Throwback Thursday: Pharaoh

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If there’s anything else along with not having a lot of time, it’s money, which I’m sure many of you can relate to. Between different things like school, rent, bills, and various life expenses, sometimes it can be hard to afford to get a brand new $60 game each month (those of you who can, I am eternally jealous and envy your money managing skills). In the interest of gamers that can only buy new games during Steam sales (or those who just want another game to play), I’d like to introduce a new set of articles I will be doing every other week: Throwback Thursdays. Every second Thursday I’ll be revisiting older games that I have played before. If you guys have played them, we can discuss what you loved (or hated!), if you haven’t, you can pick up an old cheap game. I would also love to hear suggestions from you guys on older games that you love and think that I should check out. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments here or on our Facebook page.

The game I picked to talk about first is still one of my favorite games of all time: Pharaoh. Pharaoh is the successor to Caesar III, was released in 1999 by Impressions Game and Sierra, and is a city-building game that takes place in (surprise!) ancient Egypt. The player is charged with creating and then maintaining their own Egyptian city, managing things such as food, religion, development of houses, farming, and the exporting and importing of goods such as pottery, beer, clay, linen, and many other items. If you choose to play through the game linearly, you begin in the Predynastic Period and work your way chronologically through ancient Egypt to the New Kingdom.

For each different “level” of Pharaoh, you are given a mission to complete. Missions can have many different aspects; in the beginning levels your goal is simply to reach a certain population and develop your city in simple ways. As you move up the levels of the game, you are charged with tasks such as creating a certain amount of culture in your city, or building a large pyramid. Once you have completed your mission, you can choose to continue to the next challenge or stay and see how prosperous you can make your city. To me, the game feels a little monotonous at the beginning levels, but that could be because I’ve played it a lot. Once you get to do things such as farm, hold festivals, build tombs and pyramids, and even go to war with neighboring kingdoms, the game is a lot of fun. The difficulty of each level can be turned up at any time, and each level can be restarted if you feel like your city is in a situation where improvement cannot be made.

The first step of Pharaoh is to create housing to encourage immigration. Over the course of the next few mission challenges, you learn what the city needs to function. You must provide citizens with food, water, entertainment, health care, fire houses, and taxes, just to name a few things. Sometimes the game can get a little hectic, especially when half your city is covered with a spreading fire and the rest is experiencing a malaria outbreak, and that’s where the strategy and management aspect (the meat and potatoes) of the game comes in. You must adequately cater to your citzens’ needs, or else be doomed to debt and a poor Kingdom Rating.

I played Pharaoh soon after it first came out, when I was nine years old. Fourteen years later, I still enjoy playing it just as much. Strangely, I think I’m actually worse at it now. This game is still good to look at – the environments are beautifully detailed and the music is immersive but not overpowering. I don’t particularly like or dislike the interface; the menus can be a bit confusing at first but it is easy to get used to. One criticism that comes to mind is the seriously god-awful Egyptian inspired font. Overall, Pharaoh is great because you do need to manage the city almost constantly, so you are rarely ever just sitting there waiting for something to happen (but I could also be an inefficient city planner).

In addition to the mission levels, Pharaoh also has a sandbox mode where any of the different options you would normally have to unlock through missions can be used to build and manage a city. There are also tons of custom missions.

Pharaoh and it’s equally entertaining expansion, Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile are available in a bundle at gog.com for $9.99.

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