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Posted on Dec 15, 2007 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Catan Histories: Struggle for Rome Game Review

By Bill Bodden

Catan Histories: Struggle for Rome By Mayfair Games. Designed by Klaus Teuber

For three or four players, ages 10 and up. Playing time: approximately 90 minutes

MSRP: $49.00. Available now

Fans of Settlers of Catan have something new to keep them busy: Mayfair Games recently released the latest in the Catan family of games. Catan Histories: Struggle for Rome is a cross between Settlers of Catan and the Fall of Rome; this first volume in the Catan Histories series is elegant in adapting the sensibilities and conventions of Catan to another theater altogether.

The players represent bands of barbarians, seeking to gain the most wealth and influence by plundering the remains of the crumbling Empire. Players begin in the northeast corner of the board – roughly where the Czech Republic is today – and begin moving west and south, to Italia, Gallia and Hispania. Each player controls two bands of plundering hordes, one on horseback, the other on foot. While making such an artificial distinction seems awkward, it adds several dimensions to the game and contributes to solid play balance.

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Players collect resources from the board in the same way as in regular Settlers of Catan: at the start of each player’s turn, they roll two six-sided dice. The number that comes up is the number that pays off in resources if the players touch a hex bearing that number. So if a player has one of his barbarians next to a hex showing wheat and the number “10”, and a ten is rolled on the dice, the player with the horseman collects a wheat resource card. Resources are traded in to the bank in various combinations to build more horsemen and infantry, wagons – crucial in the end game for settling conquered cities – and development cards, which can provide short-term advantages in battle or commerce, or can provide victory points outright. The game is over at the end of a round where one or more players reach a total of ten victory points.

Movement is cleverly handled. Players can move along the lines and intersections between hexes as far as they want. They may cross one arrow marker for free; for every other arrow they cross, they must pay either one grain Development card or three gold coins. Traveling by sea is faster, so the cost is only one gold coin per additional arrow crossed by sea. Players end their move on a space at one of the points of a hex, and any hexes that piece touches count towards drawing Resource cards when the right number is rolled.

Players also try to plunder cities for the innate value of the goods to be had. Each region’s cities are color-coded, and there are bonus points to be had for plundering a city in each region; you are named “Scourge of Rome,” and earn two bonus victory points. Since each army that does so gains the honor, it’s possible for nearly all players to have two such “Scourge” cards – nearly because there aren’t enough for everyone in a four-player game! The cities have face-down tiles on them which, when revealed after a successful plunder attack, provide gold and development cards, and possibly manpower losses for the plundering horde. For settling a city in each region, you are named “Heir to Rome,” and also gain two victory points. Settling requires a player to leave behind a soldier and a cart as claim markers. There are only four “Heir to Rome” cards, so qualifying for these can make or break your chances of winning.

I found Catan Histories: Struggle for Rome to be a clever adaptation of an existing rule set. Play is smooth and relatively seamless, and the components are first-rate. The gold coins are gold-colored plastic coins, adding a nice touch when they could’ve made them out of cheaper cardboard. Each player has their own color of pieces — nicely cast plastic infantry, cavalry and carts in dark blue, pale red, white and mustard yellow. Only two armies of each color are on the board at one time; the horde’s location is marked by a single piece of the appropriate type. With the exception of pieces marking settled cities, the rest of the forces are to the side of the board in a special space, along with that tribe’s plunder markers, for maximum intimidation value. Each player also has a cheat sheet, detailing the resource costs for building various markers.

As a family game, Catan Histories: Struggle for Rome may be a bit too intense for non-wargamers or very young players, but veteran and even novice gamers will appreciate the subtleties of strategy in this delightful simulation. Struggle for Rome may not capture the essence of Roman warfare, but what it does do is provide an enjoyable evening’s entertainment with a competitive edge. Ave Caesar!

For more information on this or any of Mayfair games’ line of products, visit their website here.

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