Type: Deck Management / Card Driven

Time to play: 120 – 150 minutes per game (Teaching: 15 – 20 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 4)

The empire is collapsing…those pesky barbarians keep raiding, and it seems that no-one in Rome can agree on who should be in charge! You lead one of the four major families and you have the opportunity to create a legacy – taking the seat of the empire (Rome) or breaking away. Time of Crisis is the apt name for this critical period of history and you will have to try and make the best of it.

This is a card driven game but where the players choose which cards from the deck will be drawn each round. At the end of your turn you choose the cards for your next turn. So you can ensure that you draw whatever you feel you need, but you can’t change those cards when it comes back around to your turn! This is tricky, because the game state can change a lot between turns and in unexpected ways. This mechanism therefore leaves you guessing and regretting!

This mechanism also presents you with the difficulty of running out the deck before redrawing the discard pile. Until you have played every card, you cannot play a card for a second time (or indeed play cards you bought). This is very tricky because it leaves that last turn where you have played everything except…. i.e. those cards that are left over have to be played. This can be a turn of only being able to do small actions, or perhaps not being able to attack after someone attacked you. These are key moments in the again.

The cards work in two ways – points and special events. Each card has a level 1-4 – these points can be used to do the normal actions of the game; military, senatorial and civic actions. The events, which are on level 2 or higher cards, also trigger when the cards are played. These include powerful bonuses to reroll attacks, steal mercenary units or even break away from the republic itself.

The level 4 cards are key – the civic card leads to the breakaway, the military card helps take Rome and the senatorial card helps boost your victory points (at the expense of the last emperor!). Getting one of these cards is almost a requirement to win this game – these strategies will define your move for emperor or breakaway and hence the way you score points.

The game end is also important in this game – it’s a race. The race to get to 60 points and then total up the final points. The game can often come down to whether or not the first / second player at that point had been emperor for a long period of time – a high scoring player who has been emperor longest is likely to be the winner. However, scoring lots of points, but not claiming the emperor or breakaway will leave you in second place.

So two more core mechanics to mention – war & barbarians. War is a dice game – move your troops in, trigger the battle and roll the dice. Sixes cause a bonus attack, while troops hit on three or more and militia on five or more. War is therefore a law of small numbers, but with reasonable odds of hits – you should expect this to balance over the course of a single game, but it will matter how this plays out in the battle for Rome.

Barbarians are the constant interference in the game. They will raid your home states just as you converge on Rome. You will manage the border and the centre of the empire at once. This will draw your resources and make this game even more challenging – opponents at every border and an automated enemy that just keeps coming.

If all that wasn’t enough, there are events and there is a complex map with key positions from which to launch attacks. That’s quite a lot then to take in and that’s why this game takes quite a bit of time to teach. It’s also going to take the first game just to bring players up to speed. Each time you will play, people will find new ways to take the capital or breakaway. Most of all, it’s important to know the meta game – this is a game where you will convince others to launch attacks, launch your own fake moves, and build your power in the shadows.

Also, this is a game about building your deck / managing your cards. Each round is a chance to buy more powerful cards or use your points to trash cards. The rules on buying cards are also complex… and perhaps that’s the point to say that this game is complex. It’s not for the faint of heart. If you have read all this, you have seen a few core rule sets build into a complex and sometimes overwhelming series of choices and attacks on your empire! The fact that you can jump from one side of the map to the other with your senators, or that your armies must have the military points to move and to attack just starts to hint at how complex this is.

If you are going to take on the challenge you should also recognise that this is a game about domination of the map. the players must attack each other. The players must pull the leader back. With all this, you might say this one is not for you. However, if you can pull together a group of friends willing to set aside that friendship for two and a bit hours, this is a head scratching, close fought war game with a lot of planning.

Last notes;

  • If you like card driven games but want control of the card order – this mechanic is solid and enjoyable
  • If you hate that runaway leader who has sat gaining points for 4 turns, and you know they have done enough to see it through – don’t let them take ROME!
  • If you win – why not try to be the pretender next time