Eddy Richards
Scotland
Allanton
Duns
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Initial Impression

My children are big fans of the Horrible History series of books (and now the TV shows as well, and have been driving me vaguely insane by repeatedly singing the annoyingly catchy songs in the car this summer). The Rotten Romans Boardgame had the reassuringly familiar Horrible History cartoony graphics, and when the designer is our very own Sumo (Mike Siggins) this augurs well.

Components

The map is quite small, and consists of small circles superimposed over a drawing of Rome, with different areas such as the Forum, Baths and Training Ground identified, with paths leading from there to various Barbarian homelands (Gaul, Persia, Africa and so on).

There are two decks of cards - one Fate deck, the other Resources, two pairs of custom dice, a bunch of square cardboard resource tiles and some nice cardboard figures which stand up in plastic bases. All are nicely produced and solid. The cards have the classic Horrible History humour showing through in both words and illustrations. So far, so good!

Game

The aim of the game is to get one of your two gladiators to one of the homelands - it doesn’t matter which, apparently they can change race at will! All gladiators start in the training grounds, and the first challenge is to get outside the colosseum. Fortunately there are a number of ways to do this, using rope, a bribe or a friendly patron. Then they have to dodge or defeat the Roman soldiers guarding the paths and make their way to the end of the track to victory.

So how do they manage that? Luckily for the gladiators, the arena is liberally scattered with places where these handy resources can be picked up, shown by white squares. There’s no luck involved, simply waltz over to the correct circle and pick up the relevant resource tile. On your turn you throw two white dice, the total gives you your maximum number of circles to move, which can be divided as you like between your gladiators. If you reach a resource-generating space you pick up the tile and carry on, so with a good roll you can pick up several in one turn. These white dice are labelled 1-6, but the 1s also have an R (for Resource) and F (for Fate) - so if you roll these numbers, you take the relevant card. Fate cards are played instantly whereas Resource cards can be hoarded and used when you want to.

There are various exit points from the arena, shown by black circles with a resource printed in them. To pass these points you have to give up the relevant resource. Once a gladiator is outside the arena, the two black dice are also rolled on each turn. These are labelled 1-3 (twice) and are used to move one soldier. It isn’t specified in the rules, but we assume the moving player chooses which soldier to move, the only restriction is that it has to be moved towards the nearest gladiator. If a soldier moves next to a gladiator (or vice versa) then either an Arrest is made (if the gladiator is weaponless) or there is a fight. A fight is straightforward, each combatant rolls the two white dice, the gladiator adds one for a weapon and one for armour, and can also play any relevant resource cards. High score wins. Defeated or arrested gladiators return to the training ground and the soldier returns to a barracks or hospital. This is quite important as it might leave a gap in the ring of soldiers to let another gladiator escape, even if the first is defeated. There are further squares requiring resources to pass them, but these can be acquired by your second gladiator left behind for that purpose. Once a piece has passed the ring of soldiers it is a matter of only a few turns to reach the homelands, and very difficult for them to be caught as the player movement is much greater than that for the soldiers.

The Rotten Bits

One main issue detracting from the game was the board. The Horrible History graphic style, though beautiful to look at, is very busy and makes it hard to see the functional bits. So it is hard to see whether some of the movement circles are connected or not, for example. Worse, these circles are smaller than the bases of the playing pieces, so you can’t always tell which ones they are standing on.

Secondly, there are a number of rules ambiguities, or unanswered questions, which is disappointing given the experience of the designer. I’ll put these questions into a separate thread in the hope that they’ll be answered there. There was nothing too game-breaking, and nothing that couldn’t be decided by common sense, general agreement or parental fiat, but really the rules should have been written more carefully.

The worst problem, though, was with the cards, which were simply too powerful (and random). For example, I got a Fate card which killed one of my gladiators, back into the box, leaving me with one. This made it very difficult to win, as I couldn’t leave one in the arena to gather necessary resources, or send one out as a decoy. But there wasn’t anything I could do about it, and it just wasn’t fun. Oddly, another player suffered from a similar card, and left her stranded half way along a road which needed two Water resources to get past, but with no way of collecting the second. It’s easy to see why, thematically (Nasty Nero!), these sorts of cards were included, but the effect on the game doesn’t seem to have been considered deeply enough.

Conclusion

So, a reasonably fun game, fairly quick to play and with a few tactics about diverting the guards and grabbing some of the resources in short supply. With the overall gameplay concept clearly influenced by the classic Escape from Colditz, it has a long pedigree, so it is a shame that it is let down by the poor graphic design, rules ambiguities and the overly random cards. For a fan of the Horrible Histories this would make a good present, but be prepared to tweak the rules (and possibly the cards) a little to make it more fun.
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Rob Arcangeli
United Kingdom
Manchester
Greater Manchester
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Thanks for this review, I have been eyeing this up as a fan of the books and tv show. (I'm in my twenties....)

I'm just hoping they have a companion game about the King, that brought back Partying...sorry...
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Eddy Richards
Scotland
Allanton
Duns
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Is your name Charles the Second by any chance?
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Stuart Holttum
United Kingdom
Southend on Sea
Essex
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I picked this up in a charity shop, purely on the Horrible Histories tie-in. We played it this weekend....

Frankly, I'm amazed that a game apparently play-tested by three families can have failed to spot that the footprint of the pieces is at least double the size of each movement circle on the board. When the gladiators are all together at the start, there is literally not enough room for them all to fit. Even once they spread out, it makes it very difficult to know where that piece is supposed to be. Some board spaced are "safe", others are not, so its pretty vital it can be claer where a piece is supposed to go.

Couple that with the underlying picture.....very pretty, but clearly SO pretty that they didn't want it obscured by the movement grid, which means that its hard to see where the circles go. There appear to be placed where circles are close, but NOT supposed to be adjacent for movement.....or are they? Much too hard to tell. Remember also that this game is for the younger ones....making it hard for them to tell where they are or where they can move to is not good design.

The parallels with the original Escape From Colditz are obvious. Same mechanics, same "search the guardroom", same "staff car", "return to barracks", "shoot to kill" cards - about the only thing missing is the tunnel cards.

And there's the thing. The game is SO similar in mechanic that you really only need one of them. Neither is significantly different in complexity - but one has an deeply annoying interface. About the only real difference is that in Colditz, one player controls the baddies, while in Romans, the baddies are moved by everyone.

And that reveals another flaw - with the baddies being moved by everyone (and with a move of 50% that of the goodies), the bad guys are rendered useless. On your move, you move the baddies away from you and/or towards another player - on their turn, they reverse the move. So the baddies run backwards and forwards while the escapers race off into the distance.

I'm afraid this game is Colditz dumbed down, but rendered annoying and unplayable in the process - and that's not just my opinion, but also my 9-year old daughter who has played them both. "Next time can we play the PROPER escape game again?" were her words.

It's a big shame, because the HH TV series is excellent, and we were all really psyched up to play "the game of the series". cry
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Hi. I received the rotten roman board game as a gift but there were no instructions inside! Could anyone post the instructions. Or a pdf or a snap of the rules? Thanks!
 
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