Pyramid Scheme: Revisiting Pharaoh and Other Sierra City Builders

Back in the early days of high school — sometime in the Mesozoic Era, it feels like — one of my favourite subjects was history. We can probably thank the Civilization series for seeding and Age of Empires for nurturing that interest, but that fascination carried over into my schoolwork. I was always keen for an opportunity to study the past, particularly ancient history.

This was something that my dad took notice of, hence why I found myself gifted a jewel CD case bundle containing Caesar 3, Pharaoh, and the latter’s expansion Cleopatra. Made by Impressions Games under the Sierra banner before their closure, these were (at the time) the latest entries in a series of city building games. I was vaguely familiar with Sim City 2000 by this point, but the notion of a real-time game in which I built cities in Ancient Rome and Egypt was fascinating and immensely alluring.

I ended up playing both games quite a bit during my high school years. They were a couple years old by the time I got to them, which meant they had the advantage of working on the low-specs PC I had in my room that was ostensibly for school work only. This made them staples when I wanted to slack off, so naturally I played them a hell of a lot.

Of the two, Pharaoh had the advantage of improving on the issues of Caesar 3, being a much more enjoyable experience that also had a few more unique elements. It was easy enough to build farmland in ancient Italy, but Egypt had no such luxury, forcing me to make use of the limited Nile floodplains per map and abiding by the whims of the seasonal inundation. Certain resources were much harder to get, trade was more important… but most importantly, Pharaoh demanded that you build some of the great monuments and structures. In the end, this one saw a lot more playtime.

I never did finish all the missions and campaigns on offer for either game, but Pharaoh quickly became one of those titles that I would just pick up on a whim every few years to play a couple levels. It even became one of the first titles I purchased on GOG, back when they were still Good Old Games.

From this same platform, I had the opportunity to dabble in the games that followed it: Zeus and expansion Poseidon, the Ancient Greek version steeped heavily in mythology; and Emperor – Rise of the Middle Kingdom, one set in China. Both games ostensibly had more features, improvements, and better graphics than Pharaoh, but I never did end up sticking with them or finding the same satisfaction.

While I had considered this a matter of nostalgia or just preferring the Egyptian thematic over the alternatives, I ended up playing all of these games again following the Christmas search I outlined in my last post. Once again, Pharaoh ended up being the one that stuck with me the most, and this time I was able to figure out why.

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Fantastic Resources and Where to Find Them: Delf’s Search for a Strategy Game

Back on Christmas Day (which was almost a month ago already, where does the time go?), I spent a couple of hours in the evening being somewhat… manic. I don’t recall precisely what initiated this, but for whatever reason I had pictured a specific kind of game in my head, and I was now tearing apart my collection or the internet in a frenzy to find and play it. It cascaded into me playing a handful of games since that point, trying to find something that would absolutely meet the requirements I was searching for.

From this, I ended up discarding or putting aside most of these games when they failed to achieve success, or else playing the ones I did stick with for incomplete or else different reasons. Most of these games I’ll speak about at length in the future (probably their own articles), but by now I feel like I should address the kind of game I was looking for.

In short, I was looking for quite possibly the nerdiest thing I could: a game of resource management, production chains, and logistics. And while I’m sure a few people could see that and immediately list off a few examples — just as I could, did, and started with in my search — I was looking for something more expansive. I don’t just want the end result of the chains, but the acquisition of the resources used, and the utilisation of these to allow me to expand or further my goals.

See, the first title I gravitated towards during my thought process and subsequent search was Black Desert Online. Besides the flashy and graphically striking action combat that the game sells as its main feature, it has a variety of “life skills” to complement this. You can set up farms, buy and sell trade resources in various markets that you can either manually carry or transport via wagons and boats (which you can build, and even breed better horses for), acquire property in towns that can be converted into production centres, and hire workers to work these centres or even gather the resources themselves from some areas if you didn’t feel like doing it yourself.

This was the part of the game that kept me playing for a lot longer than I expected previously. I would frequently go from place to place in order to figure out what resources were available, do smaller quests in order to open them up or else just farm contribution points that let me expand my sphere of influence, or just run trade routes back and forth in the background while doing other things. And it was this model that the manic searching for more games like this was based around.

So why didn’t I just play Black Desert Online when this mood struck me? Well… a few reasons.

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Backlog Battle Report (15th Jan 2018)

This week’s report is sponsored by sleep; appreciate what you get of it, because you probably are more rested and feel better for it than I do presently. In conjunction with a big sleep deficit, I’ve also been very fickle and have jumped from game to game pretty rapidly, meaning we’re back to having a wide assortment of titles listed today. So here’s what I’ve been up to this week.

Heroes of the Storm (PC)

I’ve eased up a little bit on the relentless Heroes games over the last week, but it’s still seeing at least a game or two from me on most days. As suggested, the latest patch went through last week and attempted a few balances to keep the games from being snowbally stomps. It also introduced the newest hero: Blaze, a Firebat from Starcraft. Betcha that name took a while to come up with. There’s also been a handful of buffs/nerfs and another rework for Malfurion.

I haven’t played Malfurion just yet so I can’t speak on how that treated him, but I can talk about Blaze and the other changes. So, did the changes make the game less early game centric? A little bit. Towers and keeps hurt a bit more so minions won’t completely bulldoze them if a specialist walks up to them with a wave and a funny look, but they’re still not the threats of yore. Things are a little slower and late-game is a thing, but it’s certainly possible to keep rolling through and win fairly easily. Probably could use more tweaks, but we’ll see. As I said last week, I don’t really mind the faster pace of the games.

So, Blaze. At long last, the long awaited and anticipated Firebat enters the field. With his release, every leaked hero from a credible source has now hit the Nexus, which means anything further from here is new ground. No idea who’s next, which is always a fun place for speculation… but even if the next release is a way off, I’ll probably need that long to fully acquaint myself with Blaze.

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