Monuments Take Too Long In Pharaoh

Impressions Games used to make these city builder games themed around ancient civilizations and their mythologies. Their original was Caesar, which was about building various Roman cities throughout the history of the republic and empire and had less of a mythological theme than most of the others, and others included things like Emperor, about ancient China, Zeus: Master of Olympus, about ancient Greece, and Pharaoh, which was about ancient Egypt.

For a game about building ancient cities, ancient Egypt seems like the perfect setting. Civilizations that were often at war, like the expansionist Romans or the Greek city-states constantly enmeshed in internecine warfare, necessarily gave the city-building a military feel. Military cities had a straightforward objective, to sustain a population and weapons manufacturing industry big enough to beat off enemy attacks for X years. Economic-themed cities had more general goals of reaching a population of X and a minimum prosperity of Y, and these were perfectly satisfactory gameplay challenges, but they lack the feeling of accomplishment.

“Your city will be sufficiently awesome once it has 7,000 people” doesn’t feel like a specific achievement the way “conquer the Macedonians” does, especially after doing it eighteen times. Different enemy armies can have different soldiers that require different combinations of cavalry, infantry, and archers to defeat (though the combat engine and unit diversity is certainly not on par with exclusively military focused games like Age of Empires), but getting however many people in the city is always the same. You set up housing blocks fed by enough goods and services that they will upgrade to high-level housing that can contain lots of people (you can’t upgrade housing directly, instead houses upgrade whenever they’re provided a specific good or service, so level 1 crude huts upgrade to level 2 sturdy huts when they have a supply of clean water from a well, level 2 upgrades to level 3 when they have a food supply, and so on). Your goal on this map is to do the same thing you did on the last map, but with a different set of starting resources and maybe slightly bigger. It’s not easy, and those different starting resources means that figuring out one city’s distribution network is not the same challenge as figuring out another’s, but games have framing stories for a reason and having the same objective over and over again gets old.

Ancient Egypt, however, has monuments. Most notably the pyramids, but also obelisks, the sphinx, giant sun temples, and so on. Here’s an economic objective that feels like a specific achievement and not some arbitrary population goal: Build a giant thing. Even if the process for building a pyramid and a sphinx are fundamentally a similar process of setting up an economic engine powerful enough to harvest or import necessary materials for decades, at the end of one you have a pyramid and at the end of the other you have a sphinx. Provided the pyramid city and the sphinx city have sufficiently different maps from one another that you can’t copy/paste a working city from one onto the other, the missions will feel different not just in how you get to the end, but also in the end you got to.

Here’s the problem: Building a prosperous, thriving city that can feed the engine of monumental construction takes like a decade, maybe two. Actually finishing the larger monuments can easily take double that time. You can build a pyramid faster if you have more miners to quarry stone, more peasants to drag the stone to the site, and more construction workers to turn that stone into a pyramid, but frequently you’re required to build a pyramid using materials that aren’t actually on your map, which means the bottleneck is the rate at which other cities are willing to sell you those resources. That rate is often pretty slow. Given the vast amount of resources required to build a pyramid, it can take decades of time just to import the materials. Even if you site the monument when your city is still just a collection of mud huts on the bank of the Nile clamoring for a steady food supply, and even if you can juggle building the city up while also building the monument (depending on what monument you’re building and what resources are on the map, this can range from pretty easy to a nightmare, but even in the best case scenario you have to make sure you don’t site the monument atop some of the often-scarce space nearby arable land that can be used for siting agricultural or residential areas), you will still have another two or three decades of sitting around and waiting for your monument to reach completion.

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The First Assassin’s Creed Was The Best

Remember when people liked the Assassin’s Creed games? People used to like the Assassin’s Creed games. I used to like the Assassin’s Creed games. There’s a podcast episode buried in the archive that I think is currently offline (because the podcast was a failed experiment) in which I expressed appreciation for the Assassin’s Creed series’ policy of iteration over innovation, tweaking an already mostly functional game rather than trying to reinvent the genre each time. The latter is occasionally successful but there’s something to be said for a series that makes small enough changes as to keep things steadily improving while still having 90% of a good game if they don’t pan out.

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Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon was released over half a year ago and I’ve been playing it off-and-on ever since I got it in the Steam summer sale several months ago, but I don’t have any D&D sessions to write about until this afternoon (and the rest of the weekend), so I’m going to give my thoughts on the game now.

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