#FirstImpressions – Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing LLC, 2017)

Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing LLC, 2017) is a rules-lite, family-friendly, area control wargame. Well, sort of area control. Maybe too rules lite. Regardless, Enemies of Rome is a simple wargame that looks to be a fun shorter game that engages the entire family.

I missed out on the Kickstarter campaign in early 2017 that raised $17,000 against a $10,000 goal. The game is now reaching retail distribution where I got it. My interest comes thanks to a series of videos that @PastorJoelT posted on Twitter.

Components

The map has a very theme-appropriate presentation. The back of the Event/Action cards are a bit cartoonish as compared to the map but remain loyal to the theme. The card faces are easy to read and understand. The many cubes look overwhelming at first but once separated into color groups and matched with the few cardboard tokens they also support immersion into the theme.

Rules-Lite

The rulebook for Enemies of Rome is eight (8) pages. Actually, it is seven pages as page 8 is a simplified map. The mechanics of the game is very straight-forward; place reinforcements, play “Intrigue Talents” (special bonuses earned during play), play either an Event or Action card to move and maybe battle, then draw your hand back up to two cards. Victory points, called Glory Points here, are earned by conquering a territory and lost if you lose a battle against another player. Total play time is rated at 120 minutes, but even our first game was over in 90.

As simple as the rules are, the rulebook could of used a bit more work. Looking at the names of the designers and play testers, Enemies of Rome looks to be mostly a family affair. That is not bad, but I feel that if an outsider or a professional technical editor had looked at these rules they could be much clearer. Having grown up as a grognard with rigid SPI rules formatting (1. / 1.1/ 1.11, etc.) I find it helpful in breaking down a rule and making them easy to follow or cross-reference. I totally understand that this “rules lawyer” format is not popular with some, especially those who want to read a more “natural language” text.

Who are the “Enemies of Rome”

Enemies of Rome is for 2-5 players, making it high suitable for group or family gaming. What makes this game work is the presence in every game of a non-player, the “Enemies of Rome.” Enemies occupy every territory the players do not. During a players turn, some Event and Action cards allow the player to move the Enemies. This simple mechanic introduces a subtle element of strategy that quickly becomes a focus of all players – do I move my own Legions or do I move the Enemies? This makes for interesting dilemma’s – how do I move/battle the Enemies to my advantage?

Area Control – Sorta

On the surface, Enemies of Rome appears to be an area control game. Indeed, at game end the players with the most territories gains a Glory Point bonus. However, a closer look at the rules reveals that Glory Points are won/lost in battle. If at the end of a battle the player is in sole possession of a territory, a Glory Point is won. If the player battles another player (not the Enemies) and loses, Glory Points are lost. The subtlety of this rule can be lost on beginners. In the RockyMountainNavy family first game, as Red I had the least territories but fought a number of good-odds battles towards the end and tied Blue who had the most Legions and territories. In the tie-breaker I lost to the more numerous Blue Legions. The RockyMountainNavy Boys were a bit confused at first until they realized its the battles won, not the number of territories, that count for Glory Points. A quick glance through the forums at BoardgameGeek seemingly indicate this is not a popular way of determining victory with several alternate VP conditions being bantered about.

Similarities

What struck me after the first play was the similarity of Enemies of Rome to the very popular Academy Games Birth of America-series. This especially applies to the first game in the series, 1775 Rebellion: The American Revolution. The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself have many plays of the Birth of America series and the similar 878 Vikings: Invasions of England which are team-play, area control games. Indeed, @PastorJoelT mentioned in one of his videos that he saw Enemies of Rome and 1775 Rebellion as similar games. His comment is actually what triggered me to buy the game!

In my opinion, although superficially similar to Enemies of Rome, there are enough differences with the Enemies of Rome and the Glory Point scoring mechanics that these games are just that – superficially similar. I view Enemies of Rome as the simpler game of the two.

Collection Worthy?

Although Enemies of Rome is a simple game with a scoring mechanic that is a bit opaque, that does not mean it is not good enough for a gaming collection. If you look closely at the featured image of this post, you will see several Rick Riordan books in the upper right corner of the image. The RockyMountainNavy Boys pulled these out because the geography in the books was also found in Enemies of Rome. The Boys also found my copy of Decision Games’ Strategy & Tactics Quarterly #1 – Caesar. The Boys are making what Mrs. RockyMountainNavy refers to as “connections.” They are studying the map, reading the history on the Event cards, and learning.

Enemies of Rome promotes learning while having fun at the same time. That’s a winning combination in the RockyMountainNavy stronghold. Even if you are not into learning, the simplistic nature of the game, combined with subtle strategy, make Enemies of Rome a good group game, especially when introducing new gamers to wargames.

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Personal Quick Take – 2018 Spiel des Jahres Nominations

The 2018 nominations for the coveted Spiel des Jahres Awards are now public. Thank goodness for BoardGameGeek to provide a translation from German to English for me!

As the BGG posting notes, the Spiel des Jahres are primarily aimed at family gamers. Of the three nominees, I don’t own any (although I have come close to ordering Azul). If BGG rankings are to be believed, Azul should be the run-away Gloomhaven-like hit given it is ranked as the #1 Abstract and #1 Family Game on BGG.

The Kennerspiels des Jahres, the “connoisseur’s game of the year” according to BGG, is an even weaker category for me. I know nut-thing about the nominees nor am I likely to anytime soon. As I have stated before, my gaming tastes tend to be more narrow and reflect my legacy of playing wargames. I just don’t buy into full eurogames or the “heavy cardboard” part of the hobby.

On the other hand, the Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children’s Game of the Year) is a category I watch out for because of my wife’s teaching and a new niece that I hope to introduce to proper gaming someday! Alas, I don’t recognize any of the nominees, nor do they look interesting to me for family play. I am pleased to see that the jury recommended Rhino Hero: Super Battle which I do own and the family finds enjoyable.

So what do I personally take away from the Spiel des Jahres nominations? I see another sure sign that the boardgame/tabletop gaminghobby is alive and well. But as much as hobbyists will try to say that there is no split between Eurogames and Ameritrash, a straight up comparison of the Spiel des Jahres and 2018 Origins Awards nominees or (worse yet) the 2017 Golden Geek [Fan Service] Awards shows that there is still a difference. This is not bad for the hobby. This year I tend to be an outlier in the hobby; I refuse to bow to the Cult-of-the-New (COTN) nor do I spend my precious dollars frivolously chasing away a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)-phobia. As a result, the awarded games and my collection are diverging.

The divergence doesn’t bother me; indeed, it makes me happy that the hobby is strong enough that I can build my collection to my tastes and not have it dictated to me like so many mass-market game companies try to.

Personal Quick Take – 2018 Origins Awards Nominees

As found on the ICv2 website:

The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design (AAGAD) released the list of games nominated for 2018 Origins Awards. The Awards will be presented during the annual Origins Awards Ceremony, held on Saturday, June 16.  The Academy added a category to the seven from 2017, Roleplaying Supplement, bringing the total to eight.  The nominees were selected by the Academy; the winners will be selected by a jury of professionals.  Origins Game Fair attendees will vote for Fan Favorite winners at the show.

As a wargamer, I understand the the Origins Awards are not really my cuppa tea. For the longest time the Charles S. Roberts Award was all I cared about, but those ended in 2012. Since then, the Golden Geek Awards on BGG.com have been what I watch, but its really hard for me to get behind that award given that the demographic playing “war games” on the BGG sub-domain is quite different than players on ConsimWorld. Consequently, there are no “war games” of interest to me amongst the nominees.

All that said, I am kinda interested in the Origins Awards from a family gaming perspective. I regret to say that I have not played a single one of the 12 Board Game nominees. Card and Collectible games are not my thing so it is not surprising that I have not played any of those 20 games. I like miniatures but shy away from the cost, meaning the four games in that category are more unknowns to me. I guess this means I failed to qualify as a card-carrying COTN (Cult of the New) member or suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

I admit my roleplaying interests are narrow (usually sci-fi) and I am not surprised that my favorite Cepheus Engine publishers are not recognized. Shamefully, I see Mongoose Publishing somehow got their money-grabbing Traveller Starter Set on the list. I am heartened though by the diversity of other titles and publishers on the Roleplaying Game and Roleplaying Supplement lists.

Gaming Accessories? Looks like the Academy still has to decide what really goes into this category. I see everything from box inserts to game expansions. A firm definition of “gaming accessory” appears to be lacking.

Of course, who am I kidding? These days game awards are less professional recognition and more fan service. Look no further than the fact Gloomhavenwon six of 13 categories in the 2017 Golden Geek Awards. I consider it lucky that 878 Vikings – Invasion of England (Academy Games, 2017) was the 2017 Golden Geek Best Wargame Winner.

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Courtesy Academy Games

#FirstImpressions – Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy (@hollandspiele, 2018)

In 2017 I discovered a new wargame; a game that changed my perception of what a wargame could be. That title was Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 from Hollandspiele Games. I really like the game and it challenged me to reconsider the history of the American Revolution by thinking about logistics instead of only battles.

Designer Tom Russell has followed up on The Northern Theater with a new title, Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy. Tom could of taken the easy way out and simply designed a “new” game using the same great mechanics in a different geographic area. Thankfully, and best for us gamers, he found a way to take an already awesome game and make it even better!

As Mr. Russell states in the Introduction:

The Southern Strategy shares many concepts and mechanisms with The Northern Theater: both games are about generating, storing, moving, capturing, protecting, and utilizing supply in order to achieve your military objectives. However, this is a standalone game, not an expansion, and folks who have played The Northern Theater should read these rules carefully before playing The Southern Strategy.

The Southern Strategy introduces an element of irregular warfare between loyalist collaborators to the Crown and bands of patriot Militia fighters. Again, in the words of Mr. Russell:

In The Southern Strategy, there are really two interrelated conflicts running in parallel: a partisan conflict fought by locals within a colony, and a more traditional military conflict fought between armies that need supplies to march and to give battle. The presence of an army within a territory strengthens the partisans, while the dominance of the partisans within a colony affects the movement and creation of supplies. (Introduction)

Gameplay

To players of The Northern Theater, the Extended Sequence of Play will superficially look familiar. Each turn, the players progress though a Supply Phase, an Initiative Phase, the Impulse Phase, and the Turn End Phase. The major difference in game mechanics is found within the Impulse Phase which now has two Impulses; a Limited Impulse (Militia/Loyalist activation only) and a Full Impulse with Militia/Loyalist, Army, or Navy activations.

The Limited Impulse (easily thought of as the “Partisan Impulse”) is where Militia or Loyalist partisans make a difference. Players can use these units to strengthen an Army, gather supplies, Raid an area (Militia only), or Hold an area (Loyalist only). Wise use of partisans during Limited Impulses will set Armies up for success, or defeat.

In addition to partisans, navies also make an appearance in The Southern Strategy. Abstracted into a single counter for each side as well as a modifier based on Political Will, the Royal or French Navy can help move supplies or armies, or prevent the same.

Another simple change to the game is Sieges. Under certain conditions, armies are besieged in an area. Once again, supply becomes a key factor in determining how long the besieged can hold out until they either surrender or the siege is lifted.

Theme

I must admit I am very taken with how well the game mechanics bring out the theme of the game. The partisan factor and the role of navies makes The Southern Strategy a much different beast than The Northern Theater. There are lessons learned that are applicable to both games but each is different enough and nuanced that each demands a great deal of different planning and strategy. This is ultimately why I like these games so much; both are simple in mechanics (being fairly light on rules) yet demand complex thinking and planning to be successful. As I put it, another Simply Complex game from Hollandspiele!

Components

0_1024x1024Hollandspiele has a unique production model that I characterize as “professional print-n-play.” This is a bit unfair as the components are far from home-made and quite good. That said, I do have a few thoughts on the various parts:

  • Box – I like the simple artwork. The box art is a wrap-around sticker that did have a few air bubbles along the edges, but nothing that a quick thumb-press could not work out. Opening the box releases a distinctive smell, or as I call it, “A whiff of Hollandspiele.” This smell is addressed in the Hollandspiele FAQ and doesn’t bother me; indeed, I feel it is part of the brand.
  • Rulebook – Sixteen pages that break down into about 12 pages of rules, three (3) pages of a sample game turn, and an Extended Sequence of Play on the back page that easily serves as a player aid. The rules are generally well-written although I have to admit that it took me several readings of 8.4 Hold (Loyalists Only) to really grasp how a Loyalist unit holding an area modifies the adjacency rules (5.3). Thank goodness the paragraph includes an example!
  • Counters – A half-sheet of counters (88) printed in muted pastels remind me a bit of the old SPI days of the 1970’s. I really like the thickness and they punch out cleanly. I do feel that a bit of an opportunity was missed with names. The lone Crown Leader counter is Cornwallis and, if captured, results in an immediate Patriot victory. It would of been nice to see Cornwallis named on the counter instead of the plain generic symbol. Similarly, the South Carolina Militia has a leader that represents “The Swamp Fox,” It even has its own rule (8.5 The Swamp Fox). Yet the counter is a head with the initials “SC” for South Carolina on it. Once again, naming the counter could of added just a bit more theme and furthered immersion into the both the game and theme.
  • Map – The map by Ania Ziolkowska is beautiful and very appropriate to the time period represented. It even has lines of latitude and longitude along the edges. One curiosity is the multiple gray dots that appear on the map. Each is unlabeled and I “think” they are towns but they are not used in any way nor do they directly relate to Cities, Forts, or Areas. Not a real negative but a bit of a distraction for me. Make sure you check out Ania’s YouTube page on how she makes maps for Hollandspiele.

Conclusion

As I have already stated, The Southern Strategy is another Simply Complex game that I am enjoying. Having played it once already, I can see that although I can easily comprehend the rules the strategy needed to win is yet to be discovered. I think I am going to enjoy trying various strategies and gambits with this game. I also look forward to playing this game in July as part of my “Month of Independence Gaming.”

Featured and in-line images courtesy Hollandspiele Games.

#WargameWednesday – New Supply of Supply Lines of the American Revolution – The Southern Strategy (@hollandspiele, 2018)

Supply Lines of the American Revolution – The Northern Theater 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2016) is a favorite game of mine. I mean, who knew that logistics could be so interesting? Well, Tom Russell is back at it with the Supply Lines of the American Revolution – The Southern Strategy. Suffice it to say this is an auto-buy for me. Check out these videos and decide for yourself!

Militia and Loyalist Units

Sieges

Random Gaming Thoughts (Good & Bad) on the First Weekend in May 2018

Sort of a hodgepodge post today. More a collection of random gaming (and beyond) thoughts than anything in particular.

Travel Gaming – Took along several solo games to play while on the road this week. Only got to play one – Merrill’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 (Decision Games, 2016).

RPG Gaming – Gypsy Knight Games had their May the Fourth Sale going on so I picked up the new Manhunters: Bounty Hunters in the Clement Sector (2018). This has a very Classic Traveller RPG and Firefly-like vibe to it. I also picked up Uranium Fever: Asteroid Mining Rules for the Cepheus Engine (Stellagama Publishing, 2018). I really need to get back into RPGs. I am still awaiting my now-delayed Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Roleplaying Game by Cam Banks from Kickstarter. As much as I like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG I probably should pick up the “generic” Genesys RPG.

Speaking of Star Wars – I hear that FFG is going to be publishing X-Wing Second Edition. This one will be app-enabled.

I think I’ll wait for Ares Games and their Battlestar Galactica version instead.

Speaking of Kickstarter – In April I backed No Motherland Without, a 2-player card game about North Korea since 1953. It really looked interesting. I had really high hopes. It was cancelled – for all the right reasons I am sure. I hope they come back and try again, maybe with a stronger publicity campaign. Personally I watched The Players Aid review and was sold:

Veterans in The Expanse (very mild spoilers for S3E4) – I like The Expanse TV series but one line got me going last week. Alex states he has done his time and is an honorably discharged veteran. His implication is that he is special. As an honorably discharged veteran myself I resent this attitude. Unfortunately, I see it everyday – too many veterans who believe that since they served they have a special privilege above “mere” civilians. They grouse when a place does not offer a veterans discount or the like. Being a veteran does not make you a special citizen. This is not the world of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the book, not the horrible movie) where only veterans are citizens. Veterans get many privileges; be humble not an entitlement baby!

April 2018 Behind Me

fullsizeoutput_5cdApril was a small month for gaming. Twenty-four (24) games played. The hit of the month was new arrival Survive: Escape from Atlantis! (Stronghold Games, 2012).

I did get in two comparison plays of Thunder at the Crossroads and Battle Hymn Vol 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge. I recently found a 2013 lecture from the US Army War College that really sets the stage for the Gettysburg Campaign and should be watched before playing any related game:

May is already looking to be a difficult gaming month with many conflicts on weekends. Let’s hope I can at least keep up with the Weekly Game Night!