W. Eric Martin
Rome: Circus Maximus
This game gives each player three chariots to race around a track once and park in the center island. Movement is governed by five cards, numbered 1-5, that a player uses once each round. In a round, the lead chariot moves first, using 0-3 cards of its owner's choice, then the next chariot moves, and so forth until each chariot has moved. Then players get back their five cards and the next round starts, with the lead chariot moving first, etc.
We had a rules surprise at the end of the first straightaway. Phil had explained that those in the lead move first with those closest to the center island taking precedence. But we didn't realize how this would actually play out until we were sitting at the end of the straightaway ready to start the new round. Once we figured it out, I'm sure all of us wish that we had played differently.
Gameplay was its usual Kniziainess with players making choices from a limited pool of options. The only problem with the game came in the closing moments when Don was placed in the kingmaker role and could have placed a chariot to stop Phil from winning and thereby give the game to Matt. He honorably declined to do so. I'm not sure whether this would be a problem every time one plays, but the chariots were packed tight at the end, which led to this situation.
The second of the three games in Rome, Imperium's board has a map of the Mediterranean Sea and eight surrouding regions. The regions are numbered from 1-8, and each number is followed by two or three other numbers. So the first region is 1-1-1, the second 2-2-1, and the eighth 8-6-4-2.
Each player has an identical card set, with one card for each of the eight regions and three special cards. On a turn, each player secretly chooses three cards, then all reveal them simultaneously and place colored tokens in the regions they chose. One of the special cards duplicates a region card, thus allowing a player to place two tokens in a region on one turn.
At the end of the first turn, the first region is scored, with the player with the most tokens scoring the first number listed, the player with the second most the second number, and so forth. If there's a tie for majority, the tied players each score the number listed for second place; if there isn't a tie, the player with the majority placed a token in the region's capital and scores an additional point for that token as well as each token e controls in neighboring capitals. All tokens other than the one in the capital are returned to players' stockpiles.
On the next turn, the second region is scored. After the eighth region, the first region is scored again. The game ends when one player who has 40 or more points is in the lead by emself.
So there's a guessing element as to which regions people will concentrate their efforts in, but the guessing becomes less important as the game goes on because you can see who's concentrating in which areas. If two people are stockpiling in one region, as Matt and Don did in region 8, you say forget it, I'll place one token there to grab 2 points and place most of my dudes elsewhere.
The two other special cards, which can be used only once per game, allow for a bit of trickiness. The Oracle lets you see what everyone else plays, then look at your hand and rechoose which cards you want to play. Ear of the Emperor scores an additional region that turn, a card that Phil had turned against him when Don played more tokens in region 7 than Phil thought he would, losing Phil the majority and the capital spot.
I lined up majorities in region 4, then 6, then 1, which go in order counterclockwise, netting me 1, then 2, then 3 bonus points. I ceded 4 to others rather than fight, but retained 6 and thus 2 more points. I seemed to choose regions others didn't want so badly, thus netting me more majority points and a steady climb up the scoring chart. In this game, much as in Taj Mahal, it's sometimes better to switch than fight.