The roll and write genre has grown in popularity over the last few years, producing some truly fantastic games such as Cartographers, Welcome To, That’s Pretty Clever, and many more. All of these games have several things in common: you draft some dice (or cards), fill out a sheet using a pen or marker-based on which dice you drafted, and compete to score the most points. For the most part, these games have small footprints and are relatively low complexity. Rome & Roll is a roll and write style board game, but it is not these things.
Rome & Roll Is a medium-weight eurogame with attributes of a roll and write game. It’s published by PSC Games and co-designed by David Turczi (see Anachrony and Tawantinsuyu for reviews of some of his other games) and Nick Shaw. It accommodates 1-4 players, but this review will focus mostly on the solitaire play.
Each player rolls and drafts dice, vying to control Rome through political power, military strength, wealth, religious power, etc. (standard eurogame-in-ancient-Rome type things). The dice-play is reminiscent of roll & write games. You mark resources on your board with a dry erase marker (mostly obtained via the dice draft), crossing them out once used, and drawing your constructed buildings on a centralized board representing Rome.
However, the rest of the play is much closer to a typical medium-weight eurogame that would typically leverage wooden or plastic resources. This is not to say that the use of fill-in-the-blank player boards feels forced. It doesn’t, but it also isn’t fair to say that it’s necessary for the game design. Although, I admit it does make more sense for the centralized map board, and at that point, it may have been a decision not to overcomplicate it with additional components.
The different player characters are slightly asymmetric, as they may start with various resources, have different abilities, and can bribe their unique advisor, which will enact distinct in-game powers. There’s even an expansion available to unlock more characters. It’s one of my favorite parts of the game. Although everyone’s goal is to score the most victory points and achieve those points via the same mechanisms, the different characters encourage different strategies.
Many roll & write games require you to respond in-the-moment to dice rolls, and Rome & Roll does have a bit of that within its gameplay, but it is also rich in long-term strategic planning—more than is typical with a roll & write board games. This aspect is demonstrative of the game’s hybrid nature. To illustrate, let me briefly describe the interconnectivity between the Conquer, Expand, and Tax actions, which take place on the roads outside of Rome at the bottom of the communal map board:
- Conquer requires that you have soldiers, a type of game resource. You must spend one soldier (crossing it out) and have enough available (indicative of military strength) to “conquer” the settlements along the roads at the bottom. Conquering these settlements will earn you Glory, worth victory points at the end of the game.
- The Expand action is somewhat dependent on the Conquer action as you can only expand roads that have been conquered by you or other players previously. Expanding earns legacy, which is also worth victory points at the end of the game.
- Lastly, you may invoke the Tax action. The tax action will generate resources for every conquered settlement connected via renovated roads (Expand action) in that region.
In this example, it requires significant planning to maximize the effects of these actions.
The solo rules rely on a deck of automa cards known as Seneca. Seneca doesn’t get his own player board, he can block buildings with his meeple, and instead of drawing buildings, he draws rubble (which is more or less the same; except you can convert them into parks). These represent the majority of rule changes.
The automa deck is straightforward to control. You draw two cards and roll a d6. The d6 helps Seneca determine which die to choose from the main draft. Each Seneca card displays two dice, one on the top and one on the bottom. If the d6 is even, choose the colored die depicted at the top of the card. If odd, choose the colored die shown at the bottom of the card. Then, the value of the d6 determines which value die to choose. As for the action phase, you simply flip over each card and carry out the action described on the card.
For a certain number of Seneca card revealed with a wax seal symbol, the automa will draw a Nero card (changes based on the chosen difficulty for you solo game). Claiming the last Nero card will end the game (or at the end of 9th round). The wax seals show up frequently, making Seneca a quite aggressive and rather challenging opponent. Add to this amount of rubble he lays on the central map board, and you really must be strategic with every move you make.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with Rome & Roll as a solo game and would recommend purchasing it explicitly for that purpose. As a multiplayer game, I would imagine people having more difficulty getting it to the table. It straddles the line between Roll & Write and medium-weight eurogame, likely making it only an appropriate fit for people who enjoy the latter. The footprint isn’t small either, so it doesn’t fit the criteria of a small-box game that good for travel. But as a solo game, set-up is quick, the gameplay is rich, and I find it to be a ton of fun.