Guest Review : Glory to Rome

Glory to Rome - CoverIn Glory to Rome, you play the role of a Roman aristocrat overseeing the rebuilding of Rome after it is destroyed in the Great Fire. You will do so by directing the reconstruction, gaining influence by completing buildings – or by unscrupulously selling building materials on the side, like any successful businessman. You may notice a warning on the package that classifies Glory to Rome as a “seriously strategic card game.” This caveat is best taken seriously, as someone looking for a quick, light card game would be completely swamped by the complexity of this fairly unique game.

Glory to Rome is a seriously strategic game for 2-5 players that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to play, depending on the number of players and the distribution of cards.

Appearance: At first glance, Glory to Rome seems to be a silly card game with childish art and strange packaging. The game’s appearance is a subject of some debate in the board game community – some bemoan the art and colour palette, while others are willing to overlook it.  The card art is somewhat childish, using mostly primary colours and a cartoony drawing style. Possibly in response to the criticism of the art, the designer of Glory to Rome is releasing a “Black Box” edition that completely revamps the card design to make it more aesthetically-pleasing. This new edition will also replace the plastic clamshell packaging with a proper box.

However, one should not let the garish colours of the original Glory to Rome get in the way. The player board, while it is perhaps a bit too big, is very helpful as a reference card. The appearance of the cards themselves is well-designed in terms of mechanics and playability, which is what really matters. The cards are multi-purpose, which each card serving as a role, a building, and a resource. The cards will often be tucked under different sides of the board as they are played, revealing only the pertinent side.

Glory to Rome - Full game setupRules/Ease of Learning: The rules of Glory to Rome are not very complex in and of themselves. If you read each individual role card and read the building abilities, you’ll understand most of them pretty quickly. The card interactions – and trying to keep track of everything that you have done, are doing, and want to do – are another matter entirely. The rulebook contains instructions for a “Beginner’s Game” that excludes buildings from the game entirely, in case new players need a practice game to get the hang of the turn order.

The order of play is as follows. Players are dealt a hand of five cards which will serve as “role” cards for the initial phase of each round. The starting player chooses a role to play (or “lead”), which dictates what actions may be taken that round. Other players may play a matching role card or wild card to “follow” that action. Alternately, any player may “think” when required to lead or follow, which allows them to draw up to their hand limit, draw one card if they are already at their limit, or to take a wild card.

All gameplay in Glory to Rome stems from this first round, which is simply a modified role-selection mechanic. In a nutshell, you potentially have six roles to choose from which allow you to gather resources, begin the construction of new buildings or add materials to existing construction projects, attack your opponents to steal their cards, sell building materials for end-game points, or attract clients to work for you. One must be careful, though – wherever you lead, others may follow.

As the game progresses, players will require buildings, which do a wide variety of things that may modify the execution of roles. When you decide to start construction on a building, you play the card from your hand during an Architect or Craftsman role. However, there must also be an available building site. If there are no available on-site locations, you must use an off-site location (which costs two actions instead of one). Buildings also give you influence, which governs how many clients you can hire and how many pilfered goods you can hide in your vault.

This is where the real chaos and complexity of the game comes in. In addition to keeping track of your own buildings’ abilities, you must also keep an eye on the buildings your opponents have completed, as they may have a huge impact on the round. Noticing that playing a certain role might allow your opponent to gather every resource on the board or steal one of your clients might change your mind about playing that role.

The game ends when all of the on-site building sites have been used, or when the deck runs out. In either of those cases, the player with the most influence wins. There are also two cards that can trigger an early end to the game – one allows players to score as normal, while the other grants victory to the player who satisfies a certain condition.

Glory to Rome - Mid-game player board 2Gameplay: At the beginning of the game, things seem fairly simple. You play roles, get some small benefits, move on. Then you start to think about combinations of card powers and the order in which you’ll have to play your roles, and things get tricky. Then you mix in several other players who are all competing for the same resources and building sites while trying to steal cards from your hand, and things get chaotic.

I’ll be completely honest with you – your first few games of Glory to Rome will probably be frustrating. Mine certainly were. The game requires a level of multitasking and attention to detail that is rarely seen in most European-style board or card games, primarily due to the high level of player interaction. During your first few games, you probably won’t pay any attention to other players’ playing areas. Don’t worry about this. It’s absolutely normal. Assuming they are also beginners, they’ll be too busy with their own play areas to worry about what your buildings do. After a few games, you get a better idea of what the buildings do, which will make the game more complicated – because you’re always going to agonize over the added benefits your opponents receive when they follow your roles – and less surprising – because you won’t wonder why your opponents are suddenly drawing up to nine cards per turn, or why they stole your clients and turned them into resources.

I would strongly recommend that your Glory to Rome learning experience be a two-player game. The two-player game is much less complex than any other number, and allows players to really get to know the way the cards work. Once you have a handle on the mechanics and gameplay, try it with three or four players.

While I do appreciate a chaotic game, I personally feel that Glory to Rome is best played with three players, though I do recommend it as a two-player game as well, even for veteran players. Popular opinion, on the other hand, seems to point to four as the optimal number. Five is much too chaotic , even for my tastes.

Conclusion: All in all, Glory to Rome is an enjoyable and surprisingly strategic card game. If you enjoy heavily strategic card games such as Race for the Galaxy, you might enjoy Glory to Rome and its interesting take on a classic role-selection mechanic. As I said at the beginning of the review, though – don’t let the appearance fool you. Heed the warning on the cover. This is truly a “seriously strategic” card game.