…I can see me getting the sh*t end of the Imperial stick here. I bet it’s not some gloriously sun bathed Mediterranean province I have to go and conquere…I bet it’s off to some desolate Germanic or wind and rain-soaked Britannic province full of hairy arsed locals hellbent on keeping civilised Rome from their borders, whatever the cost…
(Press play for a Roman Empire ambience to accompany your read!)
The Romans celebrates a thousand year”s of history in which players recreate the growth of the Kingdom, Republic and Empire of that mighty civilization. Players grapple for control of the city of Rome, scoring points through the game for provinces occupied on their map, for the cities, fortifications and fleets placed there and for the wealth generated. At the end of the game, a final tally will be made to bring victory or defeat.
What’s All The Fuss About?
I think this is a sadness not a fuss. Ragnar announces that this is their last boardgame. ‘The Romans’ is a quantum world boardgame , and as the name clearly suggests, is set in medieval Britton…of course not, it is set at the heart of the Roman Empire and sees us, the budding soloist megalomaniac, attempting to expand said Roman empire cross the known world (and probably into parts that are not known) Obviously sharing some similarities with its predecessors, it possesses a distinct and unique style of its own.
Immersion or Subversion?
Graphically this is not a photorealistic representation of life in Roman times filled with imagery of Ionic columns, Colosseum and shiny brass helmets. There are many Romanesque elements that do show up on the graphical side of things, but the colour scheme and illustrative nature are for a vibrant visual effect. So this not to be the one feature of the project that in so many other cases often makes a weak game feel like it is a ‘Roman” game.
Ah! And on that score, is this itself a weak game that wants to attract players because of a popular historical theme?
Don’t be a Pleb… I think that this is a deeply immersive game. There is a broad spectrum of mechanisms depicting many elements taken from Roman life; from the Architectural communal buildings used for acquiring resources/skills/abilities/help from the Gods, to the military conquering of all we see before us, to setting sail of ships to cross wet watery stuff, to building outposts, forts and the like. The elements are all there and the way the game plays, each one makes sense with a purpose but holistically the over all concept of the game has a slightly more abstracted feel to it.
It is obvious that this is set in Roman times and what we as players have to do is most Romanesque indeed, but the immersion comes more from our involvement in expanding our empire…we are immersed in the small details that culminate in a much greater picture. So, yes this does immerse us in a real socio-economic game experience set in Roman times.
There is so much going on here within that I do not intend to bore you with all the tiny details of how to play. Instead I will pull out a couple of mechanics and nice touches that appealed to me.
To separate game rounds, Era cards are drawn. Obviously this signifies the start of a new round but, for the solo game particularly, it can dictate heavily how the following actions may be carried out. Rolling a die will indicate which leader is not available (along with all the bonuses it may have bestowed upon us)…so already our choices are reduced and we have to start thinking on our feet about adapting our long-term strategy. Similarly at the end of a round an Enemy Era card is drawn, following a similar process, leaving us with a dilemma of which enemy to select. We will have to face the kick back from local populace but damage limitation will guide our choices heavily.
Unlike many worker placement games where we plonk a wooden meeple in a space and reap the rewards, in The Romans we have a number of senators with a power strength or rank, if you like, from I to IV. Their strength or power determines the leader bonus is added to a hostile conflict (if used on the map when expanding the empire) but also dictates which level of benefit we can obtain from the communal buildings found in the Citadel. This makes the placement of each senator incredibly important as not all options/slots are available in each building due to the games built-in randomized blocking system (tokens that block options)
A simple touch, but one that appeals to me, is that not only do we have to fight our way through province after province, beating down/yelling locals in the early stages of a round, but we also have to face reprisals or rebellions fighting back towards the latter. Now this is not a game about war, fisticuffs or stabbing pointy sticks at each other. Conflict does feature highly but is dealt with in a particularly simple, streamline fashion. Native forces have a concealed token that is flipped to reveal a bonus strength. We, the mighty force of Rome, however, need to have a Senator (with his Rank bonus) and a number of eligible legions taken from our barracks. Two dice are then rolled, one for us and one for THEM! Respective bonuses are added to the die score and the victor obviously has the higher score. To progress to another province we must leave a legion behind to man a garrison or fort or what ever outposts of the Roman Empire are referred to these days. This obviously means that the further we choose to invade and cups, the smaller/weaker or force becomes. Here lies yet another interesting choice we must face. That push your luck element that could end in catastrophic defeat if we gamble poorly.
I also like the sneaky way the game/AI scores against us in solo mode. In the first Era every province controlled by native forces scores a point. O.K. No biggie for us until it becomes apparent that by Era three each occupied province now scores three points and so on. So not only do we have to build our resources, our forces and develop our infrastructure, we also have to go flat-out to claim as many provinces as humanly possible (or pay the price dearly later)…remember the enemy fight back and though our invading forces are strong to take land, the remaining garrisons are not so apt at repelling disgusting uprising natives. Provinces can often be taken back, leaving us open to high AI scoring when we least expect it.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
I have to point out that everything you see in the photographs is prototype PnP component material sent to me by Phil, to test the solo game out. As such, the full game will have a much more together feel with score tracker board to house the communal buildings, full size individual world maps for all players (4) and various other bits and bobs like tokens made of sturdy board…and so on. I think much of the art will remain unchanged or have only minor tinkering so at least there is an idea of how things will look over all. The Ragnar Brothers team have supplied several shots of component art that will be something close to the final game.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Ragnar Bros.
- Game Publisher: Ragnar Brothers
- Playtime: (recess for those of the US persuasion): 60-120
- Gangs of One: 1-4 players
- Age of Consent: 14+
- DOB: 2019
Well the chaps at Ragnar…the Brothers Ragnar, if you will, have once again put the soloist’s needs foremost in-game design. I know this is conceptually a multiplayer quantum world type affair but the game as been ingeniously designed so that taking away real opponents and making the experience a solitary one, maintains all the aspects of multiplay, and as there is no direct player interaction other than vying for space on the communal buildings, nothing from multiplayer is lost. Blocking mechanisms set in place randomly make life more tricky for us soloists and act as an opponent, pinching the very spot we planed to use…the key pivotal factor to our whole campaign of world domination…so nothing lost here. We are, to all intense and purpose, getting an identical experience.
Both the Leader and Enemy phase have blocking mechanics limiting our choices..similarly a nom chit mechanic does a similar job on the communal building cards…and all the while the AI opponent scores points based on the number of provinces we have failed to control, leaving them under local tribal occupancy. Ha, you say. Piece of piss, as the odd English saying goes. All we do is occupy more and more land…simples. The AI will score peanuts! Not so, I say in response. Each round the cunning AI scores progressively higher and higher points per unoccupied, locally controlled province. 1point in round one will soon escalate to 3points in round three and so on. Time is never on our side!
All the multiplayer decisions are emulated in the solo variant so we are getting a perfect solo game.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: The way both the game itself (with built-in enemies) and the AI conspire against us, poses something of a significant challenge. We have a huge range of choices we can make…of what we can do but oh, so little time and available workers to do it all in. The game is winnable but it does offer us a particularly tricky puzzle to solve getting there.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The rule book at present is a mostly unformatted PDF document so length and ‘prettiness’ cannot be fairly commented on. The game is fairly straight forward but there are many options and many stages to a turn. As such, the rules have to go into detail about each element and how it is applied to gameplay. As such, it can become a little confusing reading through abstract concepts before play…at least I felt this, but reading through with the game components set up and putting into practice what I read as i read it made things much clearer. This is by no means a criticism of the book, rules or game, but is, as far as I am concerned, indicative of the depth a simple game plunges mechanically. The language makes sense, clearly explaining how each element works and at about a dozen pages is not going to melt the grey matter like some more weighty rule manuals on the market.
- Lucky Buggers: There is a very small amount of luck in that a die is rolled for both Romans and provincial Enemies during the combat/conflict stage, but this can always be mitigated by use of force (using bigger armies than needed) or building fortifications…well, any kind of forward planning, really. Manny communal buildings are placed at random, as are Various tokens that block worker placement spots, e random distribution of various tokens but without this randomness any game would become predictable and boring so I am all for these elements of ‘luck of the draw’. Winning is going to be through considered choices and careful planning much more than through our good luck or misfortune.
- Highs and Lows: There is nothing in this game to cast a shadow of gloom over the proceedings. The game is generally upbeat, deals with conflict in a most efficient abstract manner and doesn’t delve into any socio-economic, deeply social matters of the time. As such, we are saved any negativity caused by issues of the time…they only need to be addressed or thought about at the discretion of the player. the conclusion is that this is a lighter game with an upbeat approach.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: This will be tricky to predict as the full production game will be significantly larger than my components. Currently the solo game can be just about crammed onto my portable gaming table at about 60cm x 46cm…I would advise checking out the Kickstarter game as it developed to get a more accurate account of component size and quality.
- Build It Up Just To Tear It All Down Again: As with many Ragnar games, the box will be crammed with components from tokens to chits to boards to resource markers and probably meeple legionnaires too. Setup is a little time consuming preparing the buildings, Resources, populating the map with Enemies and the various awards benefits that are available. I would guesstimate, based on my games, yo to 15 minutes to set up but as this is quite a lengthy game, well worth the effort.
Me, Myself and I:
Interestingly me, myself and I all agree, for once, that The Ragnar Brothers have produced exceptional games with Niña & Pinta, and with Darien Apocalypse but The Romans is quite different from these previous quantum games…well for the soloist particularly.Now don’t get me wrong, this is an unmistakable classic…if something yet to be made can ever be classic. (It is quantum world theory, after all, so any option is a possibility). As everything is generally set on a player’s own world map, any holistic actions/die rolls or what ever normally influencing all players, only influence our map in solo play. But that said, if the quantum world element is removed from the equation, this does provide us with a wonderful game experience as a soloist. I found the mix of conquering land, been kicked unceremoniously in the badgers by the tribal coals, managing my resources and attempting to utilise my lunatic centaurs particularly entertaining. The rules have developed and evolved from my first play to the last run through before putting finger to keyboard. It has all come together nicely and provided me with a great Romanesque experience. It is a 4X experience without actually being a 4X game as such, rather, more a Euro-ish worker placement as much as anything. We expand our empire but only on our world map, we explore (and end up in fisticuffs with locals), we exploited the communal buildings…and I just can’t remember what the last X is…probably some other word that doesn’t start with X.
So, in essence, it has some of that genre in its make up, but it really is its own entity. I think the RB’s have made an automated game system that challenges soloists..and with the time constraints, and boy does it challenge. There are sooooo many options but with so few senators and so few legions that it is almost brain explosion time…for me at any rate. Do we build up the army, take resources for later, risk march on taking new provinces? All the while that devilish AI not only has the game (with its local tribes fighting back at every opportunity) confronting us, but it has a runaway scoring tally too, if not kept in check. Variation with the Era cards and Enemy deck….There is just so much to balance that there is never a dull moment during play and time will just waz past in an instant!
Yay or Nay?
Whether through sheer thug art of local uprising, unrest or through Roman occupation, the BSoMT 1d8 die has been forced at blade point to roll a (7.3) as a solo experience. There are quantum world physics at work here so any score could be possible on a 1d8. I am confident this will prove to be as High a quality as all the other Ragnar games and as such I highly recommend folks keep an eye out for the Kickstarter launch in a couple of weeks. Link below. I think soloists and multiplayers alike in be in for a treat!
…now I am not completely against wearing a skirt but the hessian underwear the Roman army make us wear is almost unbearable. Not just the incessant itching, or the chaffing, but the insect wildlife that takes up residence…these are not the conditions under which I partake in world domination. This is not what I signed up for…I’m getting out of this army lark…I am going to go in to politics and wear a bed sheet…during the day!
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
What’s Not To Like: Era one playthrough
What’s Not ago Like: Game overview
The Ragnar Brothers on Twitter