Struggle for Rome (Kampf um Rom)

Kampf um Rom box coverHere’s a review of the latest historical Catan game. The same review in Finnish.

Struggle for Rome is based on real-life history: it covers the time when the Roman empire was in decline and the eastern barbarian tribes came to loot and pillage Roman cities and then settled down and started their own kingdoms on the ruins of Rome.

Struggle for Rome inherits some basic mechanisms from Settlers of Catan — you can clearly see where some things came from. The numbered hex map, production rolls, robber (here a Roman legionnaire), knights (diplomats) and so on. Yet there’s lots of new stuff too, so this is a lot more than just another Settlers scenario.

Wandering tribes

The turn structure is the first thing that’s different: each turn begins with four production rolls. After that, each player will have a trading and building turn. Then it’s time for the tribes to move: first horsemen tribes of each player do their thing, then warrior tribes. The tribes are independent but identical, the only difference is that horsemen act first.

The tribes begin the game from the northeast corner of the map and proceed through Europe looting cities. Once they’ve looted cities from three different areas (there are five in total, and if you loot a city from each area, you get a bonus), they can settle down and start a kingdom.

Tribes that become kingdoms can’t move, but they can expand by conquering neighbouring Roman cities. The kingdoms produce more stuff — wandering tribes stand in one crossing and produce when the neighbouring hexes are rolled, while all cities of a settled tribe produce. Cities are also worth victory points.

So, it’s not a question of if, but a question of when. Settle down later and collect the bonus for looting all areas, settle down sooner to conquer the best cities and collect the most resources — it’s your call. That’s the main decision in the game.

Fresh… for a while

Struggle for Rome is definitely a fresh game. It feels like Catan, but it also feels like a completely new game. Trading is subdued: most of the time, people want the same resources, so there won’t be much trading. There’s some interaction still: the game is very much a race, as players race to conquer the most attractive cities and race to collect the ten victory points.

I’m a bit worried about the replayability. There’s enough variation in the strategies to last for a while (I’ve played just once, I admit, but I got the feeling that I might want to explore the game a bit more), but I wonder if the long-run replayability is good enough. Then again, world is full of good games, so it’s not a huge problem if this one runs out of steam after ten or twenty games.

Struggle for Rome is interesting, but perhaps a bit clumsy. At least on your first game, prepare for questions and some puzzlement. It’ll take some swift play to play the game in 90 minutes the box promises. With experience that should get better, but it’s a rough start in most cases.

If you like the theme or Catan games in general, Struggle for Rome is well worth trying.

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