THE ROMANS: Kingdom Republic Empire is a 1-4 Player game from the renown RAGNAR Bros. Designed by: Steve Kendall, Phil Kendall and Gary Dicken
Designer Description and Surprisingly Sad News: The Romans traces the history of the Roman Empire from its inception as a small Italian Kingdom, through its development and expansion as a Republic and thence to the full blown Empire that dominated the classical world. Enemies mount challenges throughout the game and ultimately the barbarian invasions drive deep into the Empire with Rome itself as their target.
But this is not just a game of conquest. Senators grapple for power in the buildings of the capital and players will score victory points by developments through the game.
Players start with four Senators and their number increases through the game as five buildings come into play. These Senators can be placed in the various buildings to gain promotions, recruit legions, take revenue and build cities, fortifications and fleets, gain victory points, and a whole lot more. Alternatively, the Senators flip to become Generals which the player then deploy with armies on their own map board to expand the Kingdom, Republic and Empire.
Players make a range of decisions as there are multiple scoring opportunities and routes to victory. Game play is speedy and at time simultaneous. The fortune of dice rolling is mitigated by the sharing of many rolls and players who fall behind in the game will benefit from three recovery mechanisms that ensure the game remains tightly balanced until the dramatic climax of the game.
This is the third quantum game from the Ragnar Brothers and gives players a unique opportunity for each to experience the thrilling rise of Roman power. The game also builds upon the auto-player mechanisms which have been a feature of the solo rules in their recent games.
Gary Dicken and actual brothers Stephen and Phil Kendall have been putting games out under the label for three decades, including their early ‘90s epic civilisation-builder History of the World (which was recently revamped for a fabulous new edition), Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga and Angola.
The designers’ recent ‘Quantum’ trilogy, which began in 2016 with New World exploration game Nina & Pinta and continued with this year’s tale of Scottish colonists Darien Apocalypse, comes to a close with The Romans, a blend of militaristic territorial expansion and political grappling set in the growing ancient Italian capital.
As with the other Quantum games’ depiction of quantum physics-inspired parallel universes, The Romans will give each player a different experience of building Rome from the ground-up into the thriving empire, with the players sharing some dice rolls to balance the luck-driven elements.
The Romans also marks the end of the trio’s decades-long collaboration at least in name, with Stephen Kendall announcing on Twitter that it will be “the final game from Ragnar Brothers”.
The Romans launched on a Kickstarter campaign, ahead of its planned release, and is currently marching across the ocean and is due to land in the UK around May 15th.
Players used to the Ragnar Brothers games may well be initially surprised by the levity of Marco Primo's artwork. For a game that is strategic and historical the graphics and design are light and in the frame of comic and cartoon, in other words they do not particularly fit in with a genre of game or era of history as important as this. Yes I am well aware that many games portray Romans as comic-book figures but, and it was a couple of my wargaming players who commented first and the most, "The ROMANS" isn't one of of those fluffy type 45 minute games, it is a good 90 minutes and more likely to last twice that or longer.
As most players first forray into the world of the Ragnar Brothers games would have been their famous cloth-board-based "History of the World" it is somewhat fitting that they are closing their cerebral factory with a game that bears their crowning glory some minor similarities - the Romans themselves being the majority of those. Some of the photographs on this page are taken by me of the components as they were removed from the box, others are mainly of my board in an actual game.
'The History of the World' board game has players controlling the lives of the varying Empires from 3000 BC with the Roman Armies appearing in the third epoch and virtually wiping the world clean of all other Nations before they soften and dwindle, leaving behind remnants and stragglers in small pockets of land until they eventually disappear from history. In 'The Romans' the interaction between the players is far more limited, to the point where, because of the different 'world' boards for each player, this plays like a single-person game no matter how many players are involved, i.e. each player is graciously playing their own game.
To bring some player interaction into the game the mechanic has players all campaigning (attacking) at the same time, and while doing this they all use the same dice roll or rolls (depending on the way the campaigns are going). On each player's selected or randomly dealt Player Board there is a Battle Chart separated into 9 spaces marked 1 through 9. Players each have two Battle Markers, Purple and White which are the same colours as the Battle Dice. One player rolls both dice and then all players place their Battle Markers on their personal Battle Chart using the numbers rolled on the dice adjusted by the strengths of the Units involved in their current campaign - if a player has split their army so that they are campaigning in two or more different regions they should finish one campaign before starting on another.
There are a lot of components that make up this game, from the Personal Player Map Boards to the sets of colour-identified units that include Roman Legions and Fleets which each player has, and the enemy Warbands, Generals, Fleets etc; all things Purple are enemies including the Battle Die, through to the ERA cards which are randomly positioned on the long printed 'tea'towel' cloth board that is, of course, the Ragnar Brother's trademark.
The ERA cards are marked in sequence 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9, there being two of each of these and two of each of the Enemy ERA cards. Two of each double-pair are selected or randomly determined so that there are 5 ERAs on the board, one under the other with ERA 1 on top and the tenth ERA card on the bottom, all facing downwards. thus creating a slightly random but definitive ERA deck.
These cards show events that may be chosen and events that may occur due to a die roll thus keeping the game both historically eventful and yet with a touch of random freshness.
Every piece and token has a specific purpose, many having two; some examples being Generals flip to Senators, Fortifications flip to Walls, Cities are either Christian or Non-Christian.
At first glance each Player Board looks identical but closer inspection reveals minor differences that appear trivial but are in fact cleverly designed to create a spark of interest in how each other players are progressing. The maps show the top of North Africa stopping at the Nile with the European Nations split by colour and wavy black border lines. For the purposes of movement there are three sea zones, basically the Ocean Atlanticus, which takes in the Eastern edge of Britannia, North and West of Gallia, West and South-West of Hispania, and the Meditterraneum Orientis which is divided into two regions; South of Hispania, North of Mauritania, South of Gallia and the Westerly Coasts of Venetia, Etruria, Latium, Campania, and Apulia. The Western Meditteranian Ocean area takes in the Easterly coastline of Venetia, Etruria, Campania, and Apulia and the West and East sides of Illyricum and Macedonia plus Asia, Syria and Aegyptus - just the two Oceans.
For the sake of the game play the player's maps determine that certain areas of water can be walked across by some players and not by others. For example Red double-headed arrows shown between Asia and Macedonia, Mauritania and Hispania (these two are on all player maps) the differences on the other maps are one map only has these two double-arrows whereas the other three maps include one of, Mauritania and Apulia, Macedonia and Apulia, or Britannia and Gallia. They are connected by the double-headed red arrows whereby each end of the double-arrow is accepted as being adjacent to each other.
The ROMANS has a series of Triumph tokens that are set out from the onset on the same three specific provinces on each player map, these being the most outlying of regions and thus the most difficult to reach and conquer. Triumphs are scored at the end of the game, the Main benefit first and then the secondary benefit which is where points are scored for the Art icons on the Triumph cards, but, like other rules mechanics in this game, not individually. By this I mean each icon that has been collected by all players is added up by type (or by colour) and the number of each is used as a multiplier. Thus if the number of Lyres (Yellow) collected by all players added together is 2 then each Lyre held by the players is worth 2 points.
Continuing with the Triumph collection they are gathered when, as stated, a Triumph token province is conquered. The conquering player collects every Triumph Token that is on the same Province on every player board. The player gathers all of them, looks them over and selects one which they keep, the others are replaced face down back on the other Provinces, just place one, face down, on each empty Province other than the one just conquered.
In our experiences of playing The ROMANS we have found that amongst fairly like-minded individual players scores have been pretty close. When playing with gamers who are generally happiest with 45-60 minutes 'fluffy euro games' only the scores can be quite erratic, and when the players are a mixture of Euro-gamers and war/strategy gaming players the games tend to last longer and it becomes a matter of luck and devilishness versus tactics and strategies, one side wearing the other down mentally. It gets quite frustrating because one 'side' wants to think through every possibility whilst the other wants to get on with it; scores can then be mountains and mole-hills.
One of the many good things about The ROMANS are the many rules that bring the different sides of Roman army life to the table. For example apart from having a score track around its outer edge, the 'tea-towel' game board has spaces for specialised 'Original and Later buildings' plus the Basilica Aemilia, the Forum, the Temple of Jupiter, the Servian Wall and the Castra Peregrina; all offering something new, generally at a cost of Gold or Resources - these being Manpower (white cubes), Victuals (Orange cubes) and Materials (Brown cubes). I have to say that it is so nice and so quaint to see 'Victuals' instead of just 'Food', plus 'Manpower' instead of just 'Workers' and 'Materials' instead of simply 'Resources'.
As I said earlier though, this is a single player game with the 'game' multiplied by the number of players. So with four players it is virtually four single player games going on simultaneously and only overlapping when one of the players during their turn takes the opportunity to position one of their Senators in the space on the game board that you were hoping for - only one Senator per space. Senators are Roman numerically numbered and can only be placed on the board in the same numbered space under one of the aforementioned buildings. Each of them assists with something necessary for your personal strategy, extra Legions, Bribed Senators etc while a visit to the Temple allows you to pay to call upon the Gods and receive bonuses to dice rolls. I seem to be being very picky about the ROMANS but that's because I and most others have come to expect nothing short of exceptional from the Ragnars. Another minor-nitpick is the use of Red text on the Wine coloured tiles.
The game is complete with just 16 pages of rules which are of large type and filled with illustrations and notes in varying colourful boxes as well as the main body of text being set out in short paragraphs with large gaps in between them. The rules could have been squeezed into half as many pages but it is a true boon that they aren't.
Played well and with a modicum of luck, the Romans should be able to expand out of Rome (Latium) and conquer and spread throughout the Mediterranian and Europe as they did in the 8th century BC. The mighty Roman Empire can rise again and cover much of Southern Europe, Western Europe, Near East and North Africa under your skilfull command. Remember that you are not in actual opposition to your opponents only with the invading horses and their growth in the territories around you.
Again it was pointed out by a number of my regular players that although the rules are printed in an easy to read manner they lack examples of play except where the pre-mentioned rule is simply explained such as Rule "There may be a total of just one city and one fortification in each region at any one time" Example given: "Red builds a city and a fort in Gallia, meaning nothing can now be built in Hispania." That rule was so well explained that the example wasn't necessary but some of the other rules could have done with a little additional clarity, at least for the first time of having them read out aloud and trying to take them in. It is important to understand that what is happening on other player's boards doesn't reflect on what is happening on your board - another example of our thinking that this is a solo game played socially as a multi-player.
But like all decent games, once you have the understanding all you need is to play to your strengths - it isn't a game that takes moments to learn and years to master but it also isn't a game you can learn and play quickly. Learning as you play will lengthen the time for playing your first game, many popping back and forth throughout the rules book to recollect rulings; but playing with someone who has foreknowledge of the rules is the better way to learn how to play.
Here we have a return to an historical setting, a superb specialised subject - the Romans - lots of component pieces, oft double-sided for different purposes, made from wood, card and impacted plastic (the dice), plus the ever-expected cloth accessory. Made efficiently by shape, symbol and design for the colourblind and colourful for those unimpaired visually. If, indeed, this is the last game to come out of Ragnar Brothers (as they currently are - Steve Kendall Phil Kendall Gary Dicken) it is, despite my mini conflicts, actually a good game to bow out with.
The ROMANS has all the Ragnar Brothers' hallmarks of quality and playability and in the best aspects of entertainment it will not disappoint Ragnar Brothers regular game players, in fact it will leave them wanting for more. There are a myriad mini mechanics including one similar to the classic boardgame RISK! whereby it is possible to amass a small army (nothing like the numbers of armies in the Waddington's game) in one Province and advance onwards as far as possible until you have exhausted your unit number - leaving one behind after each conquest - again Risk! style. Unlike that game though your army may also leave behind Cities and/or Fortifications which are likely to deter retribution from the games own retaliation mechanism.
It claims that players should be 14 years and upwards but unless there are experienced players amongst the group that include such youngsters it is possible they may struggle to understand the game. New players, of any age, who are not used to the strategy and tactics Ragnar Brothers employ in the majority of their games may have some difficulty getting the most out of it without assistance.
In my book this is perhaps not destined to be the classic game "History of the World" is but none the less it is, as I said previously, not a fluffy game, it is a thought-provoking, skillful, game of tabletop wargame standards. It may seem frivolous in its visuals and I have already noted a few commented conflicts by my gaming group, but it is in no way haphazard or purposeless, it is in fact well constructed though lacking in textual assistance in places.
The copy I have reviewed and photographed is a beta copy sent to me by Gary [Dicken] for review prior to its Kickstarter campaign. The components of the retail/KS game may well differ in size and colour (and perhaps the text colouring) but they will have to go some to beat the quality overall of The ROMANS.