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Subject: Unrewarding play, poor value. rss

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Craig Bryant
United States
Georgia
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I am going to give a negative review of “Enemies of Rome.” That makes me sad, and a bit worried, too. Sad, because I was excited to get the game and I really wanted to like it. Worried, because after all, taste is taste, some people seem to love Enemies, and I would hate to steer someone away from a game they’d love--especially when the publisher, Worthington Games, is something of a labor of love itself. And their “Hold the Line” is a bit of an odd bird that is very dear to me.

Still, labor of love or not, Enemies of Rome lists for seventy five dollars at the publisher’s site, and I don’t think I can just shrug my shoulders at it. I found it an unrewarding purchase: an underwhelming game with so-so components. The best I can do is lay out my criticisms as honestly as I can, and possibly steer one or two readers toward or away from “Enemies,” based on what they’re looking for in a game.

Enemies of Rome ostensibly puts you in command of one of five Roman factions over the course of six hundred years of history. The mechanics are strictly military: your units are legions and catapults, which you use to make glorious war on anyone who gets in your way. The playing field is a map of the ancient Mediteranean, divided into provinces and sea zones. Players are free to fight each other, but the focus of the game is on attacking the Enemies of Rome, from Celts to Carthiginians, all represented by green cubes. They fill most of the map at the start of the game. Event cards will place dozens of them in various provinces as play progresses.

Play moves quickly. On a turn, a player receives three reinforcement legions that can be placed in any province he controls. He then plays one of the two event cards he holds. Many of these are tied to some conflict in Roman history, such as the Punic Wars or the Invasion of Britain. Cards will include some combination of placing enemies on the board, moving enemies, and enabling the player’s own armies to move by land or sea. After movement, any province with units of different colors in it will have a battle. Battles are fought by rolling dice--one for each unit--and they are stripped away until one side is obliterated and the other is victorious. Any time a player conquers a province by moving armies into it and wiping out the defenders, he earns a glory point. The game ends when all the event cards have been played; the most glory points wins.

There are a few additional wrinkles--forts can be built (they advantage defenders), as can catapults (they negate forts). Five glory points earn the player an intrigue token which can be spent to build three additional armies, or a fort, or a catapult, or convert three Enemy units to the player’s own side.

The game looks, and feels, like Risk--a variant of Risk with lots of neutral armies on the board, but risk nonetheless. Amass your armies, move them into an enemy territory, and roll loads of dice. But I came quickly to think there was simply much less to Enemies. Start with combat: it is completely mechanical, and boring. Once it starts, there are no decisions of any kind to be made: no retreat, no choice even of how many dice to roll. Roll a die for each unit, take off one unit for each kill, and repeat...and repeat...and repeat...until it’s over. This gets dull, fast. I’ve nothing against a simple die roll deciding the outcome of a battle--but get it *done*. Another thing: even Risk values defending territory and controlling regions of the board--you get more armies. Enemies values only successful attacks. There is no real point to holding territory (the player with the most provinces controlled at the end of the game gets three glory points), no point to defending anything--not even Rome itself--and no point to attacking anything but the weakest territory you can reach, wherever it is located and however it relates to your other holdings.

Continuing in this line, Enemies invites comparison with a game of my youth: Milton Bradley’s Conquest of the Empire. There, provinces had economic value: they earned you money, you used that to buy things. It made sense to consolidate your territory, find defensible borders, and defend them. Conquest was a light game, and it had its flaws, but there was so much *more* to it.

For a game that prioritizes attacking, Enemies of Rome is stingy about letting you do it. You can only move your units if you play a card that lets you do so, and you only have two cards in your hand to choose from. This is annoying: so much is governed by the random draw of cards, and so little can be done to manage your hand. Among other things, every card you draw you will have to play by the end of the game.

And we may as well talk about those cards in more detail. The majority of them are taken from historical events over the 600 year span of the game. These are broken into three chronological sub-decks, which are each shuffled and stacked together to make the game deck. A typical card will identify itself as the Great Smelly Germans War, or whatever, instruct you to place a number of enemy units on particular provinces, and then take some number of army moves. The system has several faults. First, many of the cards are nonsensical given the state of play. Boudica's Uprising places units all over Britain--even if no Roman legion has ever set foot on Britain in your game. It just seems pointless. A few--a very few--of the cards draw inspiration from historical events but allow you to play them in a way that makes sense in your game. “A True Caesar,” inspired by the Gallic Wars, lets you raise an army and move it twice--not in Gaul, but anywhere on the board that makes sense for you. But these cards are in the minority. The second annoyance has to do with the common pattern of “place enemies and then move your armies.” This is meant to convey, for instance, an invasion or uprising followed by a Roman response. But it doesn’t work that way in play: whenever you can, you use the enemy forces to bedevil you fellow Roman players, and take the army moves to advance your own position. So maybe the Roman response to Boudica’s Uprising strangely involves mobilizing forces in North Africa.

This brings us to the integration of theme, which is poor. I am not faulting Enemies of Rome because it is not a historical simulation, where we have to roll on the Harvest Table for Egyptian grain and cross-reference the Pirate Activity Chart to see how much food makes it to Rome. What is there in this game that makes the players feel like they are all Romans? Nothing. We have no common policy, no central command, no connection even to Italy or the “eternal city.” Players start in territories scattered across the Med and separated by green cubes--no relation to Rome of the early Republic, but it could be forgiven if something drew us together as fellow Romans. Nothing does. If the game were ostensibly about a civil war--the Year of Five Emperors, maybe, or the Crisis of the Third Century, then fine: central rule has broken down and ambitious commanders are carving for themselves. That is the idea behind “Conquest of the Empire,” for example. But Enemies of Rome claims to be about six centuries of Roman history--look at the event cards, man! And this has no connection to the facts on the game board: each of us are running an independent Mediterranean empire.

Captain Sonar is a great example of a game that cares not a whit for *simulating* submarine combat, but nonetheless gives a wonderful emotional experience that resonates with its theme: we are all huddled on our side of the table, trying to find the enemy sub before it finds us. Enemies of Rome has nothing comparable.

My last point is that the rules are *sloppy.* I’m sorry, but that’s the only word for it.
Catapults. What happens to an army with legions and catapults that loses its last legion? Is the catapult destroyed? Should it have been rolling a die in combat all along? We are told that catapults count as one legion for movement purposes, but in combat, only that they “negate the effects of [a] fort in battle.”
How about forts? If I defeat an enemy in a fort, is the fort destroyed? Captured? Do I replace it with a fort of my own color? What if I don’t have any forts left in my own color?
One use of of the “intrigue” coins you can earn is to convert three Enemy of Rome cubes to your own color, making them your legions. But wait a minute--does that count as an “attack?” Do I get a glory point for capturing that territory? What if there were more than three enemy cubes in that territory, so there is a battle between my new legions and the remaining enemies? Do I get a glory point then?
These are basic questions--they came up in my first game.

Component quality is moderate to good. The mapboard looks quite nice and is mounted on heavy cardboard. Event cards are middle of the road in terms of physical quality, but look like they were slapped together in a word processing program. Armies are wooden cubes. This has caught some criticism, but I’m just as happy or happier with cubes than junky miniatures. You’ll be placing, moving, and removing scores of units during the game; cubes are just less hassle. There’s nothing terrible about the components, but I have to return to the price: seventy five dollars. This is *awful* value for money, and I tell you the truth: I can’t help feeling like I’ve been taken for a ride. Enemies of Rome will probably not hit my table again. I hope my next Worthington title will feel more like Hold the Line--this one was a miss.
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Edward Kendrick
United Kingdom
Redditch
Worcestershire
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That's an excellent review. Even though some might disagree with you, you've clearly said what you're looking for and why that would be a reasonable expectation from the game, and explained how the game doesn't provide it.
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Martin Gallo
United States
O'Fallon
Missouri
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Not every game suits every player. Worthington Games does not publish simulations, they go for simpler games with short playing times and easy rules.

If you are looking for heftier fare, look elsewhere. We have ALL made purchasing mistakes that we regret.

I am not trying to sound like a WP apologist, just reflecting reality. I certainly hope you find a game you like on the topic.
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