Monday, May 24, 2010

WBC West - Day 7 - Sword of Rome

I love Sword of Rome. It takes 8 hours, requires exactly four people, and is (as my good friend Mike says) a "beat on the leader" game, but it's a really *fun* game.

And then Wray Ferrell ruined it by adding a 5th player expansion in the form of Carthage.

Let's be clear - we apparently played quite a bit wrong in our game. For one thing, I neglected to swap out the cards in other player's decks for the 5 player variant, and did not realize that suddenly Carthage could go anywhere and anyone could go to Carthage. Leaving aside the ludicrous ahistorical reality that would entail (Etruscans in Carthage? Really? Carthaginians in Gaul? Really?), it would take this game from acceptably wacky to unacceptably wacky.

But we didn't do that. We played that Carthage was limited to the islands and Africa (no Italy), that Bomilcar was stuck in Africa, and that you could only go to Africa as a non-Carthaginian power as the Greeks and then only with the necessary cards. What a disaster that was.

For one thing, that means the Carthaginians *at best* can only gain two VP per turn, ruling out an AV win almost from the start (or guaranteeing it if they wipe the floor with the Greeks in Sicily, but then they really won't be able to hold anything for long as all of their VP spaces are ports).

It also means that aside from Sicily, there was nothing for the Carthaginians to do. Given that Dave's Samnites and Estruscans were tearing it up on the mainland (we spent the first four turns barely stopping him from AV wins on every turn) and I could do *nothing* to help other than form an alliance with Greece so they could concentrate on Dave, which then meant I had nothing to do but keep the Numideans in line (which was exactly two die rolls in the game), it was pretty damned boring.

This was also the only game the entire week that I needed to explain rules for. Next year there will be a no explaining rules rule - if you don't have a basic understanding of the game coming in, you will play it without me or play it while you read the rules during your down time. Every other game I was in (evening games aside) we went to the trouble of teaching games ahead of time and it worked pretty well, but having to take an hour to explain a game I'd already explained 10 days earlier was tedious and far more work that I could handle at that point in the week. Won't happen again.

Of course, most of my complaints are because *I* didn't read the 5th player rules carefully enough, although in my defense most of the really critical stuff was in an *introduction* paragraph, which by convention should have no functional rules whatsoever in it. Introductions establish setting and basic philosophy of the game, not actual rules. In this case, it referenced the back of the Unrest card having information on which cards to swap out. It also said to ignore all references to a non-player Carthage. Which, as far as I could tell, may or may not have included *every* special rule in the four-player book involving not only Carthage, but also Africa and the Rome/Carthage alliance. It would have been much better to have simply edited the 4-player book to include Carthage as a player power rather than to make us guess whether Bomilcar can leave Africa or whether making the African ports "normal" meant that anyone could go there.

I'm not selling my expansion, but I'm not going to be playing it in the future either. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that Alex's second CDG experience (his first was We the People with me having a massive brain fart and forgetting that you only figured out if the colony count determined victory at game end instead of instantly) has killed the genre for him forever. He did like A Victory Lost, however, although I think that they also forgot to take the halving of units attacking across rivers into account early on.

I will not make a direct recommendation against the five player expansion for SoR, as I still have not played it correctly. However, I have no intention of giving it another shot - too much ahistorical wackiness added to a game that is perfectly interesting without the fifth player. In fact, I would have been just as happy playing this four-player, but our numbers dictated that I be involved, so I was. This was the only game I regretted signing on for the entire week, and that includes Leaping Lemmings.


dave said...

> Next year there will be a
> no explaining rules rule

For your games, sure. It made Stalin's War smooth, for sure. Just don't make it a group rule. I imagine Matt and Alex will attest that taking ~45 minutes to learn Flying Colors, then playing a modest pea-shooter scenario, was a more effective use of their time than them trying to learn the game on their own. But the goal of those sessions was specifically to be instructional.

dave said...

And my proposal for rule #2: iPad users create their bookmarks *before* the session. :-)