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Subject: Initial Impressions and Thoughts rss

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G. Gambill
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Introduction
I picked up this game recently, and sat down to play it with some friends almost as soon as it arrived. First, this is just a review after ONE four player game. Normally, I would never post a review after one play, but there seems to be a lack of reviews since the initial four posted, all of which are quite good and do an admirable job of describing the mechanics and rules of the game. The reason for writing this, is because there seems to be some mixed reviews for this game. I had some different feelings about it, and so have decided to share. You may want to take this with a grain of salt, because it is an initial impression review. Full disclosure aside, here we go!


Image courtesy of bgg user cezner

The Game Bits
The game itself is quite pretty to look at, and I have no complaints over the components. As noted in other reviews, the cardboard is SERIOUSLY thick, the board is very pretty in muted, "old" looking colors (see below), and the rulebook is well laid out. The side board (or tile display) is also quite functional and works well. Others have pointed out that it's a bit cramped, but this is where I think the tile thickness pays off (maybe this was intentional) because they are SO thick, it was easy for us to pick them up off of their stacks. We had no problems with lifting and flipping tiles during the game. The cubes are nice, but I do have a couple strange "rhombus" cubes, and some are a little smaller than others. Hmmmmmm. Nothing to effect the game play though. The player aid cards were clear and very nice as well.

The Game Rules
I won't go into a long description here, as others have done such a good job describing the rules. Suffice it to say, there are three eras in the game. In each era you have two turns, and "A" turn, and a "mirror B" turn (more on this later). In each turn, you chose six actions (12 per era (6 in A, 6 in B), 36 total over all three eras), so each action is a tough choice.


Image courtesy of GekoPL

You can either Build a city or wonder (wonders in the B turn), Develop new territory for mining, farming etc., take an Advance to give you a bonus or ability, take an Empire tile to increase your presence on the world map or Trade in your resources for gold or victory points. The interesting thing in the game is, whatever you chose to do in the A turn, you will do again in reverse order in the B turn. There are some ways to change this. The calendar advance, for example, will let you take an action in the B turn that you did NOT select in the A turn by moving one of your selection disks, and you can also change the order in which you take your actions in the B turn if you're willing to pay gold, population cubes, resources or victory points for that ability. Otherwise, you are locked in to the same TYPE of action in your B turn. This makes for some interesting long term planning in the game, and also seems to simulate the momentum of your decisions as your empire moves forward. At the end of each turn, there is a scoring and resource gathering for the next turn, and there is also a board reset (CRUCIAL to the game where you remove half of your cubes rounded up in each territory), and other clean up duties at the end of each era. Most notably, you need to pay to keep advances from the previous era, or they are lost (or, as it feels to me, left behind as "antiquated"). At the end of three eras, the final scoring takes place and the game is over.

The Theme
Now this is my reason for writing this review. Many have expressed that they feel the theme is not good here. I respect their opinions, and the reviews I have read that make this assertion are well presented with examples and reasons, so I will not dispute their feelings or opinions. I will, however, offer my take on these issues.

Is the theme pasted on? Does it "feel" like a civ game? In my opinion, yes. You start off with a minimal map presence in the ancient world. One of the things I love, is that the map opens up new regions as the world is explored, so it's always tight and full of competition after the first turn or two as people try to get the territories that offer resources. As the game continues, you develop your land by taking land tiles. Plains offer food and more people for your civilization, forests can offer valuable resources with the right tools, and mountains provide people and precious resources if you can afford to feed these people in this harsh terrain. The advances all make sense (except for the soccer/football advance in the final era. Football? Really? Nothing better?) and are useful in combination with other tiles in the game, be they territory/land tiles or city tiles. I do feel I am expanding and improving my realm as the game progresses. The map provides great tension, and the limited number of times an action can be taken in a turn (depending on the number of people playing and the available tiles) means you have to consider your moves carefully. It also involves some strategic decisions since the actions you take now, will echo in the next turn. I think this works well with the theme as setting in motion a huge empire creates a momentum that cannot be stopped and turned on a dime. A civilization that is constantly fighting and expanding is not going to all of the sudden stop and build some wonders! I like that turning inward (developing land by taking a land tile, building cities, taking advances) feels very different from the leaders whose focus is outward (with the empire tiles and advances that give bonuses in war or expansion such as the ideology tile, for example). I find that the decisions regarding the balancing of these two ideas leads to great tension and decisions that are, of course, effected by the other players, as well as your own wishes or ideas!

So, what's not to like?
The theme gets a little thin with the trade track, seen here in the upper right corner of the tile display courtesy, once again of a nice picture from bgg user GekoPL!



I wish there was the option to trade with players, instead of using just a deterministic chart for trading. It's a little contrived, but it still works well. The idea of trading resources for gold is logical and works well. It also simulates a market in that the first person to select and execute this action gets the best "deal" as the market is fresh, and others selling later reach a more saturated and thus, picky, market that will no longer pay them top dollar. This works for me. Buying victory points, however? I'm not thrilled with that, though I did use it to my advantage. That, theme wise, does not work for me, but it DOES work for the game.

Overall Thoughts
I like this game. It's the first Wallace I've played, and I enjoyed it. I think the theme is fine and present. I enjoy the decisions to be made, and the micro/macro feel to the decisions you make when you take your actions and set up the B turns. The game plays quickly, and is quite enjoyable. All of us left it wanting to play again, so I guess that's a good thing. I still think I prefer Through the Ages, but this game is a winner in my book. I'll have to see if the strategies become too similar in the future, but I suspect they will not. I could see that changing my opinion on the future, but for now, I enjoyed it, I think about playing it alot, and I am ready to go at any time, so I rate it an initial 9 out of 10.

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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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You must understand that at least one of the negative reviews is from someone who has played a lot of Wallace games. If this is your first Wallace game, then honestly I would expect a positive review because most of the time he makes good games. It's just that after you've played a lot of them you sometimes want more. Now I haven't played Rise of Empires yet and therefore can't compare it to his other games, but we'll see. I liked what I saw in the rules enough to buy it, and will be playing on Saturday.
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G. Gambill
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is my first Wallace game (I have Perikles, but it has never hit the table for some reason) but I've obviously heard a lot about him. I've been intrigued by some of his games like Automobile, but have just never picked one up. In regards to your reply, are you saying that he repeats himself with his designs, so familiarity breeds contempt? Or is it that he's such a good designer that people have really high expectations for each of his releases? Just curious. Thanks!

edit: spelling
 
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Patiently waiting for the zombie apocalypse...
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I have also recently purchased Rise of Empires and I am very excited to play. This review only amps my desire. I agree there seems to be a low number of reviews for this game and they are quite mixed in feelings. Thank you for the review.
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Andre Metelo
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I'm probably going to get blasted for it. But here it goes....

I tend to find Wallace's designs quite boring.

Played a good chunk his games, and to this day only really enjoed the following:
- Automobile
- Rise of Empires
- Steel Driver

His games do have a common feeling. almost like you can easily recognize them just like you can identify Bon Jovi or Roxette song by their beats. (OK, I actually enjoy the two bands - I guess more things to be blased for!)

In fact I joke with a friend that is a major Wallace fan that he draws a set of 5 to 10 game mechanics from a bag of 20 or 30 different mechanics, ask for a theme from a friend, and does his magic to come up with a game.

Some times it works for me - games listed above, some times it just does not work for me:
- Age of Steam
- Perikles
- Tinner's Trail
- Brass
- Last Train to Wensleydale

And sometimes I just don't care:
- Byzantium (I think there might be a game there, I'm willing to give it a couple more triesz)
- Conquest of the Empires
- Runebound
- Waterloo (based on reading the rules).

So, I tend to have low expectations for Wallace games, and this one - Rise of Empires - did raise the bar a little, as well as automobile. Unfortunately, when looking at Civ based games, I still think Through the Ages is a better game that can be played in less time.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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What I'm looking for is how he's progressed as a designer. I've been in this hobby long enough to see a lot of designers progress over the years, and Martin is one of them. If this is your first exposure to him, then naturally you couldn't answer that question
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Jason Quintal
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One hint to players just starting out. Do not take the map lightly in this game. It is the *PRIME* objective in acquiring resources. If you have no presence on the map, you can't win this game. This means that some investment in mountains needs to be made early to get a decent foothold. Without player cubes, you'll get flushed out of this game quickly. The *early* victories in map conquests vastly outweighs any time spent building cities, etc. If you can keep your cubes on the map throughout the game you have a much better chance of competing for a win. The ancillary bonuses from map victories should give you enough to dabble in the city and wonder tracks if necessary.


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matt tolman
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Just to add a little to the discussion at hand:

I have played a lot, if not most, of Martin's games, and I just played Rise of Empires for the first time and was thoroughly impressed. I really enjoyed this game and can't wait to play it again. I think it shows how far he has come as a designer, as the mechanics are easy to understand, and there are few "exception" rules. This may not be the most strategic Martin Wallace game ever, but I would say it is the most elegant design I have played from him.
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Sean McCormick
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I ordered the game based on the subject matter and on the designer's good reputation, but I've never actually played any of Wallace's games. As a wargamer, I'm a bit worried that this will feel too light, but I appreciate an elegant design and am hoping that RoE comes through. I'm looking forward to getting it on the table.
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G. Gambill
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Thanks for the reply Sean! I hope you enjoy it. Elegant is a good way to describe the game play. I have grown to appreciate games that have a short rule set, but deep play. I used to do some wargaming in my youth (Panzer Blitz, Panzer Leader, Squad Leader, Midway), and I hope this does not discourage you, but it is NOT a wargame. The fighting is deterministic (ala Antike or Advanced Civ), with a little wiggle room if you have some advances. Otherwise, I feel it has more in common with euros and other civ games than a true wargame. It will probably feel very light to you from a tactical point of view on the map, but it will present you with other interesting short and long term decisions that you don't typically get in a wargame (or at least the ones I remember ) I hope you enjoy it!
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Andre Metelo
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mopeymatt wrote:
Just to add a little to the discussion at hand:

I have played a lot, if not most, of Martin's games, and I just played Rise of Empires for the first time and was thoroughly impressed. I really enjoyed this game and can't wait to play it again. I think it shows how far he has come as a designer, as the mechanics are easy to understand, and there are few "exception" rules. This may not be the most strategic Martin Wallace game ever, but I would say it is the most elegant design I have played from him.


In fact, I think I have to say this was the first of Wallace's games that I read through he rules once and did not have to play a solo game to figure out what the rules were talking about. It was really well written.
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ian smith
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I must step in here and defend my beloved Martin Wallace, imho there is not a better games designer out there. He has consistently manufactured spectacular games and whilst on occassion he fails to hit the spot, his strike rate is quite remarkable.

I would be very hard pushed to not list 6 or 7 wallace titles amongst my top ten favourite games.

I absolutely disagree with the suggestion that themes seem pasted on, I do absolutely agree that his rules are generally bloated and take a couple of plays to iron out the rough spots.

What's interesting about RoE is that it doesnt really feel like a Wallace game to me. It bares similarities to Struggle of Empires, Perikles and perhaps lesser so to the like of Princes of the Renaissance, however it manages to feel more like a Civ game and less like an out and out War game which the afforementioned games all move towards. The removal of dice does a lot to affect this change.

I had huge expectations for this title, as previously stated I am a huge fan. I may as well list those games that I love so - with perhaps a brief explanation as to why - if only to provide some perspective upon my opinion.

Brass: Certainly in my mind his finest game, a perfect balance of theme and strategy, I play this game a lot and each game is incredibly tense, it has grown with our group and now we find that 4 or 5 members are exceptionally good players and we still find winning it both a huge challenge and massively satisfying.

Struggle of Empires: A brutally challenging experience, the bidding system in this game throws up more excitement in our group than any I have experienced.

Princess of the Renaissance: Like struggle this can be utterly unforgiving and throws up such tension and levels of deception that you cannot help but be gripped.

Age of Steam/Steam: It's simply classicly elegant, it's minimal, it's thematic and again the bidding creates huge challenges. Never an easy game to win against good players, we are split as a group as to whether Steam is better than AoS - but we all agree that they are both excellent gaming experiences.

Tinners Trail: 60 minutes of Fun, Brilliant Action Point Mechnic and significant variety in gameplay.

Automobile: A glorious headache of a game - not easy for non gamers to grasp the depth and it is bulging with potential screwage.

Steel Driver: Again 60 minutes of massive fun, brilliant bidding again and a wonderful end game twist which adds to the excitement.

Und Tschuss: Anyone who hasnt played this filler, simply hasnt played the best fast card game on the planet.

Bugger - that's eight, I guess I have to drop Puerto Rico to number 11 then behind Shogun and Die Macher (the latter is incidentally my favourite game of all time)

Anyway - my point is this. There is no such thing as a Wallace game, there are Wallace themes, Wallace Mechanics and Wallace deceptions but each game may only contain some of these ideas.

Returning to RoE, I can only really compare it to the other big Empires Civ game I have played regularly "AoE III" I think it compares very favourably, there are in my experience more routes to victory, the game does not demand conflict and the conflict operates in such a way that it is possible to counteract attacks quite easily. The game plays very quickly and teaches even quicker, it is both absorbing and fun and certainly worthy of a high rank on the geek, which it looks like it might actually achieve!

I say well done Martin - again - I wonder if I will soon be listing 9 top Wallace games - it's certainly a distinct possiblity.

For those interested in seeing what our group as a whole think: www.primordialgroup.com



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Sean McCormick
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Yes, I'm very favorably impressed by my early solo playthroughs of RoE and am looking forward to trying it against live opponents. It's my first Wallace game, but I liked it enough to immediately hunt down a copy of Conquest of the Empire (not exactly Wallace, I know, but based on his design, and a more interesting period for me than SoE covers).

RoE strikes me as an excellent, excellent game.
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Hawaka Winada
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seanmac wrote:
I ordered the game based on the subject matter and on the designer's good reputation, but I've never actually played any of Wallace's games. As a wargamer, I'm a bit worried that this will feel too light, but I appreciate an elegant design and am hoping that RoE comes through. I'm looking forward to getting it on the table.


RoE may feel too abstract for a wargamer. The territory tiles and city tiles the players buy are not located anywhere on the map and thus can't be fought over. And armies can only attack when they are placed on the map, after that they are defensive only. If you want a more wargamish Wallace game then look for Waterloo, or his older Struggle of Empires or Empires of the Ancient World if you can find them. RoE is an interesting and tense game but it's not the kind of simulation wargamers are used to.
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Sean McCormick
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Good advice--as I said, I went out and grabbed Conquest of the Empire, which while not done personally by Wallace is nevertheless based on his SoE design. Anyway, having done a few solo run throughs in different combinations, I haven't had any problems with the level of abstraction at all. On the contrary, I'm absolutely adoring the game so far. The different pieces mesh together very well, and (by wargaming standards, anyway) the game seems to fly by. It's got excellent pace to it.
 
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matt tolman
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That is one of RoE strengths as well, incredibly well paced.
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