Reviewed by Herb Levy
ROME & ROLL (PSC Games, 1 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 60 minutes; £35)
Roll and Writes are a relatively recent entry into the World of Games. Essentially, they require a roll of the dice coupled with writing on a board to accomplish various goals. An early – and highly successful – example is Qwixx (Summer 2013 Gamers Alliance Report). Simple and straightforward. In this new release, roll and write simplicity has been left behind. The challenge is to rebuild the great city of Rome after a devastating fire in 64 AD, reinforce the empire and gain influence (Victory Points). The most successful player will become the new right hand man (or woman) of Emperor Nero in this design by David Turczi and Nick Shaw: Rome & Roll.
A double-sided central board depicts Rome, divided into its 7 hills with the Forum Romanum in its center, and four regions to be linked to Rome. Each player begins with their own Character Sheet (slightly asymmetrical), 2 meeples (an “Overseer” who begins in the Forum Romanum and a “Foreman”), and a dry-erase marker in their chosen color. The first player is randomly chosen. Blueprint cards are separated by category (Army, Leisure, Manufacturing, Religious and Urban), shuffled with 2 Army, Manufacturing and Urban along with 1 Leisure and Religious Blueprint cards placed on display with the player going last, placing his Foreman on the Religious Blueprint. (The other Foremen remain off-board.). Three randomly selected Gods’ Favour cards are placed alongside the play area as are Nero cards (stacked in decreasing Victory Point value).
Character sheets have room for accumulated resources. Wood, brick, stone and fish are your basics. There is also a “Basket” (which can represent any of those basic resources but must be stored as one of them immediately upon receiving it) and Jewelry (which is “wild” and can be any resource). Four tracks record how much you have in the way of Coins, Constructed Buildings, Legacy and Glory. There is also room for Soldiers and Senators as well as Advisors (who may be bribed to help you in your quest for success). Finally, a play aid is built right into the sheet detailing the six actions you may take during play.
Dice unleash the action possibilities. The large six-sided dice come in red, blue and yellow and each face contains several different icons. The first player rolls all of the dice (which dice and how many of each is determined by the number of players) and chooses ONE of them followed by all other players who choose one. Then, in reverse turn order, all players choose a second die. Now, with 2 dice to use, players act.
Six basic actions may be taken (based, of course, on the icons on the chosen dice). These actions are:
Construct – A Hammer (and an Architect) icon allow you to construct a building. Using a Hammer allows you to build from any building Blueprint that does not have a player’s foreman on it. Cost of the building (in specified resources) is paid and the shape of the building must be drawn adjacent to your Overseer. (Overseers may be moved one space before construction is done. Additional movement costs 1 fish per space.) Some buildings have certain geographic (or other) requirements that must be met too. If constructing with an Architect, all Blueprints may be chosen, even one claimed by a foreman – but if an available one is chosen, a player will spend one less resource in the build. That player’s foreman is now placed on the Blueprint just built. All Buildings provide benefits but if you build a Religious building, you can claim one of the Gods Favours cards. These Favours “bend the rules” a little and, depending on the one chosen, allow you to do multiple trades or multiple main actions, change die faces and more. Once that power is used, the Favour card is returned to the play area where it may be claimed (or reclaimed) by a player constructing another Religious building.
Raise Legions – Using a Legion Standard icon allows you to choose up to 3 different Army buildings on the maps, gaining each one’s stated benefit. Players who built those buildings will get 1 coin each.
Conquer – Any die may be used for this action. This requires you to use military power (Soldiers plus any Auxiliaries – a spear – found on the used die) to meet the cost of targeted settlements. One Soldier per settlement must be allocated (crossed out) on your player board to show you have established a garrison there, earning 1, 2 or 3 Glory (charted on the appropriate track on your board).
Expand – All roads lead to Rome and a Hammer icon allows you renovate roads for stone to a settlement that has already been conquered. Renovation leads to Legacy – with a bonus of 2 Legacy if 2 or more roads are renovated on a single turn. Linking a road to Rome also generates the stipulated resource of the regions (such as wood) for EACH settlement now connected.
Tax – Any die allows you to gather a region’s resource for any of your settlements connected to Rome. (A Hand Holding a Coin icon allows you to tax ALL of your settlements in ALL regions.)
Trade – This is a two pronged action that any die may activate. First, 3 identical resources are exchanged for 3 Coins. (A Hand Holding a Coin icon grants a bonus for each Jewelry in that exchange.) Then, EACH player can activate ONE of their buildings, gaining the Production bonus of that building.
Along the way, “free actions” may be taken. For example, all players have 3 Advisors that may be bribed (by using Fish, Basket or Jewelry from a chosen die or gained from buildings, settlements or advisors), checking off various levels on an advisor’s “Loyalty” box. Completing levels adds abilities to your actions, completely bribing advisors add Victory Points to your final score. Sometimes, an advisor will award you a Senator. (Senators are also sometimes earned by constructing a building next to an opponent’s building.) Senators are modifiers: they can be “spent” to choose 2 dice at once (instead of 1 at a time) when drafting dice at the start of a turn and they can also add another Hammer, Legion or Merchant icon to a chosen die.
Play continues as players add to their collected Coins, constructed Buildings, Legacy and Glory. As totals grow larger, players will come upon blue spaces on these tracks. Reaching a blue space allows a player to claim the top Nero card (earning those VPs). When the last Nero card is taken, that round is finished and one more complete round played. Then we score.
The amount of Coins, Buildings, Glory and Legacy on a track converts to VPs equal to each total. More VPs are gained through conditions found on Blueprint cards, Nero cards in a player’s possession and the number of Soldiers and Senators held (in each case rounded up). The player with the most Victory Points wins! (Tied? Then the player with the most Soldiers gets the laurels. Still tied? Then a Republic is started – only to be overthrown a few years later by the Flavian dynasty!)
The strength of the game stems from multiple icons on each die (which explains why the dice are larger than usual) allowing for not only several actions per die but also rewards your expertise at dice drafting to create effective combos. (That’s where Senators can be crucial in snatching a die before your opponent grabs it!) Between that and “free actions”, plenty is going on each turn – but if that wasn’t enough, a set of 3 additional Character boards are available (£10) as well as a solo option (which uses those small numbers found on the dice).
In many games, claiming a building means it now belongs to that player and is unique. But here, while that specific building is that player’s, other players can build the same type of building so the city will be populated with multiples. Placement of buildings is important as activating buildings for their production earns bonuses for all building owners concerned. Building shapes can be rotated or flipped to better fit into the expanding city in an almost Tetris style. (Players with an aversion to spatial games may find this a deal-breaker.) As various constructed buildings fill in the areas, names of those buildings (or their abbreviations) are written. While graphic quality of the game is first rate from the big dice to the thick boards to the evocative box art, the dry-erase markers included in the game work but have thick tips; you might want to opt for fine line markers for clearer building identification. Having the play aid right on each player’s board is an excellent design decision. This helps you plan your moves while another player is taking a turn, keeping the game moving and avoiding analysis paralysis.
Unlike many games of this type which are often multi-player solitaire, Rome & Roll has significant player interaction as all players seek to expand and dominate on the central board. That and the multiplicity of icons, dice drafting and the resulting menu of decisions presented each turn, elevate this roll and write game into a higher tier and a much more challenging experience. If Quixx is the basic introduction to the genre, then you have to categorize Rome & Roll as a master class. – – – – – – Herb Levy
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