Republic of Rome (RoR), soon to be republished by Valley Games, is the one boardgame that invariably always crops up in any discussion about Roman games. In one sense, this is not particularly surprising – it is the classic political game, unique in being both extremely competitive and extremely cooperative, and there is more than enough historical theme to go around. But as is often the case with thematic games, the veneer of historicity dissappears if one drills down into the details. There was no such thing as a “Rome Consul/Field Consul” split and the offices of Dictator and Censor in the game bear almost no resemblance to the actual functions of those magistracies in the Roman Republic. The tribal assembly, a critical element of the late Roman period, is completely ignored.
Yet, despite the obvious inaccuracies, few would contest that Republic of Rome is anything but deeply evocative. The question is why should this be so?
One reason is no doubt the way the various game mechanics interlock. The game has three basic ressources: gold, influence, and popularity; and each of the resources interact with the other in multiple complex ways. Winning wars gains the player influence and popularity, but require gold and votes, getting gold requires concessions or provinces; protecting a senator from prosecution again requires popularity, which can also be gotten from gold through games. This kind of subtle (and not so subtle) interlocking of game elements is often a hallmark of great games.
As boardgames “guru” Chris Farrell suggested, perhaps it is this complexity that allows the player to emotionally invest in the game. The game mechanics of Republic of Rome can not be min-maxed in the way that many simpler games can. There are no obvious dominant tactic to the game; how you play depends a lot on the people you are playing with, and the victory possibilities are varied (either amassing influence or marching on Rome).
How does one go about achieving the form of evocative gameplay that Republic of Rome had? That is one of the questions I have spent a lot of time trying to answer while working on the design for Imperium’s political game. I’ve explored a lot of systems; from ultra-complex political “simulations” to mechanics that are strongly board-game inspired (true – I’m not a fan of boardgames transposed to the computer, but that hasn’t stopped me from testing it out).
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the answer to that. I do have some principles, I’m following. I’d like to see a fairly faithful rendition of the governmental structures; so at least the two Consuls, the Praetor roles (governors), and so on need to be reflected along with the Tribunes/Tribal assembly factor. I also want to keep the system simple, rather than having some ultra-complex system that can be gamed to kill the AI completely. And legislation should be a factor (being a pretty huge part of the political life). I recently added this book to my ever growing library; perhaps once I’ve read it, I’ll have more things I want to add. The trick – as always – is to know what to leave out, to get the game to work, while still maintaining the elements that makes the politics that of Rome, rather than some other random state sometime in history.
You’ll have to let me know whether I caught it, when Imperium eventually gets to the presses.
But enough of Rome. For the next blog, I think it’s time to discuss those barbarians.