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New Games In Old Rome

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Doug Adams writes:

New Games image

Designer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Piatnik
Players: variable
Playing Time: variable

New Games in Old Rome (NGIOR) is wonderful compendium of games from Reiner Knizia. In the box are fourteen (yes, fourteen!) games themed on ancient Rome. The games are themed to cover, albeit in a highly abstract fashion, the rise of Rome, the Roman Republic and finally, the Empire.

The game box is large, but not uncommonly so. Inside there are various basic components that are utilized in various ways to make up the fourteen games. They include:

  • Four double sided game boards, about 10 by 14 inches, that are used for about 10 of the games.
  • Five sets of sturdy wooden markers.
  • A smaller set of wooden pawns.
  • A large assortment of money chips.
  • A deck of playing cards divided into five coloured suits.
  • A rulebook of some heft!

The initial reaction on opening the box for the first time is one of disappointment. It's all rather bland, compared to the delights of other European games. It doesn't have that indefinable "play me" look, which is a shame as there are some fine games here.

A mention of the rulebook should be made. Reaching Moon Megacorp published a fully bound English rulebook for this compendium, that is 125 pages long! It is an outstanding addition to the set, as every game is lavishly covered with easy to understand instructions, lots amounts of diagrams, along with strategy notes and variants. I am not sure how many of these superb books were printed, but if you are considering purchasing this game, make every effort to find this rules set.

On to the games themselves. What follows is a quick capsule review of the games I've tried. As I play more in the set, I'll add them to this review.

The Wheel of History: 2-5 players

This is an early version of what was to become Tutanchamun. 25 cards are laid out in a large circle, representing the tribes to be united under early Rome. Players may advance a pawn one, two or three spaces forwards and collect a card. Cards are scored on face value, but there are some quirks that vary this. Interesting game, but Tutanchamun is much better. However, you get 13 other games with this set!

The Seven Hills of Rome: 2 players

This is one of the easier games in the compendium. The theme here is you are battling your opponent for control of the seven hills of Rome. The hills are represented by seven cards, numbered 1 to 7, laid out between the players. Cards are played from a hand against the 'hills' in an attempt to influence them to your side. You sum the hills you control at the end of the game, and the highest total wins. This game is very similar to the recent Kosmos release, Caesar & Cleopatra.

Mercator: 3-7 players

This game is Medici's ancestor. It is a simplified version of Medici, with the chief differences being you can hold six cards on your ship, and you are competing for highest value totals only. The number of each suit taken is meaningless, except in a variant where you get paid a bonus if you get one of each. The game lasts only one round. Medici is worth purchasing on its own, but this is still worth a look.

Imperium: 3-5 players

This is a very interesting game, quite subtle. The aim is to earn points for control of each of the 9 areas on the board. The game lasts 9 turns, and at the end of each turn, the area matching the turn number is evaluated for control and points are awarded. On your turn, 3 cards are revealed simultaneously. These cards are numbered 1 to 9, with 2 additional banner cards. The numbers correspond to the areas you want to place control markers into. The banner cards indicate you want one or two extra chips placed in the indicated area. After control markers are placed, the current turn's area is evaluated - points being awarded to the winner and perhaps the second and third places as well. After 9 turns, the player with the most points wins. As you progress, the points awarded for each area increases, giving a nice feeling of acceleration. Do you try to amass cheap points early, or plan long term and place markers in the high scoring areas, knowing your time will come. You could almost call this game "El Grande in 10 minutes"! Not as easy as it looks and well worth playing.

Senator: 2-3 players

This is a great game - so simple. You play a Roman faction trying to position your people (a hand of cards) into the senate. They can only get their via the senate steps. The board is a grid of 5x5 spaces, The 9 spaces in the center are the senate, while 12 of the remaining 16 are the steps spaces that run around the perimeter of the senate. Cards are placed initially on the steps, and then pushed into the senate by placing more cards on the steps (a bit like Amazing Labyrinth, if you've seen it). This pushing action moves the entire row or column along one space, perhaps pushing a Senator out the far side onto the steps again. Once a row or column becomes full, steps included, then it's 'locked' from further pushing. A recommended variant is to play with the Caesar card - Caesar doubles the value of any Senate cards in his row or column. This is a fine two player game.

Circus Maximus: 3-5 players

I really like this one! A simple chariot racing game where players are competing to be the first to get their team of three chariots around the hex map circuit and onto the podium. Each player has a set of cards face up in front of them, numbered 1 to 5. To move a chariot they select up to three cards per chariot which that is the movement allowance for that piece. The movement off each card must be in a straight line, so some rather clumsy corning ability is built into the game. Cards used by a chariot are turned face down, becoming unavailable for the other chariots still to move. Each chariot must be moved at least once per turn, if possible. Therefore, the trick is to maximise your movement with your 15 points each turn. This is a great game, very nasty with blocking tactics abound!

Consul: 2-4 players

This is an intriguing memory game, that, like most of the games in this compendium, have a hard time being fitted into a theme! Twenty five cards are turned face down in a grid. Players start the game each holding three cards in their hand. On their turn, players make a bid to take a turn. The highest bid gets to turn up cards until they choose to finish, or make a mistake. Cards in a set can be of the same value, or same colour, or both. The value of the set must equal of exceed the bid made, simply by summing the face values of the cards. If a mistake is made, the cards are turned face down, and the player must discard a card from their hand into the grid. If the bid is made, the cards are taken into the players hand. At the end of the game, the highest total held wins. It's a very intriguing game, well worth playing. However, quite how they can call it "Consul", which was a Roman military rank elected by the Senate, is beyond me!

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