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Thomas Gingras

Weymouth
Massachusetts
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Sword of Rome
GMT Game Description: The Sword of Rome is the latest (2005) in GMT’s acclaimed line of card-driven board games. It uses the popular base system invented by Mark Herman and featured in Ted Raicer’s Paths of Glory. This time, event cards and point-to-point maneuver enable up to four ( now five) players to recreate the vicious struggles among the peoples of Italy and Sicily in 4th and 3rd Centuries BC. Who will dominate the western Mediterranean–and with it earn the right to vie for control of the known world?

The Sword of Rome includes rules and events for city loyalty, Roman colonies, tribal raids, Gallic indiscipline, Greek siege craft, Indian war elephants, Roman and Macedonian-style infantry tactics, the mountain fastness of Samnium, and much, much more. The game covers over 100 years of classical history in just 9 hands of cards.
The interplay of each power’s special strengths, of the strategy decks’ 152 event cards, and of up to four players’ diplomatic acumen provides unlimited variety. But the rules remain at low-moderate complexity, and the familiar, underlying system is easily mastered.

REVIEW: I have played two solo runs of this game, each with a different result and each revealed new intricacies and interrelationships that are possible in the game. As those of you who are familiar with card driven games this one does not use a common deck. Instead each faction; Gauls, Etruscan/Samnite, Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, has it’s own deck to draw cards from. There is an element of deck management through the REMOVE cards that allow you to execute a special event. Otherwise as in other games you can play the card for the event or for the OPERATIONS points. I find that the special events allow for thematic or historical events to be incorporated into the game without having a complicated exception to rules or chromed on special event table. Also the player it trying to manage their own deck and not worrying about when a certain historical event is going to happen like in Paths of Glory, because the decks have been abstracted, but still more faction specific than say Combat Commander.

While each faction has a few key events as provided by the cards, they also have an element that is specific to their faction. There are also two Neutral factions that players can activate as spoilers or cats paws to foil another player’s strategy. Each faction also has two INTERUPT cards called Desperate Times. These cards allow the player to go out of turn with a 3 OPS points card.

The goal of the game is to have the most Victory Points at games end or 12 for an automatic victory. The Auto victory objective is lower if you can get to it in fewer turns. Unlike other games the loss of a Victory point space is not a onetime event. Each turn when you calculate Victory points any home space you don’t control is counted against you every turn. Losing a city early means you want to try to get it back as soon as possible.

The Gauls do not get to retain cards turn to turn so must create a strategy turn to turn. There focus is on raiding since the results of pillaging are how the vacation gains victory points.

The Romans get to colonize spaces and turn them into walled cites. Walled cities allow then to recruit more combat units. They also get two new randomly drawn leaders a turn to represent the Consuls.

The Etruscan's, until they have lost five spaces, are able to bribe armies. In order to do so they must permanently remove a 3 OPS card from their hand and the army is considered to have been bribed and returns to the adjacent space. The Samnite, who together form one faction, can travel through the rough terrain of their homeland as if the spaces are clear. This allows them to use the spine of Italy as a highway of interior lines to strike at the Romans or the Greeks in the south.

The Greeks are really a collection of city states and must pay city loyalty to retain the services of their named leaders. This means that the Greeks are constantly worrying about city loyalty as part of the full spectrum of short, medium, and long term goals.

The Carthaginians are an interesting faction. Originally they were a neutral power that was turned into a playable faction. This makes the reading of the rules tricky in some spots because it changes some key elements in the game, but I think that as in independent power they work. They Carthaginians are able to burn an OPS card on their turn to recruit mercenaries. They got one Combat Unit of mercenaries per point that they spend. This allows them to bulk up in attack or defense throughout the turn. The counterbalance to this is that they get few Carthaginian troops and they also have to deal with unrest. The other players in the game can play Neutral Powers cards or use political support to increase the unrest in Carthage. There are ways to counter this, but the result is that Carthage will begin to loose cards and VP’s as they are occupied with dealing with areas that are outside the scope of the map. The unrest is an abstract of turmoil at home or in other parts of their empire, like Africa and Spain.

Loyalty of Cities and political control are also important aspects of the game. Like Hannibal and Rome and Washington’s War each space has political control associated with it. Functionally the spaces allow your troops to ignore attrition and give a bonus in combat if they are aligned with your faction. For cities this is determined as City Loyalty, which has a rating of from 1 to 3. If a city hits zero through game play the garrison of the city is ejected and the city places an Independent Loyalty 1 token on it forcing the player to have to siege the city to take it back. Political control and loyalty can be effected by the playing of OPS cards and by victory in battle.

Through play even though two powers may not be able to impact each other directly through military means there are ways in which the player can impact their strategy or to stonewall them from their goals. This means that all the factions court the others to prevent or invite assistance for their own goals. This was hard to do in a solo game, but as long as I looked at each faction from what was the most advantageous decision or position this worked reasonably well however, I did pretty much ignore the Alliance rules in solo play.

The combat system in the game is pretty easy, but also deadly. Victory in battle is determined by who rolls the highest and then casualties are determined by what the die face result was. The massing of troops in the game can take a bit of investment and to see them wither away and armies evaporate is pretty thematic for the period.

This is my take away after two solo plays. I found that I had to keep rereading the Naval Movement rules. I think this is because Carthage is a neutral power with anything but the five player game. For this reason it makes the rules hard to follow. I may download the rules and streamline them to only have the five player rules. I also missed the rule that allows you to burn a 3 OPS card for 1 Combat Unit, that would have been helpful a couple of times to stave off disaster. The other players have an active interest in using their Neutral Power cards to make trouble for Carthage and the Gaul’s. Leaving them to their own devices or their local neighbors will allow them to pull ahead in VPs.

Overall I think that the game captures the period pretty well in the abstract. People who like history will like the subtle ways that it is incorporated into the game and people who don’t won’t be burdened by weird esoteric minutiae. The Card system is like other CDG so there is enough there to lessen the learning curve for anyone who has played one, but the game is not a thematic reskin of another CDG this is solidly its own game. GMT game components are super as always and there are no issues there. The game also can be played in a reasonable amount of space. The foot print is on par with Wilderness War or Washington’s war, as long as you have room for the additional players which is the games only drawback. I don’t think I would play this with less than five players. Getting five people together is difficult, but I think that since the game is largely mechanical once you have the rules down play time will decrease dramatically. There is negotiation and alliance building, but not to the depth of play as other games and I could see the players turning on the player who was about to win. I think with five people who have played a CDG and read the rules beforehand the game could be completed in four hours.
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Henry Rodriguez
United States
Miami
Florida
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Nice review. I would add that this game is fantastic at 4p. I am unsure about its balance at 5p (having played it at that count twice). 3p is serviceable.
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Scott Randolph
United States
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4p SoR is perfect RAW, right out of the box, no HR's needed. 5p SoR is by far my favorite, needs a couple of tweaks though, we play with the FPBV 5p Rules (which Wray gave a "thumbs up" to):

https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/97477/5-player-variant-im...

I know it may seem weird that the version, 5p, the one that needs a couple of tweaks, is my favorite, but it is...5p SoR is one of my all-time favorite games...in fact I have a 5p SoR game scheduled for Sunday 22 JAN 2017.

If you can, play 4p with 4 actual players, it's awesome, I'm sure solitaire can be fun too though. Then I'd try 5p RAW, then I'd play 5p FPBV.
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Marty Sample
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MILFORD
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"I also missed the rule that allows you to burn a 3 OPS card for 1 Combat Unit,"

Do note that the space be friendly controlled and eligible to be a Reinforcement space. But yes, this is something many players forget. I find especially as the Gauls this can be useful - if the 3 OP event isn't useful, it's not like you can save the card for a following turn. And until Brennus appears, you often need overwhelming strength to offset poor leadership. I also like using it to garrison the VP space near the Roman tribe, more efficient than spending time and OPS Subjugating that tribe.
 
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Tom H
Australia
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Basil Hilder KIA Lone Pine, Gallipoli
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Just finished a 4p game a couple of days ago. We all had a great time.

Gauls nearly got an auto win on the 1st turn, but fell just short. After that the Etruscans and Romans came after them and they got badly beaten up and did not recover. My Greeks then led for a while but the Etruscan / Samnites eventually won. Very difficult getting the VPs off the Samnites in the mountains - lost lots of good Greek hoplites trying!

Will try and dust this off again in the next week or two.

Good review - thanks.
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Richard Young
Canada
Victoria
BC
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SFRR wrote:
4p SoR is perfect RAW, right out of the box, no HR's needed. 5p SoR is by far my favorite, needs a couple of tweaks though, we play with the FPBV 5p Rules (which Wray gave a "thumbs up" to):

https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/97477/5-player-variant-im...

I know it may seem weird that the version, 5p, the one that needs a couple of tweaks, is my favorite, but it is...5p SoR is one of my all-time favorite games...in fact I have a 5p SoR game scheduled for Sunday 22 JAN 2017.

If you can, play 4p with 4 actual players, it's awesome, I'm sure solitaire can be fun too though. Then I'd try 5p RAW, then I'd play 5p FPBV.

Thanks for the link to the 5 player variant - don't know how I missed it as I love the game and would like to have a (more) workable five player option.
 
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