On #TBT, we bring you the occasional classic article – an older review or analysis piece we wanted to rescue
Michael Eckenfels, 11 October 2018
• Designed by Reiner Knizia
• Published by GMT Games
“Experience the glory that was Rome,” exhorts the front page of the game manual, “from its most desperate moment to the height of its power.” If the player immediately thinks to themselves, “Hey, Rome had a few more than just one ‘desperate moment’ in their history,” then they’re too grognard for this particular offering from GMT Games, which is actually three games in one – all of which are the quick-playing, easy-to-learn antithesis to anything with more than five pages of rules.
REMEMBER, THOU ART SIMPLE
Simplicity, however, is fine by me when it saves a tremendous amount of learning time and gives the player a good fix if they crave something Roman. GMT claims the games should take about forty-five minutes in average playing time. This seems accurate as the first game invariably takes an hour and subsequent plays take much less time. The included games in this package are Hannibal versus Rome, Imperium, and Circus Maximus. I will offer a review on each in turn.
Each game utilizes a card-driven system to generate combat results and other events, while sturdy (but easily lost, as children take a keen interest to them) blocks of wood mark the progress each player makes.
The mapboard is hard cardboard and has two sides: one is a map of Europe and used for both Imperium and Hannibal versus Rome; the other is a rendition of the Circus Maximus for the game, aptly named, Circus Maximus.
HANNIBAL VERSUS ROME
Perhaps the most simplistic of the three, Hannibal versus Rome recounts the events of the Second Punic War in a very general manner. This game is for two players and takes place on the western portion of the European side of the map. The Romans have eight legions (eight wooden blocks) and three fleets, and begin in the Rome province (essentially, northern Italy). The Carthaginians have only six ‘legions’ of their own, but they have the Hannibal ‘special legion’ that is slightly more powerful than its peers.
The Carthaginians go first. Each turn a player may move one Legion or one Fleet, or pass. Also, if the player has lost all three of their Fleet blocks and want to build a new one, they can do so by sacrificing one of their Legions. Only one Legion can be sacrificed in this manner during a player’s turn, however.
Fleets do not sit inside Sea Zones, but instead lay along Sea Routes (the broken dark blue line on the map, above). If a Fleet lies on such a route, a player may use their turn to move a Legion piece onto the Fleet. In subsequent turns, the player may move the Fleet to another Sea Route if they wish as their turn, and then may unload the unit on the next turn. Essentially, moving by sea is a tedious process; one turn to load, another to move (if necessary), and a third to unload. The unit can board on one turn and unload on the other side of the Sea Route on the next turn, if the player wishes.
Combat is as simple as movement. When Legions or Fleets of both sides occupy the same space (land space for Legions or Sea Routes for Fleets), a battle occurs. This is where the game’s card system comes into play. Each player selects one of five cards from their hand (the cards are labeled 1 through 5) and simultaneously turns them over. The lower number loses and must remove a Legion from the map. This is repeated until only one side has Legions in the area. The player may not replenish their hand back to five until all five cards are played. Additionally, ties result in a redraw with no loss to either side.
While simplistic, the strategy involved is interesting. Does the player go with low cards first in the hopes that their opponent goes for the high ones? This decision may be dictated by strength. The more Legions (or Fleets) a side can afford to lose in a battle, the more likely they are to use the low cards, while desperate attacks with single Legions likely means a high card is on the way. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, and this helps make the game enjoyable.
The ‘special’ Hannibal Legion gets to add one to its card draw number when in battle. However, a tie (after Hannibal’s bonus) results in the loss of this piece. Essentially, Hannibal is unstoppable when the Carthaginian ‘5’ card is available to play, since Hannibal gets a ‘6’ with the bonus and the Romans have nothing to match that result.
Hannibal versus Rome ends when one player moves a Legion into an opponent’s capital. Interestingly, there is no chance for defense; a player may have four Legions in their capital, but if one enemy Legion enters that space, they win. It’s best to move these units out of the capital as soon as possible, since they’re useless there.
Conversely, the Romans can win by having one Legion in each of Sardinia, Hispania Ulterior or Mauritania, and Sicily or Zama. The Carthaginians win if they have a Legion in each of Corsica, Hispania Citeria or Gaul, and Sicily or Cannae. Finally, if one side loses all their Legions, they lose the game.
This sub-game is for two to five players and involves political intrigue rather than military conquest. Players take the role as head of an influential patrician family in Rome during the 1st and 2nd Centuries (essentially Rome’s high water mark). They focus on taking over the Empire by spreading influence and seeking high-powered positions in the Provinces. Each turn, players place Influence Markers and determine control of at least one Province.
The entire European mapboard is in play for this game. During a player’s turn, they can choose a card to play, resolve the card action, and adjust their score. When selecting cards, the player selects three (unless they have less than three Influence Markers remaining). The player may choose from eight Province cards or three special cards: Bread and Circuses (adds Influence to the Province card played on top of it), Ear of the Emperor (increases the number of scoring Provinces this turn by one), and Oracle (allows reselection of cards). The player may then reveal one of their three Cards; if it is a Province card, that player places one of their Influence markers on that Province.
After all players have played their cards, scoring occurs. The number of Influence Markers are determined for each player; the one with the most gets the highest number listed on the Province for points (for example, the Gallia Province has a 4-3-2-1 listed, so the player with the most Influence markers there would get four points; the next lowest number of Influence markers gets three, and so forth). When the number of markers are equal, those players get the same number of points (so, if players A and B each have three Influence markers in Gallia, with other players having less than three, A and B would get four points each). The winning player(s) places one marker on the Province capital to signify they are the Proconsul of that Province. All other players remove their markers. The game is won when, at the end of any round, a player has 40 or more points and is not tied (if two players have 41 points, play continues until one has more than the other).
This game is most enjoyable if the maximum number of players are available – five – and very dull if only two people play. Three or four players makes for a decent game.. When compared with the other two games in this set, it’s probably the least playable with two players but most enjoyable (next to Circus Maximus) with the maximum number of players.
Each player gets a team of three Chariots and five cards, numbered one through five. The arena (Circus Maximus) side of the board is used, and while it is not the same size as the real Circus Maximus of old, it is nevertheless a decent rendition artwise.
The numbered cards delegate how many spaces each player’s Chariot may move. With five cards and only three chariots, there’s going to be a Chariot that moves more often; each Chariot must be moved at least once, and the game cannot be won until the player is the first to cross all three Chariots over the finish line. As a twist, the number of spaces that a Chariot moves can only be in a straight line, so players must keep this in mind for those tight corners that come up relatively fast.
Since each Chariot has to move at least once, players are forced with a difficult decision each time it is their turn to move: do they go for increasing the lead of their lead Chariot, or try to get the stragglers to catch up? The situation is fluid and always changing and is therefore not easy to answer; all three Chariots must cross the finish line before a player can win, so they must choose balance when moving them.
This game is perhaps the most enjoyable of all, even if there are no allowances for knocking other players over or cheating (like a player could do in the old PC game Centurion: Defender of Rome, like kick other chariots or drug up opponent’s horses). It moves quickly, is enjoyable with two players as much as it is with five, and is probably the most challenging of all three games in the set.
Rome is a solid collection of simple and fast-playing games. When a group of up to five is over and you have about a half hour to kill, there are worse ways to spend it than trying their hand at any one of the three games in this box. While they may be too simplistic for some player’s tastes, it is more than made up for by the quick, enjoyable play of any of the three. Three games in one, even though simple games, are a hard deal to pass up.