You're spoiled for choice when it comes to picking an empire in Imperator Rome. Not only is the world map vast, covering Europe and North Africa right through Asia, the territories within that space are in their hundreds. The national borders we recognise today were thousands of years from being devised, and instead many much smaller provinces and kingdoms made up the world map.
So who do you choose to lead to classical era glory? That deliberation is half the fun in a grand strategy like this, but we've outlined the major players on the global landscape to get you started.
It would be a bit contrarian not to give at least a passing mention to the empire that gave us not just roads, public bathhouses, and both eventually and indirectly the format for treasured 90s TV show Gladiators - but also the name of this very game.
Rome was the major global superpower during the timespan of this title, from 400 BCE to 100 BCE. During that time it expanded its borders on a scale that's hard to even imagine today, taking control first of all of Italy, then most of Europe and eventually large swathes of North Africa and the Middle East.
Its armies were feared across the world and had a reputation for overcoming huge numerical disadvantages with their superior battlefield tactics. But Rome was also an empire of developed thinkers, one which gave us the blueprints for the modern political systems we still use today. The names might have changed - we don't find ourselves represented by praetors today - but the mechanics of an elected body of public officials began in this era, in Rome and across the Mediterranean in Greece.
Players looking to replicate Rome's unimaginable expansion will need to wield huge military power, great generals, and a strong leader able to maintain stability even in times of war and shortage. The challenge isn't one for survival, but for total dominance of the surrounding territories.
At the time of Imperator Rome, Egypt was under the control of the Ptolemaic dynasty, of ancient Greek origin. Unlike Rome's publicly elected senates, Egypt operates as a monarchy - and indeed Ptolemaic rulers took the title of Pharaoh despite not being native to the land. Pharoahs rule for life, so playing as Egypt grants more stability than many nations, along with more territory and a richness of resources - particularly grain.
However, even a nation as mighty has Egypt doesn't have it all - players in control of this nation begin without access to iron, which really limits military units it's possible to recruit. Wise leaders will trade away surplus grain and other resources with Egypt's neighbours to secure that vital iron supply.
Imperator Rome begins two decades after Alexander the Great died, and his empire now lies divided between several factions. Ptolemy controls Egypt, as mentioned above, while Antigonus controls a huge amount of territory over modern-day Turkey called Phrygia. Macedon and Thrace, other former components of Alexander’s empire lie to the west.
At the start of the game, Phrygia has claims on all the land once held by Alexander, which makes for a great rapid expansion setup. What’s more, you’ll need to capture Corinth quickly before Antigonus dies or you’ll risk massive instability and the breakup of Phrygia - or make the region of Pergamon independent.
Watch a game of Imperator Rome in which Phrygia is AI-controlled and you’ll often see it collapse within a few years, and this ticking time bomb setup makes the region a particular challenge - relished by some, avoided by those looking for a more straightforward time of it as ruler.