18 June 2021
Rome needed a few more days
Rome & Roll is no ordinary roll and write. It is deeper, longer and perhaps for some more satisfying. The complexity, large boards and long play time make this much more of a commitment than it’s quicker, more compact cousins. Preparing for the climb ahead will require serious preparation.
Your aim is to become Nero’s most powerful advisor. Gain points by constructing buildings, conquering settlements, renovating roads, taxing regions and trading resources. Most points wins – gaining Nero’s favour.
The action starts at the Forum in the centre of Rome and then expands out across the seven hills, over the Tiber and into the surrounding regions. Rome is formed from polyomino-shaped buildings, which are drawn on the map in a player’s own colour, signifying ownership. Different buildings will be available in each game, but each building type (army, urban, religious, manufacturing) has the same shape.
The action you may take depends on the workers you have available. Workers and resources are acquired on drafted dice at the start of each round. The satisfyingly tactile dice are delightful. Some dice faces contain more than one worker, some workers may take two different actions and some actions can be taken without workers, so even after drafting, there are still multiple options.
You might as well keep the rule book in hand while you play the first few games; you’ll be needing it. The layers of complexity prevent smooth play, particularly when learning or teaching the game. There are icons for resources, workers, tracks, actions… 25 in all. The sheer number of icons can be baffling and the resources, which appear as icons on the cards and dice, are written as letters when added to a storage yard, which can be confusing.
The character sheets provide an essential reference to the six possible actions. The ‘construct’ action, which allows you to draw new buildings in Rome, has ten separate parts to it. Missing a crucial part of an action is easy… so easy in fact, that one part is missed off the reference sheet.
The range of building cards and asymmetric character sheets, with their own special advisors that can be bribed for a variety of effects, generate different set-ups and deliver good replayability. In fact, deciding when and which advisors to bribe can really determine your fortune. Base your strategy around the power they bestow and this could give you a sharp advantage.
There’s a great range of choices for players, it’s full of crunchy decisions. You may choose to generalise by acquiring points from multiple different buildings, advisors, settlements and roads, or you may choose to specialise and maximise your points in one or two areas. Specialise too strongly, however, and you’ll quickly reach the cap on points available, which can be really frustrating having spent several turns setting up an engine.
This is a game that requires forward planning, but even after drafting the perfect dice, you may be prevented from taking the intended actions. Players are prevented from choosing recently constructed buildings. If another player snatches the blueprint for the building that you’d planned to erect, your plans could easily be scuppered. This forces players to be reactive and slows down the game, particularly with higher player counts.
Rome becomes messy very quickly, with the building types tricky to identify. We would love to see a version with tiles and tokens. With Rome & Roll, you hike up a steep learning curve only to discover that the view from the top is rather underwhelming. If you revel in complexity, then the climb might seem worth it. If not, it might feel like wasted effort. ∗
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Rather than being a ‘roll and write’ this is a heavy-ish euro that uses pens. There’s plenty of variety to keep you interested, but stick to lower player counts for a smoother game.
In both games you’re trying to expand your empire, starting, of course, from Rome. The variety of actions, meaty choices and the routes to acquiring victory points in Rome & Roll are reminiscent of Concordia, though the card-play in Concordia creates a slicker and more satisfying engine.
Designer: Dávid Turczi & Nick Shaw
Publisher: PSC Games
Time: 60-90 minutes
What’s in the box?
- Dry-erase map board
- 4 dry-erase character sheets
- 10 custom dice
- 8 wooden meeples
- 4 dry-erase pens
- 51 cards
If you're a fan of Rome & Roll, you're going to want to check out the expansion: Gladiators! We took a look at what it was, and what you can do, in the below preview video.
This article originally appeared in issue 48 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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