Review of Struggle for Rome

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

February 28, 2007


by: Shannon Appelcline


Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 3 (Average)

A Catan game where you bring down the rotting Roman Empire.

Shannon Appelcline has written 677 reviews (including 358 board/tactical game reviews), with average style of 4.03 and average substance of 3.85. The reviewer's previous review was of Knockabout / Warp 6.

This review has been read 9829 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: Struggle for Rome
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Line: The Settlers of Catan
Author: Klaus Teuber
Category: Board/Tactical Game

Cost: $49.00
Year: 2007

SKU: 3202
ISBN: 1-56905-135-6


Review of Struggle for Rome
Struggle for Rome is Klaus Teuber’s latest Catan History, a board game built on the basic Catan mechanics, but with considerable innovation and expansion

Players: 3-4
Playing Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: 5 (of 10)

The Components

Struggle for Rome comes with:

Game Board: A huge 6-panel board, printed full color and linen-textured. The main part of the board is taken up by a map of Europe laid out in Catan-style hexes. There’s also a ton of extra info, including land arrows and sea arrows (both used for movement) and Roman cities. The combination of all these elements initially makes the game board look very busy, but once you’re familiar with everything it clears up pretty quickly.

The edges of the board depict “tribe boxes”. Each player gets a box for his horsemen and a box for his warriors. He puts the figures that depict the strength of that tribe here as well as their plunder. Centralizing this element so that everyone can easily see it is a nice touch.

Plastic Bits: Each player gets plastic figures of 10 supply wagons, 8 warriors, and 8 horsemen in one of the four player colors (red, blue, white, and yellow). They’re all attractive--simple but nicely sculpted. The 105th plastic figure is a Roman legionnaire sculpted in gold who acts as the Catan “thief”.

The 40 gold coins are also plastic pieces. These are entirely beautiful, the true prize of the components. The mold is attractively embossed, and the coins are irregular looking, just like real metal coins.

Dice:

Cardboard Bits: The cardboard bits are all full-color and linen-textured.

Forty of the pieces are plunder counters which reveal what you earn and what you lose when you plunder a Roman city. They all use simple iconography that is pretty easy to figure out. The colors of the plunder counters match the colors of the five regions in Europe: dark brown, gray, dark green, light brown, and purple. This makes the game easy to set up but is a bit of a deficit once you start playing: it’s a little hard to see which spaces still have plunder counters on them and which don’t because the coloration is identical. Pastel versions of the same colors might have provided better differentiation.

The four white markers are circular chits that you use to mark which numbers you’ve rolled for production, as we’ll see momentarily.

Round Overview Sheets: Each player gets a sheet which lists how to play the game, including the four main parts of a round, all the items you can produce, and how much movement costs. Overall this is a great reference (though much of it is obvious once you’ve played). However the sheet quality is the one disappointment amidst the components. It was printed on flimsy glossy paper rather than the cardboard you’d expect. Worse, the sheet doesn’t fit into the tray—there’s a slot that’s not quite the right size. Presumably there was some last-minute change to this stock, to the game’s (minor) deficit.

Cards: The game includes 48 resource cards, 30 development cards, and 12 victory cards. They’re all half-height, printed on plain, glossy stock (as is typical for the Catan games). All the cards are easy to use: the resource cards clearly show which land produces which resource; the development cards have very nice artwork (though many players have comments on the inappropriate-looking diplomat, who appears to be from the Renaissance) and good explanations of what they do; and the victory point cards have nice iconography. They all generally show off one of the best advantages of the Catan games: good components with high utility.

Rulebook: A 6-page glossy rulebook with examples and FAQs.

Overall, as with most of the Catan series, Struggle for Rome has great components that are beautiful, great quality, and easy to use. As such it earns a full “5” out of “5” for Style.

The Gameplay

The object of Struggle for Rome is to build up resources by successfully plundering Roman cities, eventually get up the guts to conquer Roman holdings, then expand out into a miniature empire.

Setup: Each player chooses a color and puts one horseman and one warrior at premarked starting places at the top right of Europe. Each player also fills in his tribe boxes by putting one horseman and one wagon in the horseman box, plus one warrior and one wagon in the warrior box. These boxes will always define the size of each tribe: how many troops they possess and how many wagons they have.

The resource cards are set to the side. There’s a pile of grain (wheat) and a pile of ore. The two remaining resources, oxen and horses, are shuffled together to form the “pasture” deck. This one is placed face-down, and will be drawn from randomly whenever a pasture space produces. The development cards are also shuffled.

Each player gets 5 gold, 1 grain, and 1 pasture card to start.

Order of Play: Each round consists of the following four phases.

  1. Roll for Resources
  2. Trade and Build
  3. Horseman Tribe Actions
  4. Warrior Tribe Actions

Roll for Resources: The active player rolls to see which hexes produce goods. Each hex is numbered and produces one of the appropriate type of good (grain, ore or a random sort of pasture card) to each player who has one or more plastic figures adjacent to the hex. (There are also wood hexes which never produce anything.)

A “7” instead causes the Roman legionnaire to move. The active player then takes a random card from a player with a plastic piece adjacent to the hex where the legionnaire was moved to. In addition, that hex will not produce while the legionnaire is there.

This process is repeated, one roll at a time, until four different numbers have produced resources. You place white counters on a special windrose on the board to mark which numbers have already generated this turn. (This makes the less common numbers like “2” and “12” come up a bit more often, since repeats of common numbers like “6”, “7”, and “8” are ignored on the same round.)

Trade and Build: Now the players, starting with the active player and going around the table, may each trade and build.

You can trade with other players, but that doesn’t happen a whole lot because all the resources are usually equally valuable to all the players. You can also trade with the bank at 3 of the same resource for 1 of something you want.

There are three things to build:

One bull plus one gold gives you a development card. These are random cards that can give you various short-term bonuses in the game. There are also a number of “diplomats” which allow you to move the legionnaire and can be collected for the “Diplomacy” special victory condition. There are also some 1 VP cards.

One horse plus one ore increases your soldiers. You add one horseman and one warrior to their appropriate tribes.

One horse plus one bull plus one grain gives you a wagon. You add this to one of your two tribes. It will later help you in plundering and conquest.

One per round you can substitute three gold for a resource when you’re building something.

Horseman Tribe Actions: Starting with the active player, each player gets to move his horseman tribe and then plunder or conquer. If he chooses to have his horseman do nothing he can instead take 1 of any resource or 2 gold.

Move. All movement is regulated by arrows. There is an arrow on every other hexside, and there are also far-reaching arrows running through the seas. Each turn the horseman may move over one arrow free, but each additional arrow costs resources. Moving over a land arrow either costs 3 gold or 1 grain. Moving over a sea arrow costs 1 gold. Horseman may move over cities and other player pieces without problem; only the arrows are an issue. When they’ve finished their movement they’ll land at the corner of a hex.

Plunder. if a horseman lands adjacent to a city he may plunder it. To plunder a city the size of the plundering tribe (marked by the number of horseman in the tribe box) must equal or exceed the number of towers protecting the city (which is shown on the map and is 2, 3, or 4--or 5 for Rome).

If a city is successfully plundered then the player reveals the city’s plunder counter which shows loses and rewards. He always earns 1 gold per supply wagon that his horseman have. Some cities are tough fights, resulting in the loss of 1 horesman, but they also earn the player 2 additional gold, a development card, or a pasture card.

Afterward the player places the plunder counter on his horseman tribe box. He’ll need 3 of these from different provinces to start conquering or 5 of these from different provinces to earn bonus victory points.

Conquer. A player’s tribe may conquer only if it has already earned 3 different plunder counters. Any unoccupied city can be conquered, provided that the tribe equals or outnumbers the towers of the target city; it doesn’t need to still have a plunder marker on it. In fact, any plunder marker is set aside. Then the player moves his on-board horseman into the city as well as a supply cart from his tribe box.

Afterward the player’s horseman tribe is now settled in the city, but can continue to conquer nearby cities. Each turn the player may attack one city as long as it’s no more than one arrow from one of his existing cities. As usual he must equal or exceed the towers, then he places a horseman and a supply train from his tribe box into the city. (Clearly he’ll have to keep building up horsemen and supply trains in order to keep conquering cities.)

Warrior Tribe Action: This works identical to the horseman tribe action, except each player now takes an action with his warrior figure.

Winning: Each conquered city is worth a victory point (VP). In addition players can get 2 VPs for each of the following conditions they meet:

Some development cards are also worth 1 VP.

When a player has collected 10 or more VPs, he reveals this. The round is played out, then the player with the most VPs wins, with gold acting as a tie-breaker.

(Cleverly some development cards are worth a little gold during the game and a lot of gold if kept for the tie breaker.)

Relationships to Other Games

Struggle for Rome is one of the “Catan Histories” family of games, the other entrant of which is Settlers of the Stone Age. It is also one of many games in the Settlers of Catan series. Like all of the games in the series it depends on the collection of resources via random die rolls and the use of those resources to build things. Struggle’s biggest difference from other Catan games is in the early game where tribes wander the board; the later game feels very cleverly like the start of a normal Settlers game, as discussed more below.

Struggle for Rome is also one of many games that have been released that center on the fall of Rome to barbarian tribe. Other entrants include Attila and Gloria Mundi. Of those three, Struggle for Rome plays the best, and has the biggest scope; the others have some sharp edges, but also some clever mechanics.

The Game Design

To start with, Struggle for Rome is clearly a Settlers game. It has all the advantages and disadvantages of that series of games, including some good strategy, some multiple paths to victory, and a basic simplicity of play. It also has the disadvantages, including a bit more randomness than some people are comfortable with.

However, Struggle for Romes is also a very different game. The early movement is quite different from any other Catan game (except Stone Age) and provides some new strategies to figure out (though there’s a bit too much path-finding as well, which can slow things down). In addition, the way in which the early game develops is very clever. You eventually settle in two locations, and start expanding out from those, which looks remarkably like the classic Settlers game, but is played out with entirely different rules.

I think the straight-out expansions of Struggle generally work, but I also like the other polishing that’s been done. For one Teuber has done some work to reduce the randomness, most notably by requiring four rolls a turn and never allowing players to doubly benefit from a lucky roll (as you can in Settlers. Teuber has also adopted an idea from Elasund, where a player who can do nothing gets some benefit, which not only keeps everyone involved, but also again offsets any particularly good or bad luck.

On the downside, much as with Stone Age, it feels like all of the resources are more generally useful to everyone, and thus less trade occurs. In the Settlers variants where this has been the case, I’ve generally found it to the game’s deficit. In addition, I’m not entirely convinced of the different victory paths. In particular, conquering 8 different cities seems pretty tough, and it feels like that there are a lot easier paths to victory, but I’ve only played the game twice, so I could be wrong there.

Finally, as with Stone Age--and Cities and Knights for that matter--I found Struggle for Rome to be a bit long. Two hours is a bit of a stretch for this gameplay, though that’s likely to speed up whenever you have more experienced players.

On the whole I find Struggle for Rome to be a good game with a lot of color, sound mechanics, and enough variation to make it different from Settlers of Catan itself, though I don’t find the core gameplay quite as exciting as the original. As a result I give it a high “3” out of “5” for Substance: slightly above average.

Conclusion

Struggle for Rome is a new Catan-like game that plays quite different from its originator, with players pillaging horsemen and warriors through Europe for the first half of the game. I don’t think it’ll win over people who don’t like Settlers of Catan, but for fans of the original it’s a very nice variation that will be familiar but still feel like an entirely different game.

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