Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Joy of Rampaging Through the Roman Empire

As much as I like my civilization games, there's a type of games I like even better: games which bring decay and destruction. I've always dreamed of a version of Avalon Hill's Civilization in which the players start with a fully developed civilization and then get hit by barbarians and other troubles and see their empires decay. That itch is scratched a little by Struggle for Rome, known in these parts as de Val van Rome.

In terms of mechanics the game is familiar but quite different from basic Settlers of Catan. The fixed map is an obvious change, but also the theme is much more warlike than other versions. The players have two tribes with which to invade the Roman empire, lay waste to its cities and establish kingdoms of their own.

The board is an abstraction of the map of Europe, with areas like all Settler boards. However, there are cities at some of the intersections, and some intersections are connected by sea. Also the map is divided in five regions (roughly Germany, France, Spain and Southern and Northern Italy).

Struggle for Rome combines stationary (cities) and mobile (tribes) centres for resource gathering. The randomness of the dice rolls is limited by having four different numbers rolled each turn, and turn order is changed so that all players gather resources, spend these on units or developments, take actions with their tribes in turn, rather than combining all these in their own turn.

There's four resources in three terrain types (mountain, arable and pasture) in this game. There's a neat twist when you draw pasture cards, because they give you either horses or oxen, and you may need one and not the other at this particular moment. Arable land offers you grain and mountains bring stone.

Movement is based on arrows on hexsides. In theory you can move as far as you like, but withing limits of your available resources. You may cross one arrow for free but pay for all the following. Arrows on land cost a grain card or three gold, and arrows at sea cost one gold.

You can pillage or conquer cities. Both require that your tribe has enough tribesmen to overcome the defences of the city, expressed in the number of its towers. When a town is pillaged, the countered placed on it before the start of the game is revealed. This shows whether tribesmen are lost in the attack and what the loot is. This may be gold, a pasture or a development card. When conquering a city, no loot is received, but the town now constitutes a victory point and generates resources in the bordering areas. However, it also ties down tribesmen. A tribe cannot conquer until it has pillage cities in three different regions.

As in many Settler variants, you strive to collect 10 victory points. As we've seen, each conquered city brings you one point, but there's a few alternatives that can determine your strategy for the game, as you can see in the two examples below.

Notice that southern Britain is included, but as two areas of wasteland

The first victory  last week was rather haphazard, as I bought a bunch of development cards early, that handed me two victory points on a plate. I then decided to go for Scourge of Rome by plundering cities in all five regions. After that I had some trouble to build enough towns, as my resources were coming in only slowly. In a neat move I denied my main competitor (who had extra points for his diplomats) the points for Scourge by conquering the last available town before his eyes. I won, but not far ahead of the competition.

The second game I ran for the extra points for conquering four cities with both my tribes. This strategy has the advantage of bringing in generous amounts of resources by the end of the game. Even though the competition was pretty fierce here as well, I managed to win again.

Don't be fooled though. Despite the warlike theme, the game does not call for much interaction between the players. You can't conquer or pillage the cities of other players. That allows for a bit of screwage by hemming other players in, but direct conflict is not on the cards.

So the game is still firmly in euroland, but much more dynamic than the original Settlers. There's less screwage and complexity than in Cities & Knights, but this is probably the best stand alone version of Settlers out there.

There's a small expansion involving the bigger cities, which you can download here.


  1. I love Settlers, this looks to be a nice variant


    1. Sure, have a try and see if you like it


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