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ROMA

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Queen Games/Rio Grande Games; 2 players, ages 8 and up, 30-45 minutes; $24.95)

 

For some reason, there has been a flood of two player games appearing lately. Whether this trend is just an anomaly or the start of something big, only time will tell. In the meantime, one of the more interesting entries in this recent deluge comes from Stefan Feld. This new designer has managed to construct an unusual diversion for two players bent on controlling power in Ancient Rome in Roma.roma5

Roma (known in Europe by the more dramatic title Revolte in Rom) comes with a deck of 52 cards (32 character cards and 20 building cards), 8 discs, Victory Point chits (in denominations of 1 and 2 VP amounting to a total of 36), money chits, dice, and rules in English, French, Spanish and German.

The 8 discs come in three varieties. Six of them depict die faces from 1 through 6. There is also a “money” disc and a “card” disc. These discs are placed between the two players with the six die discs arranged in order, flanked by the other two. Each player begins with 10 VP and three dice in his chosen color (red or blue). The entire deck is shuffled and four cards dealt to each player. After examining his hand, players swap two cards of their choice. The four cards held by each player are placed opposite four different die discs, face down, and simultaneously revealed.

On your turns, the first thing that happens is checking to see if you LOSE Victory Points! For each dice disc NOT “occupied” with one of your cards, 1 VP is LOST! (Lost VPs go into the “bank”.) So, on your first turn, you are going to lost 2 VPs right away! You certainly don’t want this to happen again and it won’t, if you can get some cards down.

Not only will the presence of cards opposite all six die discs prevent VP loss on subsequent turns, they also allow you do powerful things so getting them down and in play is crucial. Character cards can get you VPs, eliminate your opponent’s cards, allow you to draw additional cards from the deck, place cards free of charge and more. If activating a card that can attack, the neutral colored, regular six-sided, “battle” die is rolled. A roll equal to or more than the enemy defensive value (stipulated on its card) removes that card from the opposition’s array and is discarded. Building cards (such as the Forum) can generate stacks of VPs but only if you get get them properly “activated”.

On turn, a player will roll his three dice. The three numbers rolled determine which dice discs can be activated. (Should you roll three of the same number, you have the option of re-rolling the dice.) A die placed on the matching disc (e.g. a rolled 4 on disc 4) activates that player’s card situated by that disc. If a card is not matched to a disc (or even if it is), a player always has the option of placing a die on the money disc or card disc.

The money disc gives the player money equal to the die value. The card disc allows the player to draw cards equal to the die value into his hand, keeping one. (The rest are discarded.) There is no hand limit here (so you are encouraged to draw cards). And, you can always place a card.Unlike the other actions, card placement does not require a die roll; it simply costs money (stipulated on the cards themselves). Placing a card may be done in any order. For example, you can place a die to draw cards, place a die to get money, then use money to place one or more cards and THEN use the third die to activate a card.

Play continues until either a player has NO Victory Points left (crowning his opponent the winner) OR no VP chits are left in the stockpile. In the second case, the player with the most VPs at that point wins!

Roma is a wild ride. Anytime you combine dice rolls with card draws, you can’t avoid a sense of a definite lack of control. Gamers seeking the “perfect plan” to victory will be sorely disappointed as there are too many variables here to achieve anything resembling total control. Which is not to say that the game isn’t fun. It is.

The unpredictability of the game is part of the reason. The interesting dice activation mechanism is intriguing, preying on the “gambler’s instinct” in many gamers. That compulsion to try for one more lucky roll is hard to resist. And you can minimize the luck factor to a degree. Some cards allow you to modify die rolls and you can shift card placement (moving them and/or replacing them) to bring different “powers” into the game. While combat is an option, it’s not generally the best way to go as it is dependent on die rolls, both in activating the specific “battle” cards and in rolling the battle die to score a hit. As in games like San Juan (Spring 2004 GA REPORT), knowledge of the cards and what they can do by themselves and in concert with others is important. The rules devote two pages to full color reproductions of the cards along with their powers and how many are in the deck. (Instead of having rules in 4 languages, at least in the American edition, it would have been a nice touch to have a second color sheet of these cards giving BOTH players their own reference sheet instead of sharing the rules folder.)

Roma is a card/dice combination that uses dice as a catalyst in a different way. Because of its chaotic nature, gamers will find that it sometimes pays to be lucky rather than good. But even if you bemoan the luck of the dice and card draws, Roma has a bit of strategy molded with the welcome ability to tease and challenge you into pressing your luck to make a winning combination. — – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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