Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 11/06/03 | Genre: Strategy
Ever wondered what it would be like to be a senator in Ancient Rome? Pax Romana attempts to put you in a toga smack dab in the middle of the height of Rome. It's a turn-based strategy game that is acted out more in real-time than by the turn. You'll have to be a master juggler to keep politics, warfare, and intrigue under control.
Pax Romana tries to bring back the turn-based strategy game genre that was made popular by games like Nobunga's Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Turn-based games have lost their popularity since the rise of Warcraft and real-time strategy (RTS) games. Where an RTS puts you in charge of individual units and enough resource gathering to keep your army rolling, Pax Romana focuses less on positioning individual units and more on the finer details of running an empire. Sufficed to say, this isn't a game for most casual gamers; it's a simulation of running an actual empire and the combat is handled from the view of units being moved around on the map in a war room. Action junkies need not apply, because you'll need the patients of a fisherman to truly get into this one.
First off, you have to play through the tutorials. The game is nearly impossible to figure out without playing them. When I pick up a new game, I usually jump straight into playing it for a few minutes before consulting the manual. Am I a glutton for punishment? Maybe, but it seems to give me a frame of reference to use against what I'm reading in the manual. It's impossible to jump straight into normal gameplay in Pax Romana without the guidance of the tutorials. There are too many things going on, too much to figure out, and the controls aren't very easy to figure out. With all of this said, the learning curve proves to be pretty steep, so don't expect to get anywhere fast for at least the first hour of play.
This is one of those games that makes you work. On your way to gaining the emperor's mantle, you will have to keep both the senate and the populous happy, and you shouldn't forget about keeping your neighbors at bay. You'll need to set up trade routes to other countries to guarantee that you will have all the necessary resources available. You have to try to gain favor with the other senators. Some will follow you because of your deeds, and others will have to be bribed or even eliminated. Similarly, you must contend with your neighbors through diplomats, bribes, and even more drastic means. At times your "foreign policy" will be minted in gold and silver, and at other times it will be enforced at the point of a sword.
The game does offer multiplay. Six people can play in strategic mode, which really seemed like playing Risk with different names for the countries. Playing against other human combatants always makes a game much more interesting.
Even though you will have to contend with a lot of different things happening at what seems almost at once, the game really lacks a lot action. Most of your work will be dealing with really small details that bog the game down too much for my tastes. A bit more control on the action end and a bit less on the political side would have made me a much happier gamer.
If you like to play through a good game or Risk, give Pax Romana a try. If you like games like Quake 3 and WarCraft 3, you'll probably be bored with the pacing of the game. One thing is for certain though, the emperor's seat in Rome was not filled in one day.