Reviewer : Chris Globus
Designer Wray Ferrell, Brad Johnson (I)
Artist Rodger B. MacGowan
“Rome has grown since its humble beginnings that it is now overwhelmed by its own greatness.” Titus Livius
Full disclosure: The Roman Empire is one of my favorite periods for historical wargaming, and GMT one of my favorite publishers. Like many wargamers, the challenge is finding something that has enough depth to be interesting to you, but that can reach non-wargamers so you can actually get it on the table. This game is it.
What makes this game work is that it combines three different game types into one. The prime mover is a deck builder. You start with three cards of each color, red, blue, and yellow, each worth one Influence point. Those points are used to do most of the work in the game. As you expand your control to additional territories, you get Political points from those territories, called Provinces, that you can use to purchase additional, more powerful cards, or remove weaker cards from your deck.
Unlike many deck builders, all cards are available for purchase from the beginning of the game, however you do have to meet certain requirements to get them. Another difference is that you don’t draw from a deck, rather, you have an Available pile that you build your hand from. Those cards you choose go to your Discard pile at the end of your turn, and they will not be available again until you have gone through your entire Available pile.
The second aspect is a light worker placement. Using your blue (Senate) cards, you can place Governors on the Provinces, or increase the support in those Provinces with your yellow (Populace) cards.
The third aspect is a medium wargame, where you build Legions, recruit Generals, and fight other players or the various barbarian hordes. You do this with your red (Military) cards.
At the beginning of each turn, the player will perform an Upkeep, where they cleanup tokens from their previous turn. They will then roll two dice on the Crisis table, which can activate the barbarians or trigger an Event card. Next comes the Actions, where they play cards as noted above. Then they will do a Support Check, adjusting their Support in each Province based on whether there are barbarians in the Province, or an enemy army in the provincial capital. The player then gains victory (Legacy) points, plus advances their Emperor Turns marker if they are in control of the Province of Italia (These are worth bonus Legacy points at the end of game). Finally, they Buy or Trash cards, do and end of turn clean up, and fill their hand with new cards.
During the Crisis step, if the barbarians activate and invade, they proceed based on the die rolls, in a very elegant system.
The board in this game is gorgeous to look at, and at the same time is clear and easy to read. The artwork on the cards is historic. Each Legion has it’s own name. All the major barbarian tribes are represented, with pictures to match, and there are historical barbarian chieftains who can arrive via the Event cards.
There are Basilicae, forts (Limes), and Amphitheaters you can build, and the entire package conveys the period, where rivals challenged each other to attain the title of Emperor.
The player boards provide all the rules, including turn order, everything you can spend your Influence on, and scoring, as well as a place for your Available and Discarded cards, and recruited leaders.
There are only four different types of card in each color, numbered one to four, with those higher than one having an additional effect that can be used when played. This does limit the variety, as in most deck builders the effects are varied, and part of the strategy is to acquire powerful effects and limit your opponent’s access to them. As everyone is working from the same piles in Time of Crisis, and everything is available at once, that is not a viable strategy here.
The Event card only shows up on a roll of seven, which for my group meant they were infrequent. As they all tend to be powerful, I can’t say that this is a flaw, but for me it felt a little off. This may also be related to other card driven games I have played, where Events occurred often.
If you like historical, especially Imperial Rome era, strategic wargaming, I would consider this a Buy. The same is true if you are a fan of deck builders and want to broaden out into wargaming. It plays in a few hours, has enough meat to keep you involved, and all your decisions matter. It’s a good bridge game, and if you have access to it, it’s definitely worth your time.
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