Imperium, Circus Maximus, Hannibal vs. Rome
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Experience the glory that was Rome, from its most desperate moment to the height of its power. This three-in-one package provides quick-playing gamettes on three different aspects of Roman history: the war with Hannibal, the chariot races of the Circus Maximus and the power politics of the empire. This introductory game package is loaded with fun.
In Hannibal vs. Rome, two players match wits across the Western Mediterranean for dominance. Each player maneuvers legions and fleets across the key paths toward each other's capital, using number cards to resolve battles. All rests upon putting forth your strongest effort at the right time and place.
In Circus Maximus, up to five players use their cards to propel their teams of three chariots to the finish line, while cleverly obstructing the path of their opponents.
In Imperium, up to five players vie for pro-consulships in eight provinces of the empire, using influence to acquire power. Each player must assess the value of short-term acquisitions versus developing a power base over the long-term in more valuable locations, while judging when best to bend the ear of Caesar to speed up the selection process.
All three of these gamettes have few pieces and rules; each can be taught and played very quickly. Relying upon mastery of card play from limited-size hands of equal value, they reward players for guessing their opponents' intentions and calculating the range of responses left in their hands.
Glory to the Vanquished!
New Games in Old Rome is a collection of 14 games with Roman themes, by Reiner Knizia. Several of them are excellent games. My favorite is Proconsul, a superb little negotiating game of 45 to 60 minutes duration. Other good games in the box include Tribunal, Imperium, Circus Maximus (much simpler than the Avalon Hill game of the same name), and Hannibal vs. Rome. Considering that you get an assortment of very good games by a gifted designer, this collection is a bargain, really underrated in my view! Just make sure you're getting the English rules, unless you read German.
(By the way, the English rules I have for Proconsul contain my all-time favorite sentence ever from a set of game rules: 'The other players must be silent even if it makes their tongues burn to sit still.' Now, who can resist THAT?!)
Rome is an unusual “Euro game.” This is because the box of Rome contains three distinct games inside it: Imperium, Circus Maximus, and Hannibal vs. Rome. All three of the games share a common theme - that of ancient Rome; but other than that, there’s no pressing reason that all three of them needed to be included in the same box except that Imperium and Hannibal vs. Rome use the same game board. It’s a pretty clever idea, actually. I mean, the chance of a person liking one out of the three games is fairly good, and I’m surprised that more multiple-games-in-one-box aren’t produced. The box came chock full of wooden pieces and cards, and I figured I’d like one of the games.
And fact was, I enjoyed two of them. I had very mediocre to poor feelings about Hannibal vs. Rome, but I thought that Circus Maximus was a very good game, and that Imperium was a truly excellent little game. While I think that there are better chariot racing games than Circus Maximus (Ave Caesar), the fact that it came packaged with one of the fastest area control games I’ve ever played and a pseudo war game (even though I didn’t like it) makes the whole package worth picking up.
Since there are three games in the box, I’ll only briefly summarize each...
Hannibal vs. Rome is a two-player game covering the Second Punic War between the Romans and the Carthaginians. The Roman player gets eight Legion units in Rome and three fleets in the adjacent ocean. The Carthaginian player gets six Legion units in Carthage, led by a special Hannibal legion, and three fleets adjacent. Both players get a hand of cards numbered “1” to “5”. On each turn, players may move a unit, change a legion to a fleet, or pass. If a player moves onto a spot where an opponent has a unit, each player must play a card from their hand face down simultaneously. The player who reveals the lower number must remove one of their units from the board. The battle continues until only one player has units on the spot, and used cards are set aside until a player has gone through all five, at which point they get them all back. All units have the same power, except Hannibal’s legion adds one to the value on their cards. If a player captures the capitol of their enemy, they win, if they accomplish a certain territorial goal outlined in the rules, or if they eliminate the other player. Draws occur if both players pass consecutively.
Circus Maximus is an attempt to recreate the great chariot races of that stadium. Each player gets chariot cards numbered one to five, and three chariots of their color. A large track composed of scores of hexes is placed on the table, and in player order, the chariots are set up on the starting grid. Each player puts their cards in a row in front of them, and the race is ready to begin. On a turn, the chariot in the front goes first, with those behind following. A player slides forward one to three cards and moves one of their chariots that EXACT amount, then flips the cards over. Each chariot must have at least one card assigned to it - even if the chariot cannot move and the card is wasted. When the turn is over, all cards are flipped back over, and another turn begins. When a chariot lands in one of the finish spaces (after one lap), it is out of the race, and the first player to get all three of their chariots to the finish line is the winner!
Imperium uses a map of the Mediterranean area, split into eight provinces. Each player chooses a color and takes eleven cards of that color along with a pawn, which they place on a scoring track - and 14 influence markers. A large black pawn is placed in the first province (Africa), and the game is ready to begin. At the beginning of each turn, players choose three cards from their hand, placing them in a pile face down in front of them. Players then reveal the cards and follow the instructions on them. Most of the cards correspond to one of the provinces on the board - if a player shows one of these cards, they place one of their influence markers in that province. If a player plays a “Bread and Circuses” card, they add two influence markers to the province card directly above it. A couple other special cards (Oracle and Ear of the Emperor) also add a one-time per game effect for the player. After all markers are placed, the province containing the black marker is scored. The player with the most influence markers there gets the first number of points printed on the board, with the second highest getting the next number, etc. All influence markers are then removed, except for one influence marker of the player who has the most influence in the sector. This marker is considered the “Proconsul”, and is placed on the capital city of the sector. A player scores one bonus point for this capitol plus one bonus point for each adjacent capitol they control in adjacent territories (can be a chain.) The black pawn moves to the next province in a clockwise direction, and another turn occurs. The game continues until at least one player reaches forty points, at which points the player with the most points wins!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: I’m not normally a fan of the components of GMT games; I think that they are merely okay. But in this game, I’m extremely pleased. The double-sided board looks pretty good. While the Mediterranean map side is pretty standard fair, the chariot arena is extremely impressive, with nice shadows and artwork (the crowd is amazing), lending a very atmospheric touch to the game. Piles of wooden pieces come with the game - much more gratifying than counters. The pieces for Hannibal and Circus are both painted wooden rectangles with stickers pasted onto them. They’re very chunky to the feel and make the game very fun to play. The cards for all the games, while a little generic in their artwork, are of good quality; and the colors are easy to distinguish from each other. I did have to add some plastic bags to the game to help sort between the pieces, as all three games use red and blue pieces, causing some confusion. Still, for the amount of bits one receives, this is a good deal!
2.) Rules: The fifteen pages of rules cover all three games, and all are explained quite easily. I found that all three games were explained simply, and I actually wondered if anything had been left out. But rather, the games actually were that simplistic, and any true depth to them came from tactics. All of them were very easy for me to teach - Imperium and Circus especially were able to be taught in less then three minutes each.
3.) Hannibal vs. Carthage: I personally disliked this game. Knizia + a war game just didn’t really hit me in the right spot. It felt mechanical, solvable, and simply had very few options. The board felt small and constricted; I felt like I had only a few pieces, and all the pieces acted the same. It was almost like playing Chess with one hand tied behind my back. As you can tell, I didn’t like it; although I did play it with a person who was more enthusiastic than I.
4.) Circus Maximus: If I had never played Ave Caesar, I would have been very pleased to play this chariot racing game. Even still, Circus is an excellent racing game, where blocking your opponents is the only real way to get ahead. My only concern is that it seems like the best strategy is to run one of your chariots as fast as you can to the finish lines, then bring in the other two. So far, every game won has been by a person employing this strategy. Still, the game is intriguing enough to play regardless.
5.) Imperium: Imperium is my favorite game of the lot, by far. I like Web of Power, because it’s a fast, simple area-control game - a “filler” with a lot of tactics and strategy. Imperium is the same thing, but for some reason I enjoy it much more. It has much of the same feel as Web of Power, connecting capitols, but adds simultaneous selection to the mix - a feature I heartily enjoy. Every game I’ve played has been fast, fun, and many times down to the wire. I believe that Rome is worth buying on basis of this game alone.
6.) Time and Players: Rome is a nice selection of games, with a two-player game (Hannibal), and some two to five player games (Imperium and Circus). But what is truly nice is how quickly all three games play. Circus Maximus is the longest game of the three (a little over a half hour), while the other two games are extremely quick, lasting about fifteen minutes each. That means that Rome has the option to see a lot of play and is one of those games you can have sitting around to play when you want to fill some time between other games.
7.) Fun Factor: There may be some who find fun in Hannibal, although I found it a tedious math exercise - sort of a Lord of the Rings: Confrontation with all the fun taken out of it. The other two games are a blast to play, however. While Circus Maximus doesn’t have any “stand up on the table and scream Ave Caesar” moments, it’s still fun to play; and Imperium has a lot of “I can’t believe you put your tokens there!” moments when the cards are revealed.
As you can tell, I really liked Imperium, my favorite game of the three - one that I would have thought worth getting even if the game had been packaged alone. Coming with the other two games was an added bonus. Even though I didn’t like Hannibal, I didn’t feel cheated, as the other two games were certainly worth the price of the box. If you think that you’ll like any two of these games, why not get it? We sadly won’t often see three games packaged into one box. It does increase the chances of getting a game you like. Rome may not contain three great games; but it does have two good ones, and that’s better than most packages you buy these days...
“Real men play board games.”
Ten years ago Reiner Knizia and Piatnik published a collection of games called Neue Spiele im Alten Rom. The box contained a fat (128 page) rule book together with assorted wooden bits, boards, cards and large cardboard counters, and between them they enabled you to play 14 different games, each of which took some aspect of Ancient Roman life or history as its inspiration. The collection is long out of print and what GMT have done here is take three of the best games and republish them with a few changes and nicer components. (Nicer graphics too. Franz Vohwinkel has a deservedly high reputation these days, but back then the main conclusion you would have come to from his work on 'Neue Spiele' would have been 'Can't draw people!')
2-5 players, 45 minutes
This is the chariot race and the board shows a track covered with a hexagonal grid. Part of the central line acts both as the barrier and the finishing line, and the rest provide you with a 5-lane racetrack. The geometry of this means that the track splits naturally into two long straights and narrow, 1-hex wide 'transitional' areas in each of the two corners. Each player has three chariots and the race is one complete lap and then on to a vacant space on the central line. Unusually for a race game, victory goes not to the owner of the first chariot to finish, but to the one who is first to get all three of their chariots home.
Movement is by means of cards, of which each player has a set of five. They are numbered 1 to 5 and the numbers represent movement points. In each round of play you will assign your cards to your chariots in such a way as to ensure that each chariot will get at least one, though exactly which cards a particular chariot will get is not something you have to decide until it is time for it to move. Turn order for the chariots follows the fairly standard convention of 'front to back and inside to out'.
Three things make the game interesting and your task difficult. One is the fact already referred to, that you have to worry about all three of your chariots. There is no point in your front runner gaining the cheers of the crowd if your backmarker is tailed off. The second is that the points from each card can only be used to move in a straight line and through vacant spaces. A chariot can change direction mid turn, but only if it has been allocated more than one card. So, for example, if you want it to move 2 hexes in one direction followed by 3 in another, you will have to give it both the 2-card and the 3. And the third is that the movement points from a card must be used in full or not at all. To these difficulties contributed by the rules you then add those resulting from both a congested track and enemy action, and you can see that you are going to be given plenty to think about.
This is a very good game and if you don't have a copy of Neue Spiele im Alten Rom, it is in itself sufficient reason to buy the GMT package. If, however, you do have the Piatnik box, then all you are getting is a nicer board and components. There have been no changes to the play.
2-5 players, 15-20 minutes
This one sees the players trying to gain influence in the various provinces of the Empire, which they do by using the standard Roman procedure of putting down coloured wooden markers and then counting to see who has the most. It is a great pity that the Northern Universities O-level Latin syllabus in the late fifties didn't include more about this and rather less on digging military ditches, hurling spears and jumping up and down on my ancestors.
The board shows the Mediterranean with the surrounding land divided up into the Roman provinces of Egypt, Gaul, Illyria and so on, and each player begins with a set of 14 wooden markers and 11 cards. The cards are one for each of the eight provinces and three specials - one reusable and two one-offs.
In each round a province will be designated as the one to be scored and they are taken in increasing order of value. Each player then plays three of their cards face down in front of them and once everyone has played, the cards are revealed. There are now three cases:
1). If a player has played three province cards, they will place a marker in each of their chosen provinces.
2). If a player has played two province cards and the reusable special, they will place two markers in the province whose card was next to the special in their stack and one marker in the other one.
3). If a player has played one or both of the one-off specials, they will place markers in those provinces for which they have played cards and will execute the appropriate bonus action. One of these is an 'Oracle', which enables you to rechoose your cards for the round, taking advantage of the fact that you can now see what the opposition has already done. The other means that not only will the current province be scored this round, but the next one in sequence will be as well, a premature event which you should be able to use to disrupt opposition plans by forcing a scoring while things favour you rather than them.
Scoring is the usual 'x points for first, y for second, etc.' affair and the particular rules ensure that the player(s) at the bottom of the rankings always score zero, thereby dealing with the lawyer in your midst who is always anxious to push the argument 'Yes, I know I have no markers there, but that still leaves me in third place.'.
Scoring complete, the province is cleared, unless the player in first place there was in sole first place. In this case they leave a marker behind as 'proconsul'. Proconsuls attract bonus points and are particularly profitable if you have them in chains of adjacent provinces. After that it is on to the next round and the next province. First player to 40 points wins and this will usually happen part way round the second lap.
Strategy, as in most games of this type, is a matter of keeping an eye on what the opposing players are up to, trying to pick up some of the big points and avoiding, if possible, those expensive head-to-head scraps which see two players expending too many resources on just one battle. The scoring scales don't over emphasise first place and so the third of these is not too difficult. What makes the game slightly different from most of the others in the 'majorities' field is the round-by-round progression through the provinces, which means that you are constantly having to decide whether to place your markers for now or for the future. You don't have enough placements to do everything.
With Circus Maximus there were no changes between the two editions; this time there are several and they make for a better game. The proconsul subsystem is new and so are the one-off special cards. There have also been changes to the map and to the victory points scales, with the significant thing here being a reduction in the difference between the points for first and second places, a change which makes it easier for players to avoid getting sucked into the sort of struggles referred to in the previous paragraph. All of these are improvements.
HANNIBAL VERSUS ROME
2 players, 10 minutes
This uses the western half of the Imperium map, but with a few extra internal boundaries to subdivide the provinces of Africa and Spain. Italy itself and the islands of Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily also come into play, as do various sea lanes. The Roman player begins with 8 legions in his capital city and 3 fleets just offshore. The Carthaginian also has 3 fleets but only 7 legions. However, one of his legions is Hannibal, who has an edge in combat. The aim for both players is either to get a legion into the opposing capital or to 'dominate the Mediterranean' by capturing three key locations. These locations are different for the two sides, but in both cases they signify that the opposition has been penned into his home territory, leaving you as the dominant regional power.
On a player's turn they move their pieces - from one region to an adjacent one in the case of armies and from one sea route to another in the case of fleets. Combat occurs if at the end of a player turn opposing units occupy the same region/route. Card play then decides the outcome.
Each player has the same set of 5 numbered cards that were used in Circus Maximus and selects one of those still remaining in his hand. The player who selected the higher card wins and both of the chosen cards are then discarded. When the players have used all five of their cards, they take their discards back into their hands to once again have all five to choose from. The loser of the battle removes one unit from the contested area and in the case of a tie both remove a unit. Hannibal adds 1 to the number on the chosen card in combats when he is one of the two competing units, but if he loses or ties he is out of the game. You can't fight with Hannibal and then select some lesser legion to take the losses!
I haven't played this one as yet, mainly because I don't often get the opportunity to play 2-player games and when I do, my preference is for something that takes longer than 10 minutes. However, while that means I can't deliver a verdict on how well it plays, it is clear from the rules and moving the bits around solo that there is more substance here than you normally get in 10 minute games. It is also obvious that the mind games involved in the card selection for the combats will be critical, but this strikes me as not unreasonable. After all, in real conflicts surprising and outguessing the enemy often play a large part in determining the outcome.
The new edition makes two changes, one minor and one major. Each side starts with an extra legion, which is probably to the good, as it ought to make for a few more options in the deployment of one's forces. However, the other looks to be more significant. In the Piatnik version one of the victory conditions was that a player had to capture his opponent's capital; now it is sufficient to enter it. This must tilt the balance more towards the attacker and most games are more exciting when this is the case.
Overall Verdict: If you already have the Neue Spiele im Alten Rom, you might well feel that the money and shelfspace can be usefully devoted to some more wholly new game, but if you don't then the GMT package is well worth considering. Act fairly quickly though, because according to their website they don't have that many copies left.