The game takes place during Rome's rise to power. Players will build cities in North Africa, Asia Minor, present day Spain, Britain, France and Germany. Europe is under the control of barbarian tribes that will attempt to thwart the player's advances.
The player is assigned with completing specific objectives in each city they build, such as getting a specific Culture, Favor, &c. rating. The player is given a choice of which city they wish to work on after completing the previous scenario. Some cities are more dangerous then others, with large barbarian tribes roaming around. Others have an economy focused on a particular material such as iron ore. Neutral tribes may also be present that the player can convert to Roman ways of thinking.
The player must balance housing, trade, taxes and food among other things while in control. Fires will occur if prefects are not built to prevent them and buildings will collapse if engineers don't inspect the buildings in your city. At any time the player may click on a citizen to be provided with info about the current sentiment in the city. If the people are happy, the population will increase, production will increase, and profits will as well. If people are unhappy, riots break out and robberies occur. If things become serious enough, people will emigrate from your city.
If the gods are angered they will punish the player. Neptune will cause a storm at sea, destroying your trade network, Ceres will kill all your crops at the time, and perhaps worst of all, Venus will cause city mood to plummet, ending immigration and causing riots to break out. They may be kept happy by erecting large temples and holding festivals in their honor.
A player may create an army of different units such as legionaries, javelin throwers and cavalry. Combat involves different formations and a rock, paper, scissor style damage system. A cheat may be entered to cause massive enemy armies to appear, if the player feels like having all his work destroyed. If your debt to the emperor is not payed off, a legion will be sent to capture you, however if the player can beat them the emperor will end all their debt.
A player must have enough population to support their economy, this is the most common objective in campaign scenarios. It is affected by city sentiment, the gods and war.
The game includes a free play mode that lets the player take on the challenge of any if they wish, with customizable settings.
A map creator was eventually released a few years after the release of the game, which lets the player affect all the dynamics seen in the scenario mode, along with crafting the environment in which the player builds his empire. Factors such as fishing and herd locations, the cost of goods throughout the years, include price fluctuations, natural disasters, invasion spots, and starting Denarii.