Review: Glory to Rome

(Disclaimer: This game was part of review package I received from Cambridge Games Factory)

I really looked forward to cracking open Glory to Rome, a card game from Cambridge Games Factory (CGF). CGF touts Glory to Rome as a their first “Gamer’s Game” offering for 2-5 players. The game is a significant step up in complexity from their more family oriented games I’ve reviewed (Sneeze and Ice Pirates). Some might compare Glory to Rome with San Juan but I find the comparison somewhat of a stretch. There are hints of some San Juan characteristics in the game but overall, the game plays and feels significantly different.

The game is composed of 180 playing cards: 144 Orders (40 unique cards in 6 suits – Purple/Patron/Marble, Blue/Merchant/Stone, Red/Legionary/Brick, Gray/Architect/Concrete, Brown/Craftsman/Wood, Yellow/Laborer/Rubble), 30 Sites, 5 Jacks, and 1 Leader; 5 oversized Camp cards; 1 oversized Rome Demands card; and 6 plastic Merchant Bonus chips; a rule book; and another book detailing the special powers granted by each type of building. CGF has continued their “Boardgames in a Bag” packaging using a zip-lock style bag. I found the card-sleeves difficult to reuse and the bag too small to repack the game. I’ve abandoned the zip-lock bag and now use custom tuck-boxes.

The theme of the game calls for you to enlist the help of several types of Clients (Patron, Merchant, Legionary, Architect, Craftsman, and Laborer) in rebuilding the Structures of Rome using 6 different types of materials (Marble, Stone, Brick, Concrete, Wood, and Rubble). These 6 types of clients serve different roles in the game and grant you certain abilities when you invoke/execute their specialty. The goal of the game is to amass the most Victory Points (VPs) collected in several ways: completing the construction of Structures, banking cards in your Vault, building specific structures, and having the most of certain kinds of cards in your Vault granting you Bonus Merchant chips. The game ends immediately when any one of the ending conditions is met: when the draw pile is exhausted, when all Site cards have been claimed, and somewhat oddly when certain Structures are completed (more on that later).

The Order cards serve different purposes in the game depending on context. The left edge of the card states the name of the Client the card represents and thankfully the number of suits matches the number of Client types and their assignment is always consistent (e.g. Yellow is always the Laborer, Purple is always the Patron). The bottom edge of the card depicts the number of VPs the Structure is worth as well as what type of material is required to complete it.

Each player receives an oversized Camp card that sets in front of the player. The Camp card is segmented into 4 areas: the running total of VPs, the Clientele (the Clients that have been enlisted to help), the Vault (an area to bank VPs), and the Stockpile (the area where materials are stored before using them to advance a Structure towards completion).

Play progresses quickly with each turn divided into two distinct phases. The starting player leads one of 6 types of Clients and players may follow that lead by playing a matching Client card from their hand. If a player wishes not to follow, they may draw cards from the draw pile. The second phase of the turn involves executing the specialty of the lead Client. Each player who followed the lead or already has that Client in their Clientele is allowed to execute the role of the Client. The Clients allow players to pull cards from a common pool in the middle of the table, begin construction of new Structures, move cards from their hand onto Structures under construction, move cards from one area of their Camp to another area, etc. In most cases it requires finesse, multiple turns, and/or a healthy does of luck to migrate useful cards from one location to another location where they can be of benefit. Since each card serves different purposes, players have several options as to how to use the card depending on where the card ends up in their hand or in their Camp.

Each Structure possesses a Special Power (stated on the card) that can be invoked after the Structure is complete. The Special Powers vary wildly from those that can be used only once, those that keep paying off on every turn, and those that only count towards VPs at the end of the game. The sheer number of different Structures available make it difficult to 1) remember what the Structure allows you to do, and 2) incorporate a specific Structure into your strategy.

I like Glory To Rome but I find the play very chaotic. Planning ahead to make the best use of your Vault and your Clientele does require strategy but overall play is highly tactical. As the game progresses the Special Powers of the completed Structures begin to turn the straightforward mechanics into a chaotic check of what powers block others, what powers should be invoked when, and constant monitoring that you didn’t forget something that could have helped you. Things can get bizarre when the Prison Structure has been completed since this allows a player to steal another player’s completed Structure. The stolen Structure may leave a player’s area in an invalid state (since it may have required the Special Power of the Structure to exist in the first place). The rules allow the invalid state to remain but I get uneasy if I must rely on memory rather than visible game elements to validate my position.

I found the game’s ending conditions somewhat troublesome. Ending the game when the deck runs out or when the last Site card is claimed is something that can be planned for. The other ending conditions either cause a game to last an indeterminate amount of time or can be used as a King Maker (when a player ends the game in such a way that decides another player will be the winner). The fiddly Camp card runs counter to my desire to keep my play area clean and orderly. On more than one occasion my sleeve scraped through my Camp destroying any semblance of order. I cannot think of a better mechanism to keep track of your cards so I really can’t complain too much.

I do like Glory to Rome and I really feel there is a good game in there. The core of the game is sound and I enjoy the tactical play but I found the number of different Structure types difficult to remember. The artwork is inconsistent showing cartoony images for most of the cards but more realistic, CGI-style renderings on other cards. I think the game could benefit from a less cartoony feel given the target audience. The outcome of the game is primarily luck-based since it’s difficult to plan which Structures to build. The end game is very chaotic when the Special Powers turn an otherwise clean game into a a rush for banking VPs and/or a rush to end the game by claiming the last Site card.

If you’re looking for a highly tactical card game with more depth than most but still on the lighter end of the scale, then give Glory to Rome a shot. Most gamers will be able to pick up the rules without issue. I have played with my 9 year old ‘gamer’ but the number of Special Powers in play by the end of the game was difficult for him to grasp. Playing without Special Powers may be an option when playing with younger gamers.

(jotting down some notes)

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