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Bob Durf
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Well, it had to happen eventually. Over the past two years I've played quite a few of the GMT card driven wargames and have been continually impressed by them. This winter, my friend picked up this on the grounds that others in the group already had most of the other CDGs. We've tried it a few times and unlike most everything we've played from GMT...its been a big disappointment to me. With that confession out of the way, lets get into the review.

Components: Components are pretty good. The best part of the entire package is the map, its big, on a board, and very attractive looking. The red bolded way of communicating which areas are victory point areas is effective and understated, like the rest of the board. Chits are colorful, but average. The cards are a bit disappointing, with no artwork and if I'm not mistaken, a bit small as well.

The rulebook was a mess to get through. As the group's resident rule teacher, I was tasked with instructing the group on how to play and was somehow thoroughly confused by the rulebook, despite the game being on the low scale of complexity compared to others. It actually feels a lot like the Napoleonic Wars rulebook in terms of style (not a good thing) and the game was harder to understand, making it harder for me to teach.

Gameplay: Ehhhhhh.... its ok. The combat is alright, its swingy but thats understandable. In fact, it makes perfect historical sense that battles could have such wide swings despite numbers on each side. However, the mechanics to rebuild armies in no way compensate for this combat system. Building troops is time and resource intensive, and its easy for an enemy to snowball you quickly after a couple bad loses.

The card play is not nearly as exciting as other CDGs. Individual decks could give players even more individuality and flavor in a game, but in this game they rarely do. Effects are powerful to be sure, but each player has at least a few, making them all blend together after a while. The method of activating generals is annoying. Whether or not theres a historical reason for this (and I'm not sure there is), being constrained by the luck of the draw makes the game even more swingy if a player loses some battles and has a poor draw. While a player in Virgin Queen, Napoleonic Wars, or Paths of Glory can usually slap down some emergency troops or at the very least move some around, its much harder to do in Sword of Rome.

Sieges are strange beasts as well. The mechanics are fine, but give little incentive for an army to hole up inside a city for defensive purposes--if they lose the siege they are done for. Finally, naval movement ranges from a neat tactical system to annoyingly overpowered with Carthage as a fifth player. In the games with Carthage as a player, they tended to jump around on ships and wrecked the Greeks easily. But perhaps that is drifting towards strategy.

Strategy: Flashes of brilliance stuck in a bad system. Each power is unique, but the fun factor of each is sharply distinctive. The Romans are straightforward and solid, and despite the supposed "powerful minor Volscii" nearby, they usually have solid growth that grows stronger the more they expand. The central position is really not much of a weakness to make up for colony building, as the Etruscan/Samnite and Greek players are equally exposed to other players but with weaker special powers.

The Etruscan player can look forward to being the world's best punching bag in most games. The Gauls will always raid from the north, the Greeks can poke from the south, and the Romans are in the middle of Etruscan territory. The bribe special power is laughable, throwing away your best cards to stave off an attack that will surely come again. The mountain passes do help with defense, but are equally hindering for offense.

The Greek specialty is equally annoying. The good generals are only situationally worth the PC cost to keep them in line, and the investment required is tiresome and resource draining. To make matters worse, the Carthage player can generally dance circles around a Greek player, using naval movement and decent generals to pick at the Greek bit by bit. While the Gaul gets to do his own raiding, the raiding can both get tiresome for the other players and stall if the others simply ignore him rather than counter attack back into the Gaulish territory.

Other mechanics are equally promising but disappointing. The minor powers are all fun and interesting, but the usage of them is far too random. The only one that sees regular activation each turn is the Transalpine Gauls, simply because its the only one capable of knocking down the Gaul VPs. Desperate Time cards are difficult to use well for new players, since its difficult to gauge game time and necessity.

The best thing about strategy I can say is that the game is truly a four player or five player free for all. I have not seen any mega-alliances or static wars. It does tend to be a free wheeling battle royale, and that is admiral that the game balance is designed to create such a wide open system that doesn't devolve into usual Diplomacy style play.

The review is much more negative than my other ones, and its true that Sword of Rome does not stand up to other CDGs I have played. That is not to say it is a bad game. Rather, I have played so many home runs that by the time I played Sword of Rome, its decent gameplay and system did not hold up to such fantastic designs I've played. Its a good game, and if I tried it before other CDGs, I would probably have a much higher opinion.

OUTTAKES:

OWNER'S REMORSE: Its ironic that the first CDG I didn't care for was one of the first I didn't own. Owner's bliss I suppose.

RAIDERS OF THE NORTH: Countered by their arch nemeses, the Raiders of the Further North.

DUAL MONARCHY: Turns out Austria-Hungary wasn't the first bipolar country...and hey, the Etruscan/Samnites are equally awful in their own game!

NO ONE MAY GO TO CARTHAGE: You can travel from Africa to Italy, but once you may the jump, you cannot go back.



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Henry Rodriguez
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Sorry to hear that your experience with one of my favorite games turned out to be a disappointment. Perhaps you won't get around to giving it another shot, but allow me to make some extensive comments on some of the observations you made...

BobDurf wrote:
The rulebook was a mess to get through. As the group's resident rule teacher, I was tasked with instructing the group on how to play and was somehow thoroughly confused by the rulebook, despite the game being on the low scale of complexity compared to others.


I too am the resident rules teacher for most games, but I have always found that complex games (like most wargames tend to be) are best learned from someone else with experience or when two people can bounce their interpretations of the rules off of each other. Playing a multi-player wargame with everyone being a newbie often leads to many mistakes in the rules. Trying to develop strategies while mastering the rules can thus be a challenge and may lead to disappointment.

This is not to say that your opinion is not sufficiently informed. I have a good friend (Belisarius88) who likes many CDG's (and taught me a good number of them), yet he ended up hating Sword of Rome.

BobDurf wrote:
Gameplay: However, the mechanics to rebuild armies in no way compensate for this combat system. Building troops is time and resource intensive, and its easy for an enemy to snowball you quickly after a couple bad loses.


This concern is present, but I think you will find that one becomes much more careful about the battles one engages in. And like most multi-player strategic games, one who has been beaten down must negotiate with other players and convince them to lend a hand.

BobDurf wrote:
The card play is not nearly as exciting as other CDGs. Individual decks could give players even more individuality and flavor in a game, but in this game they rarely do. Effects are powerful to be sure, but each player has at least a few, making them all blend together after a while.


I disagree with this assessment. Each deck is quite distinct from the others and provides nation specific flavor to a greater degree than say the nation decks in Combat Commander.

For example, the Greeks' technological & martial superiority shines threw in their siege-related cards & numerous combat bonus cards; and their numerous leader + CU reinforcement cards provides them with potentially quick access to extra troops wherever they are needed.

Rome on the other is quite defensive with combat cards that come into effect after battle results are determined (often they mitigate loss).

Etruscan/Samnites have cards to affect everyone and very much harass Rome with. The Samnites were a thorn in Rome's side for quite a while militarily, and this is reflected in their having some of the strongest combat cards

BobDurf wrote:
The method of activating generals is annoying. Whether or not theres a historical reason for this (and I'm not sure there is), being constrained by the luck of the draw makes the game even more swingy if a player loses some battles and has a poor draw. While a player in Virgin Queen, Napoleonic Wars, or Paths of Glory can usually slap down some emergency troops or at the very least move some around, its much harder to do in Sword of Rome.


First, I do believe these activation ratings were based on historical rationales. Some generals were simply more hesitant to commit and move armies, thus they are less likely to activate and were given a 3 rating. There is a nuance to learning how to deal with one's leaders.

Unlucky card draws coupled with poor leaders is really the main complaint of the Roman player. It is a non-issue for Gaul. Etr/Sam mainly run around with level 2 leaders, so one would have to be really unlucky to draw a hand of 5 or more 1 OP cards. Greeks have a lot of control regarding which leaders they want to work with (and should nearly always pay to keep a level 1 leader on the board given that their minor leaders are awful at level 3). I can't speak much to Carthage as I've only played one 5-player game. Here is where one needs to keep the Desperate Times card which allows one to draw a new set of cards in mind. Rome should hang on to it's two DT's for times when it draws bad leaders/cards, as both their DT's ameliorate those situations.

BobDurf wrote:
Sieges are strange beasts as well. The mechanics are fine, but give little incentive for an army to hole up inside a city for defensive purposes--if they lose the siege they are done for.


The incentive to hide in a city arise directly from the political consequences possible from a lost battle. If a city does not have a garrison, the support an enemy gains from destroying one's CUs in a battle can be used to lower a city's loyalty to 0, whereby that city either turns independent or flips to the winning enemy's control if they started the battle controlling an adjacent space.

Further, the winner cannot lower one's city's loyalty below the number of CUs garrisoned there. Thus leaving 1 CU in each VP city (especially those bordering enemy territory) is critical to mitigating the consequences of a swinging battle system. Additionally, it is really difficult to siege loyalty 3 cities, so keeping 3 CUs in some cities might be worthwhile (though difficult to justify in some circumstances).

{Note that I believe the political consequences rules are the single toughest aspect of SoR to understand and implement properly}

A secondary bonus is that those CUs in the city can assist a relief force during combat (allowing the attacker to exceed the 10 CU limit imposed by the movement rules).

A tertiary bonus is that when moving an army, enemies cannot intercept one's army when it moves into a space containing friendly CU. This can be big when dealing with enemy generals with high tactical ratings.

BobDurf wrote:
Finally, naval movement ranges from a neat tactical system to annoyingly overpowered with Carthage as a fifth player. In the games with Carthage as a player, they tended to jump around on ships and wrecked the Greeks easily. But perhaps that is drifting towards strategy.


I can't recall the specifics of Carthage's naval dominance, but I do remember they can move 10 CUs most anywhere easily. Nonetheless, I have not seen Carthage be overpowered by this benefit in the 1 game I played and a couple of other games friends have made me aware of.

BobDurf wrote:
Strategy: The Romans are straightforward and solid, and despite the supposed "powerful minor Volscii" nearby, they usually have solid growth that grows stronger the more they expand. The central position is really not much of a weakness to make up for colony building, as the Etruscan/Samnite and Greek players are equally exposed to other players but with weaker special powers.


The Roman player's central position is a significant issue that often is not mitigated by its colonization ability. Of course, this depends on how much the Roman player can make peace with at least one enemy. As for the Volsci, it is difficult to expect newbies to coordinate their NPA's properly to harass Rome well. They have been a big issue for Rome in many of the games I've been in with armies sizes getting up to 8+ (or stealing Roma away from an otherwise distracted Roman player with just a 4-5 CU force).

I have seen Rome get knocked down quick and have to fight from a 1 VP position, to dominating the game early. A lot depends on the skill of the player and the luck of those combats.

BobDurf wrote:
The Etruscan player can look forward to being the world's best punching bag in most games. The Gauls will always raid from the north, the Greeks can poke from the south, and the Romans are in the middle of Etruscan territory. The bribe special power is laughable, throwing away your best cards to stave off an attack that will surely come again. The mountain passes do help with defense, but are equally hindering for offense.


I will chock up your opinion here to "youthful inexperience." The Etruscans/Samnites may be the hardest to get a handle on, but they have many advantages, especially their bribe ability and those mountain passes. Bribes are not to be used frequently, but surgically to deny one's opponent a critical move to which one could not otherwise respond later in the round (or for a shocking move into enemy territory for a precious VP).

Recall that for the Samnites, the mountain passes around their two main home tribal spaces are considered regular connections. This allows them to move around those areas easily and without fear of losing one's entire army due to a defeat that would require a retreat through a mountain pass. In all my games, I don't believe I have ever seen the Samnite player lose its two 3-strength tribal VP spaces.

It is also critical to know when to play that alliance card that forces Gaul to effectively turn their eyes on Rome.

I have seen Etr/Sam take advantage of the Gallic player and steal a turn 1 win. I have seen them get beaten down to 2 VPs and come back to win in turn 9.

BobDurf wrote:
The Greek specialty is equally annoying. The good generals are only situationally worth the PC cost to keep them in line, and the investment required is tiresome and resource draining. To make matters worse, the Carthage player can generally dance circles around a Greek player, using naval movement and decent generals to pick at the Greek bit by bit.


I have generally felt the Greeks are the hardest to win with (though not unbalanced-ly so) due to that PC cost of the generals. Learning to manage that is an important skill. Don't expect to keep Pyrrhus around for more than 2 turns. But they can be beasts in combat. I don't know that they are disadvantaged against the Carthage though, as I have seen them do well against Carthage in 2 of 3 games I have seen/played.

BobDurf wrote:
While the Gaul gets to do his own raiding, the raiding can both get tiresome for the other players and stall if the others simply ignore him rather than counter attack back into the Gaulish territory.


I cannot say much about your feelings that some mechanics are tiresome. Gaul needs to beat down armies, complete VP card events & sack loyalty 1 cities when possible. Raiding is useful to keep a couple of plunder markers around to flip back lost VP spaces or to ensure Etruscan mines get depleted.

BobDurf wrote:
The minor powers are all fun and interesting, but the usage of them is far too random. The only one that sees regular activation each turn is the Transalpine Gauls, simply because its the only one capable of knocking down the Gaul VPs.


I disagree with your opinion that the activation is too random. Each player has 6 NPAs in their deck. Playing an NPA to activate a neutral does not count as your action for the turn, so players should be burning NPAs with frequency to harass an opponent (or at least reinforce that minor with 1 CU). Every player can expect to draw at least 1 a turn, and if they don't, then they will or did draw multiple NPAs in another turn.

BobDurf wrote:
Desperate Time cards are difficult to use well for new players, since its difficult to gauge game time and necessity.


Agreed that new players simply have no idea when to burn those. My general rule for newbies is to use DTs mainly in situations that will either net you a VP or ensure you do not lose a VP. Thus they are most often used at the end of a turn. After a game or two, one learns when using them is appropriate.

BobDurf wrote:
is admiral that the game balance is designed to create such a wide open system that doesn't devolve into usual Diplomacy style play.


Quoted for truth!

BobDurf wrote:
RAIDERS OF THE NORTH: Countered by their arch nemeses, the Raiders of the Further North.


Gaul needs to keep an army at least within striking distance of the T-Gauls if not right near their entry points.

Thank you for writing your thoughts in this review.
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Tom Stearns
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My one play of SoR was a 5 player game with 3 other experienced players. I agree having experienced players teach the game helps tremendously with getting new players to better understand the rules. I was able to focus more on strategy as opposed to having my head buried in the rulebook.

Our game contained a lot of diplomacy. Greece and Carthage allied early. Etruscan player allied with Rome early. Gaul (me) got caught between the Etruscan and Transalpine Gauls. We had a lot of fun with the diplomacy. Toward the end of the game, Carthage, counting on his alliance with Greece, moved an army north threatening the Etruscan and the Gaul. At that point Greece stabbed him in the back. Rome had expanded early then had a lot of trouble with everybody around him. Gaul(me) snuck in the back door at the end to win on the tie breaker.

Usually games like this take more than 1 play to understand the nuances of card play and to understand strategies. I admit I was not as smitten with SoR as the other players, and there are other CDG's I would want to play first. However, I wouldn't turn another game of SoR down either. I'm sure with additional plays I would grow to like it more.
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Robert Johnson
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callidusx3 wrote:
Sorry to hear that your experience with one of my favorite games turned out to be a disappointment. Perhaps you won't get around to giving it another shot, but allow me to make some extensive comments on some of the observations you made...

BobDurf wrote:
The rulebook was a mess to get through. As the group's resident rule teacher, I was tasked with instructing the group on how to play and was somehow thoroughly confused by the rulebook, despite the game being on the low scale of complexity compared to others.


I too am the resident rules teacher for most games, but I have always found that complex games (like most wargames tend to be) are best learned from someone else with experience or when two people can bounce their interpretations of the rules off of each other. Playing a multi-player wargame with everyone being a newbie often leads to many mistakes in the rules. Trying to develop strategies while mastering the rules can thus be a challenge and may lead to disappointment.

This is not to say that your opinion is not sufficiently informed. I have a good friend (Belisarius88) who likes many CDG's (and taught me a good number of them), yet he ended up hating Sword of Rome.

BobDurf wrote:
Gameplay: However, the mechanics to rebuild armies in no way compensate for this combat system. Building troops is time and resource intensive, and its easy for an enemy to snowball you quickly after a couple bad loses.


This concern is present, but I think you will find that one becomes much more careful about the battles one engages in. And like most multi-player strategic games, one who has been beaten down must negotiate with other players and convince them to lend a hand.

BobDurf wrote:
The card play is not nearly as exciting as other CDGs. Individual decks could give players even more individuality and flavor in a game, but in this game they rarely do. Effects are powerful to be sure, but each player has at least a few, making them all blend together after a while.


I disagree with this assessment. Each deck is quite distinct from the others and provides nation specific flavor to a greater degree than say the nation decks in Combat Commander.

For example, the Greeks' technological & martial superiority shines threw in their siege-related cards & numerous combat bonus cards; and their numerous leader + CU reinforcement cards provides them with potentially quick access to extra troops wherever they are needed.

Rome on the other is quite defensive with combat cards that come into effect after battle results are determined (often they mitigate loss).

Etruscan/Samnites have cards to affect everyone and very much harass Rome with. The Samnites were a thorn in Rome's side for quite a while militarily, and this is reflected in their having some of the strongest combat cards

BobDurf wrote:
The method of activating generals is annoying. Whether or not theres a historical reason for this (and I'm not sure there is), being constrained by the luck of the draw makes the game even more swingy if a player loses some battles and has a poor draw. While a player in Virgin Queen, Napoleonic Wars, or Paths of Glory can usually slap down some emergency troops or at the very least move some around, its much harder to do in Sword of Rome.


First, I do believe these activation ratings were based on historical rationales. Some generals were simply more hesitant to commit and move armies, thus they are less likely to activate and were given a 3 rating. There is a nuance to learning how to deal with one's leaders.

Unlucky card draws coupled with poor leaders is really the main complaint of the Roman player. It is a non-issue for Gaul. Etr/Sam mainly run around with level 2 leaders, so one would have to be really unlucky to draw a hand of 5 or more 1 OP cards. Greeks have a lot of control regarding which leaders they want to work with (and should nearly always pay to keep a level 1 leader on the board given that their minor leaders are awful at level 3). I can't speak much to Carthage as I've only played one 5-player game. Here is where one needs to keep the Desperate Times card which allows one to draw a new set of cards in mind. Rome should hang on to it's two DT's for times when it draws bad leaders/cards, as both their DT's ameliorate those situations.

BobDurf wrote:
Sieges are strange beasts as well. The mechanics are fine, but give little incentive for an army to hole up inside a city for defensive purposes--if they lose the siege they are done for.


The incentive to hide in a city arise directly from the political consequences possible from a lost battle. If a city does not have a garrison, the support an enemy gains from destroying one's CUs in a battle can be used to lower a city's loyalty to 0, whereby that city either turns independent or flips to the winning enemy's control if they started the battle controlling an adjacent space.

Further, the winner cannot lower one's city's loyalty below the number of CUs garrisoned there. Thus leaving 1 CU in each VP city (especially those bordering enemy territory) is critical to mitigating the consequences of a swinging battle system. Additionally, it is really difficult to siege loyalty 3 cities, so keeping 3 CUs in some cities might be worthwhile (though difficult to justify in some circumstances).

{Note that I believe the political consequences rules are the single toughest aspect of SoR to understand and implement properly}

A secondary bonus is that those CUs in the city can assist a relief force during combat (allowing the attacker to exceed the 10 CU limit imposed by the movement rules).

A tertiary bonus is that when moving an army, enemies cannot intercept one's army when it moves into a space containing friendly CU. This can be big when dealing with enemy generals with high tactical ratings.

BobDurf wrote:
Finally, naval movement ranges from a neat tactical system to annoyingly overpowered with Carthage as a fifth player. In the games with Carthage as a player, they tended to jump around on ships and wrecked the Greeks easily. But perhaps that is drifting towards strategy.


I can't recall the specifics of Carthage's naval dominance, but I do remember they can move 10 CUs most anywhere easily. Nonetheless, I have not seen Carthage be overpowered by this benefit in the 1 game I played and a couple of other games friends have made me aware of.

BobDurf wrote:
Strategy: The Romans are straightforward and solid, and despite the supposed "powerful minor Volscii" nearby, they usually have solid growth that grows stronger the more they expand. The central position is really not much of a weakness to make up for colony building, as the Etruscan/Samnite and Greek players are equally exposed to other players but with weaker special powers.


The Roman player's central position is a significant issue that often is not mitigated by its colonization ability. Of course, this depends on how much the Roman player can make peace with at least one enemy. As for the Volsci, it is difficult to expect newbies to coordinate their NPA's properly to harass Rome well. They have been a big issue for Rome in many of the games I've been in with armies sizes getting up to 8+ (or stealing Roma away from an otherwise distracted Roman player with just a 4-5 CU force).

I have seen Rome get knocked down quick and have to fight from a 1 VP position, to dominating the game early. A lot depends on the skill of the player and the luck of those combats.

BobDurf wrote:
The Etruscan player can look forward to being the world's best punching bag in most games. The Gauls will always raid from the north, the Greeks can poke from the south, and the Romans are in the middle of Etruscan territory. The bribe special power is laughable, throwing away your best cards to stave off an attack that will surely come again. The mountain passes do help with defense, but are equally hindering for offense.


I will chock up your opinion here to "youthful inexperience." The Etruscans/Samnites may be the hardest to get a handle on, but they have many advantages, especially their bribe ability and those mountain passes. Bribes are not to be used frequently, but surgically to deny one's opponent a critical move to which one could not otherwise respond later in the round (or for a shocking move into enemy territory for a precious VP).

Recall that for the Samnites, the mountain passes around their two main home tribal spaces are considered regular connections. This allows them to move around those areas easily and without fear of losing one's entire army due to a defeat that would require a retreat through a mountain pass. In all my games, I don't believe I have ever seen the Samnite player lose its two 3-strength tribal VP spaces.

It is also critical to know when to play that alliance card that forces Gaul to effectively turn their eyes on Rome.

I have seen Etr/Sam take advantage of the Gallic player and steal a turn 1 win. I have seen them get beaten down to 2 VPs and come back to win in turn 9.

BobDurf wrote:
The Greek specialty is equally annoying. The good generals are only situationally worth the PC cost to keep them in line, and the investment required is tiresome and resource draining. To make matters worse, the Carthage player can generally dance circles around a Greek player, using naval movement and decent generals to pick at the Greek bit by bit.


I have generally felt the Greeks are the hardest to win with (though not unbalanced-ly so) due to that PC cost of the generals. Learning to manage that is an important skill. Don't expect to keep Pyrrhus around for more than 2 turns. But they can be beasts in combat. I don't know that they are disadvantaged against the Carthage though, as I have seen them do well against Carthage in 2 of 3 games I have seen/played.

BobDurf wrote:
While the Gaul gets to do his own raiding, the raiding can both get tiresome for the other players and stall if the others simply ignore him rather than counter attack back into the Gaulish territory.


I cannot say much about your feelings that some mechanics are tiresome. Gaul needs to beat down armies, complete VP card events & sack loyalty 1 cities when possible. Raiding is useful to keep a couple of plunder markers around to flip back lost VP spaces or to ensure Etruscan mines get depleted.

BobDurf wrote:
The minor powers are all fun and interesting, but the usage of them is far too random. The only one that sees regular activation each turn is the Transalpine Gauls, simply because its the only one capable of knocking down the Gaul VPs.


I disagree with your opinion that the activation is too random. Each player has 6 NPAs in their deck. Playing an NPA to activate a neutral does not count as your action for the turn, so players should be burning NPAs with frequency to harass an opponent (or at least reinforce that minor with 1 CU). Every player can expect to draw at least 1 a turn, and if they don't, then they will or did draw multiple NPAs in another turn.

BobDurf wrote:
Desperate Time cards are difficult to use well for new players, since its difficult to gauge game time and necessity.


Agreed that new players simply have no idea when to burn those. My general rule for newbies is to use DTs mainly in situations that will either net you a VP or ensure you do not lose a VP. Thus they are most often used at the end of a turn. After a game or two, one learns when using them is appropriate.

BobDurf wrote:
is admiral that the game balance is designed to create such a wide open system that doesn't devolve into usual Diplomacy style play.


Quoted for truth!

BobDurf wrote:
RAIDERS OF THE NORTH: Countered by their arch nemeses, the Raiders of the Further North.


Gaul needs to keep an army at least within striking distance of the T-Gauls if not right near their entry points.

Thank you for writing your thoughts in this review.


As someone that recently purchased this game, and only has one play in, I so appreciated both the review and the rebuttal. Both of them makes me want to immediately play again!
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Tim Reade
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I also understand some level of frustration with the game first time through.

As with many CDGs, knowledge and understanding of the cards increases ones insight and enjoyment. With this, ability to strategise and increase chances of success through judicious application of the cards usually follows.

Exploration of each power and their differences and what they bring to the game is another dimension.

For me this all adds up to enormous replayability and depth and thus enjoyment.

This is present in this game more so than Wellington CDG, which has very similar mechanics (SoR is a better game IMO).

Rules are very rich and concise, which in some ways makes it difficult to understand all the implications/nuances. Concise is good, but repeated reference to the rules is needed as a result.

I've been playing SoR for more years than I care to remember. Still one of my favourites. But each to his own!

Good discussion!
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Jeff
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While I generally agree with all the points made in the rebuttal above, I feel as though he missed one absolutely critical issue:

The review indicates that you were playing the five-player version, with Carthage as a player power. This is a very bad thing.

The four-player game is tightly designed and fits together splendidly. Everyone has a role to play here.

The five player game is a mess that typically reduces the game to two separate wars that happen to be taking place on the same map. It takes the careful balance of the base game and throws it out the window.

Sword of Rome is a great game, although it took me a couple plays to really appreciate it. The 5-player expansion is one of the few expansions that manages to turn an excellent game into a downright awful one. If five people want to play Sword of Rome, I'll duck out so that the other foure can actually enjoy themselves.
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Brandon M
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Interesting discussion everyone. Keep it up.

Just popping in to tell Jeff how much I love his avatar. Here's a couple geek pennies to rub together.
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Ron
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Wow! Now I need to get that game on the table ASAP to make up my own mind! It's on my shelf for months, but still unplayed ...!

Keep up the great discussion guys!
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Henry Rodriguez
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ExcitingJeff wrote:

The review indicates that you were playing the five-player version, with Carthage as a player power. This is a very bad thing.


Good points! I overlooked that issue because of my lack of experience w/ 5-player mode. I did feel, after my one game, that there could be a balance issue here. Sad to hear that it is so pronounced. I'd probably give it a go anyhow to get more experience under my belt.

I can say that I did play a 3-player game through turn 9. I found it to be a fun experience and recommend it, though 4-player is better.
 
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Marty Sample
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I've played both 4 and 5 player games about the same number of times. While I don't think there is a balance issue, game play does require some changes for all four of the other powers, even the Gauls to a lesser degree. I'd advise new players start with the 4P version first.
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Andrew J
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BobDurf wrote:
The Etruscan player can look forward to being the world's best punching bag in most games. The Gauls will always raid from the north, the Greeks can poke from the south, and the Romans are in the middle of Etruscan territory. The bribe special power is laughable, throwing away your best cards to stave off an attack that will surely come again. The mountain passes do help with defense, but are equally hindering for offense.

...

DUAL MONARCHY: Turns out Austria-Hungary wasn't the first bipolar country...and hey, the Etruscan/Samnites are equally awful in their own game!


We played a game just this last Wednesday and the Etruscan/Samnites (played by my son) won an automatic victory on turn 2 with a very nifty play of a desperate times card. There's more to this game than meets the eye.
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alex w
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Luck on card draw. The gamers you play with. The negotiation. Is what make the game fun.
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Bob Durf
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Nice rebuttal Like I believe I said before, its obvious the game has fans for a reason, its not a bad one. To give some context, I've played several games of Sword of Rome, but of course, if we don't like it, we don't play it (isn't that how life should be?). The comment on the five player expansion making the game worse is interesting but with the latest edition coming with it in the box, its a bit difficult to expect a group to ignore part of the game entirely.

While we didn't play the game a lot, we generally play games like this exclusively (check my other reviews) The rebuttal gave me a lot to consider, but I stand by my own analysis
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Henry Rodriguez
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BobDurf wrote:
Nice rebuttal Like I believe I said before, its obvious the game has fans for a reason, its not a bad one. To give some context, I've played several games of Sword of Rome, but of course, if we don't like it, we don't play it (isn't that how life should be?). The comment on the five player expansion making the game worse is interesting but with the latest edition coming with it in the box, its a bit difficult to expect a group to ignore part of the game entirely.

While we didn't play the game a lot, we generally play games like this exclusively (check my other reviews) The rebuttal gave me a lot to consider, but I stand by my own analysis


Certainly one doesn't play what one doesn't like, and I wouldn't expect you to do differently. It wasn't clear from your initial post how much experience your group had with he game, so I worked from the assumption it was just once. In those type of circumstances, a broader perspective might impact how a person views the disappointing game.

Your review is unquestionably useful as we all have differing tastes. Thanks!
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Bob Durf
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Yup, and that's not to say its a bad game. I don't waste time writing reviews on games I have no interest in, or hate
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Tim Reade
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BobDurf wrote:
Yup, and that's not to say its a bad game. I don't waste time writing reviews on games I have no interest in, or hate


Hey Bob - I too ASSUMED you were a noob to this title. Sorry for that. Glad to hear you haven't given up on the game completely. We are blessed with such a great range of options to choose from. Given a choice, I will also always choose a game I LOVE to play. Always open to new ones though - as you obviously are too!
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Scott Randolph
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comdotski wrote:
I also understand some level of frustration with the game first time through.

As with many CDGs, knowledge and understanding of the cards increases ones insight and enjoyment. With this, ability to strategise and increase chances of success through judicious application of the cards usually follows.

Exploration of each power and their differences and what they bring to the game is another dimension.

For me this all adds up to enormous replayability and depth and thus enjoyment.

This is present in this game more so than Wellington CDG, which has very similar mechanics (SoR is a better game IMO).

Rules are very rich and concise, which in some ways makes it difficult to understand all the implications/nuances. Concise is good, but repeated reference to the rules is needed as a result.

I've been playing SoR for more years than I care to remember. Still one of my favourites. But each to his own!

Good discussion!


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Mark J.
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Thanks for the review and the rebuttal. It's nice to see the free exchange of ideas as well as people with opposing viewpoints maintaining a civil discussion. It's very enlightening and more useful than one sided threads.
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Thomas Ting
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Speaking as someone who has played Sword of Rome about a dozen times (and won as the Etruscan-Samnites in my most recent game this month)...

BobDurf wrote:
Gameplay: Ehhhhhh.... its ok. The combat is alright, its swingy but thats understandable. In fact, it makes perfect historical sense that battles could have such wide swings despite numbers on each side. However, the mechanics to rebuild armies in no way compensate for this combat system. Building troops is time and resource intensive, and its easy for an enemy to snowball you quickly after a couple bad loses.


Sword of Rome is a very different game from other GMT CDGs not only in combat mechanic resolution, but in the required player outlook. This game does NOT reward immediate and constant aggression. This is NOT a game where you should be constantly moving your armies around. If you do, you will probably lose with the possible sole exception of the Gauls.

It is instead a game that teaches people _why_ the ancients tended to avoid battle if they can help it. This is not the era of decisive victories like Cannae, but of Phyrric victories where winning a battle leads to losing a war.

The winner will in fact very often be the one who displayed the most political "flair" - meaning they were able to manipulate the political situation to such an extent that they were able to win with minimal fighting; and if they do fight the odds were so incredibly lopsided that victory was almost a forgone conclusion. The player that just fights regardless of the odds tends to lose.

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The card play is not nearly as exciting as other CDGs. Individual decks could give players even more individuality and flavor in a game, but in this game they rarely do. Effects are powerful to be sure, but each player has at least a few, making them all blend together after a while. The method of activating generals is annoying. Whether or not theres a historical reason for this (and I'm not sure there is), being constrained by the luck of the draw makes the game even more swingy if a player loses some battles and has a poor draw. While a player in Virgin Queen, Napoleonic Wars, or Paths of Glory can usually slap down some emergency troops or at the very least move some around, its much harder to do in Sword of Rome.


The main difference between Sword of Rome and those games is that political security and loyalty of your home areas is NOT a given. Popular support at home is a precious resource that must be carefully husbanded. Battles are risky not only because you lose troops, but you can also lose support and control of the home front. Indeed if your popular support at home is low then it becomes relatively easy for your cities to surrender to an enemy siege.

Good Sword of Rome Play in fact requires spending a lot of early actions on increasing home support. This is different from Virgin Queen or Napoleonic Wars where the primary outlet of spare points is the generation of new armies.

Armies must instead be treated as a finite resources with a finite rate of regeneration (except the Romans, who can increase the generation rate) - meaning they must also be carefully husbanded and building up requires multiple turns of waiting. Losing these reinforcement spaces moreover is a big blow - which further reinforces the fact that you shouldn't be risking your army and leaving yourself open to invasion so much in this game.

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Sieges are strange beasts as well. The mechanics are fine, but give little incentive for an army to hole up inside a city for defensive purposes--if they lose the siege they are done for. Finally, naval movement ranges from a neat tactical system to annoyingly overpowered with Carthage as a fifth player. In the games with Carthage as a player, they tended to jump around on ships and wrecked the Greeks easily. But perhaps that is drifting towards strategy.


Sieges are a reflection of the political system, and troops within a city prevent their easy capture as there are many cards that can take away support from a besieged city. Note for instance that an ungarrisoned city will immediately surrender if its support is reduced to zero due to defeat in battle or a card play.

Naval movement is also not overpowered. Carthage is not always the fifth player - the first player is CHOSEN by the player with the least VP and not the Gauls by default. Indeed there's no need to Carthage to attack the Greeks using the Navy since they can just march straight unto the Greek Sicilian cities.

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The Romans are straightforward and solid, and despite the supposed "powerful minor Volscii" nearby, they usually have solid growth that grows stronger the more they expand. The central position is really not much of a weakness to make up for colony building, as the Etruscan/Samnite and Greek players are equally exposed to other players but with weaker special powers.


There are games when the Volscii actually defeat the Romans, and if the Romans are able to build colonies unmolested then other players aren't doing enough to stop them.

It is a very common mistake for players to fear attacking Rome. They in fact SHOULD be attacked early in this game because their powers are mostly geared for the long-term. The Etruscans, if left unmolested by the Gauls, have a decent shot of beating the Romans. The Etruscans with the Gauls have an extremely good shot at beating the Romans. The mind set of the Gauls being the natural enemy of the Etruscans is one of the biggest strategic misconceptions of this game (see below for a more detailed explanation)

Quote:
The Etruscan player can look forward to being the world's best punching bag in most games. The Gauls will always raid from the north, the Greeks can poke from the south, and the Romans are in the middle of Etruscan territory. The bribe special power is laughable, throwing away your best cards to stave off an attack that will surely come again. The mountain passes do help with defense, but are equally hindering for offense.


Etruscan-Samnites are actually one of the most fun factions to play once you get into the correct mindset of playing Sword of Rome - which is again about having political flair as opposed to seeking decisive victory on the field.

For one thing the idea that the Gauls must always attack and raid the Etruscans is a flawed one; which is a problem I see with many new Gallic players. In reality raiding Etruscans spaces is a bad option. They need to raid five Etruscan spaces to score a VP, and on most activations they will only be able to attempt raid 2 spaces at most; and success is still dependent on a dice roll. Most Gallic players who raid heavily in this way tend to lose.

By contrast capturing a city is more efficient, as you get a VP immediately by sacking a city. The Gauls do have a slight penalty for sieges, but you still advance a siege on rolls of 7+ and there are cards that can help in this regard. All of of the Gallic wins I've seen (and games where the Gauls came close to winning) involved extensive sieges.

The question for the Gallic player, therefore, is whether to attack Etruscan cities or Roman cities. And given that the long-term power rests with the Romans (who recruit a soldier for every city), it becomes rather easy to see that an alliance with the Etruscans is more beneficial than making an enemy out of them. Indeed, the historical outcome was that the Gauls and Etruscans allied against Rome.

Bribes moreover are not really an ideal weapon for avoiding battle. Bribes are actually best used offensively - during your activation you can bribe an enemy army into ignoring you; allowing you to bypass it and capture key spaces beyond. This is particularly devastating with campaign activations since your bribing force could cut off the escape route of your enemy.

Quote:
The Greek specialty is equally annoying. The good generals are only situationally worth the PC cost to keep them in line, and the investment required is tiresome and resource draining. To make matters worse, the Carthage player can generally dance circles around a Greek player, using naval movement and decent generals to pick at the Greek bit by bit.


The Greeks generally get more regular troops and don't have to worry about losing cards from Neutral Power Activations. Indeed, in a five player game they are the only player aside the Etruscans to not have to worry about Neutral Activations - which is a very strong advantage because Neutral Power cards can be played in ADDITION to a regular card play (Side note: many players make the mistake of failing to coordinate their Neutral activation with their regular activation. You should instead strive to coordinate them if possible. The Gauls for instance will be in huge trouble if you activate the Transalpine gauls and cut off their escape route while your regular activation sends your army to attack them. The Etruscans could also pull off the same trick against the Romans by activating the Volscii before their own activation).

Moreover the Carthaginians only have one city in Sicily - the Greeks have two. The Greeks can in fact very much just push into Carthage's sole Sicilian city and end the war outright especially if they have siege cards on hand and they don't allow themselves to be distracted by subsidiary landings. At the end of the day you have the same number of card plays as the Carthaginians and all the battles are ultimately decided on land.

Personally though, it is often smarter for the Greeks and Carthaginians to reach an accord and strike northward, particularly if Rome is able to build colonies. Again, this game is more about political flair rather than simply winning battles.
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Thomas Ting
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ExcitingJeff wrote:
The five player game is a mess that typically reduces the game to two separate wars that happen to be taking place on the same map. It takes the careful balance of the base game and throws it out the window.


Not really. It becomes two separate wars when Carthage and the Greeks insist on attacking each other while ignoring the rest of the board. This is why my outlook as the Greek or Carthaginian player is to seek an immediate accord with the other side.

Indeed, barring bad luck or poor play, it is very rare for one side or the other to "win" the Sicilian attrition race, which is why I think the Greeks and Carthaginians should avoid war with each other in the first place.

The game tends to be MUCH more interesting with a Greek and Carthaginian player looking northward, albeit one time we ended up nearly completely destroying the Romans with a grand 4 vs 1 beat down - only for them to recover the turn after the alliance broke up and nearly snatched the win back again!
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