Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Gauls Gone Wild: Thoughts on Sword of Rome

My brain is still sizzling from last night's journey through the annals of ancient Rome, but I would offer the following observations. First, a little introduction. Brian (Rome), Rob (Greece), Jon (Gaul), and I (Etruscans, Samnites) played GMT's card-driven wargame, Sword of Rome. This was all of our first time playing and, being a weeknight, we limited ourselves to the 6-turn short campaign scenario. What followed was a game where everyone desperately fought for the lead, with the yellow jersey changing hands many times throughout the game. A highlight mid-game was when the Romans appeared to be taking a dominant lead. All three other players teamed up and knocked Rome practically back to the stone age of last place. The sneaky Greeks, idling away in their peaceful resort of Sicily, having soundly beaten Carthage, waded ashore late in the game with some hired elephants and stomped their way to final victory.
  • While the political support mechanics are pretty fiddly, the game isn't as complex as I thought it would be after reading the rules. I think we had the game down pat by the end of our first play.
  • Combat is brutal! Unless you are desperate, you want a solid 2-1 or better advantage before going in to battle. Losing is disastrous, especially for the slow breeding Etruscans and Samnites! I became overly agressive early in the game, lost 2-3 critical battles along with most of my military and spent the last two thirds of the game focusing on diplomacy and backstabbing rather than good honest killing.
  • I do feel a bit bad for my part in orchestrating the three-way beat down of the Romans. I suppose it is historically accurate, though, since the Etruscans were the architects of a Latin alliance against the Rome.
  • I should have thrown a few more nasty cards towards the Greeks. I wanted to keep Rob off the Samnites back, but I think he might have tolerated just a little more poking.
  • Rob deserves his solid win. My last turn moves were a bit sub-optimal and my attrition roll cost me a VP, but even fixing these issues wouldn't have allowed me to catch Rob. I think the key is never to get too busy in Italy to forget what Greece is up to...
  • Brian played the Romans probably as good as they could have been played. He garrisoned all his cities perfectly; had his colonies popping up; and at his zenith was cranking out legions like a Dark Lord breeding orcs from the pit. Only three people ganging up on him kept him from running away with it.
  • The T-Gauls weren't as much of a factor as I would have hoped. This may have been due to Jon's excellent play of the Gauls, but they never did cause much of a distraction for him.

Okay, that's enough for now. We need to play again!


At 12:56 PM, August 22, 2006, Blogger Mark said...

What was the playing time for a complete game?

At 2:40 PM, August 22, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

We only played the shortened campaign game (i.e., 6 turns), but the game took us rougly 5 hours to play. I'd say the first two turns were much slower than the last four where we seemed to be speeding along quite well. I'm looking forward to playing the full campaign sometime.

At the end of six turns, everyone was very much still in the game. I suspect attention was about to turn southward, as the Greeks were pulling ahead and Carthage had pretty much been removed as a viable opposition for them. The play during our last turn was pretty wild as everyone dove for a few last victory points.

Having played the Etruscan/Samnite side, I can tell you it was very interesting and challenging. I alone had two minor forces geographically separated while everyone else just had a single army. This gave me more options, but also made me have two weaker armies to fight with. In addition, each of my army's reinforcement rates were pretty small, so the key was trying to find a way for the two forces to help each other. I finally figured out a little bit how to do this as I marched my Samnite force northward into Gallic territory on the last turn. Another key tool for the Etruscan/Samnite player is diplomacy. I think on the last turn I had an alliance with either the Etruscans or the Samnites (but not both) with every other player on the board.

At 4:25 PM, August 22, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

We had some rules wrong:
1) Support is gained rounded up (not down). That's clearly my fault, since I said it was rounded down (I misread a comment on Consimworld).
2) Minor leaders don't go to the displaced box and start available. I could have used them during my 1st turn instead of playing my desperate times (although I still may have). [For all I know the rest of you were playing this right.]
3) You get +1 per combat difference (I never saw anyone miscount this).

Now that I've played, I'd definitely play with both optional rules, one of which gives leaders the option of not taking to-win bonuses to reduce casualties, and the other that reduces home area advantage.

As for time, I think we may shave an hour off of six turns, but probably not more. A full game would probably be six hours.

I'm not sure I could have recovered if the game went on (although I may not have been hit as hard on the last turn). Rob got hit and came back, but he was only near Carthage (which didn't activate often). I had all the other players on my border, and got roughly equivalent reinforcements next turn.

I'll put a full review on my site, but I do look forward to playing again. The nice thing is that, at 2-4 players (5 with the expansion in a few months), we can organize for whoever shows.

At 5:03 PM, August 22, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Hey, that title was my idea!!

Ahem... just wanted to give credit to whom credit is due. My thoughts on the game later tonight.

At 5:50 PM, August 22, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

Oh, one other point. Apparently Rome has an outpost near the Gauls, which I could have spent support to PC the nearby areas on the late game when Jon and I were fighting.

At 6:22 PM, August 22, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

Yes, I think the title I thought up was "Gaul on Gaul action" which I thought was perhaps a little racey...

At 6:24 PM, August 22, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

oh...yeah.... tribe space in the north east.

At 6:25 PM, August 22, 2006, Blogger Rob said...


Now if we had played Bang! right after SoR....

At 12:52 AM, August 23, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

*music - cue T. Rex*

Bang a Gaul, get it on, get it on!

At 2:42 PM, August 23, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

Any interest in PBEM SoR through ACTS?

At 12:56 PM, August 24, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Well, it's been a while now, so just my two cents.

I think the coolest mechanic in the game, is the Political Control/Influence markers. Battles are battles no matter what wargame you play, but support markers add a lot of flavor to the game. They just recreate "the reactions" of the population towards one civ or the other.

1. A population with lots of influence will be harder to take over and subdue (hey, they love the previous civ). Plus it takes a while to "convince them" to follow you by building up the new civ's influence markers.

2. Betrayal! Alliances can be started and ended at any time in the game. If it's broken in middle of the action turn, you lose 3 influence markers from your cities (ie your population don't approve of your backstabbing ways).

Good game. I think I won because I fell behind from the get go after a few attacks from Ben, at which point everyone decided to ignore me. Then we focused all on Brian who expands super fast as the Romans. As we beat him down, I kept growing and growing and growing. Heck, I had ALL my combat units on the board at the end of the game. So when everyone realized this, it was too late. I scored big on the last two rounds enough to secure my victory.

At 3:52 PM, August 24, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

A good strategy seems to be to husband your precious troops for a late game onslaught, as long as your opponents are foolish enough to allow you enough peace to do this. Carthage wasn't as much of a thorn in your side as I would have hoped. We'll have to change this for whoever is the Greeks next time. I also think the upcoming 5th player expansion making Carthage a full player will further confound the Greeks.

At 4:30 PM, August 24, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

I've played a game or two via ACTS, but I'm not sure if SOR would work well. Lots of interrupts (interception, cards, desperate times). But I'm not likely to play anything via ACTS these days.

On the other hand, if we wanted to play again FTF (even this monday) I'm game

At 10:51 AM, August 26, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

BTW, thanks to Brian, we have direct feedback and commentary from the Sword of Rome designer on our game and each of our strategies posted on ConsimWorld. Very cool!


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