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Caesar III
PC, 1999


Caesar III: build cities in ancient Rome. Historical details and stirring sound effects animate the city map as you arrange individuals and industry to meet your emperor's goals. Plan roads, set up housing, build reservoirs and aqueducts, set up timber mills and furniture shops - this is a thorough top-down simulation of roman life, with you in the drivers seat. Occasionally people who used to live where you're building will attack but with your well-trained roman legions you can crush them in front of your city. Try your hand at being a Roman beaurocrat with some actual power. Single player only.


If you haven't played any of the prequels, Caesar III is like SimCity in Ancient Rome. You start out with a patch of land and some denarii and you build a city by zoning and constructing buildings and infrastructure.

In the City Construction Kit, you can select from a list of maps, each with their own size, challenges, particular food sources and foreign invaders. But the bulk of the game consists of a series of Caesar city-building appeasements. You are given sequentially tougher assignments, ranging from "build a happy city" to "eek out a meagre existance as you withstand the Gaulish hordes." Campaigns will take you through the history of B.C. Roman expansion; you'll estabilish a bulkhead on the Meditteranean, fight Hannibal in the alps, defend lowland territories against packs of vicious wolves. In each of these cases, you don't make the policy, you are like a Roman beaurocrat ensuring the health of the empire through careful balance of people and city services.

Sierra's Caesar III is the computer game simulation of the buddhist concept of "interdependent co-arising." There's no way to manage or master completely the games many variables. You raise a roman city from settlers to ciruses and caesarship, much like many games that have come before it. Caesar III will addict you if you appreciate the opportunity to juggle unemployment, clean water, barbarian invaders, entertainment and angry gods, in a computer-complex matrix of possible screw-ups.

It's a game where you can never rest because there are so many things to manage that if you play on any level above easy you'll find your pavement stones continuously stolen out from under you. You end up developing a rhythm - the best playing of Caesar III comes from listening closely to your citizens and only building according to their desires. Otherwise you're fulfilling a pre-christian urban engineering fantasy that won't ultimately create a sustainable city - you'll run into debt too fast and Caesar will actually send his legions after you to collect.

By taking SimCity, and narrowing the focus, Caesar III makes a deep city simulator, and incidentally, a engaging chance to learn about the daily life of ancient Romans. As you inspect the building units: roads, bathhouses, housing, schools, temples, and people: engineers, firemen, bathhouse maidens and dock hands, a little question mark in the lower left corner of each game window provides some background on the unit. And after each description, "click here to learn more about (whatever) in ancient rome" - making Caesar III into a sort of hypertext on roman history, tied in to your practical city building experience.

The series of missions serves as a helpful tutorial. Each offers you new building tools and coaches you on using them. The interface is easy - your city dominates on the left side of your screen, and on the right are your tools - different structures you can build. From a series of pulldown menus, you can consult your advisors and plan the next festival for Mercury or set the amount of olive oil to export.

bath house If you're like me, you like to build until the money is gone. If the people want a bathhouse, let's give them a bathhouse - even if they don't know they want it yet! Of course that bathhouse also involves aqueducts, reservoirs, roads and plazas. It takes a lot to make people happy. After a while of spending like this, Caesar will notice you aren't saving denarii for him. If you manage to run your own show, and make your people happy enough, you may eventually piss Caesar off enough that he will send troops after you. If you defeat them, you'll earn his respect, and twofold attacking legionares the next year.

Otherwise your enemies include Greeks and Gauls and natives of all the lands around the meditteranian. You'll also combat earthquakes, endless fires and the whims of a drunken emperor; in short, the forces of chaos arrayed against your control.

There's a soundtrack of jaunty processional tunes, like you're marching somewhere all the time. Underneath that, the sounds of coughing, giggling schoolchildren, lions roaring in the colleseum, running water in the baths. Once you install a barber you'll hear snipping scissors. It gives the game a life-ish feeling.

It becomes like gardening, pruning your city. Peaceful coexistence with, serving your citizens. Then bands of maraduing huns attack. Or someone smokes in bed and half the block burns down. As City planner, you can adjust the speed of the world so there is more time to plan as your people crawl about their daily business, or rush headlong to implement your changes. Too bad you can't slow down real life to allow more time for Caesar III city building!

spring 1999: published in part on WildWeb Games

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