Building an Empire
The game spans 44 levels, each displayed as a large dot on an overhead map of the desert. To advance, you must complete a short list of objectives before time expires (referred to as the "Time of Ra" because, hey, it's more exotic than "vertical meter"). These objectives range from building housing, such as tents or cottages, to making x-amount of people "happy," removing obstructions from roads, amassing a certain amount of wealth, and so forth.
As seen in games like Build-a-lot, the areas where you are allowed to build are pre-defined when you start a level, so you can't freely construct the city of your dreams as in more advanced titles like SimCity 4 or the similarly themed Children of the Nile.
Instead you are presented with a handful of build sites, upon which you'll decide what to construct given your goals. One nice feature is that you have unlimited servants at your disposal -- you are, after all a pharaoh, which means you have a bit more clout than your average contractor. And servants, whether they like it or not, work for free.
Food, Water and Taxes
Since labor is free and plentiful, you can simply focus your efforts at completing your tasks as quickly as possible. Of course, money is always an issue, so housing is the first priority since it allows you to receive a steady income of taxes. Taxes are collected by your servants by clicking directly on an icon above the house (a gold pyramid appears above the house when taxes are ready, so you'll know at a glance which houses need clicking).
Now taxes aren't exactly the best way to keep people happy, but times were simpler back then, so all you need to do to keep the populace smiling is provide food and water. Full bellies are happy bellies, apparently. So building a well, and later in the game, a farm, are required to generate sustenance.
Your people will let you know when they are hungry or thirsty with icons above each house, so you'll need to keep an eye on these too (apparently even pharaohs aren't immune to micromanagement). Wait too long to give your citizens food or water, and they'll stop paying taxes until you remedy the situation.
Another "essential" for each level is constructing a quarry, which gives you access to supplies for building and making repairs. You can also upgrade most buildings to three levels, allowing you to collect more money in taxes, get a discount on building supplies, and more.
In addition, each stage will typically have some roads leading to building sites blocked off by giant cobras, cheetahs, and other creatures. To clear a path, you'll need to click on the obstruction and pay a fee for a "specialist" (like a snake charmer) to come out and work his or her magic.
The Sands of Time
That's basically everything you need to know about Fate of the Pharaoh, which lacks the strategic depth needed to satisfy veteran gamers. There are only four housing options (from tents to residences), four production buildings (from quarries to warehouses), and four "wealth" structures (from a workshop to a temple).
There are sadly no random elements other than repairs to worry about -- like sandstorms or other natural disasters -- so there's not a lot of things to manage as you attempt to complete each level. Time does move quickly, however, so finishing each level within the limit is the most challenging part of the game.
Yet there's not much of a price to pay for failure, as you can still complete the level as long as your fulfill your objectives. Fate of the Pharaoh includes a second mode that does away with the Time of Ra altogether, for those that don't like the added pressure of trying to perform tasks quickly, but what's the point when you aren't penalized for missing the time limit in the "normal" mode? For some strange reason, the amount of time left over doesn't matter -- as long as you complete the objectives before time expires, you automatically get 5,000 bonus points regardless of whether you have a sliver left or a nearly full meter.
An Average Fate
Points are awarded to you at the end of each stage as part of an overall score based on a number of factors, such as total taxes collected or your population's happiness rating. Interestingly enough, there's no scoring based objectives or global leaderboards to give players an added incentive to maximize their earnings. In-game achievements are also disappointing, as they all involve completing levels within the time limit.
While the developers tried to spice up the action by gradually introducing new structure types and goals, they aren't nearly as diverse as they could be. You'll have to build a giant pyramid, for example, collect a certain amount of money to cross the river, or construct a statue to the gods. Unfortunately, these side projects aren't much more than amassing x-amount of gold and/or a specific number of resources.
Fate of the Pharaoh could have easily added some new buildings, features, or challenges to enhance its replay value, but it's possible the developers didn't want to complicate things for its intended audience. Taking this into account, Fate of the Pharaoh is a solid entry-level building game. Don't expect to learn any history lessons -- this is purely for entertainment only (unless you believe the design of pyramids were a result of alien influence). Youngsters will learn, however, that it's necessary to prioritize steps to complete objectives in an efficient manner.
Fate of the Pharaoh will elicit a feeling of déjà vu for those who have enjoyed the Build-a-lot series and other casual-themed building games. The setting and playful sense of humor will appeal to those looking for another take on the genre, but older audiences will find the gameplay too repetitive and lacking in challenge to be worth their time, real or "Ra."