As I stated in the last post, all this month we are going to look at the games of Stefan Feld for no other reason than his name made a terrible pun. Looking at a list of games he’s designed, I’ve quite liked about half of what I’ve played, and strongly disliked the other half. I’ve long believed that his games fall into the realm of games with one mechanic too many. That they are complex for complexity’s sake. I’m going to attempt to take these games with a fresh perspective this month.
Roma is a 2-player only game. In it, players are battling for political and military dominance over the city of Rome during the time of Nero. As with most games depicting this era, you do so using cards and dice.
Game setup is fairly easy. There are 8 large tokens laid in a line between the players. One token is where you get more money, another is where you can draw more cards, and the rest relate to the faces of a 6-sided die. In these 6 slots, you will be playing politicians, buildings, and soldiers in order to either gain the most points when the victory point chits run out, or winnow your opponent’s forces down so low that they run out of point chits at the beginning of their turn. Each player is dealt 4 cards, they keep two to build themselves, and 2 their opponent will put into play. Each player starts the game with 10 points.
The very first thing a player will do on their turn is lose victory points. This is Stefan Feld trope #1 – he loves punishing players. For each open space on your side of the board at the start of your turn, you lose that many points. Next up you roll your dice and do actions. There are a couple cards that can affect your die rolls, but not many. You are stuck with your roll (with the rare exception of rolling 3 of a kind, when you can roll again). If you put a die on the card token, you get to draw that many cards, keeping only 1. If you put a die on the money token, you get that many coins, which help you buy the cards that go in the other 6 slots. Mostly you are going to put your dice on the cards relating to what you rolled, and then you do that action – whether it gains you points, or attacks your opponent. Attacking is dirt simple, roll a die, and get equal to or higher than the number in the shield.
That’s pretty much the game, you go back and forth losing points, rolling dice, and doing actions (hopefully gaining more points than they lost) until either all the point chits are gone, or one player has to pay their final point chit.
We played two games of this, and I lost both in stunningly quick fashion. The first game, I lost 4 points on my very first turn, and drew cards that I was unable to play, so I lost 4 more on my second turn, and was basically sunk. The second game, my opponent got a card that allowed him to eventually BUY ALL MY POINTS.
With all that being said, I do enjoy Roma as a quick 2-player filler. It has some feel of other 2-player games like Battle Line, but with less strategic depth. You are largely at the mercy of the dice here, and that will turn many players off this game. Interestingly, my opponent says he’s played this several times and has never seen the game end by running out of points before. I’ve ONLY had the game end that way (and always it’s me losing those points). I guess it’s just differing play styles. Interestingly, this is one of Feld’s games that I don’t believe has one mechanic too many. It feels very streamlined, and everything makes sense.
Next time, we’re going to take a look at what many people consider Feld’s most brutal game – In the Year of the Dragon; a game where good things happen to players only twice in 12 rounds. Kinda makes you wonder what we did to make him want to hurt us so badly.