Monday, 14 July 2008

Glory to Rome

Glory to Rome is from a small publisher, and is most compared to Race for the Galaxy. Some people prefer one over the other, but I guess in general Race for the Galaxy is better liked, judging from the Boardgamegeek ratings. Those who prefer Glory to Rome to Race for the Galaxy often quote player interaction as the main reason, and I can see why. Indeed the player interaction is more direct.

Glory to Rome is a little tricky to grasp at first. Without even considering the player interaction, different aspects of the game are very interrelated so you really need to be able to see the full picture for everything to click. The game is about reconstructing Rome, and to construct a building there are quite a few steps involved, and even different ways. Things that you have have many implications. Thankfully the player board, which is also a player aid, is quite good. But still, it takes a few round of playing to really get a feel of what's going on.

In Glory to Rome, a card can be three things - a building, a building material, or a patron. At first it is a little confusing to see the implications of your actions. Every turn, the active player choose to play a character card from his hand to make use of this character's ability, and the other players can decide to follow suit by also playing the same character from their hands. Note the difference from Puerto Rico, San Juan and Race for the Galaxy - you need to have that card in your hand in order to be able to choose the role or to follow. So you are restricted by what you have in your hand and cannot plan ahead so freely.

The victory points come from 3 main sources - the value of the buildings you construct, the materials that you stash away in your vault, and majority in these materials. Constructing a building requires 1 to 3 material cards, but stashing a material card into your vault only requires 1 material card, which makes stashing away materials seem a much more lucrative option. However, the buildings have special powers, and also there is a limit to how much you can stash in your vault, which can only be increased by constructing more buildings. So that balances things out a bit.

The common pool in the background, and the player mat in the foreground. You stick cards under the four sides of the player mat, and each sisde has its own meaning. Your influence at the top is increased by having constructed buildings. Your clientele (or your "team") on the left allows you to perform extra actions. Your vault on the right stores materials that you have stashed away. Your stockpile at the bottom are materials that can be used for construction or for vault-stashing.

A close-up of the player mat, showing the 6 roles in the game. I find this a pretty good reference card.

There are 6 roles in the game. Similar to Puerto Rico, San Juan and Race for the Galaxy, they each perform different roles. They all form part of the supply chain to construct buildings or to stash materials into your vault. A patron allows you to recruit people into your team, allowing you to do multiple actions when those specific roles are chosen for a round. Labourers and soldiers take materials from a common pool and from unhappy opponents to your personal stockpile. Architects and craftsmen construct buildings using materials from your stockpile or from your hand. Merchants stash materials into your vault.

One important concept is the common pool. When you recruit people into your team, you take them from the common pool. When labourers and soldiers take materials into your personal stockpile, they also take from the common pool. The common pool is basically all cards used and thus discarded by all players. All cards are spread out face-up, unlike conventional card games where discards are stacked neatly and only the topmost card can be taken. This is an important aspect of player interaction. When you choose to play a role, you are putting that card into the common pool. It is important to pay attention to this.

I have played two games of this, and now that I have grasped the basic concepts, I am starting to explore the possibilities and strategies with the building powers. I would like to play this more. Unfortunately this is Han's game, and he's moving to a different town for 1.5 years because of work. So it'll be a while before I will get to play this again.

Comparing Glory to Rome with Race for the Galaxy, I actually find that they feel rather different, despite the similarities and common elements that I can name. Race for the Galaxy is indeed a race. It is very quick. You decide on a strategy relatively early, and then the rest is just execution with some fine-tuning. Sometimes you change strategy halfway, but that's not common, at least from my own experience. Glory to Rome is slower, and you have time to plan and adjust and to change your plan. There is a lot of dependency on what is available in the pool at any one time, so you need to adjust your strategy accordingly. Your actions are also more restricted, so you need to adapt to what cards you get. Bad cards cannot be simply "used as money" like in Race for the Galaxy or San Juan. Some gamers do not like Race for the Galaxy because it can sometimes feel like the early card draws already determine the winner, and you can't really stop the runaway leader, because everyone is free to use any role (in San Juan you can't pick a role already picked by an opponent, in Glory to Rome you can't pick or follow a role if you don't have the card in your hand). I really do not mind that. You do sometimes need to guess the roles that your opponents will pick and make use of them, and I like the clean and efficient game design. I can easily play a few games of Race for the Galaxy back to back. Glory to Rome is so far so good. I've only played 2 games so I don't know whether I will like it more than Race for the Galaxy or not, which I have played more than 70 games of. I do know that I like Race for the Galaxy a lot. At the moment I can't really say whether one is better than the other. I find them quite different.


Frank said...

Hi Hiew

I'm still waiting for the reprint of RftG, so in the mean time I ordered Glory to Rome online (together with Pandemic and Stone Age), and should have it by the end of this week. I mostly play 2P games with my wife - do you think Michelle would like Glory to Rome?

- Frank

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Hi Frank,

If you wife likes San Juan, she will probably like Glory to Rome too. Glory to Rome is a bit more complex and takes some time to get used to though. The artwork looks amateurish, but don't let that deter you.