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July 02, 2020

Euros that Don't Suck--Roma

KB Updated
There Will Be Games


This isn't a proper review, but just some ramblings on Roma, why I dig it, and elements that Euros can have that make them more accessible to gamers like me.

 Roma is  a rather nasty 2-player game that is primarily card based.  There are eight discs that go in the center of the table between you and your opponent.  Six of them have the usual die faces 1-6.  The other two have pictures of cards and money on them, respectively.

 During the game, you play cards from your hand by using gold and setting them in front of you next to one of the die discs.  At the beginning of each turn you pitch three dice.  These dice represent the discs you can activate during that turn, something like the To Court the King or the more recent Kingsburg.  For the discs 1-6, you need that value to activate your card that is sitting there.  For money or cards, you place any value die on either disc and either take that much in gold (2 pips = 2 gold) or draw that many cards and keep one.

 The game uses the dreaded "Euro VP" pool, but with a nasty twist.  There's a finite amount of them, but more importantly you start with 10 VP and you lose if you ever run out of them.  "Run out of VPs?" you ask.  That's the rub--you lose 1 VP per empty die disc at the start of each turn.  The REAL problem is that at the beginning of the game you'll only have four of those six filled, with no gold and no cards in hand.  So right away you're bleeding points.  Before you can even think about attacking your opponent, you've got to fill those gaps before you bleed out.  Believe me, it's nasty, and it's tense.

 Then there comes the conflict.  Unlike Kingsburg where "interaction" is in the form of "Ho ho ho, I blocked your advisor!" before everyone goes on their merry way building stuff, there are TONS of cards in Roma that can be triggered to destroy your opponent's stuff.  Soldiers, Legionnaires, even the mad Emperor Nero can all be activated to try and destroy things on your opponent's side of the board.  Most combat takes the form of roll one die versus a card's printed defense value (all cards have a gold cost and a defensive value).  If you succeed, you'll either destroy that card outright or on rare occasions just bounce it back to your opponent's hand.

 When you do this, not only do you deny your opponent the ability to trigger that card, but you've also left an unfilled gap on his side of the board that he will lose a point for.  It's not uncommon to just start beating the other guy when he's down, and a player that's on the defensive will have to play VERY carefully to balance his comeback with not getting bled out of VPs.

 The other way to win is to exhaust the VP pile, and there are some cards that allow you to use your dice to earn VPs, some that steal directly from an opponent, and others that give you more conditional VPs.  The Forum is a popular VP engine as it allows you to trigger it and use one of your unplayed dice to earn that many VPs.  There are other buidlings that chain off of the Forum that allow you to rack up big VP combos.

 The game reminds me a lot of CCGs, and I could totally see this being a CCG-style game.  There are cards that deal with attack and defense and the dice-based attack system would feel right at home in many CCGs.  There are a LOT of special powers and that's probably one of the down points of the game--it's reliance on language-independant iconography.  The symbols have their own logic and you'll get them soon enough, but there are plenty of times where you'll have to grab the rulebook and see just what the hell it is that your cards are supposed to do.  I guess that keeps costs down but for a game as complex as this one, it's a case where the language-independant bugbear really gums up the works.  Seriously, this game has more different cards than San Juan, and San Juan uses text on its cards AND still has examples for each card in the rulebook to help with rules questions.


As with all card games too you can really be done in by a bad start.  Since you're bleeding VPs right away, if you can't get those gaps plugged quickly--or worse, if your opponent is rapidly able to hammer on your position--then it's possible your game will be over before it even began.  There's also errata on one of the cards that prevents someone from hoarding gold for a game-ending VP purchasing spree, so be sure to the change (limit: 3 VPs purchased at once) if you run into a problem with that.


It's not my favorite game ever but I do enjoy it because it is pretty damn nasty.  It's got fighting, destruction, screwage, and a game system that runs on a razor's edge that keeps you on your toes.  Everything is pretty claustrophobic, there's plenty of player interaction in the form of very direct conflict, and it's a very nicely produced package for only $20.


I haven't settled on a final rating for the game...I'm leaning 7 or 8, depending on how it holds up as I've only played it twice.  Still, if you want a refreshing change from the flawed Kingsburg and want to see the die-based activation system tied in with actual player interaction, look no further.




There Will Be Games
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