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.

Guest Review : Caylus

Caylus Box CoverIn Caylus, you and your opponents play the roles of builders who are tasked with building a village and castle for King Philip the Fair in the year 1289. Caylus is a fairly heavy strategy game that revolves around a worker-placement mechanic. Resource-management is also a very important part of the game. Not a game for beginners to European-style board gaming – there is virtually no luck involved, accommodates 2-5 players, and games often run between 1.5 and 2.5 hours.

Appearance: This is a tricky subject, because there are actually two main versions of this game. In the original (blue box) version of the game, the board/tile art is merely average, and the coins are cardboard tokens. In the limited edition (black box) version of the game, the art is spectacular, the colours are beautiful – albeit dark – and the metal coins are a pleasure to handle. The limited edition also comes with nice cloth/felt bags for the wooden player tokens, building tiles and resources, and coins.

Rules/Ease of Learning: As I mentioned in the introduction, Caylus is not a game for beginners. There is a lot to keep track of in this game, and it can be frustrating for new players to fall behind in the early game and stay there for two hours. That being said, the rules are not terribly complex – there are just a lot of them.

The game is played over a number of rounds (averaging around 15), with seven phases per round. Players receive income to fund their worker placements in the following phase. Workers are placed along a winding track, populated with six squares that are printed on the board, six pink tiles that are randomly distributed, and a number of blank squares that are filled when the players purchase building tiles.

Each square has an action associated with it – some produce resources (wood, stone, food, cloth, gold) or money, some change turn order, some allow you to build new tiles to place along the track. Each round, players may pay to move a ‘provost’ marker that may prevent some tiles from activating at all. Players may also acquire royal favours that allow them to advance along one of four reward tracks (victory points, money, resources, or building).

Additionally, players may place workers alongside King Philip’s castle, in order to contribute to the construction of the castle dungeon, walls, and towers. Victory points are primarily scored for purchasing building tiles and building sections of the castle. The game ends when the ‘bailiff’ marker (a companion to the ‘provost’) reaches a particular square near the end of the building track.

Gameplay: Though the rules are rather complex, it is the strategy and resource juggling that makes Caylus so difficult. Deciding when you should purchase a new building, when you should build castle pieces, and when you should just take a turn to replenish your resources and money can be a headache. You may sometimes have to decide between placing a worker on a tile that benefits you and placing a worker on a tile just to prevent an opponent from reaping its benefits.

Like some other moderate- to advanced-complexity worker-placement games (Dungeon Lords, Egizia), Caylus can be quite frustrating when you make a mistake. Building tiles execute in order, and it is possibly – even likely – that you will forget that at least once in your first few games, resulting in you wasting a worker because you don’t yet have the cloth you need to joust, or the food you need to build a castle piece. However, since the game is played over more than a dozen rounds, making a mistake like this isn’t quite as devastating as in some other games.

One thing worth mentioning is that individual players’ turns are relatively short in Caylus. Since there is a worker placement phase every round, and each player may potentially place up to six workers, this is important. In my personal experience – even when playing with players who usually take a long time analyzing their moves – the phases move relatively quickly, and players will rarely find themselves waiting a significant time before it is their move once more.

It will certainly take a few games to get the hang of Caylus, but it’s well worth the effort. Gamers who have played several resource-management or worker-placement games should be able to figure things out with a minimal amount of difficulty. With no dice or cards, the only random element in Caylus is the initial six pink tiles – and the order of those tiles does modify the gameplay a fair amount.

Conclusion: Caylus is certainly one of my personal favourites. The almost nonexistent luck element and the moderate degree of competition (as players vie for turn order and choice worker placements) combine to make a game that is quite fun overall. The game works best with four players, though it plays fairly well with three or five as well. If you’re looking for a deep strategy game that will keep you and your friends busy for a few hours, Caylus is a good bet.

Guest Review : Dixit the Board Game

Dixit Box frontDixit is a wonderful family/party game for 3-6 players with light strategic elements, fast-paced, creative gameplay and beautiful artwork that will satisfy novice players and seasoned board game veterans of all ages. It is a game that primarily requires imagination and deduction, and maybe a little bit of telepathy. A great quick game for younger crowds or mixed age/experience groups; Dixit should only take 30-45 minutes to play.

Appearance: Dixit is absolutely gorgeous. The 84 cards that comprise the central mechanic of the game are beautifully-illustrated by artist Marie Cardouat, and are often fantastic, absurd, or downright strange. Words don’t really do the game art justice; see below for some pictures. The wooden bidding tokens handle easily, and the rabbit-shaped player tokens are a nice touch.

Setup of the game board for DIxitRules/Ease of Learning: The rules of Dixit are quite simple. Each player is dealt a hand of six cards. The active player begins by saying a word, reciting a quotation, singing a song, or even making a noise that somehow describes one of the cards. This is very open to interpretation – a player may physically describe some object in the picture, an emotion expressed by the picture, a memory they associate with the depicted events, etc. This is really only limited by the player’s imagination. Once the active player has vocalized the chosen card, each player must lay a card face-down on the table that they think best embodies the active player’s description. Often this requires some creative thinking on the part of the other players; it is rare that the word or phrase spoken by the active player will perfectly describe one of their cards as well.

The next phase of the game is bidding. The cards are shuffled and laid face-up on the table, and assigned numbers from left to right. Each player (excluding the active player) must secretly bid on the card they believe was laid by the active player. When all bids have been placed, the bidding tiles are turned face-up and scoring begins.

Scoring is the trickiest part of the rules. The active player only receives points if at least one player (but not all of them) chose the correct card. If all or none of the players chose the active player’s card, everybody but the active player scores points. This means that the active player must pick a word/phrase/etc. that is neither too specific nor too vague. Once the scoring is complete, the active player changes and a new round begins.

Dixit Score Track and Inside BoxGameplay: Though the rules are simple, the strategy is tricky enough that most new players will spend a few rounds of frustration as either nobody or everybody picks their card, denying them from scoring any points. Sometimes you are unlucky and nobody else has a card that even remotely matches the active player’s word or phrase, making it an easy choice for all. However, once players have played a few rounds, it becomes easier to find the right balance between obscurity and precision.

The gameplay in Dixit is also aided by an almost complete lack of language-dependence. Being composed almost entirely of pictures, Dixit can be played by people of varying linguistic ability – be they young children or people who speak English as a second language (though you may have to explain a word or two). I have played this game several times with people who have low to intermediate English skills, and it works very well. The flexibility of the verbal component of this game means it scales itself to the ability of the players. Clues might often be a single adjective, when playing with younger players or students. If playing with an older crowd, clues might be references to movies or song lyrics. If playing with close friends, clues could include inside jokes that might give certain players a somewhat-unfair advantage.

The above praise notwithstanding, the fantastic art and simple gameplay often steers veteran board gamers away from Dixit. It is easy to see Dixit as a game solely for families and young children, but one shouldn’t discount it entirely. Part of the amusement I derive from Dixit is trying to guess how other people think I think, and then trying to outthink them. The strategy involved is as complicated as you wish to make it.

The strategy and gameplay in Dixit depends partially on the number of players. The three player game is somewhat weak, although the rules change do change to accommodate the lower number of players, with each player (except the active player) choosing two cards instead of one. Nevertheless, the game is definitely much more enjoyable with five or six players. Because the game is played until the deck is depleted, increasing the number of players adds more depth and enjoyment to the game without appreciably increasing game length.

Dixit Card Close-UpBeing a game that relies on individual imagination, Dixit can vary wildly from group to group. Knowing one of your opponents very well often helps you make the leap of logic between the picture on the table and the word or phrase spoken by the active player. Players often have to put themselves in their opponent’s shoes to try to figure out how their minds work. Telepathy is an asset.

Conclusion: Overall, Dixit is one of the best party/family games that I’ve played in recent years. It combines imagination and creativity with deduction and mind-reading to create a game that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. People looking for a serious, strategically complex game should steer clear, but those who want a game they could play with their children, friends, parents, and grandparents all at the same time should certainly give Dixit a chance.