To point out that games about ancient Rome are fairly popular would probably be obvious. But less obvious is the tradition of solitaire games about ancient Rome.
Back in 1973 SPI came out with The Fall of Rome (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/8326), long regarded as one of their worst games due primarily to poorly-written rules. But the concept was cool – you controlled the Roman Empire while the game system controlled the Barbarians who swept across the map like, er, Barbarian street-sweepers. In 1986, a computer game called The Annals of Rome appeared in which you controlled the Roman Empire while the game control the opponents of the empire, namely those sweeping Barbarians. The later game allowed you to play from about 300 BC to 1500 AD and also included occasional, random civil wars that would threaten to tear the empire apart. (My master’s thesis completion was set back at least a couple of weeks because of this remarkable game.)
Well, David Kershaw has brought the subject back into play his web-published game, Solitaire Caesar. The game covers the same chronological and geographical areas as Annals of Rome, but does so via a 11”x17” mapboard and fast-moving, streamlined play. The player guides the Empire through its expansion and then defends it against increasing waves of those, that’s right, sweeping barbarians.
What do you get in the download? 3 PDF files. The main PDF file contains 12 pages of rules (6 pages for the basic game), 1 page of units, and the original map. The download now also includes Chris Dorrell’s great new map and useful charts. The map uses point-to-point movement, and the combat is a simple, Risk-like method, and the rules are very clear with quite a number of effective examples.
Each turn, which covers one century, you get a set number of Talents (money) to be spent on building Legions (armies really) and Cities. You build and move one Legion at a time, and move your Legions across the board conquering territories and cities. The first couple of turns are easy, and your only real concern is whether or not you are overextending your infant empire. But then there are the Barbarians – the foreign people who sweep in from various parts of the map and sweep across the map occupying areas you haven’t taken. Soon the map is filled, and the Barbarians (whose location and number is semi-random) begin to be a serious problem as they conquer and sack your cities.
The Barbarians are pretty much all the same with the exception that some are “civilized” and they don’t burn your cities to the ground when they are conquered while your run-of-the-mill Barbarians do. After the player’s turn, two waves of Barbarians enter the map. The main thrust will come from a set (historical) location while a second thrust appears randomly, just to keep you on your toes. The game becomes quite interesting as you try to figure which areas to recapture, where to defend, and what to give up in order to protect what’s left. Gradually your empire ebbs and flows across the map and across time . . .
The game is quite simple and most of the concepts are very easily grasped. The rules regarding Barbarian movement are a bit more intricate but just take a few turns before you comprehend them fully. Despite its simplicity, the game still manages to have a feeling of historicity; I enjoyed how in the 3rd century AD of my first game, the Barbarians from the Steppe drove down through the Balkans and divided my empire in half. It was two more centuries before I was able to conquer a few territories and unite the empire again. (But I still managed to do better than history in my victory conditions at the end of the game.)
The basic combat system requires you to roll one die for each pair of units in conflict. For example, if one of your Legions attacks an unoccupied city, you roll one six-sided die: 1-4 and you’ve conquered the city, 5 or 6 and you’ve lost your Legion. Barbarians attacking across a sea are at a slight disadvantage, but otherwise there aren’t really any modifiers.
This means there is a lot of die rolling; but it is fun die rolling. When faced with my first stack of 5 Barbarians sweeping northward into Hispania, I opted to use the optional combat results table that allows you to quickly complete combat 3-units at a time. But I found the table rather awkward and discovered that I enjoyed rolling one die per Legion since it tended to create more suspense – like the time one Legion in northern Italy single-handedly held off an army of the Barbarians from the North. Sort of ahistorical, but within the realm of “fun”.
I do think the game takes a bit longer than the stated 1 hour to play. Playing the shorter “Rise and Fall of the West” scenario took me a good hour and a half; the full game would probably come to 2 hours.
Now, I don’t usually have room for a solitaire board since I have two boys who tend to roar around the house and I just don’t have the space. But I still want to play a simple, fast-moving historical game, so I made a Vassal module for the game that allows me to play the game without using any space and save it if I’m unable to finish in one go. Nevertheless, the game is small enough that you could easily play it on part of a dinner table and, if need be, write down the locations of all the units if you have to stop the game in the middle.
I give it an “8” for what it is – a fun, quick-playing solitaire game about the Roman Empire, and, for me, definitely worth a $5 download. I also think this game would be a useful, painless introduction to some wargame concepts for those of you thinking of trying them out.
Lines of Battle: Quatre Bras 1815. Brunswick hussar.
Dave Kershaw here - thanks very much for a very positive review. I designed the game primarily during down time at work to see if I could simulate the rise of Rome followed by the destruction of the West. The lingering of the East came a bit later when I was curious as to what would happen next. I should also add that bgg was invaluable in providing a source of informative and helpful playtesters.
I would also like to take the opportunity to shamelessly plug my other games on www.wargamedownloads.com
"Barbarossa Solitarire" is similar to Solitaire Caesar, but the player is the German forces invading the Soviet Union in 1941.
"Re-Route: The Marching Season Game" is a three player game simulating the sectarian strife and conflict in Northern Ireland during the 1990s. It is an interactive card game with cards influencing control over a map of Northern Ireland.
I have another game in playtesting at the moment: "Vietnam Solitaire". At present, the player is the US/South Vietnamese forces, but this may change....