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If you follow the gossip columns or regularly have the misfortune to discover a copy of Heat lurking inconspicuously around the house, you may be aware of the concept of combined celebrity. For example, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are both individually – to use the right phrase – ‘hot’. Combine them into a package and you get Brangelina, and the combined ‘brand’ becomes many times ‘hotter.’ The same doesn’t quite apply with TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes), and it never really did with Beniffer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez), but you probably get the picture. Basically, one star might be good, but two stars is a whole lot better.
So you can see the thinking behind CivCity: Rome. Sadly, it’s not quite the Civilization meets Sim City coupling we’ve all been waiting for, merely a city building sim brought to you by Firefly, the team behind Stronghold, with assistance from Firaxis, the men behind Civ. And to be honest, you can even take the Civ angle with a pinch of salt. There are clear influences that have transferred over – research, wonders, citizen happiness, trade routes and caravans – but the core gameplay will be more familiar if you’ve played the Caesar series or Zeus: Master of Olympus than it will be if you’ve just played Civilizations I to IV. In other words, this is a game of building homes, producing and harvesting resources, developing civic amenities and keeping the populace healthy, wealthy and happy, not one of diplomacy, conflict, or historical development, a la Civ.
In practice, CivCity: Rome is governed by two metrics: money and happiness. You grow the latter by keeping wages up and unemployment low, making sure your citizens have ample leisure time, and ensuring there’s enough food and housing to go around. Of course, doing so requires building, and that takes cash, which you can earn through a combination of trade and taxes. As the only way to earn higher taxes is through cultivating the wealth of your citizens, as measured by the size and quality of their housing, this is probably your biggest single task in the game.
I know. How hard can housing upgrades be? Well, for a start you can’t simply upgrade them. Instead, houses develop from one stage to the next through the provision of nearby amenities – water, food, oil, clothes, religion, baths, bread, entertainment and the rest. For added trickiness, all these amenities have to be within a certain range of the house, and that range is surprisingly limited – how these guys founded a great empire when they can’t be bothered with five minutes’ walk to a temple is beyond me.