Pax Romana – Boardgame Review
GMT’s latest entry into conflict in the ancient world is another of Richard Berg’s designs with a unique vision, the struggle between empires in the Mediterranean from 300 B.C. to 50 B.C. in 25 year turns!
Released earlier this year, and priced at $59.00 the game is somewhat like Berg’s Rise of the Roman Republic, but on a much broader scale. PR uses a point to point movement system and a deck of 55 cards for major occurrences, events and combat alterations.
Scenarios range from two player confrontations such as Pyrrhus vs. the Roman Republic which may last a couple of hours to the full conflict of the ancient world for 4 players as Rome, Carthage, Greece, and the East. The game also has two versions; the standard game which might be completed in an evening and the more detailed Advanced game which would take considerably longer in terms of time. The standard game uses an event table for each scenario, the Advanced game uses the 55 card deck which provides for a widely varied scope of events, such as minor powers, traitors, bounteous harvest, slave revolt, and many others. Some scenarios can be played with either version, other scenarios use only one version.
As with all GMT products, the components are of the highest quality; the game includes four counter sheets with 840 ½” counters, and 176 5/8” counters. The single mapsheet is the latest GMT production version, high gloss heavy paper covering an area from Britain and Spain in the west to Egypt and Asia Minor in the east. The map is subdivided into large color coded territories, such as Spain, Italy, Greece etc. It is further subdivided into provinces within territories, and spaces within each province. The game uses a point to point movement system, the province of Italia for example contains nine spaces; land, port, and a capital space. Other spaces on the board are tribal, mountain, alpine pass, and transit spaces. Each space is named and clearly marked; the benefit of the point to point movement system is to remove ambiguity about terrain. Land spaces may be controlled by a power, land and naval transit spaces are just that. The map is printed in vibrant colors on heavy paper, the only drawback being that continued use will show wear quickly. GMT has released more durable maps for prior games which demonstrate wide spread appeal and PR will clearly fall in that group.
The counters are GMT’s standard high professional design and quality. Double-sided counters represent legions, heavy and light infantry, barbarians, cavalry, elephants, mercenary, militia, garrisons, and galleys. Each of the four major powers displays a unique warrior image for units such as legions, cavalry, light infantry, etc. Also represented are units for minor powers such as Egypt, Pergamum, Syracuse, and a host of varied barbarians, tribes, mercenaries, and the Soldier of Fortune forces. Land units represent about 4,000-7,000 men and naval units about 25 galleys. Each power has a leader pool, each generic leader represented by the appropriate military helmet. Leaders are unnamed – after all, the turns are 25 years – but it is clear that the Carthaginian 4-6 leader is Hannibal and so on. In addition the counters include control markers, army and fleet markers, cities, towns and most importantly, money.
Rule Book, Charts and Player Aids
The rules are well presented and phrased with aptly placed examples of play systems. The 40 pages cover both the standard and advanced formats of the game. The playbook runs an additional 32 pages of seven scenario descriptions, an in-depth extended example of play, advice and development notes, and comments. The first six pages are quick start rules for those wishing to just jump into the basic game to gain a “quick” understanding of movement, combat, etc. Charts and play aids consist of two large, tri-fold 11”x17” player aid cards and one battle odds shift table with percentage loss on the back. The advanced game uses a deck of 55 cards to create events such as slave revolt (can you spell Spartacus), pirates, barbarian invasion, alliances with minor powers, famine, disease, and about 30 other different possibilities both tactical and strategic.
It has become common for games to have “living rules,” and PR is no exception, with over 50 different additions, modifications and/or clarifications issued in June 2006 via the GMT website. For Pax Romana, the changes are critical; the most significant change is the victory conditions as written in the original rules are replaced by two pages of new rules which also explain the objective opportunity markers contained in the counter mix. The game cannot really be played without a copy of the “living rules”!
General Course of Play
Pax Romana, as most games, follows a standard sequence of phases; some performed by all players, others only by the individual player. Each turn begins with an income phase followed by a maintenance phase. Income is generated by control of provinces, territories, towns and cities, and paid to maintain fleets and armies. The major power may not receive the income if no line of communication is available to the home country – in effect an isolated region or town will not be of economic value. Also, during this phase, a power with legions or heavy infantry exceeding the nation’s civilization level results in loss of stability. This in turn renders the power more susceptible to unpleasant events, the worst of which is civil war. Money, therefore, plays a critical role in Pax Romana, without it a power cannot raise or support units or even undertake operations and a player is wise to maintain a treasury for the future.
Also performed simultaneously are the removal phase, leader selection phase, and manpower phase. Each power removes current leaders, militia units, and mercenaries. The Soldier of Fortune army and forces (Pyrrhus as an example), and any barbarian leaders and units are also removed. Then each power randomly draws leaders for the game turn from their pool, which are not the same for each power. The leader pool contains only 10 leaders for each power, of which 2 are elite for Rome and Greece and 1 for Carthage and the East. The same elite leader cannot be used for two turns consecutively; that would be 50 years of leadership in game terms! As an example the Carthaginian 4-6 elite leader (Hannibal) can be used in one turn, not the next turn, but may return, if drawn, the turn after (Son of Hannibal or another great leader). As the elite leaders are so superior in combat and movement, their appearance on the board will generally signal a major campaign by the owning power, as they cannot be reused the following turn; go now or never; assuming you have the money to make use of them. The last of these phases is simultaneous, but each power secretly chooses whether to raise and where to place any new units; note this comes after you determine your leadership for the turn (again 25 year turns). In the complete scenarios, players may also purchase opportunity objective markers which can be worth additional victory points. These must be paid for in money and are drawn randomly and results are also secret. These include such items as controlling a geographic objective, being the richest power, or controling an independent territory.
Other than income and maintenance, the most important part of the game is the activation phase, where each power may move their forces, build towns and cities, have battles or sieges, and deal with unforeseen events. At the beginning of the activation phase, each power may play one activation marker (AM) starting with the player with the fewest victory points. For the advanced game each power then places three activation markers in a cup while the standard game uses activation markers to suit the scenario and length. Also in the standard game, event markers are placed in the cup and when drawn the event table is consulted.
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