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CivCity: Rome, a DVD-ROM in English by Firefly Studios, distributed by Hed Artzi Multimedia with a 101-page Hebrew-language user's manual, requires Windows XP and a 1.6 Ghz Pentium PC or better, for ages 12 through adult, NIS 219.
Rating: *** 1/2
Rome can be built in a day! Just sit opposite your computer screen, drag and drop wheat farms, huts, shops, temples, taverns, circuses, amphitheaters, aqueducts and a large variety of other public and private facilities onto the ground and keep the population happy enough so they don't decide to emigrate. This is the challenge of Civ-City: Rome, which attempts to combine the empire-building of Civilization with the urban planning of SimCity (even though the developers have nothing to do with these two classic and highly popular games).
It may take you a day or weeks, but the calendar on the lower left hand of the screen shows months, years and centuries passing, starting with a small settlement in 449 BCE and moving on to a powerful imperial city in the Common Era.
From the outset, your task as governor is to "rebuild the splendor, the glory that was Rome." You must micromanage, spending your hard-earned denarii on road construction, urban development and keeping the people sated and entertained. Choose either the campaign mode that teaches the novice administrator the basics or single missions that present a specific assignment in the whole Roman Empire from Britannia to Constantinople. An announcer with a British accent warns you when "the granaries are empty" or "unemployment is high" while a Smiley symbol turns red or green, depending on whether the people are gratified and cheerful or kvetching and bad tempered. The more residents and the more developed the economy, the more taxes you can collect and use to further build up Rome.
You will invest most of your efforts on peacetime missions of supplying commodities, processing and retailing, upgrading housing and improving the infrastructure. But while there are some military missions aimed at intercepting enemy attacks at the border, CivCity is not a shooter or adventure game, and there is no sense of danger or impending doom.
The disk's Civilopedia is your database and teaching resource, providing information on Roman history, society, health, religion, military, water supply and a large number of other subjects. This is more useful than the 101-page printed manual, which you can do without if you run through the tutorial and learning campaigns.
As in most societies, the rich take care of themselves, upgrading their housing, goods and services and buying slaves as their income rises. When a family is ready to exchange their housing for fancy villas, a little green arrow will appear, and you must relocate them to a new neighborhood. You'll want to hold these people in the empire by keeping them captivated with gladiators vying with ferocious lions and a variety of sports events, as the wealthy fuel the economy. But you also need nose-to-the-grindstone serfs who carry the tasks of basic supplies and services on their backs.
But while all this sounds interesting to hands-on gamers who like to build and control, CivCity is quite disappointing and unimaginative. Historical personalities, from Augustus and Julius Caesar to Cleopatra, could have had much more of a role. The little people working, running around and sleeping in the city cannot be seen close enough for you to feel any attachment to them (although they do voice occasionally amusing one-liners) and the game's graphics are old fashioned. As buildings get taller, they tend to get in the way of the camera's view, which makes it difficult sometimes to deal with structures near them. You can observe what goes on outdoors, but the camera angle makes it difficult to peek into the huts, shops and palaces and see what's going on. There are too many boring chores to do, and the announcer's repetitive warnings quickly become annoying. The disk should be reserved only for devout fans of city building and SimCity addicts with a historical bent.