Good Old Reviews
Pharaoh - Thrive or Perish by The Nile

Marla Desat | 3 Jan 2015 12:00
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pharaoh mastaba

Getting them from point A to point B, generally means building roadblocks and carefully designing your streets so they go where you need them to go with minimal dilly-dallying. Add in the fact that they'll only travel a limited distance and even a single errant intersection can be a productivity killer that tips the scales toward defeat.

How you choose to handle this, of course, is up to you. In my case, I built more efficient paths by constructing housing blocks in large loops, ensuring that my citizens had regular access to basic necessities like food, water, and structural review by architects. Even this, wasn't foolproof though. I often found that if I used too many roadblocks, employment recruiters (also roamers) would have trouble reaching my unemployed citizens. I had to practice to achieve a balance that combined optimal efficiency with the necessity of freedom. It's a process that takes some getting used to, but it's ultimately one that I found to be really satisfying. You might have to invest time into learning the best ways to do things, but it's well worth it when a tough mission ends in victory.

Even enjoying the game though, my favorite part of my experience with Pharoah was, ironically, its manual. Beautifully illustrated and 270 pages in length, it's as much a primer on Egyptian history as it is a "how to" guide for playing the game. Of course, Pharaoh simplifies reality, having you manage the affections of only five gods instead of the huge pantheon that grew and changed over the almost 2000 years of history during which the game is set. Still, the music, visual style, and missions are all steeped in Egyptian history, and the historical context offered by the manual added depth and flavor that I've found to be missing in games like Civilization. Seeing the pyramids rise in Gaza as I look on in Pharaoh is a rousing triumph. Hearing that the Vikings have beaten me to it in Civilization V is creative anachronism that, for me at least, makes choosing to play as the Egyptians feel less unique.

Depending on your tolerance for its learning curve and AI pathfinding, Pharaoh can be either a richly inspired challenge or a grating frustration. For me, the well-researched setting and the joy of seeing my monuments rise up out of the desert sand was enough to keep me coming back, even when my palace burned down because I'd neglected to build a firehouse nearby. Just speaking personally, I'd say it's well worth trying, especially for just $9.99 at GOG. See you in the mines!

Come back next week to catch my further discussion of Egyptian culture and why we should see more of it in video games.

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