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Video Game / Caesar

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Rome wasn't built in a day

For the man himself, see Julius Caesar. For the play by William Shakespeare, see Julius Caesar.

Caesar is a computer Simulation Game saga of four city-building games where the player undertakes the role of a Roman governor, building Roman cities.

Developed by Impressions Games and published by Sierra in 1992 on the Amiga, and ported the next year to Atari ST, PC and Macintosh, the game can be described as SimCity in ancient Rome. In addition to similar graphics and user interfaces, it also came with issues of micromanagement, including complicated city-planning requirements such as building the right number of schools, theaters, libraries, bathhouses, and other amenities, within suitable distances of residential areas. The player is also tasked with the military buildup and defense of the city against Barbarian Tribes and rival nations such as Carthago.

The high-water mark of the saga is considered to be Caesar III, which spawned several and gradually improved spinoffs in Ancient Egypt (Pharaoh), Ancient Greece (Zeus: Master of Olympus) and China (Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom). The game Nebuchadnezzar (which focuses on ancient Mesopotamia) also takes inspiration from this series.

These games provide examples of:

  • Alternate History: The campaign maps include some provinces that were never actually under Roman rule.
  • Anachronism Stew: The game uses the Christian calendar (BC/AD) instead of regnal years or Ab Urbe Condita, as would have been used historically, despite being set before either the birth of Christ or the rise to dominance of Christianity.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Averted. You can right-click on your citizens and they will complain about everything from a lack of employment to a lack of workers, inadequate healthcare or worship services. Even if there are only 10 workers needed in a city of 7000. Very unhappy homes also spawn muggers, vandals or looters. On the other hand, if you manage your city well, your citizens will give you unending praise.
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: While there is no population cap, there is a cap on the number of legions you can have. This is however Handwaved by the game: Casear doesn't allow your cities to have a larger force because you're supposed to be building and defending it, not starting a war.
  • Artistic License History: "Caesar" was nothing more than a surname until the mid-1st century B.C, and some of the games in this series (e.g. Caesar III) take place centuries before then, when Rome was a Republic rather than an Empire, and the highest position of executive authority was the Consul. All the same, the concepts of "Caesar" and "Empire" are present from the very beginning.
  • Artistic License Military: There are quite a few deviations from The Glory That Was Rome.
    • Javelins being used by auxiliaries rather than by regular legionaries.
    • Regular legions consisting entirely of regular sword-and-shield warriors.
    • Light ranged and cavalry units being considered legions in their own right. If the first fort you build is for auxiliaries, they'll still be called "Prima Legion".
  • Barbarian Tribe: Celts are one the main enemies of the game. Some maps also have quaint little barbarian settlements, where you can establish a mission. This makes them less likely to attack you, but more likely to trade with you, sometimes for otherwise inaccessible goods.
  • Bread And Circus: Good food and entertainment are basic elements behind a happy and wealthy population. Note that while the "Circus" aspect can be Gladiator Games, it doesn't necessarily have to be. (Theaters and Hippodromes work too.)
  • Command & Conquer Economy: The citizens show very little initiative. Not only do you have to build everything for them except housing (which you merely designate plots for), they do not even go to the market themselves to buy food and goods; a peddler has to walk past. Owing to the vagaries of the walker system, you risk losing a lot of workers to an entire street being deserted due to a priestess failing to walk down it sufficiently often. This is somewhat alleviated in 4. Buildings such as temples/shrines, bathhouses, etc have a certain range along roads in-contact with the building, which increases or deceases depending on how close to full-employment the building is at, with them being at full-range at maximum capacity, naturally. All buildings within that range are served. Markets meanwhile still collect food, but walkers come out from nearby housing and go purchase the food at the market, taking it back home. This takes some of the luck-based walker guesswork out of providing food... though your citizen still end up needing to race each other to the market if supplies are low.
  • Construct Additional Pylons: The whole purpose of the game. Also literally, in order to reach perfect coverage of the city for your various service buildings, you need to build additional apothecaries/schools/gymnasia/whatever, even if all your citizens actually already receive it, but the statistic that keeps track of it (and influences some modifiers) works on a Number of Citizens/Number of Buildings basis.
  • Critical Existence Failure: As long as they're fully staffed, buildings will operate at full efficiency regardless of their risk of burning down or collapsing, right up to the moment they burn down or collapse.
  • Developer's Foresight: In Caesar III, if the map's Prosperity goal requires that your housing be at Insulae or higher level, there is usually at least one trade route through which you can import Furniture (a requirement for Insulae), just in case you decided to delete all of the trees on the map.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Most of the tropes of the series were standardized by Caesar III. I and II have their own quirks, such as being far less battle-focused (if such a thing is possible), having separate city and province maps and the "loot and scoot" strategy (where you pour your city treasury into your personal chest right before you get promoted, leaving yourself rich and the city badly in debt).
      • With the history of some Roman governors (Verres in particular), this was/is Truth in Television in some respects.
    • The first games also lacked roadblocks the player could drop on a road to tell walkers to stay within a given area. As a result, an efficient road and supply network could turn out pretty darn weird as good players tried to avoid crossroads at all costs, often resulting in one lonesome meandering road snaking around the entire city. Hope nobody's in a hurry to get anywhere.
    • The only city building branch that lacks major construction projects. This extends to IV.
  • Firewood Resources: You play the governor of a Roman province/city that has Timber Yards that produce planks. The only use for these planks is making furniture or exporting them. Which makes you wonder just what the heck the city is being built out of.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: III had one: on the very hardest difficulty, the game logic would break as soon as there were 200 people living in your city. It would declare them all as miserable, the city as a hellhole, and halt further immigration. The logic would work correctly again when there were 300 people living in your city, but good luck getting that to happen with the broken logic. One known fix is to build an elaborate, time-wasting maze on the way into your city, so that when the 200th person finally gets to the end, reaches a house, and is officially living there (triggering the bug and stopping immigration) there's already been generated 100 immigrants behind them in the maze, so they'll reach housing, become residents, and get you past that magic 300 number where the game logic works again.
  • Game Mod: III has two:
    • Julius[1] is something of an extensive unofficial patch, adding widescreen support among other things ([2]), and fixing selected bugs (such as the immigration bug described above), although deliberately preserving many so as not to break save compatibility. ([3])
    • Augustus[4] is a more extensive reworking of the game, adding concepts from other games in the series, like roadblocks note and global workforce, as well as reworks to things like city health and mood calculations, leading to a different game experience.
  • Game Over: In most games, running into debt leads to a game-over. In Caesar II, you can often get promoted while your city is deep in debt, leaving the mess for someone else to fix while you abscond with the treasury (which you then use to fund your next city).
  • Gladiator Games: Houses need access to these in order to reach higher levels of development.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: While gods need sacrifices or festivals almost constantly, ignoring them only makes them angry. Cue earthquakes, plagues, floods, failing crops... On the other hand, keeping them happy also brings benefices.
  • Hello, [Insert Name Here]: You must name your family to begin playing the game.
  • Money Sink: Caesar II had this in the form of an imperial tax on your personal savings (from the salary you paid yourself). When your savings reached certain sums, the Emperor would tax you and the tax rate depended on how much your savings were. It was explained in the strategy guide this was meant to stop hoarding your money early in the game when it wasn't necessary. Later in the game with the more provinces you conquered, you'd pay less tax than before.
  • Not in My Backyard!: Houses won't evolve to the higher levels if close to unsightly buildings like noisy forums and industrial buildings, despite the fact that they need those buildings to provide whatever goods and services are required to keep them at that level.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Conquests and decisive battles happen offscreen from Caesar III onwards.
  • Recycled In Space: Described as SimCity in Ancient Rome with a historical and military layer added. The spinoffs can be recursively defined as Caesar in Egypt/Greece/China!
  • Refining Resources: Most of the non-food resources in Caesar III are part of a raw-to-refined dichotomy, as follows: Clay to Pottery; Timber to Furniture; Iron to Weapons; Olives to Oil; and Vines to Wine. Raw resources are produced in separate buildings than they're refined in, and they can be imported or exported independently of each other.
  • Ridiculously Fast Construction: Any nonresidential buildings are built instantaneously, and residential buildings are built and upgraded as soon as they have the required food, supplies, and services.
  • "Risk"-Style Map: Caesar II features a map of territories you could choose to rule. Generally, only territories adjacent to one you already conquered are available. There are major differences such as the resources available and the friendliness or otherwise of local population.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: In the first two games, you can bribe the Emperor with your personal funds, so he'll lower the tribute that your city has to pay to the Senate. Also, when you receive a promotion, the size of the city treasury is irrelevant, but you can carry your personal treasury to your next city (either to fund the new city's growth, or to pay off the Emperor). And yes, you can pay your own salary while the city is 9000 denarii in debt.
  • Sequel Escalation: Caesar III features lots of additions, but some interesting elements from Caesar II such as province management are also dropped though. Additionally many of the realistic gameplay changes made in Immortal Cities: Children of the Nile were discarded in favour of the traditional formula in Caesar IV.
  • Shop Fodder: A good deal of your income in the early game comes from opening a trade route and exporting surplus supplies of one kind or another, and depending on the scenario, some of those supplies may be useless to you. In peaceful scenarios, Weapons are going to be your top seller, as you can't build forts anyway.
  • Shout-Out: Several soldiers' quotes in IV:
  • Shown Their Work: With the tax settings. Rome did not care how much 'over' the required amount you were able to tax a populace, and was happy to let you keep the surplus. They also did not care from whom you collected the tax, only that you did. Thus, the "loot and scoot" strategy and most of the finicky tax settings are historically accurate, as well as being able to pay yourself whatever you wanted.
  • Space-Management Game: Trope Codifier of the Commodities variety.
  • Third Is 3D: Concretely the fourth is the one which made the Video Game 3D Leap from 2D isometric sprites.
  • Updated Re-release:
    • Caesar Gold incorporated the tactical warfare engine from another Impression Games release (Cohort) to play the battles. This was carried over to Caesar II. From Caesar III onwards the defensive battles are fought directly in the city without any change and the rest happen offscreen.
    • Caesar II was initially released for DOS and Windows 3.1 in 1995 before getting a re-release for Windows 95 and Macintosh the following year, with a partial new score by Keith Zizza (who would go on to become the primary house composer for Impressions Games, reusing the tracks he composed for this game in Caesar IV).
  • War Elephants: Carthago's signature troops. They're Mighty Glaciers that can trample almost anything they reach, but can be worn down by sustained ranged attacks.
  • Wine Is Classy: Only upper-class citizens (living in villas or palaces) drink wine. Palace-dwelling citizens require wine of at least two different varietals, necessitating imports.
  • You Require More Vespene Gas:
    • In Caesar III your citizens require food (in most games more variety means better houses and happier citizens), basic commodities (whether pottery, linen, olive oil or tea) and luxury goods (exotic furs, incense, wine, silk...) . The goods required by the population can be Refining Resources made by the local industries or imported from the world market.
    • Averted in the first two games. Here, your citizens require amenities to advance their housing quality, but not food, and their consumption of goods from your manufacturing businesses is one of your two main sources of income.