As the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” It took centuries for the ancient metropolis to grow from a small city state into a province-spanning empire. Time was required for its transformation into the capital of the civilized world.

In like manner, don’t expect to build Rome quickly in Awem Studio’s Cradle of Rome. It’ll take more than a day to do the job right… and that’s a good thing!

Cradle of Rome offers a single, story-based mode of play that spans over 100 levels across five epochs (stages) with a ranking system that takes you from lowly peasant to supreme emperor. A fairly straightforward match-three design, you create combos by swapping adjacent tiles. Line up three or more identical ones and they disappear. Pretty standard fare. The results of those matches, however, are not so ordinary. But, first, the basics.

The chief idea is to build Rome from the ground up, one structure at a time. Starting with a sawmill, forge and quarry, you work your way to more famous, and costly, buildings like the Coliseum, Forum and Pantheon, twenty masterpieces of Roman architecture in all. Eventually, you’ll reach Mount Olympus… if you play your cards, I mean tiles, right.

The twist to Cradle of Rome is that building requires resources — Gold, Supplies and Food. Assets are acquired by matching tiles representative of crucial materials, specifically coins, lumber, stones and various edible provisions. This adds a strategic element to play since you’ll often be in want of one item over the others. Further, as the game progresses, costs rise proportionately. Your first building, a sawmill, costs just 500 gold, but the Coliseum, purchased midway through the game, costs 34,000 gold, 35,000 supplies and 33,000 food.

Play is reminiscent of Big Kahuna Reef (if you haven’t played BKR, you’ve missed out). As you match and remove tiles, replacements fall from above. “Locked” tiles, those with marble plaques beneath, require one or more matches to clear depending on the number of plaques. Remove them all and you advance to the next level. But, as you progress, more and more tiles will be plagued by plaques until every tile rests upon them.

You’ll also find tiles “chained” in place by one or two chains. These must be matched before you can tackle the plaques underneath. So, for instance, if you have a tile fettered with a double chain and a double plaque, it will take four matches to clear.

Tile matching in Cradle of Rome is not a leisurely affair either. A water jug serves as a timer. As the minutes pass, the water level slowly drops. If it reaches the bottom before you’ve cleared the screen, you lose a life. Finish the level with water remaining and you’ll receive a Time Bonus — a real benefit since it adds to the resources you need the most. Of course, each match earns you points which, in turn, rewards you with extra lives.

In addition to resource tiles, others secure bonuses (power-ups). Examples include the Hammer, Lightning, Bomb and Hourglass. Creating combos with these items fill up their respective containers on the Bonus Bar making them ready for use (though, you must constantly replenish them). What do they do? The Hammer breaks any tile, plaque or chain you choose, while Lightning zaps twenty random tiles. Bombs blow up squares of nine tiles each and the Hourglass adds water to the jar.

Events come into play, as well. For instance, on your first match-five you’re awarded a new citizen. The same holds true when you earn 10,000 points in under ten levels and 2,000 supply units on a single level. More events occur, too, but you get the idea. With every citizen earned, you receive extra supply units or a quicker refill on bonuses on reaching the next level.

Ancient Rome was an impressive place. Cradle of Rome is somewhat striking, too. Its visuals are attractive and its tunes appealing. Plus, having to balance your tile-matching efforts with needed resources adds a unique, strategic element to play which, by the way, can be quite addictive.

Not all of Rome, however, was memorable in a positive way (like slavery, gladiatorial games and insane emperors). The same holds true here. While most of the competition offers multiple game modes, Cradle of Rome has but one. Once you reach the first level of any of the game’s five epochs, you can start over from that point if you run out of lives, but that’s it. You can’t restart from the last level you completed and you only receive one life.

Still, Cradle of Rome is an enjoyable three-in-a-row diversion with some interesting twists. So, give it a try. Its resource-matching play provides a solid foundation for fans of the genre.