Games which are simple but have something different about them always intrigue me and the rules of Strada Romana sounded like it fit in that category.
In Strada Romana, players take turns moving carts which are crossing the board - some from left-to-right and some right-to-left. The goal is to score as many points as possible, which are scored by completing contracts as well as correctly guessing which wagons will arrive first and some bonus victory points.
Each turn, a player can either move wagons, take a cart tile, or pass to take a bonus coin. Moving wagons allows a player to move one or more wagons a total of 3 spaces, splitting the movement between multiple carts. The player can enhance their action by paying coins to perform special moves like moving extra spaces, moving sideways and moving through other carts. Ending a wagon’s move on particular spaces allows the player to take the coloured tile or coloured cube nearby.
The tiles and cubes are the primary way to score points - a cube and a tile of the same colour counts as a completed contract. At the end of the game, players score points equal to (their number of different coloured completed contracts) multiplied by (their highest number of completed contracts in a single colour). It’s much more simple than it sounds. In the example the diagram, the player has collected completed contracts in 5 colours and has 4 completed contracts in one colour, so that scores 20 points. Players lose 1 point for each cube or tile they own which does not have a matching partner tile or cube.
Another action a player can perform is to take a cart tile. Beside the board is a stack of face down tiles with one tile for each cart except one (which is removed randomly during set-up). A player looks through the remaining tiles and must take one without revealing it to the other players. A player scores 3 points for each cart on their tiles that is in the first four carts to reach the other side of the board, but will lose 1 point for each cart on their tiles that doesn’t. Players can take a maximum of three tiles in total.
At the start, Strada Romana is very simple because carts are free to move and you don’t know which colours you or your opponent will really need later. When the carts start to cross over (as some go left-to-right and some right-to-left), the game becomes more interesting. The moves you want to make require a bit more planning and there are particular colour tile/cubes you want to grab. Also, you start to see which carts may cross the board first so taking cart tiles before an opponent becomes important, plus once a few have been taken, you’re not even sure which tiles are left before you commit to taking one.
As the game progresses, coins are more important as special moves are useful when the inevitable traffic jam begins. It was at this point we realised that there was depth in gaining coins too. Picking up coloured tiles can earn coins; however, a player must swap 5 coins for a victory point as soon as they can. If a player has 2 coins and needs 2 more to buy the 4-coin special move and then pick up a tile that earns them 3 coins, they will have to swap their 5 coins for a victory point and won’t be able to buy the special move.
Overall, we enjoyed Strada Romana. It was simple, relatively light, got more interesting as it progressed and contained some unusual mechanics. However, with two players, we found the game was too even. The way the completed contracts score meant that we both immediately grabbed one of each of the six colours to maximise one aspect of the score and then focussed on collecting as many as possible in just one (or two) colours as each was now worth six points each. I think a different scoring system could make the game better for 2 players - maybe 5 points for each set of 5 different coloured contracts would add more competition.
It’s important to note though that the issue with two players above does not make Strada Romana a bad game. Many games that *can* be played with two players are often not good with two. I think Strada Romana will play very well with 3 or more players as there will be more competition over the coloured cubes/tiles and it would be harder to collect a full set of different colours too. So, the more players, the more interesting it should be.
[Played with 2 players]
This review and other reviews of Essen Spiel 09 games on my blog at http://thegameofgaming.wordpress.com