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Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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"Keep Summer Safe!"
[This review was originally written in 2004 -- Brian]

I played Die Macher a few weeks ago and had the thought that it was a polished, Germanic Republic of Rome.

In Republic of Rome, each player controls a faction of the Roman Senate (this is pre-Ceaser, during the Republic). Not yet the large sprawling empire, Rome is represented by markers indicating unrest, treasury status and army size and a number of cards indicating provinces, income sources, and events. The 'board' doesn't have a spatial feature, it's just a bunch of charts and organizing boxes for the markers and cards.

The goal -- maneuver one of your senators to become Consul for Life. The main phase of the game has the players propose bills. These are limited in nature, but there are a few important ones. You decide which senators will be consuls for the year. These senators gain influence and various responsibilities. The other aspect is deciding how many armies to raise and where to send them. For you see, Rome is beset by Barbarians and is a fragile Republic. It is possible (even common) for Rome to fall before the Horde, and everyone loses. So players work together for the common good, while angling for personal power.

I haven't described how you do this, and here's where the game is like Die Macher. There are tons of systems and they have complex interactions. There are plenty of book-keeping chits and cards, random events, rules for the Roman welfare state (!), gladiatorial games to keep the masses happy, multi-front wars, governorships, succession of counsel, influence peddling, assassination, bodyguards, knights, vetoes, prosecutions, persecutions and, finally, marching on Rome to seize power (a la Caeser).

Explaining the rules to a savvy audience takes at least an hour. And may Jupiter have mercy on your soul if you actually have to read the rules. They are some of the most poorly organized I have ever seen. Ot's fair to say that they are the worst set of rules for a game I have played more than once. Once you know the rules, they aren't so bad (and the board does have most of the rules on it), but getting to that point is tough. Most of the systems aren't too complex, but there are so many systems.

Republic of Rome is an 'experience' game. You play it because you enjoy the wheeling and dealing, with players agonizingly waiting to see the results of a desperate campaign against the Carthaginians. One turn can see the players unified, throwing resources in an attempt to thwart off barbarians (or placate the plebeians), and then suddenly they can be bickering and assassinating. While the mechanics take place during a variety of phases, the Senate Phase (where the players pass and vote on laws) is center stage. And the Senate Phase is interesting. The current "Head of the Senate" controls the introduction of legislation, can cut off debate at any time and can adjourn the Senate at any time (after mandatory business is taken care of). However, it's a position that is elected from turn to turn, and senators cannot serve back-to-back terms. (However, the same player controls multiple senators in a faction, so can run the Senate for multiple turns). One of the mandatory phases is the election of a Censor, who can prosecute Senators from a list of grievances for actions they performed last turn. It's highly political.

Yet these negotiations all take place under the clockwork mechanics of the game. It's as though you combined Rette Sich Wehr Kann's cutthroat negotiations with the trench warfare rules of Paths of Glory. Freeform, but with tight constraints.

It works well in theory, but in practice I need years between playings. My last game saw a random plague decimate many of my (and another player's) senators. So we didn't do much for two hours. As you can imagine, that is horribly frustrating.

Other flaws: there are three scenarios (and the campaign game). But game length varies greatly. The Early Rome scenario brutalizes players, Rome often collapses. It could go 8 or 9 turns, but Rome could fall in a turn or two. Depending on how tight it is, a turn could take 20-60 minutes (depending on how complex negotiations get). Highly variable. I've played games that last eight hours, and games that finish in two. Since a few hours is the short side (usually meaning everyone lost, at least in the early scenario), set aside the day. The middle and late scenarios are more likely to see Rome survive, but also more likely to see a player win via the Ceaser option.

In short, this is a game that I don't recommend, but that I find myself strangely addicted to. However, after my next playing I will swear it off for a few years, if history holds.

[The worst rules to read for games I've played once or never would probably be World in Flames, Days of Decision II, or Empires in Arms. All three of those games are much more complicated.]

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