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Review: Glory to Rome: Black Box Edition

4


I’m a sucker for card games. I like their (generally) compact nature as well as the simple variability and infusion of luck that are inherent in playing cards.

I was lured in by the attractive (and explosive) Glory to Rome: Black Box Kickstarter campaign. I hadn’t paid much attention to Glory to Rome before its Kickstarter campaign because of the ugly packaging, but when I investigated the Black Box, I knew it was a game I had to have. After many false starts in their postcampaign production, backer’s remorse set in. Now that I have the final product in hand (nine months after the projected delivery date), what is my verdict on this gamer’s card game? Read on!

How It Works

Glory to Rome is a role-selection card game for two to five players in which players are tasked with rebuilding Rome after Nero’s crazy conflagration. Each card has several potential uses in the game. It can be played as a role to lead or follow; as a structure to provide a bonus ability, influence, and victory points once built; as a material used to build a structure; or as a filched material sold on the black market (for victory points).

The camp card and rulebook have illustrated examples, easing the players into this deep game.

Each player receives an oversized camp card (which has marked areas for influence, clientele, stockpile, and vault) and begins the game with five cards. On a player’s turn, he may either lead or think. Leading means playing a role card, and it gives all other players a chance to follow (in turn order). Thinking is just drawing cards–up to hand refill size, one card, or a Jack, which acts as a wild when leading or following.

If a player leads a role on his turn, the other players have the option to follow or think. To follow, a player plays a matching role card from his hand. Once each player has thought or followed, the leading player takes his action first; the others, in turn order, take their actions.

That’s the basic flow of the game, but there are several areas where cards are placed that impact the flow of the game. First, a player’s clientele allows a player to perform extra actions of his clients’ roles whenever that role is led. A player’s stockpile holds building materials until they are used to fill structures or enter a player’s vault. The vault is where a player locks his stash of filched materials until the end of the game. The size of a player’s clientele and vault is limited by that player’s influence, and the only way to get more influence is to complete structures, which provide additional influence based on the value of the material used to build.

Cards serve multiple purposes and are color-coded.

In addition to these areas in each player’s camp, there is the pool, which is similar to a discard pile except that every card in the pool is available to every player. When players lead or follow, at the end of the turn, the role cards used go to the pool and are available on the next player’s turn. (Thus a key point of strategy revolves around guarding what is put into the pool.)

There is also a stack of site cards for each kind of building. When laying a foundation for a structure, there must be an available site card on which to build that structure. Once the structure is built, the site card is added to a player’s influence to increase that player’s clientele and vault size.

Now that you know the basic areas in the game, there are six roles in Glory to Rome, and each role involves moving cards from one area to another:

  • Laborer allows players to move cards from the pool to their stockpiles.
  • Craftsman and Architect allow players to lay foundations for structures and to fill them, from their hands and stockpiles, respectively.
  • Legionary allows players to take materials from their fellow players and the pool for their stockpiles.
  • Patron allows players to move cards from the pool to their clientele.
  • Merchant allows players to move cards from their stockpiles to their vaults.

The game ends when all of the in-town site cards are used up (one of each building material per player), or when a special card ends the game early. Players count up their influence, any bonus VPs (either from structures or from having the most of a material in their vaults), and the value of the contents of their vaults. The player with the most points wins.

An example of a camp card.

@FarmerLenny’s take:

I need to try to temper my remarks, or I will go off the deep end in praising this game. Here goes: This is hands-down the best game I’ve played recently, and it’s one of the best games I’ve played period. (How’s that for tempering?)

Okay, I’ll get back to the overwhelmingly positive after I discuss some negatives. As you can see from the pictures, I bought the Black Box edition of Glory to Rome. The reason is that the original edition has terrible art, and that has always turned me off to the game. (Considering how good the game is, though, I now think it’s worth enduring terrible art if you must.) More specifically, I kickstarted the Black Box edition, which, to put it mildly, was not a good experience. But since this is a review of the game and not of my experience procuring it, I’ll leave my displeasure at that.

There are, however, some negatives with the components of the Black Box edition. There is some bubbling on the box top as has been noted (and noted, and noted, and noted ad nauseum) on BGG. The Jack cards arrived chipped. My thoughts on this? If Kickstarter backers hadn’t had to wait through a seemingly endless string of delays, incompetence, and misinformation, they would be overwhelmingly pleased with the components.

My jacks came pre-chipped, but as the card is the same on both sides, this doesn’t affect gameplay.

In fact, I am. The cards for Glory to Rome are on, simply, the best cardstock I have ever seen in a hobby game. (The closest second is the cardstock used in Race for the Galaxy and Tournay.) The cards bend easily to shuffle and snap back into place. They’re a lot like the fancy $4 decks of cards you can buy in the grocery checkout lane. I’ll say this: I am an avid sleever (every card-centric game I own is sleeved, including Dominion and all its expansions), but I couldn’t bear to sleeve Glory to Rome. The cards are simply too magnificent.

In addition, the camps are on sturdy cards and are well laid out. They look fantastic and play well in practice. The flow of information on them was so helpful to me and others that it didn’t take us as long to pick up and play the game as it probably should have. Also, in the Black Box edition, the art is fantastic. Granted, it’s not as lighthearted as the original (and the game is, in many ways, lighthearted), but it’s a better indication of the strategic depth than the original art was. And the ribbon marker in the insert is a nice touch: it prevents the camps from getting dinged in their removal from the box.

Am I disappointed in the box bubbling? Not really. The chipped Jacks? This isn’t a playability issue, but it’s a little bit of a bummer. All in all, the components exceed expectations (even if they aren’t perfect), especially since the price point is not that much more than the earlier, uglier edition.

My camera isn’t great, but I tried to get a close-up of the beautiful and sleek linen finish. Seriously, these are the best hobby cards I’ve played with.

But enough about components: this game is out-of-this-world good. There are interesting choices on every turn, not only because each card has multiple potential uses, but also because each card can be a building, and each building in the game is situationally awesome. Remember that feeling you got when you played Dominion: Prosperity for the first time? The feeling that you were a high roller? The feeling that you had endless possibilities in front of you? Every game of Glory to Rome feels like that. This is not Agricola, wherein players have limited options and must choose the best of the bad. This is a wide-open game of choosing the best combo among many available overpowered combos.

Did someone say overpowered combos? “This game is broken!” But here’s the deal: each game I’ve played, I think one player has said, “That combo is too powerful.” And it’s a different combo every time. The truth is, there are so many cards that can work together in Glory to Rome that the combos are seemingly endless. One combo may be the dominant strategy in today’s game; another will rule the day tomorrow. When my coworkers and I were first learning the game, we would read each other the structure cards just to make sure we all knew which special abilities were on the table. After hearing each one, I would sigh and think, How am I going to top that? Of course, when I’d read my building abilities, the other players were thinking the same. Glory to Rome is an interesting case of gaming gestalt: the game is formed from disparate and seemingly imbalanced pieces, but when they are added together, they balance each other out.

This is what the table setup looks like.

One word on the abilities: I usually don’t mind allowing players the opportunity to undo moves as long as it doesn’t disrupt too much. However, in Glory to Rome, I instituted a you-snooze-you-lose rule early on, and this is almost a necessity for play. It can be taxing to remember to use each building ability, so most players slip up from time to time. That’s okay, but really, the game plays best when it moves quickly. For this reason, no time traveling. (Of course, the game’s complexity lends itself toward analysis paralysis. Plan accordingly.)

Glory to Rome is also very interactive. Because the game is a role-selection system that allows players to capitalize on what other players are doing, there is no sitting around. You can always follow if someone else leads a role. In fact, much of the game is knowing when to lead, when to follow, and when to think. There is also interaction in the pool. Players must consider what will be in the pool when their turn comes around (is it even worth it to follow when they’ll likely get the worst of what’s available?). They must also carefully consider what they use to lead or follow. It’s true that each card can be a building, but each card is also a material. Leading the merchant or patron role can be dangerous because the pool can quickly become flooded with extra stone and marble or merchant/patron clients. Of course, adding these cards to the pool right before your turn? That’s not so bad. Glory to Rome is definitely not multiplayer solitaire (a [just?] criticism leveled against Race for the Galaxy).

This is a nice insert. Even has a ribbon!

If you haven’t gotten this vibe yet in the review, I think Glory to Rome is outstanding. It’s a lot like some other games in the role-selection genre–San JuanRace for the Galaxy, and Eminent Domain come to mind–but in my opinion it’s more interactive and just plain better (albeit harder to teach) than the others. It offers interesting decisions, high player interaction, and deep strategy, all in a package that plays in under an hour. (With a full complement of inexperienced players, it might take a little over an hour.) And above all this, it is fun. It’s fun to find combos, to best your friends’ “unbeatable” ones, or even to marvel at the combos they discover. It’s a thinky game, but in my experience it doesn’t get bogged down in it (though it can take a while to familiarize yourself with all of the building powers). The Black Box package, while flawed, is nice, and it’s hard to beat the cardstock on the cards. Glory to Rome is a game that I’m always willing to play, and while I recognize that it’s not for everyone (there is a steep learning curve if you’ve not played similar games), it is destined to be one of my favorites. If you have access to the Black Box, I highly recommend getting it before it goes out of print. But even if you don’t have access to the Black Box, I recommend getting Glory to Rome. The game is worth the investment, no matter the art.

Want another opinion? Check out @BGJosh’s Glory to Rome review.

Summary

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Summary

Pros

  • Outstanding gameplay
  • Interesting decisions galore
  • Fun theme
  • Good graphic design and rulebook ease the learning curve

Cons:

  • Steep learning curve, especially if you've not played a similar game
  • Lots of "cards with words" (requires familiarizing yourself)
  • Can lend itself to analysis paralysis
10.0 Excellent

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Discussion4 Comments

  1. One thing I forgot to mention: the game includes two game modes, the original “Imperium” game and a newer “Republic” version. We’ve played Republic exclusively at this point as the rules recommend starting here. We’ve not grown tired of it (after 10+ games), so we haven’t moved on to the more cutthroat version. We also haven’t used the Kickstarter expansion yet, as I don’t like to expand a game until it gets stale as-is.

  2. I think the learning curve is steep to be good at the game. Actually learning to play isn’t too difficult. Every card has a LOT of uses, but all cards have these same uses and the graphic design is really great for teaching.

    I’m awful at this game, but I really enjoy it and agree with all of your points. In agree that it’s the best of its type.

    I won’t buy from Cambridge again as a result of the KS, BUT I will be an avid follower of Carl Chudyk.

  3. The first time I taught this game to a group of 5 (me included) it took me 30 minutes as some were slow to get the flow and the multiple use of the cards (which is dead easy really), then the game was over in 15 minutes, because someone built a catacombe! A bit disapointing but still a great game!

  4. Pingback: Meet the talented board game illustrator and graphic designer Ian O'Toole - GreenHookGames

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