Cradle of Rome is a grid-based puzzle title that requires would-be Romans to link three or more of the same goods together. Once enough goods are collected – food, gold, and resources (wood and stone) – buildings from five successive epochs are erected to build up the Eternal City, as well as provide special bonuses for use on subsequent puzzles. All of the bonuses will be attained as they are linked to the four buildings that must be constructed in each epoch, so there is no need to pick and choose, and they also become necessary as the layouts of the boards and the requirements to win change.
Initially, some of the tiles will have blue marble plaques set inside them that need to be cleared for the round to end. The plaques are broken whenever the items within them are linked to other liked items, the grouping resulting in the harvesting of the goods from the board and the shattering of the plaque. Darker blue plaques appear as you progress, which require additional goods to be harvested for the plaque to be broken, essentially a harder marble, and chains will also appear on goods that lock the items in place and break whenever the goods are collected. On top of all of the obstacles, the levels are also timed.
The bonuses are random for each level. This is unfortunate for you, as their usefulness is pretty uneven: the hammer breaks one chain or marble plague while a lightning bolt will hit 20 tiles at once. The other bonuses run the gamut, from sapping a resource off the board and adding it to your treasury, bombing a tile and eight surrounding tiles, or adding more time. As long as the game picks the lightning bolt as your bonus, however, you stand a very good chance of winning – praise Zeus!
Despite being a puzzle title, there is no real strategy to speak of due to the various board designs and randomly assigned bonuses. An important element is that you can never back yourself into a corner: there is always at least one group of resources that can be linked, and the game will even indicate where the chain is if you wait a few moments. The game tends to have a Where’s Waldo? aspect in that you simply look for the new chain of three whenever you collect resources; towards the end it tends to be a single chain of three, so the game devolves into simply going through the motions of finding the next chain. The controls frustrate matters with the tendency to ignore your input and simply move other nearby pieces, often ruining some glorious four- and five-item chains. With each board being timed and so many random factors to account for, you can imagine how aggravating it is to have the last few seconds of a round blown because of something that isn’t even your doing.
The only real unique aspect, the Rome bit, is superfluous. That being said, few puzzle titles are as colorful as Puzzle Fighter or as in depth as Puzzle Quest, so as far as hooks go it does add some colorful distractions and a little flavor - even if the information provided (through a separate ‘detail’ tab) can be ahistoric. Still, Rome could be replaced with Egypt, Greece, Byzantine or any number of famous cities or civilizations and the game wouldn’t be a bit different. Eh, at least now I can finally show up that pompous Agrippa a bit.
Overall: 5/10I wonder if there has been a study on the human condition of the desire to match three like items. Even as the controls glitched, I had a run of crummy bonus items, and felt the grind to get through the epochs, I still returned to Cradle of Rome. Despite its colorful trappings and the odd pull of linking things together, however, this is still a simple connect-three puzzler at its heart and offers the experience you would expect. If you aren’t a diehard fan of puzzle titles, feel free to give it a pass.