Pharaoh (video game)

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Pharaoh Coverart.png
Developer(s)Impressions Games
Publisher(s)Sierra Studios
  • Ken Parker
  • Greg Sheppard
Designer(s)Chris Beatrice
Programmer(s)Mike Gingerich
  • Darrin Horbal
  • Heidi Mann
  • Mike Malone
Writer(s)Lisa Gagnon
SeriesCity Building
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows
ReleaseOctober 31, 1999

Pharaoh is an isometric city-building game that was released on October 31, 1999, created by Impressions Games and published by Sierra Studios, for Microsoft Windows. Using the same game engine and principles of Caesar III (also by Sierra Entertainment), it is the first such game in Sierra's City Building series to focus on another civilization of ancient times. Players oversee the construction and management of cities and settlements in Ancient Egypt, micro-managing every aspect of the city to ensure citizens are fed, employed, healthy and protected from diseases, disasters and wars. An expansion pack, Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile, was released in 2000, developed by BreakAway Games. In 2001, both the game and expansion pack were bundled together as Pharaoh Gold.[1] In August 2020, a remake titled Pharaoh: A New Era was announced by Triskell Interactive and Dotemu to be released in 2023.


Pharaoh is played from a two-dimensional isometric perspective; the magnification level is fixed, but the viewing angle can be changed at 90-degree angles, either counter-clockwise or clockwise. Much of the control is managed through the mouse and keyboard shortcuts, in an interface system similar to that of Caesar III. Many buttons exist for different types of construction like housing and roads, viewing messages, undoing mistakes, cycling through trouble spots, a map of Ancient Egypt and the surrounding regions, a group of advisors (called Overseers) who provide information on the city's development and any problems encountered, and in-game overlays that detail issues and the fulfillment of housing's demands. All aspects of city life, such as housing, religion, warfare and trade, are designed carefully to closely reflect that of actual Ancient Egyptian cities of the time, including the goods and services available. Names of various pharaohs are used with the appearance of historical characters from Egypt's ancient history, and limited encyclopedic information about ancient Egyptian practices is provided in the game's help menu and instruction booklet. While the game uses the deben as its currency, no standardized metal currency is known to have been used in Ancient Egypt. Although the puzzle-like aspect of Pharaoh keeps the simulation far from realistic, the game stays true to the chronological order and timing of major events in the history of Egypt, including monument construction, wars and national disasters, the births and deaths of notable leaders, and the founding and fall of ancient cities.

Game modes[edit]

The game features two modes of play – campaign and free-build. In campaign mode, players focus on establishing cities during different periods of Ancient Egypt, initially working on nomad settlements, before being entrusted with building up trade centres, grand cities and monuments for various Ancient Egyptian leaders. As campaign mode progresses, players earn promotions until they become the Pharaoh themselves. Players operate in five periods of Ancient Egyptian history (six with the inclusion of Cleopatra), with the first period acting as a basic tutorial. In later periods, players get a choice between two missions, usually peaceful and military alternatives, but only one of the two needs to be completed to move on in the campaign.

In free-build mode, players are given a choice of around a dozen standalone scenarios. Some do not have win conditions, allowing open-ended "sandbox" city-building, whereas others present goals to attain. A map editor is provided with the game to facilitate the creation of user-designed scenarios for this mode.

The Pharaoh interface

Gameplay elements[edit]

Pharaoh simulates many aspects of Egyptian life and city management. While many of the elements of the game, from housing to industry, are borrowed from Caesar III, the game distinguishes itself with differences and new features.[2] For example, after housing plots are designated, immigrants can move into them and build their residences. Housing will automatically be improved, including in appearance, when demands for goods, services and desirable surroundings are fulfilled.[2] While Population, Prosperity and Culture are retained in the game, Favor is renamed as "Kingdom" and maintains the same function in that the score is based upon the ruling Pharaoh's view on a player's performance. Peace is replaced with a new goal, "Monument", which focuses on a player's efforts to establish the monuments needed within their city; players will usually be given the knowledge of the monuments they need to build during a briefing of their next mission.

In terms of farming, floodplain farms are a new feature built near the Nile River.[2] A further addition is the use of Irrigation Ditches to increase the fertility of farmland. Fishers operate in boats, usually situated in the Nile. Hunting is a new feature in Pharaoh; animals to be hunted are present on the game map. A wide variety of raw materials and manufactured goods are available in Pharaoh. Materials include clay, which is manufactured into pottery; reeds, which are manufactured into papyrus;[3] and various types of stone.[4] Both raw materials and goods can be traded with other cities in exchange for currency. On some city maps, the raw materials necessary to produce certain goods are unavailable, so importing sometimes expensive materials is necessary. Exports are often necessary to produce money for city finances.[2]

Much like the Senate building of Caesar III, the palace operates as the main treasury of the city. While architects operate out of their own building like Caesar III, fire and crime prevention are done by two separate buildings and walkers – firehouses and fire marshals, and police stations and constables. Players may also build Courthouses. Another new feature to the series, monuments from Ancient Egyptian history can be built on a variety of missions. Such projects require various worker facilities and building materials[3] and, unlike most other buildings, take time to be built.[4]

The game has five gods to appease, who each focus on a different aspect of the city – Ra (the kingdom), Bast (the home), Osiris (agriculture), Ptah (industry) and Seth (warfare). Each city is given one or several of the gods to worship: one is the patron god of the city, while the others are local deities. Players can construct shrines, temples or temple complexes to appease the gods. Like in Caesar III, the gods bestow gifts when they are appeased and disasters when they are angered, depending on their focus; for example, Osiris can improve the flooding of the Nile and increase crop yields, but can also decrease the quality of the Nile's annual flooding.[3]

Fighting Egypt's enemies is a secondary element of the game.[2] Pharaoh features three different unit types: infantry, archers and chariot riders. A player's city can be attacked by enemy forces, usually multiple times over the course of a mission. Troops can also be sent to help fellow Egyptian armies in battles outside the city. A new feature to Pharaoh is naval combat. Players have access to two types of ships – transports, which ferry ground troops across water, and warships, which fight enemy ships that arrive in the region.[5]

The game also leaves out certain aspects from Caesar III, such as large bridges and inability to traverse large bodies of water other than by ferry.[2][4]


Critical reception[edit]

Daniel Erickson reviewed the PC version of the game for Next Generation, rating it four stars out of five, and stated that "Pyramid building and floodplain management come together for a brilliant city builder."[8]

Pharaoh garnered mainly positive reviews, with an average rating of 82.45% on GameRankings.[6]


In the German market, Pharaoh debuted at #4 on Media Control's computer game sales charts in the second half of November 1999.[10] It had spent six weeks in the top rankings by the end of the year, with a fifth-place finish in December.[11] The following year, Pharaoh continued at #5 in January and secured sixth for February.[12] In April 2000, the Verband der Unterhaltungssoftware Deutschland (VUD) presented the game with a "Gold" award,[13] indicating sales of at least 100,000 units across Germany, Austria and Switzerland.[14] It remained in Media Control's top 10 by August 2000,[15] and in the top 20 through November. By that time, Pharaoh had held in the firm's top 30 for 13 months.[16]

Pharaoh became a worldwide hit. According to MeriStation, its combined global sales with Caesar III surpassed 1 million units by July 2000.[17]

Expansion pack[edit]

Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile cover art

The game was complemented with an expansion pack called Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile, developed by BreakAway Games the following year, which extended the game's main campaign into the Hellenistic period. Both the original game and expansion pack are commonly referred to, and may be purchased as one, under the title Pharaoh and Cleopatra.[18]


A remake titled Pharaoh: A New Era was announced in August 2020 by Triskell Interactive and Dotemu to be released in 2023. This remake will feature new code for modern computer systems and an updated user interface, as well as new gameplay modes including a sandbox mode, but will include the campaign modes from both Pharaoh and the Cleopatra expansion.[19][20]


  1. ^ "The Sierra Chest – Pharaoh Gold". Sierra Entertainment.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Dulin, Ron (2 May 2000). "Pharaoh Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d Ward, Trent (12 November 1999). "Pharaoh Review". IGN. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d Udell, Scott (23 December 1999). "Pharaoh". Computer Games Strategy Plus. Archived from the original on 1 April 2005.
  5. ^ Gagnon, Lisa. "Pharaoh" (PDF). Sierra Studios.
  6. ^ a b "Pharaoh for PC". GameRankings. Archived from the original on 19 March 2018. Retrieved 18 March 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  7. ^ Carter, Tim (February 2000). "Jewel of the Nile". Computer Gaming World. No. 187. p. 124.
  8. ^ a b Erickson, Daniel (February 2000). "Finals". Next Generation. Vol. 3, no. 2. Imagine Media. p. 104.
  9. ^ Bub, Andrew S. "Pharaoh". PC Gamer US. Archived from the original on 29 March 2008.
  10. ^ Staff (February 2000). "Aktuell; Spiele-Charts". PC Player: 40.
  11. ^ "CD-ROM Spiele über DM 55,--; Stand 2. Hälfte Dezember 1999" (in German). Verband der Unterhaltungssoftware Deutschland. Archived from the original on 21 May 2000. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  12. ^ Staff (May 2000). "Aktuell; Spiele-Charts". PC Player (in German): 32.
  13. ^ "VUD Sales Awards: April 2000" (Press release). Verband der Unterhaltungssoftware Deutschland. Archived from the original on 22 April 2003. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  14. ^ Horn, Andre (14 January 2004). "VUD-Gold-Awards 2003". GamePro Germany. Archived from the original on 18 July 2018.
  15. ^ "Stand: September 2000" (in German). Verband der Unterhaltungssoftware Deutschland. Archived from the original on 24 October 2000. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  16. ^ "Stand: November 2000" (in German). Verband der Unterhaltungssoftware Deutschland. Archived from the original on 9 December 2000. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  17. ^ "Últimas noticias de Impressions Games, los padres de Faraón" [Latest news from Impressions Games, Pharaoh's creators]. MeriStation. 7 July 2000. Archived from the original on 27 October 2004. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  18. ^ "Pharaoh: Cleopatra Queen of the Nile Expansion". Archived from the original on 8 August 2008. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  19. ^ Bell, Alice (27 August 2020). "Rejoice! Absolute classic citybuilder Pharaoh is getting a remake next year". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved 27 August 2020.
  20. ^ Kim, Matt T.M. (27 August 2020). "Pharaoh: A New Era Is a Full Remake of the 1999 City Building Game". IGN. Retrieved 31 August 2020.

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