Whenever I have wish to play the lighter wargames, with beautiful components, I am usually reaching for my small Academy Games collection. I love 878 Vikings and had a lot of fun with Storms of Steel, but so far was not able to organize 2-player game of Mare Nostrum. It changed recently as finally – thanks to Atlas Expansion – I was able to set-it up. More below!

The Game

First and foremost, for those who does not know the game, couple of words of introduction. I will base it mainly on the developer’s site with some of my additional info.

Mare Nostrum is an empire-building game in which 3-5 players (or 2-6 with the ‘Atlas’ expansion 🙂 ) lead their individual ancient empires to dominion of Mare Nostrum – as ancient Romans called Mediterranean Sea. You grow the fame and glory of your empire by expanding your influence into new Provinces, then extending your Trade Caravans, building Markets, and founding new Cities and Temples. You can recruit Heroes and create Wonders to help your cause. But beware of your neighbors – they will look with envy at your success and might be tempted to forcibly stop them.

There is couple of ways to win, among them:

  • military victory – control of four capitals / legendary cites
  • domination victory – claiming leader title for Trade, Culture and Military
  • cultural victory – recruitment of Heroes / creation of Wonders amounting in total to five
  • Pyramids – a special, very costly wonder which – once built – provides immediate victory to the owner

As you can see, there are different ways to gain the first place. Which will be yours?

The Scenario

As mentioned, the Atlas expansion brings the two-player variant – which allows us to step into the boots of either Republican Rome or Carthage led by Hannibal – yes, the era of Punic Wars! To spice-up the game and make it more interesting within the regular set of rules, there is also third nation – Barbarians. In historical terms they represent (I think) kingdom of Macedon and whoever pays them with gold, will be able to temporarily recruit their forces. It is such a fun to use those units – you really feel that somebody else is doing your dirty work. There are also changes to victory conditions, mainly the Conquest and Leadership – Control 4 Capital and/or Legendary Cities during one round and then hold them until the end of the next round’s Move & Battle Phase. In essence, it is not enough to successfully raid and occupy Rome or Carthage. You need also to withstand the inevitable counter-attack form the enemy.

Important to note is fact, that you do not need to purchase the expansion to play this variant! You have all the needed components in base game (just use the green army) and you can get scenario from Boardgamegeek, Atlas expansion rulebook.

The Session

Game set-up – I am leading Carthage, Marcin will be in charge of Rome (click to enlarge)

Let me now describe main developments of our game – the numbers correspond to the map below:

  1. The start is slow, I am investing into economy, Marcin is conquering northern provinces (Cisalpine Gaul?)
  2. And here comes the first surprise form me! I am hiring the barbarians and moving into some of the newly conquered Roman territory. They will be eventually wiped-out but not after inflicting serious losses on legions.
  3. That respite gives me time to build two World Wonders – one giving discounts on ships, the other on land armies. This seems to be the key moment of the game – Marcin will not manage to withstand the arms race.
  4. Carthage is conquering further provinces in Africa, increasing the coin income from 1 to 6.
  5. Then I am taking over Sicily and from there a massive attack on southern Italy is launched!
  6. Next, a true nail in the coffin comes: I am landing my forces in Cisalpine Gaul while simultaneously hiring mercenaries to hit southern Italy. That is the end of Rome although capital stands. Carthage wins domination victory.
Gameplay with marked main events (click to enlarge)
Carthage forces landing in southern Italy. The end of Republic is approaching.
A two-prong attack: Punic forces in the North and Barbarian forces in the South. A pincer move which will in the end break the Rome.

The Summary

The 2-player variant / scenario was a very enjoyable game. The rules are adjusted in a way that you simply cannot win by pure luck. You need to plan your actions and invest in economy in order to be able to outpace the opponent – what exactly happened in our game. We will for sure try again that set-up as there is still a lot we can try!