by Globus the Elder
“It is not these well-fed, long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and hungry-looking.” – Julius Caesar
The period of history surrounding the rise and fall of Rome is one of my favorites. Listen to The History of Rome podcast by author Mike Duncan (it’s like Game of Thrones, but historically accurate). Whether it’s the world spanning games like Time of Crisis or Conquest of the Empire, to games of set piece battles like Command and Colors: Ancients, the environment scales in all directions.
Speaking of Command and Colors, as wonderful as that game is, it does occupy a large chunk of real estate, and require spending a fair amount of time on setup and play, which is a worthwhile investment if you have it.
But if you don’t…
The gameplay blends card mechanics, like Star Realms or Magic: The Gathering, and set piece battle tactics, such as left-right-center positioning on the battlefield and supporting units. Players will deploy their armies to the field from their hands, paying the cost of each card from their CP (Command Points). When a card is played, you resolve all of the abilities of the card, gaining any advantage or disadvantage.
Cards are played into columns, left-right-center, which are aligned through the use of a battlefield placed in the center of play, which also tracks turn order. Card management is key, as there is no “draw step”. You choose at the beginning of your turn to either add two CP to your pool or to draw a card. Overcommit, and play too many cards early, and you won’t have anything in hand to react with.
After you have played your cards for the turn, you execute an attack. Unlike most games of this type, you don’t damage units, damage is applied to an abstract AS (Army Strength). As cards are played into a column, they increase that column’s attack and defense, with only the last played card’s text showing (General cards are an exception, as they always float to the revealed position in the column).
Add up your column’s Attack value, subtract your opponent’s column’s Defense value, and any remaining points are subtracted from your opponent’s army strength. Repeat for the other columns, and if you reduce their AS to zero, you win. You can also win by reducing their CP below zero.
From the excellent card art, to the soldier meeples used to track your CP and AS, SunTzuGames really dialed this in. Each of the four decks included, representing four different peoples of the era, has it’s own flavor. With an army building system, and an average of fifteen to seventeen cards in each army (out of a deck of 54), you can build an army that suites your style, or engage in the ancient historical battles provided. There are also additional variants found in the rules and on the website.
The game is very fast, and therefore can be unforgiving. One mistake will usually cost you the game.
That flaw, which is just a function of a game with a playtime of 15-30 min, notwithstanding, this is definitely a Buy. There are enough components in the box for two games of two, and there are enough cards within a particular deck for two players to work out the same deck for their armies. It packs everything into a smallish box, with a well-designed insert. There’s a lot of value here. It’s fast, suitable for filler, lunch time play, or waiting for arrivals, but you can easily create a tournament style event, or even a campaign.
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