Despite the name, CivCity: Rome isn't the next game in the Civilization franchise. While the two share part of a title and a publisher, Civilization IV was developed by Firaxis in the tradition of the classic game pioneered by industry legend Sid Meier, and this city builder was produced by Firefly Studios, a Hartford-based company best known for the cult 2001 hit Stronghold and its two sequels. So this is more of a traditional historical city builder than a toga-centric take on cultural victories, bobblehead leaders, and all of the other iconic aspects that have made Civilization one of the best-loved strategy series of all time.
One thing that CivCity: Rome has going for it is distinctly Roman architecture and brutal games in coliseums with three distinct types of gladiator.
CivCity: Rome grafts a simplified tech tree and a handful of wonders onto a clone of Impressions Games city builders from the late 1990s like Caesar and Pharaoh. Gameplay, visuals, and a succession of dreary mission goals evoke a been there, done that atmosphere. The historical ambience is impressive at times, but only city-building diehards and classicists will get much enjoyment out of building Rome, even if it really does take just a day in this case.
The look and feel of the game is very similar to Caesar III. The solo-only gameplay features both a small selection of one-off missions along with a fairly lengthy campaign in which you play a freelance governor taking assignments in cities across the empire. Missions in both modes of play generally aren't all that captivating. You basically build the same town over and over again, constructing shacks, olive farms, butcher shops, warehouses, baths, gladiatorial schools, theaters, and the like. Then you meet spectacularly lackluster goals like developing a set number of houses, selling a set amount of wine, quarrying a set amount of marble, building a set number of bathhouses, staging a set number of chariot races, and so forth.
Some missions force you to set up watchtowers to battle wildfires, and later even build forts and arm soldiers to battle barbarians, but for the most part you establish an economic system so that you can meet one set of numerical goals after another. This is pretty straightforward. There are no negative effects to worry about, as businesses don't have any negative effects, and there are just a couple of steps in the chains that take items from raw resources to finished goods. Basically, you locate or develop a resource, then process and sell it. Wheat, for example, is harvested on farms, then turned into flour in mills, which is then made into bread and sold to hungry citizens in bakeries. Wood is cut at a lumber camp and then carved into recliners and beds and sold to the plebs in carpentry shops. Fish is caught by fishermen, then filleted and sold at the fishmonger's stall. Sometimes you need to set up trade routes to buy and sell merchandise from other towns, but this is even simpler to manage (although it will try your patience, as mule trains take forever to go from one town to another, even with the game speed on its fastest setting) than producing the goods yourself.
Of course, the end goal is to give residents access to these products, plus other amenities like wells, barbers, taverns, temples, and the like, so that towns will eventually grow from a collection of humble shacks to majestic villas and you will become a god of Roman urban planning. But even though this is a tried-and-true system sported by city-building games for going on a decade now, CivCity: Rome is awfully clunky due to some irritating issues with both the visuals and the interface.
For starters, the game is ugly. Although it is nifty how roofs peel back to show you citizens going about their daily lives (this also provides tips during play, as you can visually check how wheat is being stockpiled, if olive presses have enough olives, and so forth), and how clicking on homes and businesses create arrows connecting them to their wandering citizens, the jagged visuals are three years out of date. They're also hampered by huge info screens that block off much of the city, a camera angle that makes it impossible to look at cities from anything even approximating a top-down view, and a bug that prevents you from selecting citizens and buildings by clicking directly on them in 1280x1024 resolution (you have to offset the cursor about an inch below and to the right of the object that you're trying to grab, which makes it tough to access buildings in crowded cities and flat-out impossible to select citizens or demolish anything smaller than a house).
While it is neat to be able to peek inside buildings and keep an eye on workers, the overall visuals are at least three years past their best-before date.