I realized the moment I fell into the fissure that the Book would not be destroyed as I had planned. It continued falling into that starry expanse, of which I had only a fleeting glimpse. I have tried to speculate where it might have landed, but I must admit that such conjecture is futile. Still, questions about whose hands might one day hold my Myst book are unsettling to me. I know my apprehensions might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written. -- Atrus

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Penultimate Mission

A few days ago I returned to my favorite city building game, Pharaoh, based on ancient Egypt.  Of the three ancient Egypt games I have played, this one continues to take the lead for a number of reasons.  It's incredibly challenging but also historically accurate, relatively speaking. I truly believe it's a spectacular learning tool not only for understanding ancient Egypt, but also for social anthropology and those interested in the development of "the state."  The development of the state is an important part of civilization and it is a topic one typically finds in courses in ancient history.  I certainly include it when I teach.  Pharaoh begins in the Predynastic period, ca. 3,000 BC, and explores the moment in the evolution of civilization when nomadic groups begin to become a sedentary society.  And the game continues, in a sort of tutorial mode that adeptly represents the growth of society and culture, slowly adding development in agriculture, infrastructure, administration, emergent social hierarchy, and religion.

As your little society grows, and your family lineage increases in importance, the game becomes more challenging.  You're expected to manage increasingly larger and varied socio-economic aspects.  You've got to worry about adding entertainment and learning facilities.  Tax collectors and courts are instituted.  Monuments become grander and therefore more expensive to construct.  What begins as a simple, charming game suddenly becomes stressful as all the cares of your people are dumped continuously on your shoulders.

And then the game gets even bigger!!!  Suddenly, you're trading with cities far, far away. They ask for  grain or money or raw materials while you're already struggling to maintain these items for yourself.  And boy, if they don't get what they want in a timely manner you're in trouble.  Once Pharaoh's army comes for you, you know you have to replay the mission.  Other, foreign lands start to invade your lands, too. First on land, and later by river!  You've got to build armies and navies.  Military technology improves and you've got to build chariots, and fortifications walls and towers.

After this game you'd qualify as a presidential candidate for sure.  I mean, hey, less qualified individuals have done it before...

I'm attaching here images of the dashboard to show you all the stuff you have to manage at once.  First, there's the main screen where you actually build your city. At the very top of the screen is your typical toolbar with settings, etc.  But it also shows you how much money (debens) you have, the population count, and the date.  Because you need to keep your eye on the date so you can get ready for the Nike flood that occurs every year, as well as get out of the red by year's end or your approval ratings will go down.  And those ratings matter!

Main display
The sidebar on the right contains your panel of building tools.   There's a mini map that indicates where you are looking on your main screen, below it are two buttons: left one shows you your administration statuses (will look at more closely below), and the right button takes you to your "world" map to check on your trade activity.

Northern Egypt, the Levant, and the Aegean
The buttons below this are (from left to right, top to bottom): house building; farms, hunting, animal husbandry, fishing, agricultural technology; entertainment venues; public health like water supplies, doctors, pharmacists, and mortuaries; road building; raw materials and industries; religious structures like temples and monuments; administration buildings such as firehouses, police stations, tax collectors, courthouses, and the central administration building like city hall; the erase tool; food and goods storage and distribution; learning facilities; military facilities like forts, naval warfs, fortifications, and weapon smiths.  Of course, all these items are not available at once, but are added as the game goes on, as would be the case in state development.

Industries and Raw Materials menu
Now, let's take a look at our overseers. The first overseer shows you how many people are employed or unemployed, what the wages are, and the distribution of workers.  You can set wages yourself, too, but I rarely change this feature.  You can set priorities for which areas of employment you want addressed first.  I always set Infrastructure as 1, and Health and Sanitation as 2.  Several years' experience taught me this -- and yes you read that right: YEARSSSS.  I've been playing on and off for years and still haven't finished the game haha!!!!  So why set it as such?  If your infrastructure isn't fully staffed, buildings collapse and catch fire.  You have to spend lots of money you probably don't have to rebuild. And guess what?  The buildings that collapse matter because they are granaries or storage yards filled with food and household items and items you're trading to gain income.  Houses burn down and your population dwindles.  You can't rebuild without money and you can't fill jobs without people.  Hence, Infrastructure is #1.  With Health and Sanitation lacking in employees, your people die and more jobs are left empty.  Therefore, it's #2.  I can often get away with leaving the others to fill organically, but there are occasions where these must be changed.  Sometimes, when your population is low it's because you're missing food. People leave and you can't get them back!  So temporarily, you've got to push around priorities to Food and Distribution.  People will begin to return in droves.  One that always stresses me out is when the gods start destroying buildings and sending plagues because you haven't been paying enough attention to them because, oh I don't know, you're trying to bring in people to fill positions!  So you have to set the priority to religion and the gods will calm down.  Bast is the hardest to please.  I really dislike her.  Many have been the moments where I caterwaul in dismay over my dwindling populations!

Employment Overseer
Next overseer (I'm skipping military for now) is your personal info.  Here it shows you what your salary is.  This increases over time as your family gains more power. Eventually you become king, but much later in the game.  It also shows you if you have to fulfill any requests from other cities, such as 1600 units of grain within 7 months.  If you don't comply, your approval rating decreases.  Sometimes you can't comply because those assholes ask for shit you don't even have, and you have to import it!  If your approval rating gets to zero, you're done for.  However, with your salary you can buy Pharaoh gifts or donate money to the city, which may be helpful.  But you should do it at least once a year, so you have to keep your eye on the date.

Political Overseer
Next overseer shows you your ratings.  Each mission has a particular rating requirement and you have to keep your eye on the kingdom (approval) and prosperity ratings.  The other two are easy to achieve.  In the box below you are given tips on how to improve.

Ratings Overseer
Overseer of Commerce is one you'll visit often, where you can manage your imports and exports, check out their prices to see how they impact you financially, and you can also turn industries off and on, as well as stockpile goods.  Each mission gives you different raw materials and industries, so you're usually going to be trading with someone.  For instance, maybe your people will start whining for pottery (and they do), but you don't have the raw material clay. You do have a potter, however, so you have to import clay to make the pottery.  In many cases, you can export pottery and make up the money lost!  Trade routes cost money to open, and these costs vary.  Some traders come by foot; others come by ship.  So you need a dock and storage yards. And they trade only a certain number of items annually.  Waset may sell 4,000 clay a year, and On may sell up to 500.  It's a strategy just to decide which routes would be best to open first.

Commerce Overseer: manage industries, and imports and exports
You can even see the prices of cost for buy vs. sell!  Whaaaaaaat!
Next is your population overseer who tells you about the status of immigration and how much food you supply.  This is pretty straightforward and I don't often concern myself with it. The next three -- Public Health, Education, and Diversions -- are useful in showing where you are lacking in appropriate facilities.
Population and Agriculture Overseer

Public Health Overseer

Education Overseer

Entertainment Overseer
The religion overseer is another one that will take up a lot of your time because the gods are petty assholes.  You have to keep them happy by building temples and making sure they are fully staffed, as well as throw festivals for them -- you need a festival square to do this, and you have to make sure it's one of the first things you plant.  When they are angry it is cause to worry.  Ptah, for instance, may destroy a storage yard full of all the gems you mined which are your main source of income.  They can be quite cruel.  Bast is the bitchiest.

Religion: bribe gods
The treasury is a good one because it shows all your expenses, your income, tax rate, taxes collected, and tax registration.  If you are in debt or lose more money than the year before, your prosperity rating goes down, which could also lead to your kingdom approval rating going down.  It's useful in pinpointing where you need to make financial adjustments.  Following this is the Chief Overseer who tells you the general problems and statuses in the city.

Treasury Overseer
Chief Overseer
You can also check on problem areas in the city by selecting the overlays button in the toolbox, as below:
Overlays screen
The monuments overseer will keep a tally of monument construction progress as well as indicate what items you need to donate to the funerary structure.  You can also check in on the monument rating, or have fun watching them build the great pyramid!  If the gods are feeling especially benevolent, they will build parts of the structure for you, which saves money on stone!

Monuments Overseer
Returning to the military overseer, you can check up on your armies and navies.  You are allowed only six divisions of each, which was a problem for me in the last mission I completed.  For the army you can have a collection of soldiers, archers, and, later, charioteers.  You need a recruiter, a weapon smith, and an academy if you want well-trained soldiers.  Weapons are made with copper, which sometimes you need to import.  In battle you can decide what position you want them to take, stand ground or charge.  Sometimes they get scared and run back to the fort, but with experience they get better.  Sometimes in naval battles you lose all your ships, so you've got to make sure your shipwrights are stocked with wood so they can make more immediately.  Then, after your harrowing battles on land and sea, you have to rebuild.  Sometimes the enemy destroys areas of your city...and they always go for the most important buildings first!

Military Overseer
I've gone through all of the above to illustrate the remarkable complexity of this game.  It has its moments when it is truly difficult, and the last mission I played, which is the penultimate mission in the vanilla game, was one of the most difficult I have done.  The site is at ancient Byblos. Byblos is a coastal city in the Syria-Palestine region, and in antiquity it was one of the most important cities, and one of the wealthiest.  It was Egypt's main source for cedar wood, which they prized above all other woods.  Byblos was a trading capital.  Therefore, I thought it was going to go smoothly in the game.  But alas.

Obtaining debens was not exactly the issue.  My kingdom rating was great, monument rating easily obtainable, culture rating just fine.  But for the life of me I could not achieve my prosperity rating!  I was supposed to have 40, but the highest it would go was 34!  Why?  I'll tell you!

The three main problems were population, beer, and those god damn Hittites!  I had a massive population until people started wanting beer.  I had to import beer because I had no method of making my own, BUT there was only one city, Rowarty in the Delta, that was selling, but they would sell only 400 units at a time.  Therefore, there was rarely any beer to go around and people started leaving my city.  Even worse, the Hittites invaded often, on land and sea.  Eventually, my six army units (1 archer, 2 soldier, 3 chariot) were skilled enough to demolish the Hittite foot soldiers and chariots with relative ease, but they often scared away my population.

The Hittite ships, though.  Egad!  As I wrote above, you are given only six navies.  Frustratingly, this is not nearly enough in this mission, because those bastard Hittites come with double the ships!  And they kill yours like smashing ants!  It was a very stressful mission, and a couple of my friends were forced to hear all about how the Hittites were kicking my ass.  But glory be!  I completed the mission.

When my prosperity rating was not going beyond 34, I knew it never would, but I also knew the problem was not with me. I was doing everything right...the problem was that Rowarty was just not selling beer!  I grew tired of trying to fix it and set the game difficulty from normal to very easy, and within ten minutes I completed the mission.  It took 73 game years, and my score was absolutely atrocious, but I felt such elation and relief to have come out of that terribly stressful ordeal.

Last mission: Rowarty
Now I'm on the final mission of the vanilla game, and guess where the site is?  Rowarty!  At least I know I'll have a steady beer supply!  This mission covers the Sea People, who, in antiquity, almost decimated the entire eastern Mediterranean.  They destroyed the Hittite empire, which would never rise again.  They razed cities in the Levant and there are some tablets that have been discovered that include letters of desperation from Ugarit to a city in Cyprus where the ruler is terrified because the Sea Peoples are approaching their city.  These kinds of letters are always heart rending because we know those poor sods were killed.  (I have a whole thing about the king of the Mitannians and his demise when my favorite pharaoh, Akhenaten, stopped paying attention to him.  I wrote this crazy sad paragraph about it in my MA thesis, and to this day I'm surprised my adviser let me keep it in there...well blast. Now I want to share that with the world, and damn it I will!)

Anyway, when the Sea Peoples arrived at Egypt, Ramesses III was finally able to defeat them once and for all.  If he hadn't, who knows how history might have been different!  Now, with all this in my mind, realizing that this is the last mission in the game, the final showdown after which Egypt's power begins to decline, it's rather an emotional mission to play.  It's going to be tough as hell, I imagine, but I'll feel really cool donning my Ramesses III hat and kicking butt!  (In the game, it looks like they have this occurring under the reign of Ramesses II, which is factually incorrect.  The Sea Peoples did attack in the reign of his son, Merneptah, though.)

In short, play this game!  You not only learn about Egypt, but also you learn how societies develop and function.  You learn some intense management and problem skills, as well.  I think this is an excellent educational tool and I recommend it to schoolchildren and college students.  And of course I recommend it to regular gamers!


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