I’m pretty sure that every gamer has been guilty of browsing the shelves and skipping over a game that doesn’t look quite as impressive as those surrounding it. I know I certainly have. Standing in a shop, my eyes immediately go to the latest big box behemoth that Fantasy Flight have sent out, packed to the gills with lovingly crafted minis and beautiful map tiles (Mansions of Madness, I’m looking at you). The games that are… shall we say, ‘less than artistically delightful’ are often ignored for those that impress the senses. And sometimes, that can be a mistake.
I recently got my hands on a copy of Glory to Rome, a game designed by Carl Chudyk (the guy behind one of last year’s surprise hits, Innovation – another game that was far from aesthetically pleasing). I must admit that it’s something that I’d had an eye on playing for some time but the artwork really put me off. Currently published by Cambridge Games Factory, this is definitely one of those games that many would dismiss with a glance. I mean, it comes in a flimsy plastic box, the art is pretty dreadful… it’s not the prettiest car on the lot by a long way. So far so bad, but dismiss it at your peril, because Glory to Rome is the gaming equivalent of a DeLorean – odd to look at but bloody awesome to play about with.
Thematically, the game’s pretty solid. Following the destruction of Rome following Nero’s shenanigans, you take on the role of Patricians attempting to rebuild the ruined city. Of course, to do this you’ll need to acquire resources and people (referred to in-game as ‘clients’) who will return Rome to its former status. Of course, as with any building project, it takes a fair bit of forward planning in order to achieve a suitable outcome. Each new structure earns you coins which add to your abilities in the game as well as contribute to your overall score in the end, with the highest scorer declared the winner.
So here’s a couple of examples of some cards. Initially there’s a fair bit to take in, admittedly – they’re a mess of information and possibilities, but what you pay attention to is dependent on what happens at the start of a round. The first player (whoever has the Leader card) chooses a role from their hand – that’s the thing written down the left side of the card. Each other player then has the opportunity to either play the same role from their hand (called ‘following’) or grabbing cards from the deck (aka ‘thinking’). Now, whatever role is chosen signifies what the cards in the middle of the table actually represent. If someone chooses a Patron, for example, the cards represent new clients for players to take on board – or actually tuck them into the left hand side of their board. If the Laborer (also shown above) is chosen, you should be concentrating on the icons at the bottom of the cards – these are the materials that you need to collect in order to start constructing your buildings.
Other roles allow you to actually build the necessary foundations, use your collected resources to complete your creations or stash them in your vault for bonus points at the end of the game. You can also demand resources from your neighbours which, if done at the right time, can truly screw them over. Should you not have the correct role card available (all of which are colour coded) you can choose to play a Jack from your hand – counting as anything, Jack can truly get you out of a tricky spot. Just don’t get too over-reliant on him though! Once a building is complete it may well have a special ability that triggers – it could be anything from extra victory points to stealing an opponent’s completed structure – so learning what the different cards can do is definitely useful. Buildings also increase Influence, allowing you to hire more Clients and hide more cards away in your vault. When all players have performed their action or taken from what’s available (the deck or the pile of Jacks), all role cards that have been played are chucked into the middle forming a new pool for the following round. So it continues until the deck runs out, ending the game immediately.
To the meat then. Why is this game so good? Options. You’ve got so many of them in Glory to Rome and initially it may well boggle your mind. It certainly requires a couple of plays to get your head around the way the game actually works, then a few more to figure out combinations of buildings that can give you an advantage. While the goal is pretty standard – get resources, build stuff, gain influence, rinse and repeat – you’ll find yourself wondering whether to go all out on harder-to-build stuff or rein yourself in, hoping that what you actually get built is enough (and is more than the other players). Do you also try and get cards into the vault, aiming to get bonus points for sets? And what about those all important special abilities? While it may seem like there’s almost too much to do from the outset, if you focus on what’s in your hand and what’s available in the pool the beast that is Analysis Paralysis should be easily kept at bay.
As mentioned, this isn’t the game you go to for beautiful artwork. You’ll hunt out a copy (and yes, you will want one of your own after a couple of plays of someone else’s) because this game is ridiculously good. At the top of this review, remember I said it was like a DeLorean? I want to stretch that metaphor out just a little further. It’s as if someone has put an incredibly reliable engine inside this odd looking vehicle – Glory to Rome isn’t a 250mph in the wrong lane kind of game, but man… it’ll get you exactly where you want to go, time and time again.
Glory to Rome was originally released in 2005 and was designed by Carl Chudyk. My copy came from the Cambridge Game Factory and it’s available from all decent game stores. Between two to five players are catered for (though I’ve had my best games with four) and it’ll cost you about £15-£20. Get over how it looks and just play!