Note: My full review of Struggle for Rome will be published shortly. Following is an abbreviated version.
The Enemy is at the gates. The powerful Roman empire has grown weak, and is teetering on the brink of disaster. Barbarian hordes gather on the eastern border, aiming to plunder and pillage the cities and countryside of the once powerful nation. Rival tribes vie for wealth and riches, and to ultimately establish the dominant kingdom on the ashes of what once was the glory of Rome.
Struggle for Rome by designer Klaus Teuber is the latest in the Settlers of Catan series of games. It is a stand-alone game, rather than an expansion. It is along similar lines as Settlers of the Stone Age in that it has a historical setting, but mechanisms that are not mere clones of the Settlers system. There are a few similarities, but the game does have a decidedly unique feel.
The large board depicts a section of the Roman empire, including Italy, parts of France and Hispania. Unlike the original Settlers, the hexes are fixed in place. Like Settlers, each depicts a specific type of terrain: pastures, wheat fields, mountains and forests. All except forest will produce resources when the corresponding number is rolled, provided player’s units are adjacent to those hexes. Players will use these resources to construct additional units – warriors, horsemen and supply wagons – and purchase development cards. The ultimate objective is to achieve ten victory points by conquering cities, obtaining cultural advancements, and possibly earning other bonuses.
Players begin the game with one horseman and one warrior poised on the outskirts of the empire. These units represent the player’s armies, whose actual strength is based on the number of warriors and horsemen in the respective boxes. Players will move their forces to plunder and eventually conquer Roman cities, but must have a force at least equal to the defense value of the city in order to succeed. Building one’s forces is a constant affair, especially since casualties are often taken when plundering, and forces must be assigned occupation duties when conquering.
The game turn sequence is a bit different than that found in most other Settlers games. The dice are rolled four times per turn for resource production, and all players get to build, trade, move, and plunder and/or conquer during the active player’s turn. Plundering rewards players with coins and/or cards, but sometimes inflicts casualties on the invaders. Eventually, players will have plundered in enough regions to begin conquering cities, which yield victory points.
Conquering cities is the major path to victory, as each city is worth 1 victory point. Further points can be earned from the handful of cultural cards hidden in the development deck, as well as the three special victory point cards for certain achievements. The conditions include possessing the most diplomacy cards (minimum of three), plundering cities in five different regions with one tribe, and conquering four cities with each of your two tribes. The game ends at the end of the round when one player reaches ten victory points.
Players should not rush to begin conquering cities, however, as plundering is the main source of income and a good source of obtaining development and resource cards. The only other way to earn money is to decline taking any actions on a turn with either your horsemen or warriors, which will earn the player two gold. Waiting too long to begin conquering can also be problematic, as the conquering begins, there is an emphasis placed on positioning. Players must keep their expansion options open, and it is possible to completely isolate tribes and prevent them from expanding. Deciding when to begin conquering is a critical decision to be made.
Games often begin slowly, with players plodding across the board and plundering cities. It takes quite some time to acquire the necessary resources to build one’s forces, and this aspect of the game has the tendency to drag. The pace quickens dramatically when the first city is conquered, usually resulting in a rush by all players to begin conquests. Choosing the right locations to begin and expand in critical, as it will assist in resource yields and expansion possibilities. This aspect of the game is tremendously more exciting and tense than the initial plundering phase.
Struggle for Rome is a fine addition to the Settlers line. The Rome setting is intriguing, and there are enough new concepts to give the game an original feel. I am a bit worried, thought, that the game may grow stale with repeated play, as the board is fixed and the strategies and options may become static. I’m afraid that the game will suffer the same fate as Settlers of the Stone Age and become one of those “once-a-year” events. On the other hand, that may be less a knock on the game than it is a statement on the sheer number of new games being released.
I dove quickly into the development deck, and was fortunate to draw numerous diplomacy cards. This earned me the Diplomacy victory point card early, and I was able to keep ahead of my opponents in their quest to wrest it from me. When the conquering began, I felt very good about my board positioning. Bo was less fortunate, and had trouble expanding on the eastern section of the board. Byron, however, had the upper hand, as he conquered two different cities that were on the lucrative ‘6’ and ‘9’ resource areas. This resulted in a steady supply of resources, and he converted that to victory … one turn ahead of me.
Finals: Byron 10, Greg 9, Rhonda 6, Bo 5
Ratings: Greg 7.5, Byron 7, Bo 7, Rhonda 6