Struggle for Rome is the second game is the Catan Histories series following Settlers of the Stone Age. Both games take core elements from the popular Settlers of Catan game and add a historical theme and unique twists to the game play. Struggle for Rome is themed around the invasion of the Western Roman Empire by Germanic tribes in the 4th Century AD. Players will each control two tribes that will be wandering through the Roman Empire, plundering and conquering Roman cities and establishing their own kingdoms.
Picture courtesy of Mayfair Games
Although the game is not all that complicated, a great online tutorial can be found at Professor Easy's interactive game tutorial.
The map shows some of the familiar terrain hexes with numbers, however in this game forests do not produce. Rather than sheep, the pastures produce cattle or horses (drawn randomly) and mountains still produce ore. Fields produce grain. The final resource in the game is money, which is represented by neat plastic coins molded (presumably) like real Roman coins. The game has a Roman Legionnaire that acts like the robber in Settlers, shutting down resource production on a hex and allowing the player to steal a resource card randomly from a player who has a tribe on that hex. However, there is no resource card hand limit forcing players to discard cards. Like Settlers, there is a deck of development cards with special abilities, straight victory points and Diplomats which are played like the Army cards with a victory point bonus card for the player who has the most.
Despite the similarities to the original game, Struggle plays quite differently. At the corners of many of the hexes across the board are cities. Each city starts with a face down plunder token. The back of each token is one of five colors and these colors divide the board into five different regions. Unlike Settlers, the beginning of the game is far from fixed. Instead of placing two settlements, players have two tokens, a Horseman, and a Warrior. These are placed on predetermined starting locations in a corner of the board just outside the Roman border. They represent two invading tribes that each player controls. Players have boxes on the board which contain the actual number of troops and supply wagons in each tribe. More troops and supply wagons and development cards are the three things you'll be "building" during the game. During a turn, players will be wandering around the map, plundering cities and eventually conquering them. The farther they move in a turn, the more it will cost in either grain and/or money and there are both land and sea routes. Arrows on the board along hex edges determine the cost. The more arrows the tribe figure goes over, the higher the cost. This can result in some "analysis paralysis" as players try to find the cheapest route to get where they want to go. Tribes can move through other tribe figures and cities but not end their turn on them. There is not much blocking during this part of the game.
Some interesting innovations have been added to the way a game round works. Unlike the original game and every other version that I've played, each player does not do all the different phases before the next player's turn. Instead, each phase of a round is done in turn order by all the players before doing the next phase. The phases of a round in Struggles for Rome are as follows:
Development cards: Players are allowed to play one development card in each of the phases of a round, except for the first phase. There are cards in the deck that provide nice special abilities like teleporting a tribe figure to anywhere on the board or that allow a city to be conquered or plundered with fewer troops. There are a few straight victory point cards worth one point each as well as the Diplomat cards explained above.
A crucial part of a player's strategy is when to change over to this second part of the game by settling his tribes in fixed locations. If he delays too long, other players will grab the best locations and he may find himself with little area to expand when he does settle. However, it is tempting to continue collecting plunder tokens to achieve the Scourge of Rome bonuses. If other players choose this strategy though, there are often not enough tokens to collect even with a limit of two per province per player. Besides getting the best locations, settling both tribes as early as possible has its own reward. If a player's two tribes each conquer four cities, he immediately gets an "Heir to Rome" card that awards a bonus of two victory points. He now has the ten points needed to win the game - eight for the cities and two for the bonus. I've seen both of these strategies win the game as well as a more mixed one.
Once a player gets ten victory points, he announces it and the current round is finished. The player with the most victory points wins the game with most gold as the tiebreaker.
The game works equally well with three players as it does with four. With three, the map is essentially shrunk by a neutral color occupying some of the cities.
I have to admit up front that I am a really big fan of the various incarnations of the Settlers of Catan game. I thought that the original game was very good, but it is the added theme, complexities and tweaks to the system that has resulted in even superior games like Settlers of the Stone Age and Settlers of Canaan. Struggle for Rome is no exception. It is very well-balanced and has multiple strategies to pursue. My games have been tightly contested races with lots of tension. Like Settlers of the Stone Age, I do have concerns that the fixed map will limit its replay ability. The game also runs a bit too long at two to three hours. Even with these concerns, I feel it is a worthy addition to any Catan fan's collection. I greatly look forward to the next game in the series.
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