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Subject: First 4 turns of 3-player game rss

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Andrew J
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Foreword

Sword of Rome remains a favourite game of my ‘regular gaming group’ (myself, my 15-year-old son and my other half). Despite this, we don’t get a chance to play it very often due to its length. When we do play, it’s always memorable. The 4-player game is best because it involves the interestingly different Gauls, and often I will play two sides in order to make that possible. However, this time we stuck with the 3-player variant (in which the Gaul player is abstracted into a ‘Gallic Events Table’). Despite the more restricted scope for interactions, this allowed a much more ‘natural’ game for the three of us and we were really surprised how well it played out.

This rather rambling report concerns the first four turns (of a 9-turn game). The events given are from memory as I didn’t take notes. The general thrusts are described but the order of events is approximate. Not all actions are mentioned – there seemed to be a huge amount going on.

The first four turns

It had been something like 9 months since our last game and it took the first turn for each of us to remember how to play and more importantly, what exactly to try to achieve! Everyone seemed to have decided on a fairly cautious start by raising city loyalties. Then Valerius left Rome taking the bulk of the army down to Capua. In reply the Etruscans persuaded the Volsci to expand their army and then rise up to besiege Rome (ES player had 3 Neutral Power Activates cards in first hand!). Taking advantage of this, the Etruscans sneaked into Samnium, taking it at the end of the turn for a VP gain. In the south, the Greeks were content to build up forces (bringing on several leaders + CUs), while Egnatius rose to prominence among the Samnites.

Turn 2. By combining forces, the Romans succeeded in driving the Volsci from Rome, but suffered significant losses in the process (in addition to taking fewer reinforcements at the end of last turn). While the Romans were busy, the Etruscans took Narnia fairly quickly for a VP gain. With their forces bled, the Romans appointed a dictator, but then didn’t have a clear plan of how to use this advantage. Initially, the dictator planned to take Tarquinii, but when this city’s loyalty was raised to 3, he looked south punish the Volsci in Antium. The Volsci were reduced to 2 CU (those that retreated into the city) but more Roman losses occurred too. The dictator then went north to besiege Tarquinii with a 3-CU army (unsuccessfully as it turned out due to attrition). The dictator’s large tactical ability rating was not utilised fully.

In the south, the Romans also took control of the Thurii from the Greeks (by Event play). The Greeks were forced to clear this enclave out, which at least distracted them from eyeing up a weakened Capua.

At this point, a sizeable Greek army (c.6 CU under Timoleon) from Neapolis began to skirt round the south of Bovianum. Egnatius feared that its objective was to besiege and subjugate Larinum on the east coast (a reinforcement location) and so decided to intercept despite the risk (having a good battle card in hand). Interception was successful and the Samnites narrowly won the battle (dice rolls were equal but Samnites won as defender). Egnatius returned to Bovianum to rebuild.

By the end of turn 2, Rome was down 3 VPs, the Greeks were unchanged, while the ES player was up 3. At the beginning of the next turn, the Etruscans marched from Pisae to oust the Romans from outside Tarquinii in an unusually bloodless battle (two very low scores rolled). The Romans and Greeks decided that an alliance was necessary as the ES player was rolling towards a possible automatic victory.

A couple of bold moves resulted. Unexpectedly, the Greeks declared ‘Magna Graecia’ and in the ensuing atmosphere of solidarity they could concentrate on sending out a substantial expeditionary force from Syracuse under Dionysius (6 CU) to land at Populonium (a VP space on the Etruscan coast). Some CUs were dropped off (but in their haste the Greeks forgot to appoint a local leader), then Dionysius went on to besiege Pisae to the North. Momentum was maintained with a Desperate Times card, which allowed the city to be taken. Then Dionysius marched down to besiege undefended Sutrium, eventually taking it, gaining another VP from the ES player) (a mistake here - as allies, the Greeks should have handed Sutrium back to the Romans). Northern Italy looked decidedly blue at this point!

The beleaguered Etruscans appealed to their Samnite allies to intervene, and they did, but not as expected by coming north. Instead, Egnatius took part of his army down to a lightly defended Thurii (1 CU) and took it and its VP. The Greeks are not in a good position to respond, but Egnatius is probably going to have to rush back to the Samnite heartlands where things are getting a bit sticky. In the north, the Etruscans were paralysed by fear (and low OPs cards), but they elected to use a Desperate Times card to send an army to kick out the 2 leaderless Greek CUs left in Populonium. Not only did this save Populonium, but the political consequences of this battle also induced Pisae to revolt against Greek rule, at least denying them the VP.

Etruscans get the blues in the north

The Romans took advantage of this chaos in north and south to besiege the Samnite tribal area of Fregellae with a small force. The minor Samnite leader in Bovianum first failed to intercept and then attacked and lost a battle. The tribal area fell to the Romans (along with its VP) and was subsequently colonised.

The Romans then set their sights on the poorly defended Bovianum itself. They built the Servian Wall, and safe in the knowledge of Rome’s consequent relative impregnability, sent a medium-sized force under Camillus to subjugate Bovianum (only medium-sized since the Romans were still chronically short of CUs and had to spend several 3-ops cards building up their forces for this). Taking Bovianum would be catastrophic for the Samnites but luckily ‘Violent winds and thunderstorms’ thwarted Camillus’ attack on the Samnite army remnant and Bovianum was safe for a while longer (the ES player had held on to this card since the first turn!).

The Greeks had got away with ignoring the Carthaginians up to now, who were now armed to the teeth but unusually pusillanimous (the other players lacked Neutral Power Activates cards!). However, they now poured out of Lilybaeum to besiege Messana. This had the desired effect (for the ES player) of preventing the Greeks from reinforcing their northern expeditionary force, which had suffered greatly from attrition and poor siege tactics (Dionysius was by now besieging Tarquinii but was down to his last 2 CU, breaking the siege). However, the Carthaginians still proved to be ineffectual (their 10-CU army getting snake-eyes on their siege dice roll), but the Greeks were still left wondering how to deal with this horde, which was threatening to besiege Rhegium across the straits too.

Egnatius fiddles in Thurii while Romans threaten Bovianum; Carthaginians finally move in Sicily

Summing up so far

This is where it stands so far at the beginning of turn 5. The Greeks and ES tie on 8 VP while Rome is down to 1 VP. The situation has stabilised somewhat for the ES with the Etruscans poised to retake territory in the north although the Samnites are in jeopardy with the Romans outside Bovianum while the main Samnite force is stuck way to the south in Thurii. Moreover, the Graeco-Roman alliance is ongoing. The Greeks were looking OK but their northern force has run out of steam while the Carthaginians are now a major threat (cards willing). Despite only having 1 VP, the Romans are happier than they were a few turns ago and may even be in the strongest position now. Claudius has taken over from Camillus in threatening Bovianum. They are unlikely to be targeted by the other two players for a while, but it remains to be seen whether they can claw their way back in the game.


Afterword

An exciting game so far with each player having their share of defeats, triumphs and cunning plans, as well as each currently thinking that they are one action away from complete disaster. All Desperate Times cards have been used, sometimes very successfully offensively in order to maintain momentum while wrong-footing an opponent. In previous games these cards were probably under-utilised.

I think our gameplay has improved this time. In our first few games, we felt we had to build killer 10-CU armies before trying to launch into offensives. Consequently, battles were unpredictable (because neither side could accrue much advantage) and brutal (because all your eggs were in one basket). This time, more was achieved with smaller armies. For instance, we learnt that three sieges with small armies could be much more useful than a tumultuous battle with one large army.
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Andrew J
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myrmex wrote:
However, the Carthaginians still proved to be ineffectual (their 10-CU army getting snake-eyes on their siege dice roll), but the Greeks were still left wondering how to deal with this horde, which was threatening to besiege Rhegium across the straits too.


Hmm, no-one spotted my rules error. It came to light when we played out the remaining turns. Perhaps no-one could face reading that far into the report! I'll try and take more images next time (and work out how to make them larger on the page).
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