“Caesar III” and the World of Urban Rome

An Abstract for the ICC, Fall 2003

M. Pittenger, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

            “Caesar III,” a city-building simulation from Sierra Games, is more than just a fun diversion to pass the time, because the people who designed it did a good deal of research in order to incorporate into the mechanics of game-play a number of important insights about urban planning, provincial administration, and daily life in Imperial Rome. In this presentation I will describe various features of the game with a view toward what our students might be able to learn from it, for I believe that if used advisedly, i.e. with enough context wrapped around it and ample guidance along the way, this could make an extremely useful teaching-tool, especially at the secondary level.

            Everything is built on a grid-system, favoring a systematic and therefore typically Roman approach to road-networks and other aspects of urban design. There is a firm distinction between ordinary workers (i.e. the plebs urbana ) and the upper classes. Worker housing evolves through many stages as commodities and services become available, including water, various types of food, fire-suppression, religion, household items, medical facilities, education, entertainment, and so on. Workers staff industries and public services. You must balance the number of workers to the number of jobs, avoiding either unemployment or worker shortages, and manage both wages and taxes as well. Keep the people happy, or else crime will rise and in extremis even riots break out. When all the desirable goods and services are firmly in place, provide your houses with wine, preferably from two different sources, and they will suddenly cater to the non-working elite. As governor of a city, you must manage agriculture, industry, and housing, and trade with other cities by sea and land, importing whatever the local economy lacks and exporting products in order to keep the city afloat financially. To defend against enemy attacks you must build, train, and equip an army, and also keep Caesar happy by fulfilling his periodic requests for resources and/or troops as you yourself move up through the ranks of the imperial service. Each scenario has a list of requirements which must be met before moving on to the next assignment. The challenges increase in difficulty as the game proceeds, making this an ideal way to think through what a governor must have faced in the “real” Roman world.