Interview with Boardgame News!
''Kris Hall:'' Justin Thompson and '''Rome vs. Rome'''
Fans of strategic wargames should be grateful to the HBO series Rome. It inspired veteran game designer [designerid=337 Joseph Miranda] to create a game based on the Roman Civil War for [publisherid=8007 Victory Point Games]. Judging from the comments on Comsimworld, [gameid=35662 Caesar XL] has been very well received by wargame fans.
There have been few strategic games about the Roman Civil War of late—except for The End of the Triumvirate The End of the Triumvirate (designed by Johannes Ackva and Max Gabrian), a rather Euro-ish wargame based on the premise that Marcus Crassus would have turned the Roman Civil War into a three-way contest if he hadn’t been killed on a military expedition to Syria.
Gamers now have a third Roman Civil War game to look forward to. Justin Thompson has created a block game for Columbia Games called '''Rome vs. Rome'''. Justin recently answered my questions about his game.
''Kris:'' Is '''Rome vs. Rome''' your first design? What drew you to the Roman Civil War? How did you come to be published by Columbia Games?
''Justin:'' No, '''Rome vs. Rome''' is not my first attempt at game design, though it is my first game that will be published. I actually started making a wars of the roses game some years ago but it took a long time to invent the multi-player game I wanted. When I heard that Jerry Taylor was interested in creating a game on the period, I met with him and decided to try a different game.
What drew me to the Roman Civil War? The HBO TV Show “Rome”. I was always interested in the time period but it wasn’t until Julius Caesar was about to be killed on the show that I wanted to know more about the time period. If you watch “Rome” it will really get you going for the time period and my game!
I work with Grant Dalgliesh on PrezCon “The Winter Nationals” game convention. I spoke to him about what I had in mind and he offered to be my graphic designer on the project. I worked hard and the game came to together beautifully. I met Grant at GAMA in April and after playing the game with me face to face decided that it would be something that would fit well into the Columbia Games family of games.
''Kris:'' '''Rome vs. Rome''' is a block game, but also has cards. Does it use [gameid=3685 Hammer of the Scots] as a model of the card-driven block game?
''Justin:'' Yes it has cards! Fifty cards to be exact, but they’re not like Hammer’s cards in any way. The cards are a big part of the strategy of the game. You play with 30 of the 50 cards each game so there is some variety of game outcomes. Each person is dealt 4 cards off the top of the deck. The Caesar player always starts the first campaign. He can choose between Movement, Levying Troops, or Playing an Event (though not every card has an Event on it). Each player knows in advance that every card he draws will have to be played sometime during the campaign so the strategy is playing them in the best order. Caesar plays a card and moves some troops and fights any battles he starts. Then Pompey plays a card and moves or levies. After both have finished they then draw a card in the order of who went first. After the first turn you roll 2 dice and who rolls high get to choose if they want to go first or let there opponent go.
''Kris:'' What is the relative complexity level of the game? How long will a game take to play?
''Justin:'' I would give it about a 5 or 6 on a 1-10 scale. It will be a 60-120 minute game. You can win after the first campaign is over. That is where the 60 minutes comes in.
''Kris:'' Can you give us some examples of the event cards in the game?
''Justin:'' Event Cards! Yes we have event cards! We have 12 events in the game. You shuffle them into the deck of 50 cards. You then take the top 20 cards off the top and place them aside. This should mean you get 8 events per campaign. So you really have no idea what events will come out or which ones you will get. The events reflect the Roman flavor of the time.
These are summaries and reflect the meaning but not the complete text on the cards.
* '''Triumph''' - Allows you to place 2 full strength Legions if on the previous turn you win a battle.
* '''Decimate''' - Take 1-step from all units in one town.
* '''Spoils for Everybody''' - Your opponent places a full strength legion. You then place 2 full strength legions.
* '''Admiral''' - Place 2 full strength ships in two different towns.
* '''Attrition''' - Removes 1 legion from two different towns.
* '''Desertion''' - Your opponent chooses a block in a town and replaces it with a legion of the same strength. This may result in a battle.
* '''Pirates''' - Place the pirate block in a vacant sea zone. It is a fleet of 4 steps. It affects both sides equally. They never retreat and only are removed after they are destroyed.
* '''Stamp my Feet''' - Roll 2 dice (anywhere between 2-12 and averaging 7). Apply these new levy points to all of your injured forces and then you may levy new blocks per the rules of levying.
* '''Senate Acts''' - Draw a full strength legion from your pool and place it in a town of your choice.
* '''Jupiter’s Stone''' - Place a block from your pool in any vacant neutral town. Roll for an uprising.
* '''Intrigue''' - Copy one card in its entirety. You may play the move, levy or event on the card weather your opponent played it that way or not.
* '''Let the Die be Cast''' - This card is the most complex. Roll one 6 sided die. A roll of a 5-6 ends the current campaign. Go directly to Victory Points. This may only be played if there are 5 or less turns left in the campaign. May be played as a move or levy instead. The movement is 4 and the Levy is a 5!
''Kris:'' Navies played a part in the Roman Civil War. How does your game handle naval movement and combat?
''Justin:'' We have Navies. Each side has 6 ship blocks. They can be built like any legion by just putting the necessary levy into them. Navies carry troops to battle via a Sea Assault! Navies can blockade a sea zone so that no ships can go out or come into ports in that sea zone. Ships also can garner victory points at the end of the campaign.
''Kris:'' What are the goals of each side? The strengths and weaknesses of each side?
''Justin:'' Simply put it is to control as many of your opponent’s towns, neutral towns and sea zones as possible without losing your own towns or sea zones. You have to decide when it is the right time to attack and when it is time to run and build. The game can change with every card play. Caesar is the most powerful guy on the board and he can run the board in the first campaign. Pompey is good and can win but he needs to keep Caesar from controlling too much of his area. If he can withstand Caesar’s military might early he stands a good chance of not only making it to the second campaign but winning it outright. Mark Antony is an average commander but he has his love Cleopatra on his side. If things break right Mark Antony can claim victory over Octavian. Agrippa aids Octavian in his quest to destroy Antony and claim his rightful place as first citizen of Rome. The game is very balanced and either side can win. I give Caesar the advantage in the first Campaign with Octavian holding the edge in the second campaign.
''Kris:'' Can you tell us a bit about the combat system of the game?
''Justin:'' Yes I can. The system was modeled after the great Columbia game “[gameid=1645 War of 1812]”. You roll 1 dice for each pip on your blocks. We added that Leaders roll 1 die per point of their leadership score. Caesar would roll 4 dice as he has a 4 leadership, Mark Antony would roll 3 dice and so on. We also added that a leader can attempt to tactically retreat before the attacker shows his blocks. Also in the War of 1812 if you retreat you must take pursuit fire. A 4-6 was a hit or step lose in Rome vs. Rome we completely do away with the 4 as a hit but we make a 6 a rout! So each legion or Cavalry in attack gets to roll 1 die and every 5 hits a running legion and a 6 completely destroys a Legion. Cavalry take hits only on a 5 or 6 and may run 2 spaces (their full movement.)
''Kris:'' Will the game have multiple scenarios?
''Justin:'' Not really. We call the first campaign “Crossing the Rubicon” and the second is called “Augustus”. They work as one game so no we won’t have a completely different scenario.
''Kris:'' What was the biggest difficulty you had designing the game? What are you most proud of in the design?
''Justin:'' I wanted to have 50 cards with 50 events on them. I ended up with 12! If was tough working my way down to 12! We also had 100 blocks when we started including 23 effect blocks. Effect Blocks are blocks that get put into play as the result of an event card being played. We ended up with 1 effect block! Wow!
I am most proud of the fact that we did it the right way by being open to suggestions early. My counselors on this project told me that patience and lots play tests are what make a great game! We are almost to the finish line.
''Kris:'' When is the earliest that gamers could expect to see the game published?
''Justin:'' I am not sure but it could happen at anytime. I am sending the final game to Grant Sept 5th! After that it will be up to Columbia Games. I do hope soon!
''Kris:'' What future games would you like to work on?
''Justin:'' Can you say North Vs South? We will see!
''Kris:'' Thanks for the interview.