Thursday, May 29, 2008

Glory To Rome!

Chris hosted the other night for our regular Tuesday game group. Since he and his family are going to New York for an extended vacation soon, this is the last time he'll host for a while, so it was nice to get the chance to game with him. Also present were Mike, Ken, and HazMatt. On the table were Cheeky Monkey, Glory to Rome, and a couple of games of For Sale. I missed the Monkey because I was picking up a stranded friend, and Mike bowed out early to miss the two For Sale games.

I'll focus on Glory of Rome, which took most of the evening to play (around 100 minutes including 'splainin'). The game is an interesting blend of civ-building and resource management, and despite the Phil Fogglio-esque graphics there's a fairly deep game here. There are elements of Puerto Rico/San Juan/RftG here, but at the same time the design mitigates the luck elements that make SJ and RftG a bit frustrating (card mining in particular). 

The entire point of GtR (wasn't that an 80's supergroup?) is to build buildings and convert materials into wealth. If you have the most of a given type of material in your vault, you get 3 bonus points for that material. In our game, which was clearly played sub-optimally, that would have been a 20% point boost had anyone gotten it (I was about three seconds away before HazMatt ended the game, literally the only way I was going to miss out on an extra five points). In our game, we focused on buildings rather than filling our vaults, and I suspect that future games will see the opposite because of the bonuses.

The game is pretty simple. Each Order card has four different elements to it, although three of those elements will be fixed for every card of that type. The first is the occupation of the card, which lets you do one of six fixed actions during a turn. The second is the material type of the card, which always matches the occupation. The third is the VP value of the card if it goes into your vault, also tied to occupation. Fourth is the special ability that the card gives you if you convert it into a building. These are also tied to the occupation, but there are multiple buildings associated with each occupation so there's more of a variety. 

For example, the Craftsman cards all have the material Wood, are all worth 1 VP in the vault. There are four or five buildings on Craftsman cards, including Palisades that protect the owner from Legionary cards. 

Each player also has a play aid mat that doubles as an organizational tool. On the top of the mat you place the Site cards (involved in building) that you complete which give you Influence (VP and allow you to place cards in other areas). The Vault, to the right, is where you put cards that will count towards your VP at game end, but you can only place two cards there until you up your Influence. To the left are your Clientele, which are occupations that you can always use, also limited by Influence. At the bottom is your Stockpile, a place to put materials until you need them. The cards are arranged graphically so that the materials are visible from the bottom, the occupations visible from the left side, and so on, so cards go under the play mat and take up relatively little space. 

The turn works as follows. The "Leader" player (really the start player, not an indication of where they are competitively) decides whether to "think" (draw cards) or play an occupation card, which determines what players can do for that turn. If the start player was thinking, then the turn is over. If they played an occupation card, the other players may either think or play their own occupation card. If they have a Clientele card in the appropriate section, they get an extra action as that occupation, and they don't even need to play a card and may Think to draw cards *and* get the bonus actions. For example, if a Laborer was led, and I have two Laborers in my Clientele section, I can draw up to my hand limit *and* select two materials from the pool to place in my stockpile of materials. The actions don't take place until everyone has decided whether they will hire or think for that turn, which is why Matt was able to draw the last card from the draw pile before I could bank my Concrete card for an extra five points. You can also use special "Jack" cards that act as any Occupation, but don't have any other use in the game.

Mitigating the luck of the draw is the Resource Pool. All discarded cards go into this pool, so if you play a Patron, that means there will be Marble cards in the pool for people to draw next turn as all Patron cards are also Marble cards. As such, the play you make on your turn will benefit you the least on the next turn if you wanted to get the card back out of the pool right away since you go from the first player to the last player. 

The Occupations are as follows:

  • Patron - move a card from the pool to your Clientele, limited to your Influence.
  • Laborer - move a card from the pool to your Stockpile.
  • Legionary - Request cards, which must be in hand (and not Jacks) from the pool and your immediate neighbors. 
  • Merchant - move a card from your Stockpile to your Vault, limited to your Influence.
  • Craftsman - You may start a new building, assuming there is a matching Site card (has the same material) from your hand. You may instead add a card to a building in progress from your hand.
  • Architect - Same as the Craftsman, except you may add a card to a building in progress from your Stockpile rather than from your hand. New building cards still come from your hand.
Again, if you have multiple Clientele of a given occupation, you may do that action multiple times. Near the end of the game, you might be able to build an entire building, from foundation to completion, without playing a single occupation card. Each building requires a different number of cards to complete based on the material used to build it, which of course matches up with the VP that resource would give. As such, you need two concrete cards in addition to the actual building card (foundation) and concrete site card. There are a limited number of site cards in each material, so as they get scarce you may find yourself planning to build something that you can't build because the guy in front of you took the last card. It's a surprisingly deep game.

As you can imagine, there are multiple paths to victory, with something like 25 different building types and a host of ways to build up Clientele. A few buildings seem really great until you realize that a) by building them you take the materials and associated VP out of the game (they don't go back into the pool, unlike when you play Occupations), and b) if someone else gets it, it's hardly worth your time. For example, I build a Senate that let me collect all of the Jacks that other people played in a turn. Which was awesome, until Chris (sitting to my left) did the same. Now, all the Jacks went to him unless it was my turn or if he played a Jack. 

The only downside I see to the game is that it comes in a rather cheap package - three card deck holders in a plastic blister pack that doesn't really go back together again all that well. Chris says he built a box to put it in rather than deal with that mess again. The other ding is the cartoony art that makes the game look lighter than it actually is. 

So what makes the game superior in some ways to Race? First is the resource pool, which means that you have to make your choices of occupation carefully so as not to set up an opponent, especially the person to your left. It also means that everyone draws from the same set of resources for Clientele and Materials. Second is the Jacks, which you can draw instead of from the Orders deck. That means you have flexibility as the turns progress to play any occupation, if not to get a specific material (but you have the Laborer to do that for you). Third is the pipeline nature of building, which means extra steps that require planning ahead. Early on it's not a terrible idea to get several buildings going at once so that you can add to any of them as your cards allow. These elements all mitigate the luck of the draw from the Orders deck, although it has it's appeal as well (as you might be able to get several cards at once). There is relatively little fishing compared to SJ or RftG, which I like. 

On the downside, the game takes about 80 minutes for a full playthrough, about four times as long as Race. Still, it's a deeper game that still scratches the same itch for me, and this is a title I'll pick up. Note that we played the I.V edition, which is apparently a much better production than the first attempt in 2005. That must have been something to see.

Thanks to Chris for hosting, I had a blast. Even if Hazmatt did steal the win from me by ending the game *just* at the right time. 

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