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Rewrite history in ‘Imperator: Rome’

They’re complicated, difficult and take forever — 20, 30, 100 hours into one play-through if you’re up for it.

“Imperator: Rome”
$39.99 for PC
All-ages (but very complicated)

The grand strategy games from Paradox Interactive are some of my greatest gaming guilty pleasures. These are games where you control a country on the world stage over the course of centuries, and so unlike other guilty pleasures (cookies, cheesy horror movies, sleeping in) there’s nothing sweet and easy about a Paradox game. They’re complicated, difficult and take forever — 20, 30, 100 hours into one play-through if you’re up for it.

And I’m up for it. Whole weekends have disappeared down the grand strategy rabbit hole.

“Imperator: Rome” is the latest game from Paradox. In it you take control of ancient Rome and guide it from rough-and-tumble Italian city-state to marble-clad master of the Mediterranean. Or you take command of archrival Carthage. Or Macedonia in the age after Alexander the Great. Or some tiny Celtic tribe in central France. Or one of a hundred other choices. One of the great joys of these games is the ability to pick any political entity from England to India and try to navigate history’s challenges.

Guiding your fledgling empire isn’t easy or straightforward. “Imperator: Rome” has an overwhelming number of menus, options, map settings and numbers. There’s a lot to keep track of, and some might say it often looks like a slightly prettier version of a spreadsheet. Expanding your empire entails building armies, but not so many that you can’t feed them or deplete your population. It also means paying for them, and improving your infrastructure, and making sure your trade network is secure, and appeasing the people when times get tough, and assuaging your generals so they don’t lead their armies in rebellion against your tyranny. Plus, you can’t fight everyone at once; diplomacy, religion, culture and ideologies all play important roles in your rule.

The game does have some good tutorials to walk you through the first steps. It also allows you to set the difficulty to easy, which I heartily recommend for anyone who has never played a Paradox game before. Just take your time with them, because it’s going to take a lot of time. And the developers support their games for years after release.

Paradox games also support a very active mod community. Players create their own, unofficial modifications and additions; for example, someone has already created a version of Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the game, and a “Game of Thrones” mod is surely on the way.

The pleasure of “Imperator: Rome” comes from both mastering the systems and setting your own goals. It’s not a game for those who want a tight narrative and a simple path to success, but for those who want to both challenge themselves and rewrite history.