28 May 2019

First Impressions - The Fall of Rome

Off work today looking after the kids as it's half term. It's been a pretty grim day, with lots of rain. They did get a good runabout earlier but once they started to get fractious I decided that it was boardgame time and dug out Pandemic: Fall of Rome. It's not one that we've played before, but they do like the Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert games which use some of the same underpinning mechanics.

The lads who saved Rome

Set up didn't take too long, but it was a little challenging due to all the questions. We quickly got underway. Each person takes the role of a character. I was a Consul, Nathan the head of the Navy and Aidan the Army. We were quite lucky with the draws there.

Rather than a disease pool (as in Pandemic), you have five tribes of barbarians who are trying to expand into the empire. Each turn you can take four actions. These include the normal movement options you'd expect in this kind of game, but you can also create up to five forts (which allow you to defend key cities efficiently) and recruit legions amongst others.

Once you've acted, you draw two cards from the player deck. These will either be events (can be played at any time), cities or the dreaded revolt card. You collect sets of city cards to trade in as an alliance with a tribe to make them non-hostile. It doesn't stop them entering the Roman territory or even causing a city to be sacked, but it does mean that you can recruit them into your legions. The revolt card causes a card to be drawn from the bottom of the barbarian deck and three cubes representing that tribe are placed at that location. This can trigger a sacking event if the players are unlucky. The played cards are reshuffled and placed back on top of the deck in time-honoured Pandemic fashion. The invasion rate tracker is raised a level. This starts to reduce the level you can recruit legions at and also increases the number of cards drawn in the invasion phase.

Then it's time to draw from the barbarian deck for the invasion phase. You draw a card with a route, tribe and city. This determines where the extra cube that represents tribes moving into the empire will be placed. It is always placed closest to the source/entry point of the tribe concerned, so a continuous chain is established through the empire. Should a fourth cube be placed, then the city is sacked and instead, cubes representing the tribe are placed in all adjacent cities, which can cause further sackings. This can be pretty nasty. Each city stacked increases the decline track and Rome gets closer to falling. You start at two cards drawn and it jumps as the invasion tracker is incremented.

Combat occurs either in a battle action (where the player rolls up to three special D6 depending on how many legions are present). This can reduce legions, barbarians, both or trigger a special action. Combat also occurs in the invasion stage of the turn. Legions in cities that have no fort are ambushed and destroyed by the barbarians, the only upside is that the barbarians don't survive to settle. If a city has a fort, a legion is removed to destroy the invader.

You win by having treaties with all the tribes, or having treaties with some of the tribes and driving the others from the map. You can lose in multiple ways; running out of cards in the player deck; having the decline track hit the end; having Roma sacked.

All in all, the game definitely has a feel for its subject and plays well. The legion mechanic is different and we were pretty nervous at the end as we tried to get the last two cards to seal a treaty with the Ostrogoths before the player deck ran out. They were too spread out to make a military solution viable in the time we had left. Fortune favoured us and we prevailed. Along the way, having treaties in place so we could recruit in large numbers of barbarians also helped to keep us in play.

The kids enjoyed the game; however, I don't think I'll be buying any more with this engine as we have the two Forbidden games, the original Pandemic and the Cthulhu version. That's not to denigrate the game, just to say that we have enough.

28 May 2019

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