We’ve selected five of the most intriguing games inspired by ancient Rome below, ranging from narrative puzzler The Forgotten City to gladiator manager Domina. If your favourite game based on antiquity doesn’t make an appearance in our list, take a look at the best games set in the ancient world and the best games based on Greek mythology.
The Forgotten City
Leading our selection of games set in ancient Rome is The Forgotten City. On the banks of the River Tiber, a mysterious passage leads to the titular subterranean colonia. What the player finds there is a vivid impression of an ancient city, with a twist.
There is an authentic Roman lavatory and a gladiator wearing period-appropriate armour, yes, but the game excels because of its worthy story, tied around an effective time loop mechanic.
As designer Nick Pearce explained to History Hit, Roman art and archaeology inspires much of the material elements of the game. He consulted with archaeologist Sophie Hay and historian Philp Matyszak: “We exchanged well over 300 emails, shared video calls, and discussed obscure aspects of ancient Roman art, architecture, history, culture, language, costumes, cuisine, and so on. It was a wonderful, enlightening and frenetic experience.”
Expeditions: Rome is a turn-based RPG developed by Logic Artists and published by THQ Nordic. With its lush visuals, it makes a good first impression. Announced in 2021, Expeditions: Rome encourages players to assume the role of a disgruntled member of the equestrian order, forced to flee the city of Rome.
The design is oriented around making the player feel like “a small, elite group of professional Roman soldiers” according to its designers, while creating a memorable narrative experience. The world in which the player acts will change over the course of a decade, connected in some way with the choices made by the player.
Expedition: Rome follows titles covering the Conquistadors and the Vikings, and will cover military campaigns in Greece, North Africa and Gaul.
Domina is a gladiator management simulator first released in 2017. Its distinctive pixelated art style frames a game “vaguely based on Roman gladiator schools circa 55BC – 55AD” according to developer Dolphin Barn Incorporated. Resource management is based around balancing food, water and wine, which can be purchased from the winnings players make by winning in the arena.
As you entertain audiences with violent confrontations, your gladiators will gradually improve their abilities. With more gold, players can outfit their gladiator school with training upgrades and specialise their gladiators with new gear. If they die, so be it. In Domina, as in ancient Rome, gladiators are entirely disposable.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Assassin’s Creed Origins is set in the last years of Ptolemaic Egypt and features eminent figures including Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and Pompey. Leading the game is protagonist Bayek of Siwa, who travels to Alexandria, meets historical figures such as Apollodorus the Sicilian, and completes espionage missions for Cleopatra.
In this way the game’s fictional narrative inserts itself into Caesar’s Civil War (49–45 BC) and Cleopatra’s war against pharaoh Ptolemy XIII. Origins’ story depicts the assassination of Pompey the Great by Lucius Septimius in 48 BC and, inevitably, the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.
Caesar 3 is a city building game that lets players live out their privately cherished fantasies of administering a Roman colonia. Originally released in 1999, Caesar 3 positions the player as a provincial governor tasked with developing a city, cultivating trade and industry and keeping citizens safe.
While a roster of games, from Total War: Rome 2 to Imperator: Rome, aim to reconstruct a simulation of managing the Roman empire, fewer games are interested in the day-to-day governance of Roman cities. Caesar 3 fills that gap. It’s a straightforward strategy game with timeless appeal.