HISTORY OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (Udo Grebe Gamedesign, 2-4 players, ages 15 and up, 3-4 hours; $47)
The rise and fall of the Roman Empire has filled the pages of many books, the screens of a vast amount of movies and television dramas and has, of course, been the focus of many games. The latest game to explore this fascinating topic comes from the German company Udo Grebe Gamedesign (UGG) entitled History of the Roman Empire.
History of the Roman Empire, designed by Marco Broglia, covers over 500 years of ancient history, from the rise of the empire from the first Triumvirate in 60 BC to the reign of Emperor Romulus Augustus in 476 AD. The game comes with 274 counters (divided into five Barbarian tokens, six Emperor tokens, four Roman Faction sets of 20 each, 84 Barbarian Army counters, 46 Army counters and various city, rebel army, fortress and fort counters), 55 Event cards, Emperors and Barbarian charts, 5 regular six-sided dice, a map board and 8 pages of rules.
The map board is unmounted. Instead it is in full color on sturdy cardstock. The map depicts the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea (as well as some parts of Asia). Land is divided into nine Dioceses subdivided into Provinces and some of those Provinces display a City State icon (indicating that cities may be built there).
Each player begins with a set of Roman Faction counters. The 55 Event cards are separated by color and each of the resulting nine piles shuffled and placed, face down. Each player now draws one card from each stack creating his hand of cards. Remaining cards are removed from play. The Barbarian and Emperors charts are placed next to the map and the Barbarian and Emperor tokens are placed, face down, next to them (or in a receptacle, if preferred).
Seven turns make up a full game and, to start, players draw tokens to see which Emperor and Barbarian tribe they will control that turn. The token draw is referenced on the Emperor and Barbarians charts respectively. The Barbarian chart list 35 Barbarian tribes, five possible for each game turn. The Emperor charts is similar with 42 Emperors listed, six possible for each turn. Whether drawing a Barbarian or an Emperor, a player has the option of PASSING the drawn tile to a player who does not already have one. This continues until ALL players have a Barbarian and Emperor tile. This draw also determines turn order for that round of play. Now, players conduct the phases of their turn.
After the Draw, each player will find himself commanding two sets of forces (Roman and Barbarians). As a result, players will carry out two sets of turns: one for the Roman faction under his command and one for the Barbarians he controls. The five phases of a turn consist of:
1. Play Event Cards - From their hand of cards, players may play up to TWO Event cards per game turn not more than one per Player phase.
2. Build (new Armies etc.) - Barbarians begin with a set number of counters (based on the particular tribe). Each Roman force begins with 7 Legions (plus an Emperor bonus, if there is one) and one fort. During the first three turns, recruiting a Roman Legion costs 2 Victory Points. After that, the cost rises to 3 VPs per Legion. (Legions in rebellion in adjacent regions to a player's regular forces cost 2 VPs to quell and convert to Legions under their control.) Building a fort costs 1 VP. Upgrading a fort to a fortress costs an additional 1 VP.
3. Placement (place new troop and conduct combat) - Each province may hold a maximum of three Legions and 1 fort (or fortress). Barbarians start (one army) in their home province (as noted on the Barbarian chart). After that, expansion into adjacent provinces (which can sometimes lead to conflict) is possible. Roman placement is similar. Roman forces start in one of four provinces (Aquitania, Roma, Achaea or Syria) and, from there, expand into adjacent provinces. Roman factions may also utilize naval movement. Combat occurs whenever a player's army encounters an enemy army in a province. Combat is resolved via die roll. The attacker rolls two dice and the defender one. (Terrain modifiers and the presence of forts or fortresses will result in the defender getting more dice to roll.) High number on a single die wins and the loser removes one army. The battle continues until all defending armies are destroyed or the attacker decides to cease his offensive. (Defending Roman legions MAY, after the second round of combat, retreat into a friendly, adjacent, province.)
4. Build cities (an option only available to the Romans) - After placement, the Romans may construct cities, at the rate of 1 city for two city symbols under that player's control.
5. Count Victory Points - After conquering a province, any city in that province is considered "looted". Looting results in the active player rolling a die and reaping that number of Victory Points. In addition, Barbarians receive VPs at the end of each Barbarian Phase, getting 2 points for controlling a city in a Roman province, 1 point for controlling any other city that is not looted, points for controlling Dioceses and, beginning with the fourth turn, 2 points for controlling a city in Thracia Province (1 point if the city is looted). Romans score 3 points for controlling a city in Roman Province (1 less if the city is looted), 2 points for controlling any other city (again, 1 less if the city is looted), an Emperor bonus for controlling provinces (1 point per province), points for controlling Diocese, and, beginning with the fourth turn, 3 points for controlling a city in Thracia Province, 2 points if the city is looted). Finally, at the end of the game, the player gets 2 points per Roman controlled Provinces and then roll for VPs for each surviving Kingdom cities as if they were looted. After the seventh turn, players tally their Roman and Barbarian victory point totals. The player with the highest combined total of Victory Points is declared the victor.
There is lots to like in History of the Roman Empire. The mapboard is large enough (and stacking limited enough) so overcrowding and spilling onto neighboring regions is not a problem. In addition, the map itself is not only attractive with easily distinguishable board colors but useful as it not only has a scoring track but displays lots of important information (such as Victory Point values for Dioceses, sequence of play and rules reminders) accessible at a glance The rules are both well written and well organized. In some respects, History of the Roman Empire is reminiscent of the old Avalon Hill style of game, including incorporating elements of some past Avalon Hill releases. There are Event cards here (similar in effect to those that drove the action in We the People - featured in the Spring 1994 GA REPORT), the choosing of factions (a procedure used in History of the World, featured in both the Winter 1994 and Spring 2001 issues of GA REPORT) and the concept of players controlling opposing sides (done in Britannia - Fall 1987 GA REPORT). All of these concepts are smoothly integrated into the game play.
On the negative side, although listed for from two to four players, the game really works best with the full complement of four. It would have been nice to have a mounted board as they are easier to keep flat. (A sheet of plexiglass, a common accessory many wargamers have handy would be useful here.) It also has to said that there is a heavy reliance on dice rolling. Not only are die rolls used to resolve combat (a more Risk-like mechanism rather than a Combat Results Table or something similar than one would expect in a game like this) but the luck of the roll plays a very big part in collecting Victory Points in garnering VPs for looting cities. You can argue that good planning can put you in the position to benefit from extra die rolls but it is bit more satisfying to reap VPs from your own efforts without the undue influence of Lady Luck, especially when you will be devoting three or four hours to the game.
History of the Roman Empire is one of those games that fall into a middle ground of gaming, caught between two styles, that of a serious wargame simulation and a "casual" wargame experience. As a result, the game's attraction will lie with a smaller niche of gamers, those who like a meatier game of conquest and don't mind the infusion of chance to impact upon their fate. - - - - - - Herb Levy
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