Windows – 2001
Description of Pharaoh: Gold
Give Me a “C-A-E-S-A-R” – What Do You Have? PHARAOH! This could easily be the shortest review I’ve ever written. Simply read our two Caesar III reviews and substitute the word “Egypt” for “Rome” and “Pharaoh” for “Caesar.” That’s a pretty fair assessment of this game. Both Caesar III and Pharaoh were created by Impressions Games, and both utilize the same game design. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – the GDR awarded Caesar III the “Highly Recommended” designation. But should you expect more from Pharaoh? Should you expect more from this review? Yes, in both cases. If you already own Caesar III and simply want the skinny on this game, I’ll make my concluding argument now. Pharaoh is not much more than an expansion of Caesar III. If you loved Caesar III, you will probably enjoy this game. If you were put off with some of the odd and difficult glitches of Caesar III, you will find them here as well. If you haven’t played Caesar III, read on for the details. Building the Perfect Society Pharaoh comes as the latest in a long line of “God” games – games that place you in control of a city or civilization. Pharaoh follows the familiar metaphor of empire building, though unlike SimCity and Civilization, the game is divided into several distinct missions. Early missions serve mainly to introduce the player to the interface and basic game mechanics without overwhelming the novice with too much complexity. Players begin the game with a blank slate – in this case, a nice swath of land situated on the Nile. By building homes, religious structures and business infrastructure, a player develops a small village into a sizable town. Challenges particular to Egypt help to engage and immerse the player in this rich environment. Egyptian society was dependent on the Nile’s yearly floods for all agriculture. As such, you will find that everything, from building farms to religious ceremonies, revolves around the mighty Nile river and it’s flooding season. As the city develops, citizens will demand more city services. Your ability to deliver these city services (such as places of worship, fire and police protection, entertainment, food and drink, and other quality of life necessities) determines your failure or success in this game. The entire city building experience is tightly interwoven, so that demands for one good or service ripple through the city and economy affecting every other good or service. If your citizens need more places of worship, you must also plan on adding new housing to accommodate the priests. New housing means new sanitation facilities, lest the plague creep into your shanty towns. Sanitation services require access to water, which increases the demand for labor (you’re not actually going to carry that water yourself are you?) The Clockwork Pyramid This mechanistic game keeps you on your toes and requires the player to keep a watchful eye on even the smallest details. To help the player with this daunting task, an array of advisors has been assembled to distill the most important information into easily digestible chunks. Though the actual mechanics of the game are never revealed, your advisors are quite capable of telling you almost everything you need to know. Still, you can’t play this game on autopilot. Your entire fortune can turn on a single dialog box warning you of a bad year for the floods or an angry local deity. If you don’t deal with the angry gods immediately, your city could easily regress ten years. Most of your time will be spent moving scarce resources to meet unquenchable demand. Grain is harvested from the fields and shipped to the granary for temporary storage. From there it is shipped to the local residential districts via couriers, who deposit the goods at a bazaar. Citizens then visit the bazaar to purchase grain. The invisible hand of the economy at work! Most goods are delivered through the same mechanism. Any breakdown in the supply chain creates waves that ripple through your economy, wreaking havoc with unintended consequences. Fortunately, every aspect of the game is fairly logical and predictable, which makes the various game flaws a bit more palatable. This sounds reasonable, but problems soon arise that threaten the very foundation of your great city. Sorry Sir, the Warehouse is on Strike Reeds are harvested from the marsh and transported by the laborers back to the reed shack. From there, reeds are transported to the papyrus workers to hammer into papyrus. Excess reeds can be stored in storage yards (think warehouses) in times of oversupply or for later export. It is at this point that the game begins to fail. Ideally, workers will cart reeds from the storage yard back to the papyrus makers when they have run out of reeds. If the papyrus makers don’t have the necessary materials, they sit idle. Most of the time this works without intervention. On a bad day you will need to manually visit the storage yard and try to force the reeds out the door. Again, this usually succeeds. By refusing further shipments of reeds, the reed couriers will usually find a papyrus maker and deliver the goods. Often, a nasty bug creeps in that prevents this from happening. All too often I found several storage areas filled with a variety of goods, yet was completely unable to command the proper distribution of these goods. My papyrus workers sat idle while loads of reeds fill my storage space. No matter what I tried, the reeds never left storage. This happens with almost every good, including clay, pottery, papyrus, beer, etc. The manual makes specific mention that efficient movement of goods can be difficult to achieve. This is not the case here. This is a bug in the game. In one scenario, my nice residential areas were reverting to slums from a lack of pottery. I traced back to the pottery workers and found they lacked clay. I went to the supply area and found 800 loads of clay. I went to the clay pit and found the clay workers very busy making clay. Where was the breakdown? Hidden behind a building I found a single man with a cart filled with clay. Clicking on him, I was told that he didn’t have a place to store the clay, as the storage area was full. I clicked on the storage area and found that it was full of clay and reeds. I clicked on the “Empty” button and waited for the workers to ship clay. They didn’t. I built a new supply area and instructed it to receive nothing but clay and then halted all work on my clay pits. Thus, the only way the new storage area would receive clay would be from the old storage area. It never happened. The clay courier still stood his ground complaining that there was no place to store the clay. Hey, buster, look behind you! I restarted clay production and waited for the new storage area to fill up. It didn’t. I turned off pottery production to make certain this wasn’t intercepting my clay production. The storage area still didn’t fill up. Finally, I completely demolished the malfunctioning storage area and this seems to have solved the problem. Except that my pottery workers were facing the same problem with another storage area. In the end, I had to destroy three storage areas to get things moving again. This, my friends, is a serious bug. Sadly, this bug may not get fixed (haven’t they been working on this game engine since Caesar III?). However, if you are aware of the bug, you can work around the problem by micro-managing your storage areas. Instead of building general purpose storage areas, build each with a particular material or product in mind. This will help you identify this potential problem much quicker. Even if this bug is quashed, the game suffers from a few very minor problems. The game helps players by taking care of many menial tasks, such as filling orders for clay from the potter. But it does such a poor job that you will still want to micro-manage some of these tasks yourself. I am usually a critic of games that don’t help the player enough. In this case, the game helps the player too much (by not helping the right way). Like the Sands through the Hourglass Some missions require a player to offer tribute to Pharaoh with an offering. I found myself coasting by with barely enough beer to appease my citizens. Suddenly, Pharaoh demanded more beer than I can produce in a year. I quickly attempted to ramp up production but found my booming economy left too few workers to man the breweries. You would think that it would be a simple matter to assign a few papyrus workers to the brewery. Instead, I had to shut down the entire papyrus industry to create a temporary oversupply of labor. These workers then shifted to beer making after a couple of months, at which point I restarted papyrus production. In the mean time, I had to idle several papyrus workers just to get one crew moved over to a new industry. Why couldn’t I drag the crew from a single papyrus shack over to the brewery? I found monument building both the most fascinating aspect of this game and the most tedious. The pyramids were no mean feat in Pharaoh’s day, and the same tedium is accurately portrayed here. Even the most boring of monuments, mastabas, drags out for what seems like an eternity. Once you’ve got all your ducks lined up in a row, it’s a simple matter of watching and waiting for the completion of the monument. Not a lot of fun there, especially since at a game speed of 100%, my Celeron 415 felt positively average. The game needs a 110% speed setting. After you’ve built a few monuments, the whole ordeal becomes a bit of a letdown, and worst of all, they just sit there. I suppose I wasn’t expecting pyramids to blast into space or anything, but after all that work, it’s not nearly as impressive as you might think. On the other hand, the ability to work on a single project for a several years adds an element lacking in most sim-games. As boring as the structures can be after they are built, you must surmount several challenges for their completion. Seti: The God of Clicking Military combat, as in Caesar III, takes a back seat to economic management. Combat consists of little more than clicking on your troops or ships and then clicking on enemy units. It is absolutely nothing like Warcraft or Command and Conquer. I can’t fault the game designers for this decision. A good real time combat game engine would be nice, but let’s face it: no game can do it all, and every attempt to do so has failed. Why bother trying? It can’t be done. While the audience for this game overlaps with the real-time strategy audience, we are still talking about a very different type of game. Still, I would have been happier if combat had been abstracted just a bit more, rather than this vague attempt at handing military matters over to the city manager. Nobody should purchase this game expecting military conquest. Eternal Gameplay Is Yours On the positive side, the landscape and artifacts are as authentic and realistic as you might hope for. Hippos, crocodiles and wild animals will provide short distractions that add character to the setting. Several missions take place in desert conditions that effectively convey the difficulty of even subsistence living in such a harsh environment. Even with the obvious flaws I mentioned, I have thoroughly enjoyed the hours and hours of play. I was quite surprised to realize I had spent an entire day at my computer and had barely scratched the surface of this game. For this reason, I strongly recommend this game. You will find days and weeks of pleasure from this wonderful and polished title. Finally, if you downloaded the original demo, it is well worth your time to take a look at the updated demo. The new demo is a lot more similar to the final, shipping product and addresses some of the niggly bits found in the original.
Review By GamesDomain
Buy Pharaoh: Gold
Pharaoh: Gold is available for a small price on the following websites, and is no longer abandonware. You can read our online store guide.
Various files to help you run Pharaoh: Gold, apply patchs, fixes, maps or miscellaneous utilities.