Phnglui mglw nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah nagl fhtagn! With cheeze!
Greetings - just freshly back from my first playing of Catan Histories: Struggle for Rome.
It was a four player game - one player had purchased it as her first game purchase! One other player had played once before. Everyone had previous experience with the original Settlers.
We settled in to learn the rules. Many aspects seemed familiar enough - resource generation, development cards, the "robber" in the form of a Roman Legion, VP rewards for certain progress.
Things started a bit slow, as folks worked their mind around the movement system, and how plundering worked. The trade off between moving to optimize your plunder, set up further moves, end up in a good resource generating spot, or passing for the guaranteed resource seems to present interesting choices.
The ultimate goal is to take over cities, however - as soon as one player "broke the dam" by having one of his tribes conquer, we all followed suit. At this point a tribe is more fixed in place, and the placement of the
robber - err, that is, Legion - has more effect.
Trading did occur in our game, but does seem less driven by need than in basic Settlers. There are numerous ways to get a resource card of your choice - plunder, paying gold, a 3:1 trade, passing with a tribe - and waiting a turn seems to be a perfectly viable option (or often the only option, as often others were not interested in trading).
As soon as the conquering started, the game did seem to speed up - either you have the required wagons and troops to take over an adjacent city with that tribe, or you don't and you pass, and work on building up the resources to get what you need to continue with your conquest of Roman cities. At this point it seems like a maneuver game to cut off other players paths of attack.
It was hard to tell in only one playing - and a learning game - but it seemed like it became clear about half way in that the person who had played before was in the lead, and there was precious little that could be done to his inevitable win. Repeated theft of resources had some effect, and a competing player turned out to be closer than it appeared to me - but the player ran away with the win all the same. He had established a strong lead by having both tribes meet the prerequisite of three different colored plunders first (which is needed before a tribe can begin conquering), and by securing the
largest army - sorry, Diplomacy card, for 2VP. He gathered a further 2VP from having a tribe plunder one of each color of city, and ground out the rest in conquests.
At the end, the players were at 10, 9, 8, and 7. The person placing had advance further than I had expected, including possessing two victory points in development cards (or whatever they are called in this version). I showed, and the game owner rounded out the pack.
My impression was that it was difficult to stop the leader, but I believe his previous play was a distinct advantage - further play would be needed to bear this out. However, our session dragged on, clocking in at around 3 and a half hours - which seemed much too long, even given that we were learning. The box claims 90 min, which would be more reasonable, and seems achievable with prior rules knowledge - just.
I'd be willing to give it a few more goes, but didn't quite feel driven to try it again. I suspect a couple more plays would either polish it up to reveal hidden depth, or exhaust my patience in searching for it!