’t as helpful as it might be, buildings don’t snap to roads properly, construction animations are non-existent -- but basically it’s a mediocre game with an incredibly dry campaign, and with a premise that isn’t exactly new. I have no idea why developers in this genre don’t take a look at the Old West or Mars or an underwater village, but they don’t. Rome apparently has a huge lure to it, but if I don’t see the word “domus” again for the next two years, I won’t be sad.
Anyway, Imperium Romanum is a perfectly playable game. It’s a little boring and it’s a little easy and it’s a little basic, but if you’ve never tried the city-building genre before, then you might find it to be of some value. However, if you’re familiar with the genre at all, then you might as well skip Imperium Romanum, because you’ve already played better versions of it.