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Subject: 0.0.0: The Republic of Rome, a Review (Part 2) rss

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Michael Noakes
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0.0.0: The Republic of Rome, a Review

5. Review
5.1 Overview
5.2 Learning the Game
5.3 Game Flow
5.4 Involvement
5.5 Strategy and Tactics
5.6 Randomness
5.7 Runaway Leader
5.8 The Forum
5.9 The Senate
5.10 Chrome
5.11 Cruelty and Conflict
5.12 Solitaire
5.13 Final Verdict


5 Review
5. 1 Overview
Reviewing a game the size, age and complexity of The Republic of Rome is a daunting task. The game has been around for over twenty years--and during many of those years nearly impossible to purchase--and finally earned itself a reprint. Although existing reviews and session reports describe the game as brilliant, the lack of much online presence and the impression that many people abandoned the game due to its complexity seemed to suggest that it was a specialist product aimed at a core niche of hard-core games.

5.1.1 What I Think
I make no pretence at objectivity here. This is a review and entirely personal opinion. After two years of waiting I went into The Republic of Rome desperate to like it--and fearful that it would be an absolute disaster of a game--and am absolutely pleased with my purchase. The Republic of Rome is the first and only game which I’ve rated a ‘10’ on the Geek. It is a complex game that takes a very long time to play, and fails as a solitaire game, and is not without its flaws; but despite this I honestly believe that The Republic of Rome is a game that I will never turn down, nor do I expect this to change. That being said, I also expect that it is a game which I will rarely get to play.

Furthermore, keep in mind that this is a game I have only played a few times. I normally like to play a game several times before writing a review, but with a game of this length, I'd be waiting another year before feeling ready.

5.1.2 Criteria
What follows below is my justification for rating the game a ‘10’. Though clearly my personal opinion, simply writing ‘because I said so’ wouldn’t make for a very good review. I look at the game across several--and largely arbitrary--criterion and hopefully you find my meandering (and extended) thoughts of some help in deciding whether this is a game you would like to try for yourself.

5.2 Learning the Game
The first step to learning to love The Republic of Rome is learning how to play The Republic of Rome. My advice is: don’t bother with the rules until you’ve got a copy of the game before you. The moment you set up the game, start passing around senators and assigning Major Offices (and earning influence), it all becomes a lot clearer. The most remarkable achievement of the rulebook, really, is that it makes what is, honestly, a fairly straightforward (or at least linear) game into something that seems impenetrable.

Just like Julius’ conquest of Britannia, it’s going to take a couple of goes before you get it right. If you simply accept that you’re going to make mistakes your first game, and forget things, and fumble your way through the first turn or two, it’ll make the whole process less painful. If your first game is with experienced players, there’s a chance they’ll get all Boadicea on your ass, but that’s part of the learning process; enjoy it! Remember: Influence is important; Major Offices are nice to have; and the Censor is a great way to exact sweet, sweet revenge.

5.2.1 All on My Oooooown
I played a solo game (6.0) first--not with the Solitaire Rules (5.12), which I think would simply confuse a beginning player even further--with four factions. This is something I do with most new games, but The Republic of Rome made it a lot more difficult, owing to the schizophrenic difficulty of arguing and playing Tribune cards against myself during the Senate phase. Over the length of an entire game, however, almost every rule applying to the Early Republic came up at least once. It really helped with nailing down the rules, and with churning up the bits I didn’t quite get. I’d recommend it to anyone new to the game . . . if, you know, you’re a huge geek with lots of free time, like I am.

On the other hand, when I went to play it with real people the next day, I felt totally confident teaching it.

5.2.2 What do you mean anyone can assassinate?
Which may be why I made so many mistakes and inadvertently left out several rules. But we all had fun, and that’s the main thing, right? Even with another game under my belt, there are still occasional rules that slip by. This is one of the big difficulties with mastering the game: there are loads of conditional, subtle and one-shot rules that, although often very thematic, don’t necessarily occur to you whilst playing.

5.2.3 Rating
If I was at all concerned with some kind of objective rating system, I’d rank the game for its learning curve out of ten, and go on to rank the rest of the game and average everything out at the end. I’m not going to do that. This game would probably earn a negative score for the difficulty inherent in learning to play it. I like reading rule books and figuring out new games. (And then teaching them, and never winning them.) The Republic of Rome is the single most difficult game to learn that I’ve tried. Its complexity is the first serious problem a review is likely to raise against it. Be warned.

5.3 Game flow
Despite the complexity of the game, it flows very well. (An errata’d game summary sheet helps.) I say this say now, after my first couple of games. The first turn or two of that first solo game proved painfully slow. But with each play I’ve found that my own turns, at least, have sped up. As mentioned under Game play (4.0) only two of the seven phases should, theoretically, take any time at all.

5.3.1 Game Length
Realistically though, I can’t imagine this ever been a very quick game to play. Both non-solo games I’ve played have included new players, which obviously slowed things down, but also lead to a great sense of satisfaction at the conclusion of the first (and every) turn. That first turn took well over an hour, by which time some other groups in the pub were already finishing off their first game of the evening.

This is a long game. There’s no getting around that. My most recent try proved a four-and-a-half hour session, in which we’d only finished five turns and didn’t manage to complete the game. Looking through the leftover deck, there was at least another two turns to go before hitting the End of Era card. With familiarity I expect the game to speed up, hopefully to under thirty minutes a turn, but I can’t really imagine this game playing in less than four hours.

I’m sure there are ways of speeding things up greatly, but to do so would strip The Republic of Rome of its flavour and flair. This is especially true of the Senate phase: to streamline the decision-making and skimping on the argumentation would render the whole thing a bit pointless. It’d be like The Settlers of Catan without trading or Battlestar Galactica without the paranoia.

5.3.12 To Play or Not to Play
Length of play is the second serious problem with The Republic of Rome. It is not a game I can often imagine hitting the game table. It needs at least four or five hours--assuming players who already know how to play--and, obviously, the right number of players. The box suggests 1-6, but I can’t imagine it being much fun with less than four; it feels perfect with five, what with that final initiative to auction off every Forum phase.

Playing this game to the end won’t be as hard as assembling a dedicated group of Descent: The Road to Legend aficionados through three tiers of play, but I suspect finding the right number of people interested in a heavy, complicated and confrontational game steeped in Ancient History that lasts five hours is never going to be very easy. To put it another way: would you rather play one game of The Republic of Rome or have three goes at Dungeon Lords, or ten games of Race for the Galaxy?

As for the full triple-era, Early-to-Late Republic game? The mind boggles. I’d love to give it a try . . . once.

5.4 Involvement
Meaningful decisions made often and with little downtime: these are criteria I’ve seen used to rate board games. Maybe it’s an MTV-Generational thing, or we’ve just been spoiled by all these Euros lately, but what happened to the sadistic thrill of making your opponent wait twenty minutes whilst you ponder and agonize and consider every possible outcome of buying one infantry or two for reinforcing Russia? The painfully long turns of my youthful Axis and Allies days seem to have gone the way of colourless colas, The Bard’s Tale and sitcoms where the principal source of humour is a gay or foreign flatmate.

It’s difficult to assess this aspect of The Republic of Rome as it essentially comes down to your playing style. Whereas a game like The Settlers of Catan employs mechanisms that enforce constant player involvement--even if it’s not your turn you’re probably collecting resources off of another player’s roll, or trading with them--it’s entirely up to the player whether he or she wants to contribute to Rome or not.

However, even the quickest-playing phases place a lot of weight on a single roll that can directly affect the player: the death of a Senator in the Mortality phase for instance, or the destruction of the Republic in the Population Phase. Even if a player isn’t delivering the speech or commanding a battle during the Combat phase, he or she should care about the outcome, either hoping that Rome emerges victorious or (far more insidiously) that a rival Senator dies in battle.

5.4.1 Fiddling as Rome Burns
Nevertheless, it’s entirely possible for a player to sit back and disengage from the game. This is especially true if experienced players are arguing heatedly over seemingly obscure things like passing a Land Bill or why a specific Senator really shouldn’t be Censor, leaving a newcomer to sit there looking slightly glazed, wondering what relevance their eight votes can carry. Being blocked by a ruling coalition forcing through proposals can leave a player feeling frustrated and disenfranchised. Never being assigned a Major Office sucks. And having your Faction whittled down to a single senator or two greatly limits what a player can do.

Exhaustion or just plain boredom can set in, especially if argumentation gets out of hand or a single player or two try to dominate every discussion and decision. This is a problem common with most cooperative games and definitely emerges from the Republic versus The Game aspect of The Republic of Rome.

All of these things can combine to overwhelm a player. Nero may not have actually fiddled as Rome burned (what with the lack of fiddles and all) but the modern Senator may wander off in search of ale as the Republic crumbles under the weight of its own argumentation.

5.4.2 Friends, Romans, Countrymen, listen to me!
But--and this is huge, and one of the greatest strengths of The Republic of Rome--no matter how weak an individual player’s position may be, they are never out of the game. Just because a Faction doesn’t hold any Major Offices or doesn’t contain the Presiding Magistrate and has less chance of winning an election than the Lib Dems, doesn’t mean that you can’t engage fully--even dominate--the democratic process.

Argue. Debate. Suggest proposals. Influence people and make friends and point out (or exaggerate) rivals’ likely strategies. Until the presiding magistrate floors a proposal, it’s an open discussion. I’ve found myself more engaged--infuriated--outraged and deviously pleased--by this game than any other... and my faction’s chances of winning the game is usually as strong as the English national team’s chance at winning the World Cup.

5.5 Strategy and Tactics
The Republic of Rome is a funny sort of game, in a way. It’s not a war game, but will quickly end in defeat if the Senate ignores the military threat of Rome’s enemies. It’s a cutthroat game of direct conflict, but requires (especially in the Early Republic) cooperation to survive, the threats to Rome taking on the same role as the Defcon meter in Twilight Struggle. Players are up to their pilum in theme and the game slides almost effortlessly into the closest I’ve seen to role-playing in a board game; but it also invites all sorts of meta-gaming and, like Diplomacy, has probably ended all kinds of friendships over the years.

But for all its heaviness, I don’t see The Republic of Rome as a very strategic game. Driven more by personality than mechanics and with a great deal of randomness in play, it’s difficult--if not entirely pointless--to conceive of an over-arching strategy leading to victory. Rather, players are forced to be very fluid: fluid in their plans, their alliances and in their friendships.

5.5.1 Strategy
The difficulty with grand strategies in The Republic of Rome is that for them to be of any use they have to be agreed upon by all the players at the table. Deciding to put the needs of the Republic before any personal gain sounds like a good plan--but will be doubtlessly undermined by conniving factions squirreling away extra talents and proposing Treasury-killing Land Bills for personal popularity. An early alliance can block out other factions but remains susceptible to mortality draws, infighting, and the focused ire of all the other players.

On an individual level, I haven’t found it possible to really plan more than two or three turns ahead: boosting popularity, for instance, so as to (hopefully) gain Rome Consul and eventually (more hopefully) Censor so as to protect a returning Governor from corruption charges, or to exact sweet revenge against a rival faction. Working with other factions, one might plan to send a dictator to defeat a powerful enemy and follow that victory with an early retirement in a distant province; but again this isn’t really grand strategising, but rather short-term reactions extended over a turn or two.

5.5.2 Tactics
The Republic of Rome exists primarily at the tactical level. Whether the sudden appearance of the Second Punic War as an Imminent War forcing the immediate defeat of the First Punic War, or the sudden decimation of a faction by an epidemic, players are constantly forced to react to a very fluid and shifting game. Within this short-term playing field, however, the game constantly turns up a stunning wealth of possibilities, some of them straightforward, many of them pleasingly devious.

It’s difficult to write about it all here, as the possibilities tend to bubble up naturally from the randomly-generated narrative of the game. Seemingly simple things in the rules, like selecting the order of voting, become absolutely crucial. The deals one cuts with rivals and the balance the players strike between the needs of the Republic and their own ambitions can make a huge difference. Money and Tribune cards are powerful tools that can be easily wasted or lost; Governorships can be both a boon and a punishment; and who you support and how you assign Major Offices are keys to victory. Each game I’ve played has felt very different and run a unique course.

5.5.3 Short-sightedness
As a final note, I also fully admit that I do not have enough plays under my belt to understand the full possibilities for larger strategy in The Republic of Rome. This may be because it’s an entirely different type of strategy than what I’m used to: rather than picking a strategic route immersed in game mechanics (such as choosing to build prestige building over gaining royal favours in Caylus, or building a specific kind of Dominion deck), it comes down to the far more amorphous ‘mechanics’ of human interaction. Hanging back to race ahead at the end; playing nice to earn loyalty; making concessions to earn favours; boosting other players for personal gain; creating an illusion of weakness or helpfulness: these are the strategies of diplomacy, and I don’t understand these yet.

Actually, reading this again, I am more convinced than ever that I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about in this section. Have a look at the brilliant guide here:

[geekurl=http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/161078/ror-strategy-page]RoR Strategy Guide[/geekurl]

It demonstrates far better than I can hope, inexperienced as I am, some of the strategy and tactics possible in the game.

5.6 Randomness
This game isn’t Power Grid or Steam Barons. It’s not a brain-burning exercise in number crunching. You can play the odds in the Forum phase for persuasion attempts, but otherwise you’re best leaving your calculator at home. This game isn’t about profit margins. Hannibal laughs at feeble mathematics and would feed Martin Wallace to his elephants.

As a quick overview of the randomness of the game, players have to:
• Draw a mortality chit each turn
• Roll 2d6 for events, drawing a card from the deck on anything but a ‘7’
• On a roll of 7, a 3d6 is rolled for a random event
• Persuasion attempts are determined by rolling 2d6
• Knights are attracted by rolling 1d6
• The State of the Republic speech is determined by 3d6
• Censor prosecutions are influenced by 2d6 Appeals to the People and 2d6 Trial rolls
• Assassination attempts are determined by 1d6
• Combat is resolved by a 3d6 roll
• Some numbers in combat are automatic disasters or standoffs
• Legion loyalty when rebelling is another 1d6 roll

And there’s more. In my opinion, the best games include at least some randomness, whether it determines the setup of the game equally for all players (like seeding the board with cheese and stone in Last Train to Wendsleydale) or which can be influenced or minimized through player action. A lot of the randomness in The Republic of Rome can be modified through money, with each talent giving +1 to a roll; or through stacking the odds in the players’ favour, as seen when sending a loyal Senator to defeat a weak enemy with all the force of Rome at his command.

There is nothing to be done about losing your best Senator to an unfortunately drawn mortality chit, however. The Second Punic War and Hannibal might be the first and second card drawn. Manpower shortages will happen when you most need to raise legions, and Storms at Sea will obliterate your fleets just after you’ve built them. A Commander might have +20 on his attack roll against a weak enemy, and still roll a disaster; one player will roll 6s each and every turn a pick up several knights, while another keeps rolling 1s; and a single bad roll on the State of the Republic speech can end the entire game.

Ultimately however, the most random element in the game, the one that trumps all die rolls and card draws, are the players themselves. The full vagaries of humanity--pettiness, nobility, foolhardiness and strange loyalty--all seem to express themselves through the game. The first time another player used a tribune to veto an unfair minor prosecution against one of my senators, I was astounded. There was no good reason for him to it; in fact it focused the ire of the Censor onto him next. The table was stunned by this altruistic act of justice and I felt a genuine sense of loyalty to him afterwards.

To conclude: if a high degree of randomness in a game is a difficult pill to swallow, The Republic of Rome is probably not the game for you.

5.7 Runaway Leader
It’s a terrible feeling, about halfway through a game, to realize that you’re completely out of the running. All that’s left is a slow, dreadful crawl to the finishing line, a bit like watching Canada paste Slovakia 18-0 in hockey. Unless the game is specifically built around the joys of losing--like Arkham Horror or Galaxy Trucker--screwing up on the first turn and waiting another hour or two for the hurting to end can utterly ruin a game. Built in recovery mechanisms to pull back the leader and drag forward the losers, like in Power Grid, can alleviate some of this. The Republic of Rome, in my opinion, contains some of the most effective balancing mechanisms I’ve yet seen in a game.

The sheer randomness of the mortality draw is the most obvious of these: unexpected death is a great equalizer. Far more reliable is the natural tendency of people to hate a winner. The democratic nature of the game automatically paints a giant "insert dagger here" target on the back of successful senators and factions. As one faction begins to race ahead, the others band together to drag him or her back. Equally effective is the necessity of relying on weaker factions. The Major Offices need to be handed out each and every turn; as Factions begin to rise in power it becomes necessary to assign those posts to weaker Senators who can’t declare themselves Consul for Life with the sudden boost in Influence. This helps to ensure that players that fall behind don’t get left out of the game.

Finally, several other mechanisms allow the players at the table to check the power of a runaway leader. These can be quite brutal: a Major Prosecution is a death sentence; Assassination is a risky but effective weapon of desperation (or the final turn) and Governorships can remove a rival from Rome--or kill him if wars rampage across his province.

5.8 The Forum
The Forum phase is the first real phase in which players get to do much. Though it can be played very quickly, two aspects of this phase deserve mention.

5.8.1 Analysis Paralysis
The Republic of Rome doesn’t seem like the kind of game for Analysis Paralysis--that painful, game-halting tendency to number-crunch probabilities and ultimately do nothing--but when I’ve seen it happen, it’s been in the Forum phase.

There is some math churning beneath the surface of Persuasion attempts. This is when one faction tries to lure a Senator from either the Forum or another Faction to their fold. It basically comes down to one Senator’s Influence and Popularity against another Senator’s Loyalty; but with +7 added to Loyalty if the Senator is already aligned with a Faction and further modified by whatever money people throw into bribes. Roll 2d6 and try and roll equal to or beneath the number you’ve finished with and maybe walk away with a new Senator. In the first turn or two there isn’t much Persuasion going on, but as the game progresses and Senator’s pick up Influence and Talents, it becomes very competitive.

It also can get quite complicated. Money thrown at a Senator stays on its sheet, making them more difficult to attract in the future. All players can toss counter-bribes into the pot. Deciding whether that hard-earned cash built up over several turns can be successfully spent on nabbing a juicy Senator can be an agonizing decision. And, just like that final turn of Power Grid, agonizing decisions can prove agonizingly slow.

5.8.2 Learning to say goodbye
In a game of Steam Barons a few months back, I turned to the struggling player next to me and asked, "when do you think you made a mistake?" to which he answered, "when I sat down to play this game."

Some people love building things up, developing ownership and exploring the mechanics of a game as they struggle towards victory. The Agricola- and Alhambra- multiplayer solitaire set seem to prefer the subdued conflict that only emerges when trying to place your worker before another player nabs all that wood (or whatever). In those games, there’s no way for other players to directly affect or destroy your hard-earned achievements. They enjoy holding up some gleaming example at the end that manifests their skill in the game, and the freedom to create without other players actively destroying their work. Whether the thrill of a well-placed train line in Steam, a beautifully constructed Alhambra, or an indestructible Galaxy Trucker, those games nurture a strong sense of pride and possession in one’s achievements.

The Republic of Rome isn’t like that. The conflict is real and direct and very mean and might make you cry. (At the very least, it should make you swear revenge; if Captain Kirk sat down to play he’d been howling ‘Khaaaaan!’ every other turn.) Furthermore, that powerful and noble Senator that you’ve built up over the duration of the game is, by the very nature of his power and nobility, everyone’s number one target. If you don’t have a lot of money stashed away in your Faction treasury, get ready to see him walk. And even if you hold on to Senator #1, can you protect Number Two? You will lose a Senator at some point; if not through persuasion then expect the Angel of Mortality Chip to bear him across the river Styx.

If watching your dungeon get trashed by adventurers in Dungeon Lords is too painful to bear, The Republic of Rome may not be the game for you.

5.9 The Senate
The Senate, as the core of the game, is the most difficult to review. Whether or not you enjoy the game depends entirely on whether or not you can stomach this phase. Having never played this kind of interactive, diplomatic, personality-driven game before, I was blown away. It makes me want to give Diplomacy a try. It makes me want to argue. It makes me want to physically shake the player next to me when he agrees to some boneheaded deal the Presiding Magistrate has proposed.

If you don’t like arguing or physically shaking other players (or being shaken) then The Republic of Rome may not be for you.

5.9.1 Argument paralysis
Whereas the Forum phase can suffer from analysis paralysis, the Senate phase can suffer from argument paralysis. You know those painfully dull meeting at work that aren’t well run and just seem to ramble on and on and on when all you want to do is go home and when they ask "does anyone have a question?" that one person just has to ask some bone-headed question that then spirals into off-topic discussion that leaves you wondering whether gnawing off your own arm and haemorrhaging blood across the meeting table might not be a legitimate means of escaping? I can see the Senate phase slipping into that at times. It either needs a good group of players who know when to call it quits and move forward, or a strong Presiding Magistrate who knows when to floor his proposal and kill off any more discussion. This is the true power of the Magistrate: to keep the game moving. Otherwise, be ready to spend half an hour debating whether to send 8 legions or 10 against that Inactive War.

5.9.2 Death
One problem I have with the Senate phase is death. I don’t mean death by vote: a successful Major Prosecution is fair play, as is a fatal Governorship or suicidal military plan. But I’m unsure about the assassination rules. The cost of failure is high indeed: the death of the assassin Senator, and the possible death of the Faction Leader. But it feels like a far too random way of ultimately determining who wins or loses a game. Being voted down from Consul for Life is one thing, but taking an unlucky gladius to the eye is another. Especially as the assassination roll is a single die and very difficult to influence--Assassination and Bodyguard cards are fairly rare--I wonder if this rule couldn’t do with some tweaking. Then again, these rules have been kicking around for over twenty years; who am I to question?

5.9.3 The Prime Rule
This rule is so important it is the first one listed in the rulebook and is worth repeating here:

“During the course of the game players will conduct negotiations and make deals. Deals made publicly, for all players to hear, are considered binding and must be held to."

Including this rule was, in my opinion, a stroke of genius. Not only does it keep the Senate flowing smoothly, but it allows for all kind of interesting manoeuvring, whether short-term alliances or long-term economic agreements. Last game, one player gave me two concessions he held in hand on the agreement that I play them on my Pontifex Maximus, and split the revenue they earned with him each turn. Though my direct rival, it proved an interesting proposal I couldn’t turn down. I didn’t like making a deal with the devil; I understood he was gaining more from it than I was; but I was in desperate straits and needed the cash. Every coin I passed him during the Revolution phase burned my finger tips, but I couldn’t wiggle out of the agreement.

It all helps bring structure to what could be an otherwise chaotic phase. Perhaps for some players the rule rarely comes into play; but without deals and negotiations, I suspect a great deal of the fun involved in The Republic of Rome would disappear.

5.10 Chrome, or Romans wear togas; do you?

You don’t play Arkham Horror for the brilliant game mechanics. You play it because a gun-toting nun battling a squid-headed narcoleptic is a hell of a lot of fun. You play it for the moments Carl Sanders spits in your face, you bump into Shub-Niggorath as you wander across the Other Worlds, or you roll all sixes emptying your shotgun in your final round of Sanity battling an awakened Great Old One.

Like the best theme-heavy games, random incidents and player choice leads to fantastic moments of narrative. I can’t think of any game where the theme so consistently gives way to brilliant moments of narrative, or where players a directly part of that narrative process. As a game that sweeps across centuries of ancient history, it probably doesn’t make for brilliant Session Reports in the way that ‘smaller’ game like Arkham Horror or Space Hulk do. But games that create their story through random card draw or dice rolls sometime strain the narrative abilities of the most creative of players: a street urchin setting the streets of Arkham ablaze with a flamethrower defies any sense of immersion (as well as being very, very un-Lovecraftian).

I haven’t experienced that yet with The Republic of Rome. The strangest thematic experience I’ve seen was the player who, inexplicably, loyally and unwaveringly and much to the confusion of all, genuinely and honestly played for the betterment and survival of Rome. But I definitely preferred the moment when my Pontifex Maximus vetoed a proposal, having consulted the chicken entrails and found them wanting. Sadly, an unfortunate mortality draw the next turn killed him; we all blamed salmonella poisoning.

But whether thematically-driven revenge, leader death in the Curia the round after a New Ally event, an unfortunate Mortality chit after returning to Rome after a failed battle, or that refused governorship that finishes in assassination, fantastic moments of narrative seem to continuously and effortlessly rise up during play.

Furthermore, the Advanced Rules add so much to the flavour of the game that it is difficult to imagine playing without them. (Not that I’ve tried the Rebel Governor rules yet.) The Pontifex Maximus, Advocate and Provincial Wars rules are simply fantastic. Unfortunately, they also add to the complexity. (The Pontifex may be described as adding ‘minimal complexity’ but this is a lie. Between keeping track of battle votes, the extra 1d6 of income and the handing out of priesthoods, it adds quite a bit; but the Pontifex is also a brilliant Office and fun to play, what with all those entrails and entreaties to Jupiter.)

Of course, one has to watch out that they don’t get carried away. For my first game with my usual-though-infrequent group of gaming friends, I’m cooking up a batch of Apicius’s recipes of Roman food, serving only red wine and buying a laurel for the Presiding Magistrate to wear. Hey, I’ve just written a 10 000 word review for a boardgame on a website called Boardgamegeek; I know what I am.

5.11 Cruelty and Conflict
Originally, I had a number of subsections listed here (revenge, theft, assassination), but have absorbed them into a single warning: this is a cruel game. One player in my group is very competitive; she takes winning seriously, and nearly eviscerated me when I misrepresented a rule that nearly cost her her first game of Agricola. I wonder how she’ll deal with the directed nastiness of The Republic of Rome?

You will be betrayed by someone you trusted. People are trying to kill you Senators. They will either be stolen away or assassinated. The other people at the table are not your friends. They will hurt you. If you can’t deal with this, The Republic of Rome may not be your game.

5.12 Solitaire
I don’t have much to say about the Solitaire game. It is my single biggest disappointment with the game. Simply put, it isn’t any fun. It’s long and fiddly and ultimately quite boring, and in my opinion fails as a solitaire experience. The problem is that the player is mainly moving tokens about and running the spreadsheet that is the board. My first Solitaire game I abandoned after a few turns, but I gave it another go so as to write this review. I was glad when that full solitaire game ended; I won but didn’t take much pleasure in declaring myself Censor for Life, as I’d won mainly through the luck of having the best military commander in my faction, yet without having ever been part of the Ruling Coalition.

The Solitaire game has its uses, I suppose. It gives an insight into the mechanics running beneath the surface of the game. It’s a good way to get familiar with the cards in the deck. Watching dominant factions struck down by epidemics and weak factions rise to the fore was interesting. But ultimately, as a solitaire game it suffered the same fatal flaw as many others, like Arkham Horror or Agricola: it simply takes far too long to set up compared to the gameplay it offers. And unlike those games' solitaire experience, it wasn't much fun. The Republic of Rome is clearly a game that depends on the interaction between its players. If you were considering buying The Republic of Rome primarily for it's solitaire play, you may want to reconsider.

5.13 Final Verdict
And so, after a meandering review that may have you yearning for a Cannae of your own, it finally comes down to my final opinion of the game. As I stated from the beginning, this is the only game which I’ve given a 10 on the Geek. Considering how often I’ve suggested "The Republic of Rome may not be the game for you," this may seem strange.

The limitations or possible flaws of the game are many: it fails as a solitaire game; it’s complicated and difficult to learn; it’s a very long game that requires several players and therefore won’t find the table very often; it shares the flaws of many other cooperative games; and it’s very competitive and aggressive.

For all this, I honestly believe that it is not only a game that I will never turn down, but also that my opinion of it won’t change over the years. Quite simply, it is the most engaging and fun game I’ve played since I’ve rediscovered board games. I love the theme, the interpersonal dynamics and the Machiavellian twists and turns of the game. I love the wealth of possibilities that arise each and every turn, and the sensation of guiding a fledgling Republic through the perils of ancient days. Every game has felt very different from the others before it; more importantly, the game itself feels refreshingly different from anything else I’ve played. It’s a top-notch production that has rescued a brilliantly-conceived game from oblivion. Despite the many delays and mistakes, Valley Games has done a fantastic job of bringing The Republic of Rome back to the gaming table.
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I put it on my table to play a solitaire game to learn and after several hours I packed it up and put it away, likely to never be seen again.

It has, unfortunately, to me what has to be the worst rulebook I have ever read in the last decade.

I really, really wanted to like it. I just don't understand how they could have produced such a pretty, beautiful set of components and failed so badly and completely at the rulebook.

Please, please Valley Games, next time you put a game together send the rulebook my way so I can proof it for you.
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David Nicholson
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Don't try it out solitaire first up - it's easier learning with other players in a normal game.
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Tut_613 wrote:
I put it on my table to play a solitaire game to learn and after several hours I packed it up and put it away, likely to never be seen again.

It has, unfortunately, to me what has to be the worst rulebook I have ever read in the last decade.

I really, really wanted to like it. I just don't understand how they could have produced such a pretty, beautiful set of components and failed so badly and completely at the rulebook.

Please, please Valley Games, next time you put a game together send the rulebook my way so I can proof it for you.

This is my chief complaint with the VG edition - the errors and poor rulebook (and lack of examples of play therein) will turn off many potential players. It is a great game and well worth the effort to learn yourself and/or find players to teach you. Don't let the VG edition turn you off from this brilliant game.
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How soon before we can expect the errata?
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Tremendous review! If I hadn't already bought it, I'd be looking to do so now. Thanks Michael.
 
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Ignoramus wrote:
Don't try it out solitaire first up - it's easier learning with other players in a normal game.

What's easier about 5-6 players playing a game they don't understand than 1 player doing it? Better off having the 5-6 players each trying it out independently and hoping it "clicks" with at least one of them before getting together as a group.

One person frustrated by the rules may be convinced to try it again; a group of players frustrated by the rules will be more likely to never look at the game again.
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Ward wrote:
Ignoramus wrote:
Don't try it out solitaire first up - it's easier learning with other players in a normal game.

What's easier about 5-6 players playing a game they don't understand than 1 player doing it? Better off having the 5-6 players each trying it out independently and hoping it "clicks" with at least one of them before getting together as a group.

One person frustrated by the rules may be convinced to try it again; a group of players frustrated by the rules will be more likely to never look at the game again.

I think the point is that the Solitaire version of the game is much different than the actual game. Trying to learn the game for the first time through the Solo rules is very difficult as it assumes you have a basic understanding of the goals of the base game.

I would suggest you try it out solo BUT, play the basic game as if you were playing with 3 or 4 players. So set it up for 3 or 4, and control every faction using the basic rules. This will give you a better feel and not subject 4 or 5 other people to endless "let me look that up" breaks.
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ColtsFan76 wrote:
Ward wrote:
Ignoramus wrote:
Don't try it out solitaire first up - it's easier learning with other players in a normal game.

What's easier about 5-6 players playing a game they don't understand than 1 player doing it? Better off having the 5-6 players each trying it out independently and hoping it "clicks" with at least one of them before getting together as a group.

One person frustrated by the rules may be convinced to try it again; a group of players frustrated by the rules will be more likely to never look at the game again.

I think the point is that the Solitaire version of the game is much different than the actual game. Trying to learn the game for the first time through the Solo rules is very difficult as it assumes you have a basic understanding of the goals of the base game.

I would suggest you try it out solo BUT, play the basic game as if you were playing with 3 or 4 players. So set it up for 3 or 4, and control every faction using the basic rules. This will give you a better feel and not subject 4 or 5 other people to endless "let me look that up" breaks.

You're assuming he is using the solitaire rules instead of playing a normal game solo, which isn't clear from the post. I agree that it is better to try a game solo playing all factions rather than muddling through it in a game with others, which is why I took exception to the post. Based on your post, why did you thumb the suggestion to group muddle instead of a solo play.
 
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Ward wrote:
You're assuming he is using the solitaire rules instead of playing a normal game solo, which isn't clear from the post.

He said he played a "solitaire game" and not a "solo game with 3 or 4 factions." What else was I to assume? A "solitaire game" exists in the rule so why should I make an asumption he meant anything other than that.

Quote:
Based on your post, why did you thumb the suggestion to group muddle instead of a solo play.

Seriously, why do you care what I thumb or don't thumb?

And besides, I agree with the post. It is easier to learn the game with a group of people instead of the solitaire game.

You, of course, assumes he means just a group of newbies. But he could mean a group of experieinced players, or a group that has figured out the rules. Whay would you assume anything else?
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ColtsFan76 wrote:
Ward wrote:
You're assuming he is using the solitaire rules instead of playing a normal game solo, which isn't clear from the post.

He said he played a "solitaire game" and not a "solo game with 3 or 4 factions." What else was I to assume? A "solitaire game" exists in the rule so why should I make an asumption he meant anything other than that.

Why assume either way?
 
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aaxiom wrote:
...here we go...

As to the OP, I like your numbering scheme much better than the VG rules.



I've thumbed nothing... I've assumed nothing.

Do not assume that I always agree with you since I thumbed your post. But assume that I found this latest post of yours amusing. Though some may ponder what that means and offer his opinion none the less, there is no hidden meaning.
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aaxiom wrote:
Tut_613 wrote:
I put it on my table to play a solitaire game to learn and after several hours I packed it up and put it away, likely to never be seen again.

It has, unfortunately, to me what has to be the worst rulebook I have ever read in the last decade.

I really, really wanted to like it. I just don't understand how they could have produced such a pretty, beautiful set of components and failed so badly and completely at the rulebook.

Please, please Valley Games, next time you put a game together send the rulebook my way so I can proof it for you.

Well, at least they didn't produce THIS:



Might want to call Jay Tummelson at RGG and lend a hand there too. His work will probably be a lot easier.

Some games just aren't for some people, and that's fine. Rules to complex games are tough, no question. Errata exist for just about every complex game I own... some have many revisions. So it goes.


"Cubic luck bringers" That is THE awesome! I've got to use that in the future. :-)

And, it really has nothing to do with the game, it's all about presenting the rules in a fashion that is useable with the least amount of effort by the players. I've opened two new games recently, Runewars which had a really nice manual and Wars of the Roses which on first inspection (I have not read the entire doc yet) seems to be quite nicely done as well.
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Tut_613 wrote:
I put it on my table to play a solitaire game to learn and after several hours I packed it up and put it away, likely to never be seen again.


While I agree that the rulebook is a bit of an oppressive nightmare, it'd be a real shame to let such a great game slip away. It's a pain to struggle through that first game (I think my first solo game with four factions took a ridiculous 8 hours or something) but it really cracked the game open for me.

The game's worth it, in my opinion.

-M.
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Hi Michael,

Thank you for the fantastic review. Like many, I have attempted (several times) to wade through the rule book, to no avail. I am sure I will get there...shake

Any chance you might travel to the Washington, DC area for a business or pleasure trip? If you do, would you like to teach my gaming group the game??!!!

I did a bit of research when I saw the game was being re-printed (I used to play Tactics Two, The Third Reich and others as a kid) and now that I am a bigger kid, I saw this game and had to have it! Well, I do have it and now I want to give it a go!

Again, thank you for the great review and if you are in town...
 
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Strike wrote:
Hi Michael,

Thank you for the fantastic review. Like many, I have attempted (several times) to wade through the rule book, to no avail. I am sure I will get there...:shake:

Any chance you might travel to the Washington, DC area for a business or pleasure trip? If you do, would you like to teach my gaming group the game??!!!

Again, thank you for the great review and if you are in town...


Glad you enjoyed the review! And sorry to hear you haven't been able to get the game on your table yet. Sadly, I don't imagine a trip to Washington anytime in the near (or long!) future, but if you're ever passing through London, I'm sure we could get an eager, cuthroat group together ready to play....

-Mike
 
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Awesome review! Reminds me of the game, long and meaty
 
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jschlickbernd wrote:
Awesome review! Reminds me of the game, long and meaty

Where's the Beavis & Butthead emoticons? whistle
 
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ColtsFan76 wrote:
aaxiom wrote:
...here we go...

As to the OP, I like your numbering scheme much better than the VG rules.



I've thumbed nothing... I've assumed nothing.

Do not assume that I always agree with you since I thumbed your post. But assume that I found this latest post of yours amusing. Though some may ponder what that means and offer his opinion none the less, there is no hidden meaning.



Thumbs are for Capulets. Real Romans use daggers.
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Excellent review!!!!

I just bought the game, now I just need "the right group" and off we go.

I think I'll use this review as a bait
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Thread necro incoming!

This is a triumph of a review and has spurred me to pick up the last copy of this game on ebay for a stupidly large amount of money.

So, should I say thanks or not?

My wife would say not.

But still, I say thanks for all your hard work and effort!
 
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I have been wanting to play the game for about 20 years. Bought a used copy about 8 years ago. Bought the new edition a couple of years ago. Finally played the game yesterday.

The rules are fiddly and complex. Much easier to learn by playing with an experienced player than to learn by reading the rules.

But the game was super fun. Our first game lasted one and a half hours. On the first turn we had the first punic war to fight and the second imminent. By the third turn, virtually every war in the early game had been drawn. We cooperated like mad. Finally we had to win two wars and the dictator rolled low and we lost. But it was a really fun loss.

We played the early scenario a second time (this time for two hours.) Not so many wars this time. Instead we had a major prosecution, a botched assassination, two epidemics (I lost 3 senators but the game was still fun), lots of deals. A different experience from the first game but also lots of fun.

Great game. I somehow feel that the game could be cleaned up without losing the experience of the senate phase debates.
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Welcome to the club senate!
 
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