My deep interest in the wargaming hobby is pretty closely connected with my fascination with history – I learned a lot reading, watching, analyzing the past events, especially why and how they unfolded. Somehow, the part of history I am most deeply involved in – and truly fond of – is Antiquity. In that period the Ancient Rome – both Republican and Imperial one – are of the grates interest to me.
So once I read and learned about past events, understanding underlying motives, drivers but also limitations – it is really exciting to try to re-enact them using a wargame. Of course, the hindsight and the known result has some effect on your tactics and strategies but it is still cool to so “what if” possibilities.
Today I would like to discuss some of my favorite boardgames featuring Ancient Rome – you will some my top 3, but also some runner-ups. I hope you will forgive me – this is my favorite part of history, so I have tons of games connected to the topic!
Other articles in the series:
If you read my blog you know what I like and what my TOP #1 played game is. Of course, this is Commands & Colors Ancients. Still, not to repeat myself and narrow down the choice, I would like to focus on one specific expansion to that game – featuring some of the most critical battles of the Roman history – Expansion Pack #3 – The Roman Civil Wars.
So what do we get in this box? In this third expansion we will find historical battles that focus on Rome civil wars, including:
- the initial Roman Civil Wars – so Gaius Marius vs. Lucius Cornelius Sulla, including Sertorian Wars (82-75 BC) – 5 scenarios
- the most known and famous Roman Civil War – Julius Caesar vs. Gnaeus Pompey (49-45 BC) – a mind-blowing 11 scenarios campaign!
- some additional battles, mainly pertaining to the Roman conquest of Britain (Bibracte 58 BC, Plain of Alsace 58 BC, Gergovia 52 BC)
Indeed, you will find a lot of action-packed battles, with best units of those times facing each other as enemies. Of course, everything deeply immersed into the Commands & Colors system, with cards driving the moves as well as fog of war and dice quickly resolving the battles.
What I would like to stress and draw your attention to, is that in this expansion you will get the largest, most bloody battles of the whole game. In none of the other installments you will find so many Heavy Infantry units on both sides with special rule of elite Julian Legion. This is like the clash of titans, with two heavy-weight contenders fighting for victory. Highly recommended!
More about game:
I know, that could be a surprise – first, a solitaire game. Secondly, from the period of Roman history not so well known. Thirdly – from one of the smaller publishers, who before this title was not so know for Ancient Rome products (well, later on they definitely developed with such small jewels like Wars of Marius Aurelius, Stilicho, Aurelian). Still, a fascinating game for me.
For all those who do not know this product, couple of words of introduction. The game takes us to first century AD, to ancient Rome ruled by Flavian dynasty – Vespasian and Titus. The empire is at peace with exception of one, distant province resistant to the will of their Roman masters – Brittania. Our role will be to change that situation and make sure Pax Romana is spread and accepted to the farthest corners of the empire.
Agricola, Master of Britain is a solitaire game – both of political and economical governance as well as combat and conquest. You really need not only a blunt force but great deal of diplomacy, bribery and cunning – choose your actions wisely. And be aware – each of your actions (literally) will cause tribes reaction.
To add to this, the game uses chit-pull mechanics with three cups (Friendly, Unfriendly, and Hostile) representing the allegiances of the units contained within those cups. I love this! After each of your actions you draw from one of the cups and resolve the tribes reaction. It can be painful, as Britons can ambush you, destroy your settlements or garrisons. If you are lucky, and there is no Roman nearby, they can also turn against each other!
What Agricola achieved historically was a true masterpiece – it was so exceptional that it draw “too much” attention and he was recalled by emperor Domitian before fully finishing the job. The game sets a very hard challenge in front of us to repeat successes of the great general – you need to keep momentum by gaining defined amount of Victory points each turn while not losing any battle to have any chances for victory.
So yes, this is definitely one of my top three in the category of Rome games – about interesting conflict, nicely designed, neatly produced and pretty re-playable. Highly recommended!
More about game:
Columbia Games published one of the best and time-resistant titles about the Rome ever created – Julius Caesar. It has one map, one scenario, one set-up. Still, it is such an engrossing and interesting title, with each game going into completely different direction.
Couple of more words about that product should you not know it. Julius Caesar is a game driven by cards, but much fewer types than for example in C&C Ancients. The map shows whole Mediterranean area and the historical topic is very attractive – Civil War between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. As you can see, this is another fantastic depiction of that conflict in my top 3 list.
There are really interesting battle mechanics here: we have faster units – like leaders and archers (designed A or B) and much slower but usually more powerful – like legions or navy (C and D). That actually drives the order in battle which is also influenced by the fact who is attacker and who defender – with latter inflicting hits first in each A-D group.
What is more, there is a huge dose of hidden information – Julius Caesar brings to players a very high uncertainty in the battle – do not confuse with randomness. With the strength of units concealed till the last moment before clash, one can be really surprised by what the opponent prepared for you.
Julius Caesar also force the players to think more strategically but on the other hand has enough easy rules for everybody to quickly grasp them and enjoy the game almost immediately. Last but not least, this is very interesting game from historical point of view – it really nicely depicts location and disposition of both Caesar and Pompey forces, their strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you will get most of what you are getting! Highly recommended!
More about game:
As hinted at the beginning of article, I cannot restrain myself from mentioning couple of other titles which gave me hours of fun with Ancient Rome as main theme. Few words about each of them.
SPQR by Mark Herman – this one of the finest installments in the Great Battles of History series depicting battles of the ancient Roman Republic. It allows you to re-play variety of engagements, and the latest Deluxe Edition covers all the expansions. You will face here Carthage, Pyrrhus, Barbarians and many, many more. One of the finest and most detailed tactical system of the ancient warfare.
Falling Sky by Volko Ruhnke – A great COIN series title, about a great gambit – or actually, the last stage of it – so Caesar plans to conquer the Gaul and earn ever-lasting glory (plus political security 🙂 ) It depicts final chapters of that process – the most volatile period, as this is the time of the Great Revolt. Who will outsmart others? Who will betray Allies in the best moment and turn against them? And who will be smart enough to keep their friends close but enemies even closer? These are the question which The Falling Sky – Gallic Revolt answers very well!
Time of Crisis by Wray Ferrell – Third century AD was not the happiest era for the Roman Empire. Actually, it was almost end of its might. Torn by internal squabbles as well as external barbarian invasions it was at the verge of collapse. In this game we take role of one of the Roman dynasties building – via influence cards – its power in military, political and public approval areas. The game uses well-established deck-building mechanics, as well as a hand management. It covers all important elements of the epoch: Praetorian Guard, civil wars, barbarian invasions, angry mobs, rival emperors, pretenders, etc. Really fun light wargame if you need respite from more heavy titles!
I am really glad that there is such a variety of wargames pertaining my favorite subject – antiquity, with special focus on Rome. Ability to reenact those distant events, to feel the thrill of strategic or operational choices is a great joy for me. I hope above short list will be kind of inspiration for you guys where to look for good titles. Enjoy!