The Republic of Rome

I am now going to spend 1000 words talking about a game I’ve never played.

There is a game publishing company based here in Alberta called Valley Games.  I own three of their productions and I have never played a single one.  Die Macher, Stronghold and The Republic of Rome.  The reason is that these games are all heavy weights.  But I’m hoping that I’ll get at least two of them in during the gaming weekend at the end of the month.

I’ve owned the Republic of Rome since Christmas time.  I made a trip to get 7 Wonders, but they were sold out and I picked up The Republic of Rome instead.  I’m eager to play it, but I’m not sure anyone else will enjoy the game.  Heck, I’m not sure I’ll enjoy it.  See the primary mechanic is politics and negotiation.  I figure we need to play it near the end of the weekend just in case we aren’t on speaking terms after.  (That’s a joke, son.)

Republic of Rome (RoR) is an old Avalon Hill reprint.  Y’all might remember some of the old classic Avalon Hill games – Dune, Fortress America, Titan, Britannia and Civilization.  In general you open up the box and get one million tiny cardboard chits.  RoR is no exception.  It has many counters, some dice, a big board.  But really it uses cards.  The cards represent senators of Rome, enemy leaders, border provinces, and the wars Rome must fight.  The board is a giant reference table with a few places to hold cards and some status tracks.  The counters are used for tracking the million statuses.  There are also some spinning wheels and a little box for holding your money in.

The goal of the game is to guide mother Rome through three hundred years of the republic.  To defend her shores and expand her territories and while doing so to grow the influence of your faction of senators.  The game is divided into three eras – each representing about 100 years.  Each era can be played alone with a playing time of 3-4 hours or all together for a mammoth game. It is also a cooperative game especially in the first era as Rome is strained to protect her shores from the onslaughts from Carthage (including Hannibal) and Macedonia (including Phillip).    It isn’t possible to focus on your faction to the detriment of Rome because if Rome is defeated by her enemies the game ends early and everyone loses (likewise if the mob overthrows the senate or the Roman treasury is unable to pay its debts).  If Rome survives the era the game is won by the faction who has accrued the most total influence.

Your faction is composed of senator cards.  There are two types of senator cards – family cards representing the eldest member of a family and statesman cards representing specific historical figures.  Each statesman belongs to a family and if the family card is out it can only be played by the same player who controls the family card.  The statesman cards are just like the family cards, but with better stats and they each have a special ability.

Each senator has 7 stats – Oratory, Military, Loyalty, Popularity, Influence, Knights and Personal Treasury.  Influence does nothing, but can go up and down during the game.  Total influence in a faction determines the winner at the game end.    Popularity also goes up and down and measures how much the Roman peoples like the senator.  High Loyalty prevents other players from bribing the senator to leave your faction.  Military is the senators strength in battle.  Oratory is used as a measure of the senators voting power (and is thus pretty important).  Knights are a lower class of senator that can be bribed into your service and bring a vote each.  And the personal treasury is used as bribes – each denarii increasing your vote by one for the proposal it is spent on (as well as other types of bribes like attracting knights).

Life in Rome is hazardous and your senators can die in various ways and when that happens you lose all the influences, popularity, knights and money you’d built up on them.  Statesmen are removed from the game when dead, family senators go back in the pot to be rebribed into service by any player at a later time (representing a new family leader rising to power with possibly different loyalties).  Ways to die include: mob riot, death in military combat, state execution for corruption and assassination.  Plus one mortality chit is randomly drawn each turn to kill at least one senator.

One of your senators is your faction leader.  This makes that senator earn a bit more revenue and protects him from crossing the floor to another player and shields some of the effects of death (all status chits are still lost, but you get to keep a family card).

The game turn represents a year in Rome (only interesting years are played).  each turn has seven phases: mortality, revenue, forum, population, senate, combat and rebellion.  Some of the phases are just bookkeeping, but four offer interesting choices and the most intricate and important is the senate phase.

During the senate phase each faction votes on a number of proposals adding together the oratories of their senators, the number of knights they own plus any money they want to spend on bribes.  (This is going to get a bit complicated – hold one to your hats).  There are several mandatory proposals each senate phase plus a number of optional ones.  The mandatory proposals are: electing major offices, holding prosecutions for corruption, and assigning governors to provinces.  And while not mandatory Rome would be well versed to also raise legions and send them with commanders to fight her wars.

The major offices are:

  • Consul-for-Life (optional and unlikely in early era) – awarded by acclamation if any senator ever has 35 or more influence, but can also be voted in.  This is an alternate win condition.
  • Dictator (optional and requires at least three active wars, must be elected or appointed every year) – The Dictator immediately appoints his Master of Horse.  Together they can go out and fight Romes enemies.
  • Rome Consul and Field Consul (mandatory, must be elected every year, cannot be the same two years in a row) – The two consuls are the only normal offices that can lead Rome’s troops to war.  Rome keeps a pretty tight rein on their powers so that they don’t turn around and have the Roman armies loyal to them.
  • Censor (mandatory, must be elected every year, must be a senator who held a prior consul position) – The Censor runs prosecutions against senators who are beleived to have crossed moral or ethical standards.  Since those standards are at the whim of the censor the main mechanic here is to negotiate each turn with the censor so that your senators are not prosecuted.
  • Master of Horse (optional, appointed by Dictator whenever one exists) – Adds his military to the Dictators in combat.
  • Pontifex Maximus (mandatory if not filled, office held for life unless stripped by a 2/3 majority vote) – The head priest in Rome, the Pontifex makes other senators priests which add to their voting power.

The highest ranking officer in Rome (I listed them by rank – normally the Rome Consul) controls the senate with an iron fist.  Only he can put proposals before the senate, he calls the vote and he determines voting order.  Finally he can end the senate phase any time after all mandatory business has been handled.  (The exception is the Prosecution part which is run by the Censor).  The senate phase ends when the Consul ends it or when the Consul leaves to war or to govern a province.  If the Consul is assassinated while senate is in session the next higher rank takes over.

After the mandatory business is done, Rome can raise legions and fleets, send those armies to fight particular wars and send the Rome Consul, Field Consul or Dictator/Master of Horse to lead each army.  Other minor business includes: creating laws and creating or repealing land bills.

With all that background the seven turn phases are pretty straightforward:

  1. Mortality Phase – one chit is draw to see if any senators dies this year.
  2. Revenue Phases – Senators and the state collect revenue.  The state must pay for its legions and land bills and any wars tat have been beaten cost too.  The players get to make choices on how to distribute their wealth among their senators and their faction and if they want to collect provincial spoils (causing corruption).  If Rome runs out of money, the players lost.
  3. Forum Phase – This is the phases where new cards are drawn which brings new senators and new wars into play.  The card types are: senators (family or statesman), wars, enemy leaders, concessions (used to earn extra money, but make you corrupt), tribunes, assassins and bodyguards (used during the senate phase) and laws.  Bad or good events can also randomly occur preventing a card draw.  Finally a host of little decisions are made to prepare for the senate phase.
  4. Population Phase – Roman unrest might grow and then the highest ranking officer makes a state of the republic speech – a dice roll which immediately starts the senate session.  If the speech goes bad and there is a revolt (caused by high unrest), the players lose.
  5. Senate Phase – Which I talked about
  6. Combat Phase – In which dice are rolled to see if the roman armies are defeated, victorious, in a stand-off, at a stalemate or have a disaster.  If after combat there are four or more active enemy armies, Rome loses.
  7. Rebellion Phase – here returning victorious commanders can declare rebellion – yet another alternate win condition.  Finally, game end conditions are checked and then it is onto the next game turn.  If a consul-for-life makes it here they win.  If a rebel makes it through a whole turn and back to here, they win.  If the deck is exhausted, the players with the highest total influence wins.

All those rules don’t really talk about the game game.  It is about negotiation.  Players can trade cards and money in return for support in the senate.  You want to prevent one faction from controlling too many major offices – in fact if the Rome Consul, Field Consul and Censor are all in different factions that is good.  But you can’t let the jockeying for influence prevent you from monitoring the treasury and unrest levels or from raising armies and putting the most suitable commanders in the field.  You want to keep from getting your senators assassinated.  You want to stay on the censors good side or become censor to avoid prosecution (because corruption is inevitable).

I’m pretty eager to play the game.  Hopefully!

Wow – that was nearly 1800 words.  Why can’t I talk about something important for that length of post?

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3 thoughts on “The Republic of Rome

  1. Robert says:

    Just downloaded the rules. I’m very interested in playing this later in the fall.

    • I’m thinking of just arranging an afternoon to play RoR since there was no opportunity.

      Surprised you are intrigued after seeing the rules. They are often compared to reading a Tax Code. I thought I was the only one who liked such rules!

  2. nathan kirk says:

    I am a couple hundred hours into creating a MS Access program that does all the bookkeeping and turn sequencing for Republic of Rome. Getting close to bug-free. When it is bug-free, i’ll start working on a web version. My goal is to make the game playable by newbies, maybe even by nongamers. I have a charter school interested in using it as a vehicle to teach history. Their emphasis is on the values and perspectives of our Founding Fathers, which values and perspectives were informed by the Early Republic.

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